US Coins

Boka 1794 Liberty Cap cents anchor Long Beach sale

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.

Boka writes, “What more can I say about this beauty? This coin has everything: sharpness, color, fantastic eye appeal, and it is pedigreed to the famous 19th century collector, Dr. Edward Maris.”

Split Pole die crack

Another fascinating coin in the Boka Collection that shows the issues the early Philadelphia Mint had in producing coins in quantities sufficient for circulation is a 1794 Liberty Cap cent graded Very Fine 30 by PCGS

Classified as the Sheldon 66 die marriage, it is more popularly called the “Split Pole” variety and the obverse die has the widest date of any 1794 Liberty Cap cent. 

The obverse is generally recognized by a large die crack that splits the pole near Liberty’s bust, though perfect die state pieces exist showing how the die originally looked. 

The reverse die was used on three other Sheldon variety numbers and is characterized by double leaves at O in OF and at D in UNITED. 

This particular example is considered Die State III, described by Heritage as follows: “A crack from the rim extends into the space between the bust tip and the pole, eventually following the pole for its entire length, and then crosses the neck. A second obverse crack traverses the field over the date and crosses the lowest hair lock. A third obverse crack from the brow curves down in the right obverse field, disappearing before it reaches the border opposite the chin.”

The example in the auction is considered the finest known by Bland in his Condition Census of the variety, just ahead of a Very Fine 20 example in the collection of the American Numismatic Society. However, Bill Noyes considers Boka’s coin tied with the ANS coin. This Boka coin, too, was plated in Penny Whimsy, though obverse only. 

On the coin Boka adds, “The bidding will go high on this finest of all ‘Split Pole’ 1794s. There are none even close to this well-pedigreed gem. Be ready for some real action when this lot comes up.”

Boka’s example last sold at auction at Ira and Larry Goldberg Auctioneers’ February 2013 sale of the Paul Gerrie Collection where it was then-graded VF-35 by PCGS and sold for $74,750. The Heritage offering represents a rare time at auction when a coin moves down a grade when reoffered. 

Key Lincoln, top grade

An important small cent from the 20th century that will cross the auction block in Long Beach is a 1909-S Lincoln, V.D.B. cent graded MS-67 red by PCGS. 

It is one of just 14 examples certified in this grade, a count that likely includes resubmissions of the same coin. 

On the red color designation, Heritage articulates, “The color varies, strictly within the Red parameter, from light gold to orange to brownish-orange, but there are absolutely no carbon spots, merely a few areas of darker or lighter toning.” 

Heritage calls it a collector’s dream coin.

A different example in the same grade brought $94,000 at Heritage’s 2016 Florida United Numismatists auction in January. 

The Long Beach Coin, Currency, Stamp and Sports Collectible Show is held three times annually and the fall installment is set for Sept. 8 to 10 at the Long Beach Convention Center.  

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