Satiny and lustrous deep golden brown with lively rose highlights throughout, and sharply struck with full design elements present. No readily apparent contact marks mar the surfaces, though we must note two toning flecks in the obverse field at the 4 o'clock position, useful for pedigree purposes. While the designer of the type is lost to history, we know that Henry Voigt did the die engraving for the issue. The present variety, Sheldon-3, is called the Leaning R variety owing to the cant of the R in LIBERTY, which is larger than the other letters and leaning noticeably to the right. Vine and Bars edge style.
From the first year of coinage at the fledgling Philadelphia Mint as well as the only year of the design type; 1793-dated Wreath cents and Liberty Cap cents would soon follow, with the Liberty Cap design type continuing on through 1796. Indeed, an article in the Boston Argus of March 26, 1793 noted in part: "The chain on the reverse is but a bad omen for Liberty, and Liberty herself appears to be in a fright." Comments such as this no doubt brought about the demise of the design type after just 36,103 pieces -- $361.03 face value -- were produced. That Chain cents of any grade exist today is a fortuitous happening, given the small production run and the ensuing 219 years since their inception, but that several Mint State examples exist is nothing short of a numismatic miracle. The presently offered 1793 Chain AMERICA cent is obviously high in the Condition Census -- representing the top six finest coins -- for the type, and it will certainly enjoy strong bidding activity when it experiences its moment in the spotlight.
Numismatic Reflections by Q. David Bowers
In my first commentary on this coin, reflecting on the printed text in the ANA catalog that attributed the pedigree to the Garrett Collection, I shared some reminiscences about my experience with that particular cent. Lo and behold! It turns out that although this coin closely matches the Garrett plate, it actually hails from the Thomas Cleneay Collection, another great cabinet formed in the 19th century. The coin we now offer was cataloged by David W. Akers as lot 554 in Paramount’s session of Auction '80, there headlined "Gem Mint State 1793 Chain Cent, Finest Known of the S-3 Variety." It was cataloged as Gem Uncirculated 65 in that sale 32 years ago before MS-66 was generally used in numismatics. Akers further noted in his description in the Auction '80 catalog:
"S-3. Leaning R variety. Clashed dies as usual. Sharply struck with full hair detail. The planchets is large and of superb quality and the color is a beautiful light tan and olive.
"This is the famous Cleneay-Jackman-Ryder specimen mentioned in Sheldon’s 'Penny Whimsy’' as the unrivalled finest known example of this variety. Its full pedigree is Cleneay - Zanoni - Anger - Borden - Jackman 6/29/18, Lot 685 - Ryder - Wayte Raymond - William Sheldon in 1947 - R.E. Naftzger 4/19/72 - present consignor. This remarkable coin is finer than the lovely Garrett specimen that realized $115,000 last November and is unquestionably one of the most important and desirable U.S. copper coins. It is an American numismatic classic!"
T. Harrison Garrett, owner of the "other" nice 1793 S-3, is thought to have begun collecting in 1864 while a student at Princeton. By that time Thomas Cleneay, who lived in Cincinnati, was already well known in American numismatics.
NGC Census: 1; 1 finer within the BN designation (MS-67 BN). We also note an MS-66 RB example.
Ex: Joseph Zanoni, a Cincinnati collector and ice cream shop owner whose collection was sold privately by Edward Cogan in 1867, apparently to fellow Cincinnatian Thomas Cleneay; S.H. and H. Chapman's sale of the Thomas Cleneay Collection, December 1890, lot 1794; J.F. Anger, a collector who was also a cent buyer in the 1890 Parmelee sale; Arba Borden, a name consignor to an 1893 Frossard sale which contained Mint State early cents but lacked a Chain cent in this grade; Allison W. Jackman, apparently acquired privately; Henry Chapman's sale of the Allison W. Jackman Collection, June 1918, lot 685; Hillyer Ryder, whose collection remained intact between his death in 1928 and its sale in 1945; purchased by Wayte Raymond in May 1945 with the rest of the Ryder Collection; sold privately to Dr. William H. Sheldon in 1947; sold as part of the Sheldon Collection to R.E. "Ted" Naftzger on April 19, 1972; sold to Stanley Kesselman in March 1980 as partial payment to Kesselman for the Garrett S-3