Cents large and small highlight September Heritage Auctions sale

Al Boka Collection of 1794 Liberty Cap cents anchors offerings
By , Coin World
Published : 08/26/16
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United States large and small cents highlight Heritage’s Sept. 7 to 11 auctions held in conjunction with the Long Beach Expo. The signature consignment is the 1794 Liberty Cap cent collection assembled by New Jersey collector Jon Alan “Al” Boka. 

Mark Borckardt, senior numis­matist at Heritage, said, “The Boka Collection is unrivaled amongst modern collectors, with fully 47 of his 58 coins ranking in the top 10 for their respective variety, and with 35 of those in the traditional Condition Census of the Top Six examples.” 

On the importance of the individual coins in the collection, Borckardt added, “Nearly half of the collection — 23 of the 58 coins — are plated in one or more reference works on the early cents. Almost one-third of the collection, 19 coins, has a continuous provenance over the last century, while another 19 have a provenance of at least 50 years.”

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Boka maintains a website where he shares the story of 1794 large cents here. As he writes on that site, he began collecting at age 9 when his uncle Harry showed him a cigar box full of large cents that he had “found in his basement.” The site explains: “Al became fascinated by the large coppers but was not to own one for many years. Boka purchased his first large cent, a middle date, in a coin shop in Amsterdam, Holland around 1965 while serving with the USAF in France.” 

The collector acquired his first important large cent — a Newcomb-13 1820 Coronet cent — from a coin shop in Delaware in 1973 and he would later assemble a high-grade date set that Heritage sold in September 2011. 

The site cites Dr. William H. Sheldon, writing in 1949 on the charm of early U.S. large cents: “Considered as a whole, the Liberty Cap cents possess a charm not often exceeded among the things made by man.” Sheldon, like many collectors, was particularly intrigued by the diversity of 1794 Liberty Cap cents, writing, “A collection of 1794 cents reflects much of the story of one of the most pioneering and romantic struggles in American history. In the little Mint building on Seventh Street in Philadelphia, during the middle of the last decade of the eighteenth century, history seems almost to have held her breath for a time, and we find the marks of her desperately clenched teeth engraved deeply on the soft copper pennies of those years.” 

Sheldon’s book Penny Whimsy is a key work for large cent collectors and 1794 and other early large cents are collected by Sheldon numbers. 

A beautiful plate coin

Condition-wise, a top coin in Boka’s collection is his Sheldon 21 1794 Liberty Cap cent graded Mint State 64 brown by Professional Coin Grading Service. The obverse die is unique to this Sheldon number and the reverse die is found with several other Sheldon die marriages, characterized by a double berry at AM in AMERICA. 

This coin was the plate coin for Sheldon’s Penny Whimsy book and is the second finest 1794 S-21 cent according to Del Bland’s Condition Census. It has been in just nine collections over the past 140 years.

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