Small cents were originally issued due to rising copper prices during the 19th century, along with increasing costs associated with the fabrication and distribution of large cents.
The first small cent design was the Flying Eagle. This beautiful coin was minted for only three years, from 1856 until 1858. Initially, only 2,000 coins were produced during the first year of issuance. These 1856 coins are now considered to be rare. Flying Eagles became much more common in 1857 and 1858, and coins from these years can now be purchased at affordable prices.
The subsequent design was the Indian Head cent, which was produced from 1859 until 1909. The composition and design of this coin were continually modified throughout its lifespan.
The Lincoln Wheat cent was the next design to be minted. Produced between 1909 and 1958, this was the first U.S. design to include an image of a real person. The wheat back image was later replaced by a depiction of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. In 2009, the Lincoln cent was again changed to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.
Coin Images courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts