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Did you know that some of the earliest United States large cents ever made carry a design known as the Liberty Cap?
What is a liberty cap?
It’s a very symbolic design, featuring the head of Miss Liberty with a cap representing freedom.
The Liberty Cap large cents were struck from 1793 through 1796. These coins were among the very first pennies the United States Mint had ever struck.
All Liberty Cap pennies are pretty scarce.
In this article, we are going to delve into the history of these coins and reveal how much Liberty Cap large cents are worth today.
The History Of Liberty Capped Large Cents
The first large cents were struck by the United States Mint in 1793. These early types feature a depiction of Miss Liberty with flowing hair on the obverse (“heads side”) and a chain encircling the words “ONE CENT 1/100” on the reverse (“tails side”). The reverse design was modified in short order to a wreath surrounding the denomination “ONE CENT.”
Criticism of the Flowing Hair large cent design, with some suggesting Miss Liberty has a seemingly frightened face and unkempt hair, led to tweaks on the coin.
Later in 1793, the Flowing Hair motif was replaced with the visage of Miss Liberty donning the cap and staff representing freedom.
The cap was a popular symbol of the day — making many appearances in art and statues around the time of both the French and American Revolutions and continuing into the 19th century:
- The liberty cap derives from the Phrygian cap, which was popular in Turkey at the time and has roots in classical Greek and was seen on free men.
- The liberty cap also draws from the ancient Roman pileus, a type of cap bestowed to freed slaves and artistically represented with a rod used in emancipation ceremonies.
So, the liberty cap, while derived from many international inspirations, is itself a truly American symbol of freedom. And in the case of the Liberty Cap large cent, the coin’s design is often attributed to United States Mint engraver Robert Scot.
Some coin collectors consider Liberty Cap large cents to be part of the larger Flowing Hair large cent series.
The liberty cap design on U.S. large cents was replaced by the draped bust motif that debuted in 1796.
Two Kinds Of Liberty Cap Large Cents
While the Liberty Cap large cent is considered a single type of large cent, there are two subtypes (two kinds of Liberty Cap large cents) that some collectors consider as distinct designs, and some collect them as individual or separate types:
- 1793 Liberty Cap large cent with beaded border
- 1794 to 1796 Liberty Cap large cent with denticled border
The beads look like little balls around the border (near the rim) of the coin.
The denticles are little tooth-like ornamentations that emanate from the rim of the coin inward toward the central design features.
Liberty Cap Large Cent Varieties
As collectors who are familiar with large cents know, the Liberty Cap series is famous for its many, MANY varieties — or design modifications that constitute individually collectible kinds of coins. In fact, there are hundreds of different large cent varieties just for the run of large cents struck from 1793 through 1814.
Why are there so many varieties?
For one, U.S. Mint coiners were trying to perfect the designs of their coins early on. But this only explains one side of the equation.
Here’s another… In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the dies that strike designs onto coins were hand-made. This meant that every single die had the potential of seeing even minute (and some major) deviations from the core design that was supposed to be seen on each coin.
Most often, these variations were seen in letter or number placement. However, many varieties of this era also resulted in minor (sometimes significant) changes to the types of berries or leaves seen on wreaths, positioning of stars, and the like.
While some of these varieties may seem minor to a collector, they are really a huge deal to those who want to collect every iteration identifiable.
Plus, many of these varieties are extremely rare. So, collecting the many different Liberty Cap large cent varieties can be even more fun and challenging than pursuing them by just design or date alone!
How Much Are Liberty Cap Large Cents Worth?
Here’s the good news…
Your Liberty Cap penny is most likely worth at least $50 to $100 or so — even in heavily worn, lightly corroded condition. It would generally take holes, dents, major gashes, and other terrible damage for your Liberty Cap large cent to be worth less than that.
While mintages for some Liberty Cap large cents are well into the tens or even hundreds of thousands, these coins are generally very scarce to rare today — especially in collectible condition. They’re also in high demand from collectors, and hence why the values of these old pennies are so high.
Liberty Cap Large Cent Values
Liberty Cap large cent values are listed below. Bear in mind, these large cent values are for coins in a grade of Good-4 or better and without cleaned, holed, scratched, or otherwise damaged surfaces. Liberty Cap large cents with damage or cleaning are worth less.
- 1793 Liberty Cap large cent — $7,500+
- 1794 Head of 1793 — $3,750+
- 1794 Head of 1794 — $300+
- 1794 Head of 1795 — $450+
- 1794 Starred Reverse — $25,000+
- 1794 No Fraction Bar — $450+
- 1795 Plain Edge — $500
- 1795 Reeded Edge — $250,000+
- 1795 Jefferson Head Plain — $25,000+
- 1795 Jefferson Head Lettered Edge — $55,000+
- 1796 Liberty Cap large cent — $550+
*These are Liberty Cap penny values for the most widely collected dates. There may be other minor varieties not listed here that are collected by series enthusiasts.
What Are The Most Valuable Liberty Cap Large Cents?
Any uncirculated Liberty Cap large cent is easily worth many thousands of dollars. They’re way rare in uncirculated grades. In fact, several are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in those top grades.
While you don’t see any million-dollar prices in the list of Liberty Cap large cent values above, that doesn’t mean none have taken that lofty 7-figure price. Those values listed there are on the lower end of pricing, with plus signs indicating room for higher values (usually for coins in better condition).
Believe it or not, at least one Liberty Cap penny has fetched $1 million at public auction.
Which one? It was the 1795 Reeded Edge large cent — a tremendous rarity with just 10 known specimens. In 2009, an example graded Very Good-10 by Professional Coin Grading Service sold for $1,265,000!
I’m the Coin Editor here at TheFunTimesGuide. My love for coins began when I was 11 years old. I primarily collect and study U.S. coins produced during the 20th century. I’m a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) and have won multiple awards from the NLG for my work as a coin journalist. I’m also the editor at the Florida United Numismatists Club (FUN Topics magazine), and author of Images of America: The United States Mint in Philadelphia (a book that explores the colorful history of the Philadelphia Mint). I’ve contributed hundreds of articles for various coin publications including COINage, The Numismatist, Numismatic News, Coin Dealer Newsletter, Coin Values, and CoinWeek. I’ve authored nearly 1,000 articles here at The Fun Times Guide to Coins (many of them with over 50K shares), and I welcome your coin questions in the comments below!