The Missing 1815 Large Cent
Flipping through the pages of A Guide Book of United States Coins (or the “Red Book,” as it is usually called), reveals the U.S. Mint started production of the large cent in 1793 going through 1857. If you look a little closer, you will see that there isn’t an entry in the book for 1815. Why is this? Maybe this burning question won’t keep you up at night, but the story is a bit of American history.
The War of 1812
The story of the missing 1815 large cent begins in the summer of 1807 off the coast of Virginia when the British ship HMS Leopard attacked the American USS Chesapeake and removed four suspected British deserters. The British navy was in desperate need of sailors as they were at war with France. The attack on the Chesapeake created an international event, and there was a call for war.
President Thomas Jefferson, rather than seeking a military solution, prepared to hurt Great Britain in their pocketbook by imposing an embargo that prohibited American ships from departing for foreign ports. The embargo backfired, and it had a devastating effect on the United States economy. Two years later, the embargo was lifted by President James Madison. Tension between the United States and Great Britain would continue to simmer for the next few years.
The sour relationship between the two countries came to a full boil on June 1, 1812, when President Madison sent a message to Congress recounting American grievances against Great Britain. Congress worked quickly, and Madison signed a declaration of war into law.
Since the nearest British were in colonial Canada, in July of 1812, the aged Revolutionary War general William Hull led an invading force of about 1,000 untrained, poorly equipped militia across the Detroit River and occupied the Canadian town of Sandwich (now a neighbor of Windsor, Ontario).
The fight was on between the United States and British forces on both land and sea. The war raged on up and down the Eastern seaboard and into Canada until the treaty of Ghent was signed on Christmas Eve in 1814. In the end, the War of 1812 resulted in no boundaries changes; however, it did bring America together with a spirit of unity that had not been seen since the Revolutionary War.
The Copper Planchets Came From England
The Northeastern region of America doesn’t have abundant deposits of copper ore, and as a result the copper planchets for the large cents had to be purchased from the Matthew Boulton company of Birmingham, England. Boulton shipped nearly 60 tons of cent planchets to the Mint between 1807 and 1811. The last shipment arrived in April 1812, shortly before hostilities broke out between the United States and Great Britain.
No more planchets would be available until after the war. The last of the Boulton copper planchets would be used to strike the 357,830 large cents dated 1814. This would be the last cent in the 1808 to 1814 Classic Head large cent series.
Once the war was over in early 1815, the Mint ordered five tons of planchets from Boulton. In the fall of that year, the Mint would begin production of the Liberty Head design large cent that would run up until the end of the series in 1857. It would be in the 1830s before the Mint would begin to source its copper for coinage from domestic suppliers.
So, don’t be fooled. If someone offers to sell you an 1815 United States large cent, it isn’t real, and you now know why.
Borneman, Walter R. 1812 The War that Forged a Nation. Harper Perennial. 2004.
Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of Early United States Cents 1793-1814. Bowers and Merena Galleries. 2000.
Eckberg, Bill. “The only date since 1793 for which no cents can be found: The remarkable year of 1815” Special to Coin World. January 21, 2015.
West, Doug. America’s Second War of Independence: A Short History of The War of 1812. Missouri: C&D Publications, 2018.
© 2022 Doug West