By Blanchard & Company ……
 

It’s big, beautiful and very rare.

It’s also controversial and was only minted for one year, which increases the rarity value of any survivors today.

The 1793 Chain Cent is one of the first coins American collectors began acquiring in the 1800s.

Today, the 1793 Chain cent remains a highly sought after piece of history. The auction record? A cool $1.5 million USD.

The large Chain copper cent is about the size of a quarter, much larger than modern-day pennies. It was the first circulating coin officially produced by the United States Mint. A total of 36,103 were struck in 1793, the only year the coin was produced. Only a tiny number of these magnificent Chain Cents have survived over the last 226 years.

Jumping Over Hurdles

U.S. Mint Director David Rittenhouse faced several challenges in the production of the Chain Cent.

Amid rising world copper prices and tight supplies in 1792, Mr. Rittenhouse arranged for imports of sheet copper from Great Britain. He also appealed to the United States Congress and successfully won approval for a reduction in the weight of the cent, from 264 to 208 grains to help cut costs.

A second challenge? The U.S. Mint had no engraver. Rittenhouse persuaded Henry Voight, the chief coiner, to cut the first dies. Voight’s previous experience as a watchmaker left him ill-prepared for engraving.

Nonetheless, Voight went forward and engraved the Chain Cent dies in February 1793.

The obverse design featured a Liberty head with flowing hair. The reverse featured an interlocking chain with 15 links to represent the existing 15 American states at the time.

The Controversy

An article in the Boston Argus of March 26, 1793 stated: “The chain on the reverse is but a bad omen for Liberty, and Liberty herself appears to be in a fright.”

Liberty’s appearance is likely a result of Voight’s inexperience in engraving. While the chain was intended to represent unity and strength of America, critics said it was symbolic of slavery.

The uproar over the Chain cent design sent the government back to the drawing board. The following year, a wreath replaced the chain, and a better Liberty was engraved for the obverse.
 

2 COMMENTS

  1. Personally, I do not see the fright as described in the article. I just see a statue, facing sideways hair blowing in the wind and as if her head is held high maybe like standing on the ships bow. I just don’t see a frightened look.

  2. The Chain cents were actually struck for less than 3 (and probably closer to 2) weeks. The last of them were delivered on March 12, two weeks before the newspaper article.

    The design had already been changed by March 26. It must have taken Voigt a month to create the dies for the Chains that lasted only a couple of weeks. The design change was almost certainly because it was too laborious and time-consuming to use hand-engraved dies like those used for the Chains. Voigt was already at work cutting the hub and working dies for the Wreath cents by the time anyone complained about the design of the Chains.

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