During the same year that the United States Mint finally became an independent government agency, answering directly to the president, it struck nearly one million large cents.
However, of the total issuance of 904,585 large cents in 1799, the vast majority were struck with old dies dated 1798. In fact, it is estimated that only around 42,540 true 1799 cents were struck. These coins, known by the reference number Sheldon-189, are scarce in all grades and a true conditional rarity in higher grades, with only one known Mint State example. The “true” 1799 cents were produced by only one of the three 1799 die parings.
The Finest Known 1799 Cent, Sheldon-189 Mint State-61 BN (PCGS)
As an aside, the remaining two die pairings display an interesting overdate, created when Mint workers reworked old obverse dies by cutting in the new date. Known as Sheldon-188, despite being struck by two die pairs instead of one, this variety is slightly rarer than the 1799 true date and represents a fraction of the 1799 issuance.
As with the prior year, a number of 1799 large cents were also struck in 1800. This is evidenced by the shared color characteristics between a number of 1799 and 1800 large cents.
These coins were heavily circulated, as the fledgling United States government fought to replace foreign currency that was still widely used across its economy. As such, by the time early U.S. coin collectors and numismatists realized the true rarity of this type in the mid-1800s, many examples existed only in low grades. Still, these early collectors were spending upwards of $25 for a “Common 1799” in the second half of the 19th century. Adjusted for inflation, this is worth upwards of $750 today. At that time, $25 was equal to roughly two weeks’ wages for a semi-skilled laborer!
The 1799 Large Cent in Today’s Market
As one of the true rarities in the U.S. large cent series, the 1799 type is relatively hard to acquire and commands a premium price over other types in nearly all grades. So great is the value of this type that in 2021, a Poor 01 (!) 1799/8 variety sold for $1,320 in Heritage Auctions’ internet sale #132149. While it could be argued that this high price was due to the extremely low grade, there are a number of collectors who focus on so-called slicks. However, other examples in relatively low grades have sold for nearly $20,000. For example, Stack’s Bowers sold a piece with glossy surfaces that displays medium brown surfaces infused with slight olive highlights that PCGS graded as Fine 12 for $19,200 in their 2021 ANA Auction.
Demand for this type in medium-to-high grade will probably always outstrip supply, and the price begins to skyrocket for examples in VF 30 and above. Heritage Auction even recorded a price of $56,400 for an S-189 graded as VF 30 in their January 2022 FUN sale. Prices hit six figures between VF 35 and EF 45, with pieces selling for between $100,000 and $161,000 in this range. In a seemingly anomalous sale, Heritage sold an AU 50 S-189 with a strong LIBERTY and date for only $15,275. Even more surprisingly, this coin was pedigreed to both the Eric P. Newman and “Colonel” E.H.R. Green collections.
Capping off both the grading and price scales for this type is an MS 62 that was found by an unidentified collector in the stock of London dealer A.H. Baldwin and Sons in the late 1920s (around 1928) and later sold in Boston to American Numismatic Association official Frank H. Shumway. After passing through numerous hands during the intervening years, it was sold again in September 2009 by Goldberg Auctioneers to D. Brent Pogue for just under $1 million.
However, when it was sold again in 2017 by Stacks Bowers, it brought in only $540,500.
The obverse design of the Draped Bust cent is dominated, like many early American coins, by the bust of a right-facing Lady Liberty. Her hair is depicted blowing in the wind, the motion complemented by the bow holding Liberty’s hair back from her face. Liberty’s chest is “draped” with fabric that resembles a classical revival version of an ancient toga. The legend LIBERTY is engraved atop the bust and the date (1799) can be seen at the bottom of the coin, with the fields mostly left blank. While faint, and sometimes not visible, both sides of the cent have denticled borders.
As with all early large cent types, the reverse design of the 1799 Draped Bust cent is centered on the written denomination, ONE CENT. The denomination is surrounded by a laurel wreath with five berries on each branch. The two halves of the wreath are tied together in a large decorative knot by a ribbon. Additionally, in this style, the ends of the wreath point downwards. The wreath is surrounded by the legend “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”. Underneath the wreath and between the two tails of the bow is the fractional denomination “1/100”, which stands for one-hundredth of a dollar.
The edge of the 1799 Draped Bust large cent is plain or smooth, without reeding or edge lettering.
Robert Scot was the second engraver employed by the United States Mint and served as its first Chief Engraver from 1793 to 1823. Born in England in 1744, Scot immigrated to the United States in 1775, first settling in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He moved to Philadelphia around 1783, where he produced portraits for the Rees Encyclopedia. He received an appointment at the Mint on November 23, 1793, where he got to work producing designs for the cent. Initially known for his banknote engravings, Scot developed the Draped Bust, Flowing Hair, and Turban Head gold coin designs. Scot died on November 1, 1823; he was succeeded as Cheif Engraver by William Kneass.
|Year Of Issue:||1799|
|Denomination:||One Cent (USD)|
|Mint Mark:||None (Philadelphia)|
|OBV Designer||Robert Scot|
|REV Designer||Robert Scot|
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