100 Greatest U.S. Coins Series: 1864 Proof "Small Motto" Two-Cent Piece

In United States coinage, there is a rich history of denominations that have graced the pockets of Americans. While some were deemed successful, others were not. While those at the time were not seen as valuable, in today’s numismatic landscape are seen as the opposite. Rarity, variety, and significance are all factors that play into those denominations and their value. That is why our next entry in this 100 Greatest United States Coins series is so relevant. With help from author Jeff Garrett, we will explore the no longer in production denomination that may be one of the rarest of major varieties in all of U.S. coinage.

#91 - 1864 Proof “Small Motto” Two-Cent Piece

The Act of April 22, 1864, included a provision for a bronze two-cent piece in addition to the change in weight and composition of the already in production cent coin. However, the two-cent piece was a fleeting denomination as it was discontinued out of circulation after 1873. It’s arrival into United States coin production was due to a series of coin shortages that occurred during the American Civil War. The introduction of the denomination in fact had been tried in 1806 and 1836 but failed. Then in 1863, the introduction of the two-cent piece was once again brought to the table with the addition of a patriotic design and the first-ever idea to put “IN GOD WE TRUST” on a circulating coin.

The new idea of the two-cent piece was met with excitement and anticipation which caused the Mint to strike almost 20 million pieces with the Large Motto variety in addition to a small number of Proofs. A small number of the Proofs were also to feature the Small Motto variety. Excitement for the new denomination waned after a few years and production for the circulating coins would stifle while the Proof strikes would increase. By the final year of production (1873), no coins would be struck for circulation at all as only Proof examples would be produced (600 to be exact according to The Official 2022 Red Book).

In the 100+ Proof 1864 two-cent pieces struck, only a small number of those were Small Motto. So small a number in fact that it is actually unknown. According to the author, it is estimated that there are probably 20-30 examples known as they are extremely rare. This makes the Small Motto Proof variety highly valuable and important. During that time, collectors did not even notice the difference between the Proof varieties. It is concluded that it was a collector years later who eyed the difference between the Small and Large Motto varieties of the 1864 Proof Two-Cent Piece.

Historical value for this coin in a Choice Proof condition was found to be $1,500 in 1960. By this fourth edition publication (2015), it had risen to $70,000.