Copper in the Arts

February 2012

One of the First Crafted Copper Pennies Fetches Unprecedented $1.38 Million

one cent coin This rare one-cent copper coin dates back to 1793, and was created the first year that the U.S. made its own coins.

Photograph courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Last January, a rare one-cent copper coin from the earliest days of the U.S. Mint in 1793 sold for a record $1.38 million at a Florida auction.

"This is the most a United States copper coin has ever sold for at auction," says James Halperin of Texas-based Heritage Auctions. The coin was made at the Mint in Philadelphia in 1793, the first year that the U.S. made its own coins.

Heritage officials said that the name of the buyer was not revealed but that he was "a major collector." One of the coin's earliest owners was a well-known Baltimore banker, Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.

"Mr. Eliasberg was nicknamed, 'the king of coins' because before his death in 1976 he assembled a collection that consisted of at least one example of every coin ever made at the United States Mint, a feat never duplicated," Halperin says.

Halperin said there remain a few hundred of these 1793 one-cent coins in different condition, but that the one auctioned off was rare because it wasn't in circulation. Officials say it showed no wear on its lettering, its Lady Liberty face or the chain of linking rings on its back.

The copper penny was known as a "Chain Cent" because its chain of linking rings was supposed to represent the solidarity of the states. The design was changed to a wreath after some critics claimed it was symbolic of slavery.

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