Virtually Complete Early Large Cent Collection of Walter Husak to be Auctioned
By Greg Reynolds for CoinLink
Walter Husak’s collection of early large cents will be auctioned by Heritage at 5:00 PM on Friday, Feb. 15, at the Long Beach (CA) Coin, Stamp and Collectible Expo. During Long Beach Expos in 2007, and at the Jan. 2008 FUN Convention in Orlando, his coins were on display, and Husak himself was present to answer questions and provide commentary.
During the era from 1793 to 1814, pennies were about the size of the quarters of the time, slightly larger than the quarters of today. In terms of die varieties of these large cents, Husak’s collection is one of the most complete of all time, and he has several gem quality pieces. Husak’s cents have been authenticated, graded and encapsulated by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS).
Among many rarities, Husak has the finest known 1794 cent with the ‘Starred Reverse,’ an Almost Uncirculated coin that is PCGS graded AU-50. An uncirculated ‘Starred Reverse’ cent has never been seen by a noted collector, and probably does not exist.
Along the periphery of the back of the coin, there are ninety-four cute, little stars. It is probably true that such a ’starred’ border does not exist on any other variety of a U.S. coin, of any date from any era. ‘Starred Reverse’ 1794 cents are very rare in all grades.
While large cent specialists will be enthused by Husak’s rare die varieties, collectors of all U.S. coins will be stunned when they learn about the quality of many of the early large cents in Husak’s collection.
Coins that grade MS-65 or higher are usually deemed to be of gem quality. Seven of Husak’s 1794 cents, all of different varieties, are PCGS graded MS-65, and another one is graded higher. Three of the seven are designated by PCGS graders as having considerable ‘Mint Red’ color along with the expected brown color of toned copper (RB=Red & Brown). Plus, one 1795 Liberty Cap and one 1796 Draped Bust cent, in Husak’s collection, are also PCGS certified MS-65 RB.
While gem quality large cents are strongly demanded by collectors of type coins, large cents in all grades are sought after by a large number of zealous collectors who focus upon large cents. Ever since the mid 19th century, large cents have been a popular collecting specialty.
Husak has 299 different varieties of cents minted from 1793 to 1814, including the famous Eliasberg-Abbey 1799 cent. The die varieties of large cents are identified by way of a system attributed to a long deceased, famous collector and author, William Sheldon. An obverse (front) die and a reverse (bottom) die are employed in a mechanical press to impart designs into prepared, blank circular pieces of metal (planchets) in order to produce coins.
For large cents minted from 1793 to 1814, two hundred and ninety-five (295) die varieties are designated as being collectible, which means wealthy collectors have some chance of obtaining all of them, or so Sheldon and his followers thought.
Large cent collectors distinguish between the collectible Sheldon varieties, which are numbered from 1 to 295, and “non-collectible” varieties, which have ‘NC’ code numbers. Usually, the “non-collectible” varieties are either impractical to obtain or are only available in very low grades. It is a long established tradition to ignore, or place much less emphasis on the NC varieties. Large cent collectors who are very interested in obtaining high quality coins, such as Husak, are particularly unenthusiastic about the NC varieties, a few of which are obtainable.
Husak has 292 of the “collectible” 295 Sheldon die varieties. Additionally, there are seven edge varieties, which are variations of specific die varieties; these are designated with letters rather than numbers. For example, the Sheldon-11 die variety is subdivided to reflect three different edges: 11a, 11b, and 11c. All three are 1793 Wreath cents minted from the same pair of dies. The S-11a has an edge with the ‘Vine and Bars’ ornamentation. The S-11b and S-11 varieties have different “lettered” edges.
Husak has examples of all these edge varieties. Including both die varieties and edge varieties, Husak has 299 of 302 “collectible” varieties of large cents dating from 1793 to 1814.
The Husak-Oswald 1794, of the Sheldon-67 variety, is the highest quality 1794 large cent, of any variety, that I have ever seen. The S-67 variety is called the ‘Crying Lady’! It seems as if Miss Liberty is crying because there are raised, almost tear-shaped lumps, on her face. These come from indentations in the obverse die and are not problems.
This Husak-Oswald 1794, S-67 variety, is virtually flawless. There are no noticeable contact marks or scratches. The fields are naturally smooth. It is sharply struck. Unlike most large cents of the era, the prepared blank (planchet) on which the coin was struck has no significant imperfections. Further, a substantial portion of this coin’s surface exhibits original ‘Mint Red’ color, an extremely rare characteristic among early large cents. Moreover, it has a really neat ‘look.’ In terms of quality and desirability, I have never seen another 1794 cent, of any variety, that even comes close to it. I have certainly seen more than twenty-five 1794 cents that have been graded, sometimes questionably, as MS-60 or higher. Husak’s S-67 cent is PCGS certified ‘MS-67 RB.’
I am surprised that Husak’s 1794 cent of the Sheldon-71 variety was only graded “MS-65″ by PCGS. I carefully examined it before it was submitted to PCGS. I was expecting a MS-66 grade. A MS-67 grade would not have startled me. It is a terrific coin, with very few imperfections. As a pristine gem, the fact that it is of the S-71 variety is of little consequence. Most potential bidders for Husak’s S-67 and S-71 cents will be type coin collectors.
A type collector will tend to acquire only one Liberty Cap large cent, or maybe two? These were minted from the middle of 1793 to some point in 1796.
A type collector will not typically be concerned about the rarity of the variety of each coin that he obtains. Usually, a type collector will not even bother to identify the die variety of any of his coins.
A type 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), Coronet (1816-39), and Braided Hair (1839-57). It has been logically argued, from more than one perspective, that there are really two (or even three) distinct types that share the Liberty Cap motif (1793-96), but this is a separate topic. The immediate point is that most type collectors will be satisfied with seven or eight large cents, and will usually be more interested in quality than in die varieties or rarity.
Of course, it is true and fascinating that there are many large cent collectors who seek most of the die varieties. The number of type collectors of U.S. coins of several denominations, though, is much larger than the number of large cent specialists.
Collectors who very much like large cents in particular, and early U.S. coins in general, often make a choice between collecting large cents ‘by variety’ or assembling a type set that includes coins of several designs, denominations and series. Husak’s experiences relate to such a choice.
Husak bought his first large cent in 1980, from a dealer on Wilshire Boulevard in LA County. In the beginning, Husak just “wanted to collect by type.” He would then “have been happy with one Chain, one Wreath and one Liberty Cap. Over time, however, he became intrigued by the dozens of varieties of 1794 large cents, and, eventually, Husak desired examples of “all the collectible” varieties.
Husak collected early large cents “seriously for fourteen years.” He accomplished his goal of a nearly complete set with many high quality pieces. He determined that it is almost impossible for him to acquire high quality examples of all the remaining three “collectible” Sheldon varieties. So, it is now time to sell.
Husak chose the February Long Beach auction event for several reasons. He would like his “family and friends” in Southern California to be able to attend. He feels that it would have been unreasonable “to expect them to fly to Orlando for the FUN auction.” Some buyers who collect large cents by die variety, though, would fly anywhere (or ask their agents to do so), even to the Arctic Circle, for a chance to bid on the choice and rare varieties in the Husak collection.
©2008 Greg Reynolds
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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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