Copper Coins    
 
 
The first coins struck by the U.S. Mint in 1793 were the copper Half Cent and
Penny.  Copper was a fairly plentiful material, and it had been a standard
coinage metal for thousands of years.  The copper Half Cent and Penny coins
were about the same size as the copper Half Penny and Penny coins from
England;  those coins were known as “coppers,” a term that came to mean
“small change” in much of the world.
 
 
The first copper Half Cent and Penny were large coins struck with pure copper. 
The Half Cent was heavier and only slightly smaller than a modern Quarter,
whereas the Penny was considerably heavier but slightly smaller than a modern
Half Dollar.  The American public disliked the large size of the coins, and by
the early 1850’s the rising cost of copper meant that it cost the U.S. Mint more
than one cent to strike each Penny coin. 
 
 
The copper Half Cent was last made in 1857, and in 1856 the U.S. Mint
introduced the first small-size Penny.  The small 1856-1858 Flying Eagle Penny
was made in .880 copper and .120 nickel.  The first Indian Head Pennies were
also struck in the same alloy starting in 1859, and even though the alloy changed
to bronze (.950 copper and .050 tin and zinc) in 1864 the Penny was still
called a “copper” coin.  The same alloy was used for the Lincoln Penny from
1909 to 1982.  Since 1982, the Lincoln Penny has been struck in .992 zinc with a
plating of copper.  
 
 
America’s “forgotten” copper coin is the Two-Cent Piece from 1864 to 1873. 
Like the Penny, the Two-Cent Piece was struck in .950 copper and .050 tin
and zinc.