The exact number of surviving Washington Roman Head cents is unknown although the total is clearly small, given the number of pieces that appear in auctions. In Heritage’s own sales since the beginning of their Permanent Auction Archives in 1993, just four auction appearances represent three different coins.
The most recent was a PR61 Brown specimen that we sold in the Heritage 2011 FUN sale for $66,125. The same coin appeared in the May 2008 auction, where it realized $92,000. The piece Heritage will be offering in the upcoming March Sacramento Signature ANA US Coin Auction, is far finer, grading Proof 64, and is pictured here.
Walter Breen told of the history of the Roman Head cent in his Complete Encyclopedia, attributing its origin to John Gregory Hancock, a young engraver at the Westwood Mint in Birmingham, England. Breen went so far as to say that the engraver was portraying Washington “as a degenerate, effeminate Roman emperor.”
More recently, in the Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins, Dave Bowers suggests an entirely different concept, writing that “the Roman Head cent depicts Washington dressed in the style of a Roman official, a popular way of honoring him, at least in memory.”
The Roman Head cents are part of the Conder token series and were made strictly for cabinet or collecting purposes, each showing a mirrored proof finish as seen on this example. Both sides have glossy brown surfaces with the fields and devices showing a mirrored finish. While small and scattered surface marks are visible, accumulating over more than two centuries of its existence, none stand out singularly.