Is That Really Thomas Jefferson?

Posted on July 20, 2012 by

1795 "Jefferson" Head Cent - PCGS VF25

The Jefferson Head Cents are sample coins produced outside the mint by independent businessman John Harper, then a saw-maker by trade, who proposed to supply coinage to the Mint under contract. Initailly, Harper approached the Mint with suggestions for improvements to their machinery, but he was treated poorly, so he decided to make his own press and dies to prove his methods. The “Jefferson Heads” are the result. Though they were made outside the Mint, collectors prize the Jefferson Cents highly and have included them among the regular Cents.

Harper intended to mimic the designs on 1795 Liberty Cap Cents, but his skill was as a machinist, not as a die-cutter. Thus, his attempts at replicating the designs, though admirable, were clearly different and off the mark. However, the purpose of the coins were simply to show that Harper could, indeed, produce coins. The differences did not escape the notice of collectors, who nick-named Harper’s Cents “Jefferson Heads” because of a vague similarity to the profile of Thomas Jefferson.

Collectors recognize three different Jefferson Head Cents die combinations: Sheldon NC-1, Sheldon NC-4, and Sheldon 80. Two different edge devices are known on the Sheldon NC-1. All Jefferson Heads share the same obverse die; Sheldon NC-1 has a different reverse than Sheldon NC-4 and Sheldon 80. Of the various varieties and sub-varieties, only the Sheldon 80 is collectible. All known examples are worn, and are often found with surface problems such as corrosion or cracking due to poor annealing (on those blanks that were cast). The finest example is a VF35 (PCGS estimated grade) in the American Numismatic Society collection. The finest collectible example is a single PCGS VF30.

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