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  • Washington Roman Head Cent

    The Washington Roman Head Cent of 1792: Introduction

    After the rejection of his large and small eagle Washington cent designs of 1791, the engraver John Gregory Hancock created another Washington cent, this time with a portrait of Washington in imitation of a Roman emperor. The rationale for the coin is unknown, however Walter Breen has proposed a theory that the Roman Head cent was a satirical piece. When Hancock learned Washington did not favor any coinage design bearing his own likeness, the engraver must have been rather disappointed and disgusted as both his large and small eagle designs contained an obverse displaying a bust of Washington. Washington's spokesman had called the the concept of putting the presidential portrait on a coin to be "monarchical" and compared it to the practices of the Roman Emperors Nero and Caligula. Nor did Washington wish to follow the path of the upstart puritan military leader Oliver Cromwell, who had put his own likeness on coins during the Commonwealth. Upon hearing these comments it is conjectured Hancock decided to make a limited edition Roman Head coin to satirize Washington and his decision. About twenty copies were struck and quietly distributed to local friends and associates. Breen states the existence of this coin was not publicly known for over forty years. Apparently Hancock and his employer, the mint owner Obadiah Westwood, did not want to offend America, as they undoubtedly hoped to obtain future contracts for token and medals from the new nation.

    The obverse of the Roman Head cent displays a bust right portrait in the style of the Roman Emperors with the legend "WASHINGTON PRESIDENT" around the rim and the date "1792" in exergue. Because the bust is undraped the Roman Head cent was known as the Naked Bust Cent during the Nineteenth century. The reverse of the coin shows a rather comical eagle, which is actually a composite of Hancock's large and small eagle varieties. The head, tail and legs as well as the size of the olive branch and the full bundle of thirteen arrows in the talons imitates the large eagle cent. The shield appears to be a composite as its size is closer to the small eagle variety but its style, without a horizontal bar section at the top (that is a chief azure), is closer to the large eagle cent. The wings, which are the most unusual feature, clearly imitate the small eagle variety. The wings do not appear to be large enough to allow the bird to fly! The comic element is accentuated by having the wings pointed upward rather than spread out. In fact, above the eagle, between the wing tips, there was only room for the word "CENT," while on the wider spread wings of the small eagle variety there was room for the words, "ONE CENT." Also, the use of the larger head and closer wings only allowed Hancock to place six stars in the field, while his small eagle variety contained eight stars.

    The Roman Head cents survives in about twenty examples. This coin is made of copper with a diameter of 30mm and a weight of 196-198.5 grains; it contains a lettered edge reading, "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA . X . X . X ." There are two unique single face impressions of obverse trial dies. One example in pewter contains the misspelling of "PRESEDENT". The other is a copper trial impression in which the date has been replaced with the designer's name, "I. G. HANCOCK" ; this example has a lettered edge reading, "PAYABLE AT MACCLESFIED LIVERPOOL OR CONGLETON . X ." Both of these trial impressions were stolen from Richard Picker during the 1971 American Numismatic Convention in Washington D.C. and have not been recovered.


    See Breen, pp. 140-141 and his serial article, "Hancock's Revenge" in Numismatic News Weekly,   (1971) Krause: Iola WI; the revision of W.S. Baker's 1885 catalog by Russell Rulau and George Fuld, Medallic Portraits of Washington ,  Iola, WI: Krause, 1985, p. 31 and George Fuld, "Coinage Featuring George Washington,"in Coinage of the Confederation Period,  ed. by Philip L. Mossman, Coinage of the Americas Conference, Proceedings No. 11, held at the American Numismatic Society, October 28, 1995, New York: American Numismatic Society, 1996, pp. 165-259 on pp. 190-192.

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    Section Contents Washington Roman Head Cent of 1792

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