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Flowing Hair Large Cent 1793
In his Encyclopedia of United States Large Cents, Walter Breen commented upon the
belief of some who suggested that the abbreviated legend was "deliberate symbolism,
after the style of the Masonic Unfinished Pyramid on the reverse of the Great Seal".
Others, however, believe that it simply reflects the inexperience of the engravers
of the first cent.
1793: Robert Scot
Content: 100% copper
1794: Joseph Wright / Robert Scot
1795-1796: Robert Scot
Year / Weight
Mint Mark: None (Philadelphia)
1793 - 13.5 grams
1794 - 13.5 grams
1795 - 13.5 grams, reduced to 10.9 grams at the last part of the year
1796 - 10.9 grams
1793 - 1794
1. Lettered: ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR with a leaf after DOLLAR, points down
2. Lettered: ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR with a leaf after DOLLAR, points up
1795 - 1796
1. Lettered: ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR
3. Experimental vertical reeding Mint Mark Legend
Chain and "AMERI." on the Reverse
The first regular coins struck by the federal government on its own machinery and
within its own premises were the 36,103 Chain cents struck in the first twelve days
of March of 1793. Wright drew inspiration from a popular design created by French
medalist Augustin Dupre's 1783 Libertas Americana Medal commemorating American victories
at Saratoga and Yorktown over the English. The metal and the coin displayed Liberty with
her hair unbound and flowing in the wind, superimposed on a pole topped by a pileus
(the helmet-like emblem of freedom).
With the small hand presses then in use, if the central device of Liberty was to have
any appreciable relief, then the reverse design had to have a simple layout with much
open space in the fields. The chain design was simple enough and is easily the most
successful element on the coin. Its fifteen interlocking links form an unbroken chain,
with the words ONE CENT and the fraction 1/100 inside.
The chain device was an obvious allusion to the interconnectedness of the fifteen states
in the Union. This chain device had recently been used on Continental Currency to signify
the common, shared cause of the 13 colonies. Even more recently, it had been seen on the
widely circulated Fugio cents of 1787. This made the public reaction to the coin more
difficult to understand: Many people associated the chain device with the chains of slavery.
Whatever the meaning, the "AMERI." was quickly replaced by "AMERICA".
Type 1 Chain and "AMERICA" on the Reverse
The March 18, 1793 edition of Philadelphia′s The Mail, or Claypoole′s Daily Advertiser
stated the opinion, "The chain on the reverse is but a bad omen for liberty." Soon after
the "Chain" reverse was replaced by the "Wreath" reverse.
Wreath and "AMERICA" on the Reverse
The 1793 Flowing Hair and wreath reverse was issued with two Borders. Click the link
below to see an example of both, side by side.
Despite the obstacles, a quick change of the cent design seemed desirable, and Mint
Director David Rittenhouse first told coiner Adam Eckfeldt to delete the offending chains
from the reverse. The new Liberty head had long, separate locks blowing even more wildly
than those on the Chain coins. The new reverse presented an elegant wreath of elongated
leaves resembling laurel, the ancient symbol of victory.
Philadelphia Mint records show that 63,353 Wreath cents were struck. Many were saved,
probably as curiosities. A number were set aside by visiting Britons, for whom the coin
collecting hobby was already well established.
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U.S. Large Cents