Birch Cent?

Dear Avid:  I’ve been seeing a lot in the news lately about a penny that is worth a half million dollars or more. I believe it’s called a “Birch” cent but I’m not sure. Can you shed any light on the coin for me? JM


Dear JM: You couldn’t have picked a more opportune time to ask your question! The 1792 Birch cent in question will be sold by our company, Stack’s Bowers Galleries, this very week in Baltimore as Lot 2577 in our sale of the Henry P. Kendall Foundation Collection on Thursday, March 26. Indeed, by the time this article hits our website, the coin may have already made numismatic history.

The 1792 Birch cent is considered the first example of the denomination in American numismatics. Today’s collectors can account for four different varieties of the Birch cent that combined equal only a dozen examples, including a unique white metal specimen. The 11 known copper specimens are divided among three different edge styles, two varieties with lettering, and one variety without. The history of the piece includes correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and George Washington as well as Mint activities before the Mint buildings were finished in late 1792; this famous rarity was probably struck around the time that the silver half dismes were produced in the summer of 1792.

The list of former stewards of the Kendall Foundation specimen reads like an early “who’s who” of American numismatics: Charles I. Bushnell; Lorin G. Parmelee; John Story Jenks; and Colonel E.H.R. Green. The consignor of the current specimen has had the coin tucked away in a world-class numismatic cabinet for 40 years. The Kendall Foundation specimen will long be remembered as the second finest example known among the seven examples of the Judd-4 variety currently known, and we expect its final price will reflect the beauty and rarity of this lovely – and important — 1792 Birch cent.

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