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Glossy Olive-Brown 1793 S-5 Wreath Cent

1793 1C Wreath, Vine and Bars Edge. MS62 Brown PCGS. S-5, B-6, R.4. Bland AU50; tied for CC-6. Noyes AU50; tied for CC-7. Photo #59278. Our EAC Grade AU50.

Crosby-Levick 4C; Frossard 4; Proskey 7; Doughty 7; Crosby 6-F; McGirk 2-C; EAC 6; Encyclopedia 1637; PCGS #1347.

Large date and LIBERTY. The bow is small and heavy. The obverse appears on S-5. The reverse appears on S-5, S-6, S-7, and NC-5. The obverse has large letters in LIBERTY, similar to the earlier Chain cents. All remaining Wreath cent obverses have smaller letters. Vine and Bars Edge.

Above-average surfaces have attractive olive and steel-brown color, with a tiny nick on the cheek that is the only obvious provenance marker on either side. Both sides are glossy with traces of luster in the protected areas, especially visible on the reverse. Sharply struck and nicely centered with a full border.

Die State I.
Early die state with no evidence of rim crumbling over LIBERTY. The border beads at the upper right merge, giving the general appearance of denticles. A faint reverse die crack joins the tops of TE in UNITED to a bead just left of the adjacent D, called die chips by Breen.

The obverse is illustrated in Early American Cents and Penny Whimsy. The obverse and reverse are illustrated in Noyes (2006).

Five Mint State pieces and three AU coins are recorded in Del Bland's Census, including a remarkable prooflike coin that Breen considered to be a specimen strike. One of the Mint State pieces is held by the ANS.

Commentary. The large letters in LIBERTY are more closely related to the Chain cents than to any other Wreath cents, so Sheldon-5 is placed first in the emission sequence for these early coins. Walter Breen suggests that the design was Mint Director David Rittenhouse's answer to published criticism of the Chain design that appeared in contemporary newspapers.

In Early American Cents, Sheldon wrote: "This is a beautiful coin, nearly always well struck, of excellent aesthetic proportions, and, for practical purposes at least, it is considered the first of the Wreath cents. It is possibly the first American cent to have met with popular approval." Nine years later, in Penny Whimsy, he shortened his comments: "Sometimes called the most beautiful Wreath cent."

Like the earlier Chain cents, the new Wreath design is attributed to Henry Voigt, chief coiner for the earliest days of the Mint. Elias Boudinot's February 1795 report to Congress confirms this attribution: "It was also a considerable time before an engraver could be engaged, during which, the chief coiner was obliged to make the dies for himself." Less than four weeks' time elapsed between the last delivery of Chain cents on March 12 and the first delivery of Wreath cents on April 9.

The Act of April 2, 1792, establishing the Mint specified that the cent shall contain 11 pennyweight of copper, equal to 264 grains. Perhaps Congress had misgivings about the production of copper coinage at full value, or perhaps the price of copper had risen after passage of the April Act, as an Act dated January 14, 1793, amended the original legislation, reducing the statutory weight of the cent to 208 grains.

Congress passed a lesser-known Mint Act on May 8, 1792, authorizing the director to purchase copper for coinage of cents and half cents as soon as practical. The first section of the Act provided that the director had approval to purchase copper in an amount not exceeding 150 tons. The second section required public notice after a sum of $50,000 in cents and half cents had been paid into the Treasury. The notice, to be "announced by the treasurer in at least two gazettes or newspapers, published at the seat of government of the United States" required penalties for the use of other copper issues, including Colonials and tokens. Neither of the two provisions was an immediate concern, as it was not until 1801 that the Mint had fulfilled the provision to purchase 150 tons of copper, and Mint records indicate that the sum of $50,000 in cents and half cents was not met until March 6, 1800.

Provenance. J.P. Lyman (S.H. Chapman, 11/1913), lot 390, $112; Elmer S. Sears; Virgil M. Brand (2/1941); B.G. Johnson (St. Louis Stamp and Coin Co.); Oscar Pearl (Numismatic Gallery, 1944 fixed price list), lot 4, $1,400; Charles M. Williams (Numismatic Gallery, 11/1950), lot 7, $710; Harold Bareford (9/1985); Herman Halpern (12/1986); C. Douglas Smith; Allan J. Kollar; Superior Galleries (5/2005), lot 1012, $71,300.

Personality. Burdette G. Johnson was born in DeSoto, Missouri, on January 2, 1885, and lived in St. Louis, where he was proprietor of St. Louis Stamp and Coin Company. He and a partner, David Sutherland, bought the business from F.E. Ellis in July 1907, and Johnson bought out his partner a year later. From 1902 to 1915, the firm conducted 36 coin auctions. Johnson was instrumental in the numismatic education of Eric Newman, refusing to sell any coin to him until the young collector could recite a history of the coin. In later years, the association of Johnson and Newman brought many numismatic rewards, including the acquisition of material from the Col. Green estate. (NGC ID# 223H, Variety PCGS# 35447, Base PCGS# 1347)

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Auction Dates
February, 2008
14th-16th Thursday-Saturday
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