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The World’s Most Expensive Penny?

November 12, 2018 0 Comments

The recent sale of a Judd-3 1792 Birch cent at auction must represent the extreme opposite of the change in our pockets. A comparative bargain at only $660,000, the penny changed hands at the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Winter Expo, held from October 25 to 28, 2018, in Baltimore. The well-known New York coin auction house, Stack’s Bowers sold the coin in an auction that realized in total $23.9 million, with $12.7 million in American coins, many of which came from the Archangel collection. This is a collection of rare American coins, including many from the year 1792, which is the first year the US Mint produced coins. The collection brings together top-quality coins from many major collections, and it was mostly assembled during the 1970s and 80s.

The Judd-3 1792 Birch cent is one of only eleven examples known to exist today. It was a pattern coin, or prototype, created as the Mint struggled to create a usable coin that would also satisfy the requirements of the Coinage Act of 1792. The fledgling republic had only signed the peace treaty with Britain nine years earlier, and it was still trying to establish its own currency. At that time coinage reflected directly the value of the metals in it, and the problem was that the act required the penny to contain ’11 pennyweight’ (1.7g) of pure copper. This created a coin over one inch in diameter, and the Birch cent was a pattern coin created to test the design, and to assess the practical usage of the coin. It is likely, although not confirmed, that these coins were handled by both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, giving them a remarkable historic linkage.

Although this price seems high, it was a bargain compared to the $2.5 million paid in January 2015 for another Birch cent, or the $1.2 million paid in March of the same year for one. The coin sold in October 2018, had been in the Archangel collection since 1976, when it was acquired from the Laird U. Park Collection. It can be traced back to a sale in December 1859 by Ed Cogan, a Brooklyn coin and rare books dealer.

It would seem that Jefferson was not happy with the size of the Birch cent, since he proposed a solution – the insertion of a plug of silver in the center of the coin, which would increase its value and allow the size to be reduced. An example of this ‘Silver Center’ one cent coin was also sold in the auction, dating from 1792 and once owned by Dr. J. Hewitt Judd, whose reference book, ‘United States Pattern Coins’, is still widely referred to for authenticity. The Judd Silver Center cent sold for $336,000.

The Birch cent features a profile figure of Liberty as a young girl with flowing hair. Around the bust are the words, LIBERTY PARENT OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY. It was only in 1862 that the words ‘In God we trust’ we used on American coins. The reverse has the words ONE CENT surrounded by a laurel wreath and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

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