About Small Cents
By 1857, the cost of making and distributing copper coins had risen. Mint Director James Ross Snowden reported that they “barely paid expenses.” Both cents and half cents had become unpopular; in fact, they hardly circulated outside the larger cities. The practice of issuing subsidiary silver coins, which began in 1853, brought about a reform of the copper coinage. The half cent was abandoned and a smaller cent was introduced for circulation in 1857. The law of 1857 brought important benefits to American citizens. By its terms, Spanish coins were redeemed and melted at the mint in exchange for new, small cents. The decimal system became popular and official thereafter, and the old method of reckoning in reales, medios, shillings, and so on was gradually given up (although the terms two bits and penny were still commonly used). The new, convenient small cent won popular favor and soon became a useful instrument of retail trade and a boon to commerce. When the small-sized cents became the new standard, they brought nostalgia for older, larger cents of generations past. U.S. coin collecting experienced its first boom, with many people seeking one of each of the earlier dates.
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