1792 Silver Center Cent, SP58+ Brown
1792 P1C Silver Center Cent, Judd-1, Pollock-1, Low R.7, SP58+
Brown PCGS Secure. CAC. Produced in the earliest days of the
United States Mint, at a time when the monetary system of the
country was just beginning to take shape, it is virtually
impossible to overstate the importance of the 1792 Silver Center
cent. With only 12 examples currently traced, it is among the
rarest and most historically interesting issues in all of American
coinage. Its distinctive bimetallic appearance is unlike any other
early American coin and this piece is an especially pleasing
example, with strongly impressed design elements and remarkably few
abrasions. Heritage Auctions is privileged to present this iconic
early pattern in just its fourth auction appearance since
Rare, Historic Early Pattern, Judd-1
The 1792 Patterns
The 1792 patterns are among the most valuable and important issues in all of American coinage. The first products of the United States Mint, these patterns represent the founding fathers' attempt to establish a useful and efficient monetary system for the new country. Based on specifications laid out in the Mint Act of 1792, the Silver Center cent, Fusible Alloy cent, Birch cent, half disme, disme, and Eagle on Globe quarter are the lineal ancestors of the coins we use in everyday life today, 226 years after their production. Although many of the designs were not ultimately adopted for regular coinage, the all-important concept of the decimal system, with the dollar as basic monetary unit, survives to the present day. The stability and durability of the U.S. monetary system can largely be attributed to the ingenuity and forward thinking embodied in these initial coinage efforts.
The Silver Center Cent
The Judd-1 Silver Center cent is arguably the most famous of the historic 1792 patterns. It was the nation's first bimetallic coin and the first documented striking of any coin within the confines of the First United States Mint. The Mint Act of 1792 specified the value of the cent as equivalent to 264 grains of copper, but it was felt that a copper coin of that size would be too unwieldy for practical use. The Silver Center cent was an effort to produce a coin with the intrinsic value of one cent in a more convenient, smaller size. The concept originated with famous patriot Thomas Paine, who outlined his thoughts on bimetallic coinage in a letter to then-Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson on September 28, 1790, a year and a half before the Mint Act was passed:
"The metal convenient for a coin under the silver coin, should not differ more in its value from silver than silver does from gold-and if it differed still less it would be better; but as the relative values now stand, the difference increases where convenience requires it should decrease. But as no such a metal, which convenience requires, exists naturally, the question is whether it will answer to produce it by composition.
"Of compositions, three methods present themselves-1st. Mixing silver and copper in fusion-2d. Plating the copper with silver-3d. Plugging the copper with silver. But against all these there are very capital objections. Wherever there is a want of satisfaction there must necessarily be a want of confidence; and this must always take place in all compounded metals. There is also a decrease in the intrinsic value of metals when compounded; one shilling worth of silver compounded with one shilling worth of copper, the composition is not worth two shillings, or what the metals were worth before they were compounded, because they must again be separated to acquire their utmost value, and this only can be done at a refiner's [sic]. It is not what the coin cost to make, but what the coin is intrinsically worth when made; that only can give it currency in all cases. Plugging copper with silver is the least detrimental to the intrinsic value of the metals, because they are the easiest separated; but in all these cases the value of the silver put into the composition will be so predominant to the value of the copper, that it will be rather a base silver coin than a copper coin."
Paine concluded the difficulties of producing a bimetallic coin were too great for practical utility, and favored a fiat copper currency, with only token intrinsic value, in lieu of the cent. His ideas apparently stayed with Jefferson over the next two years. At some point, Jefferson passed the concepts on to Henry Voigt, who became Chief Coiner after the establishment of the Mint. Voigt and Mint Director David Rittenhouse produced several patterns for the cent in 1792, including the Judd-1 Silver Center cent and Judd-2 Fusible Alloy cent, which incorporated two of the three solutions Paine had suggested in his 1790-dated letter. A note in Voigt's journal indicates the first Silver Center cents were struck on December 17, 1792. Jefferson reported the following to President George Washington the next day:
"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 of a 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."
The small-size copper cent Jefferson mentioned may have been intended to model the fiat copper coinage Paine suggested as an alternative to the bimetallic coinage, while the proposed large copper pieces became known as the famous Birch cents (Judd-3 through 5). In the end, none of the proposed cent patterns was deemed suitable for regular coinage, but the value of copper was reevaluated in 1793, and Congress lowered the specifications for the cent to 208 grains of pure copper. This made it possible to produce a copper cent with full intrinsic value that was not too large for practical purposes. The resulting "large" cents were produced the following year and served the U.S. economy admirably until 1857.
The Silver Center Cent in the 19th Century
Numismatists became aware of the Silver Center cent at an early date and it became a collector favorite as soon as the hobby became widely established in this country. Philadelphia collector Joseph Mickley mentioned an example in the collection of Jacob Giles Morris in his private diary in 1852. Morris (not to be confused with later collector Charles Morris) died in a shipwreck in 1854 and his coin later passed to collector R.C.H. Brock, who donated his collection to the University of Pennsylvania in 1898. The Morris (later Norweb) coin is the second-finest known.
Mickley acquired a specimen of the Silver Center cent himself at some point, probably before 1858, when he noted there were five different 1792 pattern cents in his pamphlet Dates of American Coins and Their Degrees of Rarity. John H. Hickox also wrote about the issue in 1858, specifically describing the Silver Center cent in his book An Historical Account of American Coinage. The issue was later described by Montroville W. Dickeson in 1859, James Ross Snowden in 1860, Sylvester Sage Crosby in 1874, and Robert Coulton Davis in 1885.
The Silver Center cent began appearing at auction at least as early as the John K. Wiggin Collection (Edward Cogan, 3/1862), lot 747. By 1884, the Chapman brothers knew of five examples (probably the Bushnell, Weinberg, Smithsonian, Queller, and Starr specimens). R.C.H. Brock acquired the coin that was later donated to the University of Pennsylvania before 1898, and it seems likely that Peter Gschwend (Garrett specimen) and William G. Stearns also had their coins by the end of the 19th century. The Newman, Partrick, Judd, and Terranova specimens all appeared for the first time in the 20th century.
The Present Coin
The coin offered here first surfaced in the Thomas Warner Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 6/1884). The Chapman's notes on this coin in lot 3215 of the catalog provide a good description of the design and outline the contemporary knowledge about the issue:
"1792. Cent. The Silver Centre. Head of Liberty, with flowing hair, facing r.; LIBERTY PARENT OF SCIENCE & INDUS.: 1792 under the bust. Rev. Laurel wreath, composed of two branches, tied by a ribbon, enclosing ONE CENT; outside of wreath, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, the fraction 1/100 beneath the knot of the bow. A silver plug inserted in centre of planchet before the piece was struck, the idea being to give the value of the metal. Edge milled. Sharp, strong, even impression. Extremely fine. The finest of the five known. Of excessive rarity and a very valuable coin which should increase greatly in price before many years. The United States Mint collection does not contain one. Bushnell's sold for $120, and this is a sharper impression and lighter color. See Plate XII."
The lot realized a strong price of $155, to coin dealer George Cogan, who may have been acting as an agent for someone else, or may have purchased the coin for inventory. In any case, the Chapman brothers handled the coin again a few years later, when they cataloged the collection of prominent numismatist Richard B. Winsor in December of 1895. The coin appeared in lot 291 of that sale:
"1792 Silver Centre Cent. Bust of Liberty with flowing hair, facing right, beneath bust 1792: around, LIBERTY PARENT OF SCIENCE AND INDUST. R. Wreath of myrtle, enclosing ONE CENT; beneath bow 1/100; around UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Borders and edge milled. Copper with silver plug inserted in the planchet before striking, so that now the silver bears its share of the impression and device - the idea being to have the value of the metal in the coin. Extremely fine. Light olive color. One of the finest examples of this excessively rare coin known. Probably not more than five exist. Cost $125. Plate. See Bushnell sale, No. 1766, sold for $120."
The lot brought another strong price of $127.50, this time to well-known dealer Édouard Frossard. Frossard died in 1899 and it is possible that he held on to this piece until his death, as the coin vanished for almost a century after its appearance in the Winsor catalog. It must have been moving outside of numismatic channels until it surfaced again in lot 233 of the Loye Lauder Collection (William Doyle Galleries, 12/1983). Loye Lauder was a mysterious figure, who shunned publicity and kept her collecting activities very low key. Rumored to be an heir to the Estee Lauder cosmetics fortune, we have not been able to establish her relationship to that famous Hungarian-born entrepreneur. Our best information indicates she was born in 1911 and died in 1964, so she must have acquired her numismatic collection before the later date. This makes her collecting life more or less contemporaneous with that of Emery May Holden Norweb. These two women both built remarkable collections at a time when female collectors of Colonial and early American coins were almost as rare as the coins themselves.
Lauder's collection was preserved intact by her estate for almost two decades after her death. Curiously, the collection was finally consigned to William Doyle Galleries, a firm that dealt mainly in antiques and had little experience with numismatic auctions. The timing of the sale was not ideal, as it took place three days after Stack's sold the remarkable Colonial collection of John Roper. Alan Weinberg had a strong interest in coins offered in both auctions. Unfortunately, he was unable to stay in New York long enough to attend both auctions himself, so he arranged for prominent dealer William Anton to represent him at the Lauder sale. Doyle Galleries conducted the sale in a manner more suited to an antiques auction than a numismatic event. In Alan's words, "Unbelievably, the format was a 'Dutch auction' - where the coin up for sale is offered at a high start price and, if no takers, keeps dropping until someone raises their arm." The 1792 Silver Center cent in lot 233 was initially offered at $70,000, the highest price Weinberg had authorized Anton to bid. Wisely, Anton refrained from bidding at that level and let the coin drop incrementally until it reached a $40,000 asking price. He judiciously placed his bid at that point, winning the lot, while other dealers looked on in astonishment. A week later, when the shock wore off, one of the dealers at the sale contacted Weinberg and offered him a $10,000 profit for the coin he won in this unorthodox fashion. Of course, he refused the offer. The coin has been a cornerstone of his remarkable collection for the intervening 35 years.
Alan Weinberg's Commentary: One of the best acquisitions I've made in over 58 years of collecting. This coin was auctioned by Doyle Galleries, a New York City antique auction house, out of the Loye Lauder Collection. The sale took place less than a week after Stack's classic John Roper auction, which I attended in December of 1983. The Roper sale included another Judd-1 with a severe quarter-inch reverse planchet lamination missing, which sold for $18,000 to Tony Terranova. I could not stay in New York another five days, so I had my good friend Bill Anton represent me at the Doyle auction. Bill did not need a Judd-1, since he already owned the "Morris" coin. Little did Bill realize that his Morris coin had a questionable silver plug.
Doyle's Lauder auction was a very peculiar "Dutch Auction" where they started the coin at $70,000 and worked their way down, with no one bidding and everyone sitting on their hands, to $40,000 before Bill raised his hand. Bam! The lot was immediately hammered closed, at half the catalog estimate. Jaws dropped throughout the auction room. A week later, I received a call from a prominent dealer who attended the auction offering me a $10,000 profit for the coin. I declined. I consider this coin the third-finest known, after the Garrett and Norweb examples. In some respects, it is even finer than the Norweb example, as that piece has a defect in the field at Liberty's forehead and a slight planchet clip at 10 o'clock that is now concealed by the holder.
The present coin is a Plus-graded near-Mint specimen, with pleasing olive-brown surfaces that show remarkably few abrasions. The coin is struck in medal turn. All design elements are sharply rendered, with fine detail in Liberty's hair and the veins of the leaves in the wreath. The silver plug shows a sharp double curve in Liberty's hairline on the obverse. The lower upright of N in ONE and most of EN in CENT are strongly impressed on the reverse of the plug. The base of E in CENT is tilted diagonally, pointing above the base of N. On close inspection, PCGS detected just the slightest trace of wear on the high points of the design, but the effects of this friction are virtually imperceptible. The obverse is struck slightly off center, with long, well-formed dentils on the right and shorter, weaker dentils on the left. As might be expected, the reverse is similarly off center, in the opposite direction. The obverse of the plug has a diameter of 2.8 mm, blending seamlessly into the surfaces of the coin. The plug has a reverse diameter of 2.95 mm, with a slight groove around the lower right side. The overall aesthetic appeal of this coin is arguably greater than that of some higher-graded specimens in the census. This coin has been off the market for three and a half decades and it may be many years before a comparable specimen becomes available.
This lot represents an important opportunity for the pattern specialist to acquire one of the finest examples of this challenging early issue, the first pattern listed in Judd's standard reference for the series. For the student of history, few American coins can claim such close association with so many founding fathers of this nation. The high technical quality of this particular coin is actually exceeded by its terrific eye appeal. The 1792 Silver Center cent is among the rarest and most valuable of all U.S. coins, but pride of ownership is perhaps the greatest attraction of this outstanding example.
1792 Silver Center Cent Roster
The following roster was expanded from earlier work by Scott Rubin, Saul Teichman, and Mark Borckardt with the important assistance of Wayne Burt, Stuart Levine, Pete Smith and Joel Orosz. Grades are per the last auction appearance, unless a more recent citation is known. Except for the Norweb specimen, the PCGS-graded coins are all pictured on the CoinFacts website. The Newman, Bushnell, and Queller examples are pictured on NGC Coin Explorer. The former Charles Morris and California specimens have been delisted, since recent research indicates their silver plugs are not original. A single specimen is also known without the silver plug.
1. Garrett Specimen, SP67 Brown PCGS. Peter Gschwend Collection (Thomas L. Elder, 6/1908), lot 116; Henry Chapman; James W. Ellsworth; purchased by Wayte Raymond and John Work Garrett via Knoedler Galleries in May of 1923; John Work Garrett; Johns Hopkins University; Garrett Collection, Part II (Bowers and Ruddy, 3/1981), lot 234; Joel Perlin; Kevin Lipton; John Albanese; Laura Sperber; reportedly purchased by Bob Simpson in 2012 for $5 million; Simpson Collection.
2. Norweb Specimen, SP65 Brown PCGS. Jacob Giles Morris, per Joseph Mickley; R.C.H. Brock Collection; University of Pennsylvania; Philip H. Ward; Charles Dochus; Harry Forman; New Netherlands Coin Company; purchased by the Norwebs on 3/14/1958; Norweb Collection (Bowers and Merena, 11/1988), lot 3392; Americana Sale (Stack's, 1/2002), lot 724; Ed Milas; Marvin Browder; purchased for $2.5 million and subsequently resold in 2011 by Stuart Levine, Joe O'Conner, and Anthony Terranova; Oliver Jung; ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/2014), lot 5517; realized $1,997,500. Pollock plate coin.
3. Newman Specimen, MS63+ Brown NGC. F.C.C. Boyd; Eric P. Newman; Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society; Selections From the Eric P. Newman Collection, Part IV (Heritage, 5/2014), lot 30426; realized $1,410,000.
4. Bushnell Specimen, MS61+ Brown NGC. Possibly Edward Cogan Collection (Edward Cogan, 4/1863), lot 1075, per New Netherlands catalog of 12/1958; Charles Ira Bushnell (S.H. & H. Chapman, 6/1882), lot 1766; Lorin G. Parmelee (New York Coin & Stamp Co., 6/1890), lot 5; Harlan Page Smith (S.H. & H. Chapman, 5/1906), lot 1315; George H. Earle (Henry Chapman, 6/1912), lot 2179; Carl Wurtzbach; Virgil M. Brand; Armin Brand; B.G. Johnson; Col. E.H.R. Green; Belden Roach Collection (B. Max Mehl, 2/1944), lot 3111; Will W. Neil Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1947), lot 1794; F. Eubanks; Stockmayer Collection (Stack's, 7/1952), lot 174; Mrs. R. Henry Norweb; Landau Sale (New Netherlands, 12/1958), lot 104; Corrado Romano Collection (Stack's, 6/1987), lot 143; Jay Parrino FPL; Americana Sale (Stack's, 1/1999), lot 143; 65th Anniversary Sale (Stack's, 10/2000), lot 56; Charles Anderson; Simpson Collection (2007-2011); John Albanese and Kevin Lipton; private collection; Todd Griffiths; Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2013), lot 4113; unknown intermediary; Kevin Lipton; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 9/2014), lot 3007. The 1914 ANS Exhibition plate coin; Standard Catalog plate coin; former Guide Book plate coin. The October 2000 Stack's catalog cites an appearance in "Stack's sale of January 3, 1952," but there was no such sale. Scott Rubin suggests this might be a misprint for the Stack's 7/1952 sale listed in the pedigree above.
5. Weinberg Specimen, SP58+ Brown PCGS. Thomas Warner Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 6/1884), lot 3215; George Cogan; Richard B. Winsor Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 12/1895), lot 291; Édouard Frossard; unknown intermediaries; Loye Lauder Collection (William Doyle Galleries, 12/1983), lot 233; Alan Weinberg. The present coin.
6. Smithsonian Specimen, AU. Robert Coulton Davis (New York Coin & Stamp, 1/1890), lot 1008a; John Story Jenks (Henry Chapman, 12/1921), lot 5569; Waldo Newcomer; F.C.C. Boyd; Lenox R. Lohr; Empire Coin (1961 FPL); River Oaks Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 11/1976), lot 908; New England Rare Coin Gallery; private sale; Robert Hughes; private collection; Smithsonian Institution. Judd plate coin for the ninth and 10th editions; current Guide Book plate coin.
7. Stearns Specimen, SP55 Red and Brown PCGS. C.H. Stearns Collection (Mayflower, 12/1966), lot 280; Lester Merkin; Henry P. Kendall Foundation; Kendall Collection (Stack's Bowers, 3/2015), lot 2576; Chuck Link.
8. Partrick Specimen, XF45+ NGC. Found in the wall of a renovated building in Doylestown, PA in 1965; Bernard Gimelson; Donald Groves Partrick; Partrick Collection (Heritage, 1/2015), lot 5501.
9. Judd Specimen, SP45 PCGS. Hersch, Levick, Farrell Collections (Thomas Elder, 10/1907), lot 1732; later, Dr. J. Hewitt Judd; Illustrated History (A. Kosoff, 1962), lot 19; Julian Leidman; Eastern Collector. The original Judd plate coin.
10. Terranova Specimen, SP35 PCGS Secure, CAC. Nigel Willmott; Glendining's Sale (1997); Kenneth Goldman, Stuart Levine, and Anthony Terranova; Larry Stack; Martin Oghigian; Oghigian Estate; ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/2016), lot 3951.
11. Queller Specimen, VF30 NGC. Joseph J. Mickley (W. Elliot Woodward, 10/1867), lot 2135; Colonel Mendes I. Cohen (Bangs, Merwin & Co. for Edward Cogan, 10/1875), lot 380; William Sumner Appleton; A. Dohrmann Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 3/1882), lot 437; Lady of Western New York Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 2/1887), lot 816; Virgil Brand; Brand-Lichtenfels Collections (Abner Kreisberg and Hans M.F. Schulman, 3/1964), lot 1106; Gibson Collection (Stack's, 11/1974), lot 14; John L. Roper (Stack's, 12/1983), lot 425; Stuart Levine and Anthony Terranova; Bertram Cohen; San Diego Show (Dana Linett, 10/1988), lot 9; Denis Loring; Stack's, privately; David Queller (Lemus Collection); Queller Family Collection (Heritage, 1/2009), lot 1500; offered at fixed prices by Heritage in 2010 and 2011; Philadelphia Signature (Heritage, 8/2012), lot 5015; Rarities Night (Stack's Bowers, 8/2016), lot 3010; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2017), lot 5519.
12. Starr Specimen, SP15 PCGS. George Seavey; Seavey Descriptive Catalog (William Strobridge, 6/1873), lot 842; Lorin G. Parmelee; Virgil M. Brand (Brand Journal number 20765); Armin Brand, per his notebook; 311th Sale (J.C. Morgenthau, 10/1933), lot 78; Floyd Starr; Starr Collection (Stack's, 10/1992), lot 3; Jay Parrino, offered in several fixed price lists in the mid-1990s; unknown dealer intermediaries; Stuart Levine in 2004; purchased by Ed Price on 5/14/2004; Stuart Levine again in 2006; Old West and Franklinton Collections (American Numismatic Rarities, 8/2006), lot 13; Don Willis, Premium Numismatics.
Additional Auction Appearances
With a single exception, none of the following were plated, and no further information in the catalog descriptions provided help determining provenance.
John K. Wiggin Collection (Edward Cogan, 3/1862), lot 747.
Finotti Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 11/1862), lot 1528.
Benjamin Haines Collection (Bangs, Merwin & Co., 1/1863), lot 780.
William J. Jenks Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 9/1880), lot 1383.
Heman Ely Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 1/1884), lot 444.
Matthews Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 12/1885), lot 2120.
Woodside Collection (New York Coin and Stamp Co., 4/1892), lot 1. The Silver Center cent is plated (obverse only) and its appearance is unlike anything else that we have seen. It is almost certainly a false piece.
H.G. Brown Collection (Lyman H. Low, 10/1904), lot 209.
Poillon, Lee, and Ralston Collections (Thomas L. Elder, 10/1926), lot 1436.
Lenz, Sloane, and Chapman Collections (Thomas Elder, 1/1936), lot 2968.
1941 ANA Sale (Ira Reed, 8/1941), lot 77.
12th Sale (Celina Coin Co., 2/1945), lot 2022.
Ohio State Numismatic Society Convention Sale (Celina Coin Co., 10/1949), lot 591.
Other Reported Appearances
Judson Brenner exhibited a Silver Center cent at the 1916 ANA Convention.
B. Max Mehl advertised an example as part of the Fred Joy Collection (which he had just acquired) on page 599 of the November 1925 issue of The Numismatist.
From The Alan V. Weinberg Collection, Part I. (NGC ID# 2948, PCGS# 11001)
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
View all of [The Alan V. Weinberg Collection, Part I ]
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