By the mid-1850s it was apparent to Mint officials that the large copper cents struck since 1793 were too cumbersome and unpopular, as well as increasingly uneconomical to make. The idea of fiduciary coinage, based on the trustworthiness of the issuing authority, not on the coin’s intrinsic value, was beginning to catch on as well. Sooner or later the “big coppers” would have gone the way of the dinosaur, but it was the large numbers of small Spanish colonial silver coins in use throughout the United States that finally made it imperative that smaller cents had to be struck, and not necessarily of pure copper.
It was Mint Director James R. Snowden’s desire to see all foreign coins driven out of the channels of commerce in the United States. The coinage law passed by Congress on February 21, 1857 gave him the means to do so. In addition to abolishing th.... (Expand Text)