US Coins

Tom Reynolds sells his large cents

Over the course of 50 years, dealer and collector Tom Reynolds put together one of the finest collections of large cents ever assembled and when it came time to auction them, the sale of 332 cents and two deluxe editions of the catalog brought $6,469,520.63 with the 17.5 percent buyer’s fee. 

The auction — the first of two planned with the next one scheduled for Sept. 4 — was held Jan. 31 in Los Angeles by Ira and Larry Goldberg Coins and Collectibles Inc., in association with Kenneth Goldman Inc., and cataloged by Bob Grellman from McCawley & Grellman, The Copper Specialists.

Reynolds decided to sell his collection — valued in the neighborhood of $10 million — to help shepherd the coins to new homes and to stay involved as the coins move to a new generation of collectors. When asked why he decided on selling now, he said: “I don’t want to leave it as a burden to my family. I’d like to see them sell in person.”

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As the collector shared in the introduction to the catalog, Reynolds was a boy in Des Moines, Iowa, in the summer of 1953, and like many people first encountering coin collecting, decided to buy some blue Whitman albums. His summer was spent filling those Lincoln cent books. 

He then moved on to other series, but like many collectors, he recalled, “During high school and college, my collections gathered dust in the back of my closet.” 

Reynolds was a casual collector through the 1960s and, in 1970, joined the Early American Coppers, where he learned about the various large cent series and began to cherry-pick rare varieties from dealer inventories, including two rare 1798 Draped Bust cent varieties. “Since I had the two rarest varieties of 1798, I decided to specialize in 1798’s and get the balance of the 46 varieties,” he said. In 1980 he began to set up as a coin dealer while working full time in the insurance industry, and by 1986 his weekend activity became the full-time job. 

1793 large cents

The first lot in the auction was a 1793 Flowing Hair, Chain cent graded About Uncirculated by Professional Coin Grading Service and carrying a Certified Acceptance Corp. green sticker. Cataloged as Sheldon 2 in William H. Sheldon’s book Penny Whimsy, initially titled Early American Cents, the variety has a full spelling of AMERICA on the reverse. It sold for $141,000, flying past the initial estimate of $60,000 and up, providing a strong start for the auction. 

The next seven lots were 1793 Flowing Hair, Wreath cents. The top lot of those was lot 3, an S-9 1793 Vine and Bars Edge cent graded MS-65+ brown by PCGS with a green CAC sticker. It carried an estimate of $150,000 and up, and realized $193,875. 

The handsome cent was described as, “Beautiful frosty medium steel brown and light chocolate with lustrous slightly lighter steel brown in protected areas. This cent is sharply struck on a high-quality planchet and is virtually free of marks or other defects. The best identifying mark is a microscopic pinprick-like planchet chip in the middle of the jawline (as struck).” 

The final 1793 Flowing Hair, Wreath cent was of the S-11c variety and PCGS-graded About Uncirculated 58+ with a green CAC sticker. It had a long and illustrious history, first appearing in Thomas L. Elder’s April 1920 sale and then moving through Wayte Raymond and George H. Clapp, who donated it and other large cents to the collection of the American Numismatic Society. The provenance then records Sheldon, who had close access to the ANS Collection and clandestinely substituted inferior examples for some coins in the ANS cabinet. It was later part of the R.E. “Ted” Naftzger Collection and the lot description records, “Title claim to the S-11c relinquished by the ANS as part of the settlement between the ANS and R. E. Naftzger, Jr. in 2001.” 

Beyond its storied history, the large cent is noteworthy for being the plate coin for the variety in the 1991 William C. Noyes reference to the series United States Large Cents 1793-1814. This particular example was visually distinctive, with the catalog recording, “This cent is sharply struck and flawless except for a fine lamination reaching from the forehead through the nose to the dentils off the chin.”

Liberty Cap cents

Among the many Liberty Cap cents offered, one of the most attractive was lot 37, an S-60 1794 Liberty Cap cent graded PCGS MS-64 brown with a green CAC sticker that has a provenance dating back to 1795 when it was part of the collection Sir Rowland Denys Guy Winn (Lord St. Oswald). The cent remained with the Oswald Family descendants until it was sold at an Oct. 13, 1964, auction by Christie, Manson & Woods Ltd. in London. 

It too was part of the Naftzger Collection and was the Noyes plate coin for the variety in his 1991 book. The lot description described the large cent as “Sharply struck and absolutely beautiful. No spots or stains, and the only mark is a thin diagonal nick on the forehead.” The only Mint State example of the variety known, it realized $67,563 against an estimate of $60,000 and up. 

Not all of the coins in the collection were high-grade five-figure rarities. Some, like lot 77, a 1796 Draped Bust, Reverse of 1795 cent graded Good 6 by PCGS with a green CAC sticker, were more modest in price and condition. It is a tough late die state of the S-99 variety, with a very large raised retained cud break that covers nearly the entire area behind Liberty’s head. Despite the wear, the description notes glossy chocolate brown and steel surfaces that are nice for the grade. It was purchased by Reynolds at a September 2006 coin show in Cincinnati, and sold well-above the $1,000 and up estimate, realizing $2,703. 

Closing out the sale was a select group of Classic Head cents from 1808 to 1814. The first of these was an 1808 Classic Head cent, S-277, PCGS-graded MS-63 brown with green CAC sticker. The reverse of the cent was pictured in both Early American Cents and Penny Whimsy and it also had a complicated ownership history that included a stay in both Sheldon’s collection and the ANS cabinet. 

The ANS transferred this coin to R.S. Brown Jr. in exchange for another example in Brown’s collection that was determined to be the original S-277 donated to the museum by Clapp. The Brown Collection envelope and a lot ticket from a 1996 Superior auction were included with the coin that carried an estimate of $15,000 and up and sold for $18,213. This example is noteworthy for its reverse die cracks at the D in UNITED and was described as “A beautiful cent, essentially flawless offering outstanding eye appeal,” so much so that the catalog observed, “Finding a reliable identifying mark is difficult.” 

The final two lots of the sale were super-deluxe editions of The Tom Reynolds Collection, Part 1, bound in full Moroccan leather. Just six copies were produced with copies going to Reynolds, Goldman, the auctioneer and Grellman. The final two were offered as lots 333 and 334. Lot 333 benefited Early American Coppers and sold for $3,900, while the proceeds for lot 334, selling for $4,200, went to the American Numismatic Association’s Young Numismatist program. It was a fitting end for the collection, that Reynolds hopes will inspire others to devote their attention to large cents. 


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