Die Variety: Sheldon-78 is one of the plain edge varieties of the 1795 Liberty cap, and it represents the only use of these obverse and reverse dies. The obverse is most readily identifiable by looking at the digit 5 in the date. The upper stroke of that digit is curved, barely touches the bottom of the bust, and is fully visible (i.e., not partially buried in the bust as on the only other obverse of the 1795 Plain Edge Guide Book variety). The reverse is attributed to John Smith Gardner and may have been prepared as early as December 1795. It is Gardner's copy of an earlier reverse used to strike 1795 cents, although Gardner's work is easily distinguished because the denomination ONE CENT is centered within the wreath. The division of berries in the wreath -- four left and only three right -- is also diagnostic of this reverse.
Die State: This is the penultimate die state of the variety with extensive clash marks (upward of 11 sets) on the obverse within the cap and immediately below, and on the reverse within the wreath and below the letters TES in STATES and the O in OF. The tiny obverse die chip along the base of Liberty's chin that defines Breen Die State III is still evident in Die State IV. For the latest die state of the variety (Breen Die State V), all of the aforementioned clash marks would be effaced through heavy repolishing of the dies.
Strike: Both sides are as close to fully struck as one could expect in a Liberty Cap cent. The central devices offer essentially complete definition, in fact, to include Liberty's hair tresses on the obverse and the leaves in the reverse wreath. Only in isolated areas around the border do we see trivial softness of detail that affects a few of the denticles, mostly from 7 to 10 o'clock on the reverse. Even so, the amount of detail to the focal devices gives this piece a specimen-like appearance.
Surfaces: This is a satiny piece with dominant glossy brown toning to both sides. Even so, the surfaces reveal flickers of faded Mint red luster in the protected areas around a few of the devices as the coin rotates under a light. There are no outwardly distracting blemishes, and the overall appearance is of a smooth Gem-quality coin. Pedigree markers are elusive, and it will require a loupe to discern a tiny identifying abrasion on Liberty's neck approximately 1.5 mm below the centering dot.
Census Rankings: Noyes assigns an EAC grade of MS-63 Choice to this coin and ranks it as tied for finest known among 1795 cents of the S-78 die marriage. Del Bland's EAC grade is MS-60 with a census standing of tied for third finest known. Other experts have rendered grading opinions as high as MS-66 and ranked this coin as the finest known 1795 Liberty Cap of any variety.
Pedigree: Dr. George P. French; B. Max Mehl's 1929 Fixed Price List, lot 93; H.A. Sternberg; J.C. Morgenthau & Co.'s sale of April 1933, lot 14; H.A. Sternberg; F.O. Brown; Barney Bluestone's sale of May 1935, lot 500; H.A. Sternberg; B. Max Mehl, 1944; T. James Clarke, 1950; William H. Sheldon, 1972; R. E. "Ted" Naftzger, Jr., 1992; our (Bowers and Merena's) Rarities Sale of August 1998, lot 17; private collector; Joseph O'Connor; Cardinal Collection.
Notable Appearances: The plate coin for the S-78 variety in the 1991 book United States Large Cents: 1793-1814 by William C. Noyes.
Commentary:Although S-78 is not rare, in this lofty grade it is a showpiece -- ideal for a specialist or, more likely, for someone seeking an outstanding Liberty Cap cent for inclusion in a type set of United States coinage designs.
Similar to the situation for many other coins in the Cardinal Collection, the above description contains enough information that if you are the successful bidder you can keep busy for a number of hours just looking up the old auction and other offerings, an interesting pursuit. This prompts us to say that building a basic numismatic library is certainly a worthwhile thing to do. To go about this if you are not presently involved, we suggest the following (at the risk of digressing slightly from the Cardinal Collection, but also with the possibility of enhancing your enjoyment and appreciation of any item you buy from this remarkable holding):
The first thing to do is to visit the Whitman website and pick out titles of United States references that interest you. Next is to look in the Guide Book of United States Coins for the bibliographic references to the different series. You will find the standard texts on large copper cents (as here), silver dollars, and other series. Generally, regarding die varieties the most recent references are the most useful. For example, for early half dollars the latest edition of Al Overton’s book is desirable. Whether you want to get earlier books dating back is up to you, but most are of relatively little use and contain scant narrative. With the Whitman Internet offerings and the Guide Book suggestions, evaluate the list and strike off any series that are not of interest to you. For example, if United States gold coins do not attract you, you can save money by not buying any references in that category.
The next step is to add to your library interesting historical magazines and catalogs. There are two that we consider absolutely essential. The first is The Numismatist, first published in 1888 and continuing to today. Early issues are rare, but collecting those dated from the early 20th century onward is relatively easy. Check the Internet list for the Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS) and contact one or another of the dealers in out-of-print books. The second essential run is The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine, published from 1935 into the 1960s. These are absolutely marvelous to read and bring to life the hobby of coin collecting during the era. The preceding noted, current issues can be considered -- Coin World, Numismatic News, Coins magazine, COINage, and others. These exist in proliferation and are somewhat hard to store, but have a great deal of information. Not as many people collect these. No doubt should Coin World or Numismatic News make available back issues on the Internet, searchable if desired, there would be a tremendous amount of interest.
Collecting auction catalogs is another specialty. Basic 19th century issues include those by B. Max Mehl from the early 20th century through the mid 1950s, Stack's (that’s us) from 1935 to date, and New Netherlands Coin Company (starting with the 1952 issues). Beyond that we have catalogs of the modern era printed on glossy paper, with color illustrations and detailed descriptions. In the past 20 years the number of outstanding collections offered by us and by others has been truly remarkable, and these catalogs are worth obtaining also. Generally, auction catalogs dated this side of 1950 (except for "name" sales) are very inexpensive.
Now, on to the next Cardinal Collection coin.
PCGS Population (all die marriages of the Plain Edge Guide Book variety): just 3; none are finer in the BN category, and there are no RB or RD examples certified. The corresponding NGC Census figure is 1/1 (MS-65 RB finest).
From the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation.