The United States two-cent coin was a short-lived denomination of a United States dollar. The two-cent piece, designed by James B. Longacre, was produced for circulation from 1864 to 1872 and for collectors in 1873, with decreasing mintages each year as other minor coins such as the nickel (5¢) proved more popular. It was abolished by the Mint Act of 1873.
The economic turmoil of the American Civil War caused government-issued coins, even the non-silver Indian Head cent, to vanish from circulation, hoarded by the public. One means of filling this gap was private token issues, often made of bronze. The cent at that time was struck of a copper-nickel alloy, the same diameter as the later Lincoln cent, but somewhat thicker. The piece was difficult for the Philadelphia Mint to strike, and Mint officials, as well as the annual Assay Commission, recommended the coin's replacement. Despite opposition from those wishing to keep the metal nickel in the coinage, led by Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1864, authorising bronze cents and two-cent pieces. The composition was 95% copper, the rest being tin and zinc.
Although initially popular in the absence of other federal coinage, the two-cent piece's place in circulation was usurped by other non-precious metal coins which Congress subsequently authorised, the three-cent piece and the nickel. It was abolished in 1873; large quantities were redeemed by the government and melted. Nevertheless, two-cent pieces remain inexpensive by the standards of 19th-century American coinage.
The coins were only struck by the Philadelphia Mint, with no mint mark.
The obverse design shows, within a beaded border, Longacre's version of the Great Seal of the United States.
His design focuses on the shield, or escutcheon, as a defensive weapon, signifying strength and self-protection through unity. The upper part of the shield, or "chief", symbolises Congress, while the 13 vertical stripes, or "paleways", represent the states (originally, there were 13 states); consequently the entire escutcheon symbolises the strength of the federal government through the unity of the states.
The crossed arrows represent non-aggression, but imply readiness against attack. The laurel branches around, taken from Greek tradition, symbolise victory. In heraldic engraving, vertical lines represent red, clear areas white and horizontal lines blue, thus the escutcheon is coloured red, white and blue and is meant to evoke the American flag.
The ribbon above the shield is inscribed with the national motto IN GOD WE TRUST; below the shield, the date of issue: [year].
Longacre's two-cent piece was the first coin inscribed with "In God We Trust". The motto was popularised by the new coin; on March 3, 1865 Congress passed legislation ordering its use on all coins large enough to permit it. Since 1938, "In God We Trust" has been used on all American coins.
For coins of other countries denominated as Two Cents, see:
- Two Cents, South Africa - issued 1965 to 2001, withdrawn 2003
- Two Cents, Australia - issued 1966 to 1991, withdrawn 1992 (occasionally issued later as NCLT)
- Two Cents, New Zealand - issued 1967 to 1988, demonetised 1990