The Fugio Penny, also known as the Franklin cent, was the first coin ever minted by the United States under the new US Constitution. The coin does not say “In God We Trust” or “E Pluribus Unum” on its front face. Instead, it reads “Mind Your Business.” The coin was designed by Benjamin Franklin, who most likely couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make a complicated pun.

On April 21, 1787, the Congress of the United States authorized a design for an official copper penny, later 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.”  This design was based on the 1776 “Continental dollar” coin, which was produced in pattern pieces but was never circulated.

On December 28, 1735, Franklin — under the pseudonym “Richard Saunders” — published the first issue of Poor Richard’s Almanack. The annual, which he’d publish for the next 25 years, is probably best known for its aphorisms. The 1735 edition, for example, included a snarky observation about privacy: “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” It also contained perhaps his most famous piece of rhyming advice: “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” And in another issue of the Almanack, quipped “A penny saved is tuppence dear” (not the commonly attributed “a penny saved is a penny earned”).

These quips give us an insight into Franklin’s values. We knew that he believed that hard work and economizing one’s time were keys to a successful business and that saving was a key to lifelong wealth. Further, we know that Franklin wasn’t one to butt out of other’s affairs — he doled out unsolicited advice constantly. Taken together, it’s unlikely that the primary meaning of the coin was “mind your own business,” like we say today

The coin itself suggests similarly. On the same side as “Mind Your Business” is the word “Fugio,” Latin for “I fly” or “I flee.” Many historians believe that this, combined with the picture of the sun above a sundial, form a rebus — the sun/sundial signifies time, and with “fugio,” means “time flies.” And “time flies, mind your business” seems like sage advice to those operating a company.

The back, seen above, gives another reason to believe that the “mind your business” quip isn’t instructing recipients to keep to themselves. There are thirteen interlocking links forming one chain, signifying the thirteen original American colonies, and the word “We Are One.” It’d be curious, at best, to suggest that people should look out for themselves given this clear call to unity. Franklin was almost certainly telling business owners and the like to keep an eye on their stores and their books.

But it wouldn’t be beyond Franklin to use this opportunity to intentionally serve up a (non-risqué) double entendre. The phrase “mind your business” likely is a precursor to a more modern phrase advising us to stay out of others’ affairs. True to character, Ben Franklin was being a bit cheeky and using the first coin to be so.

Published by Michael Carver

My goal is to bring history alive through interactive portrayal of ordinary American life in the late 18th Century (1750—1799) My persona are: Journeyman Brewer; Cordwainer (leather tradesman but not cobbler), Statesman and Orator; Chandler (candle and soap maker); Gentleman Scientist; and, Soldier in either the British Regular Army, the Centennial Army, or one of the various Militia. Let me help you experience history 1st hand!

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