Monumental 1792 Fusion Alloy Cent Pattern
1792 P1C One Cent, Judd-2, Pollock-2, Low R.7, VF30 PCGS. As
time passes, the announcements of newly discovered numismatic
rarities become fewer and farther between. The reason for this is
obvious and requires no explanation. Imagine the excitement, then,
on August 21, 2004, when a family from New York state walked into
the ANA convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with an extremely
rare coin that was completely unknown to the numismatic community;
a midgrade 1792 pattern cent, Judd-2. News of the discovery spread
quickly at the convention and was even reported on a nationwide
level by the mainstream media, mainly due to the financial value of
the coin. But to coin collectors, dealers, and researchers, the
historical significance of the piece transcended the potential
market value, and the numismatic world rejoiced in the find. Until
it was sold at auction in February 2005, it is believed the 1792
pattern cent had been in the same family since striking, although
that claim cannot be definitively proven. According to the family,
the coin was kept in a Prince Albert tobacco tin with a small group
of insignificant coins by their grandfather, who passed away in
1976, 200 years after America declared independence from Great
Britain. What is certain is that the family members are direct
descendants of a signer of the Declaration of Independence: Oliver
Wolcott (December 1, 1726-December 1, 1797). According to the Rev.
Charles Goodrich in his Lives of the Signers of the Declaration
of Independence (1856), he was also an officer in King George's
War and the Revolutionary War, as well as the fourth governor of
Connecticut. His son, Oliver Wolcott, Jr., eventually became a
Connecticut governor as well but, more significantly to
numismatists, was Secretary of the Treasury from 1795 to 1800 by
the direct appointment of President George Washington. He was
preceded in office by the first Secretary of the Treasury,
Alexander Hamilton, who was instrumental in the establishment of
the nation's first Mint in 1792. By all rights, both Oliver Wolcott
and Oliver Wolcott, Jr., were founding fathers and had direct ties
to the first U.S. Mint.
High Condition Census
The Mint Act of April 2, 1792, quickly laid the foundation for the nation's coinage. Employees were hired and a building was erected, commencing July 31, 1792. But before the building was completed, the first patterns, half dismes, were produced. These tiny pieces were struck at John Harper's workshop at the corner of Sixth and Cherry streets in Philadelphia from silver deposited by George Washington, according to an essay by Michael Berkman as found on uspatterns.com. By the end of September, the facility was completed and rudimentary minting equipment installed. Shortly thereafter, the disme patterns were struck, this time within the recently erected walls of the new Mint. Next came at least three different cent patterns, details of which, to this day, are not completely understood. Fortunately a letter penned by Thomas Jefferson to George Washington on December 18, 1792, exists to provide some basic yet succinct information regarding the nation's first cent patterns:
"Th. Jefferson has the honor to send the President two cents made on Voigt's plan by putting a silver plug worth ¾ of a cent into a copper worth ¼ cent. Mr. Rittenhouse is about to make a few by mixing the same plug by fusion with the same quantity of copper. He will then make of copper alone of the same size, and lastly he will make the real cent as ordered by Congress, four times as big."
Jefferson's letter is important in that it delineates the various proposals from which one format would be selected as the basis of the official one cent piece. The first three patterns mentioned in the letter are the Silver Center cent (Judd-1), the Fusion Alloy cent (Judd-2), and the Copper cent (also Judd-2), all to be struck from the same set of dies and from planchets of the same diameter and thickness. Jefferson's careful wording regarding the methodology of the experiment is significant. Tying Jefferson's letter to an entry dated December 17 in Henry Voigt's second account book, which states, "struck off a few pieces of copper coins," it can be reasonably assumed that these "few pieces" were the Silver Center cent patterns, two of which were sent to President Washington by Jefferson, the Secretary of State.
Although not previously conjectured in past or current research documentation, one can easily conclude that the Fusion Alloy and the Copper patterns were sacrificial pieces that were used to sell the Congressional Committee on Voigt's Silver Center cent idea. Obviously, the Copper pattern was struck for the sole purpose of illustrating that the Fusion Alloy pieces, a 3:1 mixture of copper to silver called billon, could be easily counterfeited. Neither the members of Congress or merchants would not have had the ability to distinguish between the Fusion Alloy cents and bogus copper pieces; the color and weight would have been too similar. Since the Mint Act of 1792 required that the nation's first coinage have intrinsic value, the Copper pattern would have been far too light at approximately 65 grains (based on weights sampled from a few Judd-2 survivors). The Act of 1792 mandated that the new cents contain 264 grains of copper, an unreasonably large size considering that the cents were to be the workhorse of the nation's fledgling monetary system. The fourth option mentioned by Jefferson, the "real cent" pattern, was probably never produced. Various researchers in recent times have stated that these patterns were the Birch cents, but it is now accepted that those patterns were actually struck before the completion of the Mint. The Mint Act of January 14, 1793, which stated that "every cent shall contain two hundred and eight grains of copper" would have eliminated the need for Rittenhouse to make the fourth pattern for the Congressional Committee's review and no record of its production exists.
If the Fusion Alloy and Copper pattern pieces were indeed decoy pieces to make the Silver Center cent patterns more appealing to the members of the committee, that would partially explain the poor quality of the handful of known survivors. The finest known Judd-2 is the specimen in the National Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, which displays smooth, lightly circulated surfaces that are free of defects. The few other survivors all display varying degrees of surface roughness, weak strikes, and other problems. To the contrary, the Silver Center examples are typically well struck on better planchets and are of relatively high grade. One possible explanation is that Chief Coiner Voigt made the Silver Center pieces and Mint Director Rittenhouse was responsible for the Fusion Alloy and Copper patterns. In reality, considering that Voigt reported directly to Rittenhouse in this small, newly formed government facility, the two men more than likely worked together on all of the pattern cents. Such is the ongoing mystery surrounding these artifacts of the earliest hours of our nation's first Mint. To add to the confusion, the few references on the subject of the first pattern coins of the United States blatantly contradict each other. The fact is that we may never know specific details, such as who engraved the dies for any of these early patterns. Names such as Eckfeldt, Wright, Voigt, and Birch are juggled about as possible engravers for the various issues, but conclusive evidence to support any claims has not yet surfaced. Other conflicting opinions exist regarding the reason why the Silver Center cent idea was rejected. Most researchers suggest that the idea was overly time-consuming and costly, yet a contemporary newspaper account directly opposes that reasoning. From the January 8, 1793, edition of Argus (Boston, Massachusetts):
"It is proposed by some person connected with the Mint of the United States, in order to make the real value of the copper coinage equal to the nominal, and, at the same time, reduce the piece to a convenient size, to introduce a Silver Stud of a certain size in the coin, though a hole in its centre, and after this operation, to coin it so that the silver shall bear part of the impression. The idea is certainly ingenious, and the improvement, it is said, is not difficult of execution, nor does it increase [sic] the labour in any material degree. One objection to this mode of coining strikes at first view: ---Whether it might not be a temptation to counterfeit, by coining with studs of base white metal.--- Perhaps, however, the silver saved in this way may not be equal to the expense [sic] of coining, and then the objection falls to the ground."
The many opinions regarding the particulars of the 1792 pattern coins will not rise above the status of theory unless some form of contemporary documentation, or other evidence, surfaces to support any such assertion. But the resulting mystique is partially what makes these early patterns so appealing to such a broad audience.
The relatively new discovery coin offered in this lot represents the third finest known examples of Judd-2. The cataloger of the Norweb Collection, Michael Hodder, identified the known examples of Judd-2 at that time. The following list is a modification of Hodder's census:
1. National Collection, Smithsonian Institution
2. Norweb; Ex: Parmelee, Brand, Mehl
3. Madison Collection; Ex: Wolcott family, Goldberg (now PCGS VF30)
4. Garrett; Ex: Seavey, Maris
5. ANR (8/2006); Ex: Lauder, Linett, Henderson, B&M (ex-PCGS VG10, now NGC Fine 15)
6. ANA Museum; Ex: Paramount, Bowers and Ruddy, Robins, Pine Tree
8. Lohr; Ex: Bowers and Ruddy, Stack's
9. Appleton-MHS; Ex: Crosby
The census in the November 1988 Norweb sale listed eight examples of Judd-2. Since that time, a new piece has been discovered, this coin. Two others now have questionable status: The Lohr specimen is possibly a counterfeit, having been returned to Stack's for that reason, and the location of the Appleton-MHS coin is unknown. With the addition of the current coin to the census, and excluding the two disputed coins, the total number of extant Judd-2 pattern cents is now believed to be seven pieces. Coinfacts.com suggests that "approximately 10 (are) known" to exist, with the inclusion of the ANS and Adams-Woodin specimens. Therefore, we can conservatively state that fewer than 10 examples of Judd-2 are known in all grades. However, the classification of the survivors into either the Fusion Alloy or Copper cent categories is unknown, with the exception of the Harmer-Rooke piece.
Whether the composition of the pattern in this lot is billon or plain copper is also unknown, although the weight suggests a mixture of copper and silver. Before encapsulation by PCGS in August 2004, this specimen weighed 69.21 grains. The second finest Judd-2, the Norweb piece, weighs 62.2 grains, and number four in the Condition Census, the Garrett specimen, weighs 63.1 grains. Interestingly, the ANA Judd-2 weighs 70.2 grains. Now consider the weights of the known Judd-1 Silver Center cents: The Garrett example weighs 70.5 grains while the Norweb-Hain piece is documented at 69.9 grains. Until now, only one example of a Fusion Alloy Judd-2 pattern has been authenticated by metallurgical testing--the Harmer-Rooke piece.
The remaining few Judd-2 survivors have been considered to be of copper only, for reasons unknown. It is highly likely that at least a few of the extant Judd-2 patterns are actually of the Fusible Alloy version, including this piece and the ANA specimen. Having a more balanced distribution of billon and copper Judd-2 patterns is more logical than the current consensus opinion of researchers that all but one piece was struck in copper. Perhaps one day the eminent numismatic researchers of our day will measure all known Judd-2 survivors under controlled conditions and another piece of the puzzle will be solved.
As it stands, everyone must agree that the pattern cents of 1792 are historic, enchanting, and exceedingly rare. Few relics have such a tangible link to the earliest days of our first Mint, and the foundation of our nation's coinage. The successful bidder of this lot will inherit custodianship of one of the most significant pieces of Americana known to the numismatic community, thereby becoming an integral part of its history. Listed on page 85 of the 2008 Guide Book. Population: 1 in 30, 0 finer (12/07).
Ex: Wolcott family; Anthony Terranova (Ira & Larry Goldberg, 5/05), lot 806; Donna Levin and Denis Loring; The Madison Collection.
From The Madison Collection. (NGC ID# 2949, PCGS# 11004)
View all of [The Madison Collection ]
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