US Coins

Early silver, rare cents lead recent ANA sales

One of the finest known examples of the 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar brought $2.82 million at Stack’s Bowers Galleries Aug. 3 auction, leading the coin auctions at the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Denver. Meanwhile, two very different cents, both fresh to the market, topped bidding at Heritage’s official ANA auctions, as the two auction houses shared duties as the official auctioneers of the largest coin show of the year.

The 1794 Flowing Hair dollar was graded Mint State 64 by Professional Coin Grading Service and had a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker indicating quality within the grade. It is considered the fourth finest of approximately 150 known from a mintage of 1,758 pieces and has a rich ownership history that traces to the first decades of the 19th century. The lustrous dollar is called the Lord St. Oswald-Norweb example after two of its prominent 20th century owners: Rowland Denys Guy Winn, Major the Lord St. Oswald, and later Ambassador and Mrs. R. Henry Norweb.

The Act of April 2, 1792, established the United States Mint and authorized the production of silver dollars. The 1794 dollars are the first dollars struck at the Philadelphia Mint; production is believed to have totaled about 2,000 pieces though just 1,758 were deemed of sufficient quality to be delivered.

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The coins don’t display the denomination on either the obverse or reverse, but rather, on the edge, which is lettered HUNDRED CENTS ONE DOLLAR OR UNIT. The description explains that the omission of a denomination was intentional, “as United States coinage was new to the world market of the 18th century and the term ‘dollar’ would have been unfamiliar to merchants of the day.” This decision allowed the dollar’s weight and silver content to establish its value. Excluding the 1792 Flowing Hair half disme — which has traditionally been considered a pattern issue though evidence also suggests it was struck for circulation — the 1794 dollars represent the first silver coins issued for circulation from the early U.S. Mint. 

The catalog observes that the 1794 silver dollar in the auction is “a beautiful, premium quality near-Gem with delicate gold, apricot and pale silver iridescence to satiny mint luster,” recognizing an impressive strike, “with Liberty’s hair tresses and the eagle’s head and plumage displaying the sharpest detail.” A few small spots are noted near Liberty’s cheek and neck, with Stack’s Bowers writing, “Close examination with a loupe suggests that these spots are associated with tiny planchet pits caused by minor impurities in the alloy.”

1794 Flowing Hair dollars have gained prominence in the hobby over the past decade, with the issue holding the record for a U.S. coin sold at auction when an example graded PCGS Specimen 66 sold for just over $10 million at a January 2013 Stack’s Bowers auction. More recently, a PCGS MS-66+ example — the second finest known — sold for just shy of $5 million at the same auctioneer’s September 2015 sale of the D. Brent Pogue Collection. The price that the Lord. St. Oswald-Norweb example brought in Denver places it comfortably above the Brand-Boyd-Cardinal specimen — the fifth finest known, now graded PCGS MS-63+ — which realized $1,207,500 at a 2010 Bowers and Merena auction. Stack’s Bowers opines, “Only six coins, in fact, are universally recognized by numismatic experts as Mint State 1794 silver dollars.”

Where are the arrows?

Another pricey rarity at the Stack’s Bowers auction was an 1853-O Seated Liberty, No Arrows at Date half dollar. Graded Very Fine 35 by PCGS, it is the finest of just four examples known and is renowned as a rarity in the Seated Liberty series.

The description states, “A pleasing mid grade example of the type, both sides are evenly toned in pearl gray patina that is perhaps a bit lighter on the obverse,” observing, “The surfaces are smooth in hand, certainly more so than one might expect in an early New Orleans Mint silver coin that saw this extensive circulation.” It was last offered at a 2006 Stack’s auction where it realized $368,000.

In 1853, a half dollar contained 53 cents worth of silver and many were being melted and not serving their intended purpose. The Mint Act of Feb. 21, 1853, reduced the silver content in all silver coins except the silver dollar. New Seated Liberty coins with reduced silver content were identified by arrows at the date. 

The peak of Olympic gold coins”The peak of Olympic gold coins: Another column in the August 14 weekly issue of Coin World also profiles a rubber token that promotes a commonplace object we all use.

Research by Richard Kelly and Nancy Oliver published in the March 26, 2011, issue of Coin World established that the New Orleans Mint struck half dollars at the start of the year before the silver content was reduced. While the total mintage of 1853-O Seated Liberty, No Arrows half dollars is unknown, the reverse die of the four known examples was also used to strike some 1852-O half dollars. It is estimated that perhaps a few thousand 1853-O examples were struck with the No Arrows obverse die before the With Arrows die was employed.

Surprisingly, the issue was first documented only around 1881 by John W. Haseltine and the most recently discovered example — graded PCGS Very Good 8 — emerged at the 2012 ANA auction where it realized $218,500. That discovery coin was later offered at the 2015 ANA auction where it sold for $199,750.

The coin realized $517,000 at the Denver ANA auction.

Fresh to the market

Heritage’s Aug. 2 Platinum Night auction saw a 1943 Lincoln cent struck on a bronze planchet and graded Mint State 62 brown by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. bring $282,000 in its first auction appearance. Bronze 1943 Lincoln cents are among the most popular 20th century coins and were produced by accident, struck on planchets intended for the previous year. The cent’s composition was changed to zinc-coated steel in 1943 to conserve copper for U.S. military needs for World War II. Today a dozen or so examples from the Philadelphia Mint are known along with a single 1943-D bronze cent and five or six 1943-S bronze cents.

Heritage explains, “This [error] occurred when some bronze planchets from the previous year became lodged in the trap door of the tote bin used to feed planchets into the delivery system of the coin presses. When the tote bin was refilled with steel cent planchets the following year, the bronze blanks were dislodged and fed into the coin press along with the new steel planchets, creating the fabulous Mint errors.”

The first example of this coveted off-metal error surfaced in 1947 and dealers seeking examples placed ads in non-numismatic publications like comic books and popular magazines. This “mainstreaming” of the coin helped establish its interest with collectors and noncollectors alike. The popularity of these oddities continues today, and each time Coin World publishes a story on a “copper” 1943 Lincoln cent, we receive numerous inquiries from people wondering if their very common zinc-plated steel 1943 cents (the regular issue 1943 Lincoln cent) are also valuable. The offered coin weighs 3.07 grams, just a touch below the 3.11 grams that is expected for the issue but well-above the 2.7 grams that a zinc-coated steel 1943 Lincoln cent would weigh.

Examples of bronze 1943 Lincoln cents were pulled from circulation through the 1950s and 1960s and most examples show wear. Heritage writes that the subject coin is a new discovery that has been in the consignor’s family for many years, observing a tick above the 4 in the date to serve as a pedigree marker for future collectors.

An Enigmatic Pattern

Another impressive cent representing an early experiment at producing U.S. coins — a 1792 Birch cent pattern graded PCGS Genuine, Extremely Fine Details, Denticles Repaired, Edge Filed — sold for $211,500. It is an enigmatic example because it has a heavily filed edge with many of the extreme peripheral elements including the dentils and tops of letters re-engraved, likely to hide evidence of it being mounted previously.

Three distinct types of 1792 Birch cents are listed in United States Pattern Coins by J. Hewitt Judd: the Judd 3, which has a plain edge; Judd 4, which carries the motto TO BE ESTEEMED* BE USEFUL*; and Judd 5, where the first star in the motto is omitted. Because the edge has been filed on the coin just sold, the exact Judd number can’t be certain, but Heritage attributes it to Judd 5 because of its weight (though PCGS has certified it as Judd-Unknown).

Even the name “Birch” is mysterious, as there were several contemporary artists and engravers named Birch active in Philadelphia at the time who could plausibly be attached to the issue.

The subject coin was recently discovered in England and Heritage links it possibly to a “Plain Edge Judd 3” example offered as Lot 8 of New York Coin & Stamp’s sale of the Lorin G. Parmelee Collection. Recently discovered through the Newman Numismatic Portal was a catalog of this sale, with a handwritten notation next to Lot 8 written by a dealer attending the sale that reads, “Cannot be said to be a plain edge as it is filed down.” This leads Heritage to attribute the recent discovery as the Parmelee example.

Many specialists in early U.S. coins have commented on the coin and its provenance, including Joel Orosz, Len Augsburger, Saul Teichman, David Stone, John Dannreuther and John Kraljevich, with the consensus being that it is authentic to the extent that it was struck at the Mint in 1792, but that doubt remains about the coin being the Parmelee example. As Orosz, recent co-author of 1792: Birth of a Nation’s Coinage, told Coin World, “The whole story of the 1792 coinage represents a series of puzzles. When one question is answered, another may be asked. There is still much that we don’t know.”

Heritage concludes, “In any case, this coin is a handsome specimen of the 1792 Birch cent, the first American cent, with great historic interest, the highest absolute rarity, and unusually well-preserved surfaces.”  

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