Steel-Brown 1793 S-1 AMERI. Cent1793 Chain 1C AMERI. AU53 PCGS. S-1, B-1, R.4. Bland XF40; tied for CC-11. Noyes VF35; CC-12. Photo #33333. Our EAC Grade XF40.
Equivalents. Crosby-Levick 1A; Frossard 1, first reverse; Proskey 1; Doughty 1; Crosby 1-A; McGirk 1-A, 1-G; EAC 1; Encyclopedia 1632; PCGS #1340.
Variety. Widest date of all Chain cents. Legend abbreviated AMERI. The obverse appears on S-1 and S-2. The famous Abbreviated Reverse die was only used for S-1, taken out of service when a large piece of the die broke away over TAT. The edge of all the Chain cents consists of a Vine and Bars design, as on most of the Wreath cents. At about the time of the Civil War, this edge was commonly called "Stars and Stripes." A continuous chain of 15 links appears on the reverse, one for each state at the time (Kentucky became the 15th state in 1792). The public disapproved of the initial design concept intended to represent unity of the country, feeling that the chain suggested slavery.
Surfaces. Excellent surfaces with the sharpness slightly finer than the net grade. Both sides have smooth steel-brown and dark olive color with only the slightest handling marks expected for the grade. A faint scratch across the neck into the hair and another at the chin are the only visible provenance markers, with a few fainter scratches and other blemishes mostly hidden in the devices. Traces of cartwheel luster remain on both sides.
Die State III. This piece represents an intermediate die state with faint clash marks below the bust truncation, but no evidence of the die crack that eventually forms through the tops of TATE. Aspects of this piece seem to meet Breen's criteria of different die states recorded in his Large Cent Encyclopedia. While the clash marks of Breen's Die State III are faintly visible on the obverse, there is no indication of the die bulge over the U on the reverse, recorded for State II.
Appearances. The obverse and reverse are illustrated in Noyes (2006).
Census. Several high-grade examples of the Chain AMERI variety are known, including two Mint State pieces and four others that grade AU. Breen often explained the existence of high grade coins by stating they were saved as the first of their kind. No documentation is known to support such a claim. Just seven of the top 15 pieces were known prior to 1900.
Commentary. Most numismatists consider the Chain AMERI. to be the first variety struck, and therefore the first American coin produced at the new Philadelphia Mint. Sheldon wrote in Early American Cents: "This coin is in strong demand at all times, and the high value arises in part from the fact that it is the first coin struck for circulation at the U.S. Mint." His comments are equally valid today, nearly 60 years after he wrote them. Although considered just Rarity-4, with 150 to 200 examples known, the Chain AMERI. is hard to locate in higher grades due to a typical weak obverse, quickly affected by wear. Sheldon also noted that older cent collectors sometimes called this the "weak obverse" variety. It is unknown who was the first to identify the Chain AMERI. cent as a new variety, although it was clearly discovered before publication of the Crosby-Levick plate in 1869.
The history of large cent collecting dates back to at least 1858, when Edward Cogan conducted a small sealed bid sale of 77 large cents. Although he did not publish the results until 1862, it is clear that there were several active collectors in the late 1850s. The 77 pieces realized a total of $128.68, for an average of $1.67 each. While seeming unimpressive today, the results were astonishing at the time.
In the 1860s some numismatists discouraged collecting these "insignificant" pieces. In the introduction to his Monographs reference, John Adams quotes an 1865 address by Dr. Winslow Lewis, president of the Boston Numismatic Society, to the members: "Are we not somewhat degenerate at this present time in our Numismatic pursuits? Will the possession of fifty or sixty cents from the first coinage to this year, a series not certainly strikingly artistic nor elegantly suggestive, be called a lofty pursuit? Let us ... do all we can to discourage the folly of collecting worthless pieces of metal, whose sole value is their scarcity." Adams comments that the Boston society would soon devote entire evenings to large cents. Die variety references for 1793 and 1794 large cents were published in 1869, and critics were silenced.
Prior to the establishment of the Mint in Philadelphia, coinage in circulation consisted of a mixture of Colonial issues and foreign coins. Gold and silver coins were primarily issues from England, France, Spain, and Portugal, while copper coins included issues from those countries, as well as various state coinage issues and private tokens. As there was no standard coinage, the system created a nightmare for bankers, merchants, and consumers. Gold and silver issues were accepted at weight, based on their approximate content, requiring each merchant to test the pieces and weigh them.
David Rittenhouse submitted an assay report to Congress on January 7, 1793 (reprinted in American State Papers), indicating the content of various gold and silver coins then in common circulation. David Ott conducted the actual assay work, indicating that Spain used the lowest quality gold and Portugal, the highest. Similar assays were conducted periodically for many years, as long as various world coinage remained in circulation. Although weighing was still necessary, those assays lessened the need to test individual pieces.
Provenance. Purchased in 1941 by J.S. Gensheimer (Stack's, 2/1951), lot 396, $240; Willard C. Blaisdell; J.J. Teaparty (1976); Ed Hipps; Dean Oakes; Julian Leidman (7/1994); John B. MacDonald; Denis W. Loring.
Personality. John B. MacDonald is a retired manufacturer's representative from Dayton, Ohio. Consulting initially with Jack Borckardt and later with Denis Loring, MacDonald formed several specialty collections of high-grade cents, his favorite being the cents of 1793. Three of Walter Husak's four Chain cents are from the MacDonald Collection. (NGC ID# 223G, Variety PCGS# 35432, Base PCGS# 1340)
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