It is important to know when and how much to bid on popular 1864 two-cent varieties, the first coin to bear the motto “In God We Trust.” That motto comes in small and large fonts, with the small version commanding superior prices.
An MS-65 gem in small retails for $2,750; in large, $400. On average, the small is worth between six and seven times more than the large, primarily because the U.S. Mint stopped production after several thousand coins were made and replaced the motto with a larger-size font.
Because of the price differential, and the relative difficulty of identifying both types, sellers sometimes offer large varieties as small or fail to designate either variety, meaning the onus is on you. If you bid on these coins, believing the consignor’s description that the coin is small variety, when it is large, you’ll be out hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Conversely, if the seller does not identify the variety, you stand to buy a valuable coin for far less than retail.
In this HiBid.com auction, the seller designates this large variety as small:
I notified the auctioneer about the discrepancy. Often when numismatists send such clarifications, they are ignored. If you find yourself in that situation, send the link to this article. Here is a small variety that the auctioneer neglected to note in the description:
The condition of the coin is Good 6, retailing for about $125-150, as opposed to a large motto at $22. If you can win the coin with a $25 bid, you can sell it for about five times its value.
How can you tell the difference?
I have designated areas on this photo from PCGS CoinFacts’ page:
Here are differences:
1: The space between the “W” and “E” is close in the small variety; the space between the letters is larger in the large variety.
2: The “T” is closer to the ribbon in the small variety than in the large.
3: There is a stem in the leaf in the small variety; it is missing in the large.
You also should be able to identify flaws before you bid on an 1864 two-cent coin. Condition counts in both small and large varieties.
Be cautious when bidding if the seller provides a photo of a raw coin with a retail price, as in this example:
The coin does look Uncirculated MS-64, and the retail value is correct. But the photo is not as sharp and realistic as it should be, and so it may actually be cleaned. In other words, you’re taking the word of the seller on an unslabbed coin. Here’s what an MS-64 red photo should look like, selling on Heritage for $5,520 in April 2021.
Moreover, the coin is holdered by PCGS, so there is no guessing here about cleaning or other flaws. If you’re going to spend $6,000, do so on Heritage, Stack’s Bowers, Great Collections, or another reputable site rather than in a lesser auction on a raw coin with subpar photos.
This large motto coin has a good photo showing rim damage above the arrow tip:
This coin has PVC spots (polyvinyl chloride) caused by storage in an old plastic flip, most notable between the “C” and “A” in “America” on the reverse:
You can’t always count on the seller identifying such flaws. That is why reading this and other Coin Update news columns, as well as Whitman numismatic books, are essential to protect your bids and investments.