and Rare 1799 Set - 1799 Early Gold Set
1799 Large Cent - 1799
Silver Dollar - 1799/8 Silver Dollar - 1799 Half Eagle - 1799
The Early Mint: Philadelphia,
the nation’s most populous city, suffered numerous
epidemics of yellow fever. In 1793, 5,000 died from the
disease, roughly one-tenth of the population. At the time,
doctors did not know the cause of the disease or a satisfactory
treatment. It began with 2,000 immigrants who fled the slave
revolution in Saint-Dominique, a French colony on the island
of Hispaniola. It is likely that refugees and ships carried
the yellow fever virus and mosquitoes that transported it.
The mosquitoes bred in standing water, and the medical community
did not understand their role in the transmission of the
disease. From August to October the “sickly season”
lasted from 1793 to 1799. These epidemics led to the closing
of the Mint each year, which created havoc with the proper
sequencing and storing of coinage dies.
The early Mint was governed by the Coinage
Act of April 2, 1792. This act covered the employees, their
duties, and procedures to be followed at the Mint. A summary
of its provisions is useful to understand some of the limitations
that our early coiners faced.
The Act of April 2, 1792 was the first comprehensive
law that related to coinage and the Mint. It provide for
a location, then Philadelphia the seat of the government;
officers including a director, assayer, coiner, treasurer,
and engraver; authorized employment of others; specified
duties of each; specified an oath to faithfully and diligently
perform duties; required the assayer, chief coiner, and
treasurer post a bond of ten thousand dollars; specified
salaries; required quarterly and annual reports to Congress;
provided for the construction of buildings; authorized the
denominations and their specifications; specified that the
obverse designs shows an impression “emblematic of
liberty” and that the word LIBERTY be included with
the year. The reverse of silver and gold coins was to have
a representation of an eagle and the inscription UNITED
STATES OF AMERICA. Copper coins were required to have the
denomination expressed. The law went on to provide for bi-metallism
at a ratio of fifteen to one. It further proscribed the
fineness of silver and gold to be used along with the percentage
of copper. It allowed for citizens to present gold and silver
bullion for coining with a fee going to the Mint. All deposits
had to be coined in the order they were submitted, resulting
in unnecessary expense for the Mint. Gold and silver was
made legal tender for all debts, but it left up to the citizenry
the job of weighing and calculating the value of every coin
received. Since copper was not legal tender, it could be
refused by banks, shops and individuals. The Mint’s
officers were charged with preserving the legal weights
and standards, and the Act provided for an annual assay
of the coinage; the death penalty was possible for anyone
who debased or embezzled coinage or bullion; and the Act
made it a misdemeanor to pay or receive payment in copper
except those pieces of the United States.
Because of the bond provision of the act,
precious metals could not be coined until 1794, when the
amount of the bond was reduced. This explains why our first
coinage was composed of copper cents and half cents. By
1799, some of the problems of the early Mint were ameliorated,
but many persisted. The Mint building, for example, was
three stories high. Vaults were in the basement and the
deposit and weighing rooms were on the first floor. The
second floor had various offices. However, the assay office
and furnace were on the top floor. This arrangement caused
the spread of fumes from nitric acid, used for parting precious
metals, throughout the building. A dark, winding stairway
connected the floors, where a tallow lamp burned all day.
A small frame house was nearby on the Mint’s property.
It contained a horse mill for driving the rolling machines.
On the first floor were the rolling and drawing machines.
The upper level had the smelting furnace. An overhead bridge
connected the two houses. Two other small buildings contained
press rooms for striking silver and gold coins. Another
was used for striking copper. The upper level contained
shops where machinery was repaired and made. A large furnace
was added in 1794 at the north end of Sixth Street.
The Mint had many serious problems. Although
originally constructed for a steam engine, power came from
men and horses, and production was sporadic. It was difficult
to obtain good steel for dies. After the initial relief
was made on a hub, the rest of the design was added individually.
These elements were the stars, the numerals, the letters,
and the wreath. Individual leaves and berries were often
placed in the die with hand punches, which accounts for
many of the numerous varieties of our early coinage.
Since there was no fund to purchase bullion,
the output of the Mint depended, except for copper coinage,
on the size of bullion deposits. The Mint received ingots,
nuggets, grains, foreign coins, jewelry, and plate. A typical
deposit had to be refined and assayed. Difficulty existed
in measuring high temperatures and regulating the assay
furnace. An incorrect temperature could result in a loss
of the precious metal being assayed. Parting used nitric
acid to dissolve the sliver and leave the gold intact. When
the assay was completed, the treasurer gave the depositor
a receipt for the value of the deposit. Each separate deposit
was stamped and delivered for smelting. Precious metals
were weighed in British pennyweights and grains, which made
for a very cumbersome computation. Fineness was expressed
in carats as in the British system.
If a deposit was too pure, the refiner or
melter added a quantity of alloy. If it was inferior, it
was melted and alloy was removed. Once it was the correct
proportion for coinage, it was cast into rectangular ingots
about a foot long. These were individually assayed and delivered
to the chief coiner for rolling and punching into blanks.
These were finally struck into coins.
After the ingots were made, they were rolled
into sheets of metal. Because of the crudeness of the early
rollers, the gold and silver strips had to be placed in
a drawing machine to make them more uniform. After the strips
were washed, they were annealed and cut lengthwise. These
narrower strips were then cut into planchets. By 1795 there
were three planchet cutters at the Mint. Together they could
punch out between fifteen to eighteen thousand planchets
After being cut, they were weighed and adjusted.
The heavy ones were adjusted with one or two strokes of
a file across its face. The lighter ones were sent to the
furnace to begin again. These adjustment marks are often
seen on examples of our early coinage. They were then taken
to a milling machine where a lettering or reeding device
impressed the edge. From there they were annealed and taken
to the coining press room. The press worked by a screw that
was similar to the one that cut out the planchets. The obverse
die replaced the cutting cylinder. In 1793 Adam Eckfeldt
invented a machine to automatically feed and eject the planchets.
The early Mint operated with this relatively primitive equipment
and procedures until a steam engine was installed in June
1816. The coins contained in this set were all made under
the laws that governed at the time and using early procedures
Large Cent - The 1799 cent, designed by Robert
Scot, shows Liberty in profile facing right with the date
below. Above her head is the word LIBERTY. Her hair is tied
back with a ribbon, and it flows down her neck and behind
her shoulders. The bust is strangely draped for a classical
design, which was Scot’s goal. Dentils are at the
periphery of both sides of the coin. The reverse shows a
wreath of two olive branches tied with a ribbon on the bottom.
Enclosed in the wreath is
the denomination, ONE CENT, written on two lines. At the
bottom of the wreath is the fraction 1/100. Encircling the
wreath is the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. There is
edge lettering that says ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR, which
is visible in the new NGC holder.
In July 1796 there was a
change made from Liberty Caps to Draped Busts. Scot, the
Engraver, made a new die copying Gilbert Stuart’s
drawing that was previously used for the Draped Bust silver
coins. His assistant, Adam Eckfeldt, made a punch to make
nineteen obverses with this date. Other dies were made with
the 179 already in and the final number available to be
used for 1797, 1798, and 1799.
There were several reasons
that caused the cents of these early years to be of lesser
overall quality. Mint work had to be suspended from mid-summer
to late in the fall because of the annual yellow fever epidemic.
Each winter the old stored dies were put back into service.
Often they were rusted and chipped, and these imperfections
showed on the coins they produced. A die chip is seen on
the current coin. Planchets were imported from England because
the local manufacturing companies were not able to produce
ones of high quality.
Mint Director Boudinot gave
Boulton & Watt, a British firm, his planchet orders
because the locally produced planchets were more expensive
and inferior. However, the ones used in 1799 came from Coltman
Brothers, an American company. Mint records call them “black
copper” because they were dark and rapidly deteriorated.
In addition to inferior
materials to work with, Mint personnel also lived with the
anxiety that their jobs would end because of the possible
abolition of the Mint as a United States’ enterprise.
Inexplicably, later die steel improved which enabled the
dies to last longer. Hence more quality pieces are known
All 1799 Large Cents are
rare and in demand by date collectors and investors. The
pictured coin is an S-189 variety. It is identified by a
perfect date with 179 evenly spaced but the 9s closer together.
The second 9 is higher and heavier. LIBERTY is in its normal
position with evenly spaced letters close to each other.
On the reverse, the E of CENT is recut at the crossbar.
It joins the upper serif of the E. There is also a die chip
between the E of ONE and the T of CENT.
1799 Silver Dollar
Silver Dollar - The 1799 dollar was also designed
by Robert Scot. The obverse shows a draped bust of Liberty
in profile facing right. Above is LIBERTY, and below is
the date. Liberty’s hair is tied in the back with
a ribbon and also flows down over her right shoulder. Seven
six-pointed stars are to the left and six are to the right.
The heraldic eagle reverse shows the eagle with up stretched
wings and a Union shield on its breast. A banner inscribed
E PLURIBUS UNUM curls across the left wing and under the
right. The inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, interrupted
by the wing tips, is in an arc near the periphery. Thirteen
stars are above the eagle’s head under the clouds
in an arc pattern. Dentils are near the edge on both sides
of the coin. The edge is lettered HUNDRED CENTS ONEDOLLAR
OR UNIT with ornamentation between the words.
Some researchers feel that
Gilbert Stuart, the famous portrait artist, was hired by
Mint Director Henry DeSaussure to create the obverse design.
It is said to be based on a drawing of Mrs. William Bingham,
the former Ann Willing. Evidently John Eckstein, an assistant
to Scot, made the plaster models poorly, which might explain
why Stuart’s family refused to acknowledge his role
in the coinage design. Another theory is that the design
is based on a portrait of Martha Washington. In any case,
the Draped Bust dollar portrait was and is considered one
of the finest made. It remained in use until the end of
circulating dollar coinage in 1803 and was also used on
other denominations from the half-cent to the half dollar.
The reverse of the 1799
Draped Bust dollar was first used by Robert Scot on the
1796 gold quarter eagle. It is an adaptation of the Great
Seal of the United States of America; however, Scot reversed
the arrows and olive branch. On the coin the eagle holds
the arrows in its right talon, the opposite of the placement
on the Great Seal. Perhaps the placement of the arrows was
a warning to France, who was seizing American ships that
were trading with Britain and to other world powers to be
respectful of the sovereignty of the United States.
Full details are rarely
seen on the dollars of 1798 to 1804. Weakness is often seen
on the obverse on centers of the stars, the highest point
of the hair, and the lines of the drapery. On the reverse
the weak parts are often the shield, the feathers, the stars
and the clouds. Dentils are often weak, and adjustment marks
are frequently found on either side. Overweight coins were
often adjusted by filing one side or the other. This adjustment
process took place both before and after striking.
In addition to the overdates,
there are many varieties of the 1799 dollar. These include
an Irregular Date with a 15-Star Reverse, an Irregular Date
with a 13-Star Reverse, a Normal Date, and an 8 Stars Left,
5 Stars Right. Both NGC and PCGS recognize 19 die varieties
for the year exclusive of the overdates.
The pictured coin is a BB-163,
one of the 7X6 obverse stars varieties. It is identified
by Star 1 being small and thin. Star 8 is the closest to
LIBERTY and slightly closer than Star 7. Star 1 is further
from the curl than Star 13 is from the bust. On the reverse,
the leaf points between the left corner and left side of
the I in AMERICA. The point of Star 12 enters the eagle’s
mouth, and touches the lower part of its beak. The lower
point of the same star points to the left upright of the
U in PLURIBUS. The far right edge of A in STATES is over
Cloud 3. In their combined population reports, PCGS and
NGC have certified 43 BB-163 dollars combined in all grades.
1799/8 Silver Dollar
Silver Dollar - The 1799 overdate dollar has the
last 9 punched over the previous 8. It is the only overdate
of the year. The last 9 is almost touching the bust, and
the stars are close together. The letters of LIBERTY are
widely spaced, and there are die flaws under ERTY.
This obverse was combined
with three reverse dies. The first had 15 stars on the reverse.
The remains of the two stars are hidden under clouds 1 and
8, which have been enlarged to hide the stars. However,
their tips are seen peeking through at the bottom. Evidently
the engraver saw he had made too many stars and enlarged
the clouds to hide his mistake.
In so doing, he left five
stars in the first row instead of the normal six so that
the incorrect six in the second row would not have to be
corrected. The normal arrangement is 6-5-2. This die, before
it was corrected was 7-6-2, and after it was corrected it
This overdate is listed
as BB-141. In total 228 15 Star Reverse overdates have been
certified by PCGS and 35 by NGC. There are two 13 Star reverses.
One has a star just touching the point of the eagle’s
beak (BB-142). The other has the star touching the lower
part of the eagle’s beak and just entering its mouth
(BB-143). PCGS has certified 143 13 Star Reverse overdates
and NGC has certified 30. The pictured coin is a 13 Star
Reverse BB-143 example.
1799 Half Eagle
Half Eagle - The 1799 half eagle was also designed
by Robert Scot. The obverse design shows Liberty facing
right. Below her is the date which is off center to the
left. Between the date and the word LIBERTY on the left
side of the coin are eight stars. Five stars follow LIBERTY
down to the bust. Liberty wears a large, soft cap. Her hair
flows down and also shows on her forehead. The design was
probably taken from a Roman engraving of a Greek goddess.
Liberty’s cap was certainly not a Phrygian or liberty
cap. The liberty cap, emblematic of freedom, was worn by
freed slaves and freed gladiators in Roman times. It was
a close fitting cap used to cover a shorn head, which was
one of the way slaves were identified. The oversized cap
worn by Liberty has been called a turban, and the design
has been called the Turban Head because of it.
The reverse shows a heraldic
eagle. However, as he did on the Silver dollar, Scot mixed
up the positions of the arrows and olive branch. The arrows
held in the wrong claw signify defiant militarism. Either
Scot made an error copying the image of the Great Seal,
or he deliberately changed the symbolism. Perhaps the design
was a warning to France, with whom the United States was
engaged in an undeclared naval war, and others to be mindful
of the new country’s sovereignty. In the field above
the eagle are thirteen stars and above them, seven clouds.
A banner from wing to wing has the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM.
The early half eagle coins
have no denomination because gold was valued by its weight
and fineness as was the European coinage of the time. As
seen on contemporary Large Cents, dentils are at the edge
of both the obverse and reverse of these coins.
Thomas Jefferson chose Robert
Scot to be the first Chief Engraver of the United States
Mint on November 23, 1793. Scot was born in 1744 in Edinburgh,
Scotland or England. (Documentary evidence is lacking as
to where he was born.) He was trained as a watchmaker in
England and learned engraving afterwards. He moved to the
United States in 1777, where he worked as an engraver of
plates, bills of exchange, and office scales. During the
Revolution, he was an engraver of paper money. In 1780 he
was made the State Engraver of Virginia. He moved to Philadelphia
the next year. He was appointed Chief Engraver of the United
States Mint on November 23, 1793 by David Rittenhouse, Mint
Director. His salary in 1795 was 1,200 per year.
The Mint Director received
only $800 dollars per year more. Scot’s ability to
make dies was limited, and he was advanced in years with
failing eyesight. His work was somewhat less than that done
in Europe at the time, and Scot was criticized for its poor
quality. He was responsible for designs of most of America’s
first coins. These include the Flowing Hair and the Draped
Bust motifs used on the early silver coins, and the gold
quarter eagle, half eagle and eagle. Scot also designed
the 1794-1797 half-cent, the 1800-1808 draped bust half-cent,
and the Thomas Jefferson Indian Peace Medal. Scot died on
November 1, 1823 and was succeeded by William Kneass as
The 1799 half eagle had
a mintage of 7,451, which includes both Large and Small
Reverse Stars varieties. The pictured coin is the Large
Stars variety. In their combined population reports, PCGS
and NGC have certified 41 Large Stars and 60 Small Stars
1799 half eagles in all grades.
Eagle - The design of Scot’s 1799 Eagle is
similar to his half eagle. For the obverse he used the matronly
bust of Liberty facing right. She wears a large, soft cap
high on her head. Her hair puffs out from under it and falls
to her shoulder. One heavy strand is wound around the hat,
giving a turban-like appearance. LIBERTY is at the upper
right with eight six-pointed stars to the left and five
to the right. The date is below the truncation. The reverse
shows a large heraldic eagle as its main device.
The eagle holds in its right
talon a bundle of arrows and an olive branch in its left.
Across the right wing and neck is a ribbon that is inscribed
with the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. A galaxy of stars is above
the eagle’s head with clouds above the stars. The
whole is partially enclosed with the required inscription
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Dentils surround the coin on both
sides, and the edge is reeded.
Much has been made of Liberty’s
cap being a Phrygian cap. However, a true Phrygian or liberty
cap was a close fitting cap worn by freed slaves. It was
emblematic of freedom because the heads of slaves and gladiators
were usually shorn. Certainly the cap Liberty wears in the
eagle is not such a cap; however, it is reminiscent of caps
worn by fashionable ladies of the times.
The use of the heraldry
on the reverse has been questioned. Breen suggests that
it was either a blunder or a “piece of stupid saber-rattling
bravado” because the arrows are in the war-like eagle’s
dexter claw. On The Great Seal of the United States, Scot’s
source, the arrows are in the eagle’s sinister claw.
However, Breen fails to
recognize that the United States was engaged with France
in an undeclared naval war (The Franco-American War, also
called the Quasi-War, took place from 1798 to 1800.) It
was important for the United States to assert its sovereignty,
and this war may have been the reason for the change in
Neither the half eagle nor
the eagles of 1799 have a denomination on the coin. Gold
coins were valued by their weight and fineness as they were
in Europe; consequently, the denomination was actually irrelevant.
The 1799 eagle had a mintage
of 37,449, which includes both the Small and Large Obverse
Stars varieties. The pictured coin is the Large Stars variety.
In their combined population reports, PCGS and NGC have
certified 472 Large Stars and 169 Small Stars 1799 eagles
in all grades.