The flying eagle design appearing on the reverse of the Gobrecht Silver Dollars of 1836 to 1839 was adopted by Snowden for the new Small Cent. The wreath on the reverse of the new Small Cents was borrowed from the reverse design on the Gold Dollar and the $3 coin denominations designed by James B. Longacre. It is interesting to note that initially, the Secretary of the Treasury (rather than Wharton) had the decision -making power regarding the coin design and that there was no Act passed by Congress in 1856 authorizing a Small Cent.
Snowden ordered about 1,000 1856 Flying Eagle Cents struck without official authorization. Therefore, from a legal standpoint, all 1856 Flying Eagle Cents may be considered to have been illegally struck and issued.
It is difficult to determine how many 1856-dated Flying Eagle Cents were struck. At least 634 were given to politicians and other well connected people. During 1858 and 1859, more were restruck using the original dies. Not all restrikes can be differentiated from the original strikes. It is known that collector George W. Rice at one time owned 756 of the 1856 Flying Eagle Cent. Considering that many of the Rice specimens came from circulation, there were undoubtedly more struck. Collector John Beck accumulated 531 coins of the same date.
The 1856 Flying Eagle Cent is usually divided into three main varieties: 1) the original pieces struck for Mint and government purposes in 1856 and early 1857, 2) the first restrikes of 1858 sold to collectors, and 3) the questionable second restrikes of 1860.
Most collectors will be content with a single 1857 example, however there are several varieties of this date also to consider. These are the rare “Style of 1856” variety (with a squared O in OF and other diagnostics), and the so-called regular variety. Other minor varieties also exist. These can be identified through specialized coin catalogs on the subject. Proofs as well as Uncirculated business strikes exist.
The 1857 issue was struck following the Act of Feb. 21, 1857 authorizing Small Cents. Unlike the 1856 issue, that of 1857 is officially authorized. The 1857 Flying Eagle Cents were very popular with the public and saved in large quantities. The coins were so popular, the Mint set up booths in the Mint yard to sell the coins to the public. The coin is available in many grades at reasonable prices. Clashed die specimens may be the result of night watchmen at the Mint illegally experimenting with coin dies (these same watchmen were responsible for some 1804 Silver Dollar restrikes).
There are two popular major varieties of the 1858 Flying Eagle Cent often collected alongside the 1856 and 1857 coins to complete a set. In fact, there are other minor varieties, but these are for the specialist. The two major varieties, Large Letters and Small Letters, are reasonably easy to identify. The difference in the lettering in the AM of AMERICA is obvious. As in 1857, there are Proof and business strikes of the date to be collected. There is also an important 1858/7 overdate rarity only discovered in recent years. This overdate is believed to be a refurbished 1857 die with the 8 added later.
Like the Large Cent, the Small Cent was not legal tender, so it should have come as no surprise that it, too, would be rejected by bankers and merchants.
Designer: James Barton Longacre (using Christian Gobrecht's eagle design)
Diameter: 19 millimeters
Copper - 88%
Nickel - 12%
Weight: 72 grains (4.7 grams)
Mint mark: None (all examples of this date and type were struck at Philadelphia)
Identifying Counterfeit Flying Eagle Cents: You should learn all the information you can on Flying Eagles and the fakes that can be found at ebay. Many of these coins are being sold and resold as genuine because they're convincing fakes to the untrained eye. So check out Flying Eagle Counterfeit Facts guide