Few issues in the annals of American coinage are as historically important as the 1792 patterns. Those simple coins laid the foundation for everything that followed in United States coinage and established an innovative, decimal-based monetary system that became one of the most successful in the history of the world.
Excluding the 1792 half disme, which was actually a circulation-strike issue, the Silver Center cent is perhaps the most famous of those early patterns. Only 12 original examples are known to numismatists today, and one of those coins is included in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. A sought-after collector favorite since the earliest days of the hobby, any auction appearance of a 1792 Silver Center cent is a landmark opportunity for advanced numismatists.
Heritage Auctions is pleased to present the finest-known example of this iconic numismatic treasure in just its third public offering.
The Mint Act of 1792 specified the value of the cent, a hundredth part of a dollar, as equivalent to 264 grains of pure copper. Unfortunately, a copper coin of that size would have been too large and unwieldy for practical use in everyday exchanges. The Silver Center cent was an ingenious attempt to produce a coin with the intrinsic value of one cent in a smaller, more convenient size. The nation’s first bimetallic coin, the concept of the Silver Center cent was long attributed to Chief Coiner Henry Voigt, but recent research by Pete Smith, Joel Orosz, and Len Augsburger suggests the idea originated with celebrated patriot Thomas Paine.
Paine’s concept of a bimetallic coinage stayed with Thomas Jefferson over the intervening year and a half before the passage of the Mint Act. He apparently discarded the idea of plating the cent with silver, but he suggested the other options to Chief Coiner Henry Voigt before coinage operations got underway in 1792. Although the 1792 half dismes were struck earlier, in John Harper’s sawmill, before the Mint building was ready for operations, the Silver Center cent is the first documented coinage struck inside the confines of the First Philadelphia Mint. Voigt and Mint Director David Rittenhouse produced a number of patterns based on Paine’s ideas, including the plugged Silver Center cent (Judd-1), the mixed Fusible Alloy cent (Judd-2), and the small size copper fiat coinage (not listed in Judd).
A note in Voigt’s journal reports the Silver Center cents were first struck on December 17, 1792. The mintage for the Silver Center cent was not recorded, but it was undoubtedly small. The largest estimate we have seen is 50 pieces, of which 12 originals can be traced today. None of the 1792 cent patterns were adopted for circulation because the value of copper dropped considerably by 1793, making it possible to produce a pure copper cent of full intrinsic value with a weight of 208 grains and a more convenient size.
In our January 6 – 10 FUN US Coins Signature Auction, we are offering a magnificent Superb Gem, graded Specimen-67 Brown by PCGS, with sharply detailed design elements throughout. Even the lettering and hair strands on the plug are sharply rendered. The coin is well-centered on a problem-free planchet. The silver plug is positioned just below Liberty’s ear on the obverse and covers about two-thirds of her jawline and intersects the first five strands of hair. The plug is centered below N in ONE on the reverse and covers most of EN in CENT.
The light reddish-brown surfaces are enhanced by highlights of electric-blue, lilac, and rose patina, with a few traces of original red in sheltered areas. Only insignificant signs of contact are evident. The exceptional quality and eye appeal are attested by the CAC sticker. This is, by two grade points, the finest example of the silver center cent certified by either major grading service.
This coin has been a highlight of the Simpson Collection, which includes possibly the finest collection of U.S. patterns ever assembled, for the past eight years. It is the finest known example of this famous rarity, with an illustrious pedigree back to the early days of the hobby. Pattern specialists and Registry Set enthusiasts will find no suitable substitute for this spectacular Superb Gem and it may be decades before it becomes available again.