The Fugio Cent: America’s First Coin US Coins

The Fugio Cent, also known as the Franklin cent, minted in 1787, is universally recognized in numismatic circles as the first official coinage of the United States. Its design, rich in symbolism, and its history offer a fascinating glimpse into the early days of the American republic.

On April 21, 1787, the Congress of the Confederation of the United States sanctioned the creation of an official copper penny. This coin, later known as the Fugio cent, featured a depiction of the Sun and its rays illuminating a sundial, accompanied by the word “FUGIO” — a Latin term meaning “I flee” or “I fly,” symbolizing the fleeting nature of time. The Fugio Cent was designed by one of the most illustrious Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin, a polymath known for his contributions to science, diplomacy, and literature, also had a keen interest in currency design. His involvement in the design of the Fugio Cent underscores the coin’s significance. The design of this coin drew inspiration from the 1776 “Continental dollar” coin, a prototype that was created in various pattern pieces but never released into circulation.

Records indicate an estimated minting volume of approximately 400,000 units. This figure, however, is subject to historical variance due to documentation limitations of the period.

1 Fugio Cent, United States, 1787
1 Fugio Cent, United States, 1787 The Smithsonian Institution

The obverse of the Fugio Cent features a sundial and the inscription “FUGIO,” accompanied by the motto “Mind Your Business.” The reverse presents 13 interconnected rings symbolizing the unity of the original colonies, with the central inscription “We Are One,” encircled by the phrase “United States” and the year of minting.

The Fugio Cent is known to exist in numerous varieties, primarily distinguished by differences in its textual and graphical elements. Modern numismatic research has identified over 50 distinct varieties, each varying slightly in terms of die alignment, font style, and ring connectivity patterns.

The designation of the Fugio Cent as the earliest coinage of the U.S. is substantiated by its being the first to bear the inscription “United States,” thereby representing a national rather than a state or foreign monetary system. This distinction is pivotal in its historical and numismatic classification.

The market value of the Fugio Cent is subject to its condition, rarity, and variety. Notable auction sales include:

  1. A Mint State example of the Newman 3-D variety realized $44,650 at a Stack’s Bowers auction.
  2. Another variant, the Newman 1-B, in near-mint condition, fetched $39,950 at a Heritage Auctions event.

The Fugio Cent encapsulates a critical juncture in American history, embodying the nascent ideals of a burgeoning nation. Its design by Franklin, diverse varieties, and historical significance underpin its high value in the numismatic community. Its study offers insights into early American minting practices and the ideological underpinnings of the nation’s first coinage.

  • Coins
  • Copper
  • Cent
  • Fugio Cent
  • Benjamin Franklin