Famous 1792 Silver Center Cent, Judd-1, MS61 Brown
1792 P1C One Cent, Judd-1, Pollock-1, High R.6, MS61 Brown
PCGS. Liberty faces right with hair flowing behind. The obverse
periphery reads LIBERTY PARENT OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY, with 1792
just below the bust. The reverse has a wreath tied with a ribbon at
the bottom; ONE CENT is within. Around the rim is UNITED STATES OF
AMERICA with the fraction 1/100 below. Struck in copper with a
silver plug in the center. Medallic alignment.
The First Coin Struck Inside the Philadelphia Mint
Just 12 days after Congress passed the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, President George Washington offered the position of Mint Director to David Rittenhouse, the well-known 18th century Philadelphia scientist and inventor. After his death, a contemporary, Benjamin Rush, eulogized Rittenhouse as one of the luminaries of the 18th century. His age (Rittenhouse was 60 years old in 1792) and his poor health were the reasons for the hesitation in acceptance. Although Rittenhouse waited until July 9 to officially accept, announcements were published within a week of his April 14 appointment, such as the notice in the April 21, 1792, issue of the Gazette of the United States: "David Rittenhouse, Esq. is appointed Director of the MINT of the United States." Using the Mint Act as a blueprint, Rittenhouse quickly began making arrangements for the new institution. In his biography David Rittenhouse, Brooke Hindle explains:
"Long before he committed himself, Rittenhouse worked over the design and plans of the Mint and even took steps to obtain the needed men, materials, and buildings. In this period of indecision, he seems to have been testing himself to see whether his health would permit him to undertake the post. In addition, he did not want to delay the work which the administration was anxious to press forward."
Two of the Mint buildings were completed in September, the third early the next year. Although the first official coins struck within the Mint building and intended for circulation were the Chain cents of late February and early March 1793, earlier pattern coins were minted in December 1792.
Section 9 of the Mint Act specified that cents were to contain 11 pennyweights of pure copper, equal to 264 grains (17.1069 grams). The theoretical planchet would be nearly identical in size to a double eagle of half a century later. Rittenhouse and others at the Mint quickly realized that the planchet size was impossibly high, and solutions were explored. The pattern cents of 1792 illustrated possible alternatives to Washington and members of Congress. Henry Voigt, who was recently appointed the Mint's Chief Coiner, suggested a combination of silver and copper, inserting a small silver plug in a copper planchet. In a letter dated December 18, 1792, Jefferson wrote to Washington regarding the pattern or trial cents:
"Th. Jefferson has the honor to send the President two cents made on Voigt's plan by putting a silver plug worth 3/4 of a cent into a copper worth 1/4 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 Silver Center cents (Judd-1) and the Fusible Alloy cents (Judd-2) permitted the one cent coin to be a manageable size, while the Birch cents (Judd-3 through 5) illustrated the larger cent that Congress stipulated. Jefferson identified Voigt as the originator of the Silver Center cent; an entry Voigt made in his journal indicates that the coins were struck on December 17. Notice of the Voigt plan soon appeared in various newspapers, such as the Baltimore Evening Post of December 28:
"It is proposed by some persons 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, thro' a hole in its centre, and after this operation to coin it so that the silver should bear part of the impression. The idea is certainly ingenious, and the improvement it is said, is not difficult of execution, nor does in increase 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 equal the expense of coining, and then the objection falls to the ground."
Henry Voigt is usually identified as the author of the Silver Center cents. Hindle writes that 1792 saw:
"The production of several pattern pieces: half-dimes were struck in silver and mentioned by Washington in his annual address; dimes; half-eagles [sic] in base metals; and at least two varieties of cents. The history of these coins is not clear, but Voight engraved the dies for some of them and was entirely responsible for the most unusual one--the Silver Center cent. This was a copper coin with a small plug of silver in its center which brought its value up to the nominal value of the cent without increasing its size to unmanageable proportions."
The Voigt connection dates to a 1795 report of Elias Boudinot, who conducted an investigation of Mint operations. His report was communicated to the House of Representatives on February 9, 1795, just over two years after the 1792 pattern cents were produced. The text of his report appears in American State Papers. Boudinot wrote that "it was also a considerable time before an engraver could be engaged, during which, the chief coiner was obliged to make the dies for himself ... ." However, in a biography of Voigt, Karl Moulton opines that the Boudinot comment has been incorrectly interpreted, other evidence suggesting that Voigt was unskilled in engraving, relying on others to prepare coinage dies. Moulton writes:
"From all original accounts it is very difficult to believe that Voigt engraved any dies, although he may have helped turn and forge them beforehand. It is probable he had the engraving work commissioned to outside sources. Keep in mind that at the time of his report politician Boudinot knew very little about the inside workings of the United States Mint."
Following inspection of the 1792 pattern cents, Congress amended the Mint Act on January 14, 1793, reducing the weight of the cent to 208 grains, the half cent to 104 grains. The result was a theoretical planchet size for the large cent that approximates a late 19th or early 20th century eagle.
Properties of the Silver Center Cents
Voigt's plan toward a smaller one cent coin was ingenious, combining a silver plug valued at 3/4 cent with a copper planchet valued at 1/4 cent. The 1792 Mint Act specified that the one cent coin should have a weight of 264 grains of pure copper. A quarter cent of copper would weigh 66 grains.
The same Act specified that a silver dollar was to contain 416 grains of standard silver (89.24% silver, 10.76% copper), or 371.25 grains of pure silver, yielding 3.71 grains of pure silver per one cent. It is likely that the plug consisted of pure silver, having a weight of 2.78 grains.
The combination of copper and silver gives a theoretical weight of 68.78 grains. The actual recorded weights of four high-grade pieces are 67.5 grains, 69.9 grains, 70.5 grains, and 72.8 grains, for an average of 70.2 grains.
The Copper Planchet
We have known diameters for six different Silver Center cents: 22.4 mm, 22.4 mm, 22.5 mm, 22.5 mm, 22.6 mm, and 22.9 mm, with an average of 22.55 mm. We will use 22.4 mm as the theoretical diameter. By using the familiar formula using pi, the surface area of the planchet is 394.08 square millimeters.
Pure copper has a density of 8.94 gm/cc, equal to 0.138 grains per cubic millimeter. The theoretical weight of 66 grains, divided by the density, results in a theoretical volume of 478.26 cubic millimeters. Volume divided by surface area gives a theoretical thickness of 1.21 mm.
The copper planchet was approximately 22.4 mm diameter and 1.2 mm thick.
The Silver Plug
The volume, dimensions, and composition of the silver plug present a few problems. We have already determined that a plug of pure silver valued at 3/4 cent will weight 2.78 grains. Silver has a density of 10.49 gm/cc, equal to 0.1619 grains per cubic millimeter. Weight divided by density gives a theoretical volume of 17.17 cubic millimeters for the silver plug.
All known Silver Center cents retain a plug with a larger diameter on the obverse than on the reverse. That observation suggests a conical plug, rather than a cylindrical plug. We also know that the thickness of the copper planchet is 1.2 mm. Once the coin was struck, the plug will have the same thickness. The volume of 17.17 cubic millimeters divided by the 1.2-mm thickness yields a surface area of 14.31 square millimeters. Using the formula for the area of a circle, the theoretical radius is 2.13 mm, giving a diameter of 4.26 mm.
The theoretical diameter of the plug is much greater than found on known specimens. The conclusion is that the Silver Center cents were made with a smaller amount of silver for illustrative purposes only. Congressional approval was uncertain, so there was no reason to use the full amount of silver valued at 3/4 cent when a lesser amount would suffice. It is unlikely that anyone in Congress would have checked that closely. There is apparently no standard dimension for the silver plug in these coins, so variance between surviving specimens is likely.
Production of the Silver Center Cents
The observed diameter of surviving specimens is about 22.5 mm, and the theoretical thickness is 1.2 mm. The original planchet would have been a slightly smaller diameter and slightly thicker, to allow for expansion when the pieces were struck.
The next step was edge-reeding that required use of the edging or Castaing machine. A small, tapered hole was punched in the center of the planchet with a wider diameter on one side of the planchet, a narrower diameter on the other side. The tapered hole permitted insertion of a conical silver plug, extending beyond the planchet surface on both sides.
The prepared planchets were struck using a screw press. As the dies came together, the silver plug was squeezed to the planchet surface, expanding outward, and receiving the design.
The Present Specimen
When Walter Breen cataloged this specimen for Pine Tree Rare Coin Auction Sales in 1974, he provided a brief physical description:
"Natural reddish brown color, faint hints of luster around letters; shallow nick above 2 and space left, no disturbing color, no other handling marks worth mention."
Today, we might add that small nicks are visible just above the bust line and just over the tip of the fifth hair strand, both useful for provenance research.
The Silver Center cent is the single most significant and historically important coin ever produced at the Philadelphia Mint. While other official U.S. coins, notably the 1792 half dismes, were struck earlier, the Silver Center cent was the first coin produced within the physical Philadelphia Mint building shortly after its completion near the end of 1792.
Provenance Record of the Silver Center cents
The present offering is the 54th auction appearance of any Silver Center cent since the first known offering 150 years ago, in November 1862. Building on the work of earlier researchers, and conducting an exhaustive review of his library, P. Scott Rubin presented a detailed record of all known Silver Center cents in America's Copper Coinage, 1783-1857, published in 1985 following the 1984 Coinage of the Americas Conference held at the American Numismatic Society in New York. Using Rubin's work as a starting point, we have developed the following updated record of 14 specimens, including grades where known. Appreciation is extended to Alan Weinberg and Saul Teichman for their contributions. The specimen offered here is the Morris Specimen, number 3 in the following roster.
1. Garrett Specimen. MS67 Brown PCGS. James W. Ellsworth (5/1923); John Work Garrett; Johns Hopkins University (Bowers and Ruddy, 3/1981), lot 2347; private collection. Either this or the next is from Peter Gschwend (Thomas L. Elder, 6/1908), lot 116.
2. Norweb Specimen. MS64 PCGS. Robert C.W. Brock Collection; University of Pennsylvania; Philip H. Ward; Charles Dochus; Harry Forman; New Netherlands (3/14/1958); Norweb Collection (Bowers and Merena, 11/1988), lot 3392; Stack's (1/2002), lot 724; Ed Milas; Texas Collection; purchased by Stu Levine, Anthony Terranova, and Joe O'Connor in 2011 for $2.5 million and subsequently resold in August 2011 by O'Connor Numismatics for $2.8 million; private collection. Pollock plate coin.
3. Morris Specimen. MS61 Brown PCGS. Charles Morris (S.H. & H. Chapman, 4/1905), lot 361; later, James O. Sloss; William Mitkoff and Numismatics, Ltd.; Great Eastern Numismatic Association Sale (Pine Tree, 9/1974), lot 1272a; William T. Anton; private collection; Liberty Collection. Breen Encyclopedia plate coin; former Guide Book plate coin. We believe this specimen is earlier from William J. Jenks Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 9/1880), lot 1383; A. Dohrmann Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 3/1882), lot 437; Lady of Western New York Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 2/1887), lot 816. The present specimen.
4. Weinberg Specimen. Mint State. Thomas Warner (S.H. & H. Chapman, 6/1884), lot 3215; Richard B. Winsor (S.H. & H. Chapman, 12/1895), lot 291; Loye Lauder (William Doyle Galleries, 12/1983), lot 233; Alan Weinberg.
5. Smithsonian Specimen. AU. Robert Coulton Davis (New York Coin & Stamp, 1/1890), lot 1008a; John Story Jenks (Henry Chapman, 12/1921), lot 5569; Lenox R. Lohr; Empire Coin (1961 FPL); River Oaks Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 11/1976), lot 908; Robert Hughes; Private Collection; Smithsonian Institution. Judd plate coin for the ninth and 10th editions; current Guide Book plate coin.
6. Stearns Specimen. XF. C.H. Stearns Collection (Mayflower, 12/1966), lot 280; Groves Collection; private Eastern collection.
7. Bushnell Specimen. XF. 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; Charles Wurtzbach; Virgil M. Brand; 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; later, Mrs. R. Henry Norweb; Landau Sale (New Netherlands, 12/1958), lot 104; Corrado Romano Collection (Stack's, 6/1987), lot 143; Stack's (1/1999), lot 143; Stack's (10/2000), lot 56. 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.
8. Judd Specimen. XF. 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.
9. Newman Specimen. XF. F.C.C. Boyd; Eric P. Newman.
10. 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; later, Virgil Brand; 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; David Queller (Lemus Collection); Queller Family Collection (Heritage, 1/2009), lot 1500.
11. Terranova Specimen. VF. Glendining's Sale (1997); Anthony Terranova and Stu Levine; private collection.
12. Starr Specimen. Fine 15 PCGS. Virgil M. Brand; J.C. Morgenthau (311th Sale, 10/1933), lot 78; Floyd Starr (Stack's, 10/1992), lot 3; later, American Numismatic Rarities (8/2006), lot 13.
13. California Specimen. VG10 Details, Scratched ANACS. A Northern California collector purchased this piece for $400 in 2006. The coin was offered at a police department auction of unclaimed property. Reported in Coin World, January 5, 2009.
14. Unplugged Specimen. SP63 PCGS. Discovered by Anthony Terranova, 1993; Stack's (3/1995), lot 1400. Former Guide Book plate coin. The coin does not have a silver insert and may have been a trial striking before making the Silver Center cents. In his 1984 provenance study, Scott Rubin mentions Thomas Elder's sale of October 1926, lot 1436, where a piece was described as: "1792. Pattern for Silver Centre Cent (freak)." That listing might represent an early appearance of this piece.
Additional Auction Appearances
With a single exception, none of the following were plated, and no further information in the catalog descriptions provide help determining provenance.
A. Finotti Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 11/1862), lot 1528.
B. Benjamin Haines Collection (Bangs, Merwin & Co., 1/1863), lot 780.
C. Edward Cogan (4/1863), lot 1075. The December 1958 New Netherlands catalog assigns this appearance to the Bushnell specimen in our list.
D. George Seavey Collection (1873 FPL), the collection sold intact to Lorin Parmelee. Possibly the Starr specimen. Parmelee apparently sold this piece when he purchased the Bushnell specimen.
E. Heman Ely Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 1/1884), lot 444.
F. Matthews Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 12/1885), lot 2120.
G. Woodside Collection (New York Coin and Stamp Co., 4/1892), lot 1. The Silver Center cent is plated (obverse only) and its appearance is bizarre, unlike anything else that we have seen. It is clearly not the Starr specimen as recently suggested, and is almost certainly a false piece.
H. H.G. Brown Collection (Lyman H. Low, 10/1904), lot 209.
I. Thomas L. Elder (1/1936), lot 2968.
J. 1941 ANA Sale (Ira Reed, 8/1941), lot 77.
K. Celina Coin Co. (12th Sale, 2/1945), lot 2022.
L. Celina Coin Co. (10/1949), lot 591.
An Offering From The Liberty Collection. (NGC ID# 2948, PCGS# 11001)
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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