In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the United States Mint struggled to produce coinage adequate to the demands of commerce in the new republic. Production of early coinage, particularly cents and half cents, was stymied by, among other factors, difficulty finding a consistent source of copper. One of the main suppliers in this period was Boulton, Watt & Company, an English firm that manufactured a wide range of metal goods over its more than century-long history.
The Coinage Act of 1792 specified that the fledgling U.S. Mint had to purchase the copper for cents and half cents either as raw material or premade into planchets. Initially, the Mint purchased copper from Governors and Company of Copper Miners in England, but Mint Director Elias Boudinot was disappointed in the quality.
Beginning in 1796, many planchets were purchased from Boulton and Watt, a Soho-based engineering and manufacturing firm established in 1775 after Matthew Boulton partnered with James Watt, an inventor whose substantial improvements to the Newcomen steam engine helped to usher in England’s Industrial Revolution. Watt may be familiar to readers as the namesake for the unit of power.
Boulton, Watt & Company became the U.S. Mint’s primary supplier of copper planchets; in June of 1799, for example, Boulton and Watt shipped 1.6 million copper cent blanks to Philadelphia. Deliveries continued into the late 1830s. In a 1987 monograph, Richard Doty noted that Boulton, Watt & Company “was responsible for approximately two of every three planchets used to strike cents between 1797 and 1837.”