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Design. Probably designed by Henry Voight. 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 that is 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.
Commentary. The patterns of 1792 are the rarest series of patterns ever struck and each is a classic of U.S. coinage in its own right. This exclusive series includes the silver center cent, Birch cent (two varieties), half disme, disme, and the Eagle on Globe quarter. Of these five issues, only the half disme and disme ever circulated. Of the other three pattern issues, the silver center cent was an experimental striking that was intended to create a coin with an intrinsic value of one cent on a smaller copper planchet by inserting a silver plug in the center. These pieces proved impractical to produce; in the end, no one seemed to care that they were struck on smaller planchets or had a silver center. The result, we know now, was the production of large cents from 1793 through 1857. It was not until the mid-1850s that the idea of a small-sized cent was again entertained as an alternative to the large coppers.
Along with the production of the silver center cents, another small cent was also struck with the same design, the so-called fusible alloy cent. These coins incorporated the same idea of mixing copper and silver, but these pieces (Judd-2) had the metals alloyed together. The problem with such coins is they were visually indistinguishable from a copper striking and could be easily counterfeited.
The first mention of the actual striking of cents appears in a letter from Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson to President Washington, dated December 18, 1792:
"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, & lastly he will make the real cent as ordered by Congress, 4 times as big. Specimens of these several ways of making the cent may now be delivered to the Committee of Congress now having the subject before them."
The Mint was ready for occupancy in September 1792. From the date of Jefferson's letter, we may infer that the first two experimental cents were struck in December 1792 (the third type mentioned was never coined). In 1907 Frank Stewart (a much later owner of the original Mint property in Philadelphia and an author of a history of the facility) discovered two planchets for the silver center cents as he was excavating the first Mint building. They were blanks with a hole in the center but lacking the silver plug. Stewart donated the planchets to the Congress Hall Collection in Philadelphia rather than sell them to J.C. Mitchelson. With Stewart's discovery of the planchets which "fell down from the overhead joists" it was finally established that the silver center cents were actually produced within the newly opened Mint and not outside its walls as previously believed.
The Mint Act of April 2, 1792 authorized cents that would weigh 264 grains and half cents of 132 grains. Such coins would have given a full cent's (or half cent's) worth of copper. The intention of such large small-denomination coinage was to drive out of circulation the wide variety of world coinage found in the states. Such coins would have undoubtedly achieved the desired result, but a smaller, lighter version was authorized in January 1793; Congress granted a further reduction in 1795. The result was to reduce the amount of copper in each coin by almost 36% from the original weight designated in 1792. Thus, the silver center cent and its companion fusible alloy cent were experiments aimed at convenience.
Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.
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