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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: 1793 Half Cents, Chain Cents, Wreath Cents, 1808 Quarter Eagles — one-year type coins in general

News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #8

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

I. Today’s Theme Is On One-YearType Coins

Although some expensive coins that appeal to advanced collectors will be discussed below, this column is largely introductory in nature. Learning about one-year type coins is important. Furthermore, many are not expensive, and may be especially reasonable in modest grades. In addition, one-year type coins are important elements in the history of U.S. coinage. Moreover, knowledge of one-year type coins is central to understanding the relative values of many significant classic U.S. coins. My aim here is not to provide a lesson on type coins. Rather, I am mentioning some one-year type coins in the upcoming Boston ANA auction in August and discussing the general significance of these issues.

One-year type coins have always fascinated me. These are both the most common and the rarest dates of their respective types. As a kid, I dreamed of owning all one-year type coins. I remember my acquisition of an 1859 Indian Cent. I was eight or nine years old at the time and I was thrilled. I was later able to obtain other one-year type coins that are accessible to low-budget collectors, 1883 ‘No Cents’ Liberty Nickels, 1913 ‘Buffalo on Mound’ Nickels, and 1909 VDB cents, though it is debatable as to whether 1909 VDB cents are really one-year type coins. In circulated grades, 1853 ‘Arrows & Rays’ quarters and halves can be obtained by non-affluent collectors. The ‘Arrows & Rays’ and just ‘Arrows’ issues, though, are sometimes regarded as subtype coins rather than full type coins. Likewise, 1839 ‘No Drapery’ Halves are typically thought of as a one-year subtype as the design of these is not substantially different from that of the Liberty Seated ‘No Motto’ half dollar type that was adopted later in 1839.

As usual, I am discussing coins that were minted prior to 1934. Types of so called ‘modern issues’ constitute a different topic. Most rare or at least somewhat scarce U.S. coin issues were minted prior to 1934. In the upcoming Heritage ANA Auction in Boston, there will be offered a sizeable number of pre-1934 one-year type coins.

II. Half Cents of 1793

Among the most popular of all U.S. coins are the copper coins of 1793. While some patterns were made in 1792 at a private location, including half dimes which circulated, 1793 is the first true year of the U.S. Mint.

As U.S. silver coins were not minted until 1794 and gold coins not until 1795, only copper coins were struck in 1793, half cents and large cents. The half cents of 1793 are a one-year design type, and three different types of large cents were struck during this same year, Chain Cents, Wreath Cents and Liberty Cap Cents. Chain Cents and Wreath Cents are certainly each one-year types.

It is debatable as to whether 1793 Liberty Cap Cents are a one-year type. The PCGS and some large cent experts regard 1793 Liberty Caps as a one-year type; the NGC and other experts view Liberty Cap Cents dating from 1793 to 1796 as all being of the same design type. The main difference between 1793 Liberty Cap Cents and those Liberty Cap Cents dating from 1794 to 1796 is that the 1793s have beaded borders while the later Liberty Caps have dentilated borders. Dentils, which are sometimes called denticles, are tooth-like devices near the edge. Dentils are different from beads, which are sort of like oval buttons.

In 1794, the head of Miss Liberty on half cents actually faces in a different direction, to the observer’s right, than she does on the half cents of 1793, to the observer’s left. Plus, there are other differences between the two issues. It could be argued that 1794 half cents are also one-year types as the Liberty Head in 1794 is different from that found on half cents of 1795 and later. Indeed, the PCGS categorizes 1794 half cents as a distinct design type while the NGC refers to all 1794 to 1797 half cents as being of the same design type. This, though, is a topic that is very controversial and would require a separate long discussion.

There is no doubt that 1793 half cents are a one-year type and a representative of this issue is thus needed for copper, early U.S., and overall U.S. type sets. The Heritage ANA auction includes, so far, three 1793 half cents. To the best of my recollection at the moment, I have not seen any of them. All are certified by the PCGS and two have stickers of approval from the CAC.

The PCGS graded Fine-12 1793 half cent, in this upcoming auction, does not have a CAC sticker, though I do not know if it was ever submitted to the CAC. Another 1793 half cent in this auction is graded VF-30 and the third is graded AU-58, which is a very high grade for this issue.

While the PCGS and the NGC reportedly have certified more than thirty AU-58 grade 1793 half cents, my guess is that only about twelve DIFFERENT 1793 half cents have been so graded. Over the last two decades, it has been rather common for certified AU-58 grade coins from the 1790s, of all denominations, to eventually be upgraded to MS-61 or -62. (There is a little discussion of this point in my article on 1795 Eagles. As usual, clickable links are in blue.)

This PCGS graded AU-58 1793 half cent is part of the consignment of “Dr. and Mrs. Claude Davis,” who assembled an extraordinary collection of coins. There are dozens of coins from this collection in this Heritage ANA auction, including many highly certified early U.S. issues.

Half cents of 1793 are very scarce. I suggest that maybe two hundred seventy five to three hundred DIFFERENT 1793 half cents have been certified by the PCGS and/or the NGC. Another one hundred and fifty to two hundred are probably gradable and have yet to be submitted to one of these two services. Some have been submitted to other services.

I hypothesize that another two hundred to three hundred 1793 half cents would not merit numerical grades from the PCGS or the NGC. I am tentatively estimating that 625 to 800 1793 half cents exist. Although I tend to define a coin issue, in regard to specific dates, as being rare overall if fewer than 500 pieces are known. Considering, however, that this is a one-year type, the term ‘rare’ does seem applicable; it is a rare type.

III. Large Cents of 1793

Chain Cents are not as rare as, though are more popular than, the half cents of 1793. Large cents have always had a broader appeal than half cents. In terms of the number of PCGS or NGC certified coins, and of the number of potentially gradable coins, 1793 half cents and 1793 Chain Cents are similar in rarity. My guess, however, is that there are even more non-gradable, or borderline-gradable, Chain Cents than 1793 half cents. The chain reverse (back) is just so different from the reverse of any other U.S. coin issue that people pulled these from circulation for a half-century or more. When the collecting of U.S. coins started to become popular in the 1850s, Chain Cents were among the most sought after prizes. I estimate that more than 1500 Chain Cents survive, though very few grade AU-55 or higher.

There are three Chain Cents in the upcoming ANA auction. The least valuable of the three does not qualify for a numerical grade. It is said by the NGC to have the “details” of a Very Good grade coin and to be characterized by “corrosion.”

There will also be offered a PCGS graded Extremely Fine-40 Chain Cent in a SecureShield holder, which means that it was encapsulated in 2010. I am here ignoring die varieties of 1793 half cents and large cents, as most collectors would be happy with one 1793 half cent and one Chain Cent. The die varieties appeal to a small, though very dedicated, group of specialists who have their own methods of interpreting early copper coins. It is my intention here to address a much larger audience.

In this same upcoming ANA auction, there is a PCGS graded AU-55 Chain Cent with a CAC sticker of approval. The CAC has only approved thirteen Chain Cents in all grades. Specialists in early copper, the PCGS, the NGC, and the CAC all seem to employ different grading criteria regarding early U.S. copper coins. Such varying criteria are topic for a future discussion.

There are Wreath Cents in this August 2010 ANA auction. Like Chain Cents, these were minted only in 1793, though Wreath Cents are not as scarce as Chain Cents. With a so-called “Vine and Bars Edge” noted on each holder, three Wreath Cents to be offered are PCGS graded, Fine-15, Very Fine-25 and AU-53, respectively. Not all the coins consigned to this ANA auction have been catalogued, and more Wreath Cents may be added to the listing.

In this auction, there is also featured a PCGS graded Very Fine-25 1793 Liberty Cap Cent. In an article in Feb. 2008, I estimated that there exist three hundred 1793 Liberty Cap cents, including the ungradable. Early copper specialists tended then to be accepting of my estimate. I wonder now, though, if I over-estimated the number of survivors. The ninety something combined total, from reports by the PCGS and the NGC, probably reflects only fifty to sixty different 1793 Liberty Cap Cents.

As to the whether 1793 Liberty Cap Cents constitute a one-year type, this is too complicated a question to address here. In my article, cited above, which focused upon the Husak collection, PCGS graded AU-55 1793 Liberty Cap, I suggested that the fact that the PCGS regards this issue as a one-year type may have contributed to the increase in prices for 1793 Liberty Cap Cents.

IV. Quarters of 1796

I know of five 1796 quarters in this auction, which is an impressive number. I wonder if as many as five hundred are currently known in all grades. I am extremely skeptical of the oft-repeated rumor that Col. E.H.R. Green owned more than two hundred 1796 quarters and that most of these were uncirculated with reflective surfaces.

Perhaps a clerk misread a handwritten note or accidentally added a zero to the number twenty. I would believe that Green had twenty AU or MS 1796 quarters, some of which probably have been cleaned, scratched, fried, or artificially toned over the last sixty plus years. So few currently survive that grade even MS-62 or higher, it is almost inconceivable that one collector had hundreds or even dozens of choice 1796 quarters. (Could there be a secret stash somewhere?)

These are, indisputably, a one-year design type. No quarters were minted prior to 1796 and U.S. quarters were not minted again until 1804. Two Reales coins of the Spanish Empire circulated widely in North America and served roughly the same purpose as quarter dollars. Also, for other reasons, quarter-dollars were not then a popular denomination. Plus, the ‘Small Eagle’ reverse (back) design was employed on quarters only in 1796. From 1804 to 1807, quarters were minted with a ‘Heraldic Eagle’ reverse.

One of the 1796 quarters in this August 2010 ANA auction is graded ‘Very Fine-20’ by a service other than the PCGS or the NGC. I would strongly recommend that interested bidders have an expert view it on their behalf before deciding whether to attempt to acquire it. Indeed, it is often a good idea for a collector to hire an expert to analyze auction lots for him (or her).

In this auction, a second 1796 quarter is PCGS graded ‘Very Good-10.’ A third is NGC graded ‘Extremely Fine-45.’ A fourth is PCGS graded AU-58, and it is part of the collection of “Dr. and Mrs. Claude Davis.”

The famous Norweb family 1796 quarter is PCGS graded MS-65. As far as I know, it has not been publicly seen in many years. It was auctioned in the Norweb II sale of March 1988. The Norweb family assembled one of the ten all-time best collections of U.S. coins, which included numerous very high quality eighteenth and nineteenth century silver coins. This may be one of the most important coins in the summer 2010 ANA auction.

V. One-Year Type Quarter Eagles

There are two issues of Quarter Eagles ($2½ gold coins) that are single year design types, the ‘No Stars’ on obverse issue of 1796 and the issue of 1808. The “Dr. and Mrs. Claude Davis collection” contains representatives of both issues, a 1796 ‘No Stars’ that is PCGS graded AU-58 and an 1808 Quarter Eagle that is NGC graded MS-61.

In an article on 1808 Quarter Eagles, I estimated that there are no more than one hundred and thirty-five 1808 Quarter Eagles in existence, probably around one hundred and five. This issue is far rarer than most experts realize. Many of the 1808 Quarter Eagles that currently are certified as grading from AU-53 to MS-62 were upgraded, sometimes more than once, over the twenty year period from 1988 to 2007. While many 1808 Quarter Eagles have technical problems and/or have been unnaturally brightened, these are undervalued in relation to other early gold issues. It is important to remember that an 1808 Quarter Eagle is required for an overall U.S. type set and for a gold type set.

©2010 Greg Reynolds

About the Author

Greg Reynolds is a numismatic writer, researcher and analyst. Greg has examined almost all of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest type coins and patterns, He has extensively researched the pedigrees of important numismatic properties, and he has written about and analyzed numerous auctions, private sales and collections.

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  1. DAVID J. DUBIN | Jul 12, 2010 | Reply





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