The Sense behind the Cent

The American Revolutionary war was officially ended by Congress on April 11, 1783. It is estimated that America had around 3 Million people in it at the time, all from various European countries.  All these people brought with them the culture and tradition from their native lands and the great melting pot was born.  Along with ideas and traditions came various units of trade.  If you could pop back to this time in American history, you would find coins from all over the world being used for trade.  Each coin had its own value, look and weight.  Imagine the confusion this would cause.  It was soon clear that this country needed its own unit of trade, one that was uniform and would be recognized by anyone.  And so the penny was born.

Designed by Benjamin Franklin, the first penny was called the fugio cent.  It was privately minted from 1787 to 1793 and made solely of copper.  The obverse featured the sun shining down on a sundial with the caption “fugio” (I fly or flee) on one side.  The bottom says “Mind your business”.  The reverse shows 13 interlocking rings meant to represent each of the 13 colonies with the words “we are one” in the center.

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From here, a series of what we now call large cents were produced from 1793 to 1856.  Here is a list of the different large cent varieties they made:

Flowing Hair Cent (1793)

Liberty Cap Cent (1793-1797)

Draped Bust Cent (1796-1808)

Classic Head Cent (1808-1814)

Coronet Cent (1816-1857)

Matron Head Cent (1816-1839)

Braided Hair Cent (1839-1857)

No pennies were made in 1815 because of the war of 1812 and the shortage of copper that resulted.

By the mid 1800’s, these large cents were quickly becoming unpopular in commerce and expensive to mint.  These coins were large and became heavy to pack around.  Also, due to inflation, the price of copper started rising so that it was now costing more than 1 cent to make a penny. By 1850, pennies were no longer profitable to mint.

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In 1856, the flying eagle cent came into circulation (pictured above).  This coin was much smaller than its counterpart and was made of only 88% copper.  The other 12% was nickel, which was a much more affordable metal.  To get these new “small cents”, people could exchange their large cents or other worn foreign silver.  So many flying eagle cents were made that they quickly overwhelmed the system.  They were not considered legal tender and therefore banks and other merchants did not have to accept the coins. Flying eagle cents were only minted for three years.  The eagle design did not strike well and it was replaced by the Indian head Cent (pictured below).

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The Indian head cent was minted from 1859-1909. Most of these coins were minted to pay union soldiers during the Civil War. After the war, in 1864, its composition was changed once again to be 95% copper and 5% zinc.  Also in this year the Coinage act of 1864 was passed.  This act made the one cent coin legal tender and now merchants and banks across the country had to accept them.

In 1909, to commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s 100th birthday, the design on the penny was changed once again.  Commonly known as the wheat cent (pictured below), this coin featured a profile view of Lincoln on the obverse and a pair of wheat ears circling the words “one cent” on the reverse  Lincoln was the first historical figure to be used on a US coin and his picture remains on the penny to this day.

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Although its design has changed many times, the purpose of the cent remains the same. It was not only our first official coin, but it helped shape our nation.  Check out all the different cents we have for sale on Ebay and our website and stay tuned for more about the infamous wheat cent

Origins of the U.S. Postal Service

Thinking about taking a trip down to the Post Office conjures up images of long lines and regulated service in an age of instantaneous communication through text messaging and the internet.  But looking back on the history of Postal Service, the transportation of information was a privilege of the utmost relevance.

The importance of long distance communication was recognized by the early North American colonies and several programs were initiated but none took into account the vastness of all the colonies.  With a limited scope and disjointed function, these independent services failed.

In 1691, Thomas Neale petitioned for a grant from the British Crown for the establishment of a North American Postal Service.  On February 17th of 1691, he heard his response from regents William and Mary, giving him the funds “to erect, settle and establish…an office or offices for receiving and dispatching letters and pacquets, and to receive, send and deliver the same under such rates and sums of money as the planters shall agree to give, and to hold and enjoy the same for the term of twenty-one years.”

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Excited, Neale wasted no time in appointing Andrew Hamilton, New Jersey Governor as deputy postmaster with the first official service up and running by 1692.  Postage rates were standardized and a Post Office erected in each Virginia town.  When Neale’s patent expired in 1710, Parliament advanced the English postal system to support the colonies.  The head office was established in New York City.

All was fine and dandy with this system until the Revolutionary War which seated Philadelphia as the information hub of the new nation, collapsing the English postal service.  The postal service found necessity in the expedited transportation of news, laws, military and political intelligence.  Newspapers were distributed among the thirteen states as journalists began reaching more people at a lower cost.  Overthrowing the English based postal service, the United States postal Service was created on July 26th, 1775 by the decree of the Second Continental Congress.  It was initially led by Benjamin Franklin, previous colonial postmaster.

Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net). [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photograph by Mike Peel

Seventeen years later The Post office Department was created in 1792 in order to establish Post Offices and Post roads by Constitutional authority.  Representative of core American values, the 1792 law guaranteed low-cost access to information while sanctifying personal correspondence and privacy.

As the country grew West, Post Offices began popping up across the land.  To most efficiently reach far away places, this new service operated on a hub and spoke system in which Washington was the hub.  By 1869, the USPS had gained so much leverage that it contained 27,000 local Post Offices and began utilizing railroad mail cars.  The USPS influenced national expansion crucially.  Supplying a quick and affordable way to communicate increased migration to the West, encouraging trade and business ventures while maintaining political relevance.  Aside from practicality, the easy spread of information bolstered a sense of nationalism in a blooming country, providing a necessary infrastructure in establishing the new frontier!

So next time you complain about a letter getting lost in the mail or not having mail service on Sundays, remember the long history of the Post in this county and the value of sharing information in America!

The Benjamin Franklin Z Grill

Ever wondered what the rarest stamp in the U.S. is?

The “Z Grill” is a 1 cent stamp featuring Benjamin Franklin of which only two are known to exist. The Z Grill is considered one of the rarest United States stamps, along with the 15 cent Lincoln Z Grill and the 10 cent Washington Z Grill.

What is a grill, exactly? In philately, a grill consists of an embossed pattern indented in the stamp in order to prevent postage stamp reuse. The ink of the cancel seeps into the indentation, making it more difficult to wash off the cancellation. The specific “Z” pattern put horizontal ridges into the stamp, rather than the usual vertical ridges. The grill process was the standard for postage stamps in the 1860’s and 1870’s.

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Only two known 1868 Benjamin Franklin stamps with the Z Grill exist, making them extremely rare. Likely hundreds of thousands of 1 cent Benjamin Franklin stamps were printed, but only two with a Z Grill survived. Both have cancellation marks.

Where are these rare stamps now? The New York Public Library owns one as part of their Benjamin Miller Collection, a collection of rare stamps donated in 1925 by philatelist Benjamin Kurtz Miller.
The other Z Grill rests in a private collection.

In 1998, one Z Grill sold for $935,000 to Mystic Stamp Company. Later, the stamp was traded to Bill Gross for a block of four Inverted Jenny stamps worth $3 million. As a result, Gross became the only owner of a complete collection of American 19th century stamps.

What You Should Know About Women on Currency

How many women have appeared on American banknotes?

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Pocahontas banknote.

While Helen Keller, Susan B. Anthony, and Sacajawea all have had their moments on coinage, paper money is unsurprisingly full of the faces of dead white dudes. But female contributors to American history do make appearances on dollar bills — or at least they have historically. The Baptism of Pocahontas, a John G. Chapman painting, was reproduced on a $20 banknote in the middle of the 19th century. And in 1886, 1891, and 1896, First Lady Martha Washington appeared on silver certificates (representative money printed from 1878 to 1964, redeemable at the face value of silver dollar coins).military payment cert

Military payment certificates, a retired form of currency that only military and authorized civilians used overseas, have featured far more women. From 1946 to 1973, the lithographed bills featured idealized versions of Lady Liberty, American women, and the helpless victims of foreign powers. These images were not only created and selected for monetary purposes; they reminded soldiers what they were fighting for, and their beauty made who they represented all the more valuable.

The Bank of England announced this year that Jane Austen would be put on a 10-pound note – which sparked enormous controversy with the public.

In the United States, bank notes have not been updated since 1929. People whose faces have “permanent familiarity” to the American public were chosen for the notes. There is no requirement that one has to be a president before being printed on a bill, as Benjamin Franklin’s face on the $100 note proves. In fact, the only real requirements for one to be featured on paper currency are to be American and dead.

What women would be prime candidates for being put on banknotes? Just a few worthy options include Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, and famous writers and abolitionists. The list could go on.

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As for choosing faces with “permanent familiarity,” aren’t the faces of Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Franklin instantly recognizable at least in part because they appear on banknotes in the first place?

So what do you say: is there room for a woman on future American banknotes?