Featured An Introduction the Fugio Cent

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by johnmilton, Apr 1, 2020.

  1. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Greetings fellow inmates!

    I just learned to day the governor is going to make our house arrest offcial. I hope that I will be able to go out for food.

    Given all the doom and gloom, I decided to dust off another old article from 2010. I never published this one so I "fattened it up" a little.

    In the late 1780s a glut of circulating, light weight copper coins was damaging the fragile United States economy. Some of these coppers were legitimate pieces that several states were issuing under the provisions of the Articles of Confederation. Under that form of government, which preceded the U.S. Constitution, each state was allowed to establish their own monetary system and issue money to support it. There were also foreign coins in circulation, which had been the standard practice since the colonial period.

    1788 Mass Half Cent O.jpg 1788 Mass Half Cent R.jpg

    The 1887-8 Massachusetts copper coins were the best made of the pre-Constitution state coinages. Unfortunately it cost more to produce them than their face value!

    1773 Half Real Dis O.jpg 1773 Half Real Dis R.jpg

    Spanish silver, like the 1773 half reale circulated in America.

    The worst problem was a growing number of underweight counterfeit copper coins which almost all bore a resemblance to the British half penny. Several nefarious minters were producing these coins. One source was Machin’s Mills, which was located in Newburgh, New York. It was producing both legitimate and counterfeit coins. In an effort to stabilize the situation, Congress authorized a national coinage which came to be known as the Fugio cent.

    Machin Mills O.jpg Machin Mills R.jpg

    A Machin's Mills counterfiet half penny

    The new coin was supposed to be a “cent” with a value of 1/100 of a Spanish Milled Dollar. Since the Confederation Government did not have a national mint or the funds to establish one, a contract was offered to a private mint to make the coins. The winner of that contract was James Jarvis, who got a leg up on the competition by offering a bribe to the secretary of the treasury.
    Although Jarvis had produced the Connecticut cents and was experienced in coin making, he did not have enough capital to complete the contract. Jarvis borrowed copper from the government to get started and left for Europe to find additional financing.
    During Jarvis’ fund raising efforts, his company produced about 400,000 cents. They also illegally diverted some of the government’s copper to produce Connecticut “cents” or coppers. Previously Jarvis’ old business, the “Company for Coining Coppers,” had made those pieces for the Connecticut Government.

    CT Copper O.jpg
    A Connecticut copper or "cent"

    The Fugio Cent design was similar to the Continental dollar, which it is now believed is a medal that was issued in Europe after the Revolutionary War. The obverse featured a sundial, the date, the word “Fugio” and the phrase, “Mind your business.” These words, which have been attributed to Benjamin Franklin, met, “Times flies, work hard and make a success of your business.” The reverse of the coin had a continuous chain of 13 interlocked links and the motto “United States … We are one,” in the center. This design represented a call for unity among the 13 states that were then loosely held together under The Articles of Confederation.

    Continued, next post

    1787 Fugio Cent O.jpg 1787 Fugio Cent R.jpg

    1787 Fugio Cent, Club Rays Variety


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  3. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Ultimately Jarvis was unable to get European investors to fund his project, and he defaulted on his contract. Once his employees learned what was happening, they fled the scene in order to avoid possible prosecutions.

    Most notable among them was die maker Abel Buell who had once been convicted of counterfeiting. Buell had previously been caught “raising” genuine five shilling notes to five pound notes. He did this by erasing parts of the design and carefully drawing in the necessary bogus design elements.

    Since Buell was a young man, and this was his first offence, the courts went easy on him. A “C” was branded on his forehead above the hairline, the tip of one of his ears was clipped and he was thrown into prison for an indefinite period. After this experience, Buell wanted no further interactions with the 18th century justice system.

    Upon examining the Fugio cents that Buell and his co-workers had made, government officials discovered that the coins did not weigh enough to qualify as “cents” which were worth 1/100 of the dollar. Instead they would have to trade as “coppers,” which would be whatever the market would bear.

    In effort to recover its losses, government officials sold the coins to a speculator, Royal Flint, who planned to circulate the coins at a profit. Unfortunately, Flint’s timing was off. The market for light weight coppers had collapsed, and he was unable to pay his debt to the government. That landed him in jail.

    Ultimately a large number of the Fugio cents do go into circulation, and the coin is somewhat common in used condition. There are also a number of Mint State examples known, mostly from a hoard of the coins that were stored in the vaults of the Bank of New York in Manhattan. Over the years the bank gave some coins to favored customers.

    Finally in the late 1940s a group of numismatists were allowed to examine the remaining pieces. They found 1,641 coins remained of the hoard. There were nine Neuman die varieties among them. Today most any Fugio Cent in Mint State condition is said to be “Bank of Hoard” variety. That assumption is often correct since that was the source of most of the known Mint State pieces.

    1787 Fugio 8 X O.jpg 1787 Fugio 8 X R.jpg

    A Bank of New York Hoard Fugio. The Newman number on this one is 8-X

    Today the Fugio cent is in a way a collector’s bargain. Compared to the more famous 1793 Chain cent, the prices are almost modest. The 2020 edition of the Red Book lists the most common variety from $200 in VG to $9,000 in Mint State. A comparable Chain cent would sell from $7,500 in Good (You will be amazed at how little design detail those coins have.) to at least, hundreds of thousands dollars in Mint State.

    1793ChainO.JPG 1793ChainR.JPG

    A 1793 Chain Cent, the "Periods Variety," S-4
  4. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Well-Known Member

    As usual, your posts are informative and a learning experience. Thank you so much.
  5. Conder101

    Conder101 Numismatist

    Under the Articles the Federal government had sole authority for establishing the alloy and value of the coins of both the Federal or State coinages, but the states did have the authority to produce their own coin.

    He was trying to additional copper, on credit, to finish the contract. He had gotten 30 tons of copper from the government but his contract was for coining 300 tons.

    the 400,000 Fugios would have used about 3.5 tons of the 30 tons of government copper, the rest was diverted. The Connecticut coppers were lighter in weight and more coins could be struck from each ton allowing them greater profit.

    When Jarvis returned from Europe, he learned that he was already in default on the contract (the 400,000 Fugios were the only delivery they made and they had missed several scheduled deliveries before Jarvis returned) and his workers had already fled. Jarvis then had to flee the country as well.
    LakeEffect, wxcoin and johnmilton like this.
  6. Cachecoins

    Cachecoins Historia Moneta

    Great read, thanks :)
  7. ksparrow

    ksparrow Coin Hoarder

    Great read, thanks. Abel Buell's home still stands, and is a B&B.
  8. Mainebill

    Mainebill Wild Bill

    Great read as usual. Always liked the fugios I’ve had quite a few
  9. messydesk

    messydesk Well-Known Member

    Absolutely true. Compare also with moderns graded 70 with special labels. I have one Fugio in my collection (Newman 15-Y). It was one of those coins I kept on my desk for a long time after buying it before locking it up.
    Here's a crude attribution guide for these that I put together in about 5 minutes.
  10. Fugio1

    Fugio1 Supporter! Supporter

    I no longer own this coin, but I must say it profoundly influenced my early collecting experience. As a young man, I was focusing mainly on large cents but the historical significance of the fugio cent made it relevant to my collecting theme so I was always on the lookout for a respectable example as a type coin. One day, I dropped into an area coin shop about an hour from home where I found this example, graded about EF and priced about what one would expect for a great example type coin. Fugio 1Z1 -pp.jpg
    Although not completely out of my reach, the asking price was a lot of money in those days for a young collector so I told the dealer I would think about it, but on the drive home, I told my wife there was something about the coin that looked different. When I arrived home I found the variety with raised rims and cross after date was unpriced in the red book. I drove back to the shop and paid the asking price. The dealer obviously was unaware of what he had which was very surprising as this dealer is highly respected and is still around nearly 40 years later in the same shop location.

    My collecting interests changed over the years and I sold the coin for several multiples of what I paid for it; Nevertheless, I learned a lot about early US coppers including the Fugio cent, and how important it is to study and read about the coins one collects. The experience led me to adopt my moniker which I have maintained for decades.
  11. BuffaloHunter

    BuffaloHunter Short of a full herd

    Thanks again @johnmilton for imparting your vast knowledge of history on us, this was a very interesting read. I hope to one day have one of these in my collection.
  12. halfcent1793

    halfcent1793 Well-Known Member

    Nice intro to the Fugios, the first official coin of the United States government.
  13. wxcoin

    wxcoin Getting no respect for 64 years

    Nice read for a shut in. I've been in a self imposed quarantine since I retired 4 years ago.
  14. vintagemintage

    vintagemintage Well-Known Member

  15. posnerfan_48

    posnerfan_48 Member

    A VG Fugio for 200? Is that common to actually find? I'm a huge revolutionary war history buff, as well as, a recent law school graduate, this would be a real steal at 200.
  16. Eduard

    Eduard Supporter**

    Last edited: Apr 3, 2020
  17. physics-fan3.14

    physics-fan3.14 You got any more of them.... prooflikes? Supporter

    A Fugio is high on my list of dream coins. At the FUN show this year, after I had spent all my money, I spent the rest of my time scouring the show for Fugio cents. I wasn't ready to buy one, I just wanted to look at them. There were quite a few available for sale, all the way up to a gorgeous MS-64.

    It seems that many of these are heavily clashed, and many have a weak strike. If you're going to buy one, the key seems to be finding one that has a full, legible strike - they are far more attractive.
    wxcoin likes this.
  18. ksparrow

    ksparrow Coin Hoarder

    Here is my blunt rays version, these are a bit more scarce.
    1787 fugio blunt obv.jpg 1787 fugio blunt rev.jpg
    wxcoin and posnerfan_48 like this.
  19. Jack D. Young

    Jack D. Young Well-Known Member

    Great post- not sure how I missed it...

    Those who know me know I dabble in authenticity challenged pieces so my contribution to this thread is my "New Haven Restrike".

    This particular example is interesting in the history but also in my opinion its low grade, indicating it either circulated or more likely was a favorite "pocket piece".

    ksparrow and wxcoin like this.
  20. Oldhoopster

    Oldhoopster It seemed like a good idea at the time.

    The Fugio from my Colonial type collection. Bought it from Anthony Terranova about 10 years ago. As a kid, I remember reading about these in The Redbook and always wanted one and finally have a nice example IMG_1214 (2).JPG IMG_1215 (2).JPG
    ksparrow, wxcoin and Jack D. Young like this.
  21. Conder101

    Conder101 Numismatist

    Almost certainly a pocket piece, the New Haven restrikes were struck much too late to have realistically have been used in circulation, around 1859.
    Jack D. Young likes this.
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