The Chain cents produced early in 1793 received immediate criticism. The obverse Liberty was considered an unflattering portrait of the symbol of freedom, particularly in the rendition of the hair which was described as unkempt or even savage in appearance. The reverse chain motif, apparently intended to represent the unity of the states, was instead likened to the chains of slavery; an impression unfortunately reinforced by coins produced from clashed dies which display a hint of the chain in front of Liberty’s face.
To address these criticisms Director David Rittenhouse ordered new coinage dies made by Adam Eckfeldt, from which 63,353 cents were produced by July of 1793. The new designs included a more classical portrait of Liberty, though the wildly flowing hair was retained, albeit with some refinement. The offending chains on the reverse were replaced by a wreath that included strands of berries, producing a design that today is admired for its simple elegance.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
Up to 4,500 Wreath Cents are believed to have survived from a distribution that occurred over two hundred years ago. Many were apparently saved by local citizens as keepsakes, but a significant number were also acquired and put away by British collectors as representatives of the coinage of the former colonies.
A right-facing, somewhat classical rendition of Liberty is centered on the obverse, her wildly swept hair loosely clumped together and streaming to the back. The word LIBERTY is centered at the top and the date 1793 at the bottom. Above the date but below the severely truncated neck line is a three-leaf sprig. A rare variant replaces this branch with a cluster of three-part leaves and a small blossom. A circle of beads follows along the rim of the planchet.
The reverse also has a beaded rim, though positioned more toward the center, with a concentric circle formed by UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the denomination of 1/100 just to the inside of the beads. The center displays two curved branches with leaves tied at the bottom with a flowing ribbon, forming a wreath that encloses ONE CENT. Several branches holding two, three, or more berries fan out from the center stems of the wreath. The identity of the leaves composing the wreath has been debated, but they are most often described as cotton or laurel, the former representing the nation’s agriculture and the latter a symbol of victory and peace.
The edge of early issues has vertical bars and vines while later coins have the text ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR followed by a single or double leaf.
Although several hundred Wreath Cents have been certified, all coins of the type are expensive, extremely so for anything graded as Fine or better. NGC and PCGS census/ population reports show about three dozen coins graded Choice or finer, and though no true proofs are known a couple of high-end examples have been labeled as specimens. The Strawberry Leaf variety is known by only four examples, all extremely expensive and all heavily worn.
Designer: Henry Voigt, modified by Adam Eckfeldt
Circulation Mintage:63,353 (produced only in 1793)
Proof Mintage: None
Denomintion: $0.01, One cent (01/100)
Diameter: ±26-28 mm; ornamented edge with Vine and vertical Bars or ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR followed by a single or double leaf
Metal content: 100% copper
Weight: ±13.48 grams
Varieties:The Vine and Bar and Lettered edges are the main varieties, from which just over a dozen variations are listed. The most rare is the Strawberry Leaf variety with an obverse sprig of three-part (trefoil) leaves and a small flower.
Additional Resources :
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
Early American Coppers: www.eacs.org
Walter Breen’s 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.
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.