US Coins

High-grade 1793 Wreath cent in ANA auction

Stack’s Bowers Galleries will offer for sale at public auction Aug. 15 this PCGS MS-69 brown 1793 Flowing Hair, Wreath, Vine and Bars cent, the highest certified grade for any large cent by type or variety.

Images courtesy of Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

For the second time in seven months, the single highest-graded large cent of any type or variety will cross the auction block.

The 1793 Flowing Hair, Wreath, Vine and Bars Edge cent, Sheldon 9 (Penny Whimsy by William H. Sheldon), is graded Mint State 69 brown by Professional Coin Grading Service.

The coin is being offered as Lot 4019 Aug. 15 in the Stack’s Bowers Galleries Rarities Night auction held in conjunction with the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Rosemont, Ill.

The cent is one of 6,537 lots of United States coins, tokens, medals and paper money to be offered in nine public sessions Aug. 11 to 16.

The 1793 cent was last offered Jan. 24 as part of the Stack’s Bowers Galleries sale of selections from the Cardinal Collection.

The Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., was established in 1999 with private donations as a nonprofit entity to foster numismatic education via online and print media as well as public displays.

When the 1793 Flowing Hair, Wreath, Vine and Bars cent was offered Jan. 24 as Lot 13002 in Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ Americana Sale, the coin realized $558,125, which includes the 17.5 percent buyer’s fee added to the final closing hammer price.

Key diagnostics

According to the auction lot description, the Sheldon 9 variety’s obverse die is identifiable by a horizontal stem to the sprig device in the field between the base of Liberty’s portrait and the date.

The same obverse die was used to strike 1793 Flowing Hair, Wreath cents of the S-8 and NC-4 (noncollectible) varieties.

The S-9 reverse die is only known to have been used for this 1793 cent variety. The reverse die is attributable by having a large, round bow to the ribbon at the base of the wreath.

The edge device features vine and bars ornamentation. Other 1793 Flowing Hair, Wreath cents bear the inscription ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR.

The S-9 1793 Flowing Hair cent offered represents an intermediate die state, reflecting a single, faint crack present on the reverse, bisecting the top of the letter C in AMERICA. The crack extends through the final letter A in AMERICA and the stem to the right ribbon end. It also extends, faintly, to the border above the extreme right edge of the letter I in AMERICA.

Although the coin is graded MS-69 brown by PCGS, copper specialists have assigned it different grades using different standards than those used by the major third-party grading services.

“When examining and ranking this coin, the EAC [Early American Coppers] experts demonstrated their predilection for examples displaying Mint red color in preference to those with outstanding mark-free surface preservation,” according to the auction lot description. “Bill Noyes assigns this coin an EAC grade of MS-63+ with rankings of third finest known overall and the single finest [brown] Wreath cent. Del Bland grades the coin MS-60 by EAC standards and places it in the census as tied for third finest behind examples that retain some of the original Mint red luster.”

The coin is the plate coin for the S-9 variety in Noyes’ 1991 reference, United States Large Cents 1793-1814.

Advanced botany

In Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of Early United States Cents 1793-1814, by Walter Breen, edited by Mark R. Borckardt, it is suggested that the wreath design was U.S. Mint Director David Rittenhouse’s resolution to the newspaper criticisms of the 1793 Flowing Hair, Chain cent.

“Which plant(s) the wreaths depicted has been controversial for over a century,” Breen writes. “Most likely, Rittenhouse furnished a sketch representing a composite wreath; the trefoils represented cotton leaves while the berries or florets remain unidentified (possibly corn tassels); the lanceolate leaves are less olive than laurel.

“If Rittenhouse did intend to depict laurel, the most likely species is the bay laurel or laurel of Apollo, laurus nobilis, native to the Greek islands and Italy, but brought to the Atlantic Coast colonies in the 1600s. In folklore, this plant was linked with victory and peace; in superstition, it was a charm against lightning striking any place where it grew or was hung or strewn. Ancient Greeks used it to make wreaths for crowning victors in town games.

“Rittenhouse doubtless knew this and would have favored the symbolism as relevant at once to the American victory in the Revolutionary War, and to the triumph of the Mint over its detractors.”

Although Breen writes that the actual diesinker for the Wreath design produced at the Mint in Philadelphia is uncertain, he surmises it was likely either Robert Birch or Adam Eckfeldt.

“In favor of Eckfeldt is the close kinship between these reverses and those of the half cents of 1793, which Eckfeldt claimed as his own work,” according to Breen. “In favor of Birch is the kinship between the seven cent reverses and that of the Birch and [Henry] Voigt cents of 1792. Most likely, both men worked on these dies, with Eckfeldt afterwards basining, polishing, and hardening them.”

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