America's Copper Coinage, 1783-1857. Coinage of the Americas Conference, 1984

Doty, Richard G.
Coinage of the Americas Conference
American Numismatic Society
New York
Worldcat Works




Open access edition funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Humanities Open Book Program.


Table of Contents




In this publication, we present the papers delivered at the first Coinage of the Americas Conference. As will be seen, they represent a number of approaches to the phenomenon of copper coinage in the early United States. Some articles are of a general nature, embracing the entire period. Elvira Clain-Stefanelli discusses the question of copper coinage itself, and its historical role as the circulating medium of the masses. She draws interesting parallels between copper's use in ancient times and in the young Republic. Eric P. Newman examines a question most of us had never asked—how long into the federal period did pre-federal copper coinage circulate? He emerges with some surprising answers. Cora Lee Gillilland addresses our early coppers from the standpoint of an art historian, and she finds parallels between the imagery employed on early American copper coins and that seen in the wider world of art and fashion.

Other speakers focus on more circumscribed themes. In state coinage, Ronald Guth discusses the issues of the "Vermont Republic"—the state did not formally join the Union until 1791, and all of its issues were struck while it was independent. Donald Partrick speculates on the origins of one of the least understood coppers of all American History—the "Washington the Great" issue.

As we move into federal coinage, John Adams sets the scene with a sympathetic look at one of the first collectors of American copper coinage, Benjamin H. Collins. Other speakers discuss federal coinage itself, and most do so from two approaches, the methodological and the technological.

In methodology, P. Scott Rubin sheds light on the establishment of pedigrees for early coppers, using the 1792 silver center pattern cent as his example. Roger Cohen explains the problems inherent in determining the emission pattern for "original" and "restrike" half cents, suggesting possible solutions. Jules Reiver demonstrates a new method for determining die identity in the late date cent series— effectively showing that there are several less varieties than com- monly supposed. Denis Loring examines effective ways of understanding emission sequences, stressing the use of tools such as die deterioration, design characteristics, and planchet quality to establish order in difficult series.

Other speakers emphasized early Mint technology in their presentations. George Ewing examined the Castaing edge-marking device, used on American cents and half cents during the first two years of the mint operation. From an examination of superimposed images, Walter Breen concludes that a primitive sort of "hubbing"— mass production of dies—was a Mint concern from the earliest days of its operation, rather than a later consideration, as was generally supposed. R. Tettenhorst concentrates on the half cent, demonstrating that Mint practice resulted in much overstriking and recycling of planchets in this coin series.

Among our remaining speakers, Peter Smith examined the entire Turbin Head large cent series, especially from the viewpoint of die deterioration, while David Cohen shed new light on some of the most famous members of the succeeding Coronet series, the Randall Hoard.

Richard G. Doty Conference Chairman

Benjamin H. Collins A Brief Essay on the People and Traditions of Large Cent Collecting

John Adams

Coinage of the Americas Conference at The American Numismatic Society, New York City

© The American Numismatic Society, 1984

Cent collectors are a strange breed. We come in all ages and sizes, as well as from all walks of life. Our only common denominator is the hobby or, let me suggest, the tradition that unites us—those of us who share our interests wherever they may be and those who have gone before.

Many cent collectors active today knew William H. Sheldon. Those who didn't know him personally know him through the eloquent phrases that leap from the pages of his books. Well, we knew Sheldon; he knew David Proskey; Proskey knew Edward Cogan; and that takes us back to 1858, the very beginning of the large cent hobby.

This is but one of many byways that can take us back to our roots. The provenance of coins, typically no two of them alike, can take us back from today to Mickley or McCoy or Bushnell. Tracing the evolution of scholarship will wend us backward from Clapp and Newcomb to S.H. Chapman, Ebenezer Gilbert, Hays, Proskey, Maris, and, ultimately, the pioneering S.S. Crosby. These links with the past serve to define who we are. In effect, the medium is the message. Our oneness with earlier generations, to the extent that it is maintained, lends a dimension to our branch of the hobby to which, perhaps, no other branch can hope to aspire.

Having first emerged as a recognizable activity in 1858, cent collecting is only 126 years old. Thus, our past is within our grasp if we will only reach out and give it recognition. It is in this spirit that I have elected to focus this paper upon our predecessors; and, in particular, to concentrate primarily on one predecessor, Benjamin H. Collins of Washington, D.C.

Why Collins?

Benjamin H. Collins was a pivotal member of the cent collecting fraternity just as it was beginning to come of age. He knew and worked closely with such luminaries as Maris, Hays, Hall, Frossard, Phelps, Parmalee and the Chapmans to name just some. His was perhaps the most visited cent collection of any at the time and any since, with the possible exception of the one housed at the ANS.

In addition to being in the middle of the network, Collins was an accomplished collector. He set as his goal, "I have always had only one fixed purpose in view, viz: the obtaining of the best possible specimens."1 And, as we shall see, the man was eminently successful in accomplishing his goal.

Still another reason to focus on Collins is his relative obscurity. Except for his obituary,2 a fine article by Jesse Patrick,3 and a few references by the author in Penny-Wise—all of which sources, incidentally, contain errors—little has been recorded. The man is too important to our hobby to permit him to slip into the mists of the past.

One final reason is the fortuitous discovery by John J. Ford, Jr. of a wealth of original Collins material including his large cent inventory, a portion of his will, correspondence and contemporary newspaper clippings. From this material, the collector cries out to have his story told.

Collins the Man

The obituary in The Numismatist states that Collins was born in Independence, Missouri, in 1845. He served in the Civil War, after which he settled in Washington, DC, and worked for the United States Government, finishing his career as a chief of division in the Treasury Department. Such hints as we have been able to uncover suggest that Collins's government career was a distinguished one but, after 12 years of collecting coins, he decided to turn his hobby into a vocation. In 1894, he opened an "Art Parlor," dealing in paintings, china and relics as well as numismatic items. Collins maintained his shop at the same location until two years before his death in 1928 at the age of 83.

Whereas these biographical details are admittedly sketchy, it turns out that a close look at the numismatist reveals the man. Some years back, Walter Breen wrote an article describing Dr. Henry Beckwith as the first perfectionist.4 Perfectionist to be sure but not the first as that title clearly belongs to Benjamin Collins. For 13 intensive years, Collins set about "the obtaining of the best possible specimen, retaining them in my cabinet in the face of most tempting offers (Collins was never a wealthy man), and only dispensing of one when a more perfect or desirable cent took its place...Perfect condition should be our aim."5 His definition of a perfect cent precluded "vandalism, nicks, oiling, tooling, holes, cleaning, cabinet friction and certainly absence in toto of corrosion."6 He could not abide die breaks or planchet flaws but, unlike many modern collectors, he was not in love with mint red: "any fixed color, light olive preferred, though black or dark very acceptable. Red secondary which, though beautiful, will not stay put."7

The basis for Collins's opinion regarding mint red reveals another fundamental characteristic of the man—his gregarious, sharing nature. He fully realized that the red could be maintained by careful storage techniques and the avoidance of human contact: "so if you require early red cents, bury them securely against atmospheric influences; don't look at or handle them; assert you have them, but don't produce for comparison. What pleasure is that? I am, perforce, willing to dispense with red cents and content myself with any fixed color perfect cents."8 And so Collins took his cherished cents on the road. He welcomed visitors to his house; indeed, in 1895, he hosted the entire ANA Convention—such as it then was—for a thorough viewing of his cent collection.

Assembly of the Cent Collection

Collins began collecting in 1882. His last important acquisition of large cents was at the Winsor Sale in 1895. Within this 13 year time frame, he acquired pieces from many sources: from public auctions; directly from collectors such as Maris, Newlin, Phelps, Parmalee and Randall; and from the well-known dealers of the day. However, Collins's principal modus operandi was to buy entire collections—22 of them, in fact—containing many hundreds of large cents as well as a full range of other denominations.

The first important collection to come his way belonged to W.P. Titcomb, a well-known Washington numismatist. Collins paid $450—a handsome price in 1885—but made a large profit on resale, even after retaining three early dates and five late dates for his permanent collection.

Every successful collector receives at least one major stroke of good fortune and, for Collins, that good fortune occurred in England. On a visit to London in the winter of 1891, he stopped by the firm of W.S. Lincoln & Sons, a well-established shop which had been visited by tens of Americans before. For some reason—Collins's contagious geneality perhaps—F.W. Lincoln pulled out tray after tray of gem coppers such as would have been the substance of dreams. Later, John Jones was to write Max Mehl that Lincoln had obtained the coins at time of issue9 but, because the firm was not established until after 1830, Collins's statement that the set was diligently assembled over the 35 years prior to his visit is probably the correct account.

Somehow, Collins had the composure to buy 28 cents, 5 half cents and a moderate assortment of early silver for the grand sum of $300. The 28 cents included MS-65 examples of 1793 (a chain), 1794, 1795, (2), 1796, 1797, 1800, 1801, 1802 (2), 1806, 1807, and 1808. A second trip to W.S. Lincoln in the spring of 1892 secured a roughly equivalent haul: this time the 1793 was a wreath, the 1794 was a Hays-1, the 1796 was a liberty cap and so forth.

At its high water mark in 1895, the Collins Collection contained all dates and types, every one of them in mint state save for the 1793 cap, the 1799 and the 1839/36. Many dates were represented by multiple specimens, e.g. six 1794s, four 1801s, etc. These likewise were all in mint condition. Judging from the owner's eloquent descriptions, as many of the pieces were above MS-65 as were below. Space does not permit the rendering of a representative sample of Collins's prose but his cataloguing of his 1808 will give the reader the general drift: "1808, 13 stars. Get off the track, this is the best, sharpest, handsomest 1808 known. Every star centered and bold, even milling. Color a superb smooth steel with lingering traces original red. One of the gems of my gems. Worth any price. For several years I sought in vain for a satisfactory 1808. Dr. Hall of Boston has a beauty I envied—but now I have a superior one. As a rule, 1808 is always weak in the hair. This is sharp and bold and in its unique condition I consider it one of the rarest and most valuable cents I own. Superb and Matchless. Unique. From Lincoln 1891 purchase."


The coin and curios business must have gotten off to a slow start because the first three years of its existence see Collins peeling off some of his precious cents. He sold one or two pieces each to Borden, Hall and C.H. Deetz. The last transaction included the Hays-1 sold by Deetz to George Clapp in 1923. Clapp, one of the few truly wealthy individuals to collect large cents, considered the Hays-1 to be his most valuable possession.

Collins's major divestiture of this period was a 137 piece consignment to Ed Frossard's auction sale of March 2, 1897. Comparing the owner's inventory to the consignment, one can sense the agonizing care taken to pick pieces that would raise money without disturbing the essence of the set. In the end, most of the lots came out of the duplicate box but these were spiced with Mickley's 1793 wreath, a gem 1796 fillet obtained from the Chapmans, and a dozen or so of the Lincoln mint states.

In any event, the better than $ 1,000 proceeds from the sale were sufficient to get Collins over the financial hump. He made no more sales until 1919, when Beckwith made him an offer for five pieces that was simply too good to refuse. The details of this transaction have been well chronicled by Jesse Patrick.10 Suffice to observe that almost every cent collector has his price, but there are relatively few buyers with the reckless abandon to pay it.

Back in 1910, Collins exhibited his cents at the ANA Convention and B. Max Mehl was so inspired by this exhibit that he set about assembling a gem set of his own. As a successful dealer, Mehl had far more opportunities than the average collector: in 1914, he bought Adler's collection—"one of the finest ever formed:" 11 in 1929 he picked from the French collection and, in the early 1930s, he bought heavily at the Morgan and Sternberg sales. Then, one quarter of a century after first seeing the Collins Exhibit, Mehl bought it intact at the 1937 ANA Convention. Although he wrote "my collection was so far advanced I could improve but very few of the specimens (with) this great collection,"12 such was hardly the case. Mehl's inventory, a copy of which was kindly supplied to me by Del Bland, reveals no less than 33 Collins pieces in the primary set. Collins might have sold some of his prizes but he still had plenty left that could improve 25 years of effort by an active professional.

All good cent collections come to an end, but Benjamin Collins did some collecting that will endure. That he could be so passionately interested in his hobby, that he was so willing to share his excitement with others, that he could assemble a meaningful collection on a modest budget, these and other aspects of the man explain something about who we are or who we want to be. Our large cent tradition is a dimension of our hobby that will enrich us as we pay it heed. We must be aware of those who have gone before us and mindful of those who will come after.

End Notes

Preface to Collins's unpublished Large Cent Inventory.
The Numismatist 1928, p. 355.
"An Adventure with an Auction Catalogue," The Numismatist 1980, pp. 2442-48.
"The First Perfectionist," Penny-Wise 31 (1972), pp. 127-35.
Collins's Large Cent Inventory.
The Numismatist 1924, pp. 305-6.
See above, n. 6.
The Numismatist 1924, p. 357-58.
Letter of Oct. 14, 1937 from Jones to Mehl.
See above, n. 3.
Letter of June 11, 1943 from Mehl to Oscar J. Pearl.
See above, n. 11.

Robert Scot's Earliest Device Punches

Walter Breen

Coinage of the America's Conference at The American Numismatic Society, New York City

© The American Numismatic Society

For well over a century, collectors of early U.S. Mint issues have been fascinated with the diversity of heads on the coins of 1794, particularly the cents. As early as June 1869, Edward Maris had begun assigning fanciful names to them: Egeria, The Coquette, Amatory Face, Venus Marina, The Ornate, Nondescript, Young Head, Pyramidal Head, Many Haired, Patagonian, Roman Plicae, etc.1 Maris intended these as mnemonics, in an epoch when coin photographs were rarer than the coins. His efforts redoubled collector attention to what seemed an immense diversity of styles of coiffure or even facial types; and many common varieties were in greater demand than rarer ones simply because they were easily remembered. (An obvious example is Maris's '95 Head.) Ten years later, Edouard Frossard alluded to Maris, "whose happy nomenclature, in the description of the 1794 Cents, has generally been accepted by collectors."2 (Not that they had much choice, come to think of it: nobody else had written about 1794s in the meantime.)

Nevertheless, as early as 1893, Frossard's collaboration with William Wallace Hays quietly dropped the Maris names, apparently on the grounds that photographic illustrations made such cryptic mnemonics unnecessary.3 Nor did the later illustrated monographs by Thomas L. Elder and Samuel Hudson Chapman include the names.

However, for sentimental reasons, William H. Sheldon revived the Maris names for the varieties, adding others of his own.4 This practice doubtless encouraged collectors to "cherish" particular obverses, as Sheldon put it,5 even though we have all learned the hard way that it is easier to attribute a 1794 cent if you start with the reverse.

Sheldon shared the common belief that Scot engraved every one of the 1794 cent obverses by hand.6 This belief gave the coins of this year a special attraction: they were more individualized than the cents of 1795 and later years, in which the heads and wreaths were meant to be identical, and the varieties consisted mostly in shifting positions of individual letters and numerals. Sheldon's belief—one of the cornerstones of his cent philosophy—will be here reexamined in the light of evidence unknown to him, but to be included in the forthcoming Encyclopedia of United States Cents, 1793-1814.

Following Chapman, Sheldon alludes to an alleged progressive simplification and lowering of relief on the 1794 cent obverses as the styles shifted from S-21, The Flat Pole, which shares a reverse with the Heads of 1793, to S-NC-3, which shares a reverse with the Head of 1795.7 Sheldon did not live long enough to realize just how drastic an oversimplification this was. Lower relief certainly reflected Scot's learning his trade as Mint Engraver. His predecessor's cent device punch, the Head of 1793, was in higher relief than anything Scot ever attempted, so that coins struck from dies sunk from it lacked detail, even despite Scot's hand strengthening of each obverse. Low relief was a necessary compromise in the absence of a steam press. But from then to the present day, the Mint has consistently opposed any attempt to make coins in high relief like medals or ancient Greek coins. This policy partly underlay Charles E. Barber's attempts to sabotage the St.Gaudens high relief Roman Numerals double eagles, though Barber's professional jealousy and opposition to any outsider's designs were also factors.8





When I received the assignment from EAC to do the new book on cents, one of the first unsolved problems I had to deal with was the emission sequence for 1794. No previous writer on large cents had ever provided a completely satisfactory order for this date, not even Sheldon—and he actually admitted it!9 Yet if we are to make technical and historical sense, let alone artistic sense, out of the divergent styles of 1794 cent obverses, a correct emission sequence is essential. Among other things, it will help in assigning the varieties to their actual diesinkers: a task in which all previous writers about 1794 cents have failed, partly because the necessary comparison methods had not yet been devised.

There are several governing principles in devising a rational emission sequence:

  • Of any two varieties sharing a common die, that with the shared die in earlier state precedes the other. For mechanical reasons, this takes precedence over all to follow.
  • Group together all coins struck from a single circumscribed batch of blanks.
  • Wherever possible, group together all dies sharing a single device punch.
  • Wherever possible, a die from an earlier device punch precedes dies from a later device punch.
  • Wherever possible, group together all dies sharing the same letter and/or numeral punches.
  • Wherever possible, a die showing earlier letter or numeral punches precedes dies showing later ones.
  • Wherever possible, group together all dies sharing a peculiarity with each other but with no others.
  • Wherever possible, a die of earlier style precedes those of later styles.

I do not know where these principles have been spelled out, but they are intuitively obvious, they make sense in terms of minting practice, and they have been used in every numismatic field where emission sequences are possible at all, from ancient Greek through Noe's monographs on Massachusetts silver to my own Encyclopedia of U.S. Half Cents. In practice, occasional minor compromises are necessary to accommodate instances where a die has been removed from press for repairs, while another was briefly substituted.

Nevertheless, every previously published emission sequence for 1794 cents has violated one or more of these principles. Part of the difficulty has been in identifying and unambiguously defining style in an extreme diversity of heads; part was the erroneous and misleading assumption that Scot made all those dies completely by hand. Dropping that assumption was a necessary step toward solving the problem; another was considering the chronology of 1793-94 Mint activities. It is easier to start with the latter.


Coinage of 1793 wreath cents ended with a delivery of only 176 specimens on July 17. Julian conjectured that at this point the Mint had run out of cent dies.10 On July 20, Chief Coiner Henry Voigt began delivering half cents, from 7/8 inch blanks that had been prepared in May, struck from dies that Adam Eckfeldt had completed before July 18—probably from sketches furnished by Mint Director David Rittenhouse.11 In the meantime, Rittenhouse hired the illustrious Joseph Wright as first Mint Engraver, evidently because he was pleased with the design and execution of Wright's pattern quarter dollar of 1792 (the two copper pieces with eagle on segment of globe, surrounded by 87 minute stars).

Wright's first task was to prepare working dies for an anticipated larger coinage of cents. It was out of the question to incise each die entirely by hand from scratch, as Henry Voigt had done for the Chain and Wreath designs (the latter most likely also from Rittenhouse sketches). Wright therefore began work on an obverse device punch which was to become the Liberty Cap design, and which would be reused in 1794 as the Head of 1793.

Because the Chain and Wreath cents were comparatively thick in proportion to their diameters, they did not ring well: a circumstance then thought to ease the task of counterfeiters. Accordingly, someone (probably Wright, Voigt, or Eckfeldt, doubtless with Rittenhouse's approval) decided to enlarge cent diameters from 1 1/16 to 1 1/8 inches. As the second batch of half cents also had their diameters enlarged from 7/8 to 15/16 inch, we may take the two events as reflecting the same official decision. These broad flan half cents were delivered September 18, from blanks made before July 26,12 which gives an approximate date for the decision.

The new planchet size meant that each working die had to be of a larger diameter as well. Relief had to be kept low, preferably lower than before, so that the larger designs could be imparted to the coins without extra force, most of all without extra blows from the dies, a Mint Bureau consideration even today. Use of a device punch was an essential step in standardizing this crucial variable: all working dies sunk from the same hub would strike coins not only with an identical design but in the same relief, and therefore with a better chance of having enough details brought up. New blank cutters were necessary for making the new larger cent planchets. During the ensuing weeks, the Coiner's Department began rolling and cutting into blanks the 2,434 pounds of scrap copper bought August 1 from Ferdinand Gourdon.

By early September, thousands of Philadelphians were dying of yellow fever, most likely brought by mosquitoes aboard ships arriving from the West Indies. Knowing they were in danger if they stayed in the city, Mint officials and personnel began preparations to close and evacuate the institution for the duration, though they did not know what spread the disease.



Joseph Wright died of yellow fever on September 12 or 13, 1793.13 He had completed only one major project—the Liberty Cap device punch; but he apparently did not live to see even one coin of his new design. As the two wreaths of this group are hand drawn, they may have been by Wright or possibly Adam Eckfeldt. Eckfeldt, then of the Engraving Department and later Chief Coiner, supervised the mechanical task of sinking four working obverses dated 1793 from this device punch, even as in December he would sink three more from it for January 1794 use. Letter punches were by the Germantown typefounder Jacob Bay.14 We are not certain who hammered the letters and numerals into each working die; Eckfeldt or some apprentice could have done so. Use of beaded borders increased the amount of time each working die took to complete. Most likely a twin punch was used, to minimize gaps or overlaps in the beaded circles; the only obvious one is above M on the S-12 reverse. We do not know who decided to use triangular serrations for the 1794 dies.



On the very day that the Mint authorities closed shop, September 18, 1793, Voigt officially reported delivery of 11,056 Liberty Cap cents. Die state evidence of the reverses indicates that the first few thousand coins of this design came from the Sheldon 14 obverse die, which had split vertically, either in hardening or immediately afterward. Failures in hardening had been a plague not only from the beginning of the Philadelphia Mint's operations; they had quadrupled the problems facing all makers of Vermont, Connecticut, and New Jersey coppers. Hardening was the moment of truth for any working die or device punch. It was then normally done by heating the die or punch red hot, removing it from the furnace with tongs, then swishing it around in cold water until the bubbling stopped. A die that cracked from this drastic temperature shock sang its own death wail: a high-pitched screech. Many dies that survived hardening promptly bulged, cracked, or chipped, suggesting that the process had exposed hidden flaws—if it had not created them.15 Recall that Joseph Wright's pattern quarter reverse had cracked on the second impression. This was all the more reason for using device punches to multiply working dies, simultaneously minimizing manufacturing time, costs, and easing replacement of any that failed prematurely. According to William Kneass, Scot's successor as Engraver of the Mint, Adam Eckfeldt invented a solution to the hardening problem in 1795—he aimed cold water under pressure through a nozzle at the red hot die face.16

By early November, the epidemic ended as mysteriously as it had begun; evidently cold weather had killed off the mosquitoes. On November 12, Mint officials returned to Philadelphia and reopened the buildings. Wright's beautiful device punch would not last indefinitely, quite aside from its being in such high relief that the coins of this design almost never showed all the minute details of hair (the glorious exception is the Eliasberg coin).17 Eckfeldt could not be spared to make device punches or to hand-cut working dies. Rittenhouse began looking for a successor to Joseph Wright. No explanation is at hand as to why he did not hire Benjamin Dudley, who had made the dies for the 1783 CONSTELLATIO NOVA silver patterns, or Peter Getz, who had made the 1792 Washington half dollars, or any of the diesinkers who had worked on the state coppers; possibly he could not locate any of them.

Robert Scot received the appointment as Mint Engraver on November 23, 1793, and began work at once. His credentials consisted solely of his work as a bank note plate engraver for the State of Virginia; he apparently knew nothing of the technicalities of sinking dies or making device punches. He was then 53 years old, and he would remain Mint Engraver until age 83, despite failing eyesight, while four Mint Directors were to come and go. Because Albion Cox (the Mint's Assayer) and Chief Coiner Henry Voigt had not managed to post their security bonds, the Mint could not issue gold or silver coins. Scot's first task was therefore to work on dies for 1794 cents and half cents. This task occupied him and Adam Eckfeldt (who must have taught him everything) through December 1793 and into early January 1794.



Somehow Scot managed to muddle through well enough to add letters, dates, and borders to the three obverses just sunk from Wright's device punch, and to copy Wright's wreath sketch onto a few reverses which he could complete by punching in letters, fraction and borders. The result was 11,000 cents delivered on January 13, 1794—the Heads of 1793. That meant fewer than 4,000 coins per obverse die. They looked oddly crude compared with the 1793 Caps. In the meantime, Scot must have been hard at work on other cent dies, as coinage went on without further interruption through February 5. Julian has conjectured that between then and the next delivery, February 21, Scot completed more cent dies.18 However, part of that time was used for sinking half cent dies and readying them for press, as the first delivery of this denomination took place on February 22.

Scot was no more prepared for the task of sinking working dies (let alone making device punches) than the average schoolboy. Fortunately, he had professional help in the person of Adam Eckfeldt. Doubtless Eckfeldt showed him how to make working dies by hand: sinking the center dot with a compass, incising layout circles to define where letters and borders must go; imparting device outlines to the die blank from sketches, by applying transfer wax; incising the main device, hammering in letters and numerals from individual punches, hammering in the serrated borders; taking impressions in fusible alloy (splashers) at each stage for inspection if necessary. Scot must have skipped this step most of the time, to judge by the number of blundered dies. Eckfeldt presumably also showed him how to correct errors by hand or by repunching, and how to lap and polish die fields to remove any burrs raised by previous incising or use of punches. Only then was each die ready for hardening, cleaning and repolishing, final inspection and installation in the press.19

However, because each working die would make only a few thousand coins before cracking, chipping or caving in (usually at center), even if it had not suffered clashing accidents in the meantime, Scot had to multiply dies rapidly, preferably as nearly identical as possible, in anticipation of greatly increased orders for coins. This meant that he had to learn to make device punches.

Scot's heads on most of the half dollars of 1794-95 are so nearly identical that they must have been made from a device punch. The same remark holds for the eagles on these half dollars, and for their smaller counterparts on the half dismes of 1794-95. Evidently during 1794 Eckfeldt taught Scot to make barely adequate device punches, which are in low relief like the coins. They would have been essential most of all for cents, which were the Mint's principal output for 1794 and some later years, far more than for half dismes, which remained limited issues through 1805. But if so, why are the cent heads not more alike? Why are they so different that even Dr. Sheldon could go on believing until the end of his life that Scot made every cent die by hand?

The answer eluded me for years until I literally got it in a dream, last June 2. I dreamed I was comparing 1794 cent obverses by superimposing slides, noticing that though the hair was different the facial features were identical, and that I greeted the discovery with surprise and delight. After I awoke, I asked Jack Collins if he had a set of slides of 1794 cents; he did, and when I began the comparisons, the dream came true in detail.

Not that this should have been a total surprise. David Proskey was apparently the first to point out (in his 1879 serial) that the three Head of 1793 obverses were made from the old (Joseph Wright) device punch. On side-by-side comparison, S-17a shows what mint error fanciers call design hub doubling; this is plainest at curl points, base of lowest curl and truncation, and (on the sharpest survivors only) on many other details of hair.

When I studied Joseph Brobston's half cent collection (1952), I deduced that at least three, possibly all, of the 1794 half cent obverses came from a single device punch (see pp. 18-19). The Gynandroid Head, with pointed 9 in date, may have been from the same device punch as the others, though if so it was so drastically altered as to prevent certainty.


Breen 1a


Breen 2b


Breen 3b


Breen 6b


Breen 7

The same remarks apply to the High Relief Head, which was so deeply recut that the coins made from it would not stack without a high protective border. An odd precedent for the latter is Abel Buell's Hercules Head Connecticut obverse, which was from the same complete hub as the rest of his obverses of 1786 but suffered similar deep recutting. Possibly both instances represented attempts to eliminate some kind of blunder.20





Charles Steigerwalt, back in 1908, was already aware that there are three close matches among the 1794 half cent reverses (see p. 21),21 though again nobody seems to have figured out why until the 1950s. Maris, probably working from worn or weakly struck examples, had confused two of these dies. During study of Brobston's collection, I also deduced that these reverses were made from a complete hub, including all letters, fraction and serrated border, whereas the other two were obviously hand cut dies, as were their successors through 1800. The three hubbed half cent reverses can be distinguished only by differing details of hand strengthening such as numbers of extra berries. Most leaves and many letters were also individually repunched. Each of these dies therefore required so much handwork that it took nearly as much time to complete as one totally hand cut; perhaps more, if one counts the extra time needed to make the hub and sink it into each die blank. One of the three may conceivably have been the original matrix from which the hub was raised to make the other two working dies; this is undeterminable because all three dies were recut differently.

A complete hub was a much more ambitious undertaking than a device punch, if only because it required much more power at the press than anything else short of the largest medals. Three years later, Matthew Boulton could use complete hubs to multiply dies for 50,000,000 British pence, only because he powered his Soho Mint with James Watt's biggest steam engines. But the Philadelphia Mint could neither order a steam coining press from local foundries nor build its own; the biggest of its five coining presses, used for silver dollars, medals, and hubbing, is likely to have been the one bought from Samuel Howell, Jr. & Co. on March 25, 1795,22 and even this was only marginally adequate.


Breen 1-A


Breen 2-B


Breen 3-C

Nevertheless, from the 1790s to the present day, the Mint's ideal goal was the same as Boulton's: mass production coinage so nearly identical (except for dates) that any visible deviation is suspicious. Most likely Rittenhouse and Eckfeldt had noticed the extreme uniformity of Abel Buell's then familiar Mailed Bust Left 1786 Connecticut coppers, which used complete hubs including even the date, and which were the first American coins ever to be made by that technique. Scot's three 1794 half cent reverses were the next, and the first federal coins to be so made.23 Scot and Eckfeldt tried it again in 1798-1801 on over 40 cent reverses, with the same result as in 1794. Each working die needed time-consuming handwork, and occasionally this led to blunders: 1798 S-165 and 179 both show letters first inverted (rotated 180 degrees) then corrected. Their successors, William Kneass, Christian Gobrecht and Franklin Peale, tried again in 1835-39 on the cent reverses, with the same result; but thanks to steam power, they succeeded in making effectively identical reverses in 1839-40 on several different denominations; and later Mint Engravers have continued to make identical reverses in a given denomination ever since.





But back to the superimposed slides of 1794 cents: when I superimposed a transparency of the earliest Scot cent obverse, S-21, successively on slides of the next dozen obverses in Sheldon's order (through S-40), I found that the facial features, busts and caps match identically except for occasional minor reworking of some folds of cap. Poles, lettering, dates, and borders do not; nor are the heads identically centered on the dies. Handwork has produced rounder cheeks and lips on a few. The greatest differences are always in the hair, even as with the half cent obverses. Evidently Scot ran into the same problem in multiplying cent obverses from a device punch as with the half cent obverses, and he solved it in the same way.









Maris's Egeria, Scarred Head, Ornate, Venus Marina, and the rest in this group, are therefore not merely sisters, they are clones wearing different hairdos. Chapman only narrowly missed reaching the same solution 60 years ago; he grouped all these obverses as Style 2, evidently recognizing the resemblances, but unable to account for them.

With the later obverses it was the same story. Scot apparently found that his first cent head chipped a little too much at the curls to be usable without a great deal more hand strengthening on each working die. Coinage stopped on March 28, after deliveries of Style 2 coins totaling 286,300.24







Probably by late April or early May 1794, Scot completed a copy punch, and with Eckfeldt's help sank some 16 more working obverses from it, to make the varieties Sheldon 41 through 66. These heads were more vigorously reworked than their predecessors, in varying degrees of relief and coarseness or fineness of hair, which explains why Chapman grouped them as his Styles 3, 4, 5. Crudities such as the Fallen 4 (S-63) doubtless represent some apprentice's ineptitude in hammering letters and numerals. Coinage resumed May 8 and continued through August 29, on which date operations halted: the rolling mills broke down, and apparently all cent obverses had been used up. Deliveries totaled 500,200.25 As Congress had in the meantime passed a law reducing the surety bond requirements for Cox and Voigt, these two officers found friends willing to risk signing their bonds, and the Mint was thereafter legally able to coin silver and gold. Rittenhouse took this interruption in cent coinage as an opportunity to prepare for the first federal mintage of silver, and ordered Scot to begin making dies for dollars, half dollars, and half dismes. The first half dollars and dollars appeared in late fall and early winter 1794; the first half dismes in March 1795, some of them bearing the date 1794.

On November 19, 1794, the Mint hired John Smith Gardner as Scot's assistant: the first to stay for more than a few days, and the most gifted aside from John Reich. On November 21, cent coinage resumed with a delivery of 21,000; these probably comprised the last few varieties from Scot's second head punch, ending with S-66. Another interruption in cent coinage followed, partly to allow Scot time to make dies for silver coins. In the meantime, Gardner raised the first of his two head punches for cents, and sank five obverses from it. These made the varieties S-67 through 71 and NC-3: Maris's Roman Plicae. Chapman placed these and the Head of 1795 in his Style 6. Coinage of December 16-24 totaled 80,000 pieces. Lower relief paid off: this aggregate averages 16,000 coins per obverse die, which is much higher than previously; the more so since one die cracked at hardening (S-68) and another must have failed at once (NC-3).



The final delivery, December 30, 1794, of 20,021 coins, comprises the single variety from Gardner's second head punch, S-72, the Exact Head of 1795. Cent coinage halted, not to resume until October 1795—from the same device punch.



So far we have only discussed obverses. What of the reverses? Were these all cut by hand as Sheldon believed? Apparently some few were, while many others were made from three or possibly four wreath punches—a discovery also made last June 2 as a result of that same dream.

A wreath punch is a simpler proposition than a head punch, partly because of smaller size and lower relief, partly because it required less work to complete. Each wreath punch for cents comprised stems, 14 leaves on left branch, 18 on right, ribbon with bow, possibly stem ends, and possibly a few berries. Other berries, their short stems, fraction, letters, and borders all had to be added by hand.











The two reverses found with the Head of 1793 obverses are handcut; Scot's first wreath punch appears on S-22 through 28 (except 26) and NC-8. Then comes a group of hand-cut dies. Another wreath punch was used on reverses Q through V of S-41 through 47, then more hand-cut dies. Scot's final wreath punch for 1794 includes reverses AA through JJ of S-57 through 71, except S-63 and NC-6.

Such drastic recutting as could have made reverse P from rev. N occurs on other 1794 working dies. A notorious instance is the Marred Field, Sheldon obverse 11, 12, and 17, which has a chip out of left field. This die was twice resoftened, the hair reworked, then rehardened, and nevertheless survived six reverses. No other die in the history of the Mint ever received such treatment, and fewer than six other dies are known to have been sent to press, resoftened, reworked and rehardened even once. Probably this was from the same batch of tool steel that yielded the Closed Wreath die X of S-49 through 54, which also survived six obverses.









A more surprising and paradoxical instance of drastic retooling is that of the Fallen 4, S-63, which was softened, reground (making berries smaller), lowest right leaf strengthened, left stem lengthen- ed and other minor retouchings made, and altered in the border to add 94 partly overlapped stars, creating the Starred Reverse, S-48. I proved this by comparing superimposed slides during the abovementioned June 2 experiment. Denis Loring points out that he had visually identified these as earlier and later states of a single die some years ago; I had missed that issue of Penny Wise, so that this may be taken as independent confirmation. The paradox is that a reverse which had already served to make over 10,000 cents was chosen for this experiment rather than a spare die not yet hardened; surely Eckfeldt knew that a rehardened die would have a shorter life than normal, as this one certainly did; it quickly buckled across, creating possibly the most famous rarity among 1794 cents. Robert Julian has conjectured that the partly concealed stars were an experimental anticounterfeiting measure, even the number 94 more than coincidentally matching the date.26 We may never know why this was abandoned; possibly Rittenhouse realized that it was a mere frill.

Collectors hitherto have been more interested in the differences among varieties than in the similarities; and they have not realized how much can be learned from the latter. Apparently a different brain hemisphere is involved: the left hemisphere is supposed to be involved in perceiving and analyzing differences, the right hemisphere for globally recognizing resemblances. Now that we have begun learning to look at the same coins from both perspectives, the evidence here described and illustrated strongly suggests that in other denominations and dates further discoveries of the kind still remain to be made.

End Notes

Edward Maris, Varieties of the Copper Issues of the United States' Mint in the Year 1794 (Philadelphia, 1869), p. 4.
Ed[ouard] Frossard, Monograph of United States Cents and Half Cents, Issued Between the Years 1793 and 1857 ... (Irvington, N.Y., 1879), p.12.
E. Frossard and W. W. Hays, Varieties of the United States Cents of the Year 1794 (New York City, 1893), p. 3.
William H. Sheldon, Penny Whimsy (New York City, 1958), especially in the chapter on 1794, pp. 83-142; and p. 18.
Sheldon (above, n. 4), p. 138.
Sheldon (above, n. 4), pp. 5, 133 and less obviously throughout the chapter on 1794.
Sheldon (above, n. 4), p. 133, from S[amuel] Hudson Chapman, The United States Cents of the Year 1794, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia, 1926), pp. 3-4.
Henry Hering, "History of the $10 and $20 Gold Coins—1907 Issue," The Numismatist 1949, pp. 455-58. Hering was Augustus St. Gaudens's pupil and assistant.
Sheldon (above, n. 4), pp. 84 and 107.
Robert W. Julian, "The Beginning of Coinage—1793," Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine 1963, pp. 1359 – 64; "The Cent Coinage of 1793," Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine, December 1974, pp. 60ff.
Walter Breen, Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents 1793-1857 (South Gate, Cal., 1984), pp. 30, 68.
Breen (above, n. 11), p. 67.
The death notice was published in the National Gazette, September 14, 1793, cited in J.D. Brady, "Rediscovery of Joseph Wright's Medal of Washington," ANSMN 22 (1977), p. 256.
Pay records for 1793 in Record Group 104, Treasury Section, National Archives.
Breen (above, n. 11), p. 20.
"Mr. K" letter in Franklin Journal (Feb. 1826), pp. 97-99 quoted in Colonial Newsletter 15 (1976), p. 543, and further commented on by this writer in Penny-Wise 56 (1976), p. 222.
Walter Breen, Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Proof Coins, 1722-1977 (New York City, 1977). The Eliasberg cent (thought to have begun life as a prooflike presentation coin) is illustrated on p. 31, from the Chapman, Cleneay, Mougey, Bement, Ellsworth and Atwater collections.
Robert W. Julian, "Cent Coinage 1794-1795," Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine, January 1975, pp. 6ff.
Breen (above, n. 11), pp. 19-22.
Walter Breen, "Legal and Illegal Connecticut Mints, 1785-1789," in Eric Newman and Richard G. Doty, eds., Studies on Money in Early America, (New York City, 1976), p. 121.
Charles Steigerwalt, "1794 Half Cents," The Numismatist 1908, p. 176.
Sheldon (above, n. 4), pp. 14-15 from Archives documents.
Breen (above, n. 20), p. 121.
Julian (above, n. 18), p. 17.
Julian(above, n. 18), p. 17.
Julian (above, n. 18), p. 9.

Copper Coinages and the Monetary Economy of the Early United States

Elvira Clain-Stefanelli

Coinage of the America's Conference at The American Numismatic Society, New York City

© The American Numismatic Society

Copper, unlike gold and silver, has been historically the coinage of the broad masses. After all it was copper and not gold or silver which bought the daily bread of the poorer classes. Thus copper was the most needed, the most used, but at the same time, the most neglected of the coins. Without it the daily life of large segments of the population was rendered difficult beyond belief, contributing also to the stagnation of the economic development of the entire nation. It is difficult for us, who are used to a smooth flow of the daily cash supply to imagine the tribulations that the generations prior to our period had to endure. It was a continuous battle to procure the necessary cash, and to figure the family budget in a constantly fluctuating rate of exchange.

A brief glance at the role of copper throughout the ages might give us a wider perspective. Copper, a discovery of the neolithic age, found a great development in ancient Egypt. The metal was given an intrinsic value and was used by weight in barter transactions. The further development of copper as an economic tool is evidenced by the famous Keftiu bars found on the shores of Asia Minor, and by the wealth of copper in its form as bronze—an alloy of copper and tin—extensively used for coinages by the ancient Greeks. Ancient China used bronze as money in the form of implements and continued for two millenia an economy based on a coinage made almost exclusively of bronze and copper. Cyprus, which developed from the fourth millenium B.C. an extensive production of this metal, exported it to Rome which coined the word cuprum from cyprium. Rome started its trade with crude ingots of aes rude, casting it later into regularly shaped ingots with markings, the aes signatum, arriving finally at the widely used aes grave, the Roman coins which were at the foundation of the monetary economy of a growing world empire.

The precious metals, silver and especially gold, were late-comers in the Roman system, differing from the Greek monetary evolution in which bronze was a late addition to its basically monometallistic silver coinage. The Roman imperial period made a more extensive use of copper in the form of bronze, and the Greco-Roman world of Asia Minor and Asia flourished economically on a coinage rich in copper. With the fall of Rome, bronze lost its importance, and the medieval money market brought the small silver coin into the daily exchange, relegating copper to sporadic appearances. Only during the Renaissance period did copper surface once again. The four-maravedi pieces which Charles and Johanna gave to the New World, should be noted as the first copper coins of our hemisphere.

When discussing the role of copper coinages in the economy of the early United States we find a situation which differs fundamentally from that customary in the empires of the ancient world. In the monetary economy of the American Colonies there coexisted two basic influences: the English and the Spanish traditions. The economic infancy of the United States was strongly influenced by the mercantilistic philosophy of these powers. The mother country's economic development was based on a favorable balance of trade guaranteed by a wealth of gold and silver which had to be produced by an active trade with the colonies; at the same time the colonies had to buy the manufactured goods from England with "good" or "honest" money.

The colonists came with little coin into a world where monetary trade was an unknown factor. A new and interesting phenomenon took place, the tendencies to transplant the well-known customs of the old country and the harsh realities of a completely new and different surrounding forced the colonists to sway from their old traditions. True to its mercantilistic belief, England expected the colonists to be self-supporting, therefore it left them without any real financial and monetary aid. The lack of coins, especially those of copper, the main instrument of daily transactions, rendered the life of the early settlers very difficult and forced them to compromises in order to survive economically. Barter became their way of life, especially for the daily small transactions, wampum was used in the trade with the Indians; and the merchants, though they willingly used whatever coins came their way, were forced to rely in general on credit.

The economic hardship brought about by this scarcity of coins was extended to the entire northern continent, including Canada and the West Indies. It created a very unrestrained situation, whereby everything that could pass as money was accepted. We had therefore on the one hand a multitude of money substitutes and coins of various origins, metals, weights, finenesses and shapes— even halved, quartered or holed—being avidly accepted, and, on the other hand, intransigent laws imposed by the mother country which forbade the creation of legislated and well-organized coinages. This chaotic situation was very detrimental to the poorer classes, beneficial only to the speculators who became rich playing the money game between home, the West Indies, Central America and England. When studying the economic and monetary situation of the early beginnings of this country, one wonders at the adaptability of the people. In contradiction with the great variety of means of exchange, the accounting books were kept in pounds and shillings. As an author put it: "Traders kept their books although deal- ings were in tobacco."

One of the main reasons for the monetary impasse, concerning especially the small change, lies in the tradition brought by the settlers from England, and in their continued economic ties with an intransigent central government set mostly on the exploitation of the colonies. Queen Elizabeth and her successors, as well as Parliament and the high nobility, considered the preoccupation with coins of inferior metals, as copper, tin or lead, beneath their dignity. The legitimate demands to replace the small silver coins for the daily market, which were easily worn or lost, with larger coins of a cheaper metal, were ignored by Elizabeth, who authorized a copper coinage only for Ireland, but hesitated to do it for England. The great inconvenience created by this lack of an appropriate coinage needed in daily transactions motivated the private sector, mostly merchants, to produce their own token coinage in base metals in large quantities. As an author of the seventeenth century stated: "The tokens...which every tavern and tippling house presumed to stamp and utter for immediate exchange."

The English Crown authorized a copper coinage only in 1672 consisting mostly of half pence and farthings. Through the token issue a new balance was created, whenever the royal coinage diminished or was discontinued, the token issue increased, and vice versa. Especially during the great scarcity of official copper coins between 1787 and 1795 and the war years of 1811 to 1815, tokens tended to flood the market. The reason for the neglect on the part of the Crown was that copper coins were not considered proper currency. In 1757 the Assay Master of the London Mint stated "copper coins with us are properly not money but a kind of token passing by the way of exchange instead of parts of the smallest pieces of silver coin." In addition the supply of copper bullion fluctuated causing price changes which in turn deterred the Mint from striking them regularly. The English money market had a way of establishing a balance: whatever was in surplus found its way to the colonies.

The settlers had little bullion available and one of their main preoccupations was to obtain metallic money. The trade with England absorbed most of the "good" money available, especially gold and silver, which came through trade with the West Indies, where Jamaica was the main bullion center. Although "truck" or trade in agricultural goods was widely used, especially in the rural areas, small change of base metal was essential for the home trade. To follow the venturesome evolution of the copper coinage in the early eighteenth century is indeed highly interesting, revealing on the one hand the constant battle between tradition and legality, and on the other hand a trend to adapt to the dictum of the daily needs. Massachusetts opened, against the orders of the mother country, a mint in 1652 in Boston, but it produced only silver coins. In the northern colonies English half pence of copper were accepted 12 to 18 to the colonial shilling. Other additions as the Irish coppers (St. Patricks) brought to New Jersey in 1681 by Mark Newby were only of little relief. Nevertheless William Wood's so-called "Rosa Americana" pieces of 1722-23 were rejected in New England because they were not of pure copper—actually they were more valuable, containing an addition of zinc and silver.

The first copper coins made on American soil were issued as private tokens by Samuel Higley from copper smelted in his mine near Granby, Connecticut, between 1737 and 1739. At first his coins, valued at three cents, were readily accepted, only to be later rejected as not being "real or legal money" although Higley was open to any compromise pleading "value me as you please." His Yankee ingenuity failed, the obedience toward English laws was still deeply ingrained and a token coinage, a frequent occurence for over a century in England, seemed unacceptable in Connecticut. A decade later, Massachusetts and Connecticut received an official shipment of 10 tons of English regal coppers, half pence and farthings, sent as compensation for war debts incurred by the states. Virginia was the only state which had the authority to have its own copper coinage, but this venture was ill-fated. The copper half pence of 1773, bearing King George Ill's portrait and struck in London, arrived late, and due to a decrease in the price of copper and especially the outbreak of the Revolution, only very few coins reached actual circulation.

The big money battle was fought in the Colonies not for a copper coinage but for the introduction of paper money, and we find reams of contemporary literature debating the pros and cons of its issuance. The colonists went into the war heavily burdened by bills of credit. The specie of which there were 12 to 30 million dollars worth in circulation before the war, disappeared completely after the outbreak of hostilities. The Continental Congress could not impose any taxation to meet its obligations, therefore many influential people thought that the issuance of paper notes was their only salvation: "Why load my constituents with taxes when we can send to our printer and get wagonloads of money." The demon of fiat money took possession of the country and the Colonial Assemblies and the well-meaning but naive and inexperienced politicians became in the eyes of their compatriots "honorable thieves, zealots... yet robbers of the American people, pairing patriotism with financial crookedness." A few years later those wagonloads were worth almost nothing, as a contemporary said, "it quietly expired in the hands of the possessors...."

During the Revolution all states were faced with economic disaster. As England's primary strategy was against the fiscal stability of the states, to the self-inflicted evil of the uncontrolled issuance of bills of credit came the flood of counterfeits in paper and coin, sponsored by England. English half pennies, 1771-76, were brought to America and sold at a discount. After the Revolution there were American-made counterfeits from Newburgh, New York City. Private tokens were better made and circulated at a higher than intrinsic value, but after 1789 they ceased to circulate.

The disaster was too obvious not to make people aware that one of the most imperative duties of the newly established government was to salvage the monetary situation. The newly formed Confederation needed above all financial help since the country was completely depleted of money after the heavy sacrifices sustained during the war. The shot in the arm came from France and Holland which supplied, in a series of loans paid in French and Dutch silver and gold coins, the necessary funds. Thus the government could start to consolidate its leadership by paying old debts for armaments, interest on loans, and compensation for the great losses incurred by the citizens through the paper money debacle. By 1789, 10 million dollars had come into the country.

The federal system established by the Constitution of 1789 gave the sole right to regulate the new coinage to Congress; no state could coin its own money or emit bills. However there was no Treasury, as it was created only in September 1789, with Alexander Hamilton as the appointed Secretary. Until July 1785 the English pound was in use, and only on July 6, 1785 did the Congress establish after the model of the old Spanish eight real piece, the dollar of 365.64 grains fine silver, based on a ratio to gold of 15. 25 to 1. Gold and silver were made sole legal tender in payments of debts, copper was not deemed worth any consideration. It was a clear separation of the major coinage of high value and unlimited use, forming the standard, and the minor coinage of low value and limited use.

No new government ever started under more discouraging prospects. While Congress was preoccupied with theoretical questions, stringent, practical, financial emergencies were awaiting solutions. The country continued to be plagued by a great shortage of small change, absolutely indispensable for daily transactions. It is easy to imagine their calamities when daily wages of laborers and farmhands were counted in one dollar and some fractions, and when one pound of flour cost between 4 and 10 cents.

Copper is a convenient but inexpensive metal, and the custom of governments was to pay little attention to the regulation of this cheap aggregate coinage. It was only natural that copper coinage had the tendency to become fiat money, which means that its value could be arbitrarily established by law, becoming what the masses called "thieves money." But in the daily trade its intrinsic value mattered very much, which explains the constant rejection of lighter pieces. The purity or weight of the coins was often checked and shopkeepers had sorting boxes and coins wanting in weight or fineness were immediately discounted.


In order to satisfy the urgent need for "cheap money," states such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and Vermont put their own coins into circulation, and judging from the flourishing business of some coiners, such as James Jarvis of Connecticut, the demand was indeed great, especially since paper had been completely discredited, and the use of foreign copper coins had been outlawed by Congress in 1786. Finally the Continental Congress decided to fill this nationwide need and give to the united country a standard copper coin. Ordered in April 1787, the Fugio cent, the first national copper coin, actually the first coin issued by the United States, started its adventurous and ill-fated course. The coiner Jarvis from Connecticut had to produce 30 million coins without actually having either copper nor money. Two years later, Jarvis was a fugitive, and only part of the large issue was released in New York City. But the people, irritated by a prolonged experience with a lot of counterfeits and underweight British halfpence, refused this legally low weight cent (according to the new federal standard). In July 1789, 100 Fugios were worth only 21 cents and the results were disastrous; a real small-change panic broke out and New York City City had to rely again on paper money, issuing fractional notes of one to three pence in order to establish order and confidence in money.

The Fugio cent with its inspiring design and motto was as transient as the passing of time it referred to, leaving behind it financial ruin and tragedy; its distributor, Royal Flint, ended up in jail.

The most prominent minds of the nation—Thomas Jefferson, Robert Morris, Alexander Hamilton—participated actively in the general effort to establish a uniform, viable coinage. The process was slow and lengthy; it took almost a decade, fraught with endless debates and controversies. The decision fell in favor of a silver dollar patterned after the Spanish "milled dollar," as the basic unit. As the smallest unit, Jefferson, based on the decimal system, proposed the copper cent, or one hundreth of a silver dollar, to which was added later the half cent. The cent was formally adopted by Congress on July 6. 1785, but years were to pass before Congress enacted the National Coinage Act on April 2, 1792, creating the Mint and regulating a bimetallic coinage system of gold and silver. April 2, 1792, was also the birthday of the official United States cent and half cent. The cent was to be of good quality copper, and be the only coin to bear its denomination, but it did not share with the other coins the legal tender status. The Act of May 8 of the same year provided further details of its striking. The Director of the Mint was authorized to purchase copper, not to exceed 150 tons. After the striking of 50,000 dollars worth of coins, they were to be paid into the Treasury; six months later the coins were to be announced to the public in two gazettes. No other copper coins were to pass current as money.

This cent was the successor to the unaccountable half pennies produced in England by the Crown or by greedy counterfeiters, or forged on primitive machinery from copper gathered from every possible source in small towns of the various colonies. It was meant to help people, especially the worker, the farmer and the small trader, to face the daily payments with less tribulations, and with less fear that his earnings would be lost due to counterfeits or underweight pieces.

What was its destiny in the ensuing half century from the moment the union of thirteen states started economic life as a nation? The monetary system freed from the ties of economic bondage to another power was now anchored on its own national foundation. Uninhibitedly it could stir toward its own growth, abiding only by the conditions created by its fast growing economy. With the move of hundreds of thousands of people toward the West, toward new lands and new opportunities, additional demands were made on the monetary supply. The country went through not only a fast consolidation process, but also an enormously rapid expansion, with new homes, new farms, new businesses, new trades and new industries springing up everywhere which were in need of capital. The monetary system had to adapt to these rapidly increasing demands; it had to be flexible, but above all it had to be readily available. In this battle, paper currencies again took the lead supported by banks which were mushrooming all over the country. The metallic currency remained the more stable but less versatile medium of exchange.

What was the position of the newly created copper coinage of the cent and half cent in a national monetary framework where the major coinages of silver and gold continued to be supported by foreign coinages? Statistics might help us cast a light on the destiny of the minor coinages in the early nineteenth century. The country almost doubled during the first decades of its existence in area and population, from 864,746 square miles in 1790 to 1,681,828 square miles in 1810; from 3,929,214 people in 1790 to 7,239,881 in 1810, reaching 23,191,576 in 1850. The country consisted mainly of rural areas which related to the urban areas in a ratio of 18.5 to 1 in 1790, decreasing to 5.5 to 1 in 1850. But the earnings remained strangely unchanged, artisans and laborers earned $ 1.33 per day in 1790 and only $ 1.73 per day in 1830; farm workers were paid $ 8 to 10 monthly, and only $ 8.20 to 12 in 1850; wheat flour cost one cent per pound in 1800 while in 1850 one cent would buy two pounds. These figures indicate that minor coinages played an important role in daily life; people quite often had to count their cents.

If we turn now to the statistics of the copper coinages, we might be able to sketch a vague outline of their distribution. The Mint braved all adversities—lack of coining metal, good machinery, hostility on the part of the public and the politicians, of crippling epidemics—and started to crank out copper coins in ever increasing numbers. In the first year of operation, 1793, over 35,000 half cents and over 110,000 cents were issued. The number increased steadily, reaching over 1,800,000 cents in 1798, and over 1,000,000 half cents in 1804.The production of cents stayed in general in the millions, reaching its peak in 1851 with 9,889,707 pieces being struck. The low points in the production of cents were in 1795 with 37,000 pieces, then in 1799, 1804, 1811 and 1815, (when none were produced), due in good part to a shortage in the supply of metal. A total of 155,296,734 cents were struck between 1793 and 1857.

The half cent never reached the popularity of the cent, it was called the "Cinderella" of the United States coinage and a total of only 7,985,223 pieces was produced in the same period. It seemed not to fulfill a vital function in the monetary exchange. In general, after a smooth beginning, it was issued only sporadically, with a complete lapse of 12 years between 1836 and 1848. Banks and traders did not have much use for it and the Mint could barely dispose of about 36,000 pieces a year. It was badly missed only during the financial crisis of 1837, under Andrew Jackson's administration, when people hoarded all metal coinages, leaving a vacuum into which came the usual symbol of bad times, the token.

The money market of the first decades of the newly formed government absorbed avidly the new copper coinage, especially the cent, until its production reached the saturation point in 1820, when its minting was suspended for six months because of an oversupply. In general the rhythm of production was steadily increasing despite the enormous problems in the procurement of copper, gathered from any possible national or international source, mainly from shipwrecks.

When comparing the two statistics, the population in the 1790s of close to 4,000,000 people with the number of issued copper coins by 1800 of about 4,200,000 pieces, we reach the figure of one and 5/100 copper coin, cent or half cent, per person. This situation must have been quite disastrous from the monetary point of view, and we might safely assume that at least until 1820, when the supply of copper coins reached its saturation, substitutions were needed. Among others, barter or direct trade of goods and services must have taken place, especially in the rural areas. We must also assume that the greatest concentration of copper coinages must have been in the urban areas, especially in the industrial centers. The situation obviously improved with the passing of years, according to the production curve, and when, in 1857, the last pure copper large cents and their fraction, the half cents, were issued, did the people of the United States look back with satisfaction to 64 years of service which they had had from this coinage? At least, the specter of financial instability due to a constantly changing, fraudulent mixture of copper pieces which had threatened their daily lives in the late 1700s, was a thing of the past.

The Randall Hoard

David H. Cohen

Coinage of the America's Conference at The American Numismatic Society, New York City

© The American Numismatic Society

"Local Residents Refuse to Take Valuable Coins in Change"

I could tell the story in my own words, but I find it more appropriate to let John Swan Randall tell it as he did in January of 1870.1

Norwich, New York City
January 7, 1870
Edward Cogan, Esq.
Dear Sir:

I should not sell coin that I knew or believed to be restrikes without letting it be known. The bright, uncirculated cents I have sold of 1817, 1818, 1819, 1820, and 1825, I am very sure are not re-strikes. I bought them of Wm. H. Chapman & Co., dry goods merchants of this village, and the head of the firm, W. H. C., informed me that he got them of a wholesale merchant in New York City, who informed him that he got them from a merchant in Georgia; that he took them as a payment on a debt, and that the Georgia merchant wrote him that they were found since the war in Georgia buried in the earth. Mr. Chapman said to me that he was in New York City about the time the cents were received there, and that the merchant who had them thought they were too large to use, and did not know what to do with them; and that he (Chapman) thinking that his customers here would be pleased with bright cents, offered ninety cents a hundred for them, which was immediately taken. Chapman & Co. commenced paying them out here, and their bright appearance and old dates made many think they were counterfeits, and they were called "Chapman's counterfeits", and the firm stopped paying them out. I then went to the store and asked W.H. Chapman if he had disposed of many of his bright cents; he replied, "No, I made a bad bargain", and laughed about their being regarded as his counterfeits. I then offered to take them at the price he paid—ninety cents a hundred—and he was very willing to let me have them. They were loose together in a small keg, and the great mass of them were of 1818; and a great many, though apparently uncirculated, were more or less corroded or discolored. I enclose herewith one of 1817 and 1818, discolored on one side and bright on the other.

From this statement, you will see that there can be very little doubt about their being the genuine issues of the United States Mint of their respective dates.

Very respectfully,

Randall's letter was in response to the following sequence of events. It appears that after Randall purchased the small keg of large cents from W. H. Chapman, he attempted to sell the coins by advertising them in journals of the time. I have been unable to find his advertisements, but it appears that it was well-known among coin collectors and dealers at the time, that someone was advertising bright, uncirculated large cents for sale. In the January 1870 issue of Mason's Coin and Stamp Collectors' Magazine, the following notice appeared: L.M., TROY.—Beware of bright pennies of old dates. Buy them as restrikes, but not as originals. We can send 1816, '17, '18, and '19 (large and small dates) and 1820 U.S. Cents for 25 cents each, fair ones for 2 cents each.

The notice must have had an effect on Randall's ability to sell his bright, uncirculated large cents. Thus, he attempted to use Edward Cogan, the first full-time numismatist dealer in the United States in order to help him rebut the inferences drawn from the notice appearing in Mason's Journal. Thus he wrote the previously quoted letter to Cogan.

Edward Cogan wrote a letter to Charles E. Anthon, then the President of the ANS and co-editor of its journal,2 The American Journal of Numismatics, as follows:

No. 68 William Street, New York City
January 11, 1870
My Dear Sir:

When I presented to our Society, through my friend Mr. Betts, at the last meeting, the cents of 1817, '18, '19, and '20, I did so upon the full conviction that they were from the issues of the U.S. Mint, struck in the years of which they bear the date. Judge, then, of my surprise to find in Mason & Co.'s Magazine, of this month, a caution against buying these pieces as being re-strikes. I believe all these pieces were purchased of Mr. J. Swan Randall, of Norwich, in the State of New York City, and I immediately wrote to this gentleman, asking him whether he had any idea of their having been re-struck from the original dies, and herewith I send his reply, which exculpates him from having reason to believe that he was offering anything but original pieces; and from his statement I must say I believe them—as I have from the time I purchased them—to have been struck at the Mint in the years of their respective dates.

Yours, faithfully,

To Dr. Chas. E. Anthon, &c., &c., &c.

This is not the first time that Cogan had to take Mason & Co. to task for their actions. He had criticized their cataloging of the J. Colvin Randall sale in October of 1868.3 After reading the above letter in AJN, Mason & Co. was quick to reply to Cogan's letter, by submitting the following letter to Anthon:4

January 9, 1870
Prof. Anthon, Editor
American Journal of Numismatics:
Dear Sir:

In your January issue of the JOURNAL there appears a communication from Edward Cogan in regard to the originality of the U.S. Cents of 1817 to '20, inclusive, wherein occurs the following unjust statement: "Judge, then, of my surprise to find in Mason & Co.'s Magazine, of this month (Jan.), a caution against buying these pieces as being re-strikes ". We did not refer to the above-named cents at all in our reply to a correspondent; but to the re-strike 1804 cents—as is well known by the party who made the enquiry of us; and to whom alone the reply was addressed. We trust you will admit this refutation of Mr. Cogan's assertion, in justice to Mr. J. Swan Randall and ourself. We never doubted the genuineness of the bright red pennies of '17, '18, '19, and '20, to which Mr. Cogan alludes.

Yours, truly,


Entry from ANS Accession Book for January 1870.



Such was the call that brought the most famous hoard of American coins to the small upstate village of Norwich in the spring of 1869. The Civil War was still a real memory to the residents. The desire for manufactured consumer goods, that was lacking during the War, created the climate for merchants to compete aggressively for the business.

W. H. Chapman & Co., the purchasers of this small keg which eventually got into the hands of Randall, was owned by William H. Chapman and William Porter Chapman. William H. Chapman took the business over from his father, Benjamin Chapman, when he retired in 1853. William P. Chapman clerked for his first cousin, William H. Chapman from 1856 to 1865, when they became partners.5

The business became more and more successful following the Civil War and it appears that William H. Chapman was the outside man residing in New York City City, buying goods and shipping them to Norwich. There, William P. Chapman, as the inside man, operated the firm.

By 1875, the company was so successful that a new building was erected. Unfortunately, after a fire, the building was torn down in 1966-67.


William H. Chapman died in 1880 and the store was operated by William P. Chapman until 1893, when the business merged with the Turner store. The business was then called Chapman & Turner Store. William P. Chapman died in Norwich on January 18, 1922 at the age of 85. I'll bet before he passed away, he still vividly remembered the keg of pennies fifty years earlier, that he tried to give in change to the customers. He probably still remembered the reaction of his customers when they told him that they were no fools and wouldn't take counterfeit coins. He probably still remembered watching Randall roll "that" keg of coins out the door, and saying "good riddance."

John Swan Randall

The records show that Randall was born in Norwich, New York City on October 1, 1817. His middle name was his mother's maiden name; a common custom of that day which is now being revived.

He married Ellen Eliza Hart in Oswego, New York City, on April 23, 1841. Evidently thereafter, they moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where his wife and their son died in childbirth on November 28, 1850. Some time between 1850 and 1869 he returned to Norwich. The commercial directory of 1869-70 lists him as follows: "John Swan Randall (Norwich) has a collection of rare and ancient coins, Griffin Block." On January 1, 1878, Randall died at the age of 60 and is buried in Mt. Hope Cemetary in Norwich.

Disposition of the Randall Hoard

We know from the Cogan letter that the ANS has at least four large cents from the Randall Hoard. Surely, some of the residents of Norwich in 1869 took a few of the large cents in change and probably somwhere in the area, there are a few of the large cents still residing in a family collection.

We can assume that Randall was able, through his advertising, to sell many of his large cents before his death. He either sold or consigned some to W. Elliot Woodward. Woodward's sale catalogue 18 of February 23, 1874 contains the following lots: 1016: 1819. Splendid uncirculated Cent, with polished surface, from hoard recently found. 1017: 1820. From same hoard. Bright red. Tarnished in one place, and a little rough. Rare.

After Randall died, his extensive coin collection was consigned to his old friend Cogan, who catalogued it for sale by Bangs & Co., on May 6, 7, 8 and 9 of 1878.

A report of the Randall sale appeared in the July 1878 issue of Numisma: At Bango [sic] & Co.'s, 656 Broadway, New York City, on the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th ult., the entire cabinet of the late Mr. J. Swan Randall, of Norwich, N.Y. 2,458 lots. Catalogue by Mr. Ed Cogan. Mr. Randall, our readers will remember, was the gentleman whose good fortune in discovering large lots of uncirculated cents of the dates 1817, '18, and '19, gave rise to the unfounded report that these dates of cents were being counterfeited. In the sale, several remaining lots of the date 1818, bright and uncirculated, sold at the fair average of $7 per hundred.

The auction catalogue contains the following lots on p. 75:


Lot No. Date & Description Prices Realized
1813 1818 One hundred pieces. Corroded. Otherwise very fine $6
1814 1818 One hundred pieces. Corroded. Very fine $5.50
1815 1818 One hundred pieces. A few corroded. Very fine $6
1816 1818 One hundred pieces. Fine impressions $9
1817 1818 One hundred pieces. Fine impressions. A few corroded $6
1818 1818 One hundred pieces. Some good and some corroded $5
1819 1818 Eighty pieces. Much corroded $3
1820 1819 Twenty-five Pieces of this date. All very nearly uncirculated. A very desirable lot $32
1821 One hundred pieces of various dates. Fair $5
1822 One hundred pieces of various dates. Fair $5
1823 One hundred pieces of various dates. Fair $6

Also, on page 103, the catalogue reports as follows:


All the Cents in this Catalogue of 1817, 1818, and 1819, with an individual exception here and there, have not been injured by circulation, but by corrosion from being kept in the damp.

Lot No. Date & Description Prices Realized
2414 1817 Eighty-five pieces. Uncirculated, but some few corroded $13
2415 1818 One hundred pieces. A few corroded. Cracked die $7
2416 1818 One hundred pieces. A few corroded. Cracked die $11
2417 1818 One hundred pieces. A few corroded. Cracked die $14
2418 1818 One hundred pieces. A few corroded. Cracked die $21
2419 1818 One hundred pieces. A few corroded. Cracked die $14
2420 1818 One hundred pieces. More corroded. Cracked die $6
2421 1818 One hundred pieces. More corroded. Cracked die $6
2422 1818 Eighty-four pieces, and 42 pieces of 1819. Both lots corroded $7
2423 One hundred pieces. Various dates. Fair $7
2424 One hundred pieces. Various dates. Fair $8

Assuming the original small keg contained 14,000 large cents,6 Randall had sold approximately 12,000 of the original large cents prior to his death. Of the 2,000 coins offered in the Bangs sale, at least three-quarters were of the date 1818, and Randall indicated in his letter to Cogan that most of the cents in the keg were of 1818. Thus, if one were to find a large cent dated 1818 that "looks like it has not been injured by circulation but by corrosion from being kept in the damp," one might have a coin from the Randall Hoard.

Source of the Keg

Of course, it is conjecture how the small keg of large cents came about. Obviously, the coins were either buried intentionally or unintentionally some time during or after 1825, because this is the last date reported by Randall to have been in the keg. After they were buried, they remained as such until after the clean-up following the Civil War. Walter H. Breen has written the most comprehensive article on hoards of American coins, and reports that "the hoard is a result of overproduction at the Mint caused by a condition technically known as 'redundancy' and deliveries to banks lagged years behind coinages."7

I would propose an alternative reason for the existence of these large cents. In 1976, Ted Schwarz wrote as follows: "After the initial flurry of interest in the Large Cents, shop keepers became wary of them. It was true that they met a definite need, but the fact that the coins were not legal tender greatly limited their usefulness. Ideally, they could exchange them for silver, but neither the banks nor other merchants accepted them. Many shop keepers got in the habit of tossing the coins into kegs, then selling the kegs for a percentage of the face value of the Large Cents contained inside."8

It seems logical to me that some storekeeper, between 1816 and 1825, threw his large cents into a small keg. I feel that there is a distinct possibility that he stored the keg, maybe below the floorboards in his store, and for some unknown reason he was unable to retrieve them. I suggest that maybe the store in which he operated was destroyed during the Civil War and while they were cleaning up the rubble, they found the small keg he had previously buried there.

The Psychology of the Hoard

Based upon the information that is contained in the literature, I was unable to understand why the people in Norwich in 1869 refused to take at least one large cent in change. A gamble on taking one large cent would have led to great profits for the relatives of the gambling patron.

However, after researching this article, I believe I have a better understanding of the mental attitude of the people of that day. Firstly, I forgot that a cent was a lot of money at that time. Secondly, I ignored the fact that the size of the cents had changed in 1858 to the size we know today. Most importantly, it appears that many of the large cents found in the keg had a funny look to them. We know that at least the 2,000 that were sold after Randall's death appeared to be corroded. I speculate that one side may have been uncirculated and the other side was pitted. This easily could make the patrons feel that the coins were counterfeit, even though they recognized large cents twelve years after they stopped minting them. In any case, that day's common coin, one hundred years later, turns into a great rarity.9

End Notes

American Journal of Numismatics 4 (1870), pp. 68-69 where this and the Cogan letter which follows are published together.
Howard L. Adelson, The American Numismatic Society, 1858-1958 (New York City, 1958), p. 62.
Q. David Bowers, History of United States Coinage (Los Angeles, 1979), p. 24.
AJN 4 (1870), p. 80. The date of the letter should probably read February 9, 1870.
James A. Smith, History of Chenango County, pp. 3 and 124.
Walter H. Breen, "Survey of American Coin Hoards," Numismatist 1952, p. 14.
Breen (above, n. 6), p. 14.
Ted Schwarz, Coins as Living History (New York City, 1976), p. 63.
In any article that takes some work to put together, the author must rely upon other people for their help. I wish to thank the following people and organizations, who have graciously offered their time and efforts in helping me find information concerning the Randall Hoard: The Guernsey Library; Nancy Green, Librarian, ANA; Francis D. Campbell, Librarian, ANS; Thomas Lloyd, Librarian, City of Norwich; Dale Green, Clerk Chenango County Office of History; Doris Walters, Otis A. Thompson Local History Room; Walter H. Breen; Q. David Bowers; Denis W. Loring; John D. Wright; Jack H. Beymer; Silver Image Photographs, Vestal, New York City, and Debbie; and Cathy Cassin, my secretary.

Original and Restrike Half Cents

Roger S. Cohen, Jr.

Coinage of the America's Conference at The American Numismatic Society, New York City

© The American Numismatic Society

This paper concerns coins that are currently known as original and restrike proof half cents of the period 1825 to approximately 1860. A reviewer of the first edition of American Half Cents, published in 1971, stated that the proofs had been relegated to "second class citizenship" by the presentation in that book. This comment, along with requests from many collectors who thought proof specimens deserved equal status in any book on half cents, caused me to further research these coins. Thus, the presentation of the proofs in the second edition of my book published in 1982 has become the basis of this paper.1

It is interesting to note that there are 57 varieties of proof original and restrikes of the period under consideration compared to only 24 of circulation strikes.

In classifying these proofs and restrikes, a discipline other than date order is necessary. During the past 10 years or so a heightened collector interest in the background of these coins and when they were struck has created a need for another order of presentation that is more thought out than date order. Thus, I have formulated the following periods for classification.

  • 1) the period 1825-1839
  • 2) the period 1839-1854
  • 3) the period 1855-1860

Each period represents a different set of facts and circumstances.

The first period of 1825-1839, I have designated as "Adam Eckfeldt." Eckfeldt held the position of Chief Coiner of the Mint during this period and controlled the distribution of collector coins. The proofs during this period are all struck from circulation dies with the exception of the 1836 which has been heretofore referred to as an "original."

The striking of proof specimens for collectors by the Mint appears to have started in the early 1820s. When half cent coinage resumed in 1825, proofs were struck from the second set of dies used that year. The use of the second set of dies reinforces my thought that the Mint's main concern at that time was the production of circulation coins. Coins for collectors were not a major concern. By 1836, collector coins appear to have gained some priority and in that year dies were prepared for circulation coins and proofs were struck for circulation, but no circulation strikes dated 1836 are known.

Therefore the coins struck were dated 1835. Upon the conclu- sion of the 1836 coinage the mint had a supply that would last until 1849 when the demand for circulation caused them to be coined again.

The second period of 1839-1854 began with Franklin Peale replacing Eckfeldt as Chief Coiner. The following facts should be noted. First, the Mint had moved in 1833 to a much larger building, complete with then-modern machinery and the ability to fabricate copper planchets easily if so desired. Secondly, some dies which had had little use were retained rather than destroyed. For half cents, the obverses of 1831 and 1836, together with the 1836 reverse, were retained. The reason that the reverse of 1831 was not on hand was that it had been used in 1832 to strike circulation coins and had been discarded once it developed a break.

Just when Peale started to coin proof half cents in conjunction with his private coin and medal business is not precisely known. It can definitely be stated that the production of collector coins had become an important issue. Thus, there are proof only coins for 1840 through 1848, and proofs of 1849 from a different set of dies that were used for the circulation strikes that began in November 1849. The circulation 1849 dies were also used to produce proofs. Proofs were also made from the circulation dies of 1850, 1851, and 1854. Since there appear to be no Mint records regarding these proofs, it has been necessary to use observations and other circumstances to explain my concept further.

The method of preparing dies for coinage during this period consisted of using hubs to create the working die which struck the coin. The obverse hub was complete except for the date. The reverse hub contained the complete working die design. In examining the obverses of the period 1840-1849, it is apparent that the same size numeral punches are used for the dates 1840 through 1845. For the years 1846 through 1849, different size punches are used uniformly for the numerals, and each year is different. One also notes that the obverse hub received an injury in the hair to the lower right of the ear. It is a depressed, spike-like mark which was on the hub. The 1840 obverse does not show this injury, thus proving that the 1840 obverse was the first working die produced from the hub. All subsequent dies through 1857 have this injury with the exception of 1854 when the working die was repaired prior to striking both proofs and circulation strikes.

The reverse dies of the 1839-1854 period were prepared from a single hub. The first working die which was used for proofs only is identified by the fact that 10 of the 11 berries in the wreath are larger than on any other dies produced from the hub. This die was used for proofs dated 1840 through 1849 and 1852. Six additional working dies were prepared from the hub during the 1849-1854 period for circulation coins which were resumed in November 1849. Of these six dies, four were used on proof strikings.

There are a few other items in regard to the proofs of the Franklin Peale period that are worthy of mention.

Peale prepared cased proof sets for sale to collectors. In an 1843 set there is a printed card which lists the coins and their prices. It is assumed that the card was originally with the cased set when it left the Mint. I noted the following inscription on the card.

Manly and Orr, Printers

45 Chestnut Street

Philadelphia, PA

In going over the Philadelphia city directories for the years 1839 through 1860, Manly & Orr was listed only in the 1840 and 1841 directories. In 1842 through 1845, Manly and Orr are listed separately as printers. There are a number of questions that arise from this information.

  • 1) Did Peale have a supply of cards printed in 1840 or 1841 as he was planning to sell cased proof sets?
  • 2) Did Manly or Orr print the card in 1843 but continue to use the old inscription?

What emerges is that Peale's starting date for the proof half cents as well as other denominations appears to have been no later than 1843.

The 1840 and 1841 half cents struck with the large berry reverse have markings on the rim of the coin. In observing these it appears that the planchets were machine cut to size and then partially smoothed to eliminate the cutting marks. The process could be easily done on the machine tools of that day. The milling machine was developed during the 1820s principally for firearms manufacture and presumably was one of the-then modern machines placed in the new Mint in 1833. This would make it possible to fabricate half cent planchets from cent planchets which were being purchased by the mint to strike cents for circulation. The number of half cent proofs struck during the Franklin Peale period are estimated at less than 25 for each year. Planchets could easily be machined until late 1849 when Crocker Bros, sent a supply of blank planchets for circulation strikes.

The omission of the 1852 and 1853 dates from my discussion will now be explained. As of now there has never been an 1853 proof half cent identified other than a few auction catalogues which were presumably in error. I am not aware of any orginal 1853 proof coin of any denomination. It has been rationalized that the Mint just did did not have time that year to produce proofs of any denomination due to the Coinage Act of 1853 which greatly increased the production of silver coins. 1852 is another matter.

It is my understanding that 1852 obverse and reverse dies were made in that year, but there were no coins struck for circulation, due to the inventory of unissued half cents on hand at the Mint.

There are, however, proof coins dated 1852 which I classify as restrikes. Walter Breen differs from my opinion and for those who are interested, Breen's book presents his side of this very old controversy.2 The most important thing is that as of now, no known 1852 proof half cent can be identified as an original.

The final item of the "Franklin Peale" 1839-1854 Period has to do with restrikes of 1831 and 1836. These dies were in the mint in 1839 when Peale became Chief Coiner. It is doubtful that Peale did nothing with them for 15 years, rather it would appear that the first 1831 and 1836 restrikes were made during this period. The sequence of production of these restrikes can be determined by observing the deterioration of the 1836 reverse die. The first strikings were with the obverse of 1836 and then the 1831 obverse was used. During this use the reverse developed severe cracks and was apparently discarded. However, the 1831 and 1836 obverses were kept.

The Third Period starts in 1855 and ends about I860 to the best of my knowledge. As a result of Peale's removal in 1854, the control of proof coins was taken over by the Mint Director James R. Snowden. The original proofs are the 1855, 1856, and 1857 struck from circulation dies. The restrikes consist of 34 different die combinations and indicate that collector demand played an important part in the production of these coins.

When Snowden assumed control there were obverse dies available for 1831, 1836, 1840-48, 1849 small date, and 1852. There was only one reverse available, that being the large berry reverse previously used in 1840-49. To this inventory of dies was added the 1856 and 1857 circulation obverses and two additional dies which were prepared from the hub. These dies were not separated by students until 1953. Prior to that date they were known collectively as the "Small Berry Reverse."

The restrikes that were made do not appear in Mint records as production figures; rather one must use records of the I860 investigation and a great deal of collectors' information which has been passed down through the years. There is, however, one exception to this. In the October 1972 Numismatic Scrapbook Robert Julian presented an interesting hypothesis as to a shipment of 200 half cent planchets in June 1856 and their striking by the mint.3 He believes that there is a strong possibility that the planchets were used for restrikes.

The coining of the restrikes during the period 1855-1860 appears to have been done on three separate occasions. I classify these into groups as follows.

The first group uses the obverses of 1840-48, 1852 and the circulation obverses of 1856 and 1857. The new reverse die is a small berry one with double hubbing showing particularly on the NT of CENT.

The second group uses the obverses of 1831, 1836, 1840-48 and 1852 combined with another new small berry reverse which exhibits lines at a 45 degree angle in the field from the denticles to the tops of RICA of AMERICA.

The third group consists of seven obverses: 1840, 1843, 1845, 1847, 1848, 1849 small date, and 1852 combined with the large berry reverse. With the exception of 1852, these proofs, struck from the original dies, are restrikes of previous proofs made during the Peale period.

Strictly speaking, based on established numismatic standards, the first and second groups of "restrikes" are only restrikes as to the obverse dies. The reverse dies used are an original use but for convenience, I believe that the term restrike should continue to be used for these coins.

The number of restrikes made in this period for each variety is unknown but as with original proofs it must have been small if the number of specimens now known is used as a guide, some of these restrikes are more plentiful than others, but in the numismatic market place, they have always commanded high prices in comparison to circulation strikes of the period.

End Notes

Roger S. Cohen, Jr., American Half Cents—the "Little Half Sisters" 1st ed (Bethesda, Md., 1971), 2nd ed. (Arlington, Va., 1982).
Walter H. Breen, Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents. 1793-1857 (South Gate, Cal., 1984), pp. 438-39.
Robert W. Julian, "U.S. Half Cent Thrives Despite Second Rate Treatment." Numismatic Scrapbook 1972, pp. 886 ff.

Origins of Edge Lettering on Early American Copper Coinage

George E. Ewing, Jr.

Coinage of the America's Conference at The American Numismatic Society, New York City

© The American Numismatic Society

The purchasing power of today's one-cent piece is so inconsiderable that many of us will not even pause to pick up one dropped. But copper coins have not always been held in such low esteem. Indeed, there are those among us who can recall when three cents mailed a letter, bought the day's newspaper, or purchased enough candy to require a bag in which to carry it. But I speak of nostalgia more than history....

Or do I? If we look back even farther into the past we can readily see that copper coins once played a dominant role in buying and selling. I speak of those centuries when the common man bartered for life's necessities and the wealthy exchanged gold and silver coins with one another. Only to the lowly tradesman did the rich dole out copper coins. Thus, in the market place, copper money was the coin of the realm. Copper coins bought the basic necessities of daily life: therefore, many more of them circulated in a day's time than any other coin.

With this in mind, we can understand that it was as essential for the first U.S. Mint to maintain the integrity of copper coins as it was their more valuable betters: the gold and silver coins. And so it was that when the American Mint began producing money, the copper cents had to be protected against the dangers of counterfeiting and clipping and had to be of such intrinsic value as to hold their own against standards of exchange with foreign countries.

The debasing of early American coins for financial gain was a major problem with the first U.S. Mint. A hammered coin could too easily be counterfeited. Or, the unscrupulous could simply file or pare a fraction from the edge of a coin, collecting the copper fragments to be melted down into bullion, while placing the coin itself back into circulation.

The state of the art of minting at the time was such that the wouldbe counterfeiter or coin clipper's task was much simpler than now. Sensitive scales were not in use to weigh each coin as a standard of measure. Quality control, as we know it today, was not in use at the first Mint in Philadelphia. Thus, coins found to be heavier than the law allowed, could be culled and melted down. How profitable this must have been when the price of copper made the metal itself more valuable than the coin!

Fortunately, however, our early American minters did not have to invent the means of protecting coins against duplication or defacement. The solution lay in edge lettering the coins, a technology known to European minters for more than a hundred years as a foolproof means of discouraging counterfeiting, clipping and altering coinage. This solution works as well today as in the past. I, myself, have seen very few counterfeit coins with any form of edge lettering. Edge lettering of U.S. coppers thus came about for protection's sake. It also reflected contemporary trends in European coin design.

Edge lettering or decorating, I should point out, is only possible in mechanized coining, where perfectly round planchets exist. Unless a round planchet is produced, edge marking cannot be affected. Yet, while the coining press was known to sixteenth-century minters, it was not extensively used until much later. Aubrey Olivier introduced the invention to France around 1553,1 but hammered coins existed there until 1645. And in England, the coining press or mill and screw was introduced by a Frenchman named Eloye Mestrelle during the reign of Elizabeth I. 2 Milled sixpences were produced as early as 1561 but producion ceased around 1575.

Why the reluctance of Euopean moneyers to adopt the use of milled coins? We shall probably find no better account of this resistance than appears in the "Medallic History of Oliver Cromwell," the Numismata Cromwelliana published by Henry William Henfrey in London in 1877.3 In this treatise, Henfrey detailed the trials and tribulations of Peter Blondeau, a Frenchman invited to England by the Council of State in 1649. Blondeau had invented and perfected "machinery for striking money of equal sizes and shapes, having a beautiful polish, and with graining or inscriptions on the edges; thus preventing the clipping of the currentcoins and the counterfeiting of them to any extent."4

The council and the House of Commons sought to have the country's coins made more perfectly and beautifully—the equal of any coins of Europe. After submitting patterns of proposed coins, Blondeau was invited to England, he tells us in his "Proposals to the Parliament," a folio sheet dated June 1650 and now contained in the British Museum.5

Blondeau recounts that upon his arrival in England he was courteously entertained by the council, but that Dr. Aaron Guerdain, Master of the Mint, endeavored to drive him back to France, telling Blondeau that if he had come to be an officer of the Mint, they already had too many officers as well as more than enough good-workmen. The council, however, expressed its dissatisfaction with the well-known Commonwealth coins of the day, which were rudely executed and uneven in size. For nine months Blondeau waited (at his own expense) while the Corporation of the Mint argued with the Committee of Council for the Mint.

In several papers outlining his difficulties, Blondeau described his invention as able to make a coin not only stamped on both flat sides "but even to be marked upon the thickness of the 'brim,' whereby the counterfeiting, casting and clipping of the coin shall be prevented."6

Meanwhile the Mint moneyers held their ground. They attempted to imitate his patterns and learn his secrets—both unsuccessfully. They lowered their prices and Blondeau said he would match their rates, although his method was more complicated and costly, and eventually, Blondeau offered to prove his argument by making coins at no charge, as a demonstration offer.

Blondeau argued that his coins, unlike hammered coins, could not be counterfeited because of the size and complexity of the machinery needed in their manufacture. And his coins with the inscribed edges could not be successfully or expeditiously made in the Tower Mint by the old methods, he contended. Agreeing with Blondeau, the Mint Committee declared his money was better and should be adopted for the honor and great advantage of the Commonwealth... if the price was right.

But the comittee's resolution only further enraged the Mint Corporation, which countered with a barrage of arguments. Blondeau's method was old hat and they could do the same thing themselves, if they wanted to, they charged. Besides, he probably didn't do the work himself, they said petulantly. As for the coins—they were nothing better than a curiosity, taking too much time and money to make. And furthermore, Blondeau's method was not adaptable to the ordinary coin, which was thin.

The Minters offered a challenge: let Blondeau prove his skill by making some other pieces and they would show they could do as well. So it was back to the drawing board for Blondeau when the committee picked up the gauntlet flung down by the moneyers.

In May 1651, the committee called for a competition. Both sides were to submit patterns for a six-pence and for two half-crown silver pieces. The designs were to include the motto, "Truth and Peace," the date 1651, the impression, "The States Armes," and "graining about the edges without the motto." The minters chose as their designer, an Irish locksmith, David Rammage. Blondeau selected Thomas Simons, the Mint engraver, and was given permission to use such "engines and instruments" as were in Simons' custody, but he could work at any place convenient to him.

The contest took place but there was no clear-cut decision because the judges disagreed among themselves. Yet latter-day judges, viewing the samples, agree that Blondeau's samples were more regular in weight, the patterns more beautifully finished, and that the engraving of the dies and method of coining were far in advance of anything previously done in England. Blondeau is said to have submitted about 300 coins to the Council of State, most of which were pocketed by the commitee and Parliament members, so that Blondeau had a time getting them back, although he had made them at his own expense and there is no record that Parliament paid for them.

Rammage, on the other hand, charged the government 87 pounds to make about a dozen coins of inferior quality.

Both contestants were required to submit proposals with their samples and Blondeau's contains this interesting note: "There be two different ways to make the pieces marked about the thickness or edge. One is ancient, known to several men..."7 In fact, said Blondeau, Rammage had used the ancient virole Brisee collar. Essentially this device was a collar used in conjunction with the screw press, the inscription was engraved in relief around the edge of the coin. It was tedious, time-consuming, spoiled an abundance of dies and engines and could not be done with thin coins. "As touching the new way," Blondeau wrote, "I am the inventor of it and only I know it..."8

Blondeau did not enlarge upon descriptions of either the ancient method or his own. He, in fact, requested a law prohibiting anyone from using his new invention for 21 years. Additionally, he contended that hammered coins cost more to make than did his process, which could be used on "the current money which is thin..." he wrote.

For a time no action was taken on Blondeau's proposal, leading him to issue another statement which, in addition to defending his process, accused the Mint officers of culling heavier coins for their own profit "and other dishonest practices."

So much clipping went on, Blondeau wrote, that few coins could be found of true weight and counterfeiting was easy because hammered coins could not be made exactly round nor equal in weight and size. There was no remedy for such evils, Blondeau argued, except to make money his way—with devices not only on both sides but inscribed on the edge.

For their part, the Corporation of Moneyers not only fought against Blondeau's coining process, they raged at his accusations of their dishonesty, claiming they were false and scandalous libels. In retaliation, they accused Blondeau of treason for making his pattern pieces in a private residence known as the Drury House, despite the fact that the Mint committee had allowed him that choice.

To settle the question, once and for all, a debate was scheduled in Parliament on April 21, 1653, four years after Blondeau had ar- rived in England, and two years after he and the Moneyers had submitted their sample designs. It appeared as though the Frenchman was finally to get a hearing, but fate intervened in the person of Oliver Cromwell. On the 20th of April Cromwell dissolved Parliament. The controversy was referred to the Council of State and apparently suffered a fate we are all familiar with—it died in committee.

When Cromwell's protectorate began, Blondeau had yet to receive one cent—edge lettered or not—from the government which had invited him to come. He had submitted voluminous petitions and proposals but the Mint continued to strike inferior hammered coins. Oliver Cromwell, however, came to Blondeau's rescue. He ordered a complete series of coins to be struck by Blondeau's process and awarded the Frenchman a pension of 100 pounds a year. A reorganized Mint committee, overruling the objections of predecessors, placed Blondeau in charge of setting up a Mint in Ireland where, the committee reported, money was "so generally corrupted to the great prejudice of the inhabitants."

The Mint, to be erected in Dublin, never came into being, but a petition to Cromwell from the Irish Council of State, setting forth the need for a Mint, offers us a view of what devastation occurs when a country's money is unregulated. We also get a glimpse of the problems that must have confronted our own early minters.

The quantity of base and counterfeit coin, the Irish Council lamented, "...eats up the good English money, which the merchants (for want of exchange or other commodities to return) make it a secret trade to export into England... or any place where it yields most advantage."

"Little other money is visible," the Irish petitioners wrote, "save counterfeit American, which ordinarily goes for four shillings and sixpence and upon the essay is found not to value two shillings and four pence and that which runs currant is very little better than brasse or alchamy."9

The result? According to the Irish state council, trade was obstructed, planting discouraged, necessary provisions withheld and the monthly contributions for supplying the English military forces was paid in such base coin that the suppliers were losing money and some were refusing to accept it. The outcome, the councilmen said with dismay, would be disturbance among the people. The cureall, they said, would be a mint where standard coinage could be produced.

The petition concluded with these words: "And for that the soldier, and poorer sort especially, want the lesser and smaller sorts of money for change and to buy provisions with; this may accommodate them with small and necessary proportions, et cetera."

Although the proposed Irish Mint never came to pass, Blondeau was commissioned by Cromwell in 1656 to coin 2,000 pounds in the Tower of London.

Writing for the British Numismatic Journal in 1976, Peter B. Gaspar noted that on all English coinages with which Blondeau was associated,10 the edge inscription was applied in a separate operation, prior to the striking of the obverse and reverse, and that the final striking was carried out without the benefit of a collar. Gaspar based his observation on studies he made primarily of the Simon-Cromwell crown pieces.The slight curvature of the surface outside of the rim beading on these coins precluded the use of dies together with collars, he stated. He also observed that the indented or bifurcated letter bases on the same coins was due to a radial outward flow of metal during the striking of a blank in the mechanical press without the use of a collar to restrain the outward metal flow.

Gaspar goes on to remark that W. J. Hocking, in discussing the competition between the Moneyers and Blondeau in 1651 to determine the manner in which letters and graining would be applied to the edges of coins to be produced by the screw press, suggested that Rammage, the champion of the moneyers, marked the edges of his coins by means of a segmented collar. Hocking quotes Blondeau as stating this method destroyed many dies and collars because the screw of the press was not sufficiently accurate to prevent the upper die from occasionally striking the collar upon its descent. Hocking believed that Blondeau, to lessen the consequences of that problem, substituted a thin strip of engraved steel for the segmented collar, and that this stencil-like steel strip, held in a collar to apply edge lettering, constituted Blondeau's "new invention."11

As described by Hocking, the thin strip of steel carried the inscription with which the edge of the coin was to be marked as a series of perforations shaped as letters. One steel strip, or perhaps several, were placed inside. When the blank was struck with the dies it expanded through the perforations, thus being marked on the edges with raised lettering C. L. Mason said it has been suggested that Blondeau's coining press may have been a drop press rather than a screw press.12

The bands, said Hocking, would have been easier and cheaper to make than segmented collars and their loss, upon being struck and shattered by the upper die, less serious than the loss of a segmented collar. Losses would have occurred when the upper die was not perfectly centered within the collar and they collided. If the upper die shattered the steel band, the band could be easily and inexpensively replaced. The die also would have been damaged and have had to be replaced but perhaps this was still less costly and time-consuming than replacing the segmented lettered collar. H. G. Stride has suggested that one method, although quite slow, would have been to use the inscribed thin steel bands with blank dies. He quotes the 1662 contract with Blondeau stating that gold and silver pieces were to be shaped and sized and the edges marked before they were stamped on the flat sides. The contract stipulated that Blondeau was "likewise to prepare the Rings or Viroles of Steel for marking the Edges of the Several Coynes with Letters and Graynings."13


Gaspar has suggested the edge lettering of the Cromwell coins was rolled on by a precursor of the Castaing machine and raises the question of Blondeau's secrecy being attributable to its being his own invention or intended to conceal its source, possibly a device similar to the later Castaing machine. Examination of surviving Cromwell patterns tends to suggest this.

Jean Castaing was a French engineer who, in 1685, also invented a machine for engraving the edge of coins. 14 Castaing's experience was similar to Blondeau's in that Louis XIV was impressed with his invention but the king's financial minister, Jean Baptiste Colbert, saw no need for adding the expense of edge-marking coins. Blondeau's machine was already in use in England but Castaing's improvements made his machine worthy of being called an invention.

Castaing's machine was described at the time as consisting of two thin steel rulers upon which are engraved the legend or cordon. The first half of the legend is on one ruler and the second half, on a second ruler. One ruler is immobile and strongly attached by screws to a copper plate secured to a heavy wooden table or workbench. The other ruler is mobile and runs on the copper plate under the action of a crank or gear whose steel teeth mesh with the teeth mounted on the copper plate surface. The blank is placed horizontally between the two rulers and driven by the mobile ruler motion so that when it completes a half-turn, the coin is entirely marked.15

In 1686, France's Council of State approved a contract with Castaing to edge mark all the gold and silver coins of the kingdom. In 1688, when King Louis needed money to support the war and a way to reduce counterfeiting abuses, Castaing proposed a method of reforming and remarking coins with a coin press. Castaing's proposal was accepted but a Parisian tinsmith named Martin Masselin was appointed to the job. We know that Masselin used Castaing's invention because he was obliged to pay Castaing 2,000 pounds annually for the use of it.16

This information came to light when Castaing's wife, Marie Hippolyte Bosch, petitioned the French Court of the Mint for redress after Castaing was imprisoned in 1700 through the conniving of his enemies. Like Blondeau, Castaing was fought by the minters who had lost their rights and opportunities for making illicit profits, because of him.17

Two of Castaing's enemies were the guard judges of the Paris Mint-men named Maigret and Burgoing. The third, and most dangerous, because he coveted Castaing's position as general manager of the royal mints, was Jacques Fournier de Saint Andre. It was Fournier who brought the charges against Castaing and his wife, accusing them of malfeasance in office. Girded with trumped-up charges, Fournier initiated a lawsuit against the Castaings and their clerks which was tried in the Court of the Mint.

The schemers, however, had underestimated Castaing's wife. Nothing apparently escaped her notice. In acrimonious detail she listed not only the falsities inherent in the charges but her low opinion of the accusers as well. And all of this she presented the court in writing.

It seems that while Masselin received the initial appointment of supervisor of the 26 royal mints, he proved to be dishonest. In 17 months the Paris Mint alone recorded a shortage of 150,000 pounds and Masselin and all his clerks were dismissed, some of them jailed for stealing. Castaing was then appointed in 1691 to edge mark and reform all the coins in the kingdom and when a second reformation was decreed in 1693, he was reappointed to oversee the work.


The conspiracy, Madame Castaing charged, took place in Maigret's apartment across the courtyard from Castaing's workshop and living quarters which Maigret was obliged by the king to rent Castaing for 450 pounds annually. Maigret wanted to evict them so he could raise the rent, said Madame Castaing. At the same time, she stated, contrary to laws forbidding mint officers to rent to strangers any lodgings assigned with their positions, Maigret was renting two floors of his big house to a gilt dealer.

Also, she contended, Maigret and Burgoing had sustained financial losses of over 300,000 pounds by the 1693 decree decreasing the amount paid for each reformed coin. For this alone, Maigret had threatened to bring Castaing to his end, Madame Castaing said.

Maigret and Burgoing should be called to account themselves, she maintained, for withholding her husband's key to the coffer containing rejected coins which were to be melted. This allowed them to supervise the melting unwitnessed so that they were able to substitute ingots of "low title," proving the ingots did not entirely contain coinage. The coins they held back, she said, were kept for their own profit.

The Castaings were accused of using inaccurate scales to weigh the coins turned over to them for remarking. If the scales were inaccurate, why hadn't there been complaints from others and why hadn't the alleged victim, a 72-year-old man named Cossin, ever filed suit, she asked.

As for the chief accuser, Fournier, Marie Bosch, after calling him "a slanderer, an imposter and an ignorant in money matters," demanded he apologize and pay damages of up to 10,000 pounds to the Castings.18

Madame Castaing won. Her husband was cleared of the charges.

Thus it was that Castaing's edge lettering machine was adopted by the U.S. Mint when it began in 1792. Under the direction of David Rittenhouse, the first Mint Director, three large coin presses were received from England in 1792 and then was added a modification of Castaing's edge-lettering machine.19


In fact, the vine and bars on the 1793 large cent pieces was the most intricate of all devices ever done by the Castaing machine at the early U.S. Mint. The ornamented edge was divided into four alternating sections, two being lightly reeded sections and two large sections being filled by a series of sprays bearing small trefoils— probably representing cotton leaves and balls of cotton. This edging was also known as the stars and stripes, but was for the most part, called the vine and bars.

It should be noted that the famous strawberry leaf variety carries the vine and bars edge device and that the small spray above the date on the obverse of the coin resembles the same vine design on the edge. The edge lettering device that replaced the vine and bars was plain with the incused inscription ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR followed by a single leaf. This type edge device was used until 1795.20

The initial step in early minting was to punch a planchet or blank from a drawn sheet of metal and transfer it to a milling machine where the edges of larger coins were lettered and all gold pieces and smaller coins were given reeded edges. Ridged or fluted edges on coins are said to be milled or reeded—reeding describing the edge itself, milling describing the process. Originally all edges were milled but when edge decorations began to be produced by use of the collar die instead of milling, the term milling was no longer technically correct except in describing the upsetting of the circumferential border. Lettered or decorated edges are milled edges only if applied by a milling machine.


Edge lettering devices produced intaglio or incised designs. The distance between edging dies was slightly less than the diameter of the planchet so the letters would sink into the planchet and the edge would be squeezed. As the movable die was cranked past the fixed die, the planchet caught between them was rolled 180 degrees and then freed.

To eliminate the possibility of a gap, the parallel dies were slightly longer than half the circumference of the planchet. But this often resulted in a slight overlap of the decoration on either side of the coin edge. The pressure of the edge lettering machine also raised the marginal ridge, which upset the border. Because reeding was a repetitive design, edging dies could be made longer and two planchets could be inserted, one behind the other, and each rolled a full turn with one operation of the crank.

With the Castaing method, coins had to be edge struck before the metal was hardened in striking. The distance between the edging dies is set for planchet size. The pressure in striking increases the coin's thickness at the margin and either the letters or the pressure could disturb the coin's surface at the circumferential border. If the coin is annealed before lettering, it must be cleaned and will lose its finish and hardness. Also, if the letters do not sink easily into the metal or if the edging dies are too close, the coin may buckle.

Buckling of coins was also possible when too much pressure was exerted by the Castaing machine. This can be observed in the reverses of the 1793 Liberty Cap cents, and reverses of many 1794 cents that have become concave in the center. It is theorized that the steel used for the dies was not properly carbonized and a weak impression in the center of the coin resulted.

Edge lettering of coins was destined to end in 1836 when the new steam operated lever presses were put into operation at the U.S. Mint, but edge lettering of America's copper coins had ceased long before that. With the steam operated presses, the planchets were confined in the collar die and forced against it when the face dies were struck, squeezing the metal against the collar die. The coins had to be released vertically, therefore, only a smooth or reeded edge could be used.

But edge lettering of large cents and half cents came to an end in December 1795 as the result of a proclamation by President George Washington to Secretary of State Timothy Pichering, reducing the weight of copper cents and half cents because of the increased price of copper and expense of coinage.21 By a proclamation issued January 26, 1796, but already put into effect, President Washington reduced the cent to a weight of seven pennyweights and the resultant coin was too thin to permit edge decoration.

End Notes

Henry W. Henfrey, Numismata Cromwelliana: or, The Medallic History of Oliver Cromwell (London, 1877), p. 65.
Henfrey, p.65.
Henfrey, p.65.
Henfrey, p. 61.
Henfrey, p. 63.
Henfrey, p.73.
Henfrey, p.73.
Henfrey, p. 74.
Henfrey, p. 84-85.
Peter P. Gaspar, "Simon's Cromwell Crown Dies in the Royal Mint Museum and Blondeau's Method for the Production of Lettered Edges," BNJ 1976, pp. 55-63.
Gaspar, p. 59.
'Making Coins, ' Seaby's Coin and Medal Bulletin 1948, p. 197 (cited in Gaspar, P.59).
'The Royal Mint (Part XI),' SCMB 1957, p. 289 (cited in Gaspar, p. 60).
Fernand Mazerolle, "Le Proces de Jean Castaing," Gazette numismatique francaise 2 (1907), pp. 165-95.
Mazerolle, pp. 165-66.
Mazerolle, pp. 166-67.
Mazerolle, p. 165.
Mazerolle, p. 174.
Don Taxay, The U.S. Mint and Coinage (New York City, 1966), p. 96.
William H. Sheldon, Penny Whimsy (New York City, 1958), p. 74.
George H. Clapp and Howard R. Newcomb, The United States Cents of the Years 1795, 1796, 1797 and 1800 (New York City, 1947), p. 4.

Early American Copper Coinage in Relation to the Art and Taste of the Period

Cory Gillilland

Coinage of the America's Conference at The American Numismatic Society, New York City

© The American Numismatic Society

American copper coinage has been examined, studied and categorized. The die varieties have been found and the links suggested. Even the condition of many pieces has been debated. Every berry, feather, letter or number has been counted, poured over and enlarged. I often wonder if we have been so busy looking at the trees that we have forgotten to see the forest. In this vein, I'd like to ask, "What is the place of early American copper coinage within the wide context of American arts and crafts?" If numismatic art is indeed art, then one should find some parallels and some kinship between the art of the designer-engraver and that of the image makers, whether the medium is paint, clay, stone, or clapboard.

Within numismatics, colonial coinage is that coinage used in the colonies—whether it was produced here or abroad. Art historians, on the other hand, use the term American art exclusively for art produced within the geographical confines of our shores. I, too, will limit the discussion to the local objects, not the imports.

Colonists in America thought of themselves as Europeans away from home. Many had come when situations in Europe induced economic or philosophic changes. They were conservative in outlook with a bent toward preserving their particular life style. The art produced in the colonies during the seventeenth century is reminiscent of that which the colonists had left behind in Europe. In their minds, America was only a place, not a separate entity distinct in concept. This approach permeates the arts and it is not until the late eighteenth century that one finds American coinage motifs meant to convey ideas rather than localities.


To set the stage for the appearance of American made coppers in the eighteenth century, it may prove interesting to look at the sole coinage issue, albeit silver, produced in the seventeenth century within the confines of the United States and compare it to the other arts of the time. The Massachusetts Pine Tree coinage reflects a sense of style not unlike that found within the other arts. The motif of the northeast flora, as well as the legend, immediately speaks of the locality. The wide, broad lettering seen in the capital letters of the tombstone of John Foster1 in the graveyard at Dorchester, Massachusetts, conveys a sense of proportion and arrangement reminiscent of that used by the die cutter of the small planchet Pine Tree shilling of the same decade. In both, the lower curve of the "S" seems to be cut short and the lower bar of the "E" projects toward the following letter. Even the upper curve of the "6" in both is short and stubby. Looking again at the central design, the pine tree, the form is described in every detail. Each jog of a leaf is defined as intently as is every detail of costume painted by one of the anonomyous limners.2 There is nothing of illusion in either. The aim was the definition and assertion of the existence of the object. Every line of each branch is equally important just as is every element within the painting. One may find this same independence of parts in late seventeenth century furniture. In fact, if one turns the coin so the tree is inverted and looks afresh at the design, ignoring any preconceived idea, the parts seem as carefully tooled as do those of a late seventeenth century chair. Even homes being built at this time3 echo the concept that each part must attest to its own existence rather than fit a role within some preconceived larger plan. The relationship of each part to another rather than any moving rhythm between elements appears to have been the underlying design.


Seventeenth century chair, Collection of the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

And now to our American coppers. The early Higley copper of 1737 bearing the legend "The Value of Three Pence" depicts a graceful standing deer, much less dog-like than that shown on the later issues. The animal in combination with the three crowned hammers reminds one of coats of arms appearing on silver tankards (see p. 76). In order to better fit both the obverse pattern of the deer and the circular format of the coin, Higley reversed the usual arrangement of the design elements. One finds extremely low relief used in both the tankard and the copper. On the tankards the items are engraved.4 On the token the elements are only bare- ly discernable from the background as if to simulate engraving.


It is interesting to compare the shape of a tankard of the seventeenth century with one of the first half of the eighteenth century which bears a coat of arms. In the earlier piece the top of the vessel is almost as wide as the bottom and the cover sits above the sides similiar to a plate on a pan.5 Comparing the tankard of 60 years later,6 we see a graceful element permeating the overall design. The wall of the vessel fits upon the bottom rim as if a continuation. The top is formed upon and echoes the movement of the parts below. Each line is built upon the other, independent yet relating to the whole. The design concept is changing. This, I believe, is evident in the interrelationship of all parts within the Higley design. The lettering, less stretched across a wide area, taller and more slender, adds to the perception of a design created from integrated and interrelated parts rather than to a realization of the beauty of each unit as seen in the earlier pieces. A chair from the 1760s displays an identical design concept.7 One curve completes a turn and ripples against the flow of the circular lines below. The Longfellow House in Cambridge built about 1759 displays a similar approach. Each part is built upon another and interlocks to the next. Somehow each line cooperates with the whole, maintaining its identity yet dependent on the others. The progression of the pilasters from base to entablature on this house is like the progression of bands and lips on the tankard of 1749. The architectural design is far from classic or Renaissance, but, as with the copper, is completely American in its manner of adaptation of borrowed elements.


John Vassall or Longfellow House, Cambridge, 1759 (Sandak photo).


The copper issues of the several states reveal attempts to find proper and readily recognizable symbols to embody the beliefs inherent in the new nation's governmental experiment. The eagle with down-turned wings similar to Charles Thomson's original design for the Great Seal is found on the Massachusetts issues. Even armbands made for gifts to Indians displayed the eagle of the new seal.8 Other symbols also were widely used: although almost all tended to indicate locality rather than idea. For example, there is the standing figure of an Indian holding different implements. For over a century, the Indian had personified America. In the hands of Europeans it had been the Indian Princess symbol which had served to indicate location of this overseas colony. The New York and the Massachusetts braves are less romanticized than the Indian princess version of the original inhabitants. Both serve as did the Indian maiden; and, for that matter, as did the New Jersey plow and horse or the Vermont mountains and plow, to indicate location rather than the personification of abstract values. The masculinity of the Indian and the straightforward handling of the design on the coppers as opposed to the feminine rococo version of the Europeans, such as that produced by Dupre, point to the search by the Americans for a positive, meaningful symbol. A similar Indian motif appears in the adaptation of the arms of New York City engraved by Samuel Johnson on a gold freedom box of 1784.9 In these there is a matter-of-fact directness which in style is close to the unaffected approach of John Singleton Copley and other American artists working prior to the beginning of the nineteenth century.

By the time of the establishment of a United States Mint many citizens had been educated in the classics. The ancients were identified by men such as Jefferson, Adams and Hamilton with the orderly, with scientific knowledge, social reform, and with the power of individuality. Moral values and heroic virtues came to be personified by what was considered classical form or at least classical reference. In 1796, the artist Edward Savage published an engraving of Liberty as the Goddess of Youth. She is shown in contemporary dress accompanied by what were considered the attributes of Liberty: the American eagle, the flag and the liberty cap. The theme was classical, the style was rococo. The emphasis on the diagonal, the motion, the floating drapery, the disheveled hair, the stormy atmosphere: all bespeak the flamboyant style prevalent in eighteenth century Europe.


The personification of Liberty on the silver centered cent of 1792 and the bust used on the flowing hair cent of 1793 are similar in concept to the Liberty in the Savage print. All three are closer to eighteenth century European art or even to the new pre-romantic art in England than to ancient Rome or Greece. All three point in theme to a classic reference yet none are classical in style.


Engraving by Edward Savage, Liberty as the Goddess of Youth, 1796. (Library of Congress Coll.)

A psychological and emotional purpose is evident in the concentrated intentness of the coin portrait. This artistic approach was advocated at the time by the English artist William Blake, a religious mystic, who in the 1780s and 1790s was publishing engravings as illustrations for his prophetic books. Thomas Paine, whose interest in early U.S. coinage is recorded by Don Taxay, was involved with Blake in the Friends of Liberty.10 Blake's religious motifs would have appealed to those Americans seeking artistic expressions of values.

A teapot of the 1760s or 1770s displays the same fondness for the uncontrolled evident in the style of the flowing hair cent.11 Details are free and move in serpentine lines over the contour of the silver pot just as strands of hair are allowed to float in uncontrolled directions on the planchets of the coin. This evidences a theory of design which had been advocated by William Hogarth in England and for which Thomas Jefferson indicated a preference when designing the serpentine walls of the University of Virginia.


Fashion plate from Magazine des Modes Nouvelles, 1787 (S.I. Coll.)

The uncontrolled energy found in the flowing hair design had also swept through European fashion to create extravagent attires in dress and hair-do. Bustles and peplums jutted backward. Ruffles folded downward from the neck. Even model ships were perched atop a mass of coiled hair which was pulled to better reveal a high forehead. The line of the high forehead of the early cent rushes forward in one direction to touch the tip of the straight elongated nose and in the other direction spills backward into a profusion of sinuous locks. All exhibit a certain explosive quality which must have troubled those seeking an artistic mode to best exemplify Liberty—a motif which was becoming synonymous with a just and well-ordered society. If art was to represent symbolically the new direction of thought it must mirror the ancients, "the free people." Uncontrolled fantasy and sensuous charm were thought to be modes of the old regimes. Restraint was needed and such simplicity and plain- ness could only be found in the styles of the ancients.


Republican taste searched and found a more acceptable motif than the original Liberty and the calmer portrait with liberty cap replaced the wilder version. The idea that context and meaning could not be separated from form was becoming widely held. Educated leaders felt the qualities in art must fit the theories of the republic. The symbols of the new nation must speak of strength and simplicity, of chastity and logic, of humanism and of social virtue. Certainly the liberty cap had for decades carried a connotation of freedom and this motif juxtaposed with the simpler, quieter portrait found favor.


Silver creamer, ca. 1800 (NMAH Coll., S.l.)


Fashion plate from Ladies Monthly Museum, 1799 (S.I. Coll.)

The same artistic calm pervaded the other arts produced around the turn of the century. A silver tea set elegantly demonstrates the new republican taste. Grace of line and minimal use of applied decoration create a form elegant in simplicity. A gently flowing quality appeared in the new fashions of the day. Greek inspired gowns popular in France soon prompted American women to dress in high-waisted, simple, long, straight-falling gowns requiring a minimum of ornamentation. Chairs, desks and tables were designed with simple lines and if decorated at all12, carried only a referance to the classic wreath or swag which adorned even the common pottery of the period. The reverse of the copper coinage utilized the same popular motif and further added to the classicism of the obverse portrait.

By 1795-96, the draped bust was found to be more fitting for a classical image and Gilbert Stuart adorned the Liberty in this manner with her hair tied befitting a goddess. The overall form is softer and more academically controlled than the earlier portrait. The hair waves above the forehead and curls at the ends provided a gentler meeting of the lines with the circular format. Most importantly, a long slender line is created much like the design of the empire style dress or the silver tea vessels. The mode was also perpetuated through architecture and sculpture. Every bank, church, and state capitol which was designed to convey a special quality of strength or goodness rose in the classic tradition and many were bedecked with draped American heros and heroines.


The truly classic style was not long lived. By the end of the first decade of the 1800s strict simplicity was replaced with decorative elements foreign to the original concept of the unencumbered, graceful line which needed no decoration. Forms became rounder and more robust. Liberty shown on the cent of 1808 came to be personified by a more mature, more worldly woman, one not necessarily young or goddess-like. It was no longer necessary to establish the allegorical meaning of the Liberty motif. The idea was firmly rooted. The basic virtues associated with the ancients now blended with new concepts to form a truly American Liberty, a matronly down-to-earth woman who could be connected with American motherhood, agriculture and commerce.


Fashion plate from Ackermans Repository of the Arts, 1809 (S.I. Coll.)

The roundness of the coin was heightened both by the full outline and by the stars surrounding the central motif as well. A band holding the crown of hair replaced the bow and long curls of the former young goddess. This Liberty band designed by John Reich was probably derived from the binding of the liberty cap appearing on his 1807 five dollar coin rather than from an athlete's fillet which has been suggested. Fashion plates dating from 1806 which circulated in the United States show hairdresses adapted from Greek sphendomes with wide bands. The round form of the cap seen on the gold coin was one easily replaced by the bouffant curls atop the Liberty band on the one cent portrait.


Fashion plate from Ladies Monthly Museum, 1806 (S.I. Coll.)

Such preference for style also appeared in womens' fashion design. The former soft flowing, non-binding lines of the classically inspired garb were altered by ties about the bust line in order to give emphasis to the roundness of the form beneath.13 Puffed sleeves were often added in an attempt to accentuate the round. Hair styles changed from those which closely fit the head to a style which emphasized bouffant fullness. Domestic furnishings also reflected this preference for form. Simplicity suddenly was invaded by decorative elements having little or no relation to the form. Fluting on sugar bowls added non-classical dimensions.14 Pieces of furniture grew claw feet or dragon-headed arm rests. Lyres supported one's back or held up table tops. The idea of beauty had changed. Illusions to many motifs borrowed from sources other than the classic were becoming the mode of the day and the non-classic portrait on the copper coinage reflects this preference of taste.


The next major change in motif used on the copper coinage came with Robert Scot's design for the coronet type cent in 1816. Though much censured on its artistic merit it does represent an alteration in the concept of Liberty. The American princess had grown up and was assuming her place among the nations—a place equal to that of any ruling queen. The political experiment had weathered a variety of storms. The American statement was being noted on the continent as well as in England. Travelled artists were returning home determined to provide American expressions on a grand scale. With self-confidence displaying itself in myriad ways, it is not surprising to find the new Liberty bedecked with a coronet, the emblem of regal power and sovereignty. This motif was perhaps known from engravings of classical themes painted earlier by prominent American artists; but it was also appearing in art work being created at the same time as was the new coin design. A classical sculpture of Justice commissioned for the United States Supreme Court after the fire of 1814 typifies the Roman goddess image soon to become so familiar. She wears a coronet. The sculptor of a Liberty and eagle statue placed in the Capitol's statuary hall during this period also crowned the goddess with the regal emblem. The art of fashion even included the symbol. A fashion plate from 1812 recommends a woman's hair piece held with a coronet (see p. 86).


Justice, Carlo Franzoni, plaster, 1817. Reproduced from United States Architect of the Capitol, Art in the United States Capitol (Washington, 1978), p. 291.

The theme of the mature soverign personifying Liberty or Justice was typical of the developing spirit of the times and the internationalism bombarding the arts. For example, Turkish influence had brought divided skirts into vogue. Carved dragons and other animals from afar lent worldly sophistication to domestic furnishings.

Scot, as other artists of the day, was attempting to infuse American design with cosmopolitan references in order to give Liberty an aura equal to all heads of state. Though his artistic representation is clearly not equal to that of Christian Gobrecht's later rendition, Scot must be given credit for the interpretation of the motif in line with the changing taste of the time.


Fashion Plate from Lady's Magazine, 1812 (S.I. Coll.)

Through these many examples I have attempted to demonstrate that the art of the early American coppers mirrors the evolving taste of the American public. The preferences for design demonstrated in the numismatic examples directly relate to all forms of American art. They are valuable not only as primary sources for the study of technology and economy but also as original examples of our nation's artistic heritage and should be studied in accordance with all other artistic expressions of the time.

End Notes

Marshall B. Davidson, Artists' America (New York City, 1973), p. 18.
For example, Joshua C. Taylor, The Fine Arts in America (Chicago, 1979), P 2.
As the House of the Seven Gables, Salem, Mass., 1668 in Taylor (above, n. 2), p. 8.
Kathryn C. Buhler and Graham Hood, American Silver, Garvan and Other Collections in the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, 1970), vol. 2, fig. 640.
Kathryn C. Buhler, American Silver 1655-1825 in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Greenwich, Conn., 1972), vol. 1, fig. 1.
Buhler (above, n. 4), vol. 1, fig. 240.
See Oscar P. Fitzgerald, Three Centuries of American Furniture (Englewood Cliff. New Jersey), p. 65, fig 4, nos. 20-21.
Buhler (above, n. 4), vol 2, fig 861.
Buhler (above, n. 4), vol. 2, fig. 667.
Elizabeth G. Holt, The Triumph of Art For the Public, 1785-1848(Princeton, 1983), p. 136.
Buhler (above, n. 4), vol 2, fig. 959.
Fitzgerald (above, n. 7), p. 104, fig. 5, no. 44.
Blanche Payne, History of Costume (New York City, 1965), p. 484, fig. 509.
Buhler (above, n. 4), vol. 2, fig. 701.

The Copper Coinage of Vermont

Ronald John Guth

Coinage of the America's Conference at The American Numismatic Society, New York City

© The American Numismatic Society

The copper coins of Vermont offer a fascinating look at United States colonial coinage. To historians, the period is one of transition in our country, from the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, through fledgling America's fighting and winning of the Revolutionary War against Great Britain, to the ratification of the Constitution in 1788. It was during this time that the legislatures of three of the original states and the colony of Vermont authorized coinage issues. Vermont, later to become the fourteenth state, was the first to issue a coinage patent, which was granted to Reuben Harmon, Jr. on June 15, 1785, a full four months ahead of any other state. Harmon's original right to coin coppers was exclusive, and Vermont required no compensation (in fact, the legislature was to be his "partner" only in that it dictated the coinage design elements). Harmon's association in 1787 with the Machin's Mill partnership further broadens the historical appeal of this series.

To collectors, the copper coinage of Vermont offers an interesting cross section of colonial issues, often extending beyond the confines of the state borders. Presently, 39 varieties are collected as part of the Vermont copper coinage, yet several major types are represented, as well as pieces which are closely related to (and even collected as members of) other colonial series, including the Connecticut and New Jersey series, and the issues of Machin's Mill.

In the past, potential collectors of the Vermont series have been hampered, and often discouraged, by a lack of readily available reference material. The word "available" is stressed, as much excellent material has been written on the series, which unfortunately, originally received only narrow distribution. Now, however, all the earlier works are available in reprint editions. A review of this principal literature is in order.

In 1870, the Vermont Historical Society printed a mere 50 copies of a work by the Reverend Edmund Slafter titled The Vermont Coinage. It begins as an excellent and complete presentation of source documents relating to Harmon's dealings with the Vermont legislature. Eventually, however, it becomes an extended lambasting of comments made by previous authors relative to the Vermont coinage which apparently inflamed the sensibilities of the good Reverend. The illustrations presented were (in part) from woodcuts borrowed from Sylvester S. Crosby, and identified eight different varieties and five major types.

Between 1873 and 1875, Sylvester S. Crosby published his monumental The Early Coins of America which included a chapter on the Vermont Coinage. Contained in this section are lengthy and complete reproductions of the proceedings of the Vermont authorities relative to a coinage, Reuben Harmon's contract with the Machin's Mill association, and correspondence on the Vermont coinage between Charles I.Bushnell, B.H. Hall, and Julian Harmon (who was Rupert Harmon's grandson). Also included were "Tables of Varieties of Vermont Coins" and woodcuts of the VERMONTIS, Baby Head, and Immune Columbia varieties (among others), and a description in the text of the later designated Ryder 5, a counterfeit with the sun rising from the left side of the mountains rather than the right. Overall, Crosby described 24 different varieties and 8 major types.

In 1920, The Colonial Coins of Vermont, written by Hillyer Ryder, was published by the ANS. Listing 31 varieties, it was the first work to describe accurately the different dies and establish rarity ratings for the various mulings. For over a quarter of a century, it ranked as the standard reference on the series, and the Ryder numbering system is still retained by collectors. Photographs of 14 different varieties were offered, and 6 major types were represented.

In May of 1947, the Numismatist published a work by John M. Richardson entitled "The Copper Coins of Vermont." An introduction written by Howard Kurth provided a brief historical overview and a discussion of some of the more interesting aspects of the coinage. The remainder of the article was a description of each variety, with photographs of actual coins (when photographs were available) above each description. Three varieties were added which had been discovered since the Ryder article, and these were assigned numbers in continuation of the Ryder sequence. Of the 35 known varieties, 32 were illustrated, finally affording collectors a quick and simple means of attributing their Vermont Coppers.

In 1976, the ANS published as Chapter 11 of their Studies on Money in Early America, the "Vermont Copper Coinage" by Kenneth E. Bressett. The number of varieties was brought up to 39, and photographs were provided of every known Vermont die, including the counterfeit Ryder 5. Most of the coins plated are in exceptional states of preservation. In addition, an emission sequence was hypothesized and presented, and the different varieties were assigned to their reasoned mint of origin.

Several important offerings of Vermont Coppers have appeared in recent years. In 1975, Pine Tree Auctions sold 42 examples in conjunction with the 1975 EAC Convention, including 24 different varieties. Each lot was photographed, allowing collectors to familiarize themselves with the nuances of grading this difficult series. The ANS duplicates were sold in May 1984 by Mid-American Rare Coin Auctions. Several of the Richardson plate coins were presented and the best specimen of each variety was plated. In October 1984, Stack's sold selections from the Richard Picker collection, including several rarities and high-grade pieces.

The copper coins of Vermont offer a fascinating challenge to the variety collector. Although only 39 different varieties are presently enumerated, several are unique or nearly so, and, in fact, only about 20 varieties are readily obtainable. The remainder require a good deal of patient hunting and luck to locate. Because of the miserable production techniques, locating any variety on a smooth planchet, with excellent details, centering and color becomes nearly impossible. Vermont Coppers circulated widely, and most extant examples are in low states of preservation. Fortunately, and as a result of the lack of available variety information, rare varieties are often priced as common types, and high grade examples are often underestimated, undergraded and hence underpriced.

Several interesting undertypes exist in the Vermont series, including varieties struck over Nova Constellatios, Irish halfpence, and even other Vermonts. Errors, such as multiple strikes, off-centers and clips abound in the series and die state collectors are tempted by an array of breaks, cuds, swellings, sinkings, polishing marks, and an often illogical emission sequence. A complete collection of Vermont coppers by Ryder numbers would include a counterfeit Sun over the Mountains variety, an Immune Columbia issue, a Connecticut variety, several imitation Tory or British halfpenny varieties, and such famous and popular varieties as the Baby Head, Britannia Reverse, and the Reversed C variety. No other colonial series offers such diversification and challenge as does the Vermont series. The same thrill and challenge of variety collecting that half cent and large cent collectors have enjoyed for so many years awaits the serious numismatist in one of the best-kept secrets of numismatics—the copper coinage of Vermont.

Emission Sequences of Early Cents

Denis W. Loring

Coinage of the America's Conference at The American Numismatic Society, New York City

© The American Numismatic Society

Numismatists are a fussy lot. For a given denomination and year of issue, it's not enough to know exactly what varieties—combinations of obverse and reverse dies—were produced. They want to know in what order those varieties were made. This chronological progression of varieties is called the emission sequence; its determination can be one of numismatics' most challenging exercises. The numismatist must adopt the role of detective, assembling varied (and sometimes contradictory) pieces of evidence to arrive at his best guess of what really happened long ago. Sometimes the answer is obvious, often it requires considerable digging, and on occasion there seems to be no answer at all—at least none that makes sense.

In particular, there are numerous instances among the early cents of interrupted marriages. A number of coins (perhaps many, perhaps just a few) are struck using Obverse 1 and Reverse A, then some 1-Bs are made, then more 1-As. In which order should the two varieties be listed? There are at least four possible approaches:

  • a. The variety that is struck first is listed first, regardless of the relative number of coins struck before and after the interruption.
  • b. The variety that is struck last is listed last, again independent of numbers.
  • c. The varieties are listed in the order in which most of the coins were struck.
  • d. The varieties are listed in whichever order fits best with the emission sequence for the rest of the year.
  • Though any of these approaches can be justified, methods c. and d. seem to be used most frequently.

The Methodology


Chaining refers to the schematic representation of the known marriages among a group of obverse and reverse dies. It is usually the most efficient way to approach the emission sequence question, and often suggests an answer as well. We can distinguish three cases:

a. Serial polygamy. An excellent example is furnished by the ten 1796 Liberty Cap varieties, S-81 through S-90. The five obverses and six reverses unite in ten marriages. The chain is well defined, and we need only determine which is the beginning and which the end.

b. Monogamy, as illustrated by 1810. Five obverses, five reverses, five marriages, and 100 percent fidelity. No help at all, but there is no reason to believe that the varieties emerged in other than a well-defined order.

c. Mate-swapping. Consider the 1793 Liberty Caps. Obverses 12 and 14 each mate with Reverses K and L. This is the most difficult case. The mixed marriages, when combined with other evidence, may be quite helpful. On the other hand, they may indicate that there was no clear-cut emission sequence at all, at least not that we can determine.

Often, the total picture is a combination of two or all three of the above. When this happens, chaining does not provide a complete answer to the emission sequence problem, but represents an excellent starting point.

Die Deterioration and Repair

When two or more obverses (say) are mated with a single reverse die, changes in the condition of that die can tell us in which order the marriages took place. We can identify several different types of die deterioration; one or more of them will almost surely appear.

a. Die breaks. Examples are abundant throughout the early cent series. One good one is Obverse 13 of 1794: perfect on S-32, small rim break continuing into S-33, large rim break on S-34.







b. Incusations or clash marks. Obverse 3 of 1802 is an example. The heavy "cobwebs" on S-227 indicate that this variety was struck after S-228.





c. Swelling or sinking. Obverse 5 of 1797, S-124 and 125, is a dramatic example. There are triple clash marks as well.





d. Crumbling, the appearance of small lumps of metal around devices. A classic case is Obverse 9 of 1800, S-199 through 202. The crumbling around the date becomes progressively heavier through five marriages. The crack and swelling to the left of the date also develop impressively.







e. Rust. Obverse 28 of 1798, S-176-77-78, is an object lesson in how not to preserve a die.







f. Die alignment. As Obverse 32 of 1794 moves through three marriages (NC-6, S-64, S-65), it becomes increasingly misaligned toward the lower left.







Of course, die deterioration can also demonstrate the absence of a clear-cut emission sequence. Probably the most famous example occurs at the end of the 1803s. An examination of the various combinations of die states of Obverses 14 and 15 and Reverse Q suggests an emission sequence of 263-264-263-265-264-265. Then again, it may have been 263-264-265-263-264-265. We'll never know for sure.

Just as dies deteriorate, they can also be repaired. Retouching, polishing, regrinding and retooling can all prolong a die's useful lifetime, and incidentally help solve the emission sequence puzzle. Obverse 2 of 1798 is one example: unfinished and rusted on S-146, reground and completed on S-147. There are numerous others.





Design Characteristics

The design of an individual die can reveal important clues as to its place in an emission sequence. On the simplest level, we assume that the 1796 Liberty Caps preceded the 1796 Draped Busts, as only Caps were struck in 1794-95 and Draped Busts continued until 1807. Here are two more subtle examples:

a. 1796 S-91, 6-G. This is the only 1796 Cap not connected to the others by chaining. We therefore assume that it was either the first '96 Cap to be struck, or the last. But which? Sheldon placed it last, but a careful comparison of reverse dies reveals that Reverse G has much more in common with Reverse A than with Reverse F: Leaves under UN: double on A and G, triple on F Leaves under IT: triple on A and G, double on F Leaves left of ONE: triple on A and G, double on F Berries right of bow: one on A and G, none on F Berries under ME: two on A and G; one on F. In contrast, there are no features shared by Reverses F and G that are not shared by A as well. Therefore, we conclude that S-91 was probably the first, not the last, of the 1796 Caps.


Rev. A


Rev. G


Rev. F

b. 1794 S-63, 31-FF. Where should this marriage of monogamous dies be placed? The Head of 1794 and style of figures in the date suggest somewhere between S-42 and S-67. Hays placed it between S-36 and S-44, Chapman between S-51 and S-58, and Sheldon, for no particular reason, between S-62 and S-64. However, Reverse FF is actually strikingly similar to one other die: Reverse W, the Starred Reverse. Both feature small letters in the legend unlike those on any other 1794 cent. In addition, the wreaths are nearly identical in both design and execution. Based on this similarity, the new emission sequence for 1794 places S-63 contiguous to S-48.





Edge Devices

It's often been said that a coin has three sides; the numismatist as detective should be sure to consider all three. For instance, take the ongoing debate concerning the beginning of the 1794s. Which came first, S-17 or S-18? Noted 1794 experts have taken both sides, but the edges argue strongly for S-17: all but one of the S-17s have the edge device of the '93 Caps, while most of the S-18s feature the edge used throughout 1794 and into 1795.

Though the "devices" were strictly unintentional, the most significant year for the study of edges is 1798! Cents of this year have at least three different types of edges; they play a key role in unlocking the emission sequence for much of the year. A full discussion is beyond the scope of this paper, but here's one example: a certain edge "device," composed of diagonal reeding and a "welder's bead," is found on S-144-47, 149-151, and 154, but not 148, 152, or 153. Not coincidentally, S-148 is chained to S-153, and S-152 is chained to NC-1.

Planchet Quality

Early cent planchets vary considerably in size, thickness, composition and quality. These variations provide yet another set of clues to the emission sequence mystery. A few examples:

  • 1794 S-60 and S-61 come on the same extra thick planchets as S-58 and S-59, suggesting that these varieties were struck sequentially.
  • 1797 S-122, NC-2, and NC-3 (all Obverse 4), and S-124-27 (chained), are all found on Coltman planchets, while S-123 (also Obverse 4) was struck on the same beautiful Boulton flans used for S-135 and later numbers. Thus the revised emission sequence for these varieties: 124-27, 122, NC-2, NC-3, 123, 135.
  • Another piece of evidence in the S-17/S-18 controversy: S-17 is often seen on the same streaky, defective planchets as 1793 S-15, which is now considered to be the last variety of 1793. The planchets used for S-18 are of totally different (and better) quality.






Circulation of Pre-U.S. Mint Copper Coins in Nineteenth Century America

Eric P. Newman

Coinage of the America's Conference at The American Numismatic Society, New York City

© The American Numismatic Society

The copper coinage struck under American State and Federal franchises in the period from 1785 through 1788 is often seen in low grade condition because of extensive circulation wear. This is also true of 1773 Virginia halfpence; of Nova Constellatio and other New York City coppers dated from 1783 through 1787; of variously dated, American-made, English style, counterfeit halfpence principally originating from 1787 through 1789 at Machin's Mills mint near Newburgh, New York City; and of genuine and counterfeit English and Irish halfpence dated 1782 or earlier found in America.1 The natural wear in many instances indicates over half a century of normal use. Until the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, beginning in 1793, made adequate quantities of U.S. cents and half cents available, the extended use of previously existing copper coin for circulation was to be expected, but for it to continue for decades thereafter seems somewhat surprising.

The overproduction of copper coinage in America by the middle of 1787 as well as the steady importation of English style coppers had dropped the circulating value in New York City from 14 to 20 coppers to the New York City money of account shilling and by the middle of 1789 from 20 to 60. Similar depreciation in copper coin value had occurred in other states temporarily.

As a consequence small size paper notes in pence denominatons were issued by cities, churches and merchants and used for small change purposes, primarily in the State of New York City.2 Then several years after the beginning of U.S. Mint coinage, the rise in the price of copper metal helped to restore mercantile confidence in copper coins and their acceptance was reestablished in some parts of the Middle Atlantic and northeastern states.

However a major mystery exists—on what valuation basis did other than U.S. Mint copper coinage circulate, in what localities and for what lengths of time? There appears to be almost a total lack of data on this subject. The public apparently was left to its own devices to handle the matter. The government did not seriously try to control such copper coins or to enforce their legislated elimination. The merchants and the news media did not seem to care enough to complain or to write about it. There were many more serious silver and gold coin problems to solve and those took precedence over copper coin standardization.

As is well known, the Constitution of the United States gave the federal government, in addition to the right to coin money, the power "to regulate the value thereof." It denied the States the power to give anything but gold and silver coin a legal tender status. The Mint Act of April 2, 1792 included two denominations of copper coinage, designating a value of a cent for the larger and a half cent for the smaller, but did not give those coins any legal tender status as was done for all U.S. silver and gold coins and, soon thereafter, for many foreign silver and gold coins. It created no incentive or opportunity for the public to turn in copper or copper coin for new copper coinage as it did for silver and gold. The lack of a needed support system for copper coinage was promptly realized by Congress and the Act of May 8, 1792 was passed giving the Director of the Mint limited authority to buy copper metal for coinage and providing that when $50,000 in cents and half cents were coined and delivered by the Mint and six months notice of that event given to the public by the Secretary of the Treasury "no copper coins or pieces whatsoever, except said cents and half cents, shall pass current as money." From this legislation it is obvious from the use of the words, "copper coins or pieces," that Congress knew well the conglomeration of copper money and tokens then in circulation.

By the end of 1799, a $50,000 total had been reached and official requests for issuance of the notice were made on several occasions from 1800 to 1803 without result and the notice requirement was finally officially forgotten. President Jefferson, who was the last to be formally reminded of the matter by Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin on April 9, 1803, responded the following day that because "the continuance of the Mint was uncertain and if put down, the concluding other coppers might be inconvenient." He then passed the buck to the legislative branch when he wrote that the required announcement should be delayed for more than a month so "that Congress may have time to interpose before the expiration of the 6 months allowed the copper circulation after the annunciation."3 It is reassuring to note that Jefferson refers to the mass of pre-U.S. Mint pieces as "other coppers" and to their active use as "copper circulation." The coppers intended to be eliminated were not eliminated and neither Congress nor the Secretary of the Treasury accomplished anything further on the matter until the Act of February 21, 1857 was passed.

During the 1793-1857 period the price of copper fluctuated; the amount of copper metal in the cent and half cent was officially reduced on two occasions; the U.S. Mint was said not to have supplied enough copper coins; the future of the U.S. Mint was challenged in favor of foreign and domestic private contract coinage for the United States; the distribution of U.S. copper coinage was erratic; and its acceptance was somewhat unpopular. In spite of this the U.S. made a profit on copper coinage; was able to coin as many as 15,000 cents in one day; was able to and did produce 50 tons of copper coin per year when needed; paid the shopping costs for sending cents and half cents to the Bank of the United States and its branches and to various other cities and towns; on January 3, 1799 had "a considerable number on hand;" and in 1821 the Director of the Mint reported that at the Mint "the quantity of copper coins had accumulated far beyond the public demand."4

U.S. copper coinage was not protected by the first U.S. coin counterfeiting law of April 21, 1806 but was eventually included in the counterfeiting law of March 3, 1825.

An early example of the sporatic public prejudice against copper coins was the rejection by the New York City public of the Talbot Allum & Lee cents dated 1794 and 1795. These pieces were of a size and weight conforming generally to the Federal cent standard. They were beautifully coined in Birmingham, England and redeemable by a reputable New York City business. Yet a very substantial portion of them had to be sold for copper metal value to the U.S. Mint which, instead of melting them to prepare new planchets, cut them down to a proper diameter for striking 1795 and 1797 half cents, even eliminating the rolling process.

Erastus Root, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York City, told that body on January 19, 1816 that the current coins in circulation were so deficient that they were "hardly accepted by servants in taverns." He must have been referring to copper coins as he promptly proposed, without success, a revision of the U.S. copper coinage laws.5

It was asserted that a half cent had so little value that it was unneeded. This was unsound. Admittedly half cent coinage for circulation was discontinued for two long periods from 1812 through 1824 and from 1836 through 1848, but due to unpopularity, not lack of value. If after about 150 years of price increases the public today constantly uses one cent coins, then a half cent had to have meaningful value then. To claim that our large cents were too heavy for convenience is also unsound when one compares that to the mixture of smaller non-uniform coppers which were in circulation for over a half century. The reason for continued circulation of pre-U.S. Mint coppers must therefore be sought elsewhere.

The 1830 Senate Report

A comprehensive report on the circulation of coins in the United States was submitted to the Senate on January 11, 1830, by Nathan Sanford (1777-1838) of New York City as chairman of a Select Committee of five senators appointed to revise coinage laws. Although primarily devoted to foreign and domestic gold and silver coinage, the report is very specific on the need for straightening out the copper circulation problems. Its numismatic timing is particularly significant because it is prior to the introduction into circulation of Hard Times Tokens and related large cent size store cards. It included recognition that, after 37 years of U.S. Mint copper coin production being added to the pre-U.S. Mint copper pieces, no solution to the small change problems had resulted.

Fundamentally the report pointed out that United States copper coinage never had any legal tender status and that it was uncertain as to whether there was any limit to the amount of copper which could be tendered in a payment. It emphasized that "our copper coins are either legal money, or they are not." To solve this issue it was proposed (Senate Bill 49 filed January 11, 1830) that U.S. copper coins become legal tender up to ten cents. This was to confine copper coins to "their proper province" for convenience in making small and exact payments.

Even though U.S. half dimes and dimes were already legal tender within the 10 cent limit, it was felt that such legislation would eliminate "burdening creditors with an inconvenient amount" of copper and satisfy the often made objection that the U.S. copper coin was "too heavy for the purposes of money." He continued that as to all non-Federal coins, both silver and copper, "when coins are so worn that their inscriptions and distinctive marks are effaced they have lost the character which they received from the mint...that coins reduced to disks of smooth metal are too inconvenient."

The main thrust of the report was that Spanish-American silver coins, reduced in weight by wear during 20 to 100 years of use and from "artificial diminishment," are customarily accepted by tale or count, regardless of weight, thus driving from circulation U.S. coins which are "not yet much reduced by ordinary use." It was estimated then that circulation of all coins in the United States was $23,000,000 of which $14,000,000 was of U.S. coinage (of $34,497,138 minted), $5,000,000 in Spanish-American pieces and $4,000,000 in other foreign coins. The amount of U.S. copper coinage in circulation was not commented upon because the circulation of U.S. silver could not even be stimulated when small Spanish-American silver coins, being underweight by an average of 6 percent, were for that reason forcing U.S. silver coinage out of circulation. Even though Spanish-American silver coins were usually accepted by tale at par in trade,they could not be turned in to the U.S. Mint for recoinage without a party losing a large percentage because of their weight deficiency.

The importance of this report as to copper coin in circulation is the fact that no elimination of pre-U.S. Mint copper was even suggested, although it was intended that an increase in the circulation of U.S. Mint copper coins would occur by making them legal tender up to 10 cents. If Spanish-American silver coin, regardless of extensive wear and substantial loss of metallic value was then generally circulating by tale, there was no apparent urgency or logic to undertake a reformation of copper circulation, the intrinsic value of which as metal was normally as much as 50 percent below its circulating value.

The text and recommendations of the report were ordered printed and distributed but nothing whatsoever resulted. The lack of action on the report made it clear that the problem was too complex at that time for the government to solve.

The diminution in metallic value of small Spanish-American silver coins was recognized in 1843 in New York City when the banks refused to accept such silver except at the rate of 23 cents (8 percent discount) for the 2 real, at 10 cents (20 percent discount) for the 1 real, and at 5 cents (20 percent discount) for the 1/2 real. This practice spread to banks, post offices and U.S. Land Offices throughout the United States by 1848.6 The United States by its February 21, 1857, legislation finally accepted those coins by giving the holder a choice either to turn in the small Spanish-American silver coins without any discount in exchange for the new flying eagle small cents for a period of two years or to turn in such silver coins at a discount of 20 percent in exchange for U.S. silver or gold coin. Naturally virtually everyone elected the full-value option. The option to exchange for cents without any discount was extended to February 21, 1861, but was cut off on June 25, I860 by repeal of the extension.

The Effect of Moneys of Account

The reason why many pre-U.S. Mint coppers remained in circulation through 1857 is somewhat clarified by certain monetary conditions mentioned in the 1830 report. The principal cause seems to be the use during more than the first half of the nineteenth century of money of account shilling and pence pricing and record keeping. In turn the continued circulation of Spanish-American silver coinage in the United States helped to keep the several moneys of account in use in many areas. A review of these conditions should explain their effect on pre-U.S. Mint copper circulation.

In New York City, for example, where the money of account was 8 shillings to the Spanish dollar of 8 reales (also equal to the U.S. Dollar), the New York City money of account shilling was exactly the same value as the 1 real Spanish-American coin, 2 shillings exactly the same as the 2 real coin, and 6 pence the same as a 1/2 real coin. If the denomination of coins created under the laws of the United States were used for small transactions in New York City money of account pricing, the shilling or 6 pence prices had to be recalculated at 12 1/2 cents or 6 1/4 cents respectively, for which it took at least four specific U.S. coins to make up the former and there was no U.S. coin combination to make up the latter. Only the 2 shilling amount and the U.S. quarter dollar coin were equivalent to one another, but many transactions involved smaller sums. So long as Spanish-American coins remained in circulation it was more convenient for many people to keep the shilling and pence exchange and price system than to change such prices into cent amounts.

The tenacity with which New York City held to its money of account standard is well demonstrated by the fact that the New York City shilling or 1/8th dollar equivalent became the trading price differential in 1792 when security brokers first organized in New York City and today the New York City Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, etc., continue to trade with that price differential in spite of almost 200 years of a decimal monetary system. It has always been difficult to make people change an economic habit when the suggested change is or is perceived to be more inconvenient for them.

In New England, modifying its money of account equivalent of 6 shillings to the Spanish Dollar (which standard had been unchanged since 1750) was even more difficult to accomplish. In the New England money of account basis, 1 shilling was equal to 16 2/3 cents (the same value as the coined Pine Tree Shilling which was still sometimes found in circulation well into the nineteenth century). The 6 pence in such money of account was equal to 8 1/3 cents. A Spanish-American 1 real coin was equal to 9 pence in New England money of account. The State franchised coppers and genuine and counterfeit English-style halfpence had been circulated at 18 to the New England money of account shilling, equivalent to 15 coppers for 10 pence, 9 coppers for 6 pence, and 3 coppers for 2 pence. As complex as small transactions in New England might have been, no U.S. coin came close to coordinating with the New England money of account and the only available computer able to handle equivalents in such a money environment was a programmed human mind. The arithmetic primers and handbooks continued into the nineteenth century to drill the reader in the necessary conversion calculations in this well developed money of account system. When one reached whole dollar sums there was no problem but for small transactions a system of sixths (shillings per Spanish dollar), eighths (reales per coined dollar), twelfths (pence per shilling), eignteenths (coppers per shilling), and hundredths (cents per coined dollar) would, when learned, be a matter of pride and a source of stubbornness against modification. Imagine a visitor from out of town going to the Faneuil Hall Market to buy food in the early nineteenth century and facing such a price and coin structure.

In Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware (the Middle Atlantic States) the money of account at 7 shillings 6 pence to the Spanish Dollar was so well established from colonial times that neighboring Maryland was forced to conform to it as an economic practicality. In this system of 90 pence equal to the Spanish Dollar, there were no small U.S. or Spanish-American coins with which it could readily accommodate. However, New Jersey had tried by law and otherwise to stabilize the value of its own coppers at 15 to the money of account shilling which would enable 10 coppers to pass for 8 pence, and 5 coppers to pass for 4 pence. New Jersey coppers in New York City had on September 5, 1789, fallen in value to 2 for the New York City money of account penny (24 for the New York City shilling), but at that time even 2 real, 1 real and 1/2 real Spanish-American silver coins were temporarily "depreciated into pistareens, half pistareens, etc.," amounting to a 20 percent discount. This demonstrated the effect of New York City practices on neighboring areas, even though temporary.

The westward movement of American population spread the money of account habits and thus the coin circulating customs. The firmly established New England money of account had spread to Ohio and Indiana. The Virginia money of account, on the same basis (6 shillings to the dollar), had spread to Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.7 The southern states, however, had steadily refused to embrace copper circulation of any type and in what place the Virginia halfpence circulated was unknown to Thomas Jefferson and still remains a puzzlement as to its nineteenth century use.

Conversion of Cents into Pence

The 1830 Senate report confirmed that in some parts of the United States, prices were to a great extent expressed in four dissimilar types of shilling and pence moneys of account carried over from the American colonial period and that "these discordant imaginary moneys though understood by the inhabitant of the local scene where it prevails" cause the value of U.S. coins to be converted to the various moneys of account by calculations involving small fractions.

For prices in pence the conversion of U.S. cent values into moneys of account was complex and impractical. Rounded off to the nearest farthing as well as exact conversion calculations were published in various forms beginning in 1793 and continuing for at least 35 years.8 A selection of a few of the values is set forth hereafter for various moneys of account, showing both the true conversion amount as well as the rounded off tabular value to the nearest farthing. A calculation could be based on money of account farthings for a book entry, but the public could not make a small payment to the nearest farthing because there was no coin in circulation to do it with, not even the very occasional genuine or counterfeit English farthings. No one published conversion values which included that for a U.S. half cent.

In small transactions someone always gained and someone always lost when cents or half cents were converted to pay prices in money of account pence. If, however, in a transaction one U.S. cent was tendered to pay an obligation of one money of account pence there would be a loss to the receiver of 28 percent in New England, 10 percent in the middle Atlantic states and 4 percent in New York City. Thus, a rejection of the use of a U.S. Cent for such a payment was justifiable, particularly in New England.

True Value Table Value True Value Table Value True Value Table Value
1 .72 .75 .96 1.00 .90 1.00
2 1.44 1.50 1.92 2.00 1.80 1.75
3 2.16 2.25 2.88 3.00 2.70 2.75
4 2.88 3.00 3.84 3.75 3.60 3.50
5 3.60 3.50 4.80 4.75 4.50 4.50
6 4.33 4.25 5.76 5.75 5.40 5.50
10 7.20 7.25 9.60 9.50 9.00 9.00

As can be noted in these calculations there is a maximum deviation of as high as 10 percent, a deviation of 3 to 4 percent up or down for transactions involving up to a few cents and an approach to equality in the larger amounts. It is not surprising that U.S. cents and half cents were unpopular in areas where prices in pence were prevalent.

Sometimes prices and wages were referred to in mixtures of dollars and cents along with money of account shillings and pence. Such a situation was published by Hunt's Merchants Magazine in August 1853 from a contemporary article in the New York City Herald concerning industrial wages, stating: "the cost of a fine shirt varies from two dollars and a half to four dollars, while a coarse one can be purchased at almost any retail store for eight or ten shillings.... For finishing the shirt from twenty-five cents to a sixpence is paid."

Experiences and Comments

Commentary by early numismatists, including collectors, researchers and dealers, as to American circulation of other than U.S. Mint coppers confirms their long circulation but throws virtually no light as to the valuation basis on which they circulated. Those who wrote did so from their own knowledge or experience, even if from distant memory in some instances. Their remarks are important.

Montroville W. Dickeson, writing just prior to 1859 concerning 1787 Connecticut coppers, stated that "at this time, they can be occasionally found in circulation in every State of the Union, where a copper currency is tolerated." As to Virginia halfpence, he stated that those coppers "are frequently met with among those now in circulation." He then mentions some dug up in Knoxville, Tennessee and in Easton, Pennsylvania.9 Crosby, writing about 1873, points out that Dickeson who lived in Philadelphia had "unequaled facilities" to obtain colonial coppers at the Philadelphia Mint where they were purchased for copper metal value.10 Eckfeldt & DuBois, both of whom were officers at the U.S. Mint and were loyal to it, wrote in 1842 that State copper coinages continued current for an unknown period, but by 1842 coin collectors had gained possession of them.11 Dye's Coin Encyclopedia stated in 1883 that coins of State mints and Bungtown coppers in circulation began to disappear "as so much rubbish," but did not completely drop out of circulation until the disappearance of metallic money during the Civil War.12

William C. Prime in his book entitled Coins, Medals, and Seals, Ancient and Modern, writing in 1860 about English halfpence then in circulation in the United States (some of which had been sent to Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1749 as a payment by the British government), stated, "At the present day we find among the old copper in circulation many very fine specimens of English halfpennies of 1749, always in better condition than any other year. It may be owing to this importation that these coins remain in America in such fine preservation."13 This confirms that pre-U.S. Mint British halfpence continued to circulate during more than the first half of the nineteenth century. As to Nova Constellatio coppers, Prime also stated in 860, that "They are even now found occasionally in circulation."14

The numismatist, Horatio N. Rust (1828-1906), who discovered the five Fugio cent dies at the Broome and Platt store in New Haven, Connecticut in 860, in his article entitled "The First Cent" for the Pasadena (California) Daily News of July 29, 1898, stated concerning the Fugio cent that "fifty years ago they were common in circulation." In a subsequent letter he wrote shortly thereafter from California he made a similar comment but added that the place of circulation of Fugio cents was "in New England." This places such circulation circa 1848 in New England.15

A similar remark on what was in circulation at that time was made by professional numismatist, John W. Haseltine, who in a 1908 talk said that in 1846 at the age of 8 he took a Fugio cent, a New Jersey copper and a Connecticut copper from his brother's collection and spent them for candy. He went on to say that "the Franklin or Fugio, New Jerseys, Connecticuts and sometimes Massachusetts cents, also many half cents circulated freely as money at that time." 16

Lyman H. Low, a professional numismatist, commented in 1908 that in 1856 he made regular Saturday afternoon visits to the toll house on the Boston side of the Chelsea Ferry to look over a box of odd coins. He said "it was the custom of the tollman to accept anything having the semblance of a coin. If it proved to be something else than a piece of U.S. mintage it was thrown into the box."17 Obviously these were being separated for financial advantage in making change rather than for numismatic purposes, as Low would not have continued to have had his choice if it were otherwise.

E.J. Attinelli writing in 1876 pointed out that Lorin G. Parmelee opened a bakery in Boston in 1849 at the age of 22 and that "his business naturally threw his way many copper coins, observing the oddity of many of these he commenced placing aside the early colonial pieces and the regular issues of the Mint." He confined his collection at that time almost entirely to copper coins.18

In Mason's Coin Collectors' Magazine, published in Boston in November, 1884, an unusual experience of Ebenezer Locke Mason, Jr. (1826-1901), was described. His family had moved from Portland, Maine to Philadelphia in 1834. He was engaged in a travelling exhibition business in the United States and Canada from 1856 to 1859 prior to becoming a professional numismatist in Philadelphia in 1860. At the ticket offices of the halls and theatres where he exhibited, he gathered thousands of colonial, United States and other copper coins which he shipped to Philadelphia to sell to dealers on his return. On one occasion he sent by Adams Express a keg of old coppers in rolls of 25 coins each, consisting of two groups. One group contained 1793, 1799 and 1804 U.S. cents, colonial coins, Washingtons, uncirculated half cents and uncirculated cents of any date, these being rolled up in white wrappers. The other group consisted of "bungtowns and wretched coppers" (presumably genuine and counterfeit English-type halfpence, Hard Times Tokens and other American store cards, Canadian tokens, etc.), those being wrapped in brown paper. He instructed his wife by letter to spend for food those rolled in brown paper and to retain for him those enclosed in white paper. She made an error and paid out to shopkeepers and other market people the scarce pieces enclosed in white wrappers, saving the other rolls for him. Thus the pieces of numismatic significance were expended and those to be spent were still on hand. From this casualty to his economic welfare important conclusions can be drawn, namely:

  • Colonial coins, Washingtons, Bungtowns, and "wretched coppers" were still acceptable in trade in certain parts of the United States in 1856.
  • United States standard copper coinage was circulating concurrently with pre-U.S. Mint copper coinage in the many areas Mason frequented.
  • The circulating value of "Bungtown and wretched coppers" was greater in Philadelphia than in certain other parts of the country, otherwise it would not have been worthwhile for Mason to ship them to Philadelphia for expenditure by his wife.

Joseph B. Felt, writing in 1839, was referring to English style coppers and copper coins minted under American State franchises when he stated: "Now and then the remains of them have come forth and passed for a season, till driven back by new regulations."19 Those "regulations" were adopted commercial practices. The comment indicated that pre-U.S. Mint copper coins returned to circulation from time to time when the price of copper metal increased sufficiently or merchants' whims changed or they would sometimes lose acceptance when the price of copper would be depressed or the quantity of copper coin would become excessive. One could conclude that the value at which coppers circulated would remain the same in an area but that those coppers would be acceptable off and on, depending on the price of copper as a metal and upon other economic conditions. When the price of copper metal went high enough or when copper coin became unacceptable, then such coins would be driven from circulation into the melting pot as scrap.

It is of interest to observe that the obverse and reverse of the 1783 Washington & Independence cent are illustrated in some gold and silver coin chart manuals in the 1848 to 1855 period. This would indicate that this copper coin too was then in circulation. No other copper coins are included in these coin chart manuals. The description of the piece in one instance stated "One cent, of Washington's time" and in another "One cent (Washington's day) One cent."20 Although this copper token was a British product of the 1820 period, it was obviously added to the pre-U.S. Mint coppers in circulation in the United States, as many examples are also found well worn.

Neil Carothers, Don Taxay, Robert Julian and many others have added extensively to the history of small coins circulating in the United States, but do not include evidence of the circulating value of pre-U.S. Mint coppers.


The fact that the money of account systems continued to be steadily used in parts of the United States until 1857 seems to be the main reason many pre-U. S. Mint copper coins remained in circulation even though they were steadily displaced and depleted.The small change habits of the public made it easier to calculate and make payments with pre-U.S. Mint coppers in small transactions in many money of account areas and to treat U.S. Mint copper coinage as foreign exchange because it did not fit into the established money of account systems. Such money of account systems were kept active by the large quantities of small Spanish-American silver coins which continued to remain in circulation. If such silver coins had been withdrawn from circulation earlier in the nineteenth century the money of account systems would have collapsed and consequently U.S. Mint coppers would have quickly become the coins used in small transactions.

The importance of eliminating the money of account systems was reconfirmed by James Ross Snowden, Director of the United States Mint, in his report dated November 5, 1859, after the February 21, 1857 Act authorizing the exchange of Spanish-American silver coin had been in operation. He stated, "our circulation is thus being rid of a foreign currency, which interferes with our own excellent system of decimal coinage and accounts. It is hoped, that this reform in our circulation will lead people to adopt the language of our system, and abandon terms which are absurd, and would be ridiculous if they were not so common. I refer especially to the term shilling, which never had a place in our coinage, and was variable as a term of account in different localities during our colonial existence."

In portions of the United States where money of account shillings were not in use and U.S. copper coins were in circulation, pre-U.S. Mint coppers of the same general size as the U.S. cents must have circulated along with U.S. cents to some extent. In that situation such pre-U.S. Mint coppers would have to have circulated at a value of one cent each. Hard Times Tokens and store cards of the one cent size were similarly accepted as cent payment when they were introduced during and after the 1837 panic. Yet we do not know to what extent and which of the pre-U.S. Mint coppers might have been acceptable in cent transactions.

It is tantalizing not to know enough facts to determine on what basis pre-U.S. Mint coppers circulated in money of account areas and exactly where those areas were. The writer's conclusion is that we should assume tentatively that the number of such coppers per money of account shilling in the nineteenth century was the same as had been customary in normal periods of late eighteenth century circulation, namely: 18 coppers to the New England money of account shilling (108 to the dollar); 15 coppers to the middle Atlantic money of account shilling (112 1/2 to the dollar); and 14 coppers to the New York City money of account shilling (112 to the dollar).

If these ratios had been more divergent, the movement of pre-U.S. Mint coppers from one money of account area to another would have been destabilizing and destructive. The public clung to and continued to circulate the pre-U.S. Mint coppers in money of account areas until the small Spanish-American silver coins were economically forced from circulation by the 1857 exchange legislation. Then the money of account systems and the pre-U.S. Mint coppers fell like dominoes and disappeared from calculations and circulation.

This subject has been researched by the writer for over 25 years and has been discussed with Raymond H. Williamson who has kindly shared the relevant material in his research files. The challenge to locate further facts is open to other researchers who, it is hoped, will find more of the answers.

End Notes

For circulation of coppers in eighteenth century America see: Eric P. Newman, "American Circulation of English and Bungtown Halfpence," Studies on Money in Early America (New York City, 1976), pp. 134-72; Eric P. Newman, Coinage for Colonial Virginia , ANSNNM 135 (New York City, 1956) pp. 33-34.
Eric P. Newman, The Early Paper Money of America(Racine, 1976), pp. 249-63.
Peter Force, ed., American State Papers (Finance), Vol. 1, pp. 615, 632, 688 and 731; Albert Gallatin—Thomas Jefferson correspondence in the U.S. Archives; Don Taxay, The U.S. Mint and Coinage (New York City, 1966), p. 67.
Neil Carothers, Fractional Money (New York City, 1930), pp. 64, 72, 77 and 103; American State Papers (Finance), Vol. 1, p. 603; Vol. 3, pp. 57, 674; Vol 5, pp. 226, 747; U.S. Statutes, Mar. 3, 1795, Section 9, and Jan. 18, 1837, Section 37.
Carothers, (above, n. 4), p. 84.
Carothers, (above, n. 4), p. 102
Robert Holditch, The Emigrants Guide to the United States of America (London, 1818), p. 123.
Isaiah Thomas, Almanac (Worcester, various dates); Daniel Adams, The Scholar's Arithmetic (New England, various dates); Nicholas Pike, A New and Complete System of Arithmetic England, various dates).
American Numismatical Manual (Philadelphia, 1859), p. 105.
Sylvester S. Crosby, The Early Coins of America (Boston, 1875), p. 219.
A Manual of Gold and Silver Coins (Philadelphia, 1842), p. 141.
Dye, p. 200.
Editions of 1861 and 1864, p. 66.
"Coin in America," Harpers New Monthly Magazine (March 1860), p. 471.
From a scrapbook located by Raymond H. Williamson in the Archives of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California, and confirmed by The Pasadena Public Library to be from the Pasadena Daily News of July 29, 1898.
The Numismatist 1908, p. 324.
The Numismatist1908, p. 318.
Numisgraphics (New York City, 1876), p. 66.
Felt, An Historical Account of Massachusetts Currency (Boston, 1839), p. 210.
Dye's Gold and Silver Coin Chart Manual (1851), p. 48; (1854), p. 48; (1855), p. 47. T. W. Lord Supplement to the Cincinnati Counterfeit Detector (March 1850), p. 24; (1854), p. 20. Hodge's Gold and Silver Coin Chart Manual (ca. 1857), p. 46; Thompson's Coin Chart Manual (1848), p. 36.

The Mysterious 1784 "Washington the Great" Coinage

Donald G. Partrick

Coinage of the America's Conference at the American Numismatic Society, New York City

© The American Numismatic Society

Little has been written to date on the Washington the Great coinage. Yeoman, in his Guide Book of United States Coins, refers to the piece as a satirical "medal;" it has also been called the "ugly head." This paper brings together the information known about the issue and provides an explanation as to its origin.

Obv. WASHINGTON THE GREAT D G Crude head facing r. Rev. Chain, composed of 13 rings, each bearing the initials of one of the 13 original States; [17]84 at center."Washington the Great" satirical coin, dated [17]84 and presumably issued in 1784.

The Silver Specimen:


Slightly irregular in diameter, maximum of 26.70 mm; plain edge, maximum thickness of 2.05 mm (the uneven flan thickness ranges from 0.80 to 2.05 mm). The coin was struck on a cast planchet. Weight is 158.210 grains troy. Composition as determined by Materials Evaluation Labratory, Inc., Baton Rouge, La., July 1, 1981, is: silver, 56%; tin, 20%; lead, 19%; antimony, 4%; copper, less than 1%; iron, less than 1%.

From the Maurice M. Gould estate; ex Arthur Conn, Cy Hunter. Illustrated and described in The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine, 1954, pp. 669-70.

The Copper Specimen:


93 grains; 27.1 maximum diameter.

These two pieces are the finest examples I know of, others I have seen were all made from one or the other of these two.

The copper piece is struck on a rolled out copper planchet. It has diagonal reeding on the edge and is of a nice, rich tan color, indicating to the eye that the quality of the metal was good for that day.

The silver piece is different. Someone has told me it is struck on a cast planchet. I would surmise that a cast planchet was used because rolled out and cut silver planchets were just not available for a limited striking. If indeed, the piece is on a cast planchet, it would be the only feasible avenue available to the makers at the time.

Many early silver pieces manufactured in this country were made on cast planchets. For example, the 1790 New York City made Manly medal was struck on a cast planchet.

This piece made its first documented appearance in 1861 in James R. Snowden's A Description of the Medals of Washington; of National and Miscellaneous Medals; and of other Objects of Interest In The Museum Of The Mint published in Philadelphia. It is plated and described as item number 74. Following the catalogue description, Snowden commented, "this curious medalet was presented [to the Mint] by Dr. Gibbes, of Columbia, South Carolina. It is rude in design and execution, but is a very rare, and probably unique, piece."

Sylvester S. Crosby in his Early Coins of America notes it on plate 10, 3. Interestingly, he comments about weight, 102 grains, and size, 16 1/2, very close to Snowden's size 16; but neither author mentions the metal. Crosby describes the edge as plain. Did he see the silver example illustrated here, or did he possibly see a copper example with a plain edge?

Carl Carlson tells me that the earliest auction record he has been able to find of the piece was in the Cogan Sale of April 7, 1863, where a copper specimen appeared as lot 116. His annotated catalogue shows Appleton was the buyer. Carlson presumes it went to the Massachusetts Historical Society with the rest of Appleton's collection but he has no trace of it since the time of the Cogan sale. No edge description was given in the 1863 sale catalogue.

Back in the early 60s when I first determined that the collecting of the coinage of the colonial colonies would be a worthwhile field to pursue, I decided that certain areas of the wide scope of colonials might best be skipped in favor of others. I remember believing that the Washington the Great was not worth pursuing as it would not be an attractive coin to acquire. Of course that decision was arrived at easily because my limited knowledge of the coin was that it was an unimportant piece of questionable historical value and one generally maligned by the numismatic fraternity. This might be compared with the blind leading the blind. I can be an opinionated person and my mind was not soon to be changed. I think I finally started to wake up when I became more studied in the workmanship of the more crudely made state coinages.

At the time I entered the field of colonials, New Jersey cents had a fair following. Ted Craige was the Connecticut authority of the day. Connecticut cents were well researched but had not achieved the status of the Jerseys. Connecticuts still don't occupy the same high pedestal to which the Jerseys have been elevated. There seems to have been a psychological barrier to the Connecticut series simply because of its length. Too much study, too much attribution, and too many examples of types. Too prolific an issue with its many die varieties. Simply put, just too much work. Fortunately for numismatics there has been a change in that "just too much work" trend. The young numismatists coming up in the ranks are far better students than we have seen in the past. They have the stamina and the desire to learn. Also, institutions such as the American Numismatic Society are providing aid in funding for the research that is taking place at this time.

I recall also that in the early 60s the Vermont coinage had been overlooked by the general collector of colonials. This indeed was a crudely turned out product, hardly worthy of the collecting beginner. We all know to what lofty heights of recognition such great numismatic students as David Bowers have elevated this state coinage.

What this all points to is that there has been a renewal of interest in this so-called crude coinage. The modern scholar now appreciates the purposeful crude workmanship. It is now recognized that the collectors at the beginning of this century had great taste and were diligent in their pursuit of these so-called crude issues. The great Chapman catalogues give ample testimony to this. Beautiful examples of all the state coinages played a prominent part in the great colonial collections catalogued and sold by the Chapmans. Famous names of that era such as Bushnell, Mills, Cleaney, Stickney, Jewett, Zabriske, Earle, Parsons, Jackman, Jenks and many others had very creditable representations of the state series.

I have heard the Washington The Great copper referred to as a token. Perhaps that term might be properly attributed to the Mott token or the Talbot Allum and Lee Cents, but I didn't agree that such terminology would be correct here. I feel this particular piece is a speculative issue of the day, made to circulate as an accepted cop- per of the time. The design is what has given most numismatists trouble.

Let us hypothesize together. Suppose you were about to enter into the production of a speculative coinage. You determine that your best avenue of success would be a coin with the appearance of having been circulated. It is 1784. I have no problem with the dating of this coin. The circular opening in the center of the reverse formed by the thirteen links plainly displays the 84 in its lower half. The 17 which would occupy the upper half is not evident on the examples illustrated. I am confident a future discovery will reveal this. However, it is possible that the intentional honing down of the dies to give the coins an appearance of previous circulation may have totally worn away that part of the die. Thus, these coins fall into the general category of imitation coinage.

The British troops have only just left New York City City in the spring of 1784. Again I make a presumption, that the coin was made in New York City. The treaty of peace was signed at Versailles last fall and we've only just recently learned about that. British troops were here almost eight long years and who knows if this independence is for real? So if we're going to go into this adventure and burn all our bridges behind us, let's take out some insurance. We'll put George Washington on the obverse and we'll put Ben Franklin's design of the thirteen link chain on the reverse. After all, Franklin went over big on the paper money. Too bad we have to buy copper. Those other guys did great with paper. Too bad they ruined a good thing. Maybe our descendants will profit by our mistakes and avoid inflation. Ah well, such is the time. Let's hedge our bets. We're not going to advertise we're doing this job. But you know how word gets around. Let's give George a little jibe. Refer to him as "Washington The Great D.G." That way if the British do come back, and we do become known, we can always say it was a little political satire. After all, what's it our business if everybody starts to pass them around as coins. Not guilty your worship, as you can plainly see.

It is important to keep in mind that these were not stable times. Independence was not a sure thing in 1784; tories were still very much in style in New York City City. It was not until the end of 1784 and into 1785 that the tories began to give up the ghost and get out of town. By then it was a reasonable certainty to the local populace that the British were not coming back.

The most important comparison to be made about this speculative issue is its similarity to the Machin Mills series that was to follow a year later. The honing down of the dies, to create the illusion of previous circulation, is one of the major clues to suggest that the sponsorship of this predecessor copper may have carried over to the Machin Mill operation. It is especially the similarity in finishing that leads me to speculate on the possible New York City City design of this coin. Recent research has confirmed that the Machin Mill organization was a gathering of multiple sponsorship. Many people were involved, most of whom had coinage ventures in their background. So, whether we make the connection through die makers, coiners, sponsors, or whatever; I feel there is reasonable ground to expect that a relationship does exist. The tie will be found by future scholars. The Jersey coppers, the Connecticut coppers, the Vermont coppers; all the State issues between 1785 and 1788 have been tied together through die work, die letters, die makers and sponsors. The possibility of linking this piece seems almost certain. Just recently the 1785 Non Vi Virtute Vici Washington coin of New York City has been connected to that group of sponsors. In the case of the Washington The Great coin, its fabric, its workmanship, its weight, its entire window to the market parallels the others. We must bear in mind that there were not that many in the coin manufacturing business in those days.

The coin was short lived; the number of surviving specimens attests to that. We have silver and copper specimens and it is my opinion that the coin maker had in mind a multidenomination coinage. Why not? The Myddelton issue is a prime example; the Continental Dollar of Philadelphia fame is another example. Informed numismatists now accept that the brass Continental specimens were issued as a penny and the silver pieces as the dollar. The white metal or tin pieces are simply copper substitutes. Consider the metallic content of the base silver Washington The Great piece—56 percent silver. Hardly enough silver content to get by as a government sponsored issue but certainly enough to get by as a speculative try at making it as a shilling or two real equivalent. In other words, good as a speculation. Certainly good as the first speculation after the cessation of hostilities following a nine year war. Certainly the young and hungry economic scene would induce one to such a speculation. The fact that it may not have proved successful gives us a clue as to why there is no evidence that Machin Mill ever tried such a combination effort. The Machin scheme simply restricted its effort to underweight duplication of the British Halfpenny, still in wide use in the "colonies." Later Machin, et al., went into state contracts.

New York's Hudson River Valley was the focal point for the manufacture of all the coinages from 1785 to 1788. All the sponsors, etc., had origination in New York City City. Manufacture for New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, and the Machins Mill operation itself, all had origins or roots in New York City City. Philadelphia certainly had been an originating center for coinage a decade earlier but at this time was no longer the center for "creative" coinage. The fabric, dating and manufacture of this coin has that New York City feel for me. The similarity and potential as a forerunner to the Machin Mill series has the most significance for me in my belief that a tie to the Machin Mill issues will some day be forthcoming. I emphasize that this is only supposition on my part, at this time.

Maurice M. Gould wrote an article about this coin in the June, 1954, Numismatic Scrapbook. He was the owner of the silver specimen illustrated here. He describes the coin as a satirical medal. That it is satirical in a political way is obvious. The bust in profile is about as uncomplimentary to George Washington as possible. The D. G. on the obverse copies that on contemporary British coins and is obviously a slight of Washington. However, to say the item is a medal is inaccurate. The 1792 Washington Roman Head copper struck in Birmingham more closely meets medallic standards despite the "cent" reverse designation. It is medallic in striking—clear, well struck and artistically created to convey a satirical message. Not in any way disguised, or manufactured to appear worn when struck to be put into immediate circulation. The fact that almost all surviving specimens of the Roman Head are in proof condition indicates it was kept as a memento. On the contrary, the few survivors of the Washington The Great coin were all well circulated and, to the best of my knowledge, the copper and silver pieces illustrated here are the finest known examples. Obviously, they were not meant as medals or any type of memento. The fact that so few survive in other than very good condition attests to their circulation. The rarity indicates that the issue was shortlived, at best. Either the quality or the taste in political satire caused the acceptance to be limited. Possibly both.

In the case of the 1792 Roman Head which was struck eight years later, we must remember that it was made in the motherland and obviously was at the heart of a popular political issue of the day. The fact that the colonies were now independent was resented by the English.

Hopefully, somewhere in our public libraries there is a reference in some newspaper of the day as to the unusual political characteristics of this coin. Historians without numismatic background would pass over such an article or reference as being unimportant, but eventually I trust that a numismatic researcher will pick up on the tie and bring the pieces of history together.

Attributing the Late Date Large Cents

Jules Reiver

Coinage of the America's Conference at The American Numismatic Society, New York City

© The American Numismatic Society

Collecting United States coins by variety has been popular for many years. In 1869 Crosby and Levick wrote on the varieties of 1793 cents, and Maris on 1794 cents.1 Since that time, books have been written covering practically all of the early coinage of the United States, and these have been updated as new information has been discovered.

The word "variety" does not mean the same thing to all collectors. To the collector of early coins, a "variety" is the product of a pair of dies. Even if only one die is changed, a new "variety" is the result. Breaking down of the dies, however, merely results in different die states, as long as the dies continue in use.

The greatest interest among large cent collectors has always been in the early coins, from 1793 to 1814. Early die making was not an exact art and each die was different from every other die. The master die contained only the main figure and all letters and numbers were punched into the die individually. Mistakes in spelling occurred frequently. Stars were counted incorrectly. Fractions were set in the die so that some of the cents have 1/000 for the value. In some cases this was corrected, in some cases not. Stems of the bow were omitted and letters were punched upside down, then corrected. All in all, it is a very interesting period for collectors.

As time went on, the dies improved. More devices were added to the master hub and in time the only item to be added to the die was the date. Differences in varieties in the later coins were hard to detect, and the interest in collecting them was much lower.

In 1881, Frank D. Andrews, of Vineland, New Jersey, wrote a book listing some 268 varieties of U.S. Cents in his collection from 1816 to 1857. He printed 40 copies of the book, gave most of them to his friends, and sold the remaining copies for 25 cents each. He must have received quite a bit of additional information from his friends, because in 1883 he wrote another book listing over 400 varieties.2

Several lists of additional varieties were issued over the years. Most of these were valid new varieties, but some were not. In 1944, Howard R. Newcomb wrote his book and it is still the standard reference.3 It incorporates all of the valid discoveries until that time.

When Andrews wrote his 1883 book, he listed the varieties of each year from 1844 to 1857 so that the point of the hair over the figure 8 was at the extreme left for the first variety shown, each subsequent change being to the right. For some years Newcomb did the same thing for his additional varieties, starting at the left, and working toward the right. Many collectors found this system to be of considerable help in attributing.

Illustrated here is a page from the notebook of Admiral S. Bitler. He developed a chart showing the cents of 1852, changing the verbal descriptions of the date locations to numerical listings. Large cent collector Scott Rubin acquired the Admiral's Newcomb book and graciously let me have the chart.


Unaware of what Admiral Bitler had done, I had completed a similar listing for the entire series. In 1970 the first work was issued, covering the system and the year 1850. Some of the collectors liked it and asked for the numerical listings for the entire series, but many of them were not sold on the system. In 1980, my book covering the entire series was issued, and to date there have been five printings of about 250 copies each.4

In reviewing the coins for this work, many of the new discoveries were verified; but some were not, merely being die states of known varieties. Several new varieties were discovered. It is always a thrill to discover a new variety. Both sides of the coin must be checked against every known variety of the date. In many cases the obverse and reverse are known and the coin is a new mating of the dies. Sometimes a brand new die surfaces, and checking against the known dies must be thorough and complete. In many of the new discoveries, one of the dies was discarded because of damage to it. Some of them have heavy cracks, some have rim breaks, some have die crumbling. When any of these things happened, frequently the die was discarded. Sometimes a die broke and was retired quite early in its life. In these cases the varieties are quite rare.

It is not too difficult to verify a new variety. If the dies are both known, it is a simple matter to match each with its identical twin. I have asked individuals who know nothing about variety collecting to identify a coin by matching it with the variety pictures in the reference book. They have no trouble in doing it. It is more difficult to verify a new die, matching it against all of the other dies of that year, but it is still reasonably simple.

If we are trying to arrive at the best possible list of varieties of early coins, we have to think of another possibility. Are there varieties listed which are not really different varieties? Several of these have come to light recently. They are much more difficult to verify. It is fairly easy to prove that something exists, but much more difficult to prove that it does not.

Several varieties listed in the past have been dropped. Some of them, like 1847 N33, were described by Newcomb as being from the same obverse and reverse dies as 1847 N3. The obverse die had been lapped, removing signs of a repunched date, and the reverse die had developed some additional breaks. It is a die state, rather than a different variety.

Some varieties were unknown in any collection. I wrote some articles about them, and asked anyone knowing about them to get in touch. Robinson Brown, who has one of the largest collections of large cents, said that he had the 1850 N8, which nobody else had seen. Its main characteristic mentioned by Newcomb was a doubling at the top of R in LIBERTY. Robbie and I studied the coin in great detail. The doubling was very prominent, the coin had been lacquered some time ago. The double line at the top of R followed the curve of the R, then ran over to the top of the T. We decided that it was a short bristle from the brush used in applying the lacquer, held in place by the lacquer. The coin met all of the criteria for N9, and we decided that is what it really is. We also thought that this had to be the coin which Newcomb had seen and about which he wrote.

Seeing the coins which a preceding author had written about is one of the best ways to delist the variety. Take the case of 1852 N19, another of the varieties not known in any collection. When I asked for information about it, several collectors sent theirs in for inspection. In every case they turned out to be other, known varieties. The only one we know of was in the Starr collection, and only Walter Breen had seen it. He had not had the opportunity to study the piece. Since Starr had purchased the entire Newcomb collection, most of the coins Newcomb used in his book were in the Starr collection. At Stack's, working on the catalogue for the Starr sale provided an excellent opportunity to check it. It was the Newcomb coin, and turned out to be an early die state of N16. When I had definitely attributed it as N16, I asked Doug Smith and Scott Mitchell, both very knowledgeable on the checking of varieties, to check the coin. They both agreed that it was definitely Nl6.

Another method of checking two varieties is by using color slides. Pictures of the same areas of both coins are taken with the camera remaining in the same position. Two similar projectors are used to superimpose the two images on the screen. There is of necessity a slight parallax in using this method, since the two images come from sources slightly apart. Another method used is to staple the two slides together. The combined slides are put in one projector. The results are excellent. Since the slides are about a sixteenth of an inch apart, both slides are not in focus at the same time. One is in sharp focus, and the other is in a slightly out-of-focus state, but visible. Changing the focus of the projector slightly throws the first slide out of focus, and the second slide in. It is fairly simple to determine whether the two coins represented by the slides are from the same dies, or whether they are not.

Another method of dropping known varieties has developed. In two cases collectors have sent coins and information proving that two known varieties are products of the same pair of dies. Robinson Brown, whom I have mentioned previously, sent me his 1840 N11, with a very distinctive rim break. My 1840 N10 has exactly the same break. Newcomb gives as the difference between the two varieties the fact that one has a sharp point on the curl near the figure 8, and the other has a blunt point. Both coins met the correct descriptions in Newcomb. Since they both had the same rim break, it is safe to assume that they are from the same die, but the die was lapped between striking the two. This weakened the curl point, changing it from blunt to pointed. I call the coins which connect the two varieties "bridge coins," coins with the characteristics of two varieties, proving that both came from the same die. Larry Whitlow came up with the same situation with the 1849 N6 and N22. these are also products of the same dies.

Working on the late date large cent varieties is a real challenge and a lot of work. It is really helpful to have high grade coins to work with. They must be clean. The identification points are so small that a bit of dirt can hide them. There is so much work to be done in this series, and I hope that my efforts have been a step in the right direction.

End Notes

Sylvester S. Crosby, "The United States Cents of 1793," AJN 1869, pp. 93-97, with a plate of illustrations (p. 92) compiled by Joseph N.T. Levick; Edward Maris, Varieties of the Copper Issues of the United States' Mint in the Year 1794 (Philadelphia, 1869). Both works are reprinted in John W. Adams, ed., Monographs on Varieties of United States Large Cents, 1793-1794 (Lawrence, Mass., 1976).
An Arrangement of United States Copper Cents, 1816-1857 (Vineland, N.J., 1883).
United States Copper Cents, 1816-1857 (New York City, 1944).
Jules Reiver, Reiver System for the Rapid Attribution of the Mature Head United States Copper Cents, 1843-1857 (Wilmington, Del., 1980).

Auction Appearances and Pedigrees of the 1792 Silver Center Cent

P. Scott Rubin

Coinage of the America's Conference at The American Numismatic Society, New York City

© The American Numismatic Society

The purpose of this paper is not to give a history lesson about the beginnings of the United States coinage or its first issues, but to show one person's method of gathering data on rarity and conditions of surviving specimens of historically significant coins. In this case study, I used the 1792 Silver Center Cent.

I decided the best way of zeroing in on how many coins of this issue still exist was to check sale information, photographs, and pedigree data wherever I could find it. Following the pedigree of any coin is a complicated task. Much of the printed pedigree information is at least suspect, if not completely doubtful. With this in mind I started the search.

The first thing I did was a line by line scan of the 3,200 auction catalogs in my library spanning the years 1855 to 1984. I logged every appearance of these coins, noting cataloger, collector's name, date of sale, lot number, price realized, stated pedigree information and if the coin was plated, when this information was included in my copy of the catalog. Once this was finished a certain amount of background experience with cataloging techniques of auction houses was needed to evaluate the information in my log.

When finished, my log consisted of only 38 listings of Silver Center Cents; of this number many were obviously repeat showings of the same specimens. Following is an evaluation of this log.

1) W. Elliot Woodward's Nov. 11-14, 1862 sale of the Finotti Collection. Lot number 1528 was graded Very Fine and realized the substantial sum of $52.50. No earlier history of ownership is given. No plates were in use in auction catalogs this early and no mention of planchet color of defects is given making later pedigree verification difficult. A copy of this catalog with buyers' names would certainly be useful, but unfortunately I have none.

2) Benjamin Haines sale sold by Bangs, Merwin & Co. Jan. 19-23, 1863. Lot number 780 is described only as "somewhat rubbed" which is hardly a twentieth century cataloger's ideal grading category. A quote from the NOTICE page of the catalog may reinforce what was generally considered a must for buying at auction in the nineteenth century.

I should prefer that parties intending to purchase should be present and examine the condition of the various pieces for themselves, inasmuch as it is impossible always to give a description that is understood by all.Owning to the haste in the preparation of the catalog, some errors may have crept in, but collectors may rely upon the general accuracy of the description.

As you can see, "somewhat rubbed" is all that we non-viewers of the lots are left with today.

3) W. Elliot Woodward's sale of the famous Joseph J. Mickley Collection. This sale took place on Oct. 28, 1867 and the five following evenings."Remarkably Fine condition," is how this Silver Center Cent was described as lot 2135. It realized $54 and again without plates or a more definitive description, pedigree information is only to be had by other means, if any is possible.

4) Edward Cogan's sale of the Colonel M.I. Cohen Collection on Oct. 25-29, 1875. This sale was plated, I however do not have a plated catalog. Lot 380 was a Silver Center Cent graded Very Fine, but for the first time some other information as to the quality of the coin is mentioned, "slightly corroded on the rev." This may prove useful later on in establishing or at least limiting this coin from certain pedigree chains. It realized $45.

5) W. Elliot Woodward's 31st sale of the Wm. J. Jenks Collection. Graded as "Very Fine Indeed" as lot 1383. This sale was not plated even though this sale took place Sept. 1-3, 1880. We see that many of the cataloging techniques of the 1860s were still in use, so much more our loss today.

6) W. Elliot Woodward's 45th sale of the A. Dohrmann Collection on Mar. 6-11, 1882. This catalog comes plated, I do not have the plates. The coin is graded "Very Fine Indeed" as lot 437. It seems with this listing we may have our first pedigree clue. This coin is graded identical to the Woodward's Jenks listing of 1880 (my number 5), also the two preceding lots in both auctions were a 1792 Silver Disme and 1792 Half Disme. So it seems quite possible the same coins were offered in both sales.

7) S.H. & H. Chapman's sale of the Charles I. Bushnell Collection which took place June 20-24, 1882. This was the first of the large size Chapman catalogs. Lot 1766 was a Silver Center Cent graded Extremely Fine which sold at $120. The description is not particularly useful for pedigree purposes, but this is the first plated catalog of which I have a copy showing a photo of a Silver Center Cent actually sold. I do not have an original plate but, a fine photographic copy done by James M. Toney in 1967.

8) W. Elliot Woodward's 62nd sale of the Heman Ely Collection sold Jan. 8-10, 1884, as lot 444. This coin is graded Very Fine. This is another plated catalog I have not had a chance to examine. It does seem that this is not the same coin as appeared in the 1880 and 1882 Woodward sales, but then again it might be. This coin sold for $25.

9) S.H. & H. Chapman's June 9-14, 1884 auction of the Thomas Warner Collection. This coin was called Extremely Fine, "the finest of five known," as lot 3215 of this auction where it brought $ 155. This was the second large Chapman sale and comes plated. I had access to a plated copy and was able to use the photo for pedigree linkage, which I will mention with the next appearance of this coin. However, it did not match the Chapman's Bushnell plate.

10) W. Elliot Woodward's 80th sale, which was sold Dec. 16-19, 1885, contained from the Matthews Collection, lot 2120, a Silver Center Cent described as "Extremely Fine, fully equal to the best known." This catalog is not plated and no other pedigree information or for that matter any information is available except it seems unlikely that this coin was the same as any of the other Woodward 1880s offerings, if the same grading criterion was used in each, and there is no reason to believe that it was not.

11) W. Elliot Woodwards 93rd sale of Feb. 1-2, 1887, has as lot 816 one of the most interesting listings of any Silver Center Cent. The coin offered is referred to as the Dohrmann coin which had been offered for sale by Woodward to the Chapman Brothers who returned the coin and on its being offered at sale by Mr. Woodward, was denounced by the Chapmans who doubted its being genuine. To which Woodward in this catalog goes on to explain that the coin was "intrusted to Mr. A.C. Gies, of Pittsburg, Pa., who tightened the plug, and, with consummate skill, retouched the engraving of the legend on the silver." Woodward also says that this is the Mickley, Col. Cohen coin and that the said "retouching was known to the Chapmans at the time they offered the coin themselves in Philadelphia." From this I will attempt to establish the following pedigree of this coin, it first appeared in the Mickley sale where it was bought by Col. Cohen, then by some means to Mr. Dohrmann who offered it for sale in Woodward's 31st and 45th sales and finally in the present sale. This catalog is not plated and I have no earlier photographs to prove the just mentioned pedigree, but for the time being nothing stands in its way to disallow it.

12) New York City Coin and Stamp Company's Jan. 20-24, 1890 sale of the R. Coulton Davis Collection, Lot 1008a, which was graded "very fine impression: believed to be the finest specimen known." This catalog comes plated and I have an original plate containing the Silver Center Cent. The photo does not match the Bushnell or Warner plates. We now have three photographically proven different specimens; more will be said later about this coin.

13) New York City Coin and Stamp Company's June 25-27, 1890 sale of the famous Lorin G. Parmelee Collection. The Silver Center Cent in this sale appeared as lot 5 and was described as "very fine sharp impression: unexcelled." This coin was plated in this catalog and for the first time in our list a photo matched a previous photo. This is the reappearance of the Bushnell coin and realized $73.50.

14) S.H. & H. Chapman's Dec. 16-17, 1895 sale of the Richard B. Winsor Collection. Lot 291 is graded Extremely Fine and this catalog also comes plated, I had access to the plates of this catalog at the same time I had access to the Warner plates and this coin appears in both sales. I will have more later on this coin.

15) Lyman H. Low's Oct. 11, 1904 sale of the H.G. Brown Collection. Lot 209, which realized only $7.50, illustrates how much condition, even on this historical rarity, matters when sold. This coin was listed as "the centre has been abused, probably when reinstating the small circular silver piece, otherwise good." This catalog comes plated, but this coin was not included with those chosen for photographing This is probably not the Dohrmann coin because of the grading difference, but is probably at least the second coin to have had work done on it over the years to keep the silver center in place.

16) S.H. & H. Chapman's Apr. 19-20, 1905 sale of the Charles Morris Collection. The Silver Center Cent described in this catalog as lot 361 is again a coin of some question, at least in the Chapmans' minds. The coin is said to have a "silver center inserted to give bullion value to this small size cent but the plug in this specimen has been inserted after the piece was struck and engraved with part impression." They go on to say another interesting thing about the no silver center cents, "two or three proofs in copper without the silver center are known, and this is one of these with the silver center falsely inserted. Extremely Fine. Sharp Impression. Light Olive. Excessively Rare. See Plate." and see plate I did. The plate of this coin is of interest later on.

17) S.H. & H. Chapman's May 8-11, 1906 sale of the H.P. Smith Collection. Mr. Smith along with David Proskey was the catalogers of the previously mentioned R.C. Davis and L.G. Parmelee collections. This coin, described as lot 1315, Extremely Fine, is said to be "from the Bushnell Coll., 1882 no. 1776." This catalog comes plated as did the Bushnell and the two coins photographically match, as did the Parmelee offering. So now we have photographic evidence of a Bushnell to Parmelee to H.P. Smith connection. This coin realized $160. in this Smith sale.

18) Thomas L. Elder's 13th sale, held Oct. 14-15, 1907. Lot 1732 was graded Very Fine. The obverse of this coin is plated and it does not match any other plate, up to this point. This will be of use later on.

19) Thomas L. Elder's June 15-16, 1908 sale of the Peter Gschwend Collection. Lot 116 describes a Silver Center Cent as "Uncirculated, with faint traces of original red around obverse letters." This coin is plated, but unfortunately I have not had access to a plated catalog. Other information relating to my listing number 18 is printed in this catalog, "one, Very Good, in my sale of October, 1907, sold to a prominent dealer for $212.50."

20) Henry Chapman's June 25-29, 1912 sale of the George H. Earle Collection which as lot 2179 offered an Extremely Fine specimen which was plated and for which I had access to a plated catalog. This turned out to be the Bushnell-Parmelee-H.P. Smith to Earle coin by photo comparison matching.

21) Henry Chapman's Dec. 7-17, 1921 sale of the famous John Story Jenks Collection. This is by size and total number of lots the largest of the Chapman catalogs. Lot 5569 which realized $440 is said to be Extremely Fine and to have come from the R.C. Davis Collection. This catalog is plated and I have a set of reprint plates. The photo of this coin matches the coin sold in the Davis sale, thus we have another coin with a photo linked pedigree, the R.C. Davis to J.S. Jenks coin.

22) Thomas L. Elder's Oct. 27-30, 1926 catalog of collections belonging to "The late William Poillon, G.W. Lee and others," has included as lot 1436 one of the most interesting and confusing listings for a Silver Center Cent. I quote "1792. Pattern for Silver Centre Cent (freak)." I am at a loss as to what this refers to so I will have no more to say about this listing.

23) J. C. Morgenthau & Co.'s 311th sale which took place Oct. 18, 1933, contained "selections from a Great American Collection" and had as lot 78 a Silver Center Cent described as only in Good condition. This coin is plated and the grade is fairly accurate. Recent information about this sale written by Q. David Bowers in his book Virgil Brand: the Man and His Era (Wolfeboro, N.H., 1983), points out that the consignor of this auction was a Brand heir and that this coin among others was never actually sold, but was returned to the consignor even though my priced copy of this sale shows the coin selling for $175. I will refer to this coin later.

24) Thomas L. Elder's Jan. 22-25, 1936, Sloane, Lenz sale contained as lot 2968 a specimen described as Fine to Very Fine. This coin is not plated and no further information about it is given. This catalog does contain an interesting piece of information or should I say misinformation and I quote from the catalog. "We have had none since the Wilson Sale, held by us in 1907, when we sold an Uncirculated specimen, the buyer being Virgil M. Brand who attended the sale." This statement is confusing since Elder sold one in the 1908 Gschwend sale, and that coin was graded Uncirculated, and the only specimen he offered for sale by auction in 1907 was not in the Wilson sale but his October sale and that coin graded only Fine. So much for some catalog comments. In this 1936 sale the Silver Center Cent brought $390.

25) Ira S. Reed's Aug. 19, 1941, American Numismatic Association sale, lot 77, contained a specimen graded Very Fine which sold for $205, and for which no plate is shown or any other information given. Our loss.

26) B. Max Mehl's Feb. 8, 1944 Mail Bid Sale of the Belden E. Roach Collection contained as lot 3111 a specimen described as Extreme- ly Fine. It is also stated in this catalog that this coin came to Mr. Roach via Earle-Wurtzbach-Virgil Brand. The coin is plated and since this is the first Mr. Mehl seems to have sold at auction it is likely the coin pictured is the one offered. This is not always the case with his catalogs, but this plate does match the Bushnell-Parmelee-H.P. Smith-Earle plates so there is little reason to disbelieve Mehl's story. The Roach coin brought $525.

27) Celina Coin Co.'s 12th sale, dated Feb. 5, 1945. This was a mail bid sale and lot 2022 was described as an Uncirculated Silver Center Cent. No other information is given, no plates. Our loss.

28) B. Max Mehl's June 17, 1947, Mail Bid Sale of the Will W. Neil Collection. This coin was offered as lot 1794 and brought only $225, which was a substantial loss because this Extremely Fine graded coin is purported in the catalog to be the same coin which Mehl sold in 1944 in the Roach sale. That coin sold for $525. The plate in this catalog matches the Roach plate so if it is really the same coin the pedigree now goes Bushnell-Parmelee-H.P. Smith-Earle-Roach-Neil by photo and the addition of Wurtzbach-Virgil Brand between Earle and Roach if Mehl is to be believed.

29) Celina Coin Company's Oct. 8-9, 1949 sale held in conjunction with the Ohio State Numismatic Convention in Lima, Ohio. Lot 591 is described as being Uncirculated, but no plate or other information is given. This might be the same coin offered by this company in their 1945 sale but there is no way of knowing for sure.

30) New Netherland's 52nd sale, of Dec. 13, 1958 of the Elliot Landau Collection. This coin is lot 104 where it is described as just about EF-40. This catalog is plated and the plate matches the Bushnell-Parmelee-H.P. Smith-Earle-Roach-Neil plates and among other useful information contained in this excellently prepared catalog is the fact that the plate of the Wurtzbach coin in the 1914 American Numismatic Society Exhibition Catalog matches this coin. I compared the plates and agree, thus more credence to the Mehl statement that the coin went from Earle in 1912 to Wurtzbach. For the first time in an auction catalog the catalogers' attempted to give as complete as possible pedigree information about all known Silver Center Cents. This data lists two sales I do not have catalogs for, which occurred prior to this auction. They were the George Wood-side Collection sold in 1892 by New York City Coin and Stamp Com- pany and the April 1863 Edward Cogan sale. They mention that the Cogan coin is believed to have gone to Bushnell, thereby giving the earliest history of the same coin they were offering. This New Netherland's coin sold for $2,300.

31) Abner Kreisberg and Hans M.F. Schulman sale of Mar. 18-21, 1964. This sale contained coins from the Brand and Lichtenfels Collections. Lot 1106 contained a coin graded Very Fine with the following description of its appearance "tiny dot in field between the tip of nose and beneath T in LIBERTY, also minor fault below second E in SCIENCE. Reverse, sharply struck except around portions of upper right segment of wreath, field and letters F and AMER. This particular area is blackish brown in color and under a strong glass appears corroded." This coin was plated but I do not have the plates. Because of this an interesting thing happened when checking this coin against my next listing, so let us continue.

32) Mayflower Coin Auction Inc.'s Dec. 2-3, 1966 sale of the C.H. Stearns Collection. Lot 280 is described as Extremely Fine "free from all defects and flaws." The plate of the coin, however, seems to show a spot in front of Liberty's face, a weakness at the second E of SCIENCE, and a dark area on the upper right side of the reverse, thus matching almost exactly the description in the 1964 Kreisberg-Schulman sale. I was puzzled at this since the Stearns Collection was supposed to be a nineteenth-century collection just coming on the market; for the time being, I concluded that this was the 1964 coin. More later about this mystery.

33) Pine Tree Rare Coin Auction Sales' Sept. 18-21, 1974 sale, held in conjunction with the Great Eastern Numismatic Association convention. Lot 1272a is described as Extremely Fine-About Uncirculated and is plated. More information about pedigrees is printed in this catalog than in any previous source. Seven different specimens are noted. From the plate, I was able to see that this is the same coin that appeared in the 1905 Chapman sale of the Morris Collection. At that sale, the Chapmans made a big deal about the silver center (see listing above): no mention of its legitimacy is made in the current sale. Without proper examination, it would be impossible to tell if it is a real Silver Center Cent or a doctored No Silver Center Cent. This coin realized $105,000.

34) Stack's Nov. 11, 1974 auction of the Gibson Collection contained as lot 14 a coin described thus: "this specimen is Extremely Fine with a tiny mark in the field before the face and another touching the final e of the word science. The reverse has a rough area in the upper right quadrant that could have been caused by old corrosion or a defective planchet." What we have here matches the 1964 Kreisberg-Schulman description exactly and the plate is of a different coin then the Stearns coin, so I had jumped the gun. The Stearns catalog was probably just poorly done and the Stearns coin was in all probability a coin which had been off the market for years. I was almost led astray.

35) Bowers and Ruddy Galleries' Nov. 11-13, 1976 auction of the River Oaks & C.W. Krugjohann Collections. Lot number 908 contained a coin graded About Uncirculated and said to have been formerly owned by Lenox R. Lohr whose collection Mr. Bowers and Mr. Ruddy sold in 1961. They say the coin was in the River Oaks Collection ever since 1961. This catalog contains pedigrees of eleven different Silver Center Cents, or does it. The plate from this sale matches the R.C. Davis and J.S. Jenks plates, so this coin really was a reappearance of another coin on their list, more about this later. This coin sold in this auction for $28,000.

36) Bowers and Ruddy Galleries' Mar. 25-26, 1981 sale of the Garrett Collection sold for Johns Hopkins University. This famous sale had as Lot 2347 a choice Uncirculated Silver Center Cent which was reported in the catalog to have been bought by John Work Garrett through the noted numismatic dealer Wayte Raymond from the collection of James W. Ellsworth in March of 1923. This catalog goes on to give pedigrees of eleven different specimens of which this is the finest. The plate of this coin does not match any of the earlier sales I had access to plates of. This coin realized $95,000.

37) Stack's John L. Roper, 2nd, Collection, sold December 8-9, 1983. Lot number 425 was described as Extremely Fine with a description of the problems visible on the planchet plus the pedigree that this coin was the 1974 Gibson coin. The plate included in this catalog matches the Gibson plate and the description likewise matches the 1964 Kreisberg & Schulman coin. This coin realized only $ 19,800.

38) William Doyle Galleries' December 15 and 16, 1983 sale of the Loye L. Lauder Collection. This coin was lot number 233 and is graded About Uncirculated (55) and is plated in the catalog in black and white, the obverse is plated on the cover in color. When I saw the Warner and Winsor plates I did not have this catalog with me, but from my notes of peculiarities of that coin it would seem that the present coin is a reappearance of the Warner-Windsor coin. This coin realized $40,000.

From my auction appearance information the following pedigree's were derived:.

  • Ellsworth-Raymond-Garrett.
  • Davis-Jenks-Lohr-River Oaks.
  • Morris-1974 GENA.
  • Stearns.
  • Bushnell-Parmelee-Smith-Earle-Wurtzbach-Brand-Roach-Neil-New Netherlands.
  • Mickley-Cohen-Dohrman-Woodward's 93rd sale.
  • Brand-1984 Kreisberg & Schulman-Gibson-Roper.
  • Warner-Winsor-Lauder.
  • 1933 Morgenthau's 311th sale.
  • 1907 Elder's 13th sale.

I have some question about my listing number 6. I have no photo of this coin and the description in the 1875 Cohen sale mentions reverse corrosion, so in my mind there is the possibility that the Mickley-Cohen-Dohrmann-Woodward coin is really earlier appearances of the Brand-1964 Kreisberg & Schulman-Gibson-Roper coin since both have been mentioned as having reverse corrosion.

Auction information is great, but not the last word so at this point I checked newspaper and magazine stories, fixed price lists, and probably the best overall source for numismatic information, the manuscript for the book Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States Coins. I was in awe of the information included in this book and thank Mr. Breen for his kind permission to view it. Lastly but, certainly not least, I was privileged to gain information from some of the present owners and recent owners of these coins thus firming the data already gathered, or in some cases new information.

From these other sources I learned that:

1) The 1905 Morris coin was in an eastern collection in the late 1960s (a photo of this coin was supplied to me by my source). The same coin was bought with an extensive pattern collection by William Mitkoff & Numismatic Ltd., verified by enlarged photo of the coin appearing in the May 8, 1974 issue of Coin World. This coin was later in the hands of William Anton, who told me it is now in a private collection.

2) The J. Hewitt Judd coin was plated in A. Kosoff s book An Illustrated History of United States Coins (Encino, Cal., 1962). This photo matches the October 1907 Elder catalog plate giving this coin its earliest appearance. This coin was later owned by the well known dealer Julian Leidman around 1974. I have photographs from various sources of this coin, due to the fact that a number of deceptive copies of this coin were made sometime before Mr. Leidman owned the real one. Mr. Leidman told me the the coin is now in a northeastern collection.

3) Mr. Eric P. Newman owns one which was from the F.C.C. Boyd Collection. Mr. Newman supplied me a photo of his coin; it matches no other photo I have seen.

4) The Stearns coin is reported to be in the Groves Collection, I have no photo proof of this, but the Groves Collection has a Silver Center Cent.

5) The Smithsonian Institution has the Davis-Jenks-Lohr-River Oaks coin, which in 1979 was offered for sale by Robert L. Hughes in his fixed price lists (where the obverse of the coin is plated). The Smithsonian donor is anonymous.

6) The Norweb Collection is reported to have a Silver Center Cent.

7) The Lauder coin was bought by Alan Weinberg.

8) From Jack Collins I learned that in a cited Mickley catalog, M.I. Cohen was the buyer of the Silver Center Cent, also the coin whose obverse is plated in the Cohen Catalog matches the 1964 Kreisberg & Schulman (this photo was also verified by Mr. Collins), 1974 Gibson and 1983 Roper photographs.

9) From Breen's Encyclopedia, we learn the following: a) The Norweb coin is the Gschwend coin with a middle pedigree of Brock-University of Pa.-Phillip Ward-JohnJ. Ford. b) The Bushnell...New Netherlands' 52nd Sale coin went to C. Ramano. c) There are two perforated blank planchets in Congress Hall from Frank Stewart (1909). These are Illustrated in his book about the first Mint.

From these sources, we can construct a final listing of all known specimens.


1) The Ellsworth-Raymond-Garrett coin is Uncirculated, and a well centered sharp strike with a small mark above the 7 in the date, a discoloration at the edge above the first E of SCIENCE and a small mark between the second E and the hair. The silver center barely touches the ear and jaw line and covers a few hair strands on the obverse. On the reverse the silver center covers the right half of the E in CENT and most of the N showing above and below the word CENT but not touching any other letters.


2) The Warner-Winsor-Lauder-Weinberg coin is About Uncirculated, slightly off center to the left on the obverse and the corresponding right on the reverse. The coin shows a discoloration on the right top side of the T in PARENT. This silver center touches the ear and a portion of the jaw and two hair strands on the obverse. On the reverse the silver center covers all but the lower left corner of the E of CENT and the left two thirds of the N, it also touches the lower left corner of the N of ONE and barely misses the O.


3) The Davis-Jenks-Lohr-River Oaks-Hughes-Private Collection Smithsonian Institution coin is About Uncirculated, very slightly off center to the top left on the obverse and to the upper right on the reverse. The coin has an edge mark above the C of SCIENCE and another in front of the chin, on the reverse there is a mark just below the silver center. The silver center itself is just below the ear, just touching the jaw and covers one hair strand. On the reverse the silver center covers all but the top and bottom left corners of the letter E of CENT and all of the N, it also just touches the bottom of the N of ONE.


4) The Morris-Eastern Collection-Mitkoff & Numismatic Ltd.-1974 GENA-Anton-Private Collection coin is Extremely Fine to About Uncirculated, well centered but weakly struck on the lower left of the obverse and the lower right on the reverse. There is a scratch above the 92 in the date and carbon spots in front of the bust and behind the hair below the right side of the N in SCIENCE. The silver center is well below the ear and does not touch the jaw, it only covers one strand of hair. On the reverse the Silver Center covers only the right half of the E in CENT and left two thirds of the N, it does not come close to touching any other letters.


5) The Bushnell-Parmelee-Smith-Wurtzbach-Brand-Roach-Neil-New Netherlands-Ramano coin is About Extremely Fine sharply struck and slightly off center to the lower right on the obverse. There is a mark just to the lower right of the silver center on the reverse. The silver center touches the ear and just touches the jaw, and covers three strands of hair on the obverse. On the reverse the silver center covers all but the left side of the E in CENT and all but the lower right corner of the N, it also barely touches the N of ONE.


6) The Stearns-Groves coin is Extremely Fine and well centered. The only photo I have of this coin leaves much to be desired but the silver center touches the ear and jaw and covers two strands on the obverse. On the reverse the silver center covers the right half of the E in CENT and the left half of the N; it also touches the lower left side of the N in ONE.


7) The 1907 Elder sale-Judd-Leidman-Eastern Collection coin is About Extremely Fine, slightly off center to the bottom on the obverse and reverse. It is also weakly struck on the lower portion of the obverse, particularly the 17 in the date. There is a scratch over the 7 and one in front of the chin. On the reverse there is a scratch between the D of UNITED and the S of STATES. The silver center touches the ear and covers a section of the jaw and one strand of hair on the obverse. On the reverse the silver center covers the E and all but the right side of the N of CENT and also covers the lower right corner of the O and the lower left corner of the N of ONE.


8) The Mickley-Cohen-Dohrmann-Woodward-Brand-1964 Kreisberg & Schulman-Gibson-Roper coin is About Extremely Fine, well centered and well struck; however the upper right side of the reverse is corroded and on the obverse there is a mark in the field in front of the face. The silver center touches the ear but not the jaw and covers a few strands of the hair. On the reverse the silver center covers the right half of the E and all of the N of Cent and the lower half of the N in ONE.


9) 1933 Morgenthau's 311th Sale coin is Good and is well centered but is weak on the lower obverse and center reverse. This silver center touches the ear, covers the jaw and some hair. The reverse is too weak to permit adequate description.


10) The Eric P. Newman coin is sharply struck and well centered. It is difficult from a photo to grade the coin, but it appears to be anywhere from Extremely Fine to Uncirculated. This coin shows a small scratch on the obverse silver plug on the jaw. The silver center covers the left side of the jaw, the lower part of the ear and a few hair strands on the obverse. On the reverse the silver center covers the right third of the E and all but the right side of the N in CENT and covers the lower left corner of the N in ONE.


11) The Norweb coin (illustrated from the Elder plate).

I hope that not only the listing of known specimens, but the lessons on pedigree, false leads and misleading data are of use to all of us not only in adding to this list but in creating pedigree lists of any coin in the future.

United States Turban Cents 1808-1814

Pete Smith

Coinage of the America's Conference at The American Numismatic Society, New York City

© The American Numismatic Society

Collectors of United States Large Cents generally divide the series into three periods. These include the Early Cents 1793-1814, Middle Date Cents 1816-1839, and Late Date Cents 1840-1857. Within the early period there are five distinct types: Chain Cents of 1793, Wreath Cents of 1793, Liberty Cap Cents of 1793-1796, Draped Bust Cents of 1796-1807, and the Turban Cents of 1808-1814. The Turban Cents, also called Classic Cents, may be the most underappreciated of these series. It is one purpose of this article to point out some of the fascinating features of the series.

Turban Cents in low grades are common in the numismatic marketplace. High grade pieces are difficult to locate. It is possible to contact many dealers or to attend many local shows without finding a "nice" Turban. Even when coins are found with little wear, the surfaces may be granular, porous or corroded. Some of the features that make Turbans interesting, such as flowlines or clashmarks, can only be seen on coins with nice surfaces. The study and assembly of a collection of Turban Cents would require a great deal of patience. One source for high grade coins is through the major national coin auctions. A survey of Turban cents offered at auction in recent years is included later in this report.

There are many features that make this an interesting series for study. Each obverse and reverse die used was different. Some of these differences are well described and easy to spot. Other differences may be very slight. Within the coins struck from a single pair of dies, there may be differences in strike, variances in centering, clash marks, and examples of die wear or of die failure. Each of these areas will be discussed in greater detail.

Several authors have written descriptions of the Turban series. There will be a brief review of these previous efforts. Their attempts to describe the different dies and die states have been consolidated and additional observations have been added. The final section includes the most complete description of Turban Cents published to date.

General Description

Obverse Head of Liberty facing left; date centered below bust; seven stars to left of head and six to right. A ribbon with LIBERTY provides a head band.

Reverse A laurel wreath in a closed circle; about 27 leaves, 13 ber- ries. Legend UNITED STATES OF America around wreath. ONE CENT in center of wreath, bar under CENT, center dot.

Rim Plain edge, coin struck without a collar.

Specifications: Authorization act of January 26, 1796; composition, pure copper; weight 168 grains, 7 pennyweights or about 10.89 grams; diameter 29 mm.

This design was used for seven years. There were 19 known obverse dies used and 18 known reverse dies. One reverse die used in 1811 was reused for a cent of 1812. These result in 19 identified die varieties for the Turban Cents.


Designed by John Reich who immigrated from Germany about 1800 and was appointed as Assistant Engraver of the U. S. Mint April 1, 1807 under Chief Engraver Robert Scot. He resigned on March 31, 1817. During his 10 year term he redesigned every denomination of regular coinage struck at the time as well as many mint medals. The Half Cent struck from 1809 through 1836 has the same design as the Turban Cent but at a smaller scale. The larger denominations designed by Reich have an obverse similar to the Turban design but with an actual capped head and draped bust. These include the 10 cent piece of 1809-37,the 25 cent piece of 1815-28, the 50 cent piece of 1807-36, quarter eagle of 1808 and half eagle of 1807-12.


Planchets for the Turban Cents were supplied by Boulton & Watt of Birmingham, England. The copper was refined, rolled and punched in England. The raised rims were added before shipment.

Several explanations have been offered to account for the scarcity of Turbans which have survived in high grades. Among these are:

  • That the copper contained impurities that led to early corrosion.
  • That the copper was very pure, unalloyed, and therefore soft and easily worn.
  • That the rims were not high enough to protect the surfaces from wear.
  • That the planchets were corroded by sea water during transit from England.
  • That the planchets were corroded while in storage in the basement of the Philadelphia Mint prior to striking.

Whatever the reason, the Turban Cents seen today are usually well worn and/or with porous surfaces. A typical dealer who has only low quality Turbans to sell will frequently comment, "They don't come nice." In truth, nice ones do exist but are highly sought and prized by collectors.

A shipment of 20 tons (about 1,900,000 pieces) of cent planchets arrived in April 1812 prior to the outbreak of war. By 1814 the supply had been exhausted. It is reported that the last 1814 cents were paid out in December as wages to the workers at the Mint. For 1815 there were no planchets and no cents struck. With this sole exception the cent denomination has been struck every year since 1793

Previous Publications

Dickeson, Montroville Wilson, The American Numismatic Manual... (Philadelphia, 1860).

The work of Dickeson is notable because of the number of varieties mentioned. He lists 7 varieties of 1808, 4 of 1809, 7 of 1810, 8 of 1811, 9 of 1812, 9 of 1813 and 8 of 1814 for a total of 52. However, these varieties are not described so it cannot be determined what standards were used. Although seriously out-dated, this work still includes some interesting comments. By 1860, alterations to 1809, 1811, and 1815 were already notable. Dickeson attributes the rarity of 1813 to the number altered to 1815! He also comments on hoarding of the cents of 1814 based on rumors that they contain gold lost at the Mint.

Proskey, David, The Coin Collector's Journal, 1881.

The CCJ was published in 1879 to 1883, 1887, and 1888 and carried descriptions of large cents for all the years 1793-1857. The Turban Cents were published in the edition for 1881. This material was used by Doughty in the preparation of his book. Sheldon suggests that Proskey deserves most of the credit. Nevertheless, the Doughty work is a revision, not just republication. Because Doughty assigned numbers to the varieties, he is usually given credit for the descriptions of those varieties.

Doughty, Francis W., The Cents of the United States (New York City, 1890).

Doughty identified 15 obverse dies and 13 reverse dies in 18 combinations. His list included one variety, D223, now known to be an error. He failed to recognize two varieties (S279 and S285) now accepted. Doughty implies that the overdate cents of 1810 and 1811 are reuses of dies from previous years.

Doughty's descriptions frequently use measurements which have been abandoned in later descriptions. He referred briefly to three die states of D208 (S277); two states of D213 (Actually S284 and S285; and three states of D225 (S295).

McGirk, Charles E. "United States Cents and Die Varieties 1793-1857," The Numismatist 1913, pp. 461-63.

The work of McGirk is mentioned because it included additional descriptions of die states. He recognized four states of D208 (S277); two states of D213 (again failing to identify the differences between S284 and S285); two states of D217(S288); three states of D220(S291); and four states of D225(S295). He frequently refers to clash marks as die cracks.

Clapp, George H., The United States Cents 1804-1814 (New York City, 1941).

Clapp produced the best description of the Turbans to date. His descriptions identify recutting of letters in LIBERTY and spacing of the dates. Clapp used the position of leaves as the primary tool for identification of the reverses. He added a description of the clashed state of S279. He failed to report some of the die states previously reoorted.

Sheldon, William H., Early American Cents (New York City, 1949). Republished as Penny-Whimsy (1958).

Sheldon's work is currently the standard reference for collectors of the early cents. His descriptions of the Turban Cents are quite brief and are direct excerpts from the work of Clapp. Several important observations of the previous writers were ignored or unknown by Sheldon. His major contributions are the inclusion of rarity ratings, grading standards, basil values and the condition census.

Die Progressions

Die progressions or die states are usually identified in terms of die breaks. The Turban Cents are notable for a number of additional progressive effects which change the dies and can be observed on the coins.

Striking of coins is based on the principal that a hard die will leave an impression on a softer planchet without suffering any effect. In actual practice, over hundreds of thousands of impressions, the coins can also have a cumulative effect on the dies.

For the 19 Turban Cent varieties, there are over 50 die states identified. Undoubtably additional die states and intermediate states will be discovered with subsequent research.


A die could crack without the effect showing on a struck coin. Usually comments about die cracks really are references to the effect on the coin rather than the effect on the die. Die cracks are observed as fine lines across the surface of a coin, as lumps of metal extruded through a void where the die has broken away, as differences in level, as swelling of the coins surface or in many combinations of these effects.

Several Turban Cent varieties develop die breaks as the dies crumble near the edges. Because Turban Cents are frequently struck off center, the edge detail is not always visable. Die crumbling may also be observed within the interior of the die, most notably on the "bearded" variety of 1814, S-295.


In the striking process the metal of the planchet is compressed between the two dies. It is also forced outward from the center. This lateral movement may have a cumulative effect upon the dies. The effect can be observed as radial lines across the surface of the coin. Some of these radial lines are a natural product of the metal stretching. However, when they appear in the same place and pattern on many coins, it is apparent that the lines are transfered from the surface of the die. These lines can also be observed at the points of greatest resistance. Often the points of the stars on the obverse or the letters of the reverse legend become connected to the rims because of this effect.


The dies are supposed to transfer their image to the planchet. Sometimes the dies came together without a planchet in place. If the dies strike together hard enough or often enough, one die may transfer an image to the other. This effect may be noted on the coins as parts of the design from the opposite side.

A clash mark can be considered a view through to the other side of the coin, A die is a negative image of the final coin design. Generally the two dies are positioned top to bottom. Therefore the image transfered by die clashing may appear to be upside down, backward, and negative.

The lowest points on the coin are produced by the highest areas of the die. Clashing occurs between high points of opposite dies. These, marks, called incusations, are incuse in the die but are seen as raised areas on the coins.

On the Turbans, clash marks are most frequently seen on the reverse inside the right side of the wreath. The image of the lower ribbon end from the obverse can be seen right of the E of ONE. The base line of the bust may be seen below the wreath over ONE. The image of the throat appears at O of ONE. The lips may be seen inside the C of CENT. With different die alignment, the lips may appear closer to the leaf under D.

All 19 of the Turban varieties exhibit signs of clashing in late die states. When high grade specimens are examined, perhaps 2/3 show at least some signs of clashing.


The dies may start with crisp sharp details. Over the life of the die the details may become less sharp. On the Turban Cents one very noticable area of die weakness occurs as a raised ridge just inside the rim. Denticles fade and disappear. The tops of letters of the legend may disappear into this ridge.

The position of this die wear corresponds to the raised rim on prepared planchets. As the highest point on the planchet, this rim would have the first and strongest contact with the dies. It would therefore be the area of greatest die wear.

The ridge most frequently appears in the reverse die around K-12. It extends in both directions until in rare cases it may encircle the entire die. It is occasionally but less frequently found to effect the obverse die as well.

Striking Variations

Two coins struck from the same dies on the same day may appear to be different because of variations in the precise way they were struck. These variations can provide another interesting area for study.

In modern coinage the collar acts to position the planchet and restricts the outward flow of metal. For earlier coinage struck without a collar, several different results may be seen.


Without the collar for positioning, the planchets may not be correctly aligned at the time they are struck. Turban cents that are struck slightly off center are very common. For most varieties, a well centered coin is difficult to find. As a general rule, there was not enough copper in the planchets to fill out the borders of the dies. The perfectly centered coin is probably lacking in detail around the entire border. Often the entire border design can only be seen after accumulating several coins that are struck off center in different directions.

Coins that appear to be struck off center may also be the result of poor die allignment. The faces of the two dies may not be parallel. Where the dies strike close together, the detail is strong with a strong rim. Where the dies are apart, surface detail may be weak and the rim may be weak or absent.

Some late die states appear to be well centered. This occurs when extended die wear has obliterated the details in the denticles. With the denticles gone, original border positions are no longer apparent. It may be, in these cases, that planchet allignment ultimately determines the position of the borders.

The coins from the survey were identified as to the quality of centering. The following codes were assigned:

  • —Well Centered
  • —Slightly off center, a noticable difference in the width of edge milling showing.
  • —Off Centered, showing total lack of milling on one side.

The direction was also noted for coins that were not well centered. The standard clock or K (Kolit) positions were used to identify the widest area of the edge milling. If most coins of a variety are off center in the same direction, it might be an indication of the positioning of the planchets prior to striking. It might also be an indication that the dies were not parallel. If coins of a single variety are off center in different directions, it would be an indication that the planchets were not in the same position prior to striking.

The relative position of both sides were also compared. This can give an indication as to the alignment of dies. If both sides are off center in the same direction, it might be an indication that the dies were properly aligned with each other but the planchet was not well positioned. The following pairs of numbers indicate K positions that represent relatively the same position of the obverse and reverse dies:

K1-K5; K2-K4; K3-K3; K4-K2; K5-K1; K6-K12; K7-K11; K8-K10; K9-K9; K10-K8; K11-K7; K12-K6


The appearance of borders could be the topic for an extensive study by itself. Usually, the description of a Turban Cent will say that the borders are milled. When a Turban Cent is struck off center, it may show this milled border on one side. On a cent that is well centered, the copper may only fill part of the border detail and give the appearance of a beaded edge. In other examples, after considerable die wear, the edge may appear to be a plain edge.


Often the pressure of the dies and flow of metal were not adequate to fill all the details near the outer edges of the dies. On the obverse, the stars often lack the central detail. On the reverses, the letters of the legend may not fill completely. This effect creates a style of letter that may appear to come from different die punches. However, this is a striking variation rather than a die variety.

A Survey of Turban Cents

An attempt was made to determine the status of Turban Cents offered on the coin market. A survey was made of Turban Cents appearing at auction in the past 10 years. Over 250 auction catalogs were examined representing 11 major auction companies; 707 Tur- ban Cents were noted. Catalogs from several additional companies were also examined but found inappropriate for numismatic research.

The following information was noted for each coin listed:

  • Date
  • Variety
  • Grade Assigned
  • Was the coin plated? (Photograph of coin shown)
  • Centering

628 of the 707 coins could be attributed by variety (88.8%)

503 (71.1%) were identified by variety in the catalog

83 (11.7%) could be attributed from the descriptions

39 (5-5%) were attributed from the plates

3 were attributed by the buyer

79 (11.2%) could not be attributed

286 were plated (40.5%)

Following is a tabulation of the pieces surveyed by variety and grade:

Summary of Turban Cents Offered at Auction 1975-1984

Variety Low 2-10 F12-15 VF20-2 5 VF30-35 F40-4 5 AU50-55 MS60-65 A v g. Total
S277 4 8 8 2 4 1 22.3 27
S278 2 3 3 4 5 4 3 35.7 24
S279 2 3 4 3 2 1 24.1 15
S280 27 12 12 6 11 7 3 22.9 78
S281 3 4 4 9 5 1 33.8 26
S282 2 3 1 4 2 4 38.2 16
S283 1 5 3 3 3 1 34.1 16
S284 3 4 1 7 3 38.7 18
S285 2 3 4 2 3 3 37.4 17
S286 9 8 3 2 6 4 23-3 32
S287 3 4 1 1 7 1 2 9 7 36.6 53
S288 2 2 3 7 4 2 39.4 20
S289 4 3 5 8 8 1 37.3 29
S290 1 1 4 11 8 6 45.4 31
S291 1 2 2 2 5 3 1 34.8 16
S292 2 3 7 5 14 8 4 37.4 43
S293 1 4 5 7 8 4 4 35.6 33
S294 3 2 6 3 19 19 12 43.6 64
S295 5 4 10 18 23 10 42.8 70
TOTALS 6 5 68 83 75 149 122 66 34.0 628

This can only be interpreted as an indication of the coins available on the coin market. It may not be representative of the number of pieces struck, the number surviving, or the number held in collections. Some observations will be made in the following section.

Description by Date and Variety

Attribution guides: Frequently there is a single feature which is enough to identify a die. Sheldon's descriptions were very brief and often only enough for identification. The collector who has access only to the Sheldon descriptions may get the impression that there is little difference in the dies. Clapp's descriptions were more extensive and were used as a starting point for the descriptions which follow. Additional features not mentioned by Clapp are included. Other features are mentioned which may not be distinctive for purposes of attribution but which show changes in the dies over the years that Turbans were struck.

The major points used for quick identification are shown first. The leaf points familiar from previous publications are noted with these abbreviations: LD is point of leaf below D; HL is point of highest leaf (near S); and LF is point of leaf below F.

1808 Mintage 1,007,000

S277(D208) 12 STARS

OBV: Front of hair ribbon curved

Date widely and evenly spaced

Gravers scratch downward from right side of T

Small lump in field between chin and throat

First star usually weak or missing, second star occasionally also weak.

REV: LD below right side up upright

HL half way between center and right side of S

LF almost to right foot of F

T of CENT low

Bottom inner serifs of N's are weak or truncated; upper serifs strong (as are N's thru 1809)


  • Perfect reverse
  • Reverse cracked from rim thru D, wreath, final S, to rim. Die sinking at TA. Obverse incuse in reverse; image of nose, lips and throat seen left of ONE CENT
  • Crack from D across wreath to bottom of O of ONE
  • Second crack extends to N of ONE
  • Second crack extends through N and terminates over E
  • Crack extends across wreath to right side of A and to rim, denticles fuse in rim over N
  • Triangular chip out of die inside D, additional denticles fuse over ED

The weakness of the first star on the obverse is the result of the condition of the reverse die. The break on the reverse resulted in inadequate pressure to force copper into the first star. Examples of the same die state with the cracked reverse may be found with or without the first star showing.

COMMENTS: Usually seen off center with obverse rim strongest at K-12 and reverse rim strongest at K-7 to K-8. As an easily attributed and highly marketable variety, its frequency at auction is probably greater than it's true rarity. It is probably slightly less common than S278.


OBV: Front of hair band straight

1-8 widely spaced, 0-8 close

REV: LD below center of D

HL just past right side of S

LF below center of upright of F

In CENT N above E

In UNITED, I is low


  • No rim break below date, an area frequently off coin, making identification of die state difficult
  • Obverse found with flowlines connecting stars 10-11-12 to rim
  • Series of obverse rim breaks point of bust to 13th star, additional rim break over 5th and 6th stars. Incusations inside right wreath.
  • Reverse found with raised ring inside circle of denticles

COMMENTS: Usually seen off center, Obverse rim strongest at K-9 to K-12, Reverse strongest at K-4. Reported by Sheldon as the rarest 1808. However, it is the variety most frequently seen at auction and most frequently reported in high grade.


OBV: Front of hair band straight

1-8-0 evenly spaced, 0-8 close

REV: LD past center of upright of D

HL slightly past center of S

LF to left of center of F

T in CENT slightly low and leans left


1. Perfect Obverse, Clear denticles on reverse


2. Obverse found flowlined with stars 8-13 connected to rim, slight swelling under stars to right. Reverse denticles fade into raised ridge.


3. Obverse heavily clashed, star detail on right obliterated, ribbon ends indistinct, date distorted, clash marks at throat. Reverse with raised rim inside denticles over America.

COMMENTS: Sheldon reports this as the most common variety of the year. However, recent appearances are only half that of the other two varieties.

1809 Mintage 222,867


OBV: Large 9 recut over small 9, seen as extra arc under loop of 9

E is low, T leans left

REV: LD right of center of upright

HL center

LF below left side of upright of F

N of ONE high and leans right


  • Perfect obverse: perfect reverse
  • Cracked from bottom of E in STATES thru tip of leaf under S to leaf beyond, crack over T of CENT
  • Obverse has raised ridge from hair ribbon thru 11th star to rim, smaller ridge 12th star to rim. Reverse crack same as state 2. Slight clashing right side of reverse.
  • Crack extends from E to rim, almost parallel below first crack, to leaf under O
  • Cracked from rim between TE, thru E, faintly to left top of E in ONE.
  • Obverse shows clashing behind head; stars on right extended toward rim; bottom of date distorted. On reverse additional clash marks inside left side of wreath. Both dies show flowlines and raised ridges inside the rims.

COMMENTS: Well noted for having a weak obverse, little detail in hair over headband and curls below. Obverse frequently described as a grade lower than reverse grade. Also noted for having weak rims and denticles. The only Turban almost always found well centered. Although considered a rare date, it is the Turban most frequently offered at auction. This is a case where marketability supercedes rarity.

1810 Mintage 1,458,500

S281 (D211) OVERDATE

OBV: BER lightly recut

First 1 recut over 1, 2nd 1 recut over 1 and 0, 0 recut over 8 or 9

E is low and leans left

Curl behind eye is double

Highest hair curl more strongly cut than previous issues

REV: LD below inner curve

HL almost to right side of S

LF almost to center of upright of F

In UNITED N above U, E above T

Fine crack thru top of TED

The N's now have both inner serifs short or truncated



1. Perfect reverse

2. Incusation inside right side of wreath, raised ridge appears over STATES OF

COMMENTS: Most frequently listed 1810, probably because of the ease of attribution. Frequently struck off center.


OBV: E and T in LIBERTY are low and lean left

B and R lightly recut

Sixth star closer to 5th than to 7th

Highest hair curl group (2nd) seperated from third group (as on remaining varieties of 1810 and 1811)

REV: LD below center of curve of D

HL below right side of S

LF right of center of upright of F

In UNITED, N above U and I

In CENT the inside top serif of N extended


1. Perfect obverse, perfect reverse

2. Obverse flowlined, stars on right extended toward rim. On reverse, raised ridge below ATES OF. Incusations inside right side of wreath.


COMMENTS: Equal in frequency with S283, S284 and S285. Usually seen with strong denticles over UNITED on reverse, weak or missing rim over OF AM.


OBV: Dot on upright of Y

T lightly recut

3 fused denticles left of eighth star

The only 1810 without a center dot below ear

REV: LD below center of curve of D

HL just past S

LF under left side of upright of F

In STATES E closer to T than to S


1. Strong denticles around entire obverse

2. On obverse worn denticles; gap between rim and denticles in area of K10 to K12. On reverse, raised ridge over ES OF AM.


COMMENTS: Lowest average grade of the 4 perfect date 1810's.

S284 (D214) HL WELL PAST S

OBV: Numerals in date lean left

T leans left

REV: LD below right side of D

HL one third of the distance between S and O

LF below center of upright of F

In STATES E closer to T than to S

In UNITED, letters closely spaced


1. Perfect obverse, perfect reverse

2. Reverse wreath incuse in front of nose, face incuse in reverse left of ONE CENT


COMMENTS: Obverse frequently strongest at K-12.


OBV: I recut, T recut

Y low, L low, I is high and leans right

Lock of hair below ear curls to left and terminates in point

Die crack bottom of 10 along outer sides of stars to 8th star

REV: LD to right of center of curve of D

HL below right side of S

LF below left side of upright of F

In CENT, extra point on inside upper serif of N


1. Perfect obverse; perfect reverse

2. Obverse and reverse flowlined. Reverse clashed; incusations right of ONE CENT and inside wreath. On high grade specimens RT from obverse may be seen below T of CENT.


COMMENTS: Same frequency as S282, S283 and S284.

1811 Mintage 218,025

S286 (D215) OVERDATE

OBV: T recut and leans left

Both 1's of 11 show an extra serif on their right tops. This does not match any other 1 punch. This suggests the 1's were first punched in upside down and corrected.

Second 1 cut over a 0

Lumps in field between 0 and 13th star

REV: LD almost to right side of D

HL near right side of S

LF past center of upright of F

Raised dot below bases of UN

Wavy line defect under upright of E in ONE

Line over E of UNITED from recutting

In ONE, extra point low on upper inside serif of N

In CENT, extra point high on upper inside serif of N



1. Perfect reverse

2. Obverse incuse inside right wreath

COMMENTS: Highly marketable as a rare date and an overdate. Frequently found off center, strongest at K-3 obverse and K-6 reverse.


OBV: Crack in die extends from fifth star half way to nose

Swelling from last 1 thru 13th and 12th stars

T leans left

REV: LD between inner and outer curve of D

HL slightly past right side of S

LF below center of upright of F

In STATES, E closer to T than S


1. Perfect obverse, perfect reverse

2. Obverse incuse inside right wreath


COMMENTS: 60% of the attributed 181 1's are S287. Probably most of the unattributed ones are also S287. Occasionally well centered. Most often off center, strongest at K-9 obverse and K-7 to K-8 reverse.

1812 Mintage 1,075,500

Proskey listed the large date varieties of 1812 first. All subsequent authors have continued to list in this order. The small date punches were carried over from 1811. The large date punches, introduced in 1812, were used through 1814. The logical sequence is to list the S291 first because of the reverse die carried over from 1811. Then would come S290 followed by the two large date varieties.

The N punch used on S291 is also the old punch. The other three varieties show a new N punch. The upper inner serifs are strong. Lower inner serifs appear to be repaired or recut.

S288 (D217) LARGE 8; HL just beyond S

OBV: IBE recut

Highest hair curl now low and close to third group (as on all remaining issues)

REV: LD below center of D

HL past right side of S

LF past right side of upright of F

New N punch showing strong inner serifs at both top and bottom In UNITED, D high and leans left


1. Gravers scratch connects bases of N in CENT; strong reverse dentilation

2. Scratch in N shows, dentilation fades, letters begin to merge with rim, slight incusations inside right wreath

3. Reverse heavily clashed; gravers scratch does not show; letters into rim K11 to K2; no dentilation; reverse and obverse heavily flowlined


COMMENTS: Less common of the large date varieties but higher average grade.

S289 (D218) LARGE 8; HL between S and O

OBV: T recut, 2nd base of letter seen above right base

I above L, B and E lean left

Swelling after 7th star

Extra dot before ear

REV: LD below right side of D

HL between S and O

LF below right side of upright of F


1. Slight ridge appears in reverse field K11 to K3


2. Obverse with heavy flowlines, stars on right pulled out to rim, date distorted and pulled to rim. Defect in curl in front of ear. On reverse, heavy flowlines through UNITED. Signs of repeated die clashes: Over C of CENT the chin is incuse twice; ribbon end seen twice right of E of ONE. Between N and T is the image of the obverse hair ribbons including parts of TY. Later clashes obliterate image of earlier clashes. Pieces seen with at least 7 overlapping sets of clash marks.

COMMENTS: If each die clash produced a distinct die state, there would be several intermediate states in addition to those listed. More common than S288 but lower average grade. Reverse usually well centered.

S290 (D219) SMALL 8

OBV: Scratch from hair below center dot

R lightly recut

REV: LD slightly left of center of D

HL below right side of S

LF below right side of upright of F


1. Found with reverse clashed. Lips and chin appear in C of CENT and O of ONE; ribbon end seen between E of ONE and wreath.

2. Letters merge with raised ridge on reverse K10 to K1


COMMENTS: Most frequently seen of the 1812's and highest average grade. Found off center in all directions.

S291 (D220) SMALL 8, Line under E on reverse

OBV: Small date, first 1 leans left

Crack connects 2, all stars on right, to top of hair

Another connects outer points of stars 1-5, inner points of stars 5-7, over hair to field in back of head


REV: Same reverse as S286, the only repeat die usage in the Turbans


Letters merge with raised ridge on reverse K11 to K1; same incusations as S286.

COMMENTS: Least frequently seen of the 1812's and lowest average grade.

1813 Mintage 418,000


OBV: 13th star distance greater than width of star from 3

Large 1's, Large 3, curl of 3 meets diagonal above lower end

RT lightly recut

Single curl behind eye

Diagonal lines in field thru LIBERTY

Stars 1-2-3 closely spaced, 4 thru 7 widely spaced

REV: LD under center of upright at D

HL below right side of S

LF below right side of upright of F

F high


1. Perfect obverse, perfect reverse

2. Obverse and reverse flowlined; reverse clashed


COMMENTS: Slightly more common than S293. Obverse usually struck off center, strongest at K-11 to K-12; reverse occasionally well centered.

S293 (D222) CLOSE STAR

OBV: 13th star closer than its own width to 3

Sixth star closer to 5th than to 7th

Small 1's, small 3, curl of 3 meets diagonal at low end

Double curl behind eye

REV: LD below right side of D

HL between S and O

LF below right side of upright of F


1. Perfect Reverse

2. Faint crack along top of TED, another from bottom of D to bottom of S, incusations inside right wreath, raised ridge reverse K11 to K1


COMMENTS: Slightly less common than S292. About half are well centered.

1814 Mintage 357,830

Some auction catalogs comment on the payment of 1814 cents to mint employees as an explanation for scarcity in high grades. Dickeson commented on the rumor that the cents contained gold as an explanation for their availability in high grade. Recent auction records would support the concept that they were saved. They are the varieties most frequently offered in high grade.

S294 (D224) CROSSLET 4

OBV: Small 4 with crosslet on tail

I heavily recut, RTY lightly recut

Double curl behind eye

Vertical lines thru headband extend into hair over T

Sixth star closer to 5th than to 7th; 9th star closer to 10th than to

8th; 8th and 9th stars slightly rotated

REV: LD between inner and outer curve of D HL well to right of S

LF below right side of upright of F

Base of A below 2nd T of STATES

In UNITED, N above I, I above T



1. Perfect obverse, perfect reverse

2. Obverse incusations at throat, reverse incusations inside right wreath, raised ridge reverse K10 to K1

COMMENTS: Frequently offered in high grades including mint state, not as marketable in low grade. Offered slightly less frequently than S295. Obverse rim usually strongest in area of K-9 to K-12. Most frequently seen with reverse strongest at K-7 to K-8.

S295 (D225) PLAIN 4

OBV: Large 4, no crosslet

Line in field parallel with nose (state 2 and later)

R T recut, T high and leans to left

Single curl behind eye

Sixth star rotated; 11th star closer to 12th than to 10th

REV: LD below center of D

HL below right side of S

LF below right foot of F

Base of A above 2nd T of STATES


It might be more accurate to think of this variety as having a gradual development rather than unique die states. However, an attempt will be made to identify specific states known to exist.

  • Perfect obverse, perfect reverse
  • Obverse clashed; O (ONE) at neck, C (CENT) below nose, leaf below C creates line parallel with nose, wreath below bust. This clashing less apparent on later state pieces. On reverse raised ridge begins to appear over STATES OF
  • Obverse cracked from rim, thru 8, hair, 11th star to rim. Die crumbles along bottom of 11th star. Reverse flowlined.
  • Small breaks below lower lip, at junction of jaw line and throat line, and at center of throat line. Reverse letters ATES OF merge with rim.
  • Break below jaw extends almost half way to chin.
  • Break below jaw extends almost to chin.
  • Break extends under chin and almost merges with break below lip.
  • Break below jaw widens into field.
  • Reverse rimbreak over D; an area frequently not seen unless off center in that direction.
  • Reverse additional rimbreak over TA; also frequently off edge of coin.

COMMENTS: Frequency at auction second only to 1809. Frequently offered in high grades including mint state, not as marketable in low grades. 52% of the 1814s seen were S295.

Overstrikes and Other Anomalies on Early Half Cents

R. Tettenhorst

Coinage of the America's Conference at The American Numismatic Society, New York City

© The American Numismatic Society


Collectors looking at half cents are often puzzled by something unusual they see on a coin. They recognize that it is different from what they have seen on other coins of the same design, but wonder what it is or how it happens to be there.

Resolving these questions is important to collectors for two reasons. First, they are interesting intellectual puzzles, opprtunities for increasing numismatic knowledge. Second, some of these lines or marks can greatly affect the importance of the coin. If it is just damage which exists, then the interest in it is decreased. But if it is a rare die state or unusual undertype, its significance may be substantial.

This paper will discuss these lines and marks on half cents in three broad categories, distinguished by whether they were created after, during, or before the striking process. Although Walter Breen's 1984 book, Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents, contains extremely comprehensive discussions of these kinds of half cents, bringing these sometimes puzzling coins together as a single topic may be helpful.

Marks Created After the Striking Process

The post-striking appearance, or for that matter, disappearance of marks on half cents can be further divided into two categories. Most of these marks reflect normal wear and other damage that occurs as a result of the coins circulating as money. Coins were made to be articles of use, and that use entails experiences, both gradual and sudden, which leave their record on the coin itself.

Generally, the nicks, scratches and pits on half cents are easily recognizable. They involve removal or displacement of metal, which can be readily noticed, although in some difficult cases high magnification may be required. However, even an experienced numismatist need not be embarrassed at being occasionally misled. Ebenezer Gilbert in 1916 published his thorough and careful work on half-cent varieties. Yet he mistakenly described an 1808 variety 3, which was actually his variety 2 after having accidentally experienced a bit of well-concealed damage. A bump, which left virtually no other trace, had displaced the highest wave of hair upward toward the R of LIBERTY. Gilbert's coin, which later found its way into the Brobston and Showers collections, is now in my possession. It is extraordinarily difficult to see that the changed posi- tion of the hair wave is due to a bump rather than being a normal striking from a different die.

Of more concern to numismatists are the deliberately altered examples which occasionally appear, such as an 1834 half cent with the date altered so that it appears to be a rare 1831. Gilbert's other mistaken listing of a non-existent variety was of this kind. His 1795, no. 2 was described as having the same dies as the lettered edge no. 1, except with a plain edge. It was, in fact, a 1795, no. 1 which had had the edge deliberately filed or ground away to eliminate the incuse lettering.

Marks Arising During Striking

Marks created during the striking process can be further subdivided into marks which are in the dies and those which arise as a result of some event which occured during the striking process:

A. Some well-known features of particular half-cent dies were created during the preparation of the die. Examples include:

  • The "comma" in the punctuated date of 1795.
  • The "1 over 1" on an obverse die of 1797.
  • The "inner circle" of an obverse die of 1809.
  • Traces of guide lines for the punching of letters on reverses of 1825 and 1826.
  • Overdates in general.
  • Various engravers' scratches, file marks, etc.
  • The missing pole of varieties of 1795, 1796, and 1797.
  • The missing stems on the wreath of a reverse used in 1804, 1805, and 1806.
  • The missing star in an 1828 obverse.

Normally, if a mark arose during the preparation of a die, it could be expected to show in every sufficiently unworn example of the coin. However, some marks are faint and do not show in lightly struck coins, or fade away as a die becomes worn through use. Conversely, even though every known 1796 no pole variety shows a prominent obverse horizontal line from a cracked die, it is assumed that uncracked specimens must have existed.

B. Other marks in dies arose as a result of injuries to the dies after they were placed in service. Examples include:

  • A shattered obverse die of 1797 (variety 1).
  • The spiked chin obverse of 1804.
  • The dramatically progressive breaking of a reverse are of 1804 (variety 6).
  • Major cuds at the stars on an obverse of 1811 (variety 1) and above LIBERTY on an 1826 obverse (variety 2) and an 1808 obverse (variety 2), among others.
  • Clash marks in general (particularly prominent in 1794 and 1833 pieces).
  • Die cracks and rim crumbling in many varieties, and raised dots from rusted dies in a few others.

C. A common example of a mark that arises as a result of the striking of the particular coin is a coin which has been struck two or more times. Usually enough of the early strike shows to make identification easy, but this is not always true. This category yields some interesting variations which can be quite different in appearance. For example:

1. A normal double strike with both obverse and reverse showing similar evidence of the two strikings. With respect to each other the two strikes may display a rotation, a linear shift, or both.

2. A coin may show similar evidence of three or more strikes.


2. Triple strike


3.Flip-over double strike

3. A flip-over double strike, in which the obverse shows traces of an earlier reverse strike, and vice-versa.

4. A triple strike in which a flip-over has occurred.

5. A half cent which was first created as a brockage and then restruck normally. Examples exist of both an off-center brockage and a normally centered one as the first strike. In fact, there are a considerable number of different possible orientations of the two planchets to each other and to the respective dies. Each possibility yields a somewhat different appearance. However, they can often be distinguished with study, even as undertypes, if sufficient detail remains.


5. Brockage


5. Off-center brockage

6. A half cent which was first struck with another blank planchet in the press at the same time, creating a uniface impression, and then restruck normally. In this case, one side is struck twice and the other only once. The singularly struck side is aligned with the second strike on the other side.

7. A coin which was first struck normally, but which remained in the press when a second planchet was fed in and another strike occured. The second coin becomes a brockage. The first coin shows a clear double strike on one side, but only a single strike on the side which was in contact with the blank planchet during the second strike. The appearance of this coin is similar to that of (6) above. However, it differs in that this has the singularly struck side aligned with the first strike on the other side.

8. A normally struck coin which remained in the press as a second blank planchet was partly fed into the press. In this case, the first coin displays on one side a prominently depressed arc created by the rim of the new planchet during the second striking.


8. Second strike by blank planchet

9. A similarly created "tiddly-winks" coin, in which only a very small portion of the second planchet was projected over the first coin, and popped out as the second strike occurred.

10. Another variation, in which only a very small portion of the first coin remained in the press, and popped out during the second striking.

For some reason, these multiple strikes are found quite frequently in some varieties and are much less common in other varieties of the same year which are of equivalent rarity. It is a reasonable assumption that some malfunction of equipment or personnel persisted long enough before being corrected to produce a meaningful number of examples with multiple strikes. Varieties for which relatively large numbers of multiple strikes exist include: 1795, no. 6; 1797, no. 2; 1804, no. 10; 1804, no. 13; 1805, no. 1; 1806, no. 1; 1808, no. 3, 1809, no. 6.

In spite of the relatively good number of double-struck plain edge 1795 half cents which exist, no double-struck lettered edge 1795 has come to the writer's attention. Nor has a double-struck 1793 or 1794. It would be much appreciated if any reader who knows of one would share that information.

Moreover, double-struck half cents dated later than 1829 are also quite rare, except for those with a very small distance between the two strikings, sometimes described as "double profile" or "die chatter."

Planchet Marks Created Before Striking

Another category covers identifiable devices or traces of another coin which was used to make a half-cent planchet. This is what is usually meant by the term "undertype." Two common undertypes exist on early half cents:

A. Talbot, Allum & Lee tokens dated 1794 and 1795 were purchased by the Mint in 1795 and 1796. These were used to make planchets for half cents dated 1795 and 1797, respectively.

The purchase of these tokens and their use to make half cents is well documented in the records of the Mint. Both Roger Cohen and Walter Breen have extensive discussions of this in their books. Traces of the original TA&L devices are commonly seen on 1795 and 1797 half cents. In some instances, there is a substantial amount of the original design visible, and at least one half cent exists where several of the edge letters of the token can be seen on the edge of the half cent.

B. Misstruck large cents were withdrawn and saved by the Mint instead of being melted and rolled into strips. Periodically these were cut in to half-cent planchets. Little care appears to have been taken to obliterate the traces of the large cents or to roll them to half-cent planchet thickness.


A. Struck over Talbot, Allum & Lee token

The most common type of error which appears as an undertype is an off-center large cent. The arc of heavy denticles is a prominent feature of many such half cents. It can prevent a portion of the half-cent devices from being visible, even on an uncirculated specimen. This appears to the casual observer as a disfiguring defect. Strictly speaking, however, it is not damage. The finest known 1795, no. 5b, is an uncirculated specimen of this kind with a good deal of original mint red.

There are some half cents made from large-cent brockages. However, far more large-cent brockages exist in collectors' hands than do half cents made from rejected and retained brockages. Therefore, it would appear that the Mint as a rule must have considered such coins as acceptable for circulation. Exactly the opposite is true for off-center large cents, which are less frequently seen in collectors' hands than as undertypes for half cents.

In addition, one 1795, no. 5b, is known which shows a double clip of large-cent arc, indicating that the planchet was rejected for large cent use and cut down to make a half cent.

These spoiled large cents exist as undertypes for each half-cent date from 1795 to 1802. Several varieties appear to have been made exclusively from planchets cut from spoiled large cents. These are: 1795, no. 5b; 1795, no. 6b; 1797, no. 3 (all three subvarieties); 1802 (both varieties).

In some cases, enough of the large-cent detail is still visible to permit attribution of the variety. And in at least two instances the digits 98 of the large-cent date appear as part of the undertype on half cents dated 1797. This is clear confirmation that the dies were continued in use after the year of their date, which can also be deduced from the records of the Mint.


B. 1797 half cent struck on planchet cut from off-center 1798 large cent (S-164)

C. There are three 1795, no. 6 half cents struck on planchets made from copper trial strikings of half-dollar dies. Two of these, one of a 1794 (0-105) half dollar and the other of a 1795 (0-117) half dollar, have been listed for some time in editions of Judd's book on patterns. Another pair of 1794 half-dollar dies (0-104) comprise the undertype of the third half cent of this kind. It appears that these die trials were rolled down to half-cent thickness before half-cent planchets were cut from them, in contrast to what was done with spoiled large cents at about the same time.


C. 1795 half cent struck on planchet cut from copper trial piece for 1794 half dollar (0-104)

D. A final reference to undertype is in the Brobston catalogue which makes the following statement as part of the text for the 1802, Reverse of 1800 half cent: "Practically all were struck on cut-down planchets of Large Cents, Mass. half cents and other coins." No record or reference to Massachusetts half cents or other coins as undertypes for half cents, other than the Brobston reference, is known to the writer. Neither Cohen or Breen mention knowing of any. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who knows of such references or coins.


Half cents are particularly rich in specimens which display unusual marks and details. Perhaps because the denomination was of such small value, it was used to salvage bits of copper. Little effort appears to have been made to remove traces of the planchets' prior devices. And dies were retained in use long after they had sustained considerable wear or damage.

These coins can challenge us to use more than the usual amounts of observation and analysis. And in return, they can reward us with additional knowledge, not only about themselves, but about the coinage techniques and practices of that early era.