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Historic 1793 S-3 Chain Cent To Be Sold by Heritage

This Chain cent appeared on the April 1869 Levick plate, the first photographic plate of large cents that appeared in the American Journal of Numismatics.

This lovely 1793 Chain cent, like most early coins, has considerable character and individuality. It combines outstanding technical quality with an historic provenance that dates back nearly 150 years, one of the longest ownership records of any Chain cent known today.

This Chain cent appeared on the April 1869 Levick plate, the first photographic plate of large cents that appeared in the American Journal of Numismatics. The Levick plate was also the first systematic attempt at the classification of large cent varieties. Twelve obverse dies and 10 reverse dies were illustrated in an arrangement of 15 different varieties. The photography was by Joseph N.T. Levick, with the descriptions and arrangements by Sylvester S. Crosby. The achievement was remarkable for the time, as only seven additional die marriages have been discovered in the 141 years since that publication.

R.W. Julian wrote in an article on the 1793 cents in the May 1990 issue of Coins magazine: “There is probably more fascination with the 1793 issues of the Philadelphia Mint than any other coinage of this country, yet the average collector knows little of this far-off year.”

The 1793 Chain cents, beginning with the famous Chain AMERI cent, were the first federal coins actually struck at the U.S. Mint early that year. The entire production of 36,103 coins (of all five known varieties), took place in early March, although R.W. Julian, Walter Breen, and others speculated that some may have been minted on February 22, marking President Washington’s birthday.

Julian continued: “The dies were finished around the second week of February 1793 and trial strikes made to see that they worked on the Mint presses. Almost certainly there was a special ceremony connected with these trial strikes, and it has been suggested that it was held Feb. 22, a well known date in American history. Washington’s birthday was celebrated even during his lifetime, and what better way to mark the formal beginning of coinage than by holding a ceremony on that special day?”

Based on delivery figures for those coins, and the current rarity of each variety, it is thought that S-3 represented almost half of the entire Chain cent mintage, or nearly 18,000 coins. However, the Chain cents proved unpopular with the public. Commentary ranged from “Liberty in chains” to a bad omen.

n his Large Cent Encyclopedia, Breen quoted a letter that appeared in a Philadelphia newspaper on March 18, 1793: “The American Cents (says a letter from Newark) do not answer our expectations. The chain on the reverse is but a bad omen for liberty, and Liberty herself appears to be in a fright.”

After the supply of copper blanks was exhausted, Mint Director David Rittenhouse ordered a change to the new Wreath design, perhaps in reply to the adverse public criticism. The first Wreath cents were coined less than a month after the last Chain cents.

Of course, today, public dissatisfaction is hardly the case, as the Chain cents are at once the most popular large cents ever produced, and highly desired as the first of their kind. The opportunity to acquire a high grade example of any variety seldom comes along, and the present offering should be considered with extreme enthusiasm.

Every Mint State 1793 Chain cent that appears on the market is subject to heavy bidding pressure. There are few pieces available, and they are unable to meet the demand for these amazing coins. The combined NGC and PCGS Census includes the following: MS67 Brown (2); MS66 Red and Brown; MS66 Brown; MS65 Red and Brown; MS65 Brown (5); MS64 Brown (3); MS63 Brown (7); MS62 Brown (4); MS61 Brown (2), and MS60 Brown. Resubmissions reduce the number of certified coins to a net population well below the 27 coins listed here. For example, the present specimen represents both an MS64 Brown and an MS63 Brown in the list above.

Both sides have splendid sepia surfaces with frosty cartwheel luster. A tiny rim bruise below the 7, and another smaller rim bruise left of the date, positively match those seen on the Levick Plate coin. Slight weakness at the center of the obverse, with minutely diminished detail on the chain, account for the conservative XF45 grades that Bill Noyes and Del Bland have given this coin.

The certification services consider the worth of any coin, with PCGS grading this coin MS63 Brown. Earlier, when it appeared in the 2003 American Numismatic Rarities sale, it was graded MS64 Brown NGC. In each auction appearance since 1956, this 1793 cent has realized a higher price than in its previous appearance. The combination of an historic U.S. coin, an ever-increasing auction price record, and remarkable preservation makes this a true showpiece, a coin that will be the centerpiece of its next collecting residence.

Ex: Colin Lightbody (Edward Cogan, 12/1866), lot 536; Mortimer Livingston Mackenzie (Edward Cogan, 6/1869), lot 624; L. Bayard Smith; later, Arthur L. Gray; Ted and Carl Brandts (Celina Coin Co.); T. James Clarke (10/1954); R.E. Naftzger, Jr.; Abe Kosoff (4/1956), lot 4, $700; Stack’s; Dorothy Nelson (Stack’s, 2/1976), lot 3, $8,500; Ed Hipps; Steve Ivy (11/1978), lot 7, $13,250; Robert E. Bender; 1988 ANA (Heritage, 7/1988), lot 43, $22,000; Anthony Terranova; Kevin Lipton; American Numismatic Rarities (7/2003), lot 105, $115,000. The obverse was illustrated on the Levick Plate for variety 2.(Registry values: N10218) (#1341)

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