If I could have a beer with anyone—alive or dead—it would be Benjamin Franklin. French economist and statesman Anne Robert Jacques Turgot summed it up Franklin best when he said this, “He seized the lightning from Heaven and the scepter from the Tyrants.” Indeed!
As it turns out, when Franklin wasn’t saving countless buildings from lightning strikes or helping to secure American freedom, Franklin also designed money. I recently had a reader reach out to ask me about this curious copper coin in her possession.
It is a Fugio cent, also known as a Franklin cent. It has the honor of being the first official circulation coin of the United States. This particular penny, designed by Benjamin Franklin, was minted for one year in 1787, with only 398,577 being produced.
What is the Fugio cent?
The Congress of the Confederation of the United States authorized a design for an official copper penny on April 21, 1787. The coin was eventually referred to as the Fugio cent because of its image of the Sun and its light shining down on a sundial with the caption, “Fugio.” It is Latin for I flee or I fly, meaning time flying by.
At the coin’s bottom, Franklin added the phrase, “mind your business.” To modern ears, that may sound like a rude insult, but Franklin being an influential and successful businessman, likely meant the word “business” literally as in pay attention to your business affairs.
The coin’s reverse has the motto, “We Are One,” surrounded by thirteen chain links representing the original thirteen states. Here’s a fun side note. Following the 1788 ratification of the Constitution, U.S. coins transitioned to the motto E pluribus unum Latin for “out of many, one” found on the Great Seal of the United States. Interestingly enough, words spoken by Onondaga nation chief Canassatego during the Great Indian Treaty of 1744 in Lancaster, PA, helped to inspire the design of the Great Seal. You can read that story here.
The Fugio cent’s design borrows heavily from another one of Franklin’s coin designs—the 1776 “Continental dollar” coin (shown below), which was produced in pattern pieces but was never circulated.
A penny saved is $3,500 earned.
It should be no surprise that such a rare coin designed by founding father Benjamin Franklin wouldn’t also be worth considerably more than its face value. In January 2022, a circulated version of the coin sold for $1,575, while an uncirculated Fugio cent sold for $3,500 on eBay.
Own a piece of American history
If you are interested in purchasing your very own Franklin-designed 1787 Fugio cent, contact Tara Stowe. You can reach Stowe via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Images of her Franklin cent are highlighted below. Without a doubt, a very excellent piece of American history!
Read more Benjamin Franklin-related stories
The busybody: Benjamin Franklin’s greatest “invention”?
Is the busybody Benjamin Franklin’s greatest invention? Perhaps not, but the story behind it is legendary. Click here to read more.
Benjamin Franklin brings the printing press to Lancaster City
Did you know that in 1751 Benjamin Franklin founded the first print shop in Lancaster? Located on King Street, he called it the New Printing Office. The following year, in 1752, Heinrich Miller and Samuel Holland published Lancaster’s first newspaper, The Lancaster Gazette, at this location. Articles were written in both English and German. Click the link to learn more.