Recently I saw "The Angle" --- a corner where two old stone walls meet. It earned that name because of what happened there in 1863. (see GettysburgCoordinates, 27 Feb 2002) Like "The Angle", there are a few other unique entities that deserve their title. One is called, by those who know it, simply "The Coin".

The Coin is an old penny, or more accurately, a cent. (Pennies are British money, not American.) What kind of cent? It's a Chain cent --- arguably the first design of the first money officially issued by the fledgling US Mint for general circulation. In early March of 1793 the Mint struck 36,103 of these large cents. Each is about the size of a modern half dollar and contains a weight of copper equal to what was then its face value. Perhaps two thousand Chain cents survive today, corroded and worn smooth by years of environmental hazards plus sheer use in early commerce.

The Coin is one such 1793 Chain cent, but with a difference: it's in virtually perfect condition, surfaces crystal-sharp and undamaged. The obverse side shows in profile a woman's head, representing Liberty. She looks forward, with her long hair flowing free behind her in the wind. The reverse is dominated by 15 links of a chain, for the 15 states of the Union, connected each to the next and forming a closed loop. The words "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA", ring the outside of the reverse. "ONE CENT" and "1/100" fill the center of the chain's circle.

It's an amazingly modern design, lovely in its minimalism and subtlety. Of course, it was wildly unpopular in its own day. The chain, people complained, reminded them of slavery; the woman looked savage and maybe afraid (or fearsome) with her unkempt hair. The Mint listened to public criticism and canned the design in favor of a less-controversial wreath motif.

Somehow, one pristine example of the 1793 Chain cent remains. It appears to be a specially-struck presentation piece, made with extraordinary care for use as a gift by the Mint. For the past two centuries it has passed from one dedicated collector to the next. It's The Coin!

(See also TheBelay)

TopicPersonalHistory - 2002-03-05

(correlates: Languages for Smart People, New Nickel, FishShake, ...)