Rarely Seen 1792 Birch Cent
1792 P1C Birch Cent, Judd-5, Pollock-6, R.8, Fair 2 NGC.
Judd-5, R.8, Fair 2
Design. On the obverse Liberty faces right. The name BIRCH is seen on the truncation of the neck. Around the margin are: LIBERTY PARENT OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY. The date 1792 is just below the bust. The reverse has a wreath with ONE CENT within. Around the periphery: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; the fraction 1/100 is at the bottom beneath the knot in the wreath. Most likely designed by William Russell Birch. Struck in copper with a lettered edge reading TO BE ESTEEMED BE USEFUL.
Commentary. The patterns of 1792 are among the most intriguing stories in the history of U.S. numismatics. Two extensive articles have been written about these pieces, one by Carl Carlson and another by Michael Berkman. Carlson published an article in the March 1982 Numismatist. In this lengthy and worthwhile article, he brought together findings from previous researchers who had examined the series, such as Walter Breen and Robert Julian. He also led in a methodical fashion queries into when the pieces were struck, by whom, and where they were manufactured. The article leaves open several questions, some of which have yet to be resolved. One is the question of which Birch the coin refers to.
There are two varieties of Birch cents: The "regular" design has BIRCH on the bust truncation and is represented by 15-20 pieces today (including both Judd-4 and Judd-5). The other design is a unique white metal specimen with GWPt on the reverse, an abbreviation for "George Washington President." As superficially different as these two coins appear, they are actually different engraving states of the same die. The two designs are punch-linked, indicating the same person engraved both at about the same time. The obverses are closer in treatment, but the reverses show evidence of considerably more drastic die work.
The half disme and the Birch cent are definitely related and from the same engraver. The half disme is virtually a mirror image of the Birch cent, with Liberty facing left rather than right as on the cent. Carlson's 1984 article makes a clear case for the time frame of the striking of these coins from a December 1792 letter written by Thomas Jefferson. In this letter he implies there were no cents struck in the Mint itself before December, which leaves production of these coins to sometime before October, when the Mint presses were first operational. This leaves only one possibility for the location of the production of the Birch cents: John Harper's coach house.
The question of just which Birch was actually responsible for these pattern cents has since proven to be not Thomas Birch, previously believed to have engraved the dies. Thomas Birch was born in England in 1779 and was only 13 years old in 1792. It is more likely that William Russell Birch, a famous Philadelphia miniaturist, visited Philadelphia in the spring and summer of 1792, although he only moved his family there in 1794. Carlson lays out the most logical origin of the Birch cent:
"Were the original 'GWPt' dies engraved in Philadelphia, or were they prepared in England prior to Birch's departure for America to serve as a sample of his work to show Mint officials and Harper upon his arrival? He would certainly have had the necessary contacts at the various private Mints in England to have cut the original dies there and made some trial strikes in white metal as samples. The punches for the cent ... were of British origin and do not appear on any dies over here other than the cent. The revised version of the cent required recutting but not punches."
Questions remain today about the specific origins of the Birch cent. Although we have evidence, we still do not conclusively know: Exactly which Birch was the engraver? Did Birch himself modify the GWPt die? Can these coins be punch-linked to British tokens of the period to identify exactly where the dies were engraved? Nevertheless, the Birch cent shares a prestigious spot in the birth of U.S. coinage, along with the silver center cent, half disme, disme, and Eagle on Globe quarter, all highly interesting and historic issues from the first year the Mint was established.
Physical Description. The central device of Liberty on the obverse is fully outlined. Numerous hair curls were deeply cut into the die and still show definition, especially toward the back of the hair. Likewise, Liberty's eye is well detailed, and the nearly smiling mouth shows strong definition for the grade. The even, chocolate-brown surfaces are only interrupted by a darker outline around Liberty's hair curls and the other recessed devices. The date is strong, and all four digits show completely. The peripheral legends are irregular. SCIENCE & INDUSTRY are weak but can be made out. The word LIBERTY is uncommonly bold for the grade compared to the other peripheral lettering, leading us to speculate that perhaps the dies were slightly misaligned. Just the faintest trace of the bottom of the letters BIR can be made out on the truncation of the bust. The reverse is almost slick, with the only devices that can be clearly made out being the letters OF AM and several of the leaves in the wreath in that same area. A couple of deep planchet voids can also be seen on that side. The edge lettering is unseen inside the NGC encapsulation.
Provenance. Ex: Loye L. Lauder (William Doyle Galleries, 12/1983), lot 235; Stack's private treaty transaction (12/1983).
From The Lemus Collection, Queller Family Collection Part Two. (NGC ID# BFH4, PCGS# 11014)
View all of [The Lemus Collection, Queller Family Collection Part Two ]
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