Sunday, June 15, 2008

Large Cents: Thoughts on the Nation's First Cents

Large cents dated 1793 have attracted collectors for at least 150 years. They were the first coins struck by the new U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, a city with a population of about 40,000 at that time.

Nothing involving the first cents came easily. Finding a skilled engraver was a challenge. So was the acquisition of the copper needed to strike the coins. Many 1793 cents are found dark or corroded.

Coming up with the right design for the cent was also difficult. It was a hit-or-miss effort involving a lot of trial and error. Designed by Henry Voight, the earliest cents had an obverse depicting Liberty with windblown hair. One critic said she appeared to be "in fright."

The reverse was equally controversial. Its circular chain of 15 links - one for each state at the time - was supposed to symbolize unity. But the chain's association with slavery made it a poor choice for a cent which had the inscription "Liberty" on the obverse.

The letter punches used for the inscriptions on the cent were made by Jacob Bay. On the first cents, struck from Feb. 27 to March 12, 1793, "AMERICA" was abbreviated as "AMERI." The next chain cent variety spelled it out in full.

Adam Eckfeldt soon redesigned the cent, replacing . . .

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