Half-Cents and Cents : Flowing Hair Large Cent : Type 2, Wreath Cent

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Obverse of 1793 Wreath Cent Reverse of 1793 Wreath Cent

The following is reprinted with permission from Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of Early United States Cents 1793-1814, by Walter Breen, edited by Mark R. Borckardt

    The new wreath design was Director David Rittenhouse’s answer to the newspaper criticisms of the Chain Cent.
    Unlike any other United States coins, these show a leafy sprig between the head and date; unlike any other coins except the Voigt and Birch cents of 1792 and the half cents of 1793, they have linear, or forked, spikes of berries.
    Which plant(s) the wreaths depicted has been controversial for over a century.  Most likely, Rittenhouse furnished a sketch representing a composite wreath; the trefoils represented cotton leaves while the berries or florets remain unidentified (possibly corn tassels); the lanceolate leaves are less olive than laurel.1  If Rittenhouse did intend to depict laurel, the most likely species is the bay laurel or laurel of Apollo, laurus nobilis, native to the Greek islands and Italy, but brought to the Atlantic Coast colonies in the 1600s.  In folklore, this plant was linked with victory and peace; in superstition, it was a charm against lightning striking any place where it grew or was hung or strewn.  Ancient Greeks used it to make wreaths for crowning victors in town games.  Rittenhouse doubtless knew this and would have favored the symbolism as relevant at once to the American victory in the Revolutionary War, and to the triumph of the Mint over its detractors.
    The actual diesinker is uncertain.  It was not Voigt as the style is too different from the Chains.  Neither Joseph Wright nor Robert Scot had yet been hired.  This leaves only two likely candidates: Birch2 and Adam Eckfeldt.  In favor of Eckfeldt is the close kinship between these reverses and those of the half cents of 1793, which Eckfeldt claimed as his own work.3  In favor of Birch is the kinship between the seven cent reverses and that of the Birch and Voigt cents of 1792.  Most likely, both men worked on these dies, with Eckfeldt afterwards basining, polishing, and hardening them.4
    Coinage began April 4, using blanks produced during the last few days of March from the remainder of the scrap copper bought March 1 through 6; these ran out April 19, halting coinage.  Other copper purchases followed:5>

Date

Pounds

Source

April 4

59lb 8oz.

Mary Jones

May 16

11,294

Watson & Greenleaf

June 25

346

John Murphy

June 29

45lb 8oz.

Henry Voigt

August 1

2,434

Ferdinand Gourdon

    The May 16 shipment of 58 pigs (crude ingot castings) reshipped from New York to Philadelphia on the sloop Hope (under Captain Webb).  Its arrival time shows that it must have served for the Lettered Edges.  The Gourdon purchase was called “wrought copper,” more costly than scrap.  The August 1 acquisition date indicates that it may have been used in part for making half cent blanks, but mostly it served for Liberty Caps and the earliest 1794s.  The other purchases were scrap copper.
    On inception of the design, April 4, the coiner struck a few prooflike specimens (presentation pieces) on brilliantly polished blanks.6  The first obverse die began, almost at once, to chip and crumble at the rims.  Later dies buckled quickly, a problem originating in incomplete hardening, for which Eckfeldt found no solution until 1795.
    Only the first obverse die continued the large LIBERTY and date as on the Chain type, however, the larger head produced a crowded effect.7  This doubtless explains why Jacob Bay had to make a new smaller letter and numeral punches.
    Between April 9 and July 17, 1793, Voigt delivered 63,353 cents in nine batches, as follows:8

Struck

Delivered

Quantity

Varieties

April 4-9

April 9

12,000

6,7

April 10, 13

April 13

6,112

8-12

April 15-16

April 16

8,000

12

April 17

April 17

7,000

12

April 18

April 18

6,000

12

April 19

April 19

4,240

13, See below.

April 27-28

April 28

8,000

13,14,15

April 29, July 1

July 6

11,825

16a, 16b, 16c

?

July 17

176

Dies exhausted

 

Total

63,353

 

    The interruption on April 19, according to Julian, came about because the Mint’s primitive rolling mills had broken down, as often occurred from 1793-1815.9  The supply of blanks was exhausted on that same day and the rolling mills were not again serviceable until the middle of June, after which the Mint resumed its search for acceptable copper.
    Probably about 4% of the original 63,353 coin mintage survive: 2,400 to 2,800 in all grades, of which 30 qualify as Mint State, and many more show only trifling signs of circulation.  This proportion is higher than for later years perhaps due to British collectors, who saved them as colonial issues, and to local citizens who squirreled them away as novelties.
    During the summer of 1793, Rittenhouse finally located the ideal man for the engravership, Joseph Wright.  Most likely, Wright’s cameos convinced the Mint officials that he could create suitable device punches: an essential task for multiplying dies for the anticipated larger mintage.  Among Wright’s first tasks was to make a device punch for the cents, effectively signaling the end of the Wreath design.

Key to 1793 Wreath Cents

Description

Sheldon

Breen

Small, heavy ribbon bow

 

 

   Large date and LIBERTY

5

6

   Y above forelock

6

7

   Right obverse leaf smallest

7

8

   Thick obverse stem end

NC-5

9

Thick obverse stem end

 

 

   Small, heavy ribbon bow

NC-5

9

   Period after legend

10

10

Horizontal obverse twig

 

 

   Period after legend

NC-4

11

   Kidney-shaped bow

9

12

   Triangular bow

8

13

Trefoil sprig (a.k.a. strawberry leaves)

 

 

   Crowded right stem and ribbon

NC-2

14

   No outer left trefoil on reverse

NC-3

15

All three obverse leaves lean right

 

 

   Vine and bars edge

11a

16a

   Lettered edge with two leaves

11b

16b

   Lettered edge with one leaf

11c

16c

General description

Obverse: Liberty head faces right, in higher relief than on the obverses of the Chain type.  Her hair is in detached pointed locks with the lowest three especially long and divergent.  A tiny double curl dills the angle between the lowest lock and neckline.  All seven heads used on different dies of this design were apparently drawn by hand following a single sketch.  LIBERTY and date are from individual punches: on the first obverse, they are as large as on the Chain cents, thereafter small.  A taller 7 later replaced the short punch.  Between the date and bust there is a sprig of leaves, so different on each obverse die as to enable instant recognition.  Within a raised rim, narrower than the blunt lip rim on previous obverses, there is a border of round beads, probably imparted by a twin punch.10
Reverse: Wreath of two composite branches bearing lanceolate leaves (for olive or laurel?) and trefoils (for cotton?), with linear, or forked, rows of berries (Crosby calls them “axillary racemes”).  At their crossing, a thick ribbon is tied, forming a single bow.  One trefoil within each branch, below or opposite C T; other trefoils outside, that on the right branch opposite the inner trefoil, that on the left varying in position (in one die omitted and in another, duplicated).  ONE CENT is within the wreath with the statutory legend around, and the fraction 1/100 below the knot.  Raised rim and beaded border, as on the obverse.
Edge: Vine and bars, as before.  The last variety comes also, occasionally, with edge lettered ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR and two leaf clusters; more often only one leaf cluster follows DOLLAR, this latter device continuing into early 1794.
Diameter: 17/16” (27.0 millimeters); range 26 to 28.5 millimeters, as in the Chain design, and with the same explanation.
Weight standard: 208 grains (13.48 grams).  Observed range, about 200 to 216 grains (12.96 to 14.00 grams).
Planchet stock: Rolled from scrap copper.

Endnotes:

  1. See also, Half Cent Encyclopedia, p.30.
  2. Editor’s note: The specific identity of Birch has not been located.  We are referring here to the same Birch whose name appears on the 1792 coins known as the “Birch Cents.”  To date, contemporary records have not been located confirming the identity of Birch.
  3. Breen, Half Cent Encyclopedia, p. 30.
  4. R.W. Julian notes that Voigt “almost certainly did the Wreath dies but may have been given a small amount of help by Eckfeldt.  The quality is not up to the Wright level and Birch was not a competent engraver.  Eckfeldt was definitely not the engraver because if he had been this skilled, the half cent planchets would not have waited for some weeks to be coined and, most importantly, Eckfeldt would have been given the engraver’s post.  Instead, he did contract work for the mint until January 1796 when he was appointed assistant coiner at a salary of only $600 compared to $1500 for the engraver.  The difference of $900 was a large sum of money in those days and young Eckfeldt was hardly wealthy.”
  5. Table after Julian, “The Beginning of Coinage – 1793,” Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine, May 1963, p. 1363.
  6. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Proof Coins, 1722-1989, New Revised and Corrected Edition, Wolfeboro, NH: Bowers and Merena Galleries, Inc., 1989, p. 30.
  7. Many collectors feel this is the most aesthetically pleasing obverse.
  8. Table partly after Julian, “Beginning of Coinage – 1793,” p. 1359.
  9. Reliable rolling mills had to await the major overhaul following a fire which destroyed the Mint’s back building in January 1816.
  10. Craig Sholley, August 1, 1996 letter to the editor, notes: “There is no evidence that the Mint used ‘twin’ or ‘double dentil’ punches in sinking the border details. …There is no example of a coin, in any series, showing double punching of the dentils [except for a single example of our 1793 number 8 with an extra bead on the obverse] which would indicate a twin punch. …The Mint had another method of sinking the border details; this being a punching machine.  The purchase of such is documented in the Mint records – see Stewart, page 174, warrant for July 20, 1793.”