Barber Quarter Dollars 1892-1916 Coin Guide
Barber Quarter Dollars 1892-1916
In the last decade of the 19th century the United States was in the throes of transition. Economic depression raged. Unionism was defining its relationship both to management and to its own membership. Industrialist J.P. Morgan, labor advocate Samuel Gompers and Congressman William Jennings Bryan were familiar figures. The 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition unveiled the technical achievements of capitalism as well as America’s cultural sophistication. Piano player Scott Joplin introduced a new kind of music-ragtime. It was against this backdrop of names and events that the coinage of Charles E. Barber was introduced to the American public.
Coins are usually referred to by their design, not their designer. The Mercury dime, the Franklin half dollar, the Walking Liberty half dollar, the Lincoln cent and almost all other coins give no clues, except for initials hidden somewhere on the coin, to the designer’s identity. So when new collectors hear about “Barber Coinage” for the first time, they must think these coins have something to do with haircuts or barber poles. Only four U.S. coin designs are known solely by their designer’s names. Christian Gobrecht and George T. Morgan are famous for their beautiful dollars. Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the famous sculptor, designed the magnificent 20th Century twenty dollar gold coin. Charles Barber, however, achieved equal notoriety due more to the controversies of his office than for the beauty of his designs.
Charles Edward Barber was the latest generation in a family of engravers. Born in London in 1840, he came to the United States with his father William in 1852. The senior Barber worked as an engraver for private businesses in New England until, in 1869, he was appointed chief engraver of the United States Mint. Charles accompanied him and became an assistant engraver at the mint in Philadelphia. When William Barber passed away in 1879, President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Charles to the position of chief engraver.
In 1887, Mint Director James P. Kimball noted in his annual report that, in his opinion, the coinage of the United States was out of date and should be changed. At his request, Senator Justin S. Morill introduced a bill authorizing the Treasury Department to redesign coins without the necessity of first obtaining Congressional approval, as long as the design had been in use for twenty-five or more years. The Seated Liberty dime, quarter and half dollar had remained virtually unchanged since 1837. So when the bill passed on September 26, 1890, these coins were first to be earmarked for change.
The Treasury Department, against the advice of Charles Barber, organized a competition to produce the new designs. Barber, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and engraver Henry Mitchell were chosen to judge the contest. The result was disastrous, mostly because the judges believed themselves to be better designers than the contestants. In the end, Charles Barber got what he had wanted all along. With the support of the new Mint Director Edward O. Leech, he was chosen to do the design work.
The Barber Quarter, as adopted in 1892, shows a bust of Liberty similar in style to that of the Morgan Dollar but facing right. She is wearing a Liberty cap with a laurel wreath, and a ribbon ties her hair in the back of her neck. IN GOD WE TRUST appears above her head, and the date is found below. Six stars on the left and seven stars on the right represent the original thirteen colonies. The designers initial (B) is at the base of Liberty’s neck. The reverse imitates the Great Seal of the United States and depicts an eagle with outstretched wings, holding an olive branch with thirteen leaves in its right claw and a bundle of thirteen arrows in its left. There is a ribbon with the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM being held in the eagle’s beak and thirteen stars are in the field.
When the first Barber quarters were struck in January of 1892, it was discovered that the coins wouldn’t stack properly. This problem was resolved by altering the relief and design elements. Thus, there are two types of 1892 quarters. The easiest way to identify them is by the reverse. On Type I, the eagle’s left wing crosses the letter E in UNITED below the middle serif, leaving most of the letter exposed. With the Type II quarters, the eagle’s wing covers most of letter E, and the middle serif is hidden. There is also a third type, introduced during 1900, with the eagle’s wing extending beyond the top of the E.
The series has no major rarities, though 1901-S is a challenge even in low grades. There are two other “keys”; 1896-S and 1913-S, but even these are obtainable at a price. Almost 265 million pieces were minted between 1892 and 1916 at the mints in Philadelphia (no mintmark), San Francisco (S) and New Orleans (O). The mintmark can be found below the eagle’s tail. Proofs were minted every year except 1916 and totaled more than 17,000. “Type” collectors particularly favor the 1892 date, as it was the first year of issue, and 1909-O, as it was the last issue from the New Orleans Mint.
On high grade Barber quarters, look carefully for slide marks and light scratches, especially on the face. Check for traces of wear on Liberty’s cheek, forehead and the hair above her eye. Also, check carefully for wear on the “puff” of the Liberty cap. On the reverse, the eagle’s wing tips, head and tail are the points to first show wear.
Barber’s coinage coincided with an innovation in manufacturing master hubs. Large cameo models were made out of wax and a resinous gum, then electroplated. The model was placed in a pantograph or transfer lathe that transferred the design to a master hub of the size needed for a coin die. The new technique allowed for greater precision and allowed the artist easy introduction of more design elements. Of course, one of the criticisms of the Barber quarter was that the design was cluttered.
In 1916, a new contest was held to replace the Barber quarter design which had been in production the required minimum of 25 years. This contest was successful, and a new design by Hermon Atkins MacNeil, the Standing Liberty quarter, went into production in December of that year. With their low relief design, Barber quarters continued to circulate well into the 1950’s, still retaining their dates, outlasting the more “artistic” but less practical Standing Liberty quarter. Whatever his limitations as an artist, Charles Barber did indeed know how to produce a coin which would serve the public well.
Diameter: 24.3 millimeters Weight: 6.25 grams Composition: .900 silver, .100 copper Edge: Reeded Net Weight: .18084 oz pure silver
Coin Information Provided Courtesy NGC.
Saint-Gaudens Low-Relief Double Eagles 1907-33
United States coinage has never been more beautiful than it was in the early years of the 20th century. The Buffalo nickel . . . the Mercury dime . . . the Standing Liberty quarter . . . the Walking Liberty half dollar—these were among the aesthetically stunning coins that made their first appearance and circulated side by side during that period.
Fittingly, however, the centerpiece of this “golden age” wasn’t a nickel or silver coin, but one made out of gold. The Saint-Gaudens double eagle, or $20 gold piece, stands above the rest as the single most magnificent coin of this—or any—era in U.S. history.
As the 1900s dawned, Augustus Saint-Gaudens was a towering figure in the sphere of American fine arts. Widely acclaimed as the nation’s preeminent sculptor, he was also a man of eloquence and influence who dominated the art world of his day not only by example but also through the exercise of power and persuasion.
His brilliance and renown brought him to the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt, and the two men developed a warm relationship that was at once both personal and professional. In 1905, Saint- Gaudens designed a handsome inaugural medal for the president. Pleased and impressed, Roosevelt then invited him to fashion prospective new designs for the two largest U.S. gold coins, the double eagle and eagle, and also for a one-cent piece (which never reached production). Saint-Gaudens welcomed the challenge and plunged into the project with all his prodigious energy and skill.
Both men admired the high-relief coinage of ancient Greece, and both agreed that U.S. gold coins patterned after that model would be a spectacular achievement. They would also stand in stark contrast to the two undistinguished-looking coins that were being replaced, the Liberty double eagle and the Coronet eagle, both of which had their roots in the first half of the 19th century.
Although his health was deteriorating as the project went along, Saint-Gaudens created superb designs for both gold coins. The double eagle, especially, is a masterpiece. Its obverse features a full-length portrait of Liberty with a torch in her right hand and an olive branch in her left. She is shown in full stride with rays of sunlight behind her and the U.S. Capitol Building to the left of her flowing gown. Encircling her are 46 stars—one for each state in the Union at that time. The coin’s reverse depicts a breathtaking eagle in flight, with the sun below extending its rays upward. Above the eagle, in two semicircular tiers, are the inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and TWENTY DOLLARS. High points to check for wear are Liberty’s breast and knee and the eagle’s wing.
Saint-Gaudens placed another required motto, E PLURIBUS UNUM, along the edge of the coin, thus reducing the clutter on the obverse and reverse and reinforcing their clean, open look. He and Roosevelt conspired to omit IN GOD WE TRUST from the first of the new double eagles, but God-fearing members of Congress noticed this and mandated addition of this motto on later issues, starting near the end of 1908. On pieces produced thereafter, it appears above the sun on the reverse.
Roosevelt and Saint-Gaudens intended that the coin would be struck in high relief to bring out each exquisite detail. Unfortunately, though, the artist died in 1907, almost on the eve of the coin’s debut. Meanwhile, Roosevelt was preoccupied with more pressing matters of state. All this, combined with the requirements of mass-produced coinage, gave Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber a chance and an excuse to reduce the coin’s relief. High-speed minting required this, he said—and what’s more, high-relief coins wouldn’t stack.
Fortunately, the beauty of the coin remains dazzling, even in lower relief. And thankfully, Saint-Gaudens’ original art was preserved in its pristine beauty through the minting of small numbers of extremely high-relief patterns and high-relief business strikes in 1907—or rather MCMVII, for the date was shown on these coins in Roman numerals.
The first production pieces were made with high relief. But after striking just 11,250, Mint officials substituted new dies with the modified, lower relief, and these remained in use through the end of the series. As if to underscore the shift from the classical to the commercial, the Mint used Arabic numbers in dating all reduced-relief double eagles.
“Saints” were minted each year from 1907 through 1916. A three-year hiatus followed, after which the coins were struck yearly from 1920 through 1933. The branch mints in Denver and San Francisco augmented the main Philadelphia Mint production, but not in every year. Mint marks appear above the date the designer’s initials (ASG) below.
From 1929 onward, newly minted examples were held almost entirely as part of the nation’s gold reserves, with few being released into circulation. Almost all of these were melted (along with many earlier double eagles) following the gold recall order signed in 1933 by another President Roosevelt—Theodore’s cousin, Franklin. As a result, double eagles dated 1929 through 1932 are exceedingly rare today. The Mint produced nearly half a million pieces dated 1933, but the government maintains that these were never released, and thus it is illegal to own them. That was the end of regular-issue U. S. gold coinage.
Mintages were generally modest, but heavy melting, not low mintage, was primarily responsible for creation of the major rarities, including the 1927-D, the 1920-S, the 1921, the 1930-S and the 1932. The survival of many of these dates is predominately due to the large quantity of gold coins held in Swiss and French bank vaults. Since the 50s, tens of thousands of “Saints” have found their way back to their country of origin and into collectors’ hands. Proofs are very rare as only 687 were offered for sale from 1908 through 1915. They were made with a flat matte finish except for 1909 and 1910 when they were made with a more brilliant Roman or satin finish. This large gold coin is actively sought by a myriad of collectors: from bullion hoarders to type collectors to those challenged by the awesome (and expensive) undertaking of assembling a complete date and mintmark set.
In 1986, the U.S. Treasury paid the “Saint” the highest compliment by placing its obverse design on the American Eagle gold bullion coins, where it has remained ever since.
Diameter: 34 millimeters
Weight: 33.436 grams
Composition: .900 gold, .100 copper
Edge: Lettered E PLURIBUS UNUM
Net Weight: .96750 ounce pure gold
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Akers, David W., A Handbook of 20th-Century United States Gold Coins 1907-1933, Bowers & Merena Galleries, Wolfeboro, NH, 1988. Bowers, Q. David, United States Gold Coins, An Illustrated History, Bowers & Ruddy, Los Angeles, 1982. Breen, Walter, Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Press/Doubleday, New York, 1988. Dryfhout, John H., The Works of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, University Press of New England, Hanover, NH, 1982. Taxay, Don, The U.S. Mint and Coinage, Arco Publishing Co. Inc., New York, 1966. Vermeule, Cornelius, Numismatic Art in America, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1971.
Coronet/No Motto Eagles 1838-1866
At the turn of the 19th century, the upheaval of the “Reign of Terror” and Napoleonic Wars resulted in a worldwide rise in gold prices. With the U.S. Mint statutorily bound to the weight specifications and 15 to 1 silver/gold ratio defined by the Act of 1792, the fluctuating market price of precious metals wreaked havoc with U.S. coinage, particularly the largest gold coin, the flagship $10 Capped Bust “Eagle.” By 1795, an ounce of gold—worth 15 ounces of silver in the United States—was worth 15.5 ounces of silver in Paris. That was enough motivation for bullion brokers to buy United States gold coins, mostly with Latin American silver coins, and ship them to Paris to be sold. By 1813 the ratio would reach 16.25:1, and before long, 98% of all U.S. gold coinage would be destroyed. At the end of 1804, President Thomas Jefferson ordered eagle production stopped. It would be thirty-four years before production resumed.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Years before, Alexander Hamilton had envisioned a monetary standard where coins of other metals would be simply a convenience, and only gold would be legal tender. He believed gold to be the most price-stable of the precious metals and less sensitive to changes in supply. Congress thought his idea to be utopian and idealistic. In the 1790s, gold was scarce, but silver coins, especially from Latin America, were plentiful. Fortunately, Congress settled on a bimetallic standard. At least silver coins, even if they were foreign silver coins, gave the new Republic a ready supply of money for commerce.
It ultimately took two separate Congressional Acts, that by 1838, adjusted the content and fineness of U.S. gold coins enough to allow them to remain in circulation. Mint Director Robert M. Patterson was instructed to produce eagles, and Acting Engraver Christian Gobrecht, replacing the ailing William Kneass, prepared dies for a new design.
Gobrecht’s design, inspired by the portrait of Venus in Benjamin West’s Painting Omnia Vincit Amor (Love Conquers All), also became the prototype for the half-eagle and large cent of 1839. It features a bust of Liberty facing left, wearing a coronet inscribed LIBERTY. Her hair is knotted in the back with hang- ing curls. Thirteen stars encircle the bust, with the date positioned below. The reverse depicts an eagle holding an olive branch and arrows, surrounded by the inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and TEN D. Mintmarks are below the eagle.
The first coins, those of 1838 and early 1839, are distinctly different than subsequent issues: Each has Liberty’s shoulder line sharply pointed and positioned between the twelfth and thirteenth star. In the fall of 1839, Gobrecht reworked the bust and centered it over the date. This design—with the exception of the added motto in 1866—remained basically unchanged until the end of the Coronet series in 1907, when it was replaced by Augustus Saint Gaudens’ Indian Head motif.
Unfortunately for collectors, the first years of the new coin’s run, from about 1838 to 1844, were during the depression and “Hard Times” of the Jacksonian era. An eagle was a substantial sum, worth in goods then what a half ounce of gold would buy today. There was little demand for the large coin in everyday use, thus the mintage of the new Coronet eagles (identified colloquially by collectors today as “No Motto Ten-Libs”) was limited. By the 1850’s, when economic conditions improved, demand for the eagles remained low, since half eagles were preferred in day-to-day commerce, and the new double eagles were used in bank transfers and international transactions.
Struck in Philadelphia (no mintmark) every year of the series, No Motto eagles were also minted in New Orleans (O) from 1841 through 1860, and in San Francisco (S) from 1854 through 1866. About 5.3 million business strikes and 400 proofs were made, but unfortunately, few were preserved. Mintages were small and most survivors didn’t make it past the recall and meltings of the 1930s. As a result, it is difficult to find high grade specimens of any date in the series. There are no “common-dates” in uncirculated condition—every issue is rare, and only a handful even approach the grade of MS-65. Superb pieces occasionally appear, but almost exclusively in sales of the largest and most famous collections.
Although few individuals attempt to assemble complete date and mintmark sets, some pursue the issues from a single mint, or one from each mint. A collection of New Orleans eagles—paralleling the two decades leading up to the Civil War and the Confederacy’s seizure of the branch there—consists of twenty coins. A San Francisco set, tracing the first eagles struck at the new mint—from the Gold Rush days to the end of the Civil War—entails just thirteen pieces. Most collectors however, are content to find just one high-grade specimen for their type sets.
Numismatists anxiously await a complete inventory of the fortune in gold coins found aboard the wreck of the S.S. Central America in 1987. The ship was lost off the South Carolina coast in an 1857 hurricane while carrying over 1.2 million dollars in gold. Many coins recovered to date are in pristine condition, most notably 1857-S double eagles. Perhaps early S-Mint eagles will also be found.
No Motto eagles are not difficult to grade. Look for traces of wear on the top of the coronet over Liberty’s forehead, on the top of her hair and just over her eye. On the reverse, check the tips of the eagle’s wings, neck and claws. Unfortunately, well made twentieth century counterfeits exist. Originally made in the Middle East as a way of producing bullion in a recognizable form, many have found their way into the numismatic market. The very rare 1858 Philadelphia issue has also been counterfeited, usually by removing the mintmarks from San Francisco or New Orleans coins of that year. Authentication of any questionable piece is highly recommended.
The Coronet eagle continued to be minted until 1907 with only one major change to the design. The carnage of the Civil War and the terrible upheaval that followed found the population of the country in a religious and philosophical mood. A desire to nationally express this feeling led to the addition of the motto IN GOD WE TRUST to U.S. coins. First used on the two-cent piece of 1864, the motto was added to the Coronet eagle in 1866, inscribed on a ribbon over the eagle’s head.
Collectors were slow to seek out Coronet eagles by date and mint. While proofs were purchased regularly by a handful of numismatists from 1858 onward, most of the branch mint pieces, as well as non-proofs from the Philadelphia Mint, were placed into general circulation. There they became worn, and many were later melted. Perhaps the only complete series of these pieces was that assembled by Louis Eliasberg, Sr. and sold at auction in 1982.
Diameter: 27 millimeters
Weight: 16.718 grams
Composition: .900 gold, .100 copper
Net Weight: .48375 oz pure gold
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Akers, David W., United States Gold Coins, Volume V, Eagles 1795-1933, Paramount Publications, Englewood, OH, 1980. Breen, Walter, United States Eagles, Hewitt Printing Corporation, Chicago. Breen, Walter, Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Doubleday, New York, 1988. Garraty, John A., The Columbia History Of The World, Harper & Row, New York, 1972. Metcalf, William E., America’s Gold Coinage, Metallic Panaceas: Gold Bugs, Silver Crusaders, and the Wizard of Oz, ANS, New York, 1989. Winter, Douglas, New Orleans Mint Gold Coins 1839-1909, Bowers & Merena Galleries, Wolfeboro, NH, 1992.
Jefferson Nickels 1938 to present
Still in production today, the Jefferson Nickel has become a familiar coin to generations of Americans. Introduced in 1938, it is the only one of our current coins being made in its original composition, though this continuity was interrupted briefly by the emergency of World War II. After more than six decades of minting, this humble coin continues to honor the nation’s third president.
Thomas Jefferson was a man of countless talents, and he possessed an unceasingly curious nature. His achievements in architecture (his own home, Monticello, being but one example), combined with his triumphs as a statesman, scientist and philosopher, have earned for Jefferson a lasting legacy as one of the truly great figures in American history. It was seemingly inevitable that once George Washington had been honored with a circulating coin in 1932, Jefferson could not be far behind in achieving such recognition.
Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743 in Virginia, in what was then Goochland (now Albemarle) County. Raised in a prosperous home, he took full advantage of the educational opportunities this offered him. Though he was proud to describe himself as merely a gentleman farmer, he began a long and illustrious career of public service in 1769 by joining the Virginia House of Burgesses. The onset of the American War of Independence six years later found him a member of the Second Continental Congress. In this capacity he became the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. Returning to Virginia to serve as its governor during the closing years of the war, he later rejoined the Continental Congress for the term 1783-84.
Among the most pressing issues of the day was settlement of the nation’s war debt and the establishment of a monetary system. Jefferson devised a decimal coinage system, the principal points of which were ultimately adopted some years later. Jefferson then became America’s minister to France in 1785, returning home upon the election of George Washington as the first president of the federal republic. Jefferson’s term as secretary of state found him often at odds with the dominant Federalist party, and this only intensified during his vice-presidency under President John Adams (1797-1801).
A Republican, Jefferson succeeded Adams, serving two terms as president of the USA (1801-09). Highlights of his presidency included the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and America’s battles against the Barbary pirates. Retirement for Jefferson was anything but quiet, and among his achievements were the founding of the University of Virgina and the design of its buildings. He maintained a lively and stimulating correspondence with figures around the world, until death claimed him at his beloved home of Monticello in 1826. In a remarkable coincidence, his passing fell on July 4, fifty years to the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In an even greater twist, old rival John Adams also succumbled on that very same day.
Early in 1938, the Treasury Department announced a public competition for designs to replace those of the current five-cent piece. No reason was given for retiring James Earle Fraser’s Indian Head/Buffalo Nickel, but that design had achieved its statutory minimum production of 25 years, and therefore no legal obstacle stood in the way of replacing it. The new coin would honor Thomas Jefferson, and the competition rules specified that its obverse was to feature “an authentic portrait” of the third president. The rules further required that the reverse of the coin depict “a representation of Monticello, Jefferson’s historic home near Charlottesville.”
The contest was open to anyone who could deliver models that would work within the Mint’s technical requirements, and these specifications were provided in the public announcement. Of some 390 models submitted, those of German-American sculptor Felix Schlag were selected, and he was awarded the $1000 prize in April of 1938.
Felix Schlag’s portrait of Jefferson was based on a marble bust sketched from life by famed French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. Schlag’s dramatic perspective view of Monticello was rejected by the Federal Commission of Fine Arts, which acted in an advisory capacity on all matters of public art. In addition to recommending a more conventional, elevation view of Jefferson’s home, the commission suggested that Schlag’s stylized, Art Deco lettering be replaced with a more traditional Roman script. Schlag complied with its requests, submitting revised models for review in July of 1938. After a few more changes were made to the lettering, principally enlargement of the value FIVE CENTS, the models were approved. With all of these delays, production of the new coins did not commence until September, and the first examples were released to circulation two months later.
The Jefferson Nickel features a left-facing bust of the president, dressed in a coat of the period and wearing a peruke wig. Arranged in arcs around the border are the motto IN GOD WE TRUST to the left, with LIBERTY and the date to the right, separated by a single star. On the reverse is a front elevation view of Jefferson’s home, with the name MONTICELLO beneath it. Around the border are the legends E PLURIBUS UNUM above and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA below. Beneath MONTICELLO is the value FIVE CENTS. Beginning in 1966, Schlag’s initials FS appear below the truncation of Jefferson’s bust.
The mints at Philadelphia (no mintmark until 1980), Denver (mintmark ‘D’) and San Francisco (‘S’) each coined Jefferson Nickels from 1938 onward. Mintmarks appeared to the right of Monticello through 1964, when their use was suspended due to a nationwide coin shortage. Mintmarks were restored beginning in 1968, though since that date they have been placed beneath the date, to the right of Jefferson’s peruke. San Francisco suspended coining operations after 1954, but Jeffersons bearing the popular ‘S’ mintmark were again made for circulation in 1968, 1969 and 1970. Beginning in 1971 and continuing to the present day, San Francisco has struck only proof examples for collectors.
Mintages from all three mints have varied over the course of the series, with some of these figures being small by modern standards. The dates considered “key” coins due to their low mintages include 1938-D, 1938-S, 1939-D, 1939-S and 1950-D. None are truly rare, however, as the Jefferson Nickel series coincides with the era in which Americans preserved rolls and even entire bags of uncirculated coins of each and every date. Instead of date rarity, the focus in collecting Jeffersons is on superb quality. Until the late 1980s, when lowering of this coin’s relief resulted in consistently sharp strikes, most Jefferson Nickels were seldom found with all details distinct. Specifically, the steps of Monticello are typically incomplete, and coins having “full steps” receive intense collector interest.
The novelty of the Jefferson Nickel caused most examples to be saved by a curious public during its first few years, and coins of this type did not become a familiar sight in circulation until about 1940. Shortly thereafter, the onset of World War II prompted the rationing of many commodities, certain metals among them. Nickel was highly valued for use in armor plating, and Congress ordered the removal of this metal from the five-cent piece, effective October 8, 1942. From that date, and lasting through the end of 1945, five-cent pieces bore the regular design but were minted from an alloy of copper, silver and manganese. It was anticipated that these emergency coins would be withdrawn from circulation after the war, so a prominent distinguishing feature was added. Coins from all three mints bore very large mintmarks above the dome of Monticello, and the letter ‘P’ was used as a mintmark for the first time on a U. S. coin. These “war nickels” proved quite satisfactory in circulation, and they were not immediately withdrawn. Instead, they remained a familiar sight until the mid-1960s, when rising silver prices caused them to be hoarded for their bullion value.
While a handsome coin in its own right, the Jefferson Nickel serves an additional purpose in honoring a truly great American. In this role, it is likely to continue for many years to come. For collectors, completion of the Jefferson series remains an inexpensive and attainable goal.
Diameter: 21.2 millimeters Weight: 5 grams Composition: .750 copper, .250 nickel (1938-42, 1946-) .560 copper, .350 silver, .090 manganese (1942-45) Edge: Plain
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Breen, Walter, Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Press/Doubleday, New York, 1988. Taxay, Don, The U.S. Mint and Coinage, Arco Publishing Co., New York, 1966. Wescott, Michael, with Keck, Kendall, The United States Nickel Five-Cent Piece, Bowers and Merena Galleries, Wolfeboro, NH, 1991. Yeoman, R.S., A Guide Book of United States Coins, 52nd Edition. Golden Books Publishing Company, New York, 1998.
Coin Information Provided Courtesy NGC.
Draped Bust/Heraldic Eagle Quarter Dollar 1804-1807 Coin Guide
Draped Bust/Heraldic Eagle Quarter Dollar 1804-1807
In modern times, the quarter dollar has established itself as a workhorse in the United States coinage system. It plays a vital role in turning the wheels of commerce, and its annual production routinely tops one billion. By contrast, the quarter was all but invisible during the early years of federal coinage. The United States Mint delayed its introduction until 1796, making it one of the last U. S. coins to debut. Then, after striking just 6,146 examples of that date, the Mint suspended production of 25-cent pieces for nearly a decade.
As numismatic researcher R.W. Julian has observed, quarter dollars were “orphans” in the new nation’s monetary system. “Few were struck and even fewer were seen in the marketplace actually being used by merchant or citizen.”
In large measure the early public indifference to this now-essential coin was attributable to the fact that Americans didn’t need it at that time. The Spanish two-reales piece, which circulated widely in the infant United States, had exactly the same purchasing power-25 cents. Then as now, people tended to favor things (including coins) with which they were more familiar. Under the circumstances, there was no particular urgency to strike quarter dollars at all, as evidenced by the fact that from 1796 to 1814, a period of nearly 20 years, the Mint produced quarters for only five dates and in quantities totaling barely half a million pieces. Indeed, the paltry output in 1796 seems to have been intended primarily to establish the denomination’s existence-just to show the flag, so to speak.
U.S. coin designs underwent frequent changes during the nation’s formative years and, because of its late introduction, the quarter dollar missed the very first cycle in this process: Unlike the dollar, half dollar and half dime, the 25-cent piece never appeared with the Flowing Hair portrait of Miss Liberty. By 1796, the Mint had already replaced that design with a new Draped Bust likeness of Liberty. A small, naturalistic eagle, much like the one on the Flowing Hair coinage, continued to grace the reverses of the first Draped Bust issues. This included the quarter dollar of 1796, which turned out to be a one-year type coin.
After completing the minuscule mintage of the first U.S. quarter, Mint officials seemingly forgot about the 25-cent denomination. It didn’t reappear in the nation’s coinage lineup until 1804, and by then the “small eagle” of the first silver coins had given way to a larger, heraldic eagle based on the Great Seal of the United States.
The Draped Bust image of Liberty is essentially the same in both series and was fashioned by noted portraitist Gilbert Stuart, possibly at the urging of President George Washington himself. It’s said that Stuart’s model was Ann Willing Bingham of Philadelphia, a socialite regarded as one of the most beautiful women of her day. His sketch was converted to plaster by artist John Eckstein of Providence, Rhode Island, and coinage dies then were executed by Mint Chief Engraver Robert Scot. Stuart reportedly felt that the execution was more akin to the type performed by a hangman, killing off the artistry of his portrait. For that reason, he disavowed his connection with the design.
In his highly regarded book Numismatic Art in America, Boston museum curator Cornelius Vermeule likened the Draped Bust figure to “a buxom Roman matron.” Her long, elegant tresses are tied back with a ribbon, and ample cleavage is visible above a fold of drapery in her gown. This right-facing portrait is encircled by LIBERTY above, the date below and stars along the left and right borders. On the Small Eagle quarter of 1796, the obverse displays fifteen stars, one for each state in the union at that time. By 1804, the Mint had settled on thirteen stars representing the original states; the notion of adding a star every time a state joined the union had been scrapped as an impractical indulgence.
Thirteen stars appear on the reverse of the Heraldic Eagle quarter, as well, tucked into the space above the eagle’s head. There are clouds above the eagle, while UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and 25 C. are inscribed around the periphery. A shield is superimposed upon the eagle’s breast, a banner in its beak proclaims E PLURIBUS UNUM, and it grasps symbolic items: a sheaf of arrows and an olive branch. In designing the coin, Chief Engraver Scot chose to place the warlike arrows in the right (or “dexter”) claw and the olive branch of peace in the left (or “sinister”) claw. This reverses the traditional American priorities, since the right claw is dominant in heraldry and thus more properly suited for a symbol of peace, not war.
The Draped Bust/Heraldic Eagle quarter remained in production for only four years, and during that time its annual mintage never reached a quarter of a million. Only 6,738 examples were struck in 1804, making that the key date of the series. Thereafter, the output topped 100,000 every year, reaching a high of 220,643 in 1807. Combined production for all four years totaled only 554,899. Mint records make no mention of proofs.
Heraldic Eagle quarters are exceedingly scarce in mint condition and all but unheard of in grade levels above Mint State-65. Areas on this design to first show wear are Liberty’s bust and shoulder and her hair above the forehead. On the reverse, check the eagle’s head and the tops of the wings.
A complete date-and-mint set actually includes five coins, since 1806 quarters come with both a normal date and a 6-over-5 overdate. Although it wouldn’t be an impossible task to assemble a set of all five issues, many prefer to treat this as a type coin and acquire just one high-grade example to represent the series as a whole. For those quarter devotees who prefer complexity to simplicity, the late Walter Breen, a renowned numismatic scholar, identified nineteen different die varieties for the series. These are detailed in his 1992 update of the standard reference by Ard W. Browning, originally published in 1925.
After completing production of quarters for 1807, the Mint put this underused denomination back on the shelf for another long hiatus. People still preferred the Spanish and Mexican two-reales coins. As a further disincentive to production, the few quarters already issued were being widely hoarded, rather than spent, because they contained more silver than the two-reales pieces. Despite being lighter in weight, the Spanish coins were still legal tender at par, so it made more sense to spend those and save the quarters. The Mint wouldn’t issue quarters again until 1815, and when it did, they would come in a new version: John Reich’s Capped Bust design.
Diameter: Approximately 27.5 millimeters Weight: 6.74 grams Composition: .8924 silver, .1076 copper Edge: Reeded Net Weight: .19338 ounce pure silver
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Bowers, Q. David, United States Coins by Design Types, An Action Guide for the Collector and Investor, Bowers and Merena Galleries, Wolfeboro, NH, 1986. Breen, Walter, Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Press/Doubleday, New York, 1988. Browning, A.W., The Early Quarter Dollars of the United States, 1796-1838, Bowers and Merena Galleries, Wolfeboro, NH, 1992. Taxay, Don, The U.S. Mint and Coinage, Arco Publishing Co., New York, 1966.
Coin Information Provided Courtesy NGC.
Walking Liberty Half Dollars 1916-1947 Coin Guide
Thomas Woodrow Wilson narrowly won re-election as 28th president of the United States, campaigning on the slogan, “He kept us out of war!” Within a few months, American troops would be heading for Europe after all. Mack Sennett’s Keystone Kops were making millions laugh in the nation’s movie houses, while New York’s Wally Pipp was home-run king in baseball’s American League. The year was 1916, and America was a nation in ferment. It was a time of transition: from horse and buggy to horseless carriage … farms to cities … domestic tranquility to foreign entanglement … peace to war.
Major changes were taking place in United States coinage, too. Within the previous decade, exciting new designs had debuted on six different U.S. coins, supplanting the serene, sedate 19th-century portraits that preceded them. And now, in 1916, three more old-style coins-the Barber silver coins-were heading for the sidelines as well.
Outside artists not on the staff of the U.S. Mint had furnished new designs for the six previous changes, and Mint Director Robert W. Woolley showed his satisfaction by going outside again. In 1915, he invited three noted sculptors-Hermon A. MacNeil, Albin Polasek and Adolph A. Weinman, all of New York City-to prepare designs for the three silver coins, apparently with the intention of awarding a different coin to each artist. The Mint may not have planned it this way, but Weinman ended up getting two of the three coins, the dime and half dollar, with MacNeil getting the quarter and Polasek being shut out. It’s hard to imagine how Polasek or anyone else could have improved on the winning entries, though, for all three of the new coins-the Mercury dime, Standing Liberty quarter and Walking Liberty half dollar-are magnificent coinage artworks.
A.A. Weinman was born in Germany but came to the United States at the age of ten in 1880. He honed his skills as a student of the famed Augustus Saint-Gaudens and, by 1915, he was widely acclaimed as one of the nation’s finest sculptors.
For the obverse of his design, Weinman chose a full-length figure of Liberty striding toward the dawn of a new day, clad in the Stars and Stripes and carrying branches of laurel and oak symbolizing civil and military glory. The reverse depicts a majestic eagle perched on a mountain crag, wings unfolded in a pose suggesting power, with a sapling of mountain pine-symbolic of America-springing from a rift in the rock. These strongly patriotic themes resonated perfectly across a nation then preparing to enter World War I, ironically against the land of Weinman’s birth. Weinman placed his initials (AW) directly under the eagle’s tailfeathers.
Unlike the other two Barber coins, the Barber half dollar wasn’t produced in 1916. Even so, the Mint delayed release of the new Walking Liberty coin until late November. It drew immediate praise. The New York Sun, for instance, pronounced it a “lively” coin, typifying “hustle,” while the Boston Herald said it had a “forward look on its face.”
First-year coins from the branch mints in Denver and San Francisco carry the “D” or “S” mintmark on the obverse, below IN GOD WE TRUST, as do some pieces minted the following year. Partway through production in 1917, the mintmarks’ location was moved to the lower left of the reverse, just below the sapling, and that’s where it remained until the series ended in 1947.
Over 485 million Walking Liberty halves were made between 1916 and 1947, but they were issued only sporadically during the 1920s and early ’30s, none being minted in 1922, 1924-26 and 1930-32. These were coins with substantial buying power, enough to buy a loaf of bread, a quart of milk and a dozen eggs in the early ’30s, so it didn’t take huge quantities to fill Americans’ needs, especially after the Wall Street crash plunged the nation into the Great Depression.
Mintages were particularly low in 1921, and the P, D and S half dollars from that year all rank among the major keys of the series. Other scarce issues include the 1916, 1916-S, 1917-D and S (with the mintmarks on the obverse) and 1938-D. Brilliant proofs were minted from 1936 to 1942, totaling 74,400 pieces, and a very few satin-finish proofs were struck in 1916 and ’17.
“Walkers,” as they’re frequently called, are large, precious-metal coins with a much-admired design. As a result, they hold great appeal not only for traditional hobbyists but also for non-collectors. Many exist in grades up to Mint State-65. Even above that level, significant numbers exist for certain dates, particularly the later years. Most dates, however, come weakly struck, particularly on Liberty’s left hand and leg, head and skirt lines and on the eagle’s breast and leg feathers. Sharply struck coins often command substantial premiums. In an attempt to improve the striking characteristics of the design, some minor modifications were made by Chief Engraver George T. Morgan in 1918 and again by Assistant Engraver John R. Sinnock in 1937 and 1938. None of the revisions seemed to help, as even later issues are often weak in the central parts of the design. Places to check for wear include Liberty’s head, breast, arms and left leg and the breast, leg and forward wing of the eagle.
A full set consists of 65 different date-and-mint combinations but is attempted and completed by many collectors. Although Walkers were not saved in any quantity by the public, particularly in the Depression years, professional numismatists like Wayte Raymond and others put away many early rolls during the ’30s. Uncirculated specimens of certain dates in the 1910s and ’20s are probably only available today due to the foresight of these astute dealers. Later-date Walkers also have a strong following: many collectors assemble “short sets” from 1934 to 1947 or 1941 to ’47. Type collectors just seek a single, high-grade example.
The Franklin half dollar succeeded the Walker in 1948. But 38 years later, in 1986, Uncle Sam dusted off the Weinman design for the obverse of the one-ounce American Eagle silver bullion coin, which has been minted annually ever since.
Diameter: 30.6 millimeters Weight: 12.50 grams Composition: .900 silver, .100 copper Edge: Reeded Net Weight: .36169 ounce pure silver
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Breen, Walter, Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Press/Doubleday, New York, 1988. Fox, Bruce, The Complete Guide To Walking Liberty Half Dollars, DLRC Press, Virginia Beach, VA, 1993. Taxay, Don, The U.S. Mint and Coinage, Arco Publishing Co., New York, 1966. Vermeule, Cornelius, Numismatic Art in America, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1971. Yeoman, R.S., A Guide Book of United States Coins, 47th Edition. Western Publishing Co., Racine, WI, 1993.
Coin Information Provided Courtesy NGC.
Peace Silver Dollars 1921-1935 Coin Guide
Peace Dollar in BU
The “war to end all wars” fell far short of that noble aspiration. What history now refers to as World War I, which ravaged Europe from 1914 to 1918, did stir worldwide yearning, however, for peace. One direct result of that fervent hope was the League of Nations. A second, less ambitious but equally sincere, was the Peace dollar. America shunned the League, but warmly embraced the coin.
Following the war, there was widespread sentiment for issuance of a coin that would celebrate and commemorate the restoration of peace. The American Numismatic Association played a key role in fostering this proposal. At the same time, the U. S. Mint found itself facing the need to start producing millions of silver dollars. That need grew out of the Pittman Act, a law enacted in 1918 at the urging of-and clearly benefiting-silver-mining interests. Under this measure, the government was empowered to melt as many as 350 million silver dollars, convert the silver into bullion and then either sell the metal or use it to produce subsidiary silver coinage. It also was required to strike replacement dollars for any and all that were melted.
Aside from helping silver producers, the law also aided Great Britain, a wartime ally at the time. During fiscal years 1918 and 1919, the U. S. government melted a total of more than 270 million silver dollars, and the great majority of these-259,121,554-ended up being sold in bullion form to the British, who needed the silver to deal with a monetary crisis in India. During that same period, the United States melted 11,111,168 silver dollars to obtain new raw material for subsidiary coins of its own.
The coins that were melted under the terms of the Pittman Act represented nearly half the entire production of standard silver dollars (as distinguished from Trade dollars) made by the U. S. Mint up to that date. Even so, the loss was no particular blow to the nation’s commerce. Silver dollars were seeing only limited use, and remaining inventories were more than sufficient to serve commercial needs. Demand for the coins was so minimal, in fact, that none had been produced for more than a dozen years-since 1904.
Against this backdrop, the Mint had no reason to strike new silver dollars as replacements for the ones that had been melted-but the Pittman Act required it to do so. Accordingly, in 1921, after the price of silver had fallen from postwar highs, it started cranking out the long-suspended Morgan silver dollars once again. It did so, in fact, in record numbers: During that single year, the various mints produced a total of more than 86 million examples-easily the highest one-year figure in the series.
By interesting coincidence, Morgan dollar production resumed on the very same day-May 9, 1921-that legislation was introduced in Congress calling for the issuance of a new silver dollar marking the postwar peace. As described by its sponsors in a joint resolution, the new coin would bear “an appropriate design commemorative of the termination of the war between the Imperial German Government and the Government of the people of the United States.”
Congress adjourned without taking action on the measure. It turned out, however, that congressional authorization wasn’t really needed, since the Morgan dollar-having been produced for more than the legal minimum of 25 years-was subject to replacement without specific legislative approval.
To obtain designs for the coin, the federal Commission of Fine Arts arranged a competition involving a small group of the nation’s finest medalists. The nine invitees included such famous artists as Victor D. Brenner, Adolph A. Weinman and Hermon A. MacNeil, all of whom had designed previous U. S. coins. But the winner turned out to be a young Italian immigrant named Anthony de Francisci, whose finely chiseled portrait of Liberty was modeled after his young wife Teresa. The reverse of the coin shows an eagle in repose atop a crag, peering toward the sun through a series of rays, with the word PEACE superimposed on the rock. No other U. S. coin produced for circulation has ever borne that motto.
Production of 1921 Peace dollars didn’t get under way until the final week of December, and just over a million examples were produced. It soon became apparent that the coin’s relief was too high, making it hard to strike and causing excessive die breakage. The Mint corrected the problem in 1922 by reducing the relief-but in the process, it somewhat lowered the coin’s aesthetic appeal, as well.
By 1928, the Mint had produced enough Peace dollars to satisfy the Pittman Act’s requirements. It thereupon halted production. The lid on silver dollars was clamped down even tighter with the onset of the Depression the following year. The design returned for a two-year curtain call in 1934, largely because more cartwheels were needed as backing for silver certificates. The 1934-S proved to be one of the key coins in the series, along with the 1921 and the 1928. The mintmark is below the word ONE on the reverse. A handful of matte proofs exist, but only for 1921 and 1922.
Silver dollars-of both designs-were largely ignored by collectors until the early 1960s, when silver certificate redemptions and the publicity surrounding the Treasury’s sales of $1,000 bags of dollars to all comers created new interest in the large silver coins. Ironically, Peace dollars had been readily available at banks for decades, and following Treasury Department policy, were paid out before Morgan dollars were disbursed. But few collectors were interested in completing sets of these relatively expensive coins, finding it more practical to assemble collections of the smaller denominations: A silver dollar represented a considerable sum in the 1930s and ’40s-enough to buy five dozen eggs or ten boxes of Wheaties. It wasn’t until the very early 1960s, when the Treasury had almost emptied its vaults of Peace dollars, that the more sought after Morgans started to pour forth, fueling collector enthusiasm for both series in the process.
The entire run of Peace dollars consists of just 24 coins, none of them great rarities. Thus, many collectors strive for complete date-and-mint sets. Pristine, high-grade pieces are elusive, however; weak strikes were common, and the broad, open design made the coins vulnerable to wear and damage. Points to check for wear are Liberty’s face, neck and the hair over her ear and above her forehead. On the reverse, wear will first show on the eagle’s wing, leg and head.
The Peace dollar’s early demise was ominously symbolic. Four years later, in 1939, World War II erupted in Europe. The design came very close to reappearing once more in 1964, when Congress authorized production of 45 million new silver dollars, apparently in an effort to serve the needs of Nevada gambling casinos. With the smaller silver coins rapidly disappearing from circulation, this was viewed as a gift to special interests. After the Denver Mint produced 316,076 Peace dollars (dated 1964) in May of 1965, the authorization was rescinded by order of President Johnson. Although all pieces were to be recalled and melted, rumors persist of several coins surviving.
Diameter: 38.1 millimeters Weight: 26.73 grams Composition: .900 silver, .100 copper Edge: Reeded Net Weight: .77344 ounce pure silver
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Bowers, Q. David, Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States, A Complete Encyclopedia, Bowers and Merena, Wolfeboro, NH, 1993. Breen, Walter, Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Press/Doubleday, New York, 1988. Miller, Wayne, The Morgan and Peace Dollar Textbook, Adam Smith Publishing Co., Metairie, LA, 1982. Taxay, Don, The U.S. Mint and Coinage, Arco Publishing Co. Inc., New York, 1966. Yeoman, R.S., A Guide Book of United States Coins, 47th Edition, Western Publishing Co., Racine, WI, 1993.
Coin Information Provided Courtesy NGC.
Liberty Cap Cents 1793-1796
The Liberty Cap large cents of 1793-1796 are the classics of early American copper coinage. They represent the third step in the infant Philadelphia Mint’s quest for a permanent cent design, succeeding the Chain and Wreath cents that began the new decimal coinage early in 1793. This third design was created by Joseph Wright, a New Jersey native and portraitist whose most famous works were his 1783 paintings of George and Martha Washington. In August 1793, Wright began work at the Mint as an engraver and die-sinker under the renowned scientist, Mint Director David Rittenhouse.
Copper cents were still a novelty when Wright cut his dies. Most Americans had yet to see any of the new Federal coinage, still limited to cents and half cents. The citizens of the sprawling nation-only in its sixth year under the Constitution-thought in terms of Spanish milled dollars, state copper coins and private tokens (when they thought of coins at all). So it was most important that the public would accept the new cent, particularly since the Chain cent received such harsh reviews when first released. This criticism may have been on Wright’s mind as he began his work.
For the Liberty Cap cent, Wright drew inspiration from a popular design, French medalist Augustin Dupre’s 1783 Libertas Americana Medal. This famous early American medal bore a youthful Liberty facing left, her hair unbound and flowing in the wind, superimposed on a pole topped by a pileus, the helmet-like emblem of freedom. Commemorating American victories at Saratoga and Yorktown, the medal was a private project of statesman-philosopher Benjamin Franklin and was distributed to many VIPs on both continents. It served its purpose well as a symbol of French support for the American cause.
Wright turned Liberty to the right and replaced the beehive-like pileus with the soft Phrygian cap worn in ancient times by newly freed slaves to signify their liberation. The reverse presented a sparser laurel wreath than the preceding coinage, bearing single berries on individual stems. The first Wright coins were in higher relief than later designs, their obverses shifting from beaded to denticled borders. Their edges bore the incuse inscription ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR, ending in a leaf.
No other U.S. coins have attracted such intense study and devotion as the large cents of this type. Both 20th century cataloguer Dr. William H. Sheldon and 19th century dealer Samuel Hudson Chapman agreed that serious U.S. coin collectors would gravitate to early copper and that many would almost surely end up specializing in the date 1794, with its many varieties. Today, many avid devotees belong to the Early American Coppers Club (EAC), probably the most dedicated group of specialists in the world.
The roster of distinguished large cent researchers includes Sylvester S. Crosby, who published the first treatise on 1793 cents with J.N.T. Levick in 1869. Intense work on the 1794 cents began with Philadelphia’s amiable Quaker, Doctor Edward Maris, who ultimately identified 52 varieties. Ongoing studies were made by such numismatists as Edouard Frossard, Thomas L. Elder, David Proskey and Howard R. Newcomb. The greatest modern large cent researcher was Dr. Sheldon, whose definitive Early American Cents was published in 1949 and revised in 1958 as Penny Whimsy with the aid of Dorothy Paschal and Walter Breen. “Sheldon numbers” are standard today for cents of 1793 through 1814.
Sheldon lists four Liberty Cap cent varieties for 1793. For 1794, he recorded 56 “collectible” varieties plus several super-rare “Non-Collectibles.” The 1795 cent varieties number only eight, including four lettered edge, three plain edge and one ultra-rare reeded edge coin. Plain edges were made necessary by reduction of planchet weight from 208 grains to 168 grains near the end of the year. This weight change was necessitated by an increase in the price of copper, which had reached a point where it cost the Mint $1.22 to produce one hundred cents.
Sheldon’s 1795 listing includes the controversial “Jefferson Head” cent with an unusual square-browed Liberty and pincer-like “crab claw” leaves in the wreath. Considering the ongoing efforts of some in Congress to replace the Mint with private contractors, many numismatists believe that these rare coins were privately struck as patterns for a coinage contract sought by Philadelphia saw-maker John Harper.
The Wright design continued into early 1794, outliving its creator, who died during 1793’s yellow fever outbreak without seeing any of his coins actually struck. The Liberty Cap design was then modified by Robert Scot, another engraver brought to the Mint by Director Rittenhouse. These coins display a much lower relief.
One unusual variety, the rarest in the series, is the Starred Reverse, bearing 94 tiny 5-pointed stars punched in around the reverse rim; another is the Missing Fraction Bar, which omits the line between 1 and 100 in the fraction. Most researchers attribute the dies used between December 1794 and April 1796 to John Smith Gardner, a general technician pressed into service to help meet demand for cents of the new thin-planchet type. Coins of May to June 1796 were struck from dies once again cut by Scot. In mid-1796, the Liberty Cap design was replaced by Scot’s interpretation of Gilbert Stuart’s Draped Bust motif, with its frumpy Liberty in a Grecian tunic without the cap and pole.
The Philadelphia Mint produced over 1.5 million Liberty Cap cents between 1793 and 1796. Most coins of this design encountered today range from Good to Very Fine. Coins from 1793 are the rarest, while coins dated 1795 and 1796 are the most readily available in high grade and are often sought by type collectors.
Original red, mint luster is seldom seen, but natural patinas are very important in determining the coins’ value, since copper can take on beautiful and stable surface colorations over the years. Variations in planchets, die preparation and striking make these coins challenging to grade, but generally the points of the design to first show wear are Liberty’s hair at the forehead and above the ear. On the reverse, check the leaves next to the O and C in ONE.
Obviously, higher grade coins are eagerly sought, but one must keep in mind that these coins circulated decades before Philadelphia’s Joseph J. Mickley began his search for a cent of his birth year, 1799. Mickley was among the first to popularize coin collecting in this country. He was followed by many others, including America’s first coin dealer, English-born Edward Cogan. Cogan started his coin career late in life by supplying large cents to avid beginners in this new area of collecting.
Diameter: approx. 29 millimeters Weight: 13.48 grams (Let.); 10.89 grams (Plain) Composition: Copper Edge: Lettered, Plain or Reeded
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Alexander, David T., DeLorey, Thomas K. and Reed, P. Bradley, Coin World Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of United States Coins, World Almanac-Pharos Books, New York, 1990. Breen, Walter, Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Press/Doubleday, New York, 1988. Noyes, William C., Noyes’ Encyclopedia of Large Cents, Volume 1, Litho Technical Services, Bloomington, MN, 1995. Noyes, William C., United States Large Cents, 1793-1814, published by the author, Monument Beach, CA, 1991. Sheldon, Dr. William H., Penny Whimsy, A Revision of Early American Cents, Quarterman Publications, Lawrence, MA, 1976.
Coin Information Provided Courtesy NGC.