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24 Jan 2016

1825 Half Cent: A Journey

Young Numismatists Exchange | user_7392

Every coin has a unique story to tell. As a part of the ANA Young Numismatists Early American Copper Project, I received a counterstamped half cent and was given the task of researching it and writing a report. In my research, I learned many things about this coin’s story, including the history of the denomination, information about the coin itself, and clues to what this coin’s travels might have been like.

To begin with, the half cent was the idea of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton as a way to benefit the poor. In the summer of 1793, the smallest denomination coin ever to have been produced by the U.S. Mint was struck for the first time. Minted until 1857, the denomination received moderate use in commerce, as it filled demand for a low value coin for smaller purchases and allowed people to purchase items at prices such as 12 ½ or 37 ½ cents, which were a remnant of the time when Spanish American “bits,” or one eighth real, were circulated. The years the denomination was minted were inconsistent since the demand for the half cent fluctuated over the course of its existence. One of the gaps was between 1811 and 1825 because a large number of half cents were in circulation already so banks did not demand more. In 1825, the coinage of half cents resumed in response to a significant order placed by Jonathan Elliott & Sons of Baltimore.

The half cent I received was from 1825, the year that half cents resumed after the nine year gap. This means that it has the classic head design on the obverse and the words HALF CENT surrounded by a wreath on the reverse. These obverse design is very similar -- if not identical-- to the obverse of the classic head large cent. The coin I received would grade very good or fine by ANA standards, but has some damage to Liberty’s head on the obverse, presumably from the counterstamp. The coin also is a C-2 variety, which means that the bottom curl in Liberty’s hair hangs over the far left side of the five in the date. The variety is a marriage between the second obverse die and the reverse die for the 1825 issue. There were only two obverse dies and one reverse die mainly because at the time, mint employees would use the dies extensively until they were unusable in order to save money. The total mintage is reported as 63,000; however, it is estimated that only 4,000 to 5,000 of the C-2 variety still survive today. It is speculated that some 1825 dated half cents could have been struck in 1826 to get the most use out of the dies. Due to the extensive use of the reverse die, some of the details are lightly struck, especially with a few of the leaves in the wreath. Yet, overall, the coin shows the main parts of the design, despite being worn.

Now what is the biggest clue to this piece’s history? The counterstamp. The stamp consists of the letters FJ, and is located on the reverse from 3 o’clock to 5 o’clock and eclipses parts of the wreath, and a few of the letters in the legend HALF CENT. The stamp is not listed in Gregory Brunk’s American and Canadian Countermarked Coins; nevertheless, the book gives some insight to the purpose of counterstamping FJ onto a low-value, base metal coin. But before one starts to speculate wildly, it is important to make a few things clear. I believe the stamp is likely a merchant’s initials for several of the following reasons. First, it is not likely that stamp was an advertisement or an endorsement for any political party because FJ is simply not enough information to persuade someone to change their views or buy a product. Also, Brunk says that only “in a few instances” did merchants counterstamp advertisements with single-letter punches, mainly due to the inconvenience. For this coin, it can be safely assumed that the stamp was punched using single letters because of the gap in between the letters and the short message. Additionally, railway countermarks can be ruled out because railroads were not popular until the half cent denomination was nearly obsolete. As a result, by process of elimination, I have reached the conclusion that this coin was counterstamped as a work tally or for some other small purpose, such as a check to ensure that a worker returned borrowed tools. While the purpose of the counterstamp has been narrowed down, there is still more to this coin. Where did it circulate? Who might have spent it?

The first clue to uncovering this coin’s travels is that all half cents produced in the denomination’s sixty-four-year lifespan were produced exclusively at the Philadelphia mint. The half cents of 1825 were no exception, and most probably circulated around the East Coast. Not much is known about Jonathan Elliott & Sons, which ordered a number of the coins, except that it was a Baltimore business. Also, the mint gives no record of where the half cents were distributed except that they were all released into circulation by the second quarter of 1826. I could not find anyone with the initials FJ associated with Jonathan Elliott and Sons. There was limited information from the counterstamp other than a merchant with some relation to the letters FJ had the desire at some point to put their initials on the coin. Yet, the coin definitely received extensive use in commerce, so it must have been circulated somewhere. At this point, any guess as to where this coin has travelled is as good as the next.

All in all, this coin would certainly have quite the story to tell, if only it could speak. Unfortunately, it cannot, so its true journey would likely never be known. My personal theory is that with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, this coin possibly hitched a ride with a ship traveling to a growing town. Perhaps it travelled to Chicago, in my home state, where it circulated in towns and cities that I would be familiar with today. But, wherever it went, this coin has a story to tell, forgotten in history.


Bibliography


Bressett, Kenneth E., and Q. David. Bowers. The Official American Numismatic Association

Grading Standards for United States Coins. 7th ed. Atlanta, GA: Whitman Pub., 2013.

Print. Whitman Guidebook.

Brunk, Gregory G. American and Canadian Countermarked Coins. Rockford, IL: World

Exonumia, 1987. Print.

Dinger, Matt, and Mike Nottleman. "Episode 77." Coin Show Radio. ITunes. N.d. ITunes. Web.

24 Jan. 2016.

Half Cents of 1825: A Year of Mishaps. Prod. David Lisot. Perf. Gerald L. Kochel. American

Numismatic Association, 2004. DVD.

Julian, R. W. "The Half Cent Coinage of 1825." Numismatist Dec. 1996: 1438+. The

Numismatist Archive. ANA, 2 Oct. 2015. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.

Yeoman, R. S., Kenneth E. Bressett, Q. David Bowers, and Jeff Garrett. A Guide Book of United

States Coins. Deluxe ed. Vol. 1. Atlanta, GA: Whitman, 2015. Print. Red Book.


Acknowledgements


Special thanks to the following: Sam Gelberd and Rod Gillis of the ANA Education Department, the ANA Library Staff, Douglass Bird, Q. David Bowers, Mrs. Kraft, Aunt Julie, and of course, my parents for their help in making this paper possible.


Comments

user_7579

Level 4

Thank you for this info. Alexander Hamilton should always be remember for the monetary system foundation work he did in the beginning of the United States.

Mike

Level 7

Excellent! That's all I can say. Great job on the history. Many collector's today don't care about that part. They want to know how much is it ,and how much will it be worth! The history of the coin tell's the history of our country. I must say you hit it on the nose. Take care.

Mike

Level 7

Excellent! That's all I can say. Great job on the history. Many collector's today don't care about that part. They want to know how much is it ,and how much will it be worth! The history of the coin tell's the history of our country. I must say you hit it on the nose. Take care.

user_7180

Level 5

Great article. Excellent job of researching and articulating the project!

ShriekenGriffon

Level 5

I hav gotten two coins from the project numinerd talked about

Numinerd9

Level 5

Amazing write-up, and I know that wasn't an easy piece to research! I have many more sweet EAC's, graciously donated by Douglas Bird, to give to YN's who complete the tasks in this project. Check out the info on the Early American Coppers Project under the Young Numismatists tab, under the "Discover" button on the home page of this website - I'm not kidding - YN's have the opportunity to get some incredible large and half cents through this program. Enroll today!

Kellen

Level 5

This has some good info.

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