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Shield Two Cent Piece (1864-1873)

Economic turmoil during the American Civil War caused the public to hoard coins leading them to vanish from circulation. To fill the gap, some entrepreneurs came up with bronze cent-sized private tokens. The use of such emergency pieces didn’t escape the notice of the US Mint. The Shield Two Cents was the Mint’s response to fix the coin shortage problem.

History of the Shield Two Cent Piece

A two-cent coin had already been proposed by Connecticut Senator Uriah Tracy in 1806. Since his bill provided that the piece be made from debased silver, he received opposition from Mint Director Robert Patterson as refining silver from melted-down pieces proved difficult.two cent

Despite that, the Mint considered making a two-cent piece again in 1836. Engraver Christian Gobrecht together with Melter and Refiner Franklin Pierce conducted experiments using debased silver. The idea, again, never came to light because Pierce proved that it could easily be counterfeited.

In a letter addressed to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase on December 8, 1963, Mint Director James Pollock recommended issuing two-cent coins made from French bronze. Two designs by Chief Engraver James B. Longacre were submitted, with the shield and arrows design chosen by both Pollock and Chase.

Since citizens were starved for coins during the war, the appearance of the Shield Two Cent coin was most welcome when it appeared in 1864. Nearly 20 million business strike examples were made in the coin’s first year, but that output declined annually after that. One reason for the decline in production can be attributed to the reappearance of coins in circulation after the war.

Production of the Shield Two Cent piece was ceased after 10 years.

Design of the Shield Two Cent Piece

US coins never contained references to a Supreme Being but all that was about to change with the religious fervor caused by the Civil War. A Baptist minister called Reverend Mark R. Watkinson from Ridleyville, Pennsylvania wrote to Chase in 1861 asking for some form of recognition of God in US coins.

Legislation passed on April 22, 1864 gave discretionary authority to Treasury officials regarding inscriptions. As such, the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was chosen to appear on the coin. The words appear on the obverse and in a ribbon located above the shield. The date appears below the shield.

The reverse of the coin features a simple wreath surrounding the value of the coin: 2 CENTS, with the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA encircling them.

Collecting the Shield Two Cent Piece

It is possible to complete a collection of the Shield Two Cents by date and mint. After all, only the Philadelphia Mint was making them. Many, however, choose to collect by type. In 1864, a Small Motto Shield Two Cent piece and Large Motto Shield Two Cent coin were released.

The 1873 Shield Two Cents were the last in the series, and all coins produced were proofs. The 1873 Shield Two Cent proofs come in two varieties: one with a closed three and the other with an open 3.

Although the coin was not successful, it did leave a legacy: it was the first piece to feature the motto IN GOD WE TRUST – a motto that is now in all US coins.

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