CONFESSIONS OF AN EAC ADDICT|
by John Pijewski
I bet you're thinking, "Oh no, not MORE blather from that self-styled copper addict." These are, I PROMISE, my final comments about those little objects of my affliction. Consider this postscript to be a man with a broom and shovel who cleans the streets following a parade full of horses and elephants.
After three years of collecting large cents I willingly admit I've got a serious copper jones. I'm not ready, however, to attend a 12-step program for EAC addicts. (If I were I'd say, "My name is John and I've ripped out the copper pipes in my house hoping to find the date 1799 stamped on them somewhere.") Collecting large cents is too enjoyable to give up. When I handle a large cent - by its edges, of course - I feel the same awe and respect as when I walk through a museum exhibit of early American furniture. The old chairs, tables, hutches, and bureaus are beautiful for the simplicity and elegance of their design and because they were the everyday items on which people sat and ate their meals, and in which they stored their clothing, bedding, plates, silverware, paper, ink, and sewing materials. They used large cents, in part, to pay for these things.
History aside, there's a practical thing to consider when collecting large cents. THEY'RE EXPENSIVE! Not too many people address this fact. As a nine-year-old boy, like every other young numismatist, I collected the usual coins. I also had a few silver dollars, including an 1878-CC in Fine that I got from my local bank, but I never had even one large cent. They were too expensive for me, even in the early 60's when you could buy rarities at reasonable prices. I would gaze longingly at the early date cents in Redbook or in the showcases of the coin shops to which I dragged my disinterested father. Now that I've reached serious middle age (I hit 50 recently), I have the means to collect large cents. I forget who, but someone called large cents the Cadillac of American coinage. What he was really saying was that large cents aren't for anyone young or with limited means because only RICH OLD farts drive Cadillacs.
Large cents are also getting hard to find. I've heard so many dealers say that early dates sell as quickly as they're stocked; the problem is getting more of them. There are so few good ones available that aren't already squirreled away in type sets or cent collections. I've given my want list to a handful of EAC dealers, but it's incredibly rare for any dealer to call me with a coin on my list. Now I have to rely on auctions to find the Sheldons I'm looking for. This is perfectly fine, but it's a slow process. Often I feel like a fisherman who, for hours, keeps casting his line into a dried-up riverbed.
Considering their rarity, large cents are probably underpriced. There are nine R5 early date cents that are available in Good 5 for about $300 or less. If there were, say, only 50 1893-S silver dollars (according to Q. David Bowers' A Buyer's Guide to Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars of the United States about 12,000 exist), then how much would it cost in Good 5 compared to its current Trends price of $1500 for this grade? $40,000? $50,000? Then what should a 1794 S-39, of which there are 20 or so examples, cost? $100,000? According to the new Penny Prices by Bill Noyes (let's call it CQN), you should be able to find one for about $4000 in VG8, though it was listed for $9750 in the 2001 edition of CQR. Sounds like a bargain, doesn't it? All large cent buyers out there are probably HOWLING in protest at this idea. But it's an undeniable fact that early date large cents, especially Condition Census coins, are great rarities. And when a limited number of coins is being chased by an increasing army of collectors (and investors), what happens to prices in this kind of environment? If, however, you're on the selling end of large cents, the idea that they're underpriced sounds like a good idea. I once said to a 90-year-old collector of large cents who'd just sold his collection at auction, "I bet you're surprised by how much the prices for large cents have risen over the years," to which he replied, "I wish they'd gone up MORE."
As inexpensive as large cents may be (HA!), I'll admit that I've gotten into financial trouble buying them. Normally I pay off the entire balance on my credit cards each month, but I was recently seduced by some very sultry little numbers whose promises of eternal love I just couldn't resist. I then succumbed to the temptation of the 0%-interest-for-six-months solicitations from a slew of credit card companies, in addition, of course, to paying a monthly installment on balances to an EAC dealer, or two, or three. I've violated one of my primary financial rules - don't buy anything you can't pay cash for. But, then again, when a pert little S-124 in absolutely gorgeous choice VG8 winks at me, what do you expect a man to do?
I'd like to give dubious thanks to J.R. Frankenfield for hooking me on large cents. It was his auction catalogue, the first coin catalogue I'd ever looked at, that made me believe I, too, could collect large cents. Not that I'd ever accumulate as many varieties as he did. He had more than a few Condition Census coins, but he also had some modest and lower-end cents in his collection. I thought that if they were good enough for him, then they were certainly good enough for me. On the other hand, if the first coin catalogue I'd seen was Robbie Brown's second collection with so many GREAT CENTS, I would've been so intimidated that I'd never have given any thought to collecting Sheldons. So I'd like to thank J.R. Frankenfield publicly for getting me into the copper hellhole in which I find myself. I've got three of the lower-end cents, or dogs, that were in J.R.'s collection (S-20, S-158, S-210). Now I can proudly say they're barking in my kennel of a collection.
My Beloved Lizzie has become more tolerant of my consuming passion for Edna, as she likes to refer to large cents. At first she thought I'd lost my mind. Then she took to teasing me. One night some months ago when I asked her what we should have for dinner, she said, "Why don't we roast your S-13? Or would you rather grill your new S-35?" More recently, however, she picked up one of my Wreath Cents and said, "This coin is 210 years old. Think of all the people who've handled it. Even someone like Thomas Jefferson could've had it in his hands." Could it be that, perhaps, My Beloved Lizzie is finally "getting it?"
Despite My Beloved Lizzie's recent warming toward large cents, why is it that it's men who primarily collect them? I had a small insight into this issue when, this past summer, I removed all my large cents from hard plastic flips and placed them into flannel pouches inside gray 2x2 envelopes. Aren't those flannel pouches nothing more than jock straps for large cents?
Finally, as I've learned more about large cents I realize that I've missed so much by not attending an EAC convention, that annual Woodstock of copper. I've met a few EACers at some coin shows where we've talked about large cents, but I want to attend a convention and meet more people who eat, breathe, and sleep copper. I'm very sorry I missed this year's convention in Cincinnati. Mike Packard's description (in Penny-Wise, May 2003) of John Adams talking about the cents of 1794 and being a direct link to earlier generations of copper collectors was absolutely wonderful reading. I'll do my best to attend next year's convention in San Diego and the following year in Annapolis, MD. Until then I'll be casting my fishing line into a few auctions, perhaps stockpiling a few of my favorite Sheldon varieties, and trying to perfect EAC grading. And if My Beloved Lizzie roasts my S-103 for dinner, I'll make sure we have the perfect bottle of Bordeaux.