1856 Flying Eagle Cent: A Numismatic Rarity

1856 Flying Eagle Cent: A Numismatic Rarity

The most common and valuable coin in American numismatic history is the Flying Eagle Cent of 1856. In its design, U.S. currency underwent a dramatic change from the huge, traditional copper pennies to a smaller, lighter version. The following article explores the amazing coin’s historical background, design elements, rarity, and condition information, offering collectors and enthusiasts alike a complete overview.

History of 1856 Flying Eagle Cent

The American currency had changed by the middle of the 1850s. The outdated copper “large” cents, which had been in use since 1793, were being gradually replaced with a more useful and eye-catching alternative. Under the guidance of Director James Ross Snowden, the U.S. Mint started minting the 1856 Flying Eagle Cent to familiarize the public know the new small-diameter, copper-nickel cent. 

A little over a thousand pattern coins were provided to powerful people such as Treasury Department employees, lawmakers, and newspaper editors. The purpose of this planned dispersion was to achieve popularity for the new design to help with the Act of February 21, 1857, which accepted the copper-nickel Flying Eagle cent.


  • Designer: James Barton Longacre
  • Edge: Plain
  • Diameter: 19.00 millimeters
  • Mintage: 634
  • Mint: Philadelphia
  • Metal: Copper-Nickel
  • Composition: 88% copper, 12% nickel
  • Weight: 4.66 grams (72 grains)
  • Auction Record: $172,500 (MS66, January 7, 2004, Heritage Auctions)


The 1856 Flying Eagle Cent was designed by James Barton Longacre, the Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint.


The obverse features a finely detailed eagle in flight, a motif borrowed from Christian Gobrecht’s silver dollar designs of the 1836-1839 period. The inscription “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” arcs above the eagle, with the date “1856” positioned below.


The reverse shows a wreath of agricultural products, like cotton, corn, wheat, and tobacco, and also has the denomination “ONE CENT.” This design was used by Longacre on the $1 and $3 gold coins of 1854 earlier.

Rarity and Condition

In numismatic circles, the 1856 Flying Eagle Cent is a highly collectible coin. It was first minted in small quantities—roughly 1,000 pieces—for marketing purposes, but collectors soon took an interest in it, increasing its value higher than face value. These coins were already available between 50¢ and $1 by the late 1850s, and by 1859, values had risen to $2 a coin, which was a significant sum at the time.

Condition and Availability

There are different types of the 1856 Flying Eagle Cent, from Mint State (MS) to Proof. Issued in 1856 and early 1857, the original business struck are very rare and can only be found in Mint State. Produced between 1858 and the early 1860s, proof restrikes are becoming more common. However, because of the subtle variations in their surfaces and finishes, it can be hard to differentiate between Mint State and Proof coins.

  • Business Strike Mintage: Around 1,000
  • Proof Mintage: Estimated between 1,500 and 2,500

Errors and Varieties

With its multiple die varieties and possible mistakes, the 1856 Flying Eagle Cent is an intriguing topic for thorough study. Amazingly, some coins have little variations in the reverse die patterns, which shows that they were made in separate periods. Amongst the most famous variations is the Snow-3 die pairing, which numismatic classifications classify as a Rarity-3.

The Beck Hoard

The discovery of the Beck Hoard in the 1970s is a fascinating episode in the history of the 1856 Flying Eagle Cent. This collection, which has 531 items, was put together by Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, collector John Beck. Dealers Jerry Cohen and Abner Kreisberg eventually sold these coins, which were found in different grades. The coin’s availability was temporarily increased by the hoard’s dispersal, but its market value was not considerably impacted.

Value of 1856 Flying Eagle Cent

Because of its rarity, historical significance, and excellent condition, the 1856 Flying Eagle cent is highly valuable to the numismatic industry. The following are the main factors influencing its value

Condition (Grade)

    • Mint State (MS): Coins in Mint State condition, especially those graded MS65 or higher, command the highest prices. An MS66 specimen holds the auction record at $172,500.
    • Proof: Proof coins, usually struck in later years, also hold high value, specifically if they are well-preserved.

    Historical Significance

        • The coin’s role in transitioning from large cents to small cents adds to its desirability and value.


          • With a mintage of only 634, its scarcity significantly boosts its value.

          Market Demand

            • Strong demand among collectors and investors can drive up prices, especially during auctions.

            Recent Auction Results

            To get a sense of the current market value, here are some recent auction results:

            1. MS66 Example: $172,500 (Heritage Auctions, January 7, 2004)
            2. MS65 Examples: Often sell in the range of $100,000 to $150,000 depending on eye appeal and specific grading nuances.
            3. Proof 65: Around $50,000 to $80,000, though this can vary based on specific characteristics and market needs.

            General Price Range

            • Mint State (MS63-MS64): Generally between $70,000 and $120,000
            • Proof 63-64: Around $40,000 to $60,000

            Factors Influencing Price Fluctuations

            • Economic Conditions: The overall economic condition can influence collectible markets, including coins.
            • Collector Trends: Trends in collecting can turn the demand for individual coins.
            • Auction House: Coins sold at famous auction houses like Heritage Auctions may get higher prices due to more expansive exposure and higher bidder enthusiasm.

            Also Read – 1873-CC Liberty Seated Dime: A Numismatic Rarity 


            The 1856 Flying Eagle Cent remains one of the most desirable coins in American numismatic history. Its transitionary role in U.S. coinage, connected with its detailed design and historical value, ensures its enduring appeal. For collectors, acquiring an 1856 Flying Eagle Cent is a landmark achievement, a testament to the coin’s lasting legacy and the rich history it represents.

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