1792 Birch Cent Penny Could Fetch $2 Million at Stack’s Bowers Auction

The Birch Cent (1792). Photo: Stack's Bowers.
The Birch Cent (1792). Photo: Stack's Bowers.

The penny might seem like a fairly useless denomination these days, but one 1792 example of the humble copper coin could fetch a princely price of as much as $2 million at the Henry P. Kendall Foundation Sale at Baltimore’s Stack’s Bowers on March 26—aka 200 million percent more than its original value.

Of course, today’s pennies won’t be worth nearly as much, even 223 years from now. Designed by Robert Birch, the so-called Birch Cent is one of the first coins minted by the US (the Stack’s Bowers listing claims George Washington and Thomas Jefferson likely saw this coin firsthand), and there are believed to be only seven extant examples.

One side of the coin depicts the profile of a woman with windswept hair and the words “Liberty Parent of Science & Industry.” The obverse identifies the coin’s country of origin and one cent denomination, and includes a laurel wreath.

If the projected $2 million sales price still seems unrealistic, consider that Heritage Auctions just sold another Birch Cent for an even more mind-blowing $2.5 million in January. Early American coins “will only be worth more in the future,” winning bidder Kevin Lipton told the Los Angeles Times. “They are literally Mona Lisas of our coinage.”

With that in mind, Stacks Bowers’s $2 million pre-sale estimate on the pretty penny could easily get smashed. Even considering the Birch cent’s rarity, its value remains impressive, especially compared to that of a recently-discovered cache of thousand-year-old Anglo Saxon coins—all 5,200 of them are reportedly worth roughly $2 million (see $2 Million Anglo-Saxon Coin Hoard Discovered in Lenborough, Buckinghamshire).

The sales record for a single coin was set in 2013 by a 1794 silver dollar that hammered down at $10 million at a Stack’s Bowers auction. It remains to be seen how new forms of cryptocurrency such as BitchCoin will increase in value over time (see Artist Invents BitchCoin, a Photography-backed Digital Currency), but such astronomical gains will be hard to match.

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