Minting A Coin to Prove A Point


What lengths would you go to to prove a point? One early American minter set up his own press and struck his own coins, just to demonstrate that he could. This created one of the rarest coins in United States history.


351105686_bb197d355e_oBefore the creation of the United States Mint and the coinage of American money, John Harper helped created copper coins for the state of New Jersey. While his business partner, Albion Cox, was in charge of the mint, Harper worked with the mechanical processes, and struck the actual coins. After the job ended in 1788,. Harper became a businessman in Trenton, though he sold some of the coin-making equipment to the newly-established United States Mint in 1792. In fact, Harper owned the Philadelphia building that was the first temporary home to the Mint, and where the first silver coinage of the United States was struck.


Harper’s original partner, Albion Cox, returned from England to become the first assayer of the Mint. The Mint began to strike copper coins in 1793, but the public was unhappy with the quality of the coins. So intense was the outcry that Congress appointed a special committee to see what had happened and what could be done to correct the problems. Cox suggested that the committee approach Harper, given his expertise in copper coinage.



The head of the committee, Elias Boudinot, met with Harper and was impressed with his knowledge. However, when Harper met with the full committee, he was left with the impression that they did not take him seriously. He created his own minting machinery from repurposed saw-making machines, and even cut his own dies. He rolled out copper and punched out coin blanks, then invited the committee to visit him again. When the committee arrived, he proceeded to strike coins and distribute them to those present. It was unanimously agreed that Harper did, in fact, know what he was talking about when it came to minting copper coins.


Those handfuls of Harper-struck coins are now known as Jefferson Head cents, due to the resemblance between the historic figure and the Liberty face on the obverse of the coin. It is one of the rarest coins in American history; only about 25 of the coins struck by Harper himself exist; fewer still remain of the coins made by the Mint, using Harper’s dies.

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