Die Variety: Sheldon-243 represents the only use of these obverse and reverse dies in the striking of 1803-dated cents. The variety is easy to attribute due to the absence of stems to the end of the branches that form the reverse wreath, as well as the presence of a widely spaced second S below the primary letter S at the end of the word STATES. There is also a second fraction bar in the reverse denomination along the top of the denominator 100, and on the obverse the upper right corner of the digit 3 in the date nearly touches the bottom of Liberty's bust. The reverse die of S-243 was also used to strike the 1802 S-241 Stemless Wreath variety, albeit without the die cracks noted for S-241, confirming that 1803 S-243 was struck before 1802 S-241.
Die State: The Cardinal Collection specimen represents the middle die state of this variety. The obverse exhibits a light horizontal crack bisecting Liberty's neck with some die swelling in that area, a second crack curving to the right from the digit 3 to the drapery and traces of faint clash marks in the field around the letters TY in LIBERTY, before Liberty's forehead and below the chin. (A light rim break after the letters TY that is usually present in this die state is not discernible on this coin.) On the reverse, faint to moderate clash marks are discernible along the border outside the letters RICA in AMERICA, around the denomination 1/100 and within the leaves in the right (facing) wreath branch.
Strike: Sharply, if not fully struck throughout much of Liberty's portrait and the right (facing) wreath, other portions of the design are boldly to sharply struck and equally impressive in a Draped Bust cent. The impression is expertly centered on both sides with all of the border denticles discernible, if not crisply delienated.
Surfaces: Exceptionally well preserved and nearly in the Superb Gem category, this premium MS-66 exhibits a smooth, bright, satiny sheen that is free of even the most trivial abrasions. Nearly 75% of the original reddish-orange luster remains on the reverse, with the obverse also retaining considerable rose red luster. Toning is equally light on both sides and generally glossy brown, although we do note a blush of more vivid powder blue iridescence on the obverse over and before the middle of Liberty's portrait. So pristine are the surfaces of this coin that were it not for a small, faint toning spot at 10 o'clock near the obverse border we would be hard pressed to find a worthwhile pedigree marker. A technically superior and simply beautiful Draped Bust cent regardless of die variety.
Census Rankings: A universally praised survivor among 1803 Draped Bust cents, Bill Noyes grades this piece MS-67 Choice and ranks it as finest known for not only the S-243 dies, but also the date and even the Draped Bust cent type as a whole. Del Bland's EAC grade is MS-63 with a ranking of tied for finest known, and Bob Grellman grades the coin MS-65 in his cataloging for Part I of the Naftzger Collection and calls it #1 Finest.
When detailing the fabulous Naftzger large cents, PCGS' experts described this coin as MS-67 RB. EAC considers this piece as tied with only two other coins as the finest known Draped Bust cent irrespective of date or die variety. Chris McCawley rates this coin as the single finest 1803 cent of all varieties, other EAC specialists call this one of the very finest early large cents of any design type, and some observers consider it finer than the Dan Holmes 1802 S-234 certified MS-67 RB by PCGS and sold as lot 455 in the Goldbergs' September 2009 sale of the Holmes Collection.
Pedigree: Ira S. Reed, September 3, 1943; Leonard M. Holland; Pennypacker Auction Centre, May 1959; Louis Helfenstein, February 2, 1960; C. Douglas Smith, April 1960; Louis Helfenstein, March 1961; Lester Merkin's sale of August 1964, lot 30; Richard Picker; Ira & Larry Goldberg's sale of the R.E. "Ted" Naftzger Collection, Part I, September 2008, lot 186; Cardinal Collection.
Notable Appearances: The plate coin for the early die state of the S-243 die variety in the 1991 book United States Large Cents: 1793-1814 by William C. Noyes.
Commentary: What a wonderful coin this is -- solidly in the Gem category and earning MS-66 from PCGS. High grade, Condition Census status, and beautiful eye appeal combine to make this a "must have" cent for an advanced specialist.
In reviewing the description of this piece, including narrative from old timers, here indeed is a cent that has earned accolades from even the most conservative viewers! Consider the description, view the image of the coin, and then bid accordingly. If you are successful you will have a true treasure.
PCGS Population (all die varieties of the 1803 Draped Bust cent issue): just 1; with a mere two finer in MS-67 RB, a Sheldon-254 example and an example of the Small Date, Large Fraction Guide Book variety.
From the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation.