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The “cent” was one of the coins approved for the United States in the Congressional resolution passed on March 3, 1791, defined as “the hundredth part of a dollar.” But it was not until two years later that the first cent coins were minted—which we now call “Large Cents” since they were larger than the modern Quarter. Ms. Liberty, with long flowing hair was portrayed in several types through 1796, and is shown with a bow in her long hair from 1796 through 1807. Starting in 1808 the bow was dropped and a band with LIBERTY was added around her hair. The portrayal of Ms. Liberty changed a few times, until 1857, when the “Large Cent” was replaced by the “Small Cent” because the costs had risen so much that Mint Director James Ross Snowden reported that they “barely paid expenses.”
In 1856, about 2,000 pattern (sample) Flying Eagle cents were made even before the Act of February 21, 1857 providing for the coinage of small cents was passed. Flying Eagle cents were then made only in 1857 and 1858, when they were replaced by Indian Head cents. The Indian Head design lasted through 1909, when it was replaced by Lincoln cents, the first United States coin to portray a personage other than Ms. Liberty. But there was controversy in the first year of issue, with complaints that the artist’s initials “V.D.B.” were too prominent—and so in mid-year the initials were removed, creating the famous rare 1909-S VDB variety. The reverse Wheat Ears design was replaced by the Lincoln Memorial in 1959, and then in 2010 a Shield was used on the reverse. Another famous rarity in the Lincoln cent series are the error coins made from copper instead of steel in 1943.