Die Variety: An easily identifiable die marriage of the first year 1793 Chain cent, Sheldon-2 combines the wide date obverse with the AMERICA reverse of the issue. Indeed, the digits in the date are markedly wider on this obverse than on any other used to strike Chain cents, with the most space between the digits 7 and 9. This obverse was also used to strike examples of the S-1 Chain AMERI. variety, the very first federal cent. On the present coin the digit 3 in the date is clearly recut at the bottom of the lower curve. This feature is not described for either the S-1 or S-2 die marriages in any large cent reference with which we are aware (including United States Large Cents: 1793-1814 by William C. Noyes, 1991, and Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of of Early United States Cents: 1793-1814, 2000). We have also never seen recutting on the digit 3 on any other S-1 or S-2 Chain cent, and the presence of this recutting suggests that the obverse die may have been lightly retouched before this coin was struck, or else it confirms the exceptionally sharp strike that characterizes this piece.
The reverse die of the S-2 variety was also used to strike Chain cents of the S-3, S-4 and NC.1 varieties (i.e., all other die varieties of the issue except the aforementioned S-1 AMERI. variety). The presentation of the word AMERICA in full is the most readily identifiable diagnostic of this reverse die.
Die State: Breen Die State II exhibits a slight bulge in the lower obverse field at the base of the digits 793 in the date. There are also faint clashmarks from the reverse chain links in the field before Liberty's profile and below the truncation of the neck.
Strike: Both sides of this coin are exceptionally sharp in strike by the standards of both the early United States Mint and the Chain cent type. The reverse is bold throughout, the ends of Liberty's hair tresses are intricately defined and crisply delineated, and we note only the slightest softness of detail at the central obverse high points, to include Liberty's ear and the adjacent hair curls. We stress, however, that even in the center of the obverse there is plenty of emerging to bold definition, and certainly more so than that seen in most extant Chain cents, including the less well-defined plate coin for the S-2 variety on page 39 of Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of Early United States Cents: 1793-1814 (ex: Boyd-Romano-Husak).
Surfaces: This is a remarkable coin the level of preservation of which nearly defies belief in an early U.S. Mint copper. Evenly toned, steely brown surfaces exhibit a uniform satin to softly frosted texture that provides subtle, yet faintly discernible cartwheel visual effects as the coin rotates under a light. More direct angles also call forth faded golden mint luster throughout, as well as even lighter pinkish rose highlights within the tresses of Liberty's hair. Tony Terranova has commented that when viewing Ted Naftzger’s incredible collection of 1793 cents decades ago, this one coin stood out as the single prettiest and most lustrous of all of his Chain cents.
Both sides are virtually free of post-production contact marks. Most of the few small, shallow abrasions discernible in the left obverse and reverse fields appear to have been present on the blank planchet and failed to strike out during the coining process, and none of these features are even remotely distracting to the eye. For pedigree purposes alone we mention two faint marks on the obverse at the ends of Liberty's middle hair strands.
Census Rankings: The Sheldon-2 die variety of the Chain AMERICA cent represents a poignant case study in the need for collectors to assemble information from multiple sources to arrive at a final opinion. Indeed, it is wise to "buy the book before the coin" and even more wise to buy (or review) several books before buying the coin. For the fabulous Chain cent in the present offering, EAC grades of AU-55+ and AU-55 have been assigned by Noyes and Bland, respectively, and both experts rank the coin as second finest known for the S-2 variety. That being said, one must look at what coins Noyes and Bland have placed in the top spot in their censuses, and whether they agree on that top selection. Del Bland has placed as his "finest known" specimen the afore-mentioned Boyd-Romano-Husak coin that displays considerable mint red color, while other experts dispute the originality of that toning and downgrade it accordingly. Bill Noyes lists that coin as AU-50 and tied for sixth finest known, and when the coin appeared as lot 2001 in Heritage's February 2008 sale of the Walter Husak Collection, it was encapsulated by ANACS and labeled as MS60 Details, Light Surface Damage. To most observers, that coin would not merit "finest known" status; indeed, Walter Husak once owned the present Gem, and sold it, using the proceeds to purchase the Boyd-Romano specimen AND several other specimens needed for his die variety set. Sharing Del Bland's favor for reddish surface coloration, Bill Noyes selected as his "finest known" specimen a coin that displays light tan and gold surfaces, but with noticeable light surface wear seen on the face of Liberty. Based on the wear observed on that coin, Del Bland lists that coin as AU-55, and falling behind the present Gem in his census. With Bland's and Noyes' top picks thus disqualified from Condition Census #1 status, the composite review elevates the present Gem to that position. Indeed, as noted in the Breen Encyclopedia, Denis Loring assigns the present coin an EAC grade of MS-60 and ranks it as finest known. In terms of third-party certified grading, PCGS has assigned the grade of MS-65 BN, the highest grade awarded to any S-2 cent, and while examining this coin in 2005, John Albanese described it as MS-66.
There are currently only three Chain cents of all die marriages certified MS-65 BN or finer by PCGS, along with two Chain cents certified as SP-65 or finer, as follows:
Mint State Examples:
1 - PCGS MS-65 RB. S-3. Ex: Pierre-Edouard LeGras (Paris); Ed. Frossard; George M. Parsons; Ed. Frossard's 38th Sale, October 1884, lot 983; T. Harrison Garrett; Robert Garrett, 1919; John Work Garrett; The Johns Hopkins University; our (Bowers and Ruddy's) sale of the Garrett Collection for The Johns Hopkins University, Part I, November 1979, lot 53; Stanley I. Kesselman, March 1980; R.E. "Ted" Naftzger, Jr., February 23, 1992; Eric Streiner; Jay Parrino (The Mint); Foxfire Collection, July 1994; Richard Burdick and Larry Hanks, October 2003; Pogue Family Collection. Noted for its strong luster, deep reddish brown surfaces and faded mint red around the devices.
2 - PCGS MS-65 BN. S-2. The present example from the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation, pedigree provided in detail below.
3 - PCGS MS-65 BN. (CAC) S-4. Ex: W. Elliot Woodward; Woodward's 5th Semi-Annual Sale, October 1864, lot 603; Joseph Zanoni; Thomas Cleneay; S.H. and H. Chapman's sale of the Thomas Cleneay Collection, December 1890, lot 1795; Charles Steigerwalt; John G. Mills; S.H. & H. Chapman's sale of the John G. Mills Collection, April 1904, lot 1227; George H. Earle, Jr.; Henry Chapman's sale of the George H. Earle, Jr. Collection, June 1912, lot 3355; Henry Chapman; Clarence S. Bement; Henry Chapman's sale of the Charles S. Bement Collection, May 1916, lot 286; Col. James W. Ellsworth, March 1923; Wayte Raymond, 1923; William Cutler Atwater; B. Max Mehl's sale of the William Cutler Atwater Collection, June 1946, lot 10; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; our (Bowers and Merena's) sale of the Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection, May 1996, lot 487; Spectrum Numismatics; and our (American Numismatic Rarities') sale of the Oliver Jung Collection, July 2004, lot 6; private collector; Heritage's FUN Signature Auction of January 2012, lot 3020, where it realized $1,380,000. Noted for featuring a strong strike, and displaying a lower obverse planchet clip and area of inactive corrosion on the reverse.
Specimen Strike Examples:
1 - PCGS Specimen-67 BN. S-4. Ex: Joseph J. Mickley; W. Elliot Woodward; Woodward's 10th Semi-Annual Sale, October 1867, lot 1936; Colonel Mendes I. Cohen; Edward Cogan's sale of October 1875, lot 1909; J.E. Cooley; Sylvester S. Crosby; Henry C. Hines, 1945; Dr. William H. Sheldon, April 19, 1972; R.E. "Ted" Naftzger, Jr. February 23, 1992; Eric Streiner; Jay Parrino (The Mint); Stellar Collection. Known as "The Coin" among large cent specialists, listed as Condition Census #1 for the S-4 die marriage in both the Noyes large cent reference and the Breen large cent Encyclopedia, and widely regarded as the finest known Chain cent of any die marriage.
2. PCGS Specimen-65 BN. S-1. Ex: Edward Cogan; Joseph J. Mickley; W. Elliot Woodward; Woodward's 10th Semi-Annual Sale, October 1867, lot 1938; Mortimer Livingston Mackenzie; Edward Cogan's sale of June 1869, lot 626; John Rhodes; James E. Root; Edward Cogan's sale of December 1878, lot 234; Lorin G. Parmelee; New York Stamp & Co.'s sale of June 1890, lot 670; Miller per Steigerwalt; Virgil M. Brand, February 7, 1941; B.G. Johnson (St. Louis Stamp & Coin Co.), July 6, 1943; Oscar J. Pearl; Numismatic Gallery Fixed Price List, 1944, lot 1; Charles M. Williams; Numismatic Gallery's 68th sale of November 1950, lot 1; Harold Bareford, September 13, 1985; Herman Halpern, December 11, 1986; R.E. "Ted" Naftzger, Jr., February 23, 1992; Eric Streiner; Jay Parrino (The Mint); private Nevada collector; Bruce Morelan Collection; Legend Numismatics; Bob Simpson Collection. Noted for its reflective prooflike surfaces, exhibiting a line-like planchet lamination defect through the O in OF.
Pedigree: Benjamin H. Collins, purchased in August 1891 from "tray after tray of gem coppers" at the London shop of W.S. Lincoln & Son; Collins to Dr. Henry W. Beckwith, January 30, 1919; S.H. Chapman's sale of the Beckwith Collection, April 1923, lot 1; purchased by Henry Chapman for $430 and sold to Dr. George P. French; B. Max Mehl's 1929 Fixed Price List of the Dr. George P. French Collection, lot 1 (offered at $850); J.C. Morgenthau and Co.'s sale of the Dr. Henry A. Sternberg Collection, April 1933, lot 2; B. Max Mehl's personal collection (of which few details are known today); T. James Clarke; John H. Payne; Dr. William H. Sheldon, 1953; sold with the intact Sheldon Collection to R.E. "Ted" Naftzger, Jr. on April 19, 1972; part of the "Great Pool Table Swap of Ho-Ho-Kus" to Herman Halpern on December 11, 1986; our (Stack's) sale of the Herman Halpern Collection, March 1988, lot 2;Tony Terranova; Andrew Lustig; Don Kagin; Gilbert Steinberg, November 16, 1992; Superior's sale of the Gilbert Steinberg Collection, September 1996, lot 1560; Tony Terranova and Chris Victor-McCawley; Walter Husak; private owner and dealer intermediary; Superior's Pre-Long Beach Coin Sale of February 2001, lot 2090, unsold, but featured as the lone cover coin; our (American Numismatic Rarities') Kennywood Collection sale, January 2005, lot 69; Steve Contursi; Cardinal Collection.
Commentary: One of the most incredible coins from the Cardinal Collection, indeed from any collection, this Chain AMERICA cent will command worldwide attention as it crosses the auction block.
The 1793 Chain cents are numismatic Americana at their finest. After pattern coinage in 1792, the first federal coins made for general circulation at the new Mint were struck in February of 1793 and delivered by the coiner in early March. The pieces were put into circulation, with no known numismatic attention paid to them. Indeed, the number of people seriously interested in numismatics in the United States at that time could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and these gentlemen mainly concerned themselves with earlier and classic issues.
A newspaper article at the time stated that the Chain motif on the back was but "an ill omen for Liberty," certainly not symbolic of our nation. No doubt for this reason the design was soon revised, indeed completely. The Chain cents are struck in rather low relief, whereas their successors, the Wreath cents, are in dramatic high relief, more so than any other large copper cent issue.
Over the years the cents of 1793 have had special place in the hearts of numismatists. Indeed, the first photographic plate printed in The American Journal of Numismatics in 1869 was a panel of cents of this year gathered from various collections. Ever since numismatics became a widely popular hobby in 1857-1858, the ownership of a 1793 cent has been a badge of distinction. Year in and year out, generation after generation, the demand has increased. It is remarkable to state that the price progression has been steadily upward -- and if measured at intervals of, say, a decade, there has been no regression! Probably few fields of collecting/investing can make such a claim.
Today in 2013 the typical 1793 Chain cent to appear on the market ranges in grade from Good to Fine, punctuated by an occasional VF, and an even more occasional EF. An example at the AU level would attract much excitement, and at the presently offered Gem MS-65 level the opportunity can be described as truly fantastic. All eyes will be watching this as it crosses the block. Our congratulations in advance to the new owner!
PCGS Population: three 1793 Chain cents of all die marriages in MS-65 BN and higher grades; (2) MS-65 BN; (1) MS-65 RB; with two additional examples grading Specimen-65 BN and Specimen-67 BN.
From the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation.