Gem Mint State 1793 Wreath Cent, the Next Million Dollar Cent, Acquired by Tom Pilitowski
US Rare Coin Investments has acquired an historic and significant 1793 Gem Mint State Vine and Bars Wreath Cent, S-9, B-12. Finding a Gem Wreath Cent is rather remarkable since they are usually seen in low grades with numerous problems. This outstanding one is certified MS65 BN by PCGS and also comes with a CAC (Collectors Acceptance Corp) approval sticker. The coin has spectacular eye-appeal. Its light brown and olive surfaces are splashed with bits of mint red in some of the protected areas. There is also a small area of darker patina on the reverse at ATES. The boldly struck design motifs are well centered on hard, reflective fields. The dentils are complete and strong on both sides. The few marks that appear on both sides were probably on the planchet before the coin was struck.
In its population report, PCGS shows one Wreath Cent, S-9, the present coin in MS65 BN condition with one finer at MS65+BN. (PCGS also list a Wreath Cent at MS69BN, which was auctioned as an S-9 variety.) At NGC the finest S-9 in their Consensus is an MS62 BN piece. As of June 2014, the present coin is the finest and only specimen confirmed by CAC at the Gem MS65 BN grade level.
Early in 1793 the first United States cent was issued. The Chain Cent, designed by Henry Voigt, was not well received. Liberty seemed to be in a fright; her unkempt look conveyed fear not peace or strength, and the chain links of the reverse reminded the populace of bondage, tyranny, or slavery not freedom and unity, which they were trying to symbolize. In April the new design was used. Adam Eckfeldt created the dies from sketches provided by David Rittenhouse, the Mint Director. (Earlier credit for the design was given to Henry Voigt by Yeoman in the Guide Book; however, there is speculation that neither man designed the coin since neither was trained as an engraver or had the skill.) The Wreath Cent shows a more sophisticated view of Liberty than on the Chain Cent. It better reflects the French influence of Augustin Dupre’s Libertas Americana Medal of 1776, which was engraved at the behest of Benjamin Franklin in 1782. Although the profile is reversed and the Phrygian cap and pole are missing, the portrait on the Wreath Cent resembles Liberty of the medal with her strong profile reminiscent of Greco-Roman sculpture. The streaming hair shows Dupre’s attempt to convey the feeling of excitement among intellectuals in France and in the colonies as the United States came into existence. Because early Americans were used to thinking in terms of pounds, shillings, and pence, the fraction beneath the wreath told them what the denomination meant and serves to remind us that it was a new concept for them. The design included a cotton sprig above the date and the use of linear strings of berries woven into the wreath. The wreath seems to be made of bay laurel with strands of cotton woven in adjacent to CENT. It is unclear what the strings of berries were intended to represent. Between April and July the whole production run took place. The yellow fever epidemic then forced the mint to close. In September the Liberty Cap Cent was issued, making it the third major design change for the year.
The modern history of the coin is seen in its provenance. Thomas Elder sold it to Henry Miller in 1917; it went from the noted dealer B. Max Mehl to Dr. George P. French in 1929; in 1933 Henry A. Sternberg acquired it from the J.C. Morgenthau sale; it was subsequently owned by Charles Green in 1954, Dr. William Sheldon, Virgil Brand, Dorothy Paschal, and, most recently, Dean Oakes.
The early Mint in Philadelphia had many challenges. Conditions were poor even at times chaotic. Each of the specialists, the designers, engravers, and press operators were men who had previously worked in other fields. Coin manufacturing was a new trade for them. Production was sporadic. For the new Mint to coin each of the mandated denominations, it took four years. This delay was partly because of inexperience and governmental obstacles. Bonds that were unrealistically high were impediments to engravers working with precious metals. Congress was not united on the need for a government mint since private and foreign coinage seemed to work. Because of the non-existent or low production numbers in the early years of the Mint, foreign copper, silver and gold circulated along with American made coins for many years until they were later demonetized.
Record keeping in the Mint’s early years was fairly inaccurate. At the end of the eighteenth century Philadelphia had recovered from the British occupation and Revolutionary War. It was the second largest city in the English-speaking world, but it could do nothing to protect its citizens from the mosquito-borne epidemic of yellow fever. Thomas Jefferson described the epidemic in the summer of 1793, “It has now got into most parts of the city [Philadelphia] and is considerably infectious….At first 3 out of 4 died. Now about 1 out of 3. It comes on with a pain in the head, sick stomach, then a little chill, fever, black vomiting and stools, and death from the 2nd to the 8th day.” Wealthy citizens went to the countryside to escape, but the poor grimly waited their fate. Of course these annual epidemics caused havoc with all manufacturing that required continuity, such as a coinage sequence. The Mint shut operations during the late summer and early fall every year. In addition to yellow fever, disorder at the Mint was also caused by chronic bullion shortages and coin dies that would wear out and had to be re-engraved because they were not taken out of production until they failed completely. Often dies were locked up and later taken out of storage without great attention and care.
Speaking of the S-9 Wreath Cent, Tom Pilitowski, president of US Rare Coin Investments said, “The coin is a fabulous example of its type and variety. It represents outstanding value for a collector and would be an excellent addition to any fine numismatic cabinet. With a provenance such as this and the coin’s excellent appeal, it might well be a future million dollar Large Cent. This coin is destined for the finest early US coin collection or investment portfolio.”
Philadelphia, February 18, 1793: Supreme Court rules in Chisholm v. Georgia that a citizen of one state may sue a different state in federal court.
Philadelphia, February 28, 1793: Nine resolutions submitted in House against Hamilton’s policies.
Charleston, South Carolina, April 8, 1793: Citizen Edmond Charles Genet, French minister to United States, arrives seeking American support for French war effort.
United States, April 28, 1793: Jefferson on relations with France: “An injured friend is the bitterest of foes”.
Monticello, Virginia: Jefferson designs classic American plow, but does not patent it.
New York City: Noah Webster founds city’s first daily newspaper, American Minerva.