1792 Birch cent brings $1,175,000 at Stack's Bowers' Kendall Foundation sale

Rare pattern coin is second finest of seven known
By , Coin World
Published : 03/27/15
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A 1792 Birch cent brought $1,175,000 at the Stack’s Bowers Galleries March 26 auction of the Henry P. Kendall Foundation’s collection at the Whitman Baltimore Expo.

As Paul Gilkes wrote in a story announcing the collection in the Oct. 13, 2014, issue of Coin World, “The auction house characterizes the collection as ‘one of the finest collections of American colonial coins ever formed.’ Many coins in the Kendall Collection have not been offered publicly in a century, if ever, according to Stack’s Bowers.” 

Gilkes added, “The Kendall Collection was mostly assembled from the late 1950s through the 1990s, with a few notable additions within the last 15 years. Included are many coins with famous provenances, including pedigrees to Charles Bushnell, Lorin G. Parmelee, Matthew A. Stickney, John Story Jenks, the Garrett family and John J. Ford Jr., among others.”

The catalog description writes, “The Birch cent is, simply, the first of a cultural phenomenon that is known the world over: it is the first American cent.”

It is graded About Uncirculated 58 by Professional Coin Grading Service and the holder carries a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker indicating quality within the grade. Stack’s Bowers notes that this example — considered the second finest known — has the oldest provable provenance tracing back to the Bushnell Collection’s sale in 1982.

A different example, formerly in the Garrett and Partrick collections, graded Mint State 65 red and brown by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., with an NGC Star, sold for $2,585,000 this past January at Heritage’s auction of the Partrick Collection.

The majority of the seven known examples are in well-circulated condition. The lot description for the Kendall example adds: “Clearly the preponderance of these specimens are heavily circulated. Among the other copper Birch cents, only the Garrett-Partrick coin and the Charles Jay-Laird Park plain edge piece can be called high grade (with apologies to the Norweb coin, graded MS-61 BN NGC, but with a severe field of scratches). The Jay-Park coin, while technically superb, shows some significant obverse spotting that would lead all reasonable observers to term this the second finest Birch cent extant. With its smooth, even surfaces and superb, well-set color, it would be easy to call this the most choice Birch cent there is, pound for pound. The Garrett-Partrick coin reminds us of the old Benjamin Collins quote that: ‘any fixed color [is] preferred. Red, though beautiful, will not stay put.’ ”

The description adds: “This coin has been an enduring benchmark in American numismatics, central to celebrated collection after celebrated collection. Lorin Parmelee liked this one so much that he upgraded from the one he owned already when he saw it in Bushnell, where it was described as 'a sharp, bold impression, extremely fine, a splendid specimen of this great rarity and probably finest known.' Sold as lot 7 in the Parmelee sale of 1890, it brought $85; the prices of the silver 1792 disme, 1792 half disme, and the unique 1792 half disme in copper totaled $87. It spent three decades in the John Story Jenks collection and three decades more with Col. Green. The Collector has held it for four decades now, longer than anyone else.”

Read Coin World and stay tuned for more detailed analysis of the Kendall Foundation Collection auction, which is noteworthy for its holdings of early Massachusetts silver coins, coins of the Confederate States of America, and early U.S. coins.

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