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HomeUS CoinsLiberty Cap Cent, 1793-1796 | CoinWeek

Liberty Cap Cent, 1793-1796 | CoinWeek

1794 Liberty Cap Cent. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1794 Liberty Cap Cent. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

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

The cent, America’s longest serving coin, debuted in 1793. Struck on blanks of English import, the denomination had already undergone two design changes before settling on American sculptor and painter Joseph Wright’s Liberty Cap design.

Wright’s inspiration for the design was the Libertas Americana medal by Augustin Duprě. The motif was likely suggested by Founding Father and then-Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.

Sponsored by Benjamin Franklin, the Libertas Americana medal not only symbolized American victories in the Revolutionary War, but also represented the friendship between France and the new American nation.

On the obverse of the cent, Wright added a pole supporting a Phrygian cap, worn by freed slaves in ancient Greece and Rome and adapted as a symbol of freedom by both America and France. He also softened and constrained Liberty’s wildly flowing locks, which had been criticized as unduly frightful in appearance.

The reverse design was also simplified, though all of the design elements remained. Wright did not see any of the cents made with his design (other than, perhaps, a sample piece) because he died nearly a week before any of the 1793 pieces were delivered.

Robert Scot, Wright’s successor and the first Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, further simplified the design and lowered the relief of the coin, most likely to minimize die wear and to enable the detail to be more clearly brought up by the presses in use at the time.

In November 1794, John Smith Gardner was hired as Acting Assistant Engraver, and he produced device punches under Scot’s direction. And in a time when there was still debate as to whether the government or private contractors should produce the nation’s coins, sample cents with Wright’s Jefferson Head motif were produced in 1795 by John Harper, who hoped to secure a lucrative private contract for federal coinage.

In late 1795, the Mint reduced the weight of the cent due to rising copper costs; the Mint was spending $1.22 to make 100 cents.

To keep the diameter the same, the thickness of the cent planchets was reduced, which meant that edge lettering was no longer possible. Then, as now, the change in coinage was politically sensitive because the public had expressed dissatisfaction with lightweight British copper coins.

Agreements between President Washington and Mint Director Elias Boudinot to implement the change were not publicly announced until late January 1796, possibly to give the Mint time to produce and distribute the new cents before any citizen criticism could elicit a negative response from Congress.

Production of the Liberty Cap cent continued through part of 1796. That year, the Mint discontinued the design in favor of the Draped Bust portrait, which was then used across the entire range of U.S. silver and copper coinage.

A few thousand Liberty Cap cents have been certified, though some varieties are scarce or rare. Coins are classified as either Brown or Red-Brown, based on surface color. No Proofs are known, and all coins were produced at Philadelphia. Prices are moderate for a few dates and varieties up to grades of Very Fine, but advance steadily above that to expensive as XF-40 and finer. Red-Brown examples have modest premiums over Brown pieces, though prices increase for coins graded Select Uncirculated to very expensive as Gem. Several coins are expensive at all grades, including the 1793 Beaded Border (extremely expensive as XF and finer); the 1794 Head of 1793; and the 1795 Plain Edge and Lettered Edge Jefferson Head issues. All examples of the rare 1794 Starred Reverse and the 1795 Reeded Edge coins are very expensive to extremely expensive.

In-Depth Liberty Cap Cent Date Analysis by CoinWeek Notes

Varieties

Extensively studied, many known, including 1794 Head of 1793, Head of 1794, and Head of 1795; 1794 Starred Reverse, with 94 five-point stars interspersed with the rim dentils; 1794 No Fraction Bar; 1795 Lettered, Plain, and Reeded Edge; 1795 Plain and Lettered Edge “Jefferson Head” (so named because of a forehead on Liberty that resembles that of the Founding Father); and other device variations, many for 1794-dated coins. Dr. Edward Maris, in his 1869 book on 1794 cents, identified the varieties with colorful names such as Young Head, Mint Marked Head, The Coquette, Fallen 4, Abrupt Hair, Patagonian, Amatory Face, and Venus Marina.

CoinWeek Exclusive Coverage of the Liberty Cap Cent

CoinWeek Podcast #41: Jon Alan Boka Discusses his Incredible 1794 Cent Collection

 

Over many years, collector Jon Alan Boka assembled an impressive collection of 1794 Liberty Cap cents by die variety. In this episode of the CoinWeek Podcast, CoinWeek Editor Charles Morgan interviews Jon to learn more about his approach to collecting.

1793 Cents - CoinWeek IQ

1793 was an important year for the cent. In an article for CoinWeek IQ, Lianna Spurrier breaks down the three types of 1793 Cent.

Also, contributing author Greg Reynolds has examined many of the rarest and finest known Liberty Cap Cents firsthand and written about them for CoinWeek:

Design

Obverse:

A right-facing Liberty is centered on the obverse, her swept hair loosely clumped and streaming to the back. A Liberty cap hangs from the end of a pole placed behind Liberty, with only a bit of the pole and the cap visible at the top left and the end of the pole visible along the neck to the bottom right. The word LIBERTY is centered at the top and the date is at the bottom. A circle of beads lies inside the rim of the planchet on 1793 coins; the beads were replaced in 1794 and for the last two years by denticles that extend to the edge of the coin.

Reverse:

The reverse of 1793 cents also has a beaded rim, though positioned more toward the center, with a concentric circle formed by UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the denomination of 1/100 (the fraction bar is horizontal) just to the inside of the beads. The beads were replaced in 1794 and for the last two years by denticles. The center displays two curved laurel branches with berries, tied at the bottom with a flowing ribbon, that form a wreath enclosing ONE CENT. The edge of 1793-95 issues has the text ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR followed by a single leaf. Thin-planchet coins from 1795 and 1796 have a plain edge; four reeded edge 1795 cents are known, however.

Coin Specifications

Liberty Cap Cent
Years Of Issue: 1793-96
Mintage: High: 918,521 (1794); Low: 11,056 (1793)
Alloy: Copper
Weight: 1793-95: ±13.48 g; 1795-96 (thin planchet): ±10.89 g
Diameter: 29 mm
Edge: 1793-95: ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR followed by a single leaf; 1795-96: plain (there are four known reeded edge 1795 cents, possibly an experimental or trial issue)
OBV and REV Designer: Joseph Wright (1793-95 thick planchet, prepared by Robert Scot; 1795-96 thin planchet, prepared by John Smith Gardner)

 

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References

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 (EAC). 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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