1793 S-1, B-1 Chain Cent, AU53
1793 Chain 1C AMERI. AU53 PCGS. S-1, B-1, R.4. Ex: Husak.
Breen Die State III. 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.
First U.S. Mint Regular-Issue Coin
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.
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.
This is the famous AMERI. cent with the abbreviated legend traditionally attributed to an inexperienced engraver who felt that there was insufficient space to punch the final two letters in the die. After a limited production of a few thousand cents, the reverse broke over TAT in STATES, and the die was removed from service.
Del Bland grades this piece XF40 and tied for 11th finest, and Bill Noyes suggests VF35 and 12th best. Noyes calls this piece XF40 sharpness with Average Plus surfaces, and deducts five points for his net grade. There is merit to the system of surface ratings, as long as the standards are applied consistently.
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. Our EAC grade XF40.
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; Walter Husak (Heritage, 2/2008), lot 2000.
From The Wes Rasmussen Collection.(Registry values: P5) (NGC ID# 223G, PCGS# 1340)
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