The first United States regular issue coin was the 1793 Flowing Hair Chain cent. Four obverse dies were paired with two reverse dies to strike five die varieties of the now-celebrated coin.(1)
The first Chain cent to reach the American public featured the AMERI. reverse. The obverse and reverse dies that were “married” to produce this coin is called in numismatic vernacular the Sheldon-1 (a.k.a. S-1) die variety.
After an estimated 6,350 AMERI. S-1 cents were struck,(2) the same obverse die was mated with a new reverse die, this one with AMERICA entirely spelled out, generating the S-2 die variety. Three new obverse dies were paired with the AMERICA reverse to produce the S-3, S-4, and the NC-1 die varieties.(3)
Confused? This illustration by PCGS should help clarify the Chain cent AMERICA die varieties.
The S-4 is denoted by a period following the word LIBERTY and the 3 in the date and is known as the 1793 Chain “With Periods” cent. The S-2, S-3, and NC-1 combined outputs comprise the “No Periods” cent population, and is the focus of this page and the charts below.
In total, 36,103 Chain cents were struck in February and March, 1793. All varieties are rare, but the S-3 is the most encountered today. It is estimated about half the Chain cents struck, roughly 18,000 pieces, were of the S-3 variety. The S-2 is much more elusive than the S-3. The NC-1 is extremely rare and virtually non-collectible.(4)(5)
Although the Chain cents were readily absorbed in the coin-starved American economy, the design was roundly criticized for its lack of aesthetic appeal and unintended messaging.(6)
The image of Lady Liberty on the obverse resembled that of a frightened woman, observers of the day noted, rather than a fitting symbol of a newly established constitutional republic. The chain reverse was meant to signify strength and unity among the states, but instead was perceived by many as poor representation of liberty. Others objected because it reminded them of the evils of slavery.
Collectors have sought 1793 Chain cents with gusto for generations. As the first United States coins to enter society in appreciable numbers, their historical significance is plainly understood, thus creating very strong demand in the face of a severely limited supply.
Today, most 1793 Chain cents are found with heavy wear, often with impairments. Examples with above average eye appeal are well worth premiums because of the spirited bidding they are certain to inspire when the time to sell comes.
Fascinating Fact: There were few, if any, collectors of United States coins in 1793. However, some individuals correctly perceived the importance of preserving several Chain cents for posterity’s sake, explaining why a small number of Mint State examples exist today. Selling prices of these gems can easily reach into the millions.(8)
|Estimated survivors in all grades: 626
? The survivor estimate from PCGS represents an average of one or more experts' opinions as to how many examples survive of a particular coin in all grades. Survival estimates include coins that are raw, certified by PCGS, and certified by other grading services.
Learn more at PCGS.
|PCGS Rarity Scale: 5.7
? The 'PCGS CoinFacts Rarity Scale' assesses the relative rarity of all U.S. coins, based on estimated surviving examples. The scale runs from 1.0 to 10.0. The higher the number, the rarer the coin.
Learn more at PCGS.
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|Trendline Avg = 11.33||CLASSIC RARITY|
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|Last updated 8-24-23||Return to Key Date Coin List|
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