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Iconic 1793 Chain Cent to be Offered in our May 2016 Rarities Auction

By James McCartney, Numismatist & Cataloger

Author: James McCartney / Wednesday, April 13, 2016 / Categories: United States Coin of the Week

Stack’s Bowers Galleries is pleased to offer a handsome 1793 Chain AMERICA cent in our upcoming May 25 Rarities Auction held in conjunction with Sotheby’s. Although the rich cappuccino surfaces are slightly granular under magnification, they remain overall attractive and glossy to the naked eye. Unmarred by even a single noteworthy abrasion or planchet inconsistency, the quality of this cent is much nicer than usually encountered at this level of preservation. The design elements are sharp with particularly acute definition exhibited by the reverse motif. For enthusiasts of early American copper and exceptional U.S. type coins, the present offering is an important opportunity.  

Few issues conjure the optimistic sentiments of our nation's developmental years as much as the Chain cents of 1793. Henry Voigt's Chain cents represent newly won sovereignty and are a physical manifestation of the grassroots struggle toward freedom. Borne out of practicality and necessity, the cents were the first regular issue coin struck by the U.S. Mint (excluding the patterns of 1792 that were neither for circulation nor struck inside the Mint building). These pieces were intended to displace the cacophony of copper coins that had sustained the economy throughout the colonial period, including issues from New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and even Ben Franklin's Fugio cent that served as currency before a federal monetary system was established.

Though now considered very appealing by modern numismatists, the 1793 Chain cent was controversial to many contemporary critics. The chained circle on the reverse, employed to represent strength and unity, was often interpreted as a symbol of slavery and imprisonment. Similarly, Liberty's portrait on the obverse was considered to be unattractive, even frightening by some, loosely foreshadowing some of the sentiments that would be expressed about the Flowing Hair motif on the dollars and half dollars of the following year.

For reasons of both practicality and aesthetics, just over 36,000 Chain cents were struck before the Wreath Reverse design type was introduced. Just a small fraction of this initial mintage has survived for today's collector's to enjoy, and an even smaller fraction of those remain without consequential blemishes and signs of mistreatment, stressing the desirability of this attractive, problem-free example.

This important rarity will be offered alongside other treasures in our May 2016 Rarities Auction, held in conjunction with our offering of the D. Brent Pogue Collection, Part IV. Both sales will be available to view online at StacksBowers.com. To consign your rarities to one of our upcoming sales, please contact our offices today at 1-800-458-4646 to speak with a Consignment Director and see what Stack's Bowers Galleries can do for you.