Featured 1793 US large cent - My hunger for learning

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by BostonCoins, Feb 10, 2017.

  1. BostonCoins

    BostonCoins Active Member

    As a self-proclaimed “Large Cent junkie”, I love to study and learn about the early Large Cents of our country. It occurred to me that I didn’t have a thorough working knowledge of one of the most famous coins from our new US Mint from 1793. With the power of the internet at my fingers, my journey began. I thought I might share some of my newfound knowledge for those of you who may not be as familiar with this stuff and love to learn new things!

    As most numismatists know, the Coinage Act of April 2, 1792 began the establishment of the first official Mint for the newly declared “United States of America”. I knew that this act spelled out some basic rules of the new Mint such as where it was to be built, what positions were needed to run it, what needed to be on the coins for design, etc… What I didn’t know is that this act only spelled out the rules for the SILVER DOLLAR! It wasn’t until May 8, 1792, that the “Act to provide for a Copper coinage” was signed into place by George Washington that the “Large Cents” we have come to know came into existence! This act was meant to outlaw European copper that was currently circulating in the public. The act stated "no copper coins or pieces whatsoever except the said cents and half-cents, shall pass current as money, or shall be paid, or offered to be paid or received in payment for any debt, demand, claims, matter or thing whatsoever.". One of my favorite design inclusions was the 1 over 100 on the reverse of the coin. This was due to the high illiteracy of our nations people of the time. Though they couldn’t read the words, they could recognize the numbers.

    This leads us to the ‘founding fathers’ of our Mint.

    Henry Voigt is often credited for the design of the 1793 Large Cent. Now, Henry was a successful man, having worked with John Fitch (both successful watch and clock makers) to build one of the first practical “jet propulsion” boats using a steam engine (1785). They were able to achieve speeds of 6 to 8 mph, which for the day, was rather impressive. The nearest competition only achieved 3 to 4 mph. Fitch went on to run a commercial steamboat service along the Delaware River from Philadelphia to Trenton. He gave away free beer, rum and sausages to entice customer to use his service. Sadly, this was unable to keep the business “afloat” (little pun intended. Sorry. Couldn’t resist).

    Henry had worked at a German mint in his younger days (Mint of Saxe Gotha in Germany) making many improvements to their systems at the time. Henry was widely known as a “mechanical engineering genius” among his peers, and this undoubtedly helped his chances when he sent a letter to the president applying to work for the new Mint. This was also a likely reason he was picked over his business partner Fitch (who also applied for the same position). That’s where his story gets really weird. History books say that although Voigt was married, he had quite an ongoing affair with this landlord! She ended up giving birth to two children, fathered by Voigt. Fitch, in an effort to save the reputation of that landlord, married her! This is when the partnership between Fitch and Voigt ended. Makes me wonder if this could have been payback for Fitch losing the bid for getting the Chief Coiner job at the mint to Voigt!

    Surprisingly, if you dig even deeper, you find that Voigt did NOT design, nor even engrave the first dies! Now, he may have had input into the process, but was not the primary worker that made the coins we see today. I was shocked when I read that the first designs were actually made from the drawings of David Rittenhouse. David was the first Mint Director. He effectively was Henry’s boss. David was selected by George Washington himself due to his service as the Treasurer of Pennsylvania from 1777 – 1789. It was his drawings that were used by Adam Eckfeldt to engrave the first dies. Eckfeldt was the only trained and practiced die maker amongst the crowd. It makes total sense the he would have produced the dies, not Rittenhouse or Voigt. So all these years, Voigt and Rittenhouse have been given credit for these coins, and Eckfeldt has disappeared into forgotten history.

    As for the flowing hair design of those early US cents, we hear the stories that the public rejecting the design, saying that Lady Liberty looked “wild” or even “savage”. One might sit back and wonder what Rittenhouse was thinking! Alas, it was not his design after all. He loosely copied a French metal called “1781 Libertas Americana Medal”. If you look at that design, you can clearly see where Rittenhouse received his inspiration from.

    As for the reverse of the coin, well he borrowed some inspiration from both the Fugio cent as well as the Continental dollar. Sadly, when people saw the “chain” design, rather than feeling inspired, they felt that this design represented slavery.

    So, for as much grief as Voigt and Rittenhouse receive for the failed first Large Cent, in all reality, they were using pre-existing designs that has been well received in the past! Go figure!

    I now find myself looking at those early designs, and I find myself a bit disappointed really. I had always imagined some guy sitting in a candle lit room, carving tools in hand, working to make these dies from his ideas alone. Patriotic as its finest. After having done some digging, I now realize that it was a couple of rather influential men conceiving the idea (or borrowing it you might say), and having a skilled person actually make the die. The powerful men take all the credit, meanwhile, the die maker fades into infinity.

    This will not thwart my love and desire for these coins. Instead, just makes me look at them through different eyes.
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  3. Conder101

    Conder101 Numismatist

    The Libertas Americana medal was probably more the inspiration for the 1793 Liberty cap design on the half cent and cent than the chain cent. (And if I remember correctly the Libertas Americana medal was also the brainchild of Franklin.) Your Fugio cent reverse picture is of one of the New Haven restrikes that came much later.

    Rittenhouse was appointed by Washington, but I believe he was suggested to him by someone else.
    BostonCoins likes this.
  4. BostonCoins

    BostonCoins Active Member

    It's funny that you mention the Franklin connection. According to 'lore', it was Franklin's input to the Fugio cent and Continental dollar that the reverse looks the way it does. Thereby, making him the silent partner or 'silent father' of the Chain Cent!
    As for the image of the Chain Reverse I included, I was unaware of the difference. I was only looking for an image of the coin's reverse to show as a comparison.
    Finally, I completely agree about the 'liberty cap' design that you mentioned, however, I don't think it can be ignored that lady liberty on the chain cent certainly had similar hair! She may be facing a different direction, but I think at the very least, the Libertas medal. Just my opinion. Seems you find something different depending on what you read!
  5. Conder101

    Conder101 Numismatist

    I think it is fairly well established that Franklin came up with the design that was used on the Continental dollar and later the Fugio (there are sketches in his papers and it was also used on the paper money he printed in 1776.)

    The hair maybe "similar" but on the Libertas , while flowing, is still somewhat grouped into "waves" as you see on the Liberty cap cents, on the chain the hair is pretty much all individual and not grouped into waves. The facial structure is also quite different between the chain and the Libertas, but very similar between the Libertas and the Cap cents.
  6. old49er

    old49er Well-Known Member

    Great thread. Love this stuff. I personally always thought the obverse of the chain cent was influenced more by the 1792 silver center cent pattern. I have copies of all the early American stuff for an educational set, to supplement my U. S. type set. 4uscolonialcoins 1792sivercentpatterncentobv.jpg 5uscolonialcoins 1793chaincentobv.jpg
  7. old49er

    old49er Well-Known Member

  8. FANTASTIC article. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
    SchwaVB57 likes this.

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    Am I the only one who has always thought that the obv of the "flowing hair" design looks more like a witch than anything else ? Or, somebody who has just been scared half to death ?

    Now the obv of the LAM, THAT looks like flowing hair ! But the other ........
  10. Johndoe2000$

    Johndoe2000$ RE-MEMBER

    Give me Liberty, or give me a hairdresser. ;)
    mikenoodle likes this.
  11. Conder101

    Conder101 Numismatist

    No, it has frequntly been said that it look like Liberty was in a fright, or she had the "Heebie-Jeebies".
  12. Kirkuleez

    Kirkuleez 80 proof

    I understand the argument about the ugly obverse design, but the chain reverse has always confused me. Surely the symbolism of several links making one strong union wasn't that difficult to understand. There are more than enough anecdotal lines out there explaining this. Not to mention that our paper money of today has symbols that seemingly nobody in the general public seems to understand, yet we've kept them for nearly a century.
  13. SchwaVB57

    SchwaVB57 Well-Known Member

    Thank you for the information. Early cents are all intriguing to say the least.
  14. Marshall

    Marshall Junior Member

    I certainly fall into the category of "TAKEN" with early Large Cents.
  15. coinsareus10

    coinsareus10 Active Member

    Great post! Thanks.
  16. Marshall

    Marshall Junior Member

    Some things never change. Those who choose to look for things to make them unhappy, almost always succeed in finding them.
    mikenoodle and Kirkuleez like this.
  17. Bill Reich

    Bill Reich New Member

    This is a fascinating history! Thank you for this. I often wonder about the abbreviations used on some early US coinage. Like the Ameri. on the reverso of the 1793 chain cent. This is very different from accepted abbreviations today. Any idea how the decision was made to abbreviate in the manner they did?
  18. TJC

    TJC Well-Known Member

    Great post!!!
  19. NYandW

    NYandW Makes Cents!

    An enjoyable read, thank you. :)
  20. Marshall

    Marshall Junior Member

    I suspect a lack of planning and they just ran out of room after I. They couldn't afford to waste die steel, so they used it anyway.
    Bill Reich likes this.
  21. Treashunt

    Treashunt The Other Frank

    "Or, somebody who has just been scared half to death ?"

    I remember reading that ages ago as a comment in the newspapers at the time
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