Silver center cent

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The silver center cent was an early attempt to reduce the size of the cent while maintaining its intrinsic value. 1792 silver center cent.png
The silver center cent was an early attempt to reduce the size of the cent while maintaining its intrinsic value.

The Silver center cent is an American pattern coin [1] produced by the United States Mint in 1792. As a precursor to the large cent it was one of the first coins of the United States and an early example of a bimetallic coin. Only 12 original examples are known to exist, [2] of which one is located in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. [3] Two more specimens (Morris and California) exist but contain fabricated plugs added after minting. [4]


Due to their rarity and historical significance Silver center cents are highly prized by collectors with one graded PCGS MS61 being sold in an online auction in April 2012 for $1.15 million. [5] [6]


During the early years of the American republic, there was a general consensus that the intrinsic bullion value of the new nation's coinage should be approximately equal to its face value. Some merchants would refuse to accept coins that did not meet this standard. [2] For most denominations, bullion parity was achieved by producing the coins in a gold or silver alloy. However, the Coinage Act of 1792 specified that the cent was to consist of 11 pennyweight (264 grains or 17.1 g) of pure copper. [7] Such a weight, needed to maintain intrinsic value, would have been too heavy for practical everyday use. [2]

U.S. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson suggested an alternative: a coin made of an alloy that was primarily copper, but that included enough silver to give a reasonably-sized coin an intrinsic value of one cent. This billon alloy was considered by the U.S. Mint, [8] but U.S. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton feared that it would be too susceptible to counterfeiting, [9] since its appearance differed little from that of pure copper. [2] In 1792, the Mint's chief coiner, Henry Voigt, hit upon a solution: a copper planchet, slightly smaller than that of a modern quarter, [10] with a small silver "plug" inserted in a center hole during the striking process. [11] The silver plug would have been worth approximately 34¢ at contemporary bullion prices, while the copper planchet added an additional 14¢ of intrinsic value. [1] Several such coins were produced as test pieces. Ultimately, the additional labor required for these bimetallic coins proved unsuitable for mass production, [2] and the large cent that was produced for circulation starting in 1793 consisted of 208 grains of 100% copper. [12] [13]


The obverse of the silver center cent features a right-hand facing Liberty head with flowing unbound hair. The date appears below the portrait, and the words "LIBERTY PARENT OF SCIENCE & INDUST." are inscribed in a circular pattern around the central devices. The reverse design consists of a wreath with the words "ONE CENT" in the center, and the fraction "1/100" below. Surrounding the wreath, "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" is inscribed. [14]


List of Known Specimens [15]
NameGradingSales HistoryNotes
Garrett SpecimenMS67 Brown PCGS
  • 1981 - $95,000
  • 2012 - $5 million
Norweb SpecimenMS64 PCGS
  • 1988 - $143,000
  • 2002 - $414,000
  • 2011 - $2.5 million
  • 2011 $2.8 million
  • 2014 - $1,997,500
Bushnell SpecimenMS61+ Brown NGC2000 - $178,250

2013 - $822,500

Morris SpecimenMS61 Brown PCGS2012 - $1,150,000Non-genuine center plug [4]
Weinberg SpecimenMint State2019 - $750,000
Smithsonian SpecimenAU
Stearns SpecimenXF2015 - $499,375
Judd SpecimenXF2018 - $336,000
Newman SpecimenXF2014 - $1,410,000
Queller SpecimenVF30 NGC1875 - $45

2009 - $253,000

Terranova SpecimenVF
Starr SpecimenFine 15 PCGS
  • 1992 - $35,200
  • 2006 - $253,000
California SpecimenVG10 Details, Scratched ANACS
  • 2006 - $400
Non-genuine center plug determined to be made of iron upon grading [4]
Unplugged SpecimenSP63 PCGSMissing silver insert

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  1. 1 2 "J1/P1". The Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Garrett, J. & Guth, R. (2003). 100 Greatest U.S. Coins. Atlanta, GA: H.E. Harris & Co. p. 48. ISBN   0-7948-1665-7.
  3. "Heritage Offering Finest Known 1792 Silver Center Cent at Jan. 2021 FUN Auction". Coin Week. 30 November 2020. Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  4. 1 2 3 1792 SILVER AND NON-SILVER CENTER CENTS UPDATE. 22. E-Sylum. 2019. p. 26.
  5. "1792 P1C One Cent, Judd-1, Pollock-1, High R.6, MS61 Brown PCGS". Heritage Auctions . Heritage Auctions, INC. 2012. The Morris specimen traces its pedigree back to Charles Morris and its appearance in S.H. & H. Chapman's auction in April 1905.
  6. "1792 Silver Center Cent Brings $1.15 Million To Lead Heritage Auctions' $29 Million+ Central States Event". Heritage Auctions . 26 April 2012. Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  7. "The Coinage Act of April 2, 1792". United States Mint . United States Department of the Treasury . Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  8. The J2/P2 pattern has the same design as the silver center cent, but consists of a solid planchet with no silver plug. At least one specimen is made of a billon alloy see here.
  9. "1792 Silver-Center Cent". Collectors Universe, Inc. 1999–2006.
  10. The silver center cent has a diameter of roughly 23mm, according to The U.S. Mint's specifications page on modern coinage lists the quarter's diameter at 24.26mm.
  11. Julian, R.W. (2003). "The First Cent Coinage". CollectorUSA. Archived from the original on 2006-09-02.
  12. "Flowing Hair Cent, Chain Reverse (1793 Only)". Collectors Universe, Inc. 1999–2005. Metal content: Copper - 100%. Weight: ±208 grains (±13.5 grams).
  13. Julian, R.W. (1999–2007). "The Copper Coinage of 1793". Heritage Coins. On January 14, 1793, the President signed into law a bill reducing the weight of the cent to 208 grains (13.48 grams).
  14. "Cent, United States, 1792". Smithsonian Institution . Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  15. "1792 P1C One Cent, Judd-1, Pollock-1, High R.6, MS61+ Brown NGC..." Heritage Auctions . Retrieved 24 February 2021.