George Washington was President of the United States. The United States Senate held its first public session in 1794. Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin. The Whiskey Rebellion occurred when farmers in the Monongahela Valley of Pennsylvania rebelled against federal liquor taxes and the army was called in to put down the uprising. Fort Wayne was founded.
Matthew Perry, an American commodore who was instrumental in opening relations with Japan, was born on April 10. Cornelius Vanderbilt, entrepreneur and first railroad tycoon, was born on May 27. Abraham Clark and John Witherspoon, both signers of the Declaration of Independence died that year.
Alexander Hamilton was the Secretary of the Treasury but the US Mint was under the Secretary of State Edmund Randolph. David Rittenhouse was the first Director of the US Mint. Robert Scot was the first Chief Engraver of the Mint. In 1794, only half-cents and large cents were minted because the money for surety bonds could not be raised in order to allow for the minting of silver coins. Even though there were half dismes struck with the 1794 date they were actually minted in 1795.
Two hundred and thirteen years have passed since 1794. We have seen wars and peace; prosperity and poverty; great philanthropists and robber barons. We have transformed our economy from agrarian through the industrial revolution that saw great factories built only to be replaced by a largely service-based economy. We had presidents whose grand monument in South Dakota is dwarfed only by their achievements, presidents who left in violence, to presidents who left in shame.
What has this country seen in 213 years? Imagine holding in your hand a coin that reads “ONE CENT” that has been worn over time and has a barely readable date of 1794. The edge lettering is worn away. This coin once helped feed someone, maybe a family. This coin may have helped a family with housing. It may have seen the pockets or great men or the purses of great women. It could have provided a worker with libations in a dockside pub or a moment of release for someone down on their luck. It was part of the birth of a nation and stay around as it matured.
In 1794, Robert Scot added the Liberty Cap, a Phrygian cap on a Liberty Pole, behind the effigy of “Liberty” to symbolize the country’s freedom. It was reported that 918,521 of these pure copper coins were minted. Like the country that minted it, this coin has survived.
When someone asks why I collect coins, I show them this old and worn 1794 Liberty Cap Large Cent and ask if they can imagine what this coin may have seen. It is an awesome thought!