Large Cents – Modified Matron Head Cent, 1836-1839

Continuous modifications were made to the Matron Head cent starting in the mid-1830s, and the transitional nature of the changes has resulted in differences between reference texts regarding the dates dividing Engraver Robert Scot’s original design and the changes made later by William Kneass and Christian Gobrecht. Walter Breen (Walter BreenÕs Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins) places the beginning of the transition in 1835, while R.S. Yeoman/ Kenneth Bressett (A Guide Book of United States Coins) identify the transition as starting in 1837. Q. David Bowers (A Guide Book of United States Type Coins) selects 1836 as the first transition year, while Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett (United States Coinage: A Study by Type) note “modifications beginning in 1835, with some overlap into 1836”, but are also of the opinion that “the changes do not merit a separate type designation.” The difficulty in defining a consistent date to the change is partly because these transitional cents have the hair style (no braids) of the original Matron Head type, but also show the modified portrait and coronet similar to the Braided Hair type that was first minted in 1839.

Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries

The Matron Head Liberty has been described as “probably the ugliest head of Ms. Liberty every to appear on a U.S. coin.”, and cents made in 1835 show both the original Matron style and a later versions of a plausibly more refined Liberty. The coronet likewise shows a transition from a squared-off appearance respective to Liberty’s forehead and hair line, to having an obvious pointed apex, standing away from the forehead and the top line of the hair. Both of these types were produced in 1835, in the transition to the more finished application of the style in 1836 and 1837 (there is a variety labeled “1835, Head of 1836”; these changes, along with additional modifications to Liberty, are likely the reason 1835, 1836, and 1837 have all been designated the first year of the Modified style). This transition period was another time of unusual variety types and names, particularly those of 1839. One of the varieties is called “Silly Head”, and has an prominent lock of hair at the forehead. Another is labeled “Booby Head”, and shows a back part of Liberty’s neck that was not previously visible. Christian Gobrecht made additional modifications to Liberty in 1839 apparently intended for use in 1840, but some 1839-dated cents show these revisions.

A left-facing, somewhat classical Liberty is in the center of the obverse. Curled and flowing hair is swept back to a bun tied by plain cords, with locks draped in front of the ear and down the back of the neck. Some 1839 pieces show beaded hair cords. A coronet worn above the ear and forehead displays LIBERTY. Thirteen six-point stars and the date at the bottom form a circle inside the dentilled rim. The reverse displays UNITED STATES OF AMERICA as a nearly complete circle concentric with the dentilled rim. Inside of that is another circle formed by a laurel branch with berries, ends tied by a ribbon. The wreath is sometimes called a “Christmas wreath.” In the center is ONE CENT, each word on a separate line, with a short horizontal line beneath. All Modified Matron Head cents were minted at Philadelphia and display no mintmark.

A few hundred business strike Modified Matron Head cents have been certified, but many dates and varieties are represented by fewer than 100 coins in census/ population reports. Coins are also classified by surface color, most as BN (Brown) or RB (Red-Brown), with a very few designated RD (Red). Prices are moderate for many dates/ varieties to near-Gem (Gem for some dates), expensive to very expensive finer. Red-Brown examples are often more expensive than Brown coins, and Red coins more expensive than Red-Brown pieces, expensive to very expensive finer than MS63. Another expensive issue is the 1839, 1839 Over 1836. Proof Matron Head cents are rare, and fewer than 10 examples have been certified for many dates; proofs are also classified by color designation. Prices range from expensive as PR60 to very expensive finer than PR62. The 1838 proof Modified Matron Head cents are more expensive than other years of the type.

Designer: Robert Scot, after John Reich, with modifications by William Kneass and Christian Gobrecht
Circulation Mintage: high 6,370,200 (1838), low 2,111,000 (1836)
Proof Mintage: 10- 20 pieces per year except for 1839 (estimated)
Denomination: One cent (01/100)
Diameter: 27.5 mm (28-29 mm); plain edge
Metal Content: 100% copper
Weight: 10.89 grams
Varieties: A few known, including 1837 Plain Cord, Medium Letters, and Plain Cord, Small Letters; 1837 Head of 1838; 1839, 1839 Over 1836, Plain Cords; 1839 Head of 1838, Beaded Cords; 1839 Silly Head; 1839 Booby Head; and other minor die variations.

Additional Resources:
Coin Encyclopedia:
Early American Coppers:
United States Large Cents 1816-1839. William Noyes. W.C. Noyes.
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.
A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Don Taxay. Arco Publishing.
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.

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