Meet two pennies worth about $1 million

The Birch Cent, left, and the Silver Center Cent were made during the early days of the U.S. Mint.
(Travis Awalt / Heritage Auctions)

Two rare American one-cent coins dating back to 1792 are expected to sell for nearly $1 million at a public auction in Southern California starting Wednesday.

The copper coins, known as the Birch Cent and the Silver Center Cent, are expected to sell for about half a million dollars each and were made during the early days of the U.S. Mint.

“They’re classic American rarities,” said Eric Bradley, spokesman for Heritage Auction, the auction house holding the five-day sale in Anaheim.

And they have historical significance that goes beyond their collectible value, representing “the transition in American history from the colonies to a new republic,” Bradley said.


“These are coins that were developed and thought up by the Founding Fathers, who were trying to differentiate themselves from British coinage and British rule,” he said.

The words “Liberty parent of science & industry,” which are engraved on both coins, also show how the United States was trying to distance itself from the religious persecution and monarchy it associated with Britain, Bradley said.

The origin of the Silver Center Cent was also referenced in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, and it is among the very first coins ever struck by the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, Bradley added.

According to the auction house, the coin went missing before eventually being discovered in an English pub in the 1960s. The man who discovered it, Nigel Willmott, kept it until 1997, when he eventually auctioned it off for 28,750 British pounds, Bradley said.

The penny’s name derives from the fact that it was produced with a small insertion of silver at its center, a feature that made its intrinsic value equal to its face value. It is one of about a dozen surviving coins known to exist with this insertion, Bradley said.

Wednesday’s sale is part of a five-day public auction of ancient world coins, U.S. coins and paper currency expected to bring $30 million, Bradley said. It is also part of the World’s Fair of Money, a numismatic convention in Anaheim that runs through Saturday. The event is expected to draw the interest of collectors globally.