US Coins

1792 English "cent" depicting George Washington

Looking at the high points of a major, multi-consignor auction often reveals many of the same types of rare and expensive coins: 1879 and 1880 Stella gold $4 patterns, rare Carson City and New Orleans Mint Coronet $20 double eagles, flashy $50 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition commemorative coins. But looking within the sale often reveals more about the market, and its depth.

Here is one of my favorite coins that was offered at Heritage’s U.S. coin auctions held Jan. 3 to 8 at the Florida United Numismatists convention in Tampa:

The Lot:

1792 Roman Head “cent,” Proof 8.

The Price:


The Story:

Among the most popular of the many different types of issues struck in England depicting George Washington is the 1792 “cent” that bears what is popularly called the Roman Head design. John Gregory Hancock is believed to have engraved the dies, and the pieces were struck in Proof format at the Birmingham Mint for collectors. Today around 20 are known and Heritage offered the sole example to show heavy wear, graded Proof 8 by Professional Coin Grading Service.

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Heritage traces its provenance back to William E. Woodward’s sale of the Holland Collection in November 1878 where a piece was offered that was “taken from circulation” in “fair condition.” Researcher Walter Breen wrote in his 1988 Complete Encyclopedia that the engraver depicted Washington “as a degenerate, effeminate Roman emperor.”

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Yet, the depiction of Washington in the style of a Roman official is not uncommon and was likely intended to convey strength. The evenly circulated piece, which has long been called a cent though it was never meant to circulate, has a lettered edge reading UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. It sold for $18,000, providing a wonderful entry-level example.

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