The obverse design consisted of a stylized Liberty head with flowing hair. The inscription "LIBERTY" appeared above the portrait, and the date below. The design was rather sparse and empty compared to those that would come later.
The reverse's central design figure, for which the coin is named, is an interlocking chain with 15 links, representing the 15 American states in existence at that time. Both the words "ONE CENT" and the fraction "1/100" appear within the chain. Along the outer edge is inscribed "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA". On the first working die, the engraver failed to allow adequate room for the entire inscription, and it had to be abbreviated to "UNITED STATES OF AMERI.". These early dies were cut by hand, rather than being made from master hubs as is the practice today.
The edge of these coins is decorated with bars and vines with leaves.
Chain cents were struck during late February and early March 1793; records indicate that approximately 36,103 were produced. However, the public reaction to the coins was largely negative. One newspaper criticized the appearance of the Liberty head, saying that it appeared to be "in a fright". And, while the reverse chain had been intended to symbolize the togetherness of the newly formed Union (similar iconography had been utilized on the reverse of the earlier Fugio Centand Revolutionary War era Continental currency), many commentators instead interpreted it as representative of slavery. By March, the Mint had run out of planchets, which temporarily halted striking. During this time, a new design – the Wreath cent – was quickly prepared and approved.
1793 Flowing Hair Cent (chain)
The Wreath cent was an American large cent. It was the second design type, following the Chain cent in 1793. It was produced only during that year.
The obverse design consisted of a stylized Liberty head with flowing hair. The inscription "LIBERTY" appeared above the portrait. Below it was a three-leaved sprig and the date. The design of the Liberty head was modified somewhat from that of the Chain cent to address public criticism.
The reverse's central design figure, for which the coin is named, was a wreath. The words "ONE CENT" appeared within the wreath, and the corresponding fraction "1/100" appeared beneath it. Along the outer edge was inscribed "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA". A decorative beaded border was added along the rim.
Approximately 63,353 Wreath cents were struck. Early specimens featured a stylized "vine/bars" design on the edges of the planchet, which was identical to that of the earlier Chain cent. Later on, this was changed to a lettered edge reading "ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR". Early American copper collectors generally categorize the coins still further into thirteen different varieties under the Sheldon system. Most of these variations entail relatively minor changes, and often require careful examination to discern. One variety, however, is far more recognizable: the "Strawberry Leaf". On these strikings, the trefoil sprig above the date took the form of a strawberry plant. Only four such specimens are known, and all are heavily circulated. The finest known Strawberry Leaf cent sold at auction for $414,000 in November 2004.
The 1793 Wreath Cent is featured in the 2014 novel The Automation