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Exceedingly Rare 1795 S-79 Reeded Edge Liberty Cap Cent
A New Discovery Coin and One of Just Six Pieces Known to Exist
The Only Example Certified by PCGS or NGC


October 15, 2008
(Reprinted with permission from Bowers and Merena.)
Price Realized: $402,500


1795 Reeded Edge. S-79. Rarity-7+. Good-4 (PCGS). This is by far the rarest and most coveted of the numbered Sheldon varieties (i.e., not including the NC, or "Non-Collectible" varieties) for United States Large Cents, 1793-1814. S-79 enjoys greater demand than S-15, S-37, S-96, S-210 and S-217, as well as at least six of the NC varieties.

1795 S-79

1795 S-79 edge

The genesis of the 1795 Reeded Edge Cent can be found in President George Washington's January 26, 1796 proclamation to reduce the weight of the Cent from 208 grains to 168 grains. The proclamation was to be retroactive to December 27, 1795, on which date President Washington had already issued verbal orders to Mint Director Elias Boudinot to make this weight change.

The exact date on which the 1795 Reeded Edge Cents were struck in unknown, but since all known examples appear to have been struck on 168-grain planchets, they must have been produced no earlier than December 27, 1795. Sheldon-79 features the same reverse die that the Mint later paired with the first six obverse dies for the 1796 Draped Bust Cent (S-106 through S-111). The device punch of the Draped Bust Cent was not completed until the spring or summer of 1796, and the first working dies do not appear to have been made ready for production until early October. As such, the first batch of 1796 Draped Bust Cents produced probably corresponds to the Mint's reported delivery of 15,000 Cents for October 13, 1796. While it might be tempting to conclude that the 1795 Reeded Edge Cents were made at around that time, we do not believe this to be the case. We believe that these coins were struck either during the last few days of 1795 or during January of 1796 at the time that the Mint was introducing the new 168-grain weight standard to the Cent series.

By inference, it seems that most numismatic scholars agree with a late 1795/early 1796 delivery date for the 1795 Reeded Edge Cents. For many years these coins have been regarded as patterns or experimental pieces as well as an integral part of the regular-issue Liberty Cap series. In addition to the familiar S-79 attribution the attributions Judd-20 and Pollock-29 are also occasionally used to identify the 1795 Reeded Edge. These two attributions refer to the standards references on United States pattern and experimental coins, namely United States Pattern Coins (current edition, 2005) by Dr. J. Hewitt Judd and United States Pattern and Related Issues (1994) by Andrew W. Pollock, III.

Further proof of the experimental nature of S-79 can be found in the extremely small number of examples known to exist. A mere six pieces have been positively identified (including one "partial coin," see below), leading us to conclude that very few examples were struck from the S-79 die pair in the first place. Limited emissions from die pairs in the U.S. Mint of the 1790s were usually the result of early failure of the obverse and/or reverse die(s). This is not, however, the case with the 1795 Reeded Edge Cent. There are no collectible die states for the obverse of S-79, suggesting that the die was only withdrawn from service because new 1796-dated obverse dies had already been prepared for large-scale production. Additionally and as already stated, the reverse die of S-79 was in such excellent working condition that it was later used to strike 1796 Draped Bust Cents in no less than six die marriages.

On the other hand, all known examples of the 1795 Reeded Edge are in very low grades, and most are impaired due to porosity, pitting and/or edge bumps. Additionally, most examples have been discovered by accident in dealers' junk boxes or other large caches of miscellaneous coins. Obviously, the 1795 Reeded Edge Cents were placed into circulation shortly after striking. Neither the Mint itself nor the contemporary public attached any significance to these pieces, and they circulated alongside regular 1795 Liberty Cap Cents of the Plain Edge and Lettered Edge varieties until such coins were removed from general circulation. This is in direct contravention to the manner in which most later-date patterns struck in the United States Mint were handled. We must remember that there were probably no numismatists as we would now define them living in the United States during the 1790s and, furthermore, that not even the foundations of the U.S. Mint Cabinet had been laid at the time these coins were struck. In other words, the 1795 Reeded Edge Cents were created for experimental purposes and, once the experiment was concluded, the coins were placed into circulation. Pressure would have been great to do so, for not only were there no contemporary collectors or institutions interested in preserving these coins, but suitable copper for keeping Half Cents and Cents in circulation was always in short supply during the early years of U.S. Mint operations. Even a handful of coins struck on suitable planchet stock would have been desperately needed in commercial channels.

Exactly why the 1795 Reeded Edge Cents were produced has been debated, and several numismatic theories have been offered over the years to explain the coins' existence. We credit two theories as being particularly plausible. First, the Mint may have been experimenting with a reeded edge to discourage clipping and/or counterfeiting of large cents. This is certainly the reason why a reeded edge appeared on all U.S. gold coins struck during the 1790s. Copper is admittedly a much more inexpensive coinage metal than gold, so there would have been little incentive for contemporary counterfeiters to target these coins.

Another theory that could explain the creation of the 1795 Reeded Edge Cent is one that borrows heavily from what we know about why the Mint added Arrows to silver coinage from 1853-1855 and again in 1873 and 1874. Perhaps Mint Director Boudinot intended the reeded edge to serve as a distinguishing mark for the new 168-grain weight standard?

Regardless of exactly why the Mint experimented with adding a reeded edge to Cents in 1795, the feature was found to be either impractical for this denomination or too costly to include as part of a regular-issue production run. The idea was abandoned and no other large cents (or small cents, for that matter) were ever produced with a reeded edge.

To date, only six 1795 Reeded Edge Liberty Cap Cents have been positively identified (listed in descending grade order; most of the coins are graded using EAC standards):

  1. VG-8. Ex: Dr. S.T. Millard; B. Max Mehl's sale of March 1915, lot 75; G. Kraft; Robert D. Book (5/1930); George H. Clapp, traded for a "famous 1794 Cent;" Harold R. Newcomb; J.C. Morgenthau & Co.'s sale of February 1945, lot 76; James Kelly's Fixed Price #21, #22, and #23 of 1945-1947; Celina Coin Co.'s sale of March 1947, lot 2037; James Kelly; James Kelly's sale of November 1947, lot 927; James Kelly; James Kelly's sale of April 1948, lot 1327; Christian M. Petersen; Hollinbeck Coin Co.; Hollinbeck Coin Co.'s sale of October 1953, lot 278; Dr. William H. Sheldon (4/1972); R.E. Naftzger, Jr. (2/1992); Eric Streiner; Anthony Terranova (12/1993); Daniel W. Holmes, Jr. This is the plate coin in Penny Whimsy by Dr. William C. Sheldon and United States Large Cents: 1793-1814 by William C. Noyes.

  2. VG-7. Ex: W. Elliot Woodward's sale of April 1890, lot 866; Chas. Steigerwalt; Hon. George W. Lewis; Henry Chapman's sale of June 1916, lot 633; Dr. Charles E. McGirk; Walter F. Webb (2/1937); George H. Clapp; American Numismatic Society Museum.

  3. Good-6. Ex: Homer K. Downing, discovered in 1947 in a New York City coin dealer's junk box; 1952 ANA Sale (New Netherlands, 1952), lot 1712; K.P Austin; Alan J. Brotman (Numismatic Gallery, 1973); First Coinvestors; Pine Tree's sale of February 1975, lot 663; First Coinvestors (4/1976); Denis W. Loring (6/1976); Robinson S. Brown, Jr.; Superior's sale of September 1986, lot 105; Jack H. Robinson; Superior's sale of January 1989, lot 147; G. Lee Kuntz; Superior Galleries' sale of October 1991, lot 90; John R. Frankenfield (5/1995); Daniel W. Holmes (9/1995); Robinson S. Brown, Jr.; Superior's sale of January 1996, lot 112; W.M. "Jack" Wadlington; Dr. Ralph W. Rucker (8/2005).

  4. Good-5. Ex: Henry Chapman, discovered in a large lot of old coins; Henry Chapman's sale of June 1916, lot 634; Henry Chapman; Henry Chapman's sale of June 1917, lot 549; Howard R. Newcomb (2/1939); Henry C. Hines (1945); Dr. William H. Sheldon; Dorothy Paschal (1/1974); Denis W. Loring (5/1974); Dr. Robert J. Shalowitz; George Korsing; American Auction Association's sale of January 1975, lot 908; George Korsing; Hap Seiders; Ronald Cooper; Numismatic and Antiquarian Service Corporation's sale of November 1977, lot 96.

  5. PCGS Good-4. Ex: Brower's Stamp and Coin in Florence, Oregon (circa 2003/2004), purchased over the counter as part of a large group of coins; unknown collector; Brower's Stamp and Coin, repurchased from the heirs of the preceding; current consignor. The present example, possibly the same as the McKinney specimen listed below, but almost certainly a new discovery coin that was previously unknown in numismatic circles. This coin is the only 1795 Reeded Edge certified by PCGS or NGC.

  6. X. Ex: Homer K. Downing, discovered in 1944 in a Chicago coin dealer's junk box; Dr. William H. Sheldon (1945); 1952 ANA Sale (New Netherlands, 1952), lot 1712a; Dr. Charles L. Ruby (12/1972); Superior Stamp & Coin Co.; Superior's sale of February 1974, lot 414; Alan J. Brotman (Numismatic Gallery); Kagin's sale of November 1974, lot 51; Alan J. Brotman (Numismatic Gallery, 11/1974); Denis W. Loring (1/1975); Alan J. Brotman (Numismatic Gallery). This coin is a holed obverse brockage.

In addition, there are two additional pedigree listings for 1795 Reeded Edge Cents in the 2000 book Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States Large Cents: 1793-1814. These are:

  1. MS-60. Rumored to exist in a provincial European museum. Unverified.

  2. Good-5. Ex: "old Texas collection;" L.R. Davis McKinney, Jr.; House of Davis McKinney's sale of January 1964, lot 227; L.R. Davis McKinney, Jr.; House of Davis McKinney's sale of December 1968, lot 36; L.R. Davis McKinney, Jr. Currently untraced. Our attempts to track down a copy of either or both of these two McKinney sale catalogs proved unsuccessful. Karl Moulton, however, has informed us that the McKinney catalogers provided only terse descriptions and no plates. In a subsequent conversation with noted early Copper specialist Tom Reynolds, we confirmed that there are no photographs or detailed descriptions of this coin known to exist. As such, we cannot completely rule out the possibility that the coin we are offering in this lot is the McKinney specimen that has been untraced since the late 1960s. We find it highly unlikely, however, that these two coins are the same, and it is more plausible that the McKinney specimen listed here was misattributed in the 1960s, was an electrotype or some other kind of counterfeit or has simply been lost to the numismatic community. (This cataloger--Jeff Ambio--would like to express his sincere thanks to both Karl Moulton and Tom Reynolds for providing invaluable information regarding the House of Davis McKinney catalogs and the so-called McKinney specimen of the 1795 Reeded Edge Cent.)

As the foregoing pedigree information makes clear, the coin that we are offering here was unknown to the numismatic community until either 2003 or 2004 when it was bought over the counter as part of a large group of old coins. The buyer was George Brower of Brower's Stamp and Coin in Florence, Oregon. Brower then sold the coin to a local collector who passed away within a few years. The collector's heirs resold the coin to Brower who, after a period of at least several months, sold it to the current consignor.

The importance of this discovery piece for early Copper specialists cannot be overstated. We know of only 11 collectors who have assembled complete sets of all the numbered Sheldon varieties for large cents: George H. Clapp; Dr. William H. Sheldon; Dorothy I. Paschal; R.E. Naftzger, Jr.; Denis W. Loring; Robinson S. Brown, Jr. (twice!); Jack H. Robinson; G. Lee Kuntz; John R. Frankenfield; Daniel W. Holmes; W.M. "Jack" Wadlington; and Dr. Ralph W. Rucker. The acquisition of this coin might make it possible for a thirteenth collector to join this highly select group of numismatists.

Due to the extreme rarity of this variety and the fact that all-known examples are in low grades, the physical appearance of this coin is not likely to significantly impact its performance at auction. The accuracy of our description, of course, demands that we provide a physical description. Both sides of this coin exhibit even chocolate-brown patina that is quite pleasing to the eye. There is considerable wear in evidence, but all major design elements are at least discernible with the exception of the denomination ONE CENT in the center of the reverse. The letters in the word ONE are largely absent, while those in the word CENT are very difficult to discern. Scattered abrasions are noted, with concentrations of small marks in the left and right obverse fields as well as in the center of the reverse. There is also a tiny dig in the upper-right obverse field, but the most useful pedigree markers are a shallow rim bruise and a small cut in the planchet at the border before Liberty's nose. Mounted in a special PCGS holder that allows easy viewing of the edge, where the all-important reeding is easily seen.

One of the most important large cents of any type, date or variety that we have ever offered, this coin is sure to command a strong price from dedicated early copper collectors.

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