Q: Why was the large cent the only U.S. coin minted during 1816?
A: A major fire experienced at the Mint in January 1816 damaged much of the coinage-production equipment. Resumption of operations probably concentrated upon production of the large cent because it was essential to a growing commerce and was the only U.S. coin of the time not supplemented by foreign coins that enjoyed legal tender status. The large cent would have been the easiest to produce under emergency conditions, since the cent planchets were purchased outside the Mint and production was not dependent upon the Mint’s rolling mill.
Q: I have noticed that U.S. coins after 1817 have fewer minor varieties in design. Why is this?
A: Following the 1816 Mint fire, an enlarged, brick building was constructed to house new and improved equipment to replace that which had become worn and damaged over the previous 23 years. The new equipment allowed for better and more uniform die-cutting and hardening, with the resulting, longer-lasting dies produced fewer varieties. Of particular interest to numismatists, the mechanical screw-type coining presses were replaced by hydraulic presses capable of exerting a greater and more uniformly applied striking pressure. An immediate consequence was the production of Proofs and medals commencing in 1817.