The discovery of a new example of a rare, desirable and popular coin
variety is an exciting numismatic moment.
Heritage’s Jan. 7
auction held at the Florida United Numismatists show in Orlando
included a newly discovered 1794 Liberty Cap, Starred Reverse cent
that sold for $28,200.
The catalog states: “This delightful Starred Reverse cent was
consigned as a regular 1794 large cent with plans to be sold in one of
our weekly Internet sales. However, our staff numismatists, who are
always working for the benefit of our consignors, noticed the tiny
stars visible on the reverse from 6 to 10 o’clock.”
The example is graded About Good 3 by Numismatic Guaranty
Corp., although Heritage notes that the obverse easily grades Very
Good 8. The Fair 2 reverse is typical for the issue, which generally
has a weak reverse.
Examples of this popular variety are infrequently offered, and have
become more expensive over the past decade.
The “Starred Reverse” cent gets its name from the 94 tiny five-point
stars around the reverse that appear between and occasionally under
The variety was discovered by 19th century dealer Henry Chapman in
the 1870s and the number of known examples has grown from 10, as
stated in a 1908 catalog, to an estimate of as many as 70 known today,
with examples continuing to be discovered.
For example, Coin World’s William T. Gibbs wrote in 2005 the
story of an Arizona coin dealer who discovered one in his inventory.
Paul Gilkes wrote a story on an example that was
purchased for just $25 (unattributed, of course) by a sharp-eyed
Heritage once wrote, “there are only a few coins that can be
identified without mentioning their date. The Starred Reverse is one
of those coins.”
The large cents of 1794 are popular with collectors because there
are more than 80 combinations of obverse and reverse dies, although
the “Starred Reverse” variety is likely the most famous.
William H. Sheldon, who wrote Penny Whimsey, the standard
reference on early large cents where the “Starred Reverse” is numbered
S-48, suggested that the coins were “the whim of an idle hour at the
Mint.” Other theories abound.
Could it be an homage to the 94 signers of the Declaration of
Independence? Perhaps it pays tribute to 1794, or were the stars
considered as a possible replacement of the dentils? The issue is of
great interest to numismatists and researcher Pete Smith published a
book in 1986 titled The Story of the Starred Reverse Cent where
he identified 41 pieces. He later updated this to include more discoveries.
Look at your 1794 Liberty Cap cents! Who knows what you may find.