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HomeUS CoinsModified Matron Head Cent, 1836-1839 | CoinWeek

Modified Matron Head Cent, 1836-1839 | CoinWeek

1839 Modified Matron Head Cent. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1839 Modified Matron Head Cent. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

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

The transition from the Matron Head Cent to the Braided Hair Cent did not happen suddenly, as is typically the case with design changes. Instead, the United States Mint issued a sequence of large cents over three years that changed the likeness of Lady Liberty from one type to the next. This complicates efforts to draw clear distinctions between the two types and certainly made creating our video guide to collecting large cents by type way more complicated than we anticipated.

Here’s how the experts disagree.

Walter Breen wrote in Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins (1988) that the transition started in 1835, while the editors of Whitman’s A Guide Book of United States Coins identify the transition as starting in 1837. Q. David Bowers in his A Guide Book of United States Type Coins (3rd Ed., 2019) selects 1836 as the first transition year, while Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett, in United States Coinage: A Study by Type (2005), note “modifications beginning in 1835, with some overlap into 1836”, but they are also of the opinion that “the changes do not merit a separate type designation.”

The lack of consensus in defining a consistent date for the change may be due to the fact that the transitional cents have the hairstyle of the original Matron Head type (no braids) but also show a modified portrait and coronet similar to the Braided Hair type that was first minted in 1839.

The Matron Head Liberty has been described as “probably the ugliest head of Ms. Liberty every to appear on a U.S. coin,” and the 1835 Matron Head Cent shows both the original Matron style and a later version of the more refined Liberty. The coronet likewise shows a transition from a squared-off appearance respective to Liberty’s forehead and hairline 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 why 1835, 1836, and 1837 have all been designated the first year of the Modified style.

This transition period also features unusual variety types and names, particularly those from 1839. The variety called “Silly Head” has a prominent lock of hair at the forehead. Another, labeled “Booby Head“, shows a back part of Liberty’s neck that was not previously visible. Engraver Christian Gobrecht made additional modifications to Liberty in 1839 intended for use in 1840, but some 1839-dated cents show these revisions.

How Much Are Modified Matron Head Cents Worth?

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 very few designated RD (Red). Prices are moderate for many dates and 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 are 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 at PR60 to very expensive finer than PR62. The 1838 Modified Matron Head Cent Proof is more expensive than other years of the type.

Design

Obverse:

A left-facing Liberty is in the center. 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 above the ear and forehead displays the word LIBERTY. Thirteen six-pointed stars and the date at the bottom form a circle inside the denticulated rim.

Reverse:

The reverse displays the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA as a nearly complete circle concentric with the denticulated rim. Inside is another circle formed by a laurel branch with berries, ends tied by a ribbon. The resulting wreath is sometimes called a “Christmas wreath”. In the center is the denomination 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.

Edge:

The edge of the Modified Matron Head Large Cent is plain or smooth, without lettering.

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.

Coin Specifications

Modified Matron Head Cent
Years of Issue: 1836-39
Mintage (Circulation): High: 6,370,200 (1838); Low: 2,111,000 (1836)
Mintage (Proof): 10-20 per year (estimated) except 1839
Alloy: 100% copper
Weight: 10.89 g
Diameter: 28.00-29.00 mm
Edge: Plain
OBV Designer: Robert Scot, after John Reich | modifications by William Kneass and Christian Gobrecht
REV Designer: Robert Scot, after John Reich | modifications by William Kneass and Christian Gobrecht

 

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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 Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.

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

Noyes, William C. United States Large Cents, 1816-1839. W.C. Noyes.

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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