The Norweb 1793 S-2 Chain Cent, AU55

    1793 1C Chain, AMERICA, S-2, B-2, High R.4 AU55 PCGS. Die State II. A bulge extends through the bases of 793. The surface of the obverse field is wavy from faded clash marks. The S-2 die marriage immediately followed the S-1 Chain AMERI variety, and was probably included in the coiner's delivery of March 1, 1793, consisting of 11,178 coins. That delivery was the very first large cent delivery at the Mint, and included both of the first two varieties, to the best of our knowledge. The Chain cents are highly important as the first coins issued at the new Mint in Philadelphia. Walter Breen writes: "These were the first cents made pursuant to the Act of January 14, 1793 at the new legal weight of 208 grains, reduced from the impossibly high 264 grains. They are the first mass production coins in any metal issued by the federal government on its own machinery, and within its own premises. For all practical purposes, these are the first regular issue United States coins."
    The Chain design was intended to show strength or unity of our new nation. Instead, the device was interpreted by many as slavery. Most of the mintage was lost or destroyed, so survivors are of various grades, usually lower quality. Porous or corroded pieces are frequently encountered. Another source for general problems with these coins was the original source of copper. Sheet copper was not yet available from England, so available copper was scrap copper from local sources that Henry Voigt acquired.
    In his Encyclopedia of Large Cents, Breen discussed the problems with this locally available copper: "Scrap copper varied greatly in homogeneity, density, malleability, and hardness. This is partly from different trace elements and partly from the way the individual lumps had been treated in manufacture. This was a most unsatisfactory expedient; the coiner's department learned quickly that different ingots cast from it varied greatly , with far too many gas bubbles. Strip rolled from these ingots came out with too many cavities and laminations. Many surviving Chain cents accordingly show such flaws."
    This specimen from the famous Norweb Collection is a splendid piece with smooth and glossy medium golden-brown surfaces. Minor edge nicks are visible below 93, above R in LIBERTY, and above UN, with a tiny nick at L, a smaller nick in the right obverse field, and a faint hairline at CA. Graded VF35 in the Norweb catalog, this piece is recorded in the Noyes Census as tied for 11th finest known. We feel strongly that it deserves a full XF40 grade by EAC standards, and it seems to be every bit the equal of the ninth finest specimen, the former Peter Mougey-Homer Downing coin. Given the copper problems that Breen described, it is perhaps surprising that any nice pieces still exist.
    Albert Fairchild Holden was the son of Liberty Emery Holden. He was born in Cleveland in 1866, and died in 1913. Interests of the Harvard graduate included mine engineering and mineralogy, and he managed his father's mining properties well past the turn of the century. Dave Bowers relates: "By 1906 he owned or was an investor in numerous important mining properties as well as smelting and refining enterprises, to such an extent that he must be numbered among the most prominent industrialists of his day." Holden's collecting pursuits, in addition to numismatics, included mineralogical specimens that he eventually donated to Harvard, along with a $500,000 maintenance fund. Today, the mineralogical museum at Harvard is named for him. His daughter, Emery May Holden, continued the collection. She married R. Henry Norweb, Sr., and their son, R. Henry Norweb, Jr., further added to the extensive collection. EAC 35.
    Purchased by Albert Holden prior to 1913 for $56.50, probably from one of the Chapmans.
    From The Aspen Collection.
    (Registry values: N7079) (NGC ID# 223F, PCGS# 1341)

    Weight: 13.48 grams

    Metal: 100% Copper

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