Some of the most fascinating rarities of the numismatic world comes from the early years of American history with the creation of the Fugio cent and its predecessor, the Continental Dollar. These extremely rare coins both have a colorful history behind them and were used at a time when our experiment with democracy was hanging on by rapidly thinning threads.
The Continental Dollar
First minted in 1776, this coin didn’t have a denomination and was made from silver, brass, and pewter. Experts still don’t know how they were used due to the lack of a denomination and because no historical records authorizing the creation of the coins have survived. Only sixty of these coins are
known to still exist, and are mostly pewter. Out of those, only four of the silver varieties are known to survive and back in May, one sold at auction for $1.4 million. Pretty impressive for a coin who originally had no clear value.
The images on the coin were based on the design by Benjamin Franklin for the paper currency that was in issue at the time. The obverse featured a sun shining down on a sundial with the latin word “Fugio” (I fly) next to it with the legend “Mind Your Business” at the bottom. Historians believe that Franklin put this in due to him being a successful businessman and was supposed to be a saying such as time flies so mind your business. The reverse side featured 13 linked rings each labeled with the name of one of the original 13 colonies surrounding a sun containing the words “AMERICAN CONGRESS” and “WE ARE ONE.”
The Fugio Cent
Fast forward ten years later to 1787, to help unify our currency and help boost our economy Congress passes a resolution for the contract of coining a national copper cent. In what would eventually become the first penny, the Fugio Cent was born. The design was taken from Benjamin Franklin’s design of the Continental Dollar with the obverse featuring a sun and sundial with the legend “Fugio,” the date, and the legend “Mind Your Business” at the bottom. The reverse was also copied minus a few alterations it featured the thirteen linked circles (without the colony names) with the legends, “WE ARE ONE” and “UNITED STATES.”
The Fugio cent, or “congress coppers” as they were later called didn’t see much use as they were largely uncirculated. They remained in the national treasury until they were purchased at one-third face value in 1789 on credit by a New York merchant. A year later, the Bank of New York acquired a full keg of the Fugio cent where they were lost until they were rediscovered in 1856 when the bank was moving location. They were subsequently lost again until being rediscovered in 1926. From then on, they were slowly distributed to officials and favored customers of the bank. Today, the bank still retains 819 pieces of their original keg.
Gary Dyner is the owner of Great American Coin Company. Connect with him on Google+.