US Coins

Stack’s Bowers offering newly found '1759' copper-plated zinc cent pattern

Two enigmatic patterns are among the fascinating lots at Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ Dec. 18 auction in Newport Beach, California.

While pattern coins were widely produced at the U.S. Mint in the mid-19th century and these are well studied in books like Dr. J. Hewitt Judd’s reference United States Pattern Coins, 20th century patterns have seen less study, and discoveries continue.

A plain edge “1759” pattern Martha Washington cent struck on a copper-plated zinc planchet circa 1982 is listed as Judd 2180 and has been graded Mint State 63 red by Professional Coin Grading Service. The obverse depicts a right-facing bust of Martha Washington with the date 1759 below, and the reverse shows a three-quarter view of Mount Vernon. The design was first used on patterns around 1965 and has since become the Mint’s “go-to” design for testing new alloys.

Stack’s Bowers cites research on the website that states, “It is likely that this piece was struck outside the Mint from one of the vendors the Mint gave these dies to. Among the possibilities include IDX Inc, PMX Industries and the Olin Brass Corporation.”

The website explains: “The reason for their striking may have been to test the new copper coated zinc planchets for the Mint. If this is the case, then this was probably struck around 1982.”

Stack’s Bowers adds to the story by providing information from the consignor, who worked for a company that rebuilt presses in the 1980s and worked on presses presumably from the West Point Mint where they were completely disassembled, cleaned, re-scraped, re-bearinged, fitted for automatic oilers (the consignor’s job), repainted and then tested.

The consignor told the auctioneer, “... I remembered having to repair a circuit breaker box near where some of the presses were rebuilt and tested. It was months after the coin presses had left. I set my tools and multimeter down on the floor and noticed some shiny copper strips wedged in a gap between the poured floor and the cinderblock wall and in a control cut. I got a popsicle stick (used for mixing epoxy) and carefully lifted them out of the gap. They were the ‘1759’ test pennies [sic]. I put them in my tool box ... I guess they are uncirculated, they were coined/minted, fell off the press and rolled into those gaps, then ‘landed’ in my tool box.”

He then forgot about the pieces for 40 years until he rediscovered them in one of his tool chests.

On its first public offering the auctioneer concludes, “All Martha Washington test pieces are scarce to rare, regardless of size, metallic composition, or striking period, and they have proved increasingly popular with specialists in the numismatic market of the 21st century.”

Bold Gobrecht dollar

A particularly handsome 1836 Name Below Base Gobrecht dollar, listed as a Judd 58 restrike and graded Proof 64+ by PCGS, also carries a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker. The series of silver dollars dated 1836 to 1839 are generally categorized as patterns and are based on engraver Christian Gobrecht’s interpretations of designs established by Thomas Sully and Titian Peale, on the obverse and reverse, respectively. There are four die alignments, and strikings include both originals from the 1830s and restrikes made from the late 1850s to early 1870s.

Current research by John Dannreuther, Saul Teichman and Craig Sholley identifies the subject offering as Die Alignment IV, DTS Die State A, a restrike seemingly “made to order” for collectors to circa 1858 to 1860. Gobrecht’s name is prominently featured below the base of Liberty. This variety is considered the final of the dies created in the series.

It was last offered at Legend’s Feb. 18, 2016, auction where it sold for $102,812.50 and before that was offered by Heritage in August 2013 for $111,625. That cataloger wrote, “Of the estimated 70 Name Below Base dollars struck, it is believed that perhaps 60 remain today in all grades.”

As often seen on Proof coins, the visual effect of the toning differs depending on the angle of viewing, with the cataloger writing, “At indirect angles the surfaces exhibit an even overlay of warm sandy-silver patina. When the coin dips into a light, however, the viewer is greeted by intensely vivid iridescent toning in reddish-apricot with enhancing blushes of pale lilac and powder blue around the peripheries.”

The lot description concludes, “Today, the Name Below Base Gobrecht dollar continues to intrigue numismatists, the beauty of the design, its mythical origin and the rarity of specimens all combining to create a must-have coin for the advanced collector.”

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