In the rare coin market, there’s a buyer for everything; an item
just has to be at the right price. This includes coins in the very
lowest possible state of preservation.
On June 2 as part of the Pre-Long Beach auction by Ira & Larry
Goldberg auctions, an exceptionally low graded 1793 Flowing Hair,
Wreath cent realized $253.
The firm graded it Basal State 1, which is the lowest possible
grade on the 1 to 70 grading scale used today. More often this very
low grade is described as Poor 1.
The term “Basal State” is well-known to aficionados of early U.S.
copper coins as the lowest level of preservation described in
Penny Whimsy by William H. Sheldon.
Sheldon introduced the term in a chapter called “Toward a Science
of Cent Values” where he proposed a valuing system for pricing large
cents that directly related condition and rarity.
Sheldon avoided using the term Poor because he found it a
difficult term to define. Sheldon wrote, “It often means too much.” He
related that he’s seen attractive, evenly worn pieces and others
better called “junk,” including holed, mutilated, badly damaged or
unidentifiable, under the broad Poor label.
Sheldon defines Basal State as: “Identifiable and unmutilated, but
so badly worn that only a portion of the legend or inscription is
legible. Enough must remain for positive identification of the
variety, although for some varieties this need not necessarily include
a readable date.”
That certainly describes this coin where enough detail remains to
be able to identify it by its specific variety, Sheldon 11c, the
Lettered Edge variety with a single leaf following DOLLAR on the edge.
The edge, with sunken lettering, usually remains even when the obverse
and reverse designs have worn off.
Further, the obverse design represents a one-year type, making its
date of 1793 apparent even though it’s worn off.
The presence of Liberty’s profile and the edge lettering, along
with part of the leaves over the date, allow for specific
identification. While it was given a low estimate of $100 and up, it
sold for $253.
Despite the coin’s unfortunate state of preservation, the buyer
may have gotten a bargain. Another example of the type in Poor 1
condition with a faint but incomplete date and smoother surfaces
realized $881.25 at a Nov. 4, 2012, Heritage auction. ■