Die Variety: Sheldon-221 represents the earlier of two uses of this obverse die in the striking of 1801 Draped Bust cents. The first digit 1 in the date is blunt, the digits 01 are a bit higher than 18, and the letters LIB in LIBERTY nearly touch. This obverse die was later extensively reground to efface clash marks and then used to strike the S-216 variety. (Newcomb, and later Noyes, believed that S-216 preceded S-221 in striking sequence, although it is now accepted that the die could not have been so extensively reworked to enable S-221 to have been struck later.)
The reverse die of S-221 does not appear in any other marriage, and the corrected fraction feature 1/100 Over 1/000 not only makes this variety easy to attribute, but also makes it one of the most popular among collectors in the entire Draped Bust cent series of 1796 to 1807. Both the digit 1 in the denominator and the underlying ciphers from the erroneous 0 are plainly visible to the unaided eye.
Die State: The present example is an early to middle die state of the S-221 variety with faint clash marks in the obverse field before Liberty's face and throat, but no reverse rim breaks in the denticles outside some of the letters in the words OF and AMERICA that are evident in later die states.
Strike: This is a nicely struck example with bold to sharp definition throughout most of the design. Softness of detail is minor for the type and largely confined to the leaf clusters in the reverse wreath from 4 to 9 o'clock. Well centered within fully denticulated borders that frame both sides.
Surfaces: Nicely preserved, as well, both sides exhibit an overall smooth, satiny texture with a lovely blend of original orange red luster and light to medium brown toning. Approximately 25% of the original (albeit faded) luster remains. There are no abrasions of note, although we are compelled to mention several small toning spots scattered about on the obverse over and around Liberty's portrait, as well as on the reverse around the letters in the word UNITED. Were it not for these trivial toning spots we could easily see this coin in a PCGS MS-64 RB or MS-65 RB holder.
Census Rankings: Bill Noyes assigns this coin an EAC grade of MS-60, net AU-50, and ranks it as the fourth finest S-221 cent extant. Del Bland's EAC grade is MS-63 with a rank of finest known, and in his cataloging for the September 2009 sale of the Dan Holmes Collection Bob Grellman grades this piece MS-60 Plus.
Pedigree: Joseph F. Carabin; Abe Kosoff, December 1956; R. E. "Ted" Naftzger, Jr., February 1992; Eric Streiner, June 1992; Jay Parrino (The Mint), April 1996; Jack Wadlington (via Bob Grellman and Chris McCawley), November 2005; Ira & Larry Goldberg's sale of the Dan Holmes Collection, Part I, September 2009, lot 420; Cardinal Collection.
Notable Appearances: This is the plate coin for the S-221 variety in the 1991 book United States Large Cents: 1793-1814 by William C. Noyes.
Commentary: What was happening at the Mint when this die was made is not known today. History tells us that consuming too much rum on the premises might have contributed. Indeed, rations of this ardent spirit can be found in Mint archives. No matter, today and for a long time previous this error die has been an object of great desire. The present coin is in a remarkably high grade, and there is certainly a lot to like about this coin. Watch the action as this crosses the block!
PCGS Population (S-221 die variety only): just 1; and none are finer.
From the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation.