From the November 2005 issue of ACCent, the newsletter of the Anchorage Coin Club:
A Quick Trivia Question!
By Mike Nourse
Which was the first regular issue US coin to be debased? In other words, which was the first coin minted in which there was no effort made to put nearly the full face value worth of metal into the coin? Here is a hint: it was earlier than 1965 when copper nickel clad took the place of our silver coins. Scroll down to see the answer below.
Scroll down for the answer.
The year was 1864, and the coin was the
Indian head cent. Prior to that time, we had the large cent which contained
nearly a cent worth of copper, and then the white cents of 1857 through early
1864 which had close to a cent worth of copper and the more valuable nickel. The
transition to the bronze cent later in 1864 was a true debasement as the thin
new bronze cent had nowhere near a full cent worth of metal. There was some fear
at the time that these cents would not be accepted by the populace due to their
lack of intrinsic value, but it turns out that the public accepted them all the
same. It would take 106 years for the process to be completed when the last
silver was removed from the Kennedy half dollar.
As for the lowly cent which was debased, it would take roughly another 110 years before the metal value of the cent would once again approach it's face value. In the mid 1970's, the copper in our one cent pieces again started approaching the face value as it had in the 1850's. It would be another 30 years after that until the value of copper in the 1982 and earlier cents would exceed their one cent face value and stay there for a period of time. In mid 1982 another debasement took place for the cent in which the mostly copper cent was replaced with a copper coating over a zinc core.
1864 Bronze Indian Head Cent MS-62 Brown
Return to the Articles Index
Questions, comments, or suggestions? Mail to: Mike@alaskacoinexchange.com