Copper cents in the early years of the country had a checkered history. The large cents were not the most easily handled, but they were extensively used because the denomination was convenient for small transactions. The Mint, however, had trouble producing the coins because of poor quality copper supplies, problems in creating the dies, inexperienced staff (compromised by frequent outbreaks of yellow fever), and equipment that was not well-suited for the task. At times the face value of the cent was less than its production cost, and Congress more than once considered transferring the coin-making effort to private hands. Robert Scot and John Smith Gardner had worked on the previous Liberty Cap design, and both also contributed to the production of the Draped Bust design, along with Assistant Coiner Adam Eckfeldt. Introduced in 1796, the Draped Bust type overlaps the last year of the Liberty Cap series. Scot’s Liberty was based on a portrait done by well-known artist Gilbert Stuart, but Stuart apparently was dissatisfied with the coin engraving efforts and at the time disavowed his connection to the process.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
Like many early U.S. coin issues, the Draped Bust cent has its share of anecdotes. The 1799 cent was not the lowest mintage of the type, but the coin is scarce or rare in all grades, which some attribute to a large amount being lost at sea during transit to Africa as part of the slave trade. A bag of one thousand cents was purchased by Senator Benjamin Goodhue for his daughters in late 1797 or early 1798, and was preserved by the family for several generations. Sold by David Nichols around 1863, this hoard was the source for many existing Mint State 1796 and 1797 pieces. The 1804 restrike cent was produced around 1860, possibly by Joseph Mickley, from dies sold as scrap metal by the Mint. The dies were retooled because they were rusted, the obverse 1804 date was altered from 1803, and the reverse was that an 1820 cent. Though of interest as a curiosity, these generally poor quality restrikes do not carry the same value as the official Mint-produced pieces.
On the obverse a youthful Liberty faces right, long hair cascading down the back of her neck, with a decorative headband ribbon tied at the back. Shoulders and neckline are loosely draped with rippled cloth. The word LIBERTY is centered at the top inside the border dentils, with the date centered at the bottom. The reverse displays UNITED STATES OF AMERICA inside of, though separated from, a dentilled rim. Two laurel branches with individual berries form an interior circle with branch tips separate at the top, but tied by a ribbon at the bottom. Inside the wreath at the coin’s center is ONE CENT, each word on a separate line, and the denomination is repeated at the bottom as the fraction 1/100 (with a horizontal separator) below the bow.
A few thousand circulation strike Draped Bust cents have been certified, though many varieties are represented by fewer than 10 pieces in census/ population reports. No proof examples are known and all coins were minted at Philadelphia. Prices are moderate for many issues up to low VF grades, but rise to expensive in AU grades, becoming very expensive as Select Uncirculated and finer. Higher priced coins are 1796 LIHERTY; 1799 and 1799/8; 1803 Large Date, Small Fraction; 1804 original issues; and 1807/6 Small 7. No prooflike examples are listed in census/ population reports, but surface color is noted with red (RD), red-brown (RB), and brown (BN) designations. Red-brown coins have moderate premiums over brown pieces. Those pieces designated as red often have significant jumps in prices over brown or red-brown examples, sometimes at multiples of two or three times, particularly in higher grades.
Designer: Robert Scot, with contributions by John Smith Gardner and Adam Eckfeldt
Circulation Mintage: high 1,405,000 (1837), low 70,000 (1838-O)
Proof Mintage:none known
Denomintion: $0.01 One cent (01/100)
Diameter: ±29 mm; plain edge. An 1797 variety has a gripped edge (an irregular incuse pattern).
Metal content: 100% copper
Weight: ±10.89 grams
Varieties: Extensively studied, many known, including 1796 Reverse of 1794, Reverse of 1795, and Reverse of 1796; 1796 LIHERTY, from a rotated and repunched B; 1797 Gripped Edge, Stems, and Stemless; 1798/7; 1798 Reverse of 1796 and Style 1 and Style 2 Hair; 1799/8; 1800/1798 and 1800/79; 1801 1/000 and 100/000 (wrong and corrected fractions); 1802 1/000; 1802 Stemless; 1803 Small and Large Date, and Small and Large Fraction; 1803 100/000 and Stemless; 1807/6 Small 1807 and Large 1807; 1807 Small Fraction and Large Fraction; 1804 Private Restrike, from dies discarded by the Mint; and numerous other minor die variations.
Additional Resources :
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
Early American Coppers: www.eacs.org
Walter BreenÕs Encyclopedia of Early United States Cents 1793-1814. Walter Breen, Mark Borckardt (Editor). Bowers and Merena Galleries.
United States Large Cents 1793-1814. William C. Noyes. William C. Noyes.
Penny Whimsy. William H. Sheldon. Quarterman Publications.
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.