Flying Eagle Cent (1856-1858)

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Flying Eagle Cent

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Following considerable experimentation with reduced-diameter cents and various alloys, Mint Director James Ross Snowden decided in 1856 that a mixture of 88% copper and 12% nickel, the compound later called copper-nickel, was best. Initially about 50 trial pieces were made from regular half cent dies to test the new alloy. Encouraged, Snowden requested that Mint engraver James B. Longacre produce new cent dies of small diameter.

James B. Longacre, who had been chief engraver at the Mint since Christian Gobrecht's death in 1844, hurriedly concocted a design for the new cent by borrowing two old motifs.

The obverse, depicting an eagle in flight, called the Flying Eagle motif by collectors today, was taken from Gobrecht's beautiful 1836 Liberty Seated silver dollar with flying eagle reverse. It is said that the model for the bird was an eagle, Peter, kept at the Mint as a mascot (Peter, now stuffed, decorates the lobby of the Philadelphia Mint today).

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