1793 Chain Cent : A Collector’s Guide

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The 1793 Chain cent–occasionally referred to as the “Link” cent in 19th-century numismatic literature–was the first cent minted by the United States Mint and the first coin struck by the Mint building in Philadelphia starting on March 1 and running intermittently through March 12, 1793.

While the design was executed by Henry Voigt, the first Chief Coiner of the Philadelphia Mint, it was based on the design of the Libertas American medal by the famed French engraver Augustin Dupré

The Chain cent’s obverse features Liberty with “flowing” hair on the obverse and the word LIBERTY inscribed at the top and the date 1793 beneath Liberty’s truncation. On the reverse, a chain with 15 links (the number of states in 1793) surrounds the denomination ONE CENT in the center of the design, while the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERI. (S-1, B-1) or UNITED STATES OF AMERICA encircles the central motif starting at the top of the coin and running clockwise.

The coin’s design was not well received initially, with some calling the piece “Liberty in Chains”, perhaps referring to the slave trade. A contemporary newspaper report provided this comment:

The American Cents (says a letter from Newark) do not answer our expectations. The Chain on the reverse is but a bad omen for liberty, and Liberty herself appears to be in a fright.

Another account appeared in the March 18, 1793 edition of Philadelphia’s The Mail, which stated: “The chain on the reverse is but a bad omen for liberty.”

Over the course of those 12 days in March, 36,103 pieces were produced using five distinctive die combinations, of which four share a common reverse die. The March 1 delivery was of the AMERI. design variety. The other four varieties spelled out AMERICA.

Cents of 1793 were the first coins struck at the Philadelphia Mint at the Seventh and Filbert Street facility. The Chain cent was struck in low relief. Its replacement design, the Wreath cent, was struck at higher relief.

Deliveries of 1793 Chain Cents

March 1, 1793

11,178 delivered

March 2, 1793

2,009 delivered

March 4, 1793

4,000 delivered

March 5, 1793

3,765 delivered

March 6, 1793

1,573 delivered

March 8, 1793

7,000 delivered

March 8, 1793

7,000 delivered

March 9, 1793

1,000 delivered

March 12, 1793

5,578 delivered

Total: 36,103 coins

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

1793 Chain Cent, S-1: AMERI.

The D. Brent Pogue 1793 Sheldon-1. PCGS MS61BN. Image: Stack’s Bowers.

R-4. Wide date on the obverse. LIBERTY is evenly spaced and equidistant from the top of Liberty’s head to the rim. Lowest lock of Liberty’s hair points down towards the 1 in the date. Obverse die also used on Sheldon 2 die pairing. Only use of the reverse, which features AMERI. Approximately 7,000 of the coins delivered on March 1, 1793 are believed to be the Sheldon-1 die marriage. The remainder were Sheldon-2. In Die State Noyes A/B, Breen III, light crack appears at the upper left of the first letter of T in STATES, light bulge at the border above U in UNITED. Bulge lower border through 1 in the date. Estimated 118-158 extant.

Later die states have swelling under the U on the obverse and a die crack at TAT.

Finest? PCGS SP65BN (as of 10/2019). CC#2: Elder-Naftzger-Weinberg MS64+ CAC Sold 1/10/2019 for $1.5m (Heritage Auctions Lot 4312).

PCGS MS64+ CAC #35744104: Thomas L. Elder; Paul S. Seitz, August 4, 1947; R.E. “Ted” Naftzger, Jr., December 31, 1996;”The Alan V. Weinberg Collection, Part I”, Heritage Auctions, January 10, 2019, Lot 4032 – $1,500,000.

PCGS MS61BN #32157249: “The D. Brent Pogue Family Collection, Part III”, Stack’s Bowers, February 9, 2016, Lot 3012 – $470,000. Planchet flaw under ST of STATES.

PCGS AU-53 (EAC EX40): Noyes 2006, #9 on condition census. Walter Husak, Paul Gerrie; “Gerrie Collection Large Cents”, Goldberg Auctioneers, February 2013, Lot 1; “ESM Collection”, Stack’s Bowers, August 6, 2020, Lot 1001 – $132,000.

1793 Chain Cent, S-2: AMERICA, Without Periods

1793 Sheldon-2 variety in PCGS MS65BN. Image: Stack’s Bowers.

R-4+. The variety features a very wide date. Noticeable gap between 17 and 95. LIBERTY is well-spaced and the letters are aligned better than they are laid out on other varieties. AMERICA reverse. Reverse used to strike Sheldon-3, Sheldon-4, and NC-1 varieties. Only Sheldon-1 was struck with a different reverse die. Outside of NC-1, the Sheldon S-2 is the scarcest variety of Chain cent.

PCGS MS65BN: Purchased from the London coin shop of W.S. Lincoln & Son by Benjamin H. Collins, August 1891; Collins to Dr. Henry W. Beckwith, January 30, 1919; “The Beckwith Collection”, S.H. Chapman, April 1923, Lot 1; purchased by Henry Chapman for $430 and sold to Dr. George P. French; “The Dr. George P. French Collection”, B. Max Mehl, 1929, Lot 1 – $850; “The Dr. Henry A. Sternberg Collection”, J.C. Morganthau and Co., April 1933, Lot 2; B. Max Mehl to T. James Clarke to John H. Payne to Dr. William H. Sheldon in 1953; sold with the intact Sheldon Collection to R.E. “Ted” Naftzger” Jr. on April 19, 1972; part of the “Great Pool Table Swap of Ho-Ho-Kus” to Herman Halpern, December 11, 1986; “Herman Halpern Collection”, Stack’s, March 1988, Lot 2; Anthony Terranova to Andrew Lustig to Don Kagin to Gilbert Steinberg on November 16, 1992; “Gilbert Steinberg Collection”, Superior, September 1996, Lot 1560; Anthony Terranova and Chris Victor-McCawley to Walter Husak; private owner and dealer intermediary; Superior’s sale of February 2001, Lot 2090 – unsold; dealer intermediaries; “The Kennywood Collection”, Stack’s, January 10, 2005, Lot 69 – $431,250.

PCGS MS64BN CAC #25338681: H.W. Taffs; Glendining & Co., Ltd. (London, November 1956, lot 506; Spink & Sons, Ltd. (London); New Netherlands Coin Co. December 1957, lot 880; “The Floyd T. Starr Collection”, Stack’s, June 1984, Lot 2; Herman Halpern December 11, 1986; R.E. Naftzger, Jr., February 23, 1992; Eric Streiner; Jay Parrino (The Mint, 4/16/1996); W.M. “Jack” Wadlington; Bob Grellman and Chris McCawley June 30, 2005; “The Daniel W. Holmes, Jr. Collection”, Goldberg Coins, September 2009, Lot 3; “The Oliver Jung Collection”, Heritage Auctions, August 2014, Lot 5518; Joseph O’Conner March 2016; Rick Snow, April 5, 2016; “The Arizona Collection”, Heritage Auctions, January 123, 2022, Lot 3002 – $528,000.

1793 Chain Cent, S-3: AMERICA Without Periods

The famous Garrett-Naftzger_Pogue 1793 Chain Cent, S-3. Image: Stack’s Bowers.

Sheldon 3, Breen 4. R-3. The obverse die is known as the Leaning R Variety, where the R of LIBERTY is high and tilts to the right. There is no period following LIBERTY. The top of the 3 on the date is aligned with the tip of the bust truncation. The Sheldon-3 reverse is continued from Sheldon-2 and is also used on Sheldon-4, and NC-1. On this reverse, the word AMERICA is spelled out.

Sharp examples that retain their mint gloss are extremely rare, and in demand from both early copper specialists and determined type set collectors.

PCGS MS65RB #31530063: Parisian coin dealer Pierre-Édouard LeGras, acquired before May 1880; Édouard Frossard to George M. Parsons, by sale, June/July 1880; George M. Parsons Collection; “Selections from the Cabinet of Richard H. Lawrence”, Édouard Frossard, October 23-24, 1884, lot 983; T. Harrison Garrett Collection; Robert and John Work Garrett, by descent, 1888; Robert Garrett’s interest to John Work Garrett, 1919; transfer completed, 1921; John Work Garrett to the Johns Hopkins University, by gift, 1942; “The Garrett Collection, Part I”, Bowers and Ruddy, November 1979, lot 53; R.E. “Ted” Naftzger, Jr. Collection, via Stanley Kesselman; Eric Streiner, en bloc, February 1992; Jay Parrino (The Mint), by sale; Foxfire Collection (Claude E. Davis, MD), by sale, via Richard Burdick, July 1994; acquired by The Pogue Family with the Foxfire Collection, en bloc, by sale, October 5, 2004; “The D. Brent Pogue Family Collection, Part III”, Stack’s Bowers / Sotheby’s, February 9, 2016, Lot 3013 – $998.750. Top pop, pop one coin. Pedigree research assisted by Stack’s Bowers.

NGC MS66BN: Joseph Zanoni, whose collection was sold privately by Edward Cogan in 1867, probably purchased at the sale by Thomas Cleneay; “The Thomas Cleneay Collection”, S.H. and H. Chapman, December 1890, Lot 1794; J.F. Anger; Arba Borden; Allison W. Jackman, apparently acquired privately; “The Allison W. Jackman Collection”, Henry Chapman, June 1918, Lot 685; Hillyer Ryder, Ryder estate through 1945; Ryder collection sold en bloc to Wayte Raymond, May 1945; Wayte Raymond to Dr. William H. Sheldon, via private treaty, 1947; sold as part of the Sheldon Collection to R.E. “Ted” Naftzger on April 19, 1972; sold to Stanley Kesselman in March 1980 as partial payment to Kesselman for the Garrett S-3; Stack’s Bowers, August 19, 2012, Lot 11180 – $763,750. Pedigree research assisted by Stack’s Bowers.

NGC MS64BN: “The Colin Lightbody Collection”, Edward Cogan, December 1866, Lot 536; Mortimer Livingston Mackenzie, The Mackenzie Collection”, Edward Cogan, June 1869, Lot 624; L. Bayard Smith, to an unknown party; Arthur L. Gray; Ted and Carl Brandts of Celina Coin Company, T. James Clarke. Clarke’s cent collection was sold intact to R.E. “Ted” Naftzger in October, 1954; “The T. James Clarke Collection”, Abe Kosoff, April 1956 – Lot 4; Stack’s to Dorothy Nelson; Stack’s, February 1976, Lot 3; Ed Hipps; Steve Ivy, November 1978, Lot 7; to Robert Bender; Heritage Auctions, August 1988, Lot 3; Anthony Terranova to Kevin Lipton; to Stack’s; unknown collector; American Numismatic Rarities, July 25, 2003, Lot 105 – $115,000; Stack’s, July 27, 2008, Lot 1074 – $207,000. Pedigree research assists by Stack’s Bowers.

1793 Chain Cent, S-4: AMERICA, LIBERTY.

R-3+. On the Sheldon-4 variety, the reverse die from Sheldon-2 and Sheldon-3 is carried over. Closely Spaced LIBERTY, with I and E high. The date is also close, particularly the final 93. The obverse die features a period after the Y in LIBERTY and after the date. This is the only occurrence of this dual punctuation in the entire large cent series and was likely an act of caprice on the part of the engraver. 

The Sheldon-4 is believed to be the final die marriage of the Chain design. It is believed that the mintage of the Sheldon-4 occurred between March 8 and 12. Walter Breen felt that the number produced exceeded 8,800 pieces.

 

The Cleneay-Atwater-Eliasberg-Loring Specimen sells in 2012 for $1,380,000.

PCGS MS66BN CAC #29829944: Ex: George W. Merritt; Édouard Frossard, January 1879, Lot 79; Édouard Frossard; Lorin G. Parmelee. New York Coin & Stamp Co., June 1890, Lot 668; Harlan P. Smith; Virgil M. Brand; Brand Estate; B.G. Johnson, St. Louis Stamp & Coin Co., February 18, 1943); Abe Kosoff; Oscar J. Pearl; Numismatic Gallery 1944 Fixed Price List, lot 3; T. James Clarke, October 1954; R.E. “Ted” Naftzger, Jr. February 23, 1992; Eric Streiner; Jay Parrino (The Mint); Heritage Auctions, January 7, 2015, Lot 4011 – $2,350,000.

PCGS MS65BN CAC #5352383: W. Elliot Woodward, October 1864, Lot 603; Joseph Zanoni; Thomas Cleneay; “The Thomas Cleneay Collection”, S.H. & H. Chapman, December 1890, Lot 1795; Charles Steigerwalt; John G. Mills; “The John G. Mills Collection”, S.H. & H. Chapman, April 1904, Lot 1227; George H. Earle, Jr.; “The George H. Earle, Jr. Collection”, Henry Chapman, June 1912, Lot 3355; Clarence S. Bement, Henry Chapman, May 1916, Lot 286; Col. James W. Ellsworth, sold to Wayte Raymond, March 1923; to William Cutler Atwater; “The William Cutler Atwater Collection”, B. Max Mehl, June 1946, Lot 10; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; Eliasberg Estate, “The Louis E. Eliasberg Collection”, Bowers and Merena, May 1996, Lot 487; purchased by Spectrum Numismatics; American Numismatic Rarities, July 23, 2004, Lot 6 – $391,000; Dennis Loring, sold by Heritage Auctions, January 4, 2012, lot 3020, $1,380,000; “An Important New York Collection”, Heritage Auctions, June 14, 2018, Lot 3776 – $990,000. Old Green Holder. ELIASBERG on insert.

1793 Chain Cent, NC-1

Same reverse die as Sheldon-2.

Mickley Example (“The Coin!”), graded PCGS SP65BN in 1992, when it was being marketed by Jay Parrino. Now graded PCGS SP67BN. Parmelee-Brand-Oscar J. Pearl- T. James Clarke-Jung-Naftzger [not necessarily in this order] (Jung “Engagement Coin”- first coin Lish and Oliver Jung bought together), PCGS MS66BN. Eliasberg PCGS MS65BN $990,000 at June 14-17, 2018 Heritage Sale.

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Coin Specifications

Country:

United States of America

Year Of Issue:

1793

Denomination:

One Cent (USD)

Mint Mark:

None (Philadelphia)

Mintage:

36,103

Alloy:

Copper

Weight:

13.48 grams

Diameter:

26.00 mm

Edge

Engraved

OBV Designer

Henry Voigt

REV Designer

Henry Voigt

Quality:

Business Strike

 

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