Die Variety: There are only six known die marriages of this transitional issue in the early large cent series, the first to display the Liberty Cap design type. The obverse of Sheldon-13 is distinguished by having two border beads over the letter I in LIBERTY. This obverse was also used to strike examples of the S-12 variety, but in the S-13 marriage it is paired with a reverse on which the leaf below the ME in AMERICA parallels the bases of those two letters. This reverse is one of only two that the Mint used to strike 1793 Liberty Cap cents (the other reverse is distinguished by having the leaf below the M in AMERICA pointing to the center of the letter).
Die State: This is the early die state of the S-13 variety without the reverse die bulge that develops between the letters NT in UNITED and gradually extends to weaken the letters CE in CENT and the ribbon bow.
Strike: The strike is exceptionally well executed for the issue, even despite the fact that both sides are slightly off center -- the obverse drawn to the 9 o'clock position at the viewer's left and the reverse drawn toward the 7-8 o'clock position. Even so, the borders are fully beaded in all areas around both sides, and the borders are actually quite wide overall, especially on the reverse. The focal devices are generally bold to sharp in strike, and only in the center of the obverse do we see a bit of softness to the detail at the highest point of Liberty's portrait. The high relief of this design feature, in fact, also explains the minor softness of detail in the center of the reverse at the letters O in ONE and CE in CENT.
Surfaces: This is a lovely example with particularly impressive eye appeal for the scarce and conditionally rare 1793 Liberty Cap cent. Both sides display dominant toning in a warm, even, medium brown that includes a tinge of autumn orange. The central obverse is further adorned with a splash of slightly deeper brown patina over Liberty's portrait and in the surrounding field area. There is very little evidence on either side to suggest more than the lightest handling, perhaps by earlier generations of collectors as opposed to even the shortest stint in active circulation. The reverse is actually close to full Mint State (the coin was even described as such B. Max Mehl in his 1947 sale of the Frederic W. Geiss Collection), and the obverse exhibits only a trace of light high point rub on Liberty's portrait and equally minor friction in the field. There are no marks or other blemishes of note in the prime focal areas, and we note only a few extremely small, shallow rim bruises, one on the reverse outside the space between the letters ER in AMERICA serving as a useful pedigree marker. The outward appearance of both sides is quite smooth, particularly on the reverse.
Census Rankings: Bill Noyes, Del Bland and Mark Borckardt all assign this coin a grade of VF-35. Noyes ranks the coin eighth finest known for the die variety, with Bland ranking it ninth finest.
Pedigree: Henry Whiteley, who inherited this piece from his grandparents; Benjamin H. Collins, April 1896; Dr. Thomas Hall, September, 1909; Virgil M. Brand, 1934; Armin Brand, February 1941; Burdette G. Johnson (St. Louis Stamp & Coin Co.), June 1944; James P. Randall; B. Max Mehl's sale of the Frederic W. Geiss Collection, February 1947, lot 11; Rodney T. Grove; Robert Nofal and Lewis Kling; Superior's session of Auction '81, August 1981, lot 509; Denis W. Loring, July 1985; our (Stack's) sale of the Herman Halpern Collection, March 1988, lot 15; David Bloom, September 1988; John B. MacDonald; Denis W. Loring, February 2000; Heritage's sale of the Jon Alan Boka Collection, September 2011, lot 3003; Cardinal Collection.
Commentary: Among the four types of 1793 copper cents the Liberty Cap is the most elusive. The beautiful piece we offer here from the Cardinal Collection is at a very high level, among the finest known, as stated above. As such it would be ideal for a type set to illustrate the first year of issue or a specialized set. Either way this is an important opportunity.
The typical encountered 1793 Liberty Cap cent is apt to range in grade from VG to Fine. VF examples are more occasional and EF examples are rare. Regarding AU, as offered here, such pieces are extremely rare. Grading levels aside, the surface of the 1793 Liberty Cap cent is another consideration. The rule, not the exception, is that most are somewhat porous, many are dark, and eye appeal is often lacking. To find a choice Liberty Cap cent grade is one aspect but eye appeal needs to be considered as well.
Referring to grade, we find it interesting to suggest this piece might be VF, as noted above. For many years there have been two levels of grading large copper cents. The first is the conservative level, in which old timers are very strict, often grading many points below what the market suggests. In some recent notable offerings by Ira and Larry Goldberg, they listed both grades, with the conservative grades often being far lower, and if taken on their own, not particularly notable. The certified grades, while they can be argued, represent true market conditions. Over a long period of years we have cataloged and auctioned many important sales of large copper cents, more than just a few of which were accompanied by envelopes marked with conservative grading. Without exception those selling such coins wanted them graded at current market levels! Hmmmmm, interesting to contemplate.
This reminds us to mention that collecting early large copper cents is a wonderful specialty, with more players involved than in any other comparable series. For many years enthusiasts in the series have been keeping track of pedigrees to an extent not known elsewhere, have been noting die states and varieties, and have been writing about them. Although there were others earlier, the main thrust of this can be laid to Dr. William H. Sheldon and his 1949 Early American Cents. Today this book and its 1958 successor remain fascinating to read, even if you are not interested in copper cents. There are endless comments, snide remarks, and more, giving many coins "personalities." Suitably inspired, readers of the book went forward, expanded and revised Sheldon’s thoughts, and in 1958 John J. Ford, Jr. sponsored the production of a revised edition under the title of Penny Whimsy, suggested by Walter Breen. This had updates of various sorts. In the 1960s the Early American Coppers club was formed. Its journal Penny-Wise, has benefited by having two brilliant editors. The first was Warren A. Lapp, MD, who combined knowledge of psychology, numismatic desire, the excitement of research, and more, plus the wisdom of offering a forum for anyone and everyone to contribute -- from expert level to beginner. The result was that Penny-Wise became widely appreciated, drawing more members into EAC. Warren was succeeded by Harry Salyards, MD, cast in the same mold -- how fortunate for EAC members! Today Penny-Wise is high on specialists' reading list and Dr. Salyards' editorials are among the finest to ever reach print. To learn more about EAC, visit www.eacs.org.
We have strayed a bit from the 1793 Liberty Cap cent, and return to it -- reiterating the above comments that this indeed is an outstanding example of a type that is rarely encountered in such quality.
PCGS Population (all die varieties of the issue): just 5; 6 finer, four in AU-55 and two in Mint State (MS-62 BN and MS-64+ BN). The PCGS population for this issue in AU-53 is inflated by at least two known resubmissions. This particular coin was previously housed in an older-style PCGS AU-53 holder, insert #3569874, which we have seen and has not been returned to PCGS. Also, and according to our consignor, another S-13 owned by Denis Loring was previously certified AU-53 by PCGS before being regraded as EF-45 by the same service.
From the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation.