The Liberty Cap Cent represented the third design introduced for the cent during its first year of production in 1793. As the result of criticism from various sources including the Mint itself, the design only lasted until 1796, however this was still considerably longer than duration of just a few months seen for the earlier designs of 1793. While the mintage for 1793 was low, other years saw reasonable numbers produced, making the acquisition of a single circulated piece not too difficult for the collector. Some specific varieties of the series are true rarities, with two of the most desirable large cent varieties found within this type.
Although the cent may currently seem unimportant within everyday American commerce, it held a very important role for the people of late 18th century America. Most business was conducted with half cents and cents, with coins of higher value rarely used for every day transactions. Accordingly, the cent and to a lesser extent the half cent were the most heavily produced denominations at the early United States Mint.
The Liberty Cap Cent was designed by Joseph Wright, a New Jersey portraitist born in 1796 who had received his art education in England. He was perhaps best known for his portrait of President George Washington and his wife. Ultimately, Wright would not live to see the first cents bearing his design released into circulation, as he died from the yellow fever epidemic in the late summer of 1793.
Wright’s obverse design was largely based on the important 1783 Libertas Americana medal, issued by the Paris Mint. For the cent, the head of Liberty is featured, facing to the right. Her hair is seen free and flowing, like the Chain and Wreath cents of 1793, but now closer to her neck. Over her left should, Liberty carries a pole with a cap placed on top. The Liberty Cap was a symbol of freedom originating in France, which had become popular during the American Revolution. The overall appearance of Liberty is young, perhaps signifying the young but ever growing nation of the United States. LIBERTY, in capital letters is above the head, and the date, slightly curved, is seen below.
The reverse was based on the wreath cents by Henry Voigt, but was slightly altered by Wright. This reverse design would set the standard for the reverses of many United States coins well into the 19th century. A simple wreath is seen at the center, with the denomination as ONE CENT placed within. The denomination is also given as 1/100, divided by a horizontal fraction bar, most likely meant for the many Americans that could not read or write at the time these coins were issued. The reverse design is completed by UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, which is nearly fully around, placed near the rim.
Many different varieties are known for the series, as a result of each die being made by hand. The most important workmen of the Mint during this period were Robert Scot and John Smith Gardner and their assistants. A long study has been devoted to each of their work, and it is now believed that all dies are correctly attributed to the respective engravers. These dies are readily identified, by the placement of the lettering and date, as well as the general execution of the portrait. These different portraits are usually identified as “Head of” 1793, 1794, or 1795 and are listed in the Red Book as individual varieties.
Despite the fact that this type was only struck with four different dates, many specialists have devoted complete collections to this important series, with its many different varieties. A full set of all Liberty Cap Large Cent die varieties is virtually impossible to complete, although some specialized collectors have come close. For other collectors, this type remains to be the easiest Federal United States coin that can be obtained with an 18th century date, making it very popular as such, and always in demand regardless of grade.