The first U.S. penny touts science, not God

Reader Will called my attention to a new piece in CNN News describing the auction of the first U.S. one cent coin for a cool 1.2 million dollars. Now that’s a pretty penny! It’s the famous “Birch Cent,” made in 1792, and apparently only ten of them are in existence.

But what’s nice about it is what Will imparted in his email:

The interesting part is the motto on the coin: “Liberty Parent of Science & Industry”. Now we all know that the “In God We Trust” motto is a relatively recent innovation, but I was surprised to find (although I shouldn’t have been) that the founders rated science as one of the boons of liberty. And nary a mention of the creator. Just another little nail in the coffin of “America founded as a Christian nation.” I’ve attached the image.

Sure enough, on the face it clearly says “Liberty Parent of Science & Industry”. If Republicans had their way, it would have said, “Liberty, Offspring of God.”

First Penny 1


  1. Posted March 28, 2015 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps in Indiana merchants do not have to accept this as currency if it violates their religious values. Also, they can demand to own slaves, refuse to serve people of color, and practice magic to cure their ailing children. Pike Pence is such a wise progressive man. 😦

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted March 28, 2015 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      Very scary. I can’t really imagine what it’s like from Britain but it sounds like some seriously regressive stuff – not just another to-be-expected downward slide on the sawtooth of progress. Has there been anything comparable to this in modern times or am I overestimating things?

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted March 28, 2015 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

        Olde tyme politics were also bad. Laws for slavery, segregation, subjugation of women. It is hard to see it now, but we are getting better with occasional backwards steps.

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted March 28, 2015 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

          Yes – progress is made along the teeth of the saw but overall the saw is inclined upwards.

          Still, whilst this legislation isn’t going to undo thousands of years of human progress, it seems like a shockingly large retrograde step, even considering the usual two steps forward, one step back pattern that many of us are used to.

      • Nick
        Posted March 29, 2015 at 4:36 am | Permalink

        As an American living in England who recently was approached by a stranger and told “the sooner America destroys itself the better the world will be”, I think you are overestimating things.

        Remember, my home state of Iowa had legal gay marriage a full 5-6 years before Britain. And New England far outpaces the both of us.

  2. Heather Hastie
    Posted March 28, 2015 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to see this article forwarded directly to every one of the constitutionalists in the GOP.

    • SDH
      Posted March 29, 2015 at 4:27 am | Permalink

      Don’t get too excited, the article is misleading.

      This was a pattern coin not a production coin, this means it was one type of many diffrent patterned coins submitted for production.

      It was not selected for the first penny and there by not distributed, it’s worth a lot because it wasn’t distributed and are super rare.

      • rclaryrc
        Posted March 29, 2015 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

        That doesn’t matter. None of the other coins of time had in god we trust either. That didn’t come until after the civil war.

        • SDH
          Posted March 29, 2015 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

          And neither does what this coin says prove evolution as truth, beside the coin there was plenty of federalist papers speaking about God. The federalist papers predate the Declaration of Independence and the constitution.

          • GvlGeologist
            Posted March 30, 2015 at 8:40 am | Permalink

            Where does evolution come in? We’re talking about science, not evolution (and yes, we both know that evolution is one of the best documented scientific theories in all of science, but still, that’s not what was mentioned). There is, by the way, a very good reason no one thinking about this coin put evolution on it (aside from the fact that it acknowledges science in general rather than biology): Darwin didn’t publish his Origin of Species until 1859. The Founding Fathers were many things, but they were not clairvoyant.

            One more point of fact: The Federalist papers (1788) were published AFTER the Declaration of Independence (1776), not before. And they were not official documents with the force of law. Since the Constitution does NOT mention any god even though the Federalist Papers did, it is clear that it is NOT AN ACCIDENT that the founding fathers left any mention of gods out. It was deliberate. They did not want a government infected with religion, and it is clear from the writings of many of them that they considered religion and government together to be a mistake.

            • Posted March 30, 2015 at 9:20 am | Permalink

              Here’s some more context regarding where our country’s founders sat on the topic of religion and Government. #1 speaks nicely to this idiotic law that was just passed. Religious persecution is not just being persecuted for your religion, it can also mean being persecuted by religion.

            • SDH
              Posted March 30, 2015 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

              The title of the article is “Why Evolution is true” I guess you missed that.

              As for the federalist papers you are just wrong, they start before the first draft of the declaration of independence and the constitution. They even spoke about why some of them rejected the first drafts of each.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted March 30, 2015 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

                “Why evolution is true” is the name of the website, but if you look back through the archives you’ll see that not every post is about evolution. As a newcomers you might want to spend some time familiarizing yourself with the site and with Da Roolz before commenting further.

              • SDH
                Posted March 30, 2015 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

                @Gregory Kusnick, oh I stand corrected, I came in from FB and the title of this page said why evolution is true. Either way I don’t care about the rules, if I can’t be myself then I’ll just leave.

              • Posted March 30, 2015 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

                It would appear that “being yourself” means inadvertently presenting a red herring, then sticking to your original argument, regardless of the facts. It is okay to admit a mistake without a caveat explaining that you still don’t quite retract the error.

  3. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted March 28, 2015 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Considering science and technology are two of the biggest reasons for America’s success, and Christianity’s contribution seems mainly to have been either irrelevant or a hindrance, the message on the coin seems perfect. Almost makes Enlightenment, founding fathers-era America seem like some magical, secular wonderland. I stress almost…

    Would have loved to have met Jefferson, Payne, Franklin, etc., and been around to see a political philosophy being shaped. I like the rumour that Ben Franklin was barred from writing the Declaration Of Independence for fear that he’d stick loads of jokes in it…

    • Posted March 30, 2015 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      I just finished rereading a collection of Paine’s stuff. He’d be labeled a Communist or worse, today. Advocates a *very* steep estate tax so that everyone can work some land, for example.

  4. Hempenstein
    Posted March 28, 2015 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Some variants of these Birch Cent “patterns” were edge-lettered, too (like some of the current dollar coins), and said: To Be Esteemed, Be Useful.

  5. Nwalsh
    Posted March 28, 2015 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    And still you have the bloody thing (the penny)This year in Maui I always left the penny change at the till, probably brought rants of ugly Canadian.

    • Nick
      Posted March 29, 2015 at 4:33 am | Permalink

      And yet, you guys still exalt a sovereign who has her face on a penny and a two pence piece

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted March 29, 2015 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        Yeah but we also put hockey on our money.

        • Posted March 29, 2015 at 9:45 am | Permalink

          Not to mention loons…

          And we also put our money on hockey.

          • Diane G.
            Posted March 31, 2015 at 10:12 pm | Permalink


  6. DrBrydon
    Posted March 28, 2015 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    (Woot, I got a post!)

    Of course, the other side of the coin, as it were, is that many religious people do recognize the link, and wind up opposing liberty.

  7. John Dickinson
    Posted March 28, 2015 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    And it’s beautiful! The goddess of liberty, with her free flowing hair, is symbolising that stated liberty. A stark contrast to the literal God stuff and the austere, formal, and patriarchal images that have taken over. How ironic that a large part of the US exalts freedom but doesn’t understand it.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 29, 2015 at 2:44 am | Permalink

      She looks kinda French…

  8. Filippo
    Posted March 28, 2015 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    I look forward to the bloviations of the “In God We Trust” crowd in response to this.

    • Posted March 28, 2015 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      I do not believe there is a way to post photos in the comments section, but I have a photo of a SC license plate labeled “In Reason We Trust.”

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted March 28, 2015 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        You can link to images using HTML link tags, or embed them using image tags. (Either method requires that you first upload the image to some linkable hosting site.)

        Generally linking would be preferred over embedding.

      • Filippo
        Posted March 28, 2015 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

        The SC legislature would be hard-pressed to make illegal such a sentiment on a tag. After all, who is not for reason?

  9. merilee
    Posted March 28, 2015 at 2:41 pm | Permalink


  10. Randy Schenck
    Posted March 28, 2015 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    I love it. Please note that in late 1791 after Hamilton (Secretary of Treasure) had finishing with funding and assumption and establishment of the first Bank of the United States he pushed to promote manufacturing and helped charter (SEUM) The Society For Establishing Useful Manufacturers to build a manufacturing town in Jew Jersey.

    A man way ahead of his time…

    • Doug
      Posted March 28, 2015 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      I’m guessing that the name of the state was a misprint . . .

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted March 28, 2015 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

      ‘A man way ahead of his time…’

      Except, that is, for his retro views on the Code Duello, which kept Hamilton from ever reaching his time (a time that would have likely included a term or two in the White House).

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted March 28, 2015 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

      ‘A man way ahead of his time…’

      Except, that is, for his retro views on the Code Duello, which kept Hamilton from ever reaching his time (a time that would likely have included a term or two in the White House).

  11. Kiwi Dave
    Posted March 28, 2015 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    In 1792 ‘science’ quite possibly retained a much stronger sense of two older meanings – general knowledge and technical skill. Perhaps the author of the motto had those meanings in mind as well.

    Likewise ‘industry’ as in ‘industrious’ as much as in ‘industrial’.

    Of course, all this is just speculation, and note Randy’s comment at 10.

  12. Anthea
    Posted March 28, 2015 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    That makes sense, tho. Religion persecuted scientists. Even executing some. Glad the Federalist Party won this one, even if the Democratic-Republican Party got it changed it later.

  13. Timothy Hughbanks
    Posted March 28, 2015 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    I love this – and I already put a link for the CNN item on Facebook.

  14. Posted March 28, 2015 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    I say we get rid of the current motto as well as the penny (and nickels and dimes) along with it. These coins Kong ago became useless for purchasing anything. Round everything off to 25 cents and be done with it.

    • Filippo
      Posted March 29, 2015 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

      “I say we get rid of the current motto as well as the penny (and nickels and dimes) along with it. These coins Kong ago became useless for purchasing anything. Round everything off to 25 cents and be done with it.”

      I see, and have no particular problem with, what you’re saying. But so long as people purchase with debit/credit cards, can that goal be accomplished?

      • Posted March 29, 2015 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

        I don’t see why not. I don’t see credit and debit cards as a disincentive to get rid of pennies but rather an incentive to use less paper currency and fewer coins. There are still some uses for coins such as antiquated vending machines and parking meters (even many of these accept electronic payment). Of course, my proposal is now treading very close to what many fundamentalists consider to be “the mark of the beast.”

        When the half-cent coin was discontinued, it had a present day value of 11 cents. This logic would at least speak to getting rid of pennies and nickels. I have noticed the past few years that many places have started to just drop the pennies when making change.

        • merilee
          Posted March 29, 2015 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

          Canada dropped pennies maybe two years ago??

  15. Delphin
    Posted March 28, 2015 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    Readers do realize that science and industry had subtly different meanings back then?

  16. Diana MacPherson
    Posted March 28, 2015 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    Who’s the person on the penny? It kinda looks like either George Washington or some lady.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted March 28, 2015 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

      I think it is “Lady Liberty”

      • merilee
        Posted March 28, 2015 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

        Diana, that does NOT look like George Washington – LOL. Check out the “chestal area”, as Woody Allen would say;-)

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 28, 2015 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

          All the men wore wigs and looked girly though so who knows, maybe it was the style of the time. LOL. The flowingness of the hair kinda suggests woman.

          Hey, I just thought this could be used to support gays and women too!

          • merilee
            Posted March 28, 2015 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

            😉 She also doesn’t look like she has wooden chompers.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted March 29, 2015 at 2:51 am | Permalink

              Lady Liberty, no doubt

              (I hashed up the image link before, try again..)

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted March 29, 2015 at 2:52 am | Permalink

  17. livinginabox
    Posted March 29, 2015 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    This penny has highlighted the deep irony of the new-found antiscience exhibited by politicians, particularly Republicans. If it were not for science and technology we would all, largely live short, miserable and wretched lives, likely at the hands of some violent and brutal task-master – a bit like some supernatural beings I’ve read-about.

    Science an technology are what liberated the modern industrial-world from a life-time of hard, physical work. Of course this was achieved in pre-industrial societies by draft animals and by owning slaves as codified in the Bible and I’m led to believe the Quran is similarly oppressive and abhorrent.
    Nowadays, most civilised humans accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and rely upon science and technology to do the heavy-lifting.
    This raises the subject of energy-slaves. An energy slave is the amount of energy – equivalent to a healthy adult male that is needed to supply our daily needs as modern human beings.
    clean potable water; house-cleaning; hot water on-tap; food; central heating; transport; clothes-washing etc. – You get the idea.
    For more see:

    • Filippo
      Posted March 29, 2015 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      ” . . . clothes-washing . . . .”

      How many of the top 1% do that, or scrub their own toilets, if only once/year?

  18. Posted March 29, 2015 at 3:42 am | Permalink

    Interesting indeed. It shows that the “First Americans” were all equal, full of fraternity, and only worried about attacks on their liberty.

  19. fugio
    Posted March 29, 2015 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Very cool, however, it is not the first penny. Look up “Fugio Cent” designed by Ben Franklin. It is equally non-religious, however it does not nention science

  20. Joshua
    Posted March 29, 2015 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    If Democrats had their way it would read; “Liberty is fantasy, Industry is evil, Science: when it fits the agenda.”

  21. Rudyard Holmbast
    Posted March 30, 2015 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    If Republicans had their way? Well, the Republicans didn’t exist when this was minted. And when the party was formed, it was too busy trying to put an end to slavery, an institution vociferously defended by the Democrats, to care about a coin.

    • Posted March 30, 2015 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

      What (other than the name) does Republican policy of 1860 have to do with Republican policy now? The Republican party of today doesn’t even resemble the party from 20 years ago in many ways. Both the Democrats and Republicans have flopped base voters on many issues in just the last century. Remember, the south was a Democratic stronghold until the Civil Rights Era.

  22. Posted March 31, 2015 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Utilizing the actual mandates of Paul’s Gospel to the Gentiles, the 2012 book, “SAINT PAUL’S JOKE: ‘The Punch Line’s A Killer'” makes the point that those who proclaim a religious basis for their bigotry are violating the scripture the wave about to justify that bigotry.
    The book also points to fact that the Old Testament is a book of Science — shrouded in mythology for the benefit of the ignorant — but science nonetheless.
    From All our Laws of Hygiene to our Calendar, everything is derived from that simple book — and all of it denied by the alleged “religious” right-wing that vales the sword over life.

  23. Jim Dyer
    Posted April 1, 2015 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    With all due respect, it actually “touts” liberty. Science and Industry are the result of liberty, their parent. And where did the authors of the Declaration of Independence, the founding document proclaiming our national liberty, identify as the very source of human liberty?

    And for what it’s worth, I agree, evolution is good science. I’m not sure you do it any good saying that it is “true.” Truth is more of a philosophical and theological concept than a scientific one. Ask Bill Nye.

  24. Posted April 2, 2015 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    How did we ever get away from this? The founding fathers would be appalled at what we’ve done.

  25. reckoner07
    Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    Very cool. The only ting I take issue with is saying, “if Republicans had their way…”. That’s a really broad and inaccurate generalization. The appropriate reference would be Religious Conservatives, or simply Conservatives. I assure you that I’m am a full-blooded athiest who generally votes Republican, but am not a Conservative.

%d bloggers like this: