Chances are excellent that if you encounter a Mint State 1796 or 1797 copper large cent, it will be linked by pedigree to the famous Nichols Find (also known as the Goodhue-Nichols Find). According to numismatic tradition, these pieces came from an original bag of cents obtained in late 1797 or early 1798 by Benjamin Goodhue. Goodhue was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1748 and died there in 1814. A Federalist, he was a representative to Congress 1789-1796 and a senator 1796-1800.
If Goodhue obtained the pieces at the Mint, it would probably have been after November 21, 1797, for during 1797 coins were only delivered by the coiner to the treasurer from November 22 to December 18. It is believed that Goodhue gave the coins to his daughters. Eventually, they were distributed from the Salem area.
By 1858-1859, the community was aware of the coins, at which time they traded for about $1 each. By 1863 all the pieces had been dispersed—apparently by David Nichols—by which time they had a market value of about $3 to $4 apiece.
Another account (Penny Whimsy, p. 189) suggests that they were dispersed to collectors, "perhaps just prior to 1863," and that "David Nichols of Gallows Hill, near Salem, passed them out at face value."
The assigning of the quantity of 1,000 pieces to the hoard is assumed from Mint records that show in 1797 that the Mint regularly issued cents in bags of 1,000 and boxes of 5,000 coins. As at least several hundred specimens are known to exist today, the 1,000 estimate may be reasonable.
Today, the typical Nichols Find cent is apt to be glossy brown. Varieties attributable to this source include 1796 Sheldon-119, 1797 S-123 and S-135, and, to a lesser extent, 1796 S-104 and S-118; 1797 S-122(?), S-136, and S-137.