Matron Head Large Cent, 1816-1835
Filed Under: US Type Coins
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
The Classic Head cents had been coined through 1814, but because of a copper shortage no cents were made in 1815; the only year without cent production from the beginning in 1873 to the present. The design of the Classic Head cent had resulted in criticism, for the narrow headband worn by Liberty (called a fillet) was worn only by young males in ancient Greece, awarded as a prize to winners of athletic contests. Chief Engraver Robert Scot was tasked with redesigning the cent, including changing the headband to a coronet, and the first examples were produced in 1816. Unfortunately, the criticism did not end with the revised design, though perhaps it was muted until more recent times. Around 1950 one respected scholar said that Liberty’s portrait “resembled the head of an obese ward boss instead of a lady”, another that it is “probably the ugliest head of Ms. Liberty ever to appear on a U.S. coin.” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as the saying goes, but the proportions of Liberty do not appear to be as refined as on the previous Classic Head or earlier Draped Bust types.
The name of the type has also been a source of confusion. Many online reference sources (including some major grading services) refer to the type as Coronet Head, while printed reference works seem to prefer the name Matron Head, a name attributed to members of the Early American Coppers Society. Similar to other coins from the early part of U.S. history, the Matron Head cent has its own share of anecdotes. Some 1817 pieces have 15 stars rather than the typical 13 stars. The reason for this is not specifically known, but most often attributed to the failing eyesight of Engraver Scot. The theory is that the first six stars were punched too closely together, so Scot added an additional nine at the same spacing to avoid an unbalanced space after the fifteenth star, thus saving the die; and, from appearances, the effort was successful.
The 1823 Matron cent is considered a key date, though likely minted in 1824 or later, but unofficial restrikes were made by Joseph J. Mickley in the mid-19th century from old dies found in scrap metal sold by the Mint. The restrikes have significant die breaks, and the obverse of 1823 is mismatched with the reverse of the 1813 cent. Many surviving 1816-20 cents are from 14,000 of the coins that were discovered in a keg by a merchant under an old Georgia railroad platform. The coins were given to a wholesaler as payment of a debt, and the wholesaler sold them to Wm. H. Chapman & Co. in New York. Attempts to use the coins for change as part of a publicity stunt were thwarted because customers were wary, presuming the unfamiliar pieces to be counterfeit. Those remaining were sold to John S. Randall, a collector from Norwich, New York, who gradually dispersed them. These coins are today described as being from the Randall Hoard. Some 1834 cents have a beaded rather than dentilled border, a change apparently connected to the proofs made in 1834 for the State Department to use as diplomatic gifts.
A left-facing, somewhat stern-faced Liberty is in the center of the obverse. Curled and flowing hair is swept back to a bun tied by plain cords, with locks draped in front of the ear and down the back of the neck. A coronet worn above the ear and forehead displays LIBERTY. Thirteen six-point stars and the date at the bottom form a circle inside the dentilled rim; some 1817 pieces have 15 stars and the date. The reverse displays UNITED STATES OF AMERICA as a nearly complete circle concentric with the dentilled rim (beaded on some 1834 cents). Inside of that is another circle formed by a laurel branch with berries, ends tied by a ribbon. The wreath is sometimes called a “Christmas wreath.” In the center is ONE CENT, each word on a separate line, with a short horizontal line beneath. All Matron Head cents were minted at Philadelphia and display no mintmark.
Thousands of business strike Matron Head cents have been certified, but many dates and varieties are represented by fewer than 100 coins in census/ population reports. Coins are also classified by surface color, most as BN (Brown) or RB (Red-Brown), with a very few designated RD (Red). Prices are moderate for many dates/ varieties to near-Gem, expensive to very expensive finer. Red-Brown examples are often more expensive than Brown coins, and Red coins more expensive than Red-Brown pieces, very expensive finer than MS60. Other more expensive issues are 1817 15 Stars, 1821, 1823, 1823 3 Over 2, 1824 4 Over 2, 1826 6 Over 5, and 1829 Medium Letters. Proof Matron Head cents are rare, and disputed by some for dates earlier than 1828, though listed in census/ population reports. Coins for some dates are reported with a proof obverse and normal reverse, but these too are questioned by some experts. Fewer than 10 examples have been certified for most dates; proofs are also classified by color designation. Prices range from expensive as PR60 to very expensive finer than PR62. The 1821, 1822, and 1823 3 Over 2 proofs are approximately twice as expensive as proofs from 1824 forward.
Designer: Robert Scot, after John Reich, with modifications by William Kneass
Circulation Mintage: high 4,407,550 (1820), low 389,000 (1821)
Proof Mintage: 10- 20 pieces per year except for 1816, 1818, and 1826 (estimated)
Denomination: One cent (01/100)
Diameter: 28-29 mm; plain edge
Metal Content: 100% copper
Weight: 10.89 grams
Varieties: Many known including 1817 13 Stars, and 15 Stars; 1819, 9 Over 8, Large Date, Small Date; 1820, 20 Over 19, Large Date, Small Date; 1823, 3 Over 2, and unofficial restrikes; 1824, 4 Over 2; 1826, 6 Over 5; 1828 Large Narrow Date, Small Wide Date; 1829, 1830, 1831, and 1832 Large Letters, Medium Letters; 1834 Large 8, Stars, and Reverse Letters; 1834 Large 8 and Stars, Medium Letters; 1834 Large 8, Small Stars, Medium Letters; 1834 Small 8, Large Stars, Medium Letters; 1835 Large 8 and Stars, Small 8 and Stars; 1835 Head of 1836; and other minor die variations.
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
Early American Coppers: www.eacs.org
United States Large Cents 1816-1839. William Noyes. W.C. Noyes.
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.
A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Don Taxay. Arco Publishing.
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.
Last Updated : 03/23/2009
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About the Author
Tim Shuck is a life-long Midwestern resident, and started collecting coins after finding an Indian Head cent on the ground at his childhood farm home. Additional encouragement came from looking through a collection of well-worn late 19th and early 20th century coins kept by his grandfather in an old leather coin purse. Current collecting interests include U.S. types from the Civil War era through the early 1930's, and Colonial and Early American coins.