Spencer B. asks: Was the first cent minted in the U.S. a Washington cent? If not, what was it?
It was decided from the start that living people would not be portrayed on the coins of The United States. The new country wanted to completely break from the European traditions of placing the ruling monarch on their coins. The United States didn’t have a King but an elected leadership. In fact, no real person living or dead, appeared on regular issue U.S. coins until the Lincoln cent made its debut in 1909. Prior to that, only versions of Lady Liberty graced United States coins.
The first U.S. cents were minted in 1793 in Philadelphia and portray Liberty on the obverse and 13 interlocking chains on the reverse. This first cent is known as the “Chain Cent” because of its distinctive design. Washington first appears on the quarter in 1932, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth. The design replaced the Standing Liberty quarter.
Many commemorative medals were made with Washington’s portrait and date from the Revolutionary period to modern times. In fact, George Washington has the distinction of having been the subject of more medals than any other figure in United States history. Some private token issues were even minted in England and WERE called penny or half penny (England was going through a coin shortage at the end of the 18th century and tokens were all the rage). These tokens may be what you’ve heard about.