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Greatest All-Time Collection of Middle Date Large Cents to be Auctioned (Part 2)

By Greg Reynolds for CoinLink
In Part 1 of my series on the auction of the Naftzger Middle Dates, please find an overview of this collection, general remarks regarding die varieties, my probably not original view on defining types of Middle Date cents, and and a discussion of Naftzger’s cents from the year 1839. In Part 2, I talk about scarce dates and I list some of the high quality type coins in the Naftzger Middle Date collection. In Part 3, there is a broad interpretation of the results of the auction, and a discussion of the 1817 cent, with fifteen stars. In Part 4, there is an analysis of the prices realized of scarce dates from the 1820s. In Part 5, prices realized for Naftzger’s cents from the 1830s are discussed.

1823 N-2 R2 PCGS graded MS65BN. Of all dates, Naftzger assembled the all-time greatest collection of U.S. large cents, which were minted from 1793 to 1857. Most of his early dates, and most of his Proof Middle Dates, were sold privately in 1992. Several important Naftzger early date large cents, however, were auctioned by the Goldbergs in Sept. 2008. As I then reported, an auction record for a large cent, which has since been broken, was set when one of the Naftzger 1796 cents sold for $690,000. At least one Naftzger Chain Cent and probably at least two Wreath Cents, which Naftzger sold in 1992, would have realized more than $690,000 each if these had been auctioned in the middle of 2008.

Naftzger’s collection of business strike Middle Date cents remained intact, and it is comprised of more than 460 U.S. Cents plus some private restrikes and other items. There are numerous Middle Date cents in the Naftzger collection that will realize less than $1500 each at the auction. So, a vast fortune is not required to acquire coins from the all-time greatest collection of large cents. I will discuss especially choice representatives of scarce dates here in Part 2, as these are particularly newsworthy and distinguish the Naftzger collection from other collections of Middle Date large cents. At the end, there is a short discussion of type coins. It is not difficult to build a type set of large cents.

The 1823 may be the scarcest Matron Head large cent issue. The 1823/2 overdate is not always considered to have the status of a separate date. The 1823 ‘Normal Date’ is scarcer than the 1823/2, anyhow. A “Normal Date” is not an overdate and is not a recut date, and has numerals of the proper or expected size for the issue. The alternatives are not ‘abnormal’ but are rather special varieties. Generally, the term “Normal Date” is only used if there is at least one additional ‘date’ (or variety) of the same design type that is characterized by a marked difference in one or more numerals of the same year.

The Naftzger collection has an 1823 ‘Normal Date’ that is PCGS graded MS-65. with a designation indicating Brown (“BN”) rather than Red & Brown (“RB”) or [essentially full] Red (“RD”) color, and another that is PCGS certified MS-66BN! Large cent experts tend to regard these two Naftzger 1823s, lots #139 and #140, as the two finest known of this date. Chris McCawley & Bob Grellman (M&G) operate the early copper specialty firm that handled the consignment. They grade both these 1823s as MS-65. (Usually, the abbreviation MS, for “Mint State,” refers to uncirculated business strikes.)

The first 1823, lot #139, is more famous than the second. It was formerly in the legendary collections of John Mills and William Cutler Atwater. Jim McGuigan, a longtime dealer and collector of early U.S. copper coins, wonders if these two 1823s “will bring runaway prices.”

Though not as scarce as the 1823/2 or 1823 Normal Date, the 1817 with fifteen stars on the obverse is much scarcer than most other Matron Head large cents. Typically, Middle Date large cents have thirteen stars on the obverse (front). Most 1817 large cents have thirteen as well. One die variety of 1817s, however, has fifteen. For some reason, a U.S. Mint employee punched fifteen stars into an obverse die. The number of the stars on the obverse is generally (or at least should be) considered a more significant factor than the size of otherwise identical letters on the reverse (back), which varies for some dates in the late 1820s and 1830s.

When two different varieties of the same year have differing numbers of obverse stars, both varieties are typically collected as if these are separate ‘dates’. In another words, most (though not nearly all) collectors of Middle Date large cents ‘by date,’ not by die variety, will include two 1817 large cents, one with thirteen stars and one with fifteen stars, in their respective sets.

1817 N-16 R1 PCGS graded MS65BN. 15-Star Obverse Naftzger’s lone 1817, with fifteen stars, is not the finest known. Nonetheless, it is certainly one of the four finest and may be the second finest. I have not seen it. It is PCGS certified MS-65BN, and M&G graded 63. The auction result will probably set a record for an 1817 large cent.

Uncirculated large cents dating from 1816 to 1820 are not extremely rare. At least one large hoard and maybe some small groups survived. Several dates in the 1820s are considerably scarcer in grades of MS-62 and higher. In particular, the 1821 is rare in grades of MS-60 or above. The Naftzger collection contains an 1821 that is PCGS graded MS-64 with a full original mint red designation (“RD”)! If it is an attractive, really neat coin with at least 85% original Mint Red, then bidding could ‘go crazy’ for this coin.

If the 1824/2 overdate is granted the status of a separate date, and it is often regarded as such, it is another of the relatively scarce dates in the series. It is extremely rare in grades above AU-50. Naftzger’s finest 1824/2 is PCGS certified MS-62BN. M&G grade it as AU-58. Another Naftzger 1824/2, lot #150, is graded AU-55 by M&G.

The 1826/5 overdate is also very scarce overall, and rare in high grades. Naftzger’s best 1826/5, lot #183, is almost certainly the finest known of this overdate. It was formerly in the collections of Howard Newcomb and Floyd Starr. It is now PCGS certified MS-66BN. M&G grade it as MS-64, and M&G may be implying that the significant amount of red color on the coin is original. The overdate, though, is not quite as apparent as it is on the 1824/2. While it is certainly an important variety, it is debatable as to whether it should be collected as if it were a date that is distinct from the 1826 Normal Date issue. Nonetheless, it often is so collected. I will not guess as to whether leading bidders for high quality Middle Date cents will be willing to pay a very substantial sum for this coin. Could it bring more than $35,000?

The 1817, with fifteen stars, and the 1824/2 overdate are varieties that clearly have the status, in many guides, of effectively separate dates. The status of the 1826/5 is not clear. Most varieties, however, will never be regarded as if they are distinct dates. Sometimes, just the placement of numerals or stars may be a little different. Indeed, most die varieties of Middle Date large cents are subtle.

A reference book is needed to identify most die varieties. Among die varieties of Middle Date cents that can be and tend to be identified and remembered without a book or manual, the rarest is the 1834 with a relatively large numeral 8 in the date, noticeably large stars in the obverse (front) outer fields, and medium size letters on the reverse (back). It should not be confused with other 1834 varieties that have a smaller 8, smaller stars, and/or large letters on the reverse. This variety (which is known as Newcomb #5) is truly rare, and it is sometimes listed, along with regular dates, in price guides. Its appeal extends beyond the desires of die variety collectors.

1834 N-5 R5 PCGS graded MS65BN.  The Naftzger 1834, with large 8, large stars and medium letters, lot #308, is PCGS certified MS-65BN. McCawley & Grellman grade it as just MS-60. Apparently, though, it is one of the three finest of possibly fifty to eighty known of this variety. It will be interesting to see if it brings a price that is at all commensurate with a level that would be associated with one of the highest quality representatives of a distinct date, rather than just a die variety. Remember that many more people collect ‘by date’ than collect ‘by die variety’!

Some of Naftzger’s highest quality Matron Head cents (1816-35) are highly demanded by date-collectors (who are assembling sets of large cents ‘by date’), type collectors and die variety collectors. It is unlikely that a type collector would bid on the two high quality 1823s mentioned above, as the scarcity of the 1823 Normal Date may lead to these bringing considerable premiums over a relatively common date in similar condition. A type collector will not usually be concerned about the rarity of the date of each coin that he obtains. Plus, a type coin collector will probably not even bother to identify the die variety of any of his coins.

Below, I put forth a list of eleven Naftzger Middle Dates that type coin collectors may wish to consider, though I admit that I have not seen them myself and thus I will not specifically recommend them. The PCGS grade is listed after the date, and can be identified as there is a designation of BN, RB [Red & Brown] or [essentially full] RD associated with each PCGS numerical grade for a high quality copper coin. The McCawley & Grellman grade for each is also mentioned in my list: A) Lot #239, 1830 PCGS-66RB, M&G-66; B) Lot #260 1831 66RB M&G-66; C) #281 1833 66RB M&G-66+; D) #283 1833 66RB M&G-67; E) #290 1833 65RD M&G-66; F) #295 1834 65RB M&G-65; G) #304 1834 67BN M&G-66; H) #320 1835 Matron Head “Head of 1834” 65RB M&G-65; I) 1835 “Head of 1836” (New type in my view) PCGS-65RB M&G-66 ; J) #388 1837 “Head of 1838” 66RB M&G-65; and K) Lot #421 1838 65RB M&G-65. Note that the PCGS and M&G grades tend to both be high and similar for these, which is not true for some of the other Naftzger Middle Date cents. I also took pedigrees into consideration when I put together this list. Undoubtedly, however, if I had actually viewed Naftzger’s Middle Date, my list of type coins to consider would be at least slightly different.

Traditionally, a collector needs only seven large cents for a type set: Chain (1793), Wreath (1793), Liberty Cap (1793-96), Draped Bust (1796-1807), Classic Head (1808-14), Matron or Coronet (1816-39), and Braided Hair (1839-57). Cases have been put forth, from more than one perspective, that there are really two or three distinct types of Liberty Cap cents (1793-96). As I discussed in Part 1, the ‘Head of 1835-39’ is really a separate design type in the ‘Middle Date’ series. It looks substantially different from the 1816-35 Matron Head design and is also much different from the 1839-57 Braided Hair type. So, at least eight large cents are needed for a true type set, though this is not a large number.

A type set of large cents may be assembled in a relatively short period of time, and certain cents that were formerly owned by the late Ted Naftzger are the best candidates for an exceptionally high quality type set of large cents. For those who are unable or unwilling to acquire gems, most dates of large cents, from 1793 to 1857, are available in a wide range of grades, starting in the Poor-01 to AG-03 range. Surely, budget-minded collectors can afford to collect large cents, at least ‘by type.’ Besides, they are interesting coins. Even those who cannot afford to buy them may enjoy learning about them.

©2009 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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