The Very First US Coin Told You To 'Mind Your Business'

The Very First US Coin Told You To 'Mind Your Business'

America made its first coin in 1787. This penny didn't bear the face of any of the Founding Fathers, since the Founding Fathers were still alive and founding, and putting leaders on money was more of an English thing than an American one. Many early coins would include the face of Lady Liberty, but the first cent didn't have that either.

Instead, the coin had the face ... of the Sun. The tiny face of the Sun, looking down at a giant sundial. Letters spelled out the word "FUGIO" (which is why the coin is known as the Fugio cent). Fugio is Latin for "I fly," so the coin was reminding everyone that time flies—and possibly that money flies, since time is money.

The coin did not bear the words "In God we trust"; that slogan wouldn't appear on coinage till after The Civil War. Instead, it had the motto "Mind your business." This was a literal instruction, about commerce, but it's a lot funnier today, since it sounds like it's telling everyone to stop being so nosy. 

On the back of the coin are 13 rings forming a circle, an image that never quite caught on, despite the 13 stripes on the flag and the 13 arrows in the Great Seal. Since the country didn't yet have the slogan E pluribus unum, a different slogan on the back shared the same basic sentiment: "We are one." It had a double meaning as well, since Fugio pennies were each worth one cent. 

So, America had a first coin. They just didn't have a mint yet to mass produce the thing. So they contracted the job to whoever gave the treasury board the biggest bribe. That contractor, James Jarvis, soon realized he had no way to get enough copper to make all the coins he promised, and also no money left to pay the bill on what little copper he'd managed to order from the government itself. So the government killed that contract, and in the end, they made only a few hundred thousand Fugio cents before moving on to better designs. 

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Top image via Wiki Commons

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