US Coins

Finest N-5 1825 cent acquired unattributed from eBay

What is now considered the finest known example of the Newcomb 5 variety of 1825 Matron Head cent has been authenticated and graded by ANACS as Fine 15.

The coin was acquired unattributed by a collector who wishes to remain anonymous from an eBay auction Jan. 22 for $171.01, which included state sales tax.

The collector’s coin is the 17th known example of the N-5 variety. Its discovery follows by 10 years Alabama collector Tom Deck’s acquisition of another N-5 example in Good condition, in a 2012 eBay auction for less than $100, a piece that had been identified in the eBay listing as the N-4 variety.

In the Jan. 23, 2012, issue of Coin World, Deck’s discovery was chronicled as representing a variety that had been in dispute for decades by copper specialists since it was first reported in 1883 by variety researcher Frank D. Andrews.

In his 1944 reference United States Copper Cents 1816–1857, author Howard R. Newcomb, listed the N-5 die variety as being unknown.

Numismatist and researcher Bob Grellman believes that Newcomb’s assertion of the nonexistence of the N-5 variety was likely because he had never seen an example when he published his reference.

Andrews’ An Arrangement of United States Large Cents 1816-1857 for the Assistance of Collectors, which was reprinted in 1924 by Texas dealer B. Max Mehl with 49 new varieties, “stood as the standard reference for more than 50 years until the Newcomb book was published in 1944,” Grellman explains.

“Andrews’ description in his 1883 reference was vague and Newcomb delisted the variety saying it didn’t exist,” according to Grellman. “Perhaps the problem for Newcomb was he never saw one, at least not one in a decent grade, and assumed it was an error by Andrews. I have Newcomb’s personal copy of the Andrews reference and it contains Newcomb’s handwritten note saying the variety was unknown to him. So he delisted it.”

Cherrypicking 101

The anonymous collector explains that often, when he searches through eBay listings for U.S. large cents, he addresses the most recent listings that offer a Buy It Now option, to purchase the coin for the set posted price without the need to bid in a timed auction.

“This way, if something scarce gets listed, I have a better chance to find it before someone else in my coin club (EAC, or Early American Coppers),” the anonymous collector responded to Coin World in an email.

“Luckily, the seller had provided photos with good enough resolution to identify the variety. The die characteristics are fairly subtle, and would not be noticed by everyone.” The coin was identified by date in the eBay listing, but not attributed by die variety.

What should you look for look for?

The collector says examining the images illustrating the eBay listing led him to first identify the reverse die on the coin.

“The positions of the leaves under ‘D’ (in UNITED), final ‘S’ in STATES, the ‘F’ in OF, and the ‘C’ in AMERICA were one clue,” the anonymous collector explains. “The ‘clincher’ clue was a small triangle-shaped die chip inside the leaf just left of the ‘O’ in ONE, and above the berry. That is the ‘signature’ for this die.

“This identified the reverse die, but it did not yet mean the coin was a N-5. That is because this reverse die is shared by both N-5 and the more common variety, N-10.

“So, I then knew that this coin was either N-5 or N-10. I quickly flipped to the picture of the obverse. For N-5, the date is fairly compact, compared to N-10, with the ‘5’ in the date practically below the lowest curl. The ‘key’ to identifying this die, however, involved finding the strong coronet baseline below the letter ‘E’ in LIBERTY. These characteristics together identify this obverse die as the one used to produce N-5, and also the more common N-4.

“So, taken together, this obverse die paired with the reverse makes the coin a Newcomb-5 (N-5)!

“It took me about three nervous minutes to complete the identification I just described, and gave me the confidence to click that buy-it-now button. I am glad that I was the first person to I.D. the coin. I learned later that another club member was going through the same steps that I went through, and would have purchased this coin in 15 to 20 seconds after I did!”

Assured that his assessment was correct for the N-5 variety, the anonymous collector submitted his 1825 Matron Head cent to ANACS for authentication, grading and encapsulation.

ANACS forwarded the coin to Grellman for his thorough examination before encapsulation.

From his examination, ANACS senior numismatist Michael Fahey notes that the anonymous collector’s coin “has some light contact marks. There are a few minor rim bruises, and some light roughness around the date and the stars. The color is decent for a circulated, nearly 200 year old copper coin.”

Grellman said that, since Deck’s 2012 discovery, 16 additional N-5 cents had come to light, most in grades from About Good 3 to Good 5, until this anonymous collector’s recent find.

While ANACS certified the newly discovered coin as Fine 15, Grellman says he and fellow copper specialist John Wright, author of the 1992 reference The Cent Book 1816–1839, concur that the coin’s condition would be considered Fine 12 or Fine 12+, applying Early American Copper club grading standards.

“The discoveries since [the Coin World] January 2012 article have trickled in a steady flow since collectors were told how to identify the variety,” Grellman said. “And your article certainly helped make that happen. John Wright has the discovery date for each example. I do know there was at least one discovered in 2021.”

Grellman added that through their auction firm, M & G Auctions, he and partner Chris McCawley auctioned a couple of the nicer N-5 discoveries “for five-figure prices so I suspect the [newly discovered] coin should be worth something near $10,000 or more. At least until we find more examples — which is likely.”

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