US Coins

Dealer’s collection of large cents was ‘a best-kept secret’

Douglas F. Bird’s “secret” collection of early U.S. large cents will highlight Ira & Larry Goldberg’s Feb. 16 Pre-Long Beach Auction. As Bob Grellman wrote in the introduction, “We knew Doug had a great eye for quality, but what he collected was a well-kept secret.” 

A 1793 Liberty Cap cent from the Bird Collection carries the top estimate of the auction at $225,000 and up. The dealer’s collection has been called “the best-kept secret in all of copperdom,” and while completeness was not Bird’s goal, quality was. 

Three types of large cents were struck in 1793: the Flowing Hair, Chain cent; the Flowing Hair, Wreath cent; and the Liberty Cap cent, which is the rarest of the three. Bird’s example is graded About Uncirculated 50 by Professional Coin Grading Service and represents the Sheldon 14 variety as listed in Dr. William H. Sheldon’s reference of 1793 to 1814 large cents, known as Penny Whimsy, with a prominent bisecting die crack seen on the obverse. The coin in the auction is among the finest known for the type and variety. 

Collectors have long sought out cent varieties that are reminders of the handmade nature of coins from the first years of the Philadelphia Mint. A charming example is a 1796 Draped Bust cent graded PCGS Mint State 65 brown, where the obverse LIBERTY reads LIHERTY as the letter B was mistakenly punched backwards and then repunched correctly. It’s a distinctive variety with its own listing in the “Red Book.” 

The offered coin is the undisputed finest example “by a wide margin.” The Goldbergs report that it was discovered in 1995 in an attic in Europe, selling later that year from Heritage Rare Coin Galleries to Tony Terranova, who sold it to “Mr. 1796” John Whitney Walter in 1995. At Stack’s May 1999 auction of Whitney’s collection of 1796-dated U.S. coins it brought $97,750, and the cataloger wrote, “The coin is untroubled by mishandling of any kind,” before calling it “an amazing cent.” It carries an estimate of $175,000 and up at the Goldbergs auction. 

Dramatic overdates

Two overdates in the Bird Collection are clear even to the unaided eye. The Sheldon 272 1807/6 Draped Bust cent demonstrates an obvious overdate, and it too is a “Red Book” variety. The PCGS About Uncirculated 55 example to be offered carries a rich provenance that traces back over a century and last sold at auction in 2008 at Heritage’s offering of the Walt Husak collection where it realized $161,000. It is the finest-known of the variety, and the Goldbergs estimate it at $140,000 and up. 

A Sheldon 281 1810/09 Classic Head cent has a prominent overdate of the last two digits, 1 and 0, visible over the digits 0 and 9. The Goldbergs observe “lustrous golden tan and steel brown with traces of mint red on the obverse and 25% of the reverse showing mint color,” calling it, “a superior example of this popular overdate variety; a candidate for the very finest collection.” It too was discovered in England and carries an estimate of $100,000 and up.

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