1793 marked the beginning of one cent production at the fledgling United States Mint. Perhaps reflecting the unsure footing of a new operation, three different cent types were issued that year: First, the Flowing Hair Chain Cent Reverse, which was quickly replaced by the Wreath Reverse design. Before year’s end yet another design, this one bearing the Liberty Cap motif, was employed.
Mint records indicate 63,353 pieces of the Wreath Reverse cents were struck. Included in that total (researchers postulate) was an unknown number of “Strawberry” cents.(1)
Instead of the three-leaved sprig above the 1793 date, Strawberry cents display a plant cluster, some say, resembling three strawberry leaves.(2) Others suggest it is a cotton plant sprig and a cotton boll.(3) Whatever botanical imagery the engraver had in mind, “Strawberry” cent is the traditional name given to this enigmatic coin.
The origin of the Strawberry cent is shrouded in mystery. Despite intensive efforts, no one has ever determined why it was ever made. Was it an experimental pattern piece? If so, how, and why did some of them enter circulation? Of the small number of examples extant today (more on that in a minute), there are two known reverse dies. Why were multiple dies manufactured? Could this be the work of contemporary counterfeiters? Upon detailed analysis, numismatists have concluded this to be an unlikely scenario. (4)
The first Strawberry cent discovery was documented by John Meader, who acquired the coin from circulation in 1845.
There are only four known specimens of the Strawberry cent surviving to this day, making it one of the rarest coins in U.S. numismatics.(5)
Fascinating Fact: When an example of the Strawberry cent was put up for public sale on December 20, 1894, a fistfight erupted after coin dealer Lyman Low called auctioneer Ed Frossard a liar. Augustus Heaton wrote the "two numismatic sages were soon mixed up on a dusty floor in a manner that would have made football adversaries envious of their combative qualities until, in a badly circulated condition, they were dragged apart by dismayed spectators." We do not know why Frossard was accused of lying. The coin sold for $120.(6)
Because the Strawberry cent is virtually uncollectible, we here at Rare Coins 101 initially decided to omit this coin from our survey. Although it ranks among the rarest and most valuable of U.S. coins, outside of large cent specialists, it receives nowhere near the acclaim as, say, the 1913 Liberty Head nickel or the 1804 Draped Bust dollar. The Strawberry cent certainly deserves more respect.
Also, consider this: Unlike most other famous rarities, no one has a clue how many Strawberry cents were struck. With no records of any kind, it’s not a stretch to wonder that if four were made, why not more? Perhaps someday, another example will surface from a long-forgotten hoard. It’s the stuff coin collectors dream of!
|Estimated survivors in all grades: 4
? 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: 9.8
? 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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