A prototype for the first U.S. penny will be auctioned for around $1 million—or 100 million times its trading value—later this month at an auction via Stack’s Bowers in Baltimore.
The one-cent piece is part of the Archangel collection, which includes coins from American colonial days through the founding of the U.S. Mint in 1792, says John Kraljevich, senior neumacist at Stack’s Bowers.
“Every cent every American’s ever had in their pocket draws their lineage back to this one,” Kraljevich says.
The penny up for sale was printed in 1792, a year before the U.S. Mint started circulating coin currency. It was the first manifestation of the American dollar system, where a dollar equals 100 cents.
This was novel at the time; in Britain’s coinage, 12 pence equaled a shilling.
“This was the first attempt to make a cent and see if it worked,” says James McCartney, a neumacist at Stack’s Browers. “We don’t know how many were made; 10 to 11 probably survived.”
When pennies went into circulation a year later, the financial principle remained, but some of the initial design elements were scrapped. The penny featured a depiction of Lady Liberty—Abraham Lincoln didn’t appear on pennies until the centennial of his birth in 1909—but her hair looked different by the time pennies first went into American wallets.
The front also read “Liberty Parent of Science & Industry.” When the cent went into circulation, this text was simplified to “Liberty United States of America.”