The Liberty Cap Large Cent was produced with four different dates, although advanced collectors will pursue a multitude of varieties. The mintage levels for each year were relatively high with the exception of the first year of issue in 1793 when 11,056 pieces were struck.
The highest mintage occurred in 1794 when 918,521 pieces were struck. Eventually the denomination would start to see production regularly surpassing one million pieces per year, but this did not occur until subsequent series.
For the purposes of assembling a type set collection, circulated examples of the Liberty Cap Cent can be acquired without much difficulty. These coins are also popular as one of the most affordable examples of federal United States coinage carrying an 18th century date.
Listed below are the mintage quantities by year. As noted, advanced collectors will often collect by variety, which results in several extreme rarities.
|1795, Lettered Edge
|1795, Reeded Edge
Even though the 1795 Jefferson Head Liberty Cap Large Cent is listed in the Red Book, it is not an official Mint product. These enigmatic pieces were made by John Harper, who had hoped to win a coinage contract from the federal government, which he did not succeed in accomplishing.
The variety had been known for many years, but was not readily identified until 1952, when Walter Breen concluded what the mysterious pieces in fact were. Found with both a plain edge as well as a reeded edge, the former being the rarer of the two, they are all scarce and often included in a specialized collection of large cents. From the circulated pieces which have survived, it appears that after striking the coins were placed in circulation, where they remained, unnoticed until withdrawn with all other early coppers.
A few corroded examples have sold in the past decade for prices ranging from $15,000 to $20,000. The Garrett Specimen graded NGC VF25 was sold for $184,000 in March 2012.
Most of the 1795 Liberty Cap Large Cents produced at the Mint were struck on planchets with a reeded edge, and a smaller number had a lettered edge. A tiny fraction of the production was struck on planchets with a reeded edge.
While the official purpose of the reeded edge remains unknown, most have suggested that the coins were created as an experiment to prevent counterfeiting or clipping. Clipping occurred when someone either filed or clipped the edges of a coin to remove a portion of the metal. This was primarily a problem with silver or gold coins, rather than copper which has a much lower value. Whatever the precise reason, the experiment was quickly abandoned as unnecessary or not cost effective.
Only seven examples of the 1795 Reeded Edge Large Cent are known to exist. All pieces are struck from the same die pair. No examples of this die pair exist with any other edge type, although the reverse die was used for other 1796 cents.
An example graded VG-10 sold for $1,265,000 at an auction held in September 2009. More recently, an example with fine details and corrosion sold for $431,250 in January 2011. That piece had been called the discovery coin and originally considered graded Net G-5.
Mystery surrounds the 1794 “Starred Reverse” Liberty Cap Cent, which is perhaps the most famous of all the large cent varieties. Along with 83 dentils around the circumference of the reverse of the coin, there are also 94 tiny, five-pointed stars. In some cases the stars are covered by the dentils, suggesting that the stars were engraved first. The variety was not discovered until 1877, by which time presumably all examples had long been in circulation.
Many theories have been proposed to explain the existence of this variety. These have included the possibility of a leftover die from 1792, leftover planchets from the same year, or the use of the stars as an anti-counterfeiting measure. The true story will perhaps never be known, which only serves to add to the popularity of the issue.
While approximately 50 examples of the Starred Reverse Cent are known, virtually all are well circulated. The single finest example is graded PCGS AU50 and sold for $632,500 at an auction held in February 2008. The second finest example is only a VF, with all other survivors in lower grades.
Liberty Cap Large Cents were struck on planchets from various sources, so the weight, thickness and diameter can vary from coin to coin.
From 1793 to 1795, cents were struck on thick plancets with a weight of 13.48 grams (208 grains). Some issues of 1795 and all of 1796 were struck on thin planchets with a weight of 10.89 grams (168 grains). Those struck on thick planchets had a lettered edge, reading ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR, followed by a small leaf. The cents struck on thin planchets had a plain edge. All had a diameter of 29 millimeters and were struck out of pure copper.
Some issues of this type (1795 mostly) were struck on tokens of British origin, and various edge varieties are also known. Most planchets were usually imported from England by ship and many planchets show corrosion, the result of a chemical reaction after exposure to sea water. Production quality varies, with many showing weakly struck devices, primarily for the examples struck on thin planchets.