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Obverse of 1793 Large Cent - Sheldon 13     Reverse of 1793 Large Cent - Sheldon 13


PCGS No: 1359


Circulation strikes: 11,056
Proofs: 0

Designer: attributed by Breen to Joseph Wright

Diameter: 28.5 millimeters

Metal content:
Copper - 100%

Weight: 208 grains (13.5 grams)

Edge: see individual varieties.  Could be:
1. Lettered: ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR with one leaf after DOLLAR, leaf points down, or
2. Lettered: ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR with one leaf after DOLLAR, leaf points up

Mintmarks: None (all examples of this type were struck at the Philadelphia Mint)

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

   During Joseph Wright's first few weeks as Mint Engraver (which proved to be his last few weeks of life), his duties included the assignment to make a new devices punch for the cents.  Without it, our first engraver of the Mint would have been only a name in the history of early American art, honored among specialists but little known even to the museum-going public.  Coin collectors have given him a permanent place of honor for his cent design, partly because the 1793 Liberty Caps are the first of their kind and partly because his design is of a quality unequaled in any subsequent cent coinage.1  Much the same type of head, minus the cap, adorns our earliest dollars and half dollars.  This became briefly as distinctively the American style of coin in international trade as the Dos Mundos design was the Mexican.
   Wright derived the concept, at some distance, from Augustin Dupre’s LIBERTAS AMERICANA medal, though he made the head face right.2 His Liberty Cap device punch of 1793-94 is more delicate and subtle in detail than its successors, though the condition of survivors does not usually allow this to be noticed.  The punch comprised only the head and cap, not the pole.
   Because this head was in higher relief than its predecessors were, the reverse needed to be laid out in such a way as to minimize areas where obverse relief detail was directly opposite reverse relief detail.  This doubtless explains Wright’s reverse design: a simple wreath, its crossed branches drawn by hand with their bows and ribbons crossing stem ends, leaves created from a single punch, berries likewise, simplified compared to the previous type and less crowded.
   Dimensions of the device punch required the circle of border beads to be broader than formerly; accordingly, planchets were cut to measure 18/16 inches.  This must have coincided with the decision to widen the half cents from 14/16 to 15/16 inch, sometime before July 26.3  As the weight remained the same, the blanks had to be minutely thinner.  This had the welcome side effect that the Liberty Cap cents ring better than their predecessors do.  These planchets were made from part of the 2,434 pounds of scrap copper purchased August 1 from Ferdinand Gourdon.
   Between August and early September 1793, Wright and his assistants completed four obverses dated  1793 and two reverses.  Meanwhile, on July 24, the sloop Amelia had reached Philadelphia, full of refugees from Santo Domingo, where yellow fever was epidemic.  On August 7, the first major yellow fever outbreak of many began killing victims in Philadelphia; eventually over 4,000 died.  Wright died of the disease on September 12 or 13, most likely not having seen even one of his cents struck.4
   On September 18, Voigt delivered 11,056 cents, the entire 1793 Liberty Cap mintage.  Hours later, the Mint closed for the duration of the epidemic, not to reopen until November 12.  The supposedly best available replacement for the Mint engravership was Robert Scot, more bureaucrat than artist, who may have received advice from Adam Eckfeldt.  No more cents would be struck until January 10, 1794.

Key to 1793 Liberty Cap Cents




Triple leaf below OF



Bisecting obverse die crack



   Single bead centered over R(TY)



   Lowest curl very heavy



   L almost touches beads



Single leaf below OF



   L almost touches beads



   Lowest curl very heavy



General Description

Obverse: Head facing right, the cap behind it hanging from a pole whose end lies along the bust line.  Hair is partly confined by a narrow ribbon behind the forelock.  LIBERTY above, date below, from punches larger than those on the Wreath cents, but slightly smaller than those used on the Chain cent design.  The border consists of 95, 96, or 97 beads.

Reverse: Slender wreath of two branches, tied with a double bow ribbon, and enclosing ONE CENT.  The statutory legend around with fraction below.  The border consists of either 86 or 91 beads.  Leaves are mostly from a punch; berries and berry stems added by hand.  Standard pattern for the wreath: 14 leaves left, 18 leaves right, in pairs except for two single leaves left of the bow, two at the top left, triple leaf at OF, and a single outer leaf nearest ME, at about 3:00.  This pattern continues through 1794 and is presupposed in all reverse descriptions.

Edge: Lettered, with one leaf cluster after DOLLAR, as variety 16c.

Diameter: 18/16" (28.6 millimeters).  Observed range 27.5 to 30 millimeters.

Weight standard: 208 grains (13.48 grams).  Observed range, about 200 to 216 grains (12.96 to 14.00 grams).

Planchet stock: Rolled scrap copper.

Warning: Forgeries exist, altered from 1794 and 1795 cents.5 Beware, also, of electrotypes.  A recent forgery was created from a Gallery Mint copy with the word COPY removed and the surfaces aged.6


1. Scot's and Gardner's cent heads of 1794-96 explicitly copy his; in no sense are they an improvement.

2. See Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, New York: Doubleday, 1988, pp. 181-2.3

3. Half Cent Encyclopedia, p. 67.

4. For further details of the epidemic, see Warren A. Lapp, MD, “The Yellow Fever Epidemics in Philadelphia and Their Effect on the First U.S. Mint.”  Numismatist, April 1971, pp. 483-493.  See also J.H. Powell, Bring Out Your Dead: The Great Plague of Yellow Fever in Philadelphia, reprinted with a new introduction by Kenneth R. Foster, Mary F. Jenkins, and Anne Coxe Toogod, Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993, for an overview of the epidemic and its effect on life in Philadelphia.

5. Compare Penny-Wise, no. 29, 3/15/1972, p. 63, altered from 1794 2b; Penny-Wise, no. 33, 11/15/1972, pp. 260-261; Penny-Wise, no. 68, 9/15/1878, pp. 211, 235.

6. John D. Wright, "A New S-15…Or a New Variety?," Penny-Wise, no. 185, 3/15/1998, pp. 73-77.

Images courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Inc.

Sheldon 12 - Rare 
Sheldon 13 - Scarce
Sheldon 14 - Rare 
Sheldon 15 - Very Rare
Sheldon 16 - Very Rare
Sheldon NC-6 - 2 known 

The finest Brown example graded by PCGS is a single MS-64BN.

Sources and/or recommended reading:

"Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia Of U.S. And Colonial Coins" by Walter Breen

"The PCGS Population Report, October 2003" by The Professional Coin Grading Service