The new Plain Edge or "Godless" Washington and Adams Dollar are all the rage laTely, but did you know they are not the first Plain Edge coins the US has minted? Here, the author, will write about the first "No Edge Lettering" US Coin, and hope to enlighten a few on Plain Edge Varieties.
The type coin I'm referring to is a 1797 Liberty Cap, Facing Right, Half Cent. The Liberty Cap Half Cent where minted from 1794-1797, and during this era there where copper shortcomings. So, some of these coins where stuck over a Talbot, Allum and Lee Token, because they where a cheaper acquisition of copper. Many of the "Plain Edge" varieties are due to this over-strike, because the tokens did not have edge lettering.
But that's not the only reason.
In response to the copper shortage President George Washington made a Proclamation on December 27, 1795 reducing the weight of Cents and Half Cents. So, many of theses coins where made much thinner and did not have the edge lettering. However, a total of 25,600 lettered edge Half Cents were stuck during this year. It is speculated that an additional 114,090 plain edge half cents dated 1795 were stuck in 1796. Obviously, this claimed in the Plain Edge Half Cents being more numerous than Lettered Edges.
Half Cent Varieties like the Plain Edge are attributed using Cohen Variety System. The COHEN System is the most accepted method of designing or attributing a letter and number to each Half Cent variety. Some examples of how a Half Cent would be attributed is C-3a, C-1, C-5b, etc. Obviously, the C stands for COHEN and the number designates a die state.
The man who coined the system is Roger S. Cohen, Jr, in his book "American Half Cents: The Little Half Sisters." Roger Cohen is denied but his legacy will live on every time a numismatist attributes a Half Cent variety.
Unlike today, there was no hype when someone found a Plain Edge Half Cent, because the mint planned in making these, and variety collecting is a recent phenomenon. It was more likely that someone would melt their copper coin due to the increase in copper value at the time. They where worth more for their copper content than their face value, and the reason for the aforementioned Proclamation.
A total of 8 Different Cohen Plain Edge Half Cents are recognized dated 1795 and 1797 respectively. With two more possible variants, one for each year, according to the listings on NGC website. The COHEN numbers are as follows: 1795 C-2b, C-3, C-4, C-4 Over-stroke, 1797 C-1, C-1 Over-stuck, C-2, C-2 Over-stuck.
Numismatist should be aware that other denominations where stuck with edge lettering, Large Cents (1793-1797), Half Dollars (1794-1836), Silver Dollars (1794-1803), ST. Gaudens Double Eagles (1907-1933) to mention most of them, and there are Plain Edge Variacies to be found in the above examples. From this, it should be obvious, that Washington and Adams Dollar Plain Edge Varieties (PEV) where not the first PEV Dollars.
Of course, the likelihood of one finding an unknown Plain Edge Type example is remote, it should not prevent collectors from searching for them. Many may still be waiting to be discovered in an old and dusty box, stored in someones attic or basement. Plus, one can always buy rolls of Presidential Dollars and, if you're fortunately, find a true Plain Edge. They do not hold the same value of the original PEV coins, but can be valuable in their own right.
But remember, the next time you see a Plain Edge Half Cent that it was a direct result of an economic circumstance that the Plain Edges where minted. Not only that, but the same person who was responsible for the existence of the Plain Edge Half Cents, is also responsible for making them popular thanks to his portrait on the 2007 Presidential Dollar.