Die Variety: The obverse die used to strike the 1797 Sheldon-123 variety exhibits the closest date of the issue, which measures only 6 millimeters across the bottom of the digits. This obverse was also used to strike the S-122, NC.2 and NC.3 varieties, but in the S-123 marriage it also displays a small cut on Liberty's cheek below the eye. The absence of this cut on examples of the S-122, NC.2 and NC.3 varieties confirms that they were all struck before S-123. The Breen large cent Encyclopedia (2000) suggests that this cut might be the result of an impact from the edge of another die.
The reverse die of S-123 appears on no other variety of the issue, the division of leaves in the wreath being 16-6 left and 19-6 right. The right (facing) wreath branch terminates in a double leaf, there is another double leaf below the letter D in UNITED, and an outside berry below the upright of the letter E in the same word. This is one of the die marriages of the Reverse of 1797, With Stems Guide Book variety of the 1797 Draped Bust cent, the Reverse of 1797 variety defined by the division of 16 leaves left, 19 right in the wreath.
Die State: Breen Die State II is characterized by a trio of faint die cracks on the reverse, the most noticeable of which originates at the top right of the letter F in OF and slants down toward the first letter A in AMERICA (but does not touch that letter). This is the earliest collectible die state of the S-123 variety since only one example with a perfect reverse is known per the reference Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States Large Cents: 1793-1814.
Strike: This piece exhibits a typical quality of strike in an example of the S-123 variety. Both sides are nicely centered on the planchet with fully denticulated borders, and the obverse is also boldly to sharply defined throughout Liberty's portrait. The reverse is not as sharply impressed with many of the individual leaves and leaf clusters in the wreath a bit blunt and lacking intricate detail. We stress, however, that all examples of S-123 with which we are aware are more or less softly struck on elements of the reverse wreath. The remaining features on that side are suitably bold, and the overall design is fully appreciable.
Surfaces: S-123 as a variety was well represented in the rich Nichols Find of 1796 and 1797 Draped Bust cents, dispersed circa 1863 by David Nichols of Gallows Hill, Massachusetts. Besides S-123, the only other die varieties represented in the Nichols Hoard were 1796 S-119 and 1797 S-135. Due to the Nichols Find, S-123 is typically offered in high grades, with heavily circulated survivors in the minority in today's market. That being said, the Cardinal Collection specimen is certainly superior in that is possesses uncommonly smooth surfaces and considerable faded mint red luster. The original color is not only discernible in the protected areas around the devices, but also in the open fields on both sides, especially over the lower half of the reverse. Light brown toning is well blended throughout, and there are no blemishes of note apart from a tiny mark (an as made strikethrough?) in the left obverse field that should serve as a useful pedigree marker.
Census Rankings: This piece is not traced in the Noyes census, but Del Bland assigns it an EAC grade of MS-63 and ranks it as fourth finest for the 1797 S-123 die variety.
Pedigree: Peter Gschwend, purchased prior to 1871 according to the Elder catalog of his collection; Thomas Elder's sale of the Peter Gschwend Collection, June 1908, lot 545 (plated); Carl Wurtzbach; Virgil Brand; Armin Brand; Burdette G. Johnson, February 1943; Abe Kosoff; Oscar J. Pearl; Sol Kaplan; Numismatic Gallery's 1944 Fixed Price List of large cents from the Pearl Collection, lot 116; Charles M. Williams; Numismatic Gallery's 68th Sale, November 1950, lot 123; our (Stack's) sale of the Warren Snow Collection, November, 2008, lot 3055; Cardinal Collection.
Commentary: This outstanding S-123 cent from the Cardinal Collection will nicely satisfy the demand for a memorable example of the die variety or, beyond that, for an early example of the Draped Bust large cent type.
Large copper cents have a special appeal, and that is brought to the fore with the Cardinal Collection examples. Year after year, variety after variety, the tempo of incredible quality is maintained. The present 1797 continues our memorable presentation.
PCGS Population (all die varieties of the issue): just 4; 3 finer (all MS-66 RB). There are no 1797 cents certified with an RB color designation at NGC.
From the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation.