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Obverse of 1803 Large Cent - Sheldon 250     Reverse of 1803 Large Cent - Sheldon 250


Circulation strikes: 3,131,691
Proofs: 0

Designer: Robert Scot

Diameter: 28 millimeters

Metal content:
Copper - 100%

Weight: 168 grains (10.9 grams)

Edge: Plain

Mintmarks: None (all examples of this date 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

    With over two million cent blanks on hand at the beginning of the year, and promises of regular shipments from Boulton, Mint Director Boudinot doubtless felt that one of his major problems was solved.  The start of the Mint’s second decade seemed auspicious: the Mint had survived personnel shortages, materiel shortages, thefts, epidemics, and even Congressional attacks.  (More of all these were to come, however.)  One of Boudinot’s major remaining problems was die steel of proper size, affecting half cent coinages 1803-08 and cent coinages 1800-05.  To this shortage we attribute continued use of clashed, rusted, and broken dies long after they would normally have been condemned as unfit.  However, though we do not know the date, the Mint must have received a new shipment of die steel of superior quality.  After 1804, though cent coinages were smaller in amount, they required far fewer dies; the average number of cents coined per die more than doubled, and variations are less marked.
    The 516,300 cents delivered February 22, 1803 included many dated 1802; all were struck on planchets from Boulton’s October 1802 shipment.
    On February 23, 1803, the remaining Boulton blanks1 were officially charged to the coiner and cent deliveries through August 8 came from these.
    The 2,770 spoiled cents of the February 22 group and the 3,325 rejects from the August 8 group were rolled down to make 5,900 usable half cent blanks.  This was the last time the Mint would make its own blanks for circulating half cents.
    Boulton delayed further copper shipments pending the final Congressional attempts to abolish the Mint.  His July shipments (62 casks of cent planchets and 33 casks of half cent blanks) arrived in Philadelphia, on board the Bristol Packet under Capt. John Philips, while the Mint was closed for the yellow fever epidemic (September 20-November1).  The cent blanks went to press November 7, sufficing for all struck through November 12, 1804 (most dated 1803).  Boulton’s second shipment arrived aboard the Newton under Capt. John Riley; it contained again 62 casks of blanks for cents, 31 for half cents. But did not go to press until the end of 1804.2

Boulton's 1803 Planchet Shipments
Date Shipped: July 27 August 24
Date Received: October 14 November 11
Approximate Quantity: 935,833 932,208
Cost per 100: 80.8 cents 82.1 cents
Went to press: November 1803 November 1804
Exhausted: November 1804 November 1805

    Blanks from the 1802 and 1803 shipments may be distinguishable, however, nobody has studied edges of cents of this period.  All cents struck in 1803 and 1804, from the 67,470 pounds purchased in 1803 and the 45,410 pounds of 1804, were overweight, averaging 7 dwt 3-1/3 grains each (11.10 grams).3  The discrepancy or “underplus” went into the Mint’s “Profit and Loss” account.4  Julian points out that the same complaint applied continually from 1802 through 1814, though the Comptroller’s reports do not always mention it.

Cents Delivered in 1803
Warrant Date Pieces Remarks
41 Feb. 22
October 1801 blanks. Many were dated 1802.
42 March 17
1802 blanks.
43 March 31
1802 blanks.
Quarterly total.
44 May 9
1802 blanks.
45 June 30
1802 blanks.
Quarterly total.
46 August 8
1802 blanks.
Quarterly total.
48 Dec. 31
October 14, 1803 blanks.
Grand total.

    As in 1802, the Mint distributed cents to local banks, while its purveyor Israel Whalen (or Whalen, or Whelon: spellings vary) shipped other cents to cities elsewhere in the United States.  In December 1803, Tench Coxe took over Whalon’s duties.
    The emission sequence contains uncertainties similar to those of 1802.  We can be sure that the groups 1-3 came first because two of its reverse dies also appear in 1802 numbers 19-20.  We can be sure that the Large Date obverse was made last, though it may not have been used last; the three pairs of dies with Large Fraction reverses, numbers 16-20, either immediately preceded the latter or may even have followed it.  Almost certainly these nine varieties 16-24 constitute most of the 1804 mintage; confirmation must await discovery of the date of manufacture of the new letter punches, or in matching the edges of 1804 cents to the Large Fraction varieties of 1803 but not those of Small Fraction varieties.  But in what order were the intervening groups made?
    Among the remaining Small Fraction coins, the reverse of number 7 is an 1801 1/000 die with its blunder corrected.  This variety shares a normal 1 in the fraction with reverses of numbers 13, 14, and 22, a normal D with number 22, and a broken N with numbers 12 and 2.  The broken TS found on most of the later 1802 reverse dies reappear on 1803 numbers 3-6, 8, and 13-15.  Other evidence which might help solve the problem is obscured because some broken letters were hand repaired.  The extra wide fraction of number 2 (die of 1802 number 19) reappears in numbers 9 and 12.  The high numerator of 1802 reverse K recurs in number 4.  Most likely all these dies were left over from 1802, possibly some even from 1801; and Scot, here as in former years, did not use reverses in order of manufacture.  The order here presented is therefore subject to revision.


  1. Theoretically 1,713,250; actually about 1,694,000.
  2. R.W. Julian, "The Cent Coinage of 1803," Coin World, May 4, 1977, p. 52.
  3. According to G. Duvall, "Report of the Comptroller of the Treasury," February 16, 1805.
  4. American State Papers - Finance, Vol. II, pp. 136-7.
Cherrypicker's Guide
Die Breaks
Description Sheldon Breen
Rim break at end of drapery 249, 254 7,13
Rim break right of Y, or above TY 243 1
Rim break on 18 and left 252 11
Rim break on 180 253 12
Rim break on 1803 263 22
Die chip below jaw 246-249 4-7
Rim break on STA 246,255 4, 14
Rim break on T(A) 256 15
"Retained cud" on STATES OF 257 16
Rim break above ERIC 249 7
Rim break above RICA 245 2
Rim break above S O 260 19
Crack, rim at mouth to end of drapery 263 22
Crack, rim to rim through 8 and drapery 256 15
Arc crack, rim between 80 to drapery 261 20
Crack, rim near 3 to drapery, rim above 254 13
Crack, rim through E(D) to base of N(E) 257 16
Crack, rim at D S to rim midway F A 251 8
Arc crack, rim through STAT 253, 262 12, 21
Cherrypicker's Guide
Description Sheldon Breen
Large Date (pointed 1)    
    Small fraction 264 24
    Large fraction 265 23
Stemless 243 1
Corrected fraction 249 7
Small date and fraction    
Six berries left 263 22
Top of hair unfinished 244 3
High numerator 246 4
Widest numerator    
    Die scratch, stem end to U 245 2
    High leaf between ES NC-1 9
    Chip at right of final 0 253 12
"Mumps" obverse    
    Short fraction bar 247 5
    Double fraction bar 248 6
Fraction bar slants up to right    
    Broken feet to TY, 3 leans right 255 14
    Normal TY 254 13
Fraction bar left; broken right feet to TS 256 15
Die cut right of neck; divided date 18 03 262 21
Small date, large fraction    
Six berries left 257 16
Die cut, rim to curve of D    
    1 far from curl 258 17
    Base of 3 weak, wide LIBERTY 259 18
Widest date, longest bar 261 20
Positional Guide to Obverses
Point of curl below B Junction hair and forehead
1. Absent D. Center of upright
3. Center of upright E. Right upright
6. Below inner curve G. Below right foot
7. Center of curve I. Between T and Y
8. Right side of curve  
1G 3 6I 21,22
3D 11 7G 2,8,9,10,14*,23,24
6E 13,18,19 7I 4,5,6,7,12,16,17,20
6G 1 8I 15
*14, the junction of the hair and forehead is below the space where the absent right foot would be.
Key to 1803
This key will identify unbroken die specimens of coins normally found with die breaks. Breaks are not mentioned unless they are invariably found. Do not skip around; follow entries in order.
Description Sheldon Breen
Large Date, Pointed 1    
    Small fraction 264 24
    Large fraction 265 23
Small Date, Blunt 1, Large Fraction    
    6 berries left 257 16
Widest date, longest fraction bar    
    Spur on brow 261 20
1 far from curl 258 17
Wide LIBERTY    
    Base of 3 weak 259 18
    Normal 3; longest fraction bar 260 19
Small Date, Blunt 1, Small Fraction    
    6 berries left 263 22
    Stemless wreath 243 1
    Corrected fraction 249 7
    Top of hair unfinished 244 3
Widest denominator    
    Die scratch, stem end through U 245 2
    High leaf between ES NC-1 9
    Chip right of final 0 253 12
"Mumps" obverse    
    Short fraction bar 247 5
    Double fraction bar 248 6
Shortest fraction bar; repunched (E)S, M 251 8
Fraction bar slants up to right    
    Broken feet to TY, 3 leans right 255 14
    Normal TY 254 13
Fraction bar skewed left    
    Broken right feet to TS 256 15
Standard type    
    Date 18 03; 1 00, repunched M 262 21
    High numerator 246 4
    Bar close to 100; leaf pierces berry at E(D)    
        Weak faint shoulder loop 250 10
        Curl point below upright of B 252 11

Images courtesy of Superior Galleries

Varieties (24):
Small Date, Small Fraction
     Sheldon 244 - Very Scarce
     Sheldon 245 - Scarce
     Sheldon 246 - Very Scarce
     Sheldon 247 - Scarce
     Sheldon 248 - Rare
Sheldon 250 - Scarce
     Sheldon 251 - Common
     Sheldon 252 - Common
     Sheldon 253 - Common
     Sheldon 254 - Common
     Sheldon 255 - Very Common
     Sheldon 256 - Scarce
     Sheldon 262 - Rare
     Sheldon 263 - Scarce
Sheldon NC-1 - Rare

Small Date, Large Fraction
     Sheldon 257 - Scarce
     Sheldon 258 - Very Common
     Sheldon 259 - Very Scarce
     Sheldon 260 - Very Common
     Sheldon 261 - Scarce

Large Date, Small Fraction
     Sheldon 264 - Rare

Large Date, Large Fraction
     Sheldon 265 - Very Sca

Error Fraction: 1/100 over 1/000
     Sheldon 249 - Scarce

Stemless Wreath Ends
     Sheldon 243 - Scarce

The finest Brown "Small Date, Small Fraction" example graded by PCGS is a single MS-66BN.

The finest Red-Brown "Small Date, Small Fraction" example graded by PCGS is a single MS-67RB.

The finest Brown "Small Date, Large Fraction" examples graded by PCGS are 3 MS-64BN's.

The finest Red-Brown "Small Date, Large Fraction" example graded by PCGS is a single MS-67RB.

The finest Red "Small Date, Large Fraction" examples graded by PCGS is a single MS-64RD.

The finest Brown "Large Date, Small Fraction" example graded by PCGS is a single EF-40.

The finest Brown "Large Date, Large Fraction" examples graded by PCGS are 2 EF-45BN's.

The finest Red-Brown "Large Date, Large Fraction" examples graded by PCGS is a single AU-53.

The finest Brown "100/000" example graded by PCGS is a single MS-64BN.

The finest Brown "No Stems" examples graded by PCGS are 2 AU-58's.

The finest Red-Brown "No Stems" example graded by PCGS is a single MS-64RB.

Significant examples:
See variety listings

Recent appearances:
See variety listings

ources and/or recommended reading:
"Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia Of U.S. And Colonial Coins" by Walter Breen