Coin Specifications

Category: Patterns & Trial Coins (1792-1863)
Mint: Philadelphia
Catalog: KM-PnF1
Composition: Copper
Numismatic specification data provided by Krause Publications NumisMaster.
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1792 J-2 NO SILVER CENTER 1C MS obverse 1792 J-2 NO SILVER CENTER 1C MS reverse


  
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Description & Analysis

Judd-2, Pollock-2, Low R.7.

The Mint Act of April 2, 1792, quickly laid the foundation for the nation's coinage. Employees were hired and a building was erected, commencing July 31, 1792. But before the building was completed, the first patterns, half dismes, were produced. These tiny pieces were struck at John Harper's workshop at the corner of Sixth and Cherry streets in Philadelphia from silver deposited by George Washington, according to an essay by Michael Berkman as found on uspatterns.com. By the end of September, the facility was completed and rudimentary minting equipment installed. Shortly thereafter, the disme patterns were struck, this time within the recently erected walls of the new Mint. Next came at least three different cent patterns, details of which, to this day, are not completely understood. Fortunately a letter penned by Thomas Jefferson to George Washington on December 18, 1792, exists to provide some basic yet succinct information regarding the nation's first cent patterns:

"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 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."

Jefferson's letter is important in that it delineates the various proposals from which one format would be selected as the basis of the official one cent piece. The first three patterns mentioned in the letter are the Silver Center cent (Judd-1), the Fusion Alloy cent (Judd-2), and the Copper cent (also Judd-2), all to be struck from the same set of dies and from planchets of the same diameter and thickness. Jefferson's careful wording regarding the methodology of the experiment is significant. Tying Jefferson's letter to an entry dated December 17 in Henry Voigt's second account book, which states, "struck off a few pieces of copper coins," it can be reasonably assumed that these "few pieces" were the Silver Center cent patterns, two of which were sent to President Washington by Jefferson, the Secretary of State.

Although not previously conjectured in past or current research documentation, one can easily conclude that the Fusion Alloy and the Copper patterns were sacrificial pieces that were used to sell the Congressional Committee on Voigt's Silver Center cent idea. Obviously, the Copper pattern was struck for the sole purpose of illustrating that the Fusion Alloy pieces, a 3:1 mixture of copper to silver called billon, could be easily counterfeited. Neither the members of Congress or merchants would not have had the ability to distinguish between the Fusion Alloy cents and bogus copper pieces; the color and weight would have been too similar. Since the Mint Act of 1792 required that the nation's first coinage have intrinsic value, the Copper pattern would have been far too light at approximately 65 grains (based on weights sampled from a few Judd-2 survivors). The Act of 1792 mandated that the new cents contain 264 grains of copper, an unreasonably large size considering that the cents were to be the workhorse of the nation's fledgling monetary system. The fourth option mentioned by Jefferson, the "real cent" pattern, was probably never produced. Various researchers in recent times have stated that these patterns were the Birch cents, but it is now accepted that those patterns were actually struck before the completion of the Mint. The Mint Act of January 14, 1793, which stated that "every cent shall contain two hundred and eight grains of copper" would have eliminated the need for Rittenhouse to make the fourth pattern for the Congressional Committee's review and no record of its production exists.

If the Fusion Alloy and Copper pattern pieces were indeed decoy pieces to make the Silver Center cent patterns more appealing to the members of the committee, that would partially explain the poor quality of the handful of known survivors. The finest known Judd-2 is the specimen in the National Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, which displays smooth, lightly circulated surfaces that are free of defects. The few other survivors all display varying degrees of surface roughness, weak strikes, and other problems. To the contrary, the Silver Center examples are typically well struck on better planchets and are of relatively high grade. One possible explanation is that Chief Coiner Voigt made the Silver Center pieces and Mint Director Rittenhouse was responsible for the Fusion Alloy and Copper patterns. In reality, considering that Voigt reported directly to Rittenhouse in this small, newly formed government facility, the two men more than likely worked together on all of the pattern cents. Such is the ongoing mystery surrounding these artifacts of the earliest hours of our nation's first Mint. To add to the confusion, the few references on the subject of the first pattern coins of the United States blatantly contradict each other. The fact is that we may never know specific details, such as who engraved the dies for any of these early patterns. Names such as Eckfeldt, Wright, Voigt, and Birch are juggled about as possible engravers for the various issues, but conclusive evidence to support any claims has not yet surfaced. Other conflicting opinions exist regarding the reason why the Silver Center cent idea was rejected. Most researchers suggest that the idea was overly time-consuming and costly, yet a contemporary newspaper account directly opposes that reasoning. From the January 8, 1793, edition of Argus (Boston, Massachusetts):

"It is proposed by some person 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, though a hole in its centre, and after this operation, to coin it so that the silver shall bear part of the impression. The idea is certainly ingenious, and the improvement, it is said, is not difficult of execution, nor does it increase [sic] 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 be equal to the expense [sic] of coining, and then the objection falls to the ground."

The many opinions regarding the particulars of the 1792 pattern coins will not rise above the status of theory unless some form of contemporary documentation, or other evidence, surfaces to support any such assertion. But the resulting mystique is partially what makes these early patterns so appealing to such a broad audience.

Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.


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Total Graded: 1
Low Grade: VF
Average Grade: VF
High Grade: VF


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