1793 Sheldon NC-1 Chain cent
The 1793 Sheldon NC-1 Chain cent is a rare US one cent coin, struck for a limited period of time following contemporary criticisms regarding the ‘chain’ design on its reverse.
It is historically significant as being the first regular issue United States coin.
On March 18, 1793, an edition of Philadelphia newspaper The Mail, or Claypoole’s Daily Advertiser, wrote: “The chain on the reverse is but a bad omen for liberty.”
The Chain cent’s design is attributed to Harry Voight.
These were the first cents made after the Act of January 14, 1793 at the new legal weight of 208 grains (13.48 grams), reduced from an impossibly high 264 grains (17.11 grams).
Sheldon NC-1 Chain cents were the first mass production coins in any metal issued by the federal government on its own machinery, within its own premises.
Different varieties and rarity
Five die varieties of 1793 Chain Cents exist, with four of these sharing a common reverse die. Two-to-five have AMERICA on the left border instead of the abbreviation found on Sheldon-1, “AMERI.”
Sheldon-1: 1793 Chain Cent – Ameri. Reverse
The American reverse is considered to be the first Chain cent ever produced. It was struck between February 27th and March 12th 1793. It was the first coinage of the fledgling United States Mint after the facility was ready for operations.
Sheldon-1, the abbreviated legend on the reverse, is understood to represent a layout problem that resulted from the engraver’s inexperience. It is presumed that the engraver laid out AMERICA last, and realised that the legend would appear unbalanced unless the nation’s name was abbreviated.
In his Encyclopedia of United States Large Cents, Walter Breen commented upon the alternative belief that the abbreviated legend was “deliberate symbolism, after the style of the Masonic Unfinished Pyramid on the reverse of the Great Seal.”
On the only other known Chain Cent reverse die, used to strike Sheldon-2, 3, 4, and NC-1, "AMERICA" is spelled out in full.
The Sheldon-2 (or S-2) type coin is the rarest, aside from the non-collectible NC-1 variety. S-2 is promptly identified by its wide date, and "LIBER" is spaced much more closely than "RTY".
Sheldon-3 is identified principally by the location of the 3 in the date, which is right aligned with the tip of the bust. Also the location of the R in LIBERTY, which was entered high and tilted to the right.
This variety is scarce in all grades, yet can be obtained with patience in well worn and corroded condition. Some worn specimens are identifiable only by the R in LIBERTY since the date may be faint or absent altogether.
Sharp examples that retain their mint gloss are extremely rare, and in demand from both early copper specialists and determined type set collectors.
This type is identifiable by a closely spaced LIBERTY with I and E high. The date is also close, particularly the 93. Both legends are followed by periods, a unique occurrence in the Large cent series. This was likely an affectation on the part of the die engraver, rather than a deliberate but ephemeral subtype.