A Dave's Collectible Coins Article

Early Pennies and Chain Cents

Time flies! (Whether you’re having fun or not.)

In 1787, the US Congress approved the first production of cents. However, the US did not yet have a mint. The coins would have to be produced otherwise.

Benjamin Franklin felt that coins should have useful sayings on them. He was a man who always educated people with useful ideas. The first cent was created by him. You can see a picture of it here.

1787 Cent (source: Wikipedia)

Remember, during these times they had no electricity, no lights. When the sun went down, their ability to work was relegated to what they could accomplish by candlelight.
You can see on the coin a representation of the sun and a sundial (used for keeping time). The necessity was to be efficient during the daylight hours.

Franklin named his cent the Fugio. The word “Fugio” is Latin for “Flee” or “Fly”. There is an old saying in our culture, that comes from the Romans, which is, “Time flies”.

There is some speculation about why Franklin used the saying MIND YOUR BUSINESS at the bottom. It could mean that one should not get involved in other’s affairs. Also, it could mean to keep your attention on your business. Perhaps he meant both. There is no question that Franklin meant for us to be efficient in our business.

1787 Cent Reverse (source: Wikipedia)

On the back of the coin, we thirteen links of the chain represent the thirteen colonies of the US at the time the coin was created. The motto “WE ARE ONE” can be seen in the center of the coin, as well as UNITED STATES.

Coming forward, the first US Mint was built in 1792, when Philadelphia was still the U.S. capital, and began operation in 1793. The first cent produced there is called the “Chain Cent”. You can see the symbol of the chain comes forward onto this cent. However, there are more links in the chain than on the Fugio because at that time there were fifteen states.

1793 Cent (source: Wikipedia)

Also on the Chain Cent, you can see the fraction of 1/100 (below where it says “CENT”).

Lady Liberty is displayed on the front of the coin with her hair flowing. Typically she wears a liberty cap or has some other head gear. For this reason, the coin is also called the “Flowing Hair Cent”.

1793 Cent Reverse (source: Wikipedia)

The chain cent saw a very low mintage. There were several varieties as the Mint was not yet prepared to make coins in great quantity. In one version, the man making the coin didn’t leave enough space for the full title of our country and instead put “UNITED STATES OF AMERI.”.

The chain sent saw some disapproval among citizens. The image of Lady Liberty was not well done. One critic mentioned that she looked like she’d been in a fight. The chain on the back was meant to symbolize and encourage unity. To too many people, however, it represented slavery. The coin was soon replaced.

When they were better established, in 1793, the Wreath Cent was produced.

You can see it is a much finer representation of Lady Liberty. The chain on the back was replaced with a wreath and a ribbon.

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