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Draped Bust Cent, 1796-1807 | CoinWeek

1798 Draped Bust Cent, S-155. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1798 Draped Bust Cent, S-155. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..

Copper cents in the early years of the country have a checkered history. Due to their size, large cents were not the most easily handled coin, but they were extensively used because the denomination was convenient for small transactions.

The United States Mint, however, had trouble producing the coins because it had to import copper blanks from England; sometimes, the copper that arrived in America was of low quality, or had been damaged or become corroded in the bulkhead of the ship during its trans-Atlantic voyage; the Mint had problems creating dies, the Mint’s equipment was crude, and frequent outbreaks of yellow fever shut down the capital city.

In the early years of the Mint, several members of Congress suggested shuttering the government facility and contracting the work to private industry. Fortunately, after a rough start, the Mint began to produce a more consistent product, and, by 1795, the Mint had introduced a design that would bring uniformity across the silver and copper denominations. That design was the Draped Bust.

The Draped Bust Cent and Its Legacy

The Draped Bust Cent debuted in the final months of 1796, one year after the Mint introduced the design on the silver dollar and the same year that the design appeared on the half dime, dime, quarter, and half dollar. The Draped Bust design is the fourth major type of the cent, following the Chain, Wreath, and Liberty Cap designs.

Chief Engraver Robert Scot and Assistant Engraver John Smith Gardner had worked on the previous Liberty Cap design, and both contributed to the production of the Draped Bust design, along with Assistant Coiner Adam Eckfeldt. The Draped Bust Cent reverse is the same design as the Liberty Cap cent of 1796. It has been a long-held belief that portrait artist Gilbert Stuart created the design, but no evidence available to numismatic researchers supports this.

Like many early U.S. coin issues, the Draped Bust Cent has its share of anecdotes. Not all of the coins from this series were struck on the date stated on the coin. 1797-dated coinage likely continued through late 1798, and 1798 coinage probably continued through the middle of 1799. The 1799 cent was not the lowest reported mintage of the type, but the coin is scarce to rare in all grades.

A bag of one thousand Draped Bust Cents was purchased by Senator Benjamin Goodhue (Federalist, MA) for his daughters in late 1797 or early 1798 and was preserved by the family for several generations. The hoard of early cents was sold by David Nichols around 1863 and is the source for many existing Mint State 1796 and 1797 pieces.

Draped Bust Cents are collected by date and by variety. The Guide Book of United States Coins lists some of the more dramatic die varieties or classes of die variety, but it is far from a complete accounting of how many interesting die marriages were used to strike Draped Bust Cents from 1796 to 1807. These die varieties are known as Sheldon Varieties. Many Sheldon Varieties are affordable, but some are rare and represented by fewer than 10 pieces in the condition census. The third-party grading services do not prioritize assigning coins to their appropriate Sheldon number, so their population data is incomplete.

All Draped Bust Cents were struck at the Philadelphia Mint, as it was the only mint facility operating at the time of the coin’s production. There are no known Proof strikings for this series.

How Much Are Draped Bust Cents Worth?

NGC-graded 1798 Draped Bust Cent. Image: Stack's Bowers.
NGC-graded 1798 Draped Bust Cent. Image: Stack’s Bowers.

Approximately 14,000 circulation strike Draped Bust Cents have been certified by CAC, NGC, and PCGS, with PCGS having graded the most coins of this type with just over 9,500 pieces. The 1798 is the most commonly graded cent in the Draped Bust series, with the 1802 trailing just behind.

Prices are moderate for many issues up to low VF grades but rise dramatically in grades AU and above. Uncirculated examples can cost thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the date, variety, and state of preservation. Coins that are Red Brown or Red command significant premiums over Brown coins.

The higher priced coins are 1796 LIHERTY; 1799 and 1799/8; 1803 Large Date, Small Fraction; 1804 original issues; and 1807/6 Small 7.

With the influx of deceptive counterfeit coins from China, CoinWeek strongly recommends purchasing only coins authenticated and graded by CAC, NGC, or PCGS.

Notable Draped Bust Cent Varieties

Draped Bust Cent varieties have been extensively studied and are highly collectible. Many are known, including 1796 Reverse of 1794, Reverse of 1795, and Reverse of 1796; 1796 LIHERTY, from a rotated and repunched B; 1797 Gripped Edge, Stems, and Stemless; 1798/7; 1798 Reverse of 1796 and Style 1 and Style 2 Hair; 1799/8; 1800/1798 and 1800/79; 1801 1/000 and 100/000 (wrong and corrected fractions); 1802 1/000; 1802 Stemless; 1803 Small and Large Date, and Small and Large Fraction; 1803 100/000 and Stemless; 1807/6 Small 1807 and Large 1807; 1807 Small Fraction and Large Fraction; 1804 Private Restrike, from dies discarded by the Mint; and numerous other minor die variations.

The 1804 Draped Bust Cent Restrike

1804 Draped Bust Cent restrike. Image: PCGS / CoinWeek / Adobe Stock.
1804 Draped Bust Cent restrike. Image: PCGS / CoinWeek / Adobe Stock.

The 1804 restrike cent was produced around 1860, possibly by Joseph Mickley, from dies sold as scrap metal by the Mint. The dies were retooled because they were rusted. After careful study, numismatists observed that the 1804 date was altered from 1803, and the reverse was that of an 1820 cent. Though of interest as a curiosity, these poor-quality restrikes do not carry the same value as the official Mint-produced pieces.

In-Depth Draped Bust Cent Date Analysis by CoinWeek

Learn More About the Large Cent


Chain Cent (1793) | Wreath Cent (1793) | Liberty Cap Cent (1793-1796)



On the obverse, a youthful Liberty faces right, long hair cascading down her neck, and a decorative headband ribbon tied at the back. Her shoulders and neckline are loosely draped with a rippled cloth. The word LIBERTY is centered at the top inside the border dentils, with the date centered at the bottom.


The reverse displays the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA inside of, though separated from, a denticled rim. Two laurel branches with individual berries form an interior circle, with branch tips separated at the top but tied by a ribbon at the bottom. Inside the wreath at the coin’s center is ONE CENT, each word on a separate line, and the denomination is repeated at the bottom as the fraction 1/100 (with a horizontal separator) below the bow.


The edge of the Draped Bust Cent is plain or smooth, without edge lettering.

Coin Specifications

Draped Bust Cent
Years Of Issue: 1796-1807
Mintage: High: 3,435,100 (1802); Low: 96,500 (1804)
Alloy: copper
Weight: ±10.89 g
Diameter: ±29.00 mm; plain edge. An 1797 variety has a gripped edge (an irregular incuse pattern)
Edge: Plain
OBV Designer: Robert Scot, with contributions by John Smith Gardner and Adam Eckfeldt
REV Designer: Robert Scot, with contributions by John Smith Gardner and Adam Eckfeldt


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Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Large Cents. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of United States Coins. Doubleday.

Breen, Walter and Mark Borckardt (editor). Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of Early United States Cents, 1793-1814. Bowers and Merena Galleries.

Early American Coppers. www.eacs.org.

Guth, Ron and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.

Noyes, William C. United States Large Cents, 1793-1814. William C. Noyes.

Sheldon, William H. Penny Whimsy. Quarterman Publications.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Yeoman, R.S and Jeff Garrett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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  1. I am writing as the VP of Chapter 21 of the Society of Pennsylvania Archaeology. Today we were quite excited to dig up an 1807 Liberty one cent piece at our current site: the 1715 Mouns Jones House in Douglassville, Pa. The house is a beautiful stone structure and the oldest in Berks County. I have learned much concerning the nuances of this coinage from your website. The coin has an intact 1807 date with no “7 over 6”, is in very good to excellent shape, was in the ground for 200 years or so, and no “comet” defect behind Liberty’s head. We were quite excited at it’s American origin, as the last 4 coins excavated were all George 2 pieces, and one is astonishingly a colonial forgery! They all date from circa 1715. “Mouns Jones ” is anglicized from the Swedish Mounas Johansson, the first white settler in Berks. Daniel Boone’s home is just a few miles away. The house sits a few yards from the Schulykill River, at a colonial fording site, and perhaps the fee for using the ford was one cent! But who knows. Thought you’d be interested in hearing our story. Peter Pickens MD


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