Bearing Liberty’s head on one side and a circular chain on the other, the most expensive US penny is the 1793 Sheldon NC-1 Chain cent. The chain’s fifteen links surrounding the words “ONE CENT” represent the unity of the fifteen colonies extant in the US at the time. The design was simple enough to allow an appreciable relief of Liberty on the obverse side.
Designed and minted by Henry Voight, a reputedly unskilled die cutter, Chain cents were the first regularly minted coins in the United States. They drew criticism for the lack of artifice employed and for the use of the chain, which can easily be seen as symbolic of slavery. Due to this universal criticism, under 40,000 of these coins were minted before Voight hired Adam Eckfeldt to re-design the currency.
A 1793 Chain cent.
Fewer than 2,000 of these expensive pennies survive to this day. Five varieties of the Chain cent were minted before its discontinuation. After Dr. William H. Sheldon, author of “Penny Whimsy”, these varieties are referred to as Sheldon 1-4 and NC-1. Designated as non-collectible, NC-1 is the rarest of these varieties; only four are known to exist today. With an estimated value of $275,000, NC-1 is not only the rarest, but also the most expensive penny.