Husak family returns missing Clapp cent to the ANS
- Published: Jun 8, 2023, 1 PM
A 1794 Liberty Cap cent stolen from the American Numismatic Society by numismatist William H. Sheldon decades ago has been identified and returned to the society by the Walter Husak family, as planned by Husak before his death in December 2022.
According to the ANS, the cent was part of the family’s Liberty Cap Foundation Collection, which was recently consigned to Heritage Auctions for sale at its January 2024 auctions to be held in conjunction with the Florida United Numismatists convention.
A Heritage spokesperson told Coin World June 6: “Walter Husak became aware of the situation and had planned to return the coin before his death. His family has been cooperating with the ANS to have the cent returned. Heritage did not play a role in identifying this particular coin. But, of course, we fully support the ANS in their quest to recover the remaining coins that were switched by Dr. Sheldon.”
Like many of 129 cents stolen from the society decades ago, the cent has a storied provenance. Its full pedigree is recorded at Al Boka’s website, 1794largecents.com:
“Purchased in 8/1891 from F. W. Lincoln (W. S. Lincoln & Son, London) by Benjamin H. Collins, 1/30/ 1919; Dr. Henry W. Beckwith; S.H. Chapman 4/1923: 4, $60; Henry Chapman, 6/1923; George H. Clapp, 12/19/1946; ANS; Dr. William H. Sheldon; Dorothy Paschal; John W. Adams; Bowers and Ruddy FPL, 1982: 14, $15,000; David W.C. Putnam; 1987 ANA (Bowers and Merena): 30, $19,800; owner known. Obverse and reverse illustrated in Penny Whimsy.”
Thief in a mystery novel
The history behind Dr. Sheldon’s theft of 129 large cents from the ANS collection reads like the plot of a mystery novel. Sheldon was a trusted numismatist who wrote the first major reference on the large cents of 1793 to 1814, Early American Cents, later renamed Penny Whimsy. He had access to the ANS collection for research. What was unknown until the 1990s, after his death, was that Sheldon in the 1960s or early 1970s had substituted large cents from his personal collection, of the same die marriages, for ANS examples that were in higher condition. The thefts were unknown for years.
Once the thefts were discovered by inquisitive numismatists, an ANS probe directed by John Kleeberg identified which coins had been stolen, and the ANS set out to recover its lost property, focusing much of its attention on one collector.
Sheldon had sold his collection to fellow large cent collector Roy E. “Ted” Naftzger. Naftzger sold most of his collection in 1993, retaining 38 pieces.
In court proceedings between the ANS and Naftzger that followed, a judge in 1997 awarded the 38 coins to the ANS, as well as financial damages. In the meantime, the society has continued to search for the remaining missing coins.
The 129 cents stolen by Sheldon had originally been part of the George H. Clapp Collection of U.S. large cents, one of the greatest of such collections ever created, which was donated to the ANS in 1946.
Over the years, some of the 65 stolen cents that were sold by Naftzger have been identified and repatriated to the society.
“With the latest return, 44 coins remain unrecovered,” according to the society.
“The 1794 large cent was couriered by Chuck Heck, an ANS member and prominent expert on large cents, who confirmed the Husak family’s suspicions that the coin was among those stolen from the ANS collection and was authorized to act as an agent on behalf of the family. Pending approval of the Board of Trustees, the ANS plans to give the coin that Sheldon swapped for the stolen coin to the Husak family. The ANS has routinely given the coins that Sheldon switched out to those who return the stolen large cents, which often remain highly valuable and desirable objects,” according to the society.
In the ANS announcement of the recovery, Gilles Bransbourg, ANS executive director, remarked: “We are incredibly grateful for the Husak family coming forward with this item after discovering its history and restoring it to the ANS collection, where it will become available to the public again. I also deeply appreciate the efforts and support of our longtime member and friend, Chuck Heck. Such days shape our history as the oldest numismatic institution in the U.S.”
Dr. Jesse Kraft, ANS Resolute Americana Assistant Curator of American Numismatics, reflected on the return: “It was truly amazing to experience the return of this large cent. After about seventy-five years of being away from its brothers and sisters, this coin is finally back home. The efforts of the Husak family and the example they have set are admirable.”
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