Colonials : Fugio Cents

Obverse of 1787 Fugio Cent Reverse of 1787 Fugio Cent

Reprinted from "The Early Coins of America" by Sylvester S. Crosby:

These were the earliest coins issued by the authority of the United States. The records relating to them are very meager, and the papers therein referred to cannot be found. The ensuing copies of the entries in the Journal of Congress contain all the information that can now be procured regarding the proceedings of the authorities in relation to this coinage: these we copy according to their dates.

Saturday, April 21, 1787
The Committee, consisting of Mr. Johnson, Mr. King, Mr. Pierce, Mr. Clark, and Mr. Pettit, to whom was referred a report of the Board of Treasury on certain proposals for coining copper have reported,

"That the board of treasury be authorized to contract for three hundred tons of copper coin of the federal standard, agreeably to the proposition of Mr. James Jarvis, provided that the premium to be allowed to the United States on the amount of copper coin contracted for be not less that fifteen per cent.  That it be coined at the expense of the contractor, but under the inspection of an officer appointed and paid by the United States; that the obligations to be given for the payment of the copper coin to be delivered under such contract be redeemable within years after the date thereof, with an option of discharging the same at an earlier period; that they bear and interest not exceeding six per cent per annum, and that the principal and interest accruing thereon be payable within the United States; that the whole of the monies arising from the said contract shall be sacredly appropriated and applied to the reduction of the domestic debt.

"A motion was made by Mr. Madison, seconded by Mr. Few, to strike out the last clause, and on the question, shall the last clause stand, viz that the whole of the monies &c, the yeas & nays being required by Mr. Pettit, the question was lost, and the clause was struck out."

After the clause was stricken out, the original article was amended by inserting in the blank the word “twenty”, and instead of the rejected clause, the following was inserted;

That the whole of the aforesaid loan shall be sacredly appropriated and applied to the reduction of the domestic debt of the United States, and the premium thereon towards the payment of the interest on the foreign debt."

In this form it was passed, and is so entered in the printed Journal of Congress.

The subsequent action relating to this coinage follows:

Tuesday, May 8, 1787
On the motion of Mr. King

"Resolved, That the board of treasury be and hereby are authorized to dispose of the public copper on hand, either by sale of contract for the coinage of the same, as they shall judge most for the interests of the United States."

Friday, July 6, 1787
"On the report of a committee, consisting of Mr. Pierce, Mr. Kean, and Mr. Holten, to whom was referred a letter of the 11th May from the board of treasury:

"Resolved, That the board of treasury direct the contractor for the copper coinage to stamp on one side of each piece the following device, viz: thirteen circles linked together, a small circle in the middle, with the words 'United States,' round it; and in the center, the words 'We are one;' on the other side of the same piece the following device, viz: a dial with the hours expressed on the face of it; a meridian sun above, on one side of which is to be the word 'Fugio,' and on the other the year in figures '1787' below the dial, the words 'Mind your Business.'"

September 30, 1788

A committee, consisting of Mr. Clark, Mr. Dane, Mr. Carrington, Mr. Bingham, and Mr. Williamson, having been appointed to inquire into the department of finance, they reported, Sept. 30, 1788.  Their report upon this subject was as follows:

"There are two contracts made by the board of treasury with James Jarvis, the one for coining three hundred tons of copper of the federal standard, to be loaned to the United States, together with an additional quantity of forty-five tons, which he was to pay as a premium to the United States for the privilege of coining; no part of the contract hath been fulfilled.  A particular statement of this business, so far as relates to the three hundred tons, has lately been reported to Congress.  It does not appear to your committee that the board were authorized to contract for the privilege of coining forty-five tons as a premium, exclusive of the three hundred mentioned in the act of Congress.

"The other contract with said Jarvis is for the sale of a quantity of copper, amounting, as per account, to 71,174 pounds; this the said Jarvis has received at the stipulated price of eleven pence farthing, sterling, per pound, which he contracted to pay in copper coin, of the federal standard, on or before the last day of August 1788, now past; of which but a small part has been received.  The remainder it is presumed, the board of treasury will take effectual measures to recover as soon as possible.”

The last sentence of the foregoing report leads us to expect some further mention of the subject in the records: no such mention is to be found, and we are left in ignorance as to the quantity of coin struck, and the date and manner of settlement with the contractor.  If, however, we may judge from the numbers of dies, and the plentiful supply of specimens still found, a large quantity must have been issued, and it may be that the whole of the contracts were fulfilled. 

...The most prominent points of variation in the obverses are found to be in the order of the words UNITED STATES, which are often transposed to STATES UNITED.  In one die...UNITED is above, and STATES below...and in another,...these words are separated by two stars of eight.  The words WE ARE ONE also vary considerably in position, and in the spacing of the letters.

The principal differences of the reverses are in the different punctuations of the legend..., in the punctuation of the motto, MIND YOUR BUSINESS, (which on some specimens has five diamond-shaped dashes, on others, four, and on others, none while one die...has two light dashes, and a point;) and in the sun’s rays, which in some dies...are very heavy, and are known as "club rays."  [Clashed dies] often seen, and on some, the impression of the reverse is visible on the obverse.

There are, besides the regular issue of these coins, other pieces of the same general character, supposed to be patterns...

The re-strikes frequently seen...are from dies found in a store at New Haven, Connecticut, formerly occupied by Messrs. Broome and Platt.

These coins have been known by various names, as "Franklin," "Sun Dial," "Ring," and “Mind your business” cents, as well as by the name at the head of this chapter.  Another name is proposed for them by Mr. Bushnell in the annexed paragraph:

"This coin was issued by authority of Congress in 1787.  It is generally known as the Franklin cent, but should properly called the Rittenhouse Cent, if named after any individual...It was first coined in the city of New York.  A number of sets of dies were made, and the piece was subsequently coined not merely in New York, but also New Haven, Connecticut, Rupert, Vermont, and other places.  The dies were made by Abel Buel, of New Haven, and the coins were struck by means of a drop press."

The ensuing notice of these coins was circulated in the papers of that time: "The coinage of federal CENTS, coppers, at New York, we are told, is carrying on, and we may expect soon to see them in circulation among us—these will free us from the impositions to which we are now exposed from the floods of light half-coined British half-pence, introduced among us—and as, from the excellent monitorial caution, 'MIND YOUR BUSINESS,' impressed on each of these, they may prove an antidote to insurgency, they will doubtless be held in high estimation."

-- Reprinted from "The Early Coins of America" by Sylvester S. Crosby