‘Pawn Stars’: Rick Harrison Discovers a Rare Cent That Predates American Mint

by Amy Myers

Imagine paying $2,000 for a one-cent coin. That’s the kind of money this seller was looking for when he met with Pawn Stars shop owner Rick Harrison. With a rusted coin in hand, he approached the counter with what he called an “American penny” and placed it on the counter.

Harrison, ever the expert on obscure American history, quickly corrected the seller. As it turned out, there are no such things as American pennies. The term “pennies” is reserved only for British coins, while “cent” is used for American coins. Duly noted, Rick.

Harrison examined the odd coin with what seemed to be George Washington’s face on the front. The year stamped on the bottom was 1791. However, beyond his knowledge of the etymology of coin-related terms, the Pawn Stars celebrity admitted that he didn’t know all that much about historic money. So, as always, he called in a second opinion to verify the validity and value of the coin.

Watch what the expert discovers in the clip below.

Oddly enough, both Harrison and the seller were wrong about the item. According to the antique expert, it was “neither a coin nor American, but it’s very important to the coinage history of the United States.”

Struck in 1791, the cent actually predated the American Mint, which was founded a year later. So if it wasn’t an actual coin, what else could it be?

‘Pawn Stars’ Expert Reveals Surprising Origin of Antique Cent

It seemed the only thing that the Pawn Stars shop owner and seller had right about the item in question was the date. After further inspecting the hunk of copper, the expert validated that its origin was Birmingham. And we’re not talking about Alabama.

The coin-esseur explained that this “cent” was more like a trial model for American currency. Back before Congress established the U.S. Mint, officials decided to try and contract the making of their money out to other countries. One of these countries was, you guessed it, Britain. Only years after successfully winning our independence, we were employing Brits to make our money.

However, the plan never passed the prototype phase. According to the Pawn Stars guest, the company that made the coins sent over a single keg full of coin-like pieces, passing them out to just about every high-society member they could find. Hoping to win over their favor, they used these tokens as a kind of sample.

“And the king didn’t chop their fingers off or anything like that?” the seller asked.

A valid question, but thankfully for the coinmakers, they kept all 10 digits.

Even though the seller didn’t end up taking Harrison’s offer of $500, everyone still gained another fascinating tidbit of American history. Some might say that’s a priceless find.