Coin Rarities & Related Topics:News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #292
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds….
At the ANA Convention near Chicago, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned one of the most famous and awe-striking of all ‘early date’ large cents (1793-1814). This 1807/6 overdate, Draped Bust cent is PCGS graded MS-66 with an astounding full red(“RD”) designation and it has a sticker of approval from CAC. On Thursday, August 13, this 1807/6 realized $470,000, a strong price, perhaps the second or third highest auction result for any 19th century large cent.
This coin attracted much attention in a dealer’s display case at the ANA Convention in 1992 in Orlando, where I first saw it. This 1807/6 cent has been a frequent topic of conversation among early copper enthusiasts and collectors of type coins since it publicly appeared again in a display by Stewart Blay in PCGS booths in August 2008 at an ANA Convention in Baltimore.
At the moment, I recollect only one higher auction result for a 19th century large cent. An 1804 that was in the collection of Dan Holmes brought $661,250 on Sept. 6, 2009, when the Goldbergs, in association with McCawley & Grellman, auctioned the Holmes’ set of early date large cents. Three 18th century large cents have been auctioned for more than one million dollars each.
I have been carefully examining high quality, early large cents for more than twenty years, and this 1807/6 is the only ‘early date’ large cent that I have ever seen that has more than 75% of its original mint red color. Large cents minted from 1793 to 1814 are categorized as early dates.
Among experts, there seems to be unanimous agreement that the red color on this coin is “original.” Chris McCawley, Richard Burdick, Denis Loring and Jim McGuigan certainly say so. John Albanese is “110% sure its original,” and exclaims that “it is a great coin, to die for”!
“The coin is gorgeous, one of the top few reddest early large cents I have ever seen. However, I think the price was huge,” Denis Loring declares.
History of This Coin
The fact that this 1807/6 cent was earlier in the collection of Henry Beckwith is significant. In terms of quality and originality, Dr. Beckwith had an amazing collection of large cents. Many of the highest quality large cents in various collections now were in Beckwith’s collection, which was sold in 1923 by the firm of S. H. Chapman.
Unsurprisingly, this 1807/6 was formerly owned by Ted Naftzger, who formed the all-time greatest set of large cents. Almost all of the finest known representatives of dates and major varieties were owned by Naftzger in the past. In many cases, he owned the second and third finest known representatives as well.
Naftzger’s primary collection of ‘early date’ business strikes and most of his Proof middle date large cents were sold to Eric Streiner early in 1992. A majority of the highest quality early date cents were then sold by Streiner to Jay Parrino, including this 1807/6 cent. I was amazed when I saw it, not long after Jay acquired it. Parrino was then asking $75,000.
Somehow, Dr. Juan Suros obtained this 1807/6. Dr. Suros assembled a collection of overdates, which is an unusual pursuit. Superior Galleries auctioned his overdates in 1999.
Although I did not attend the Suros sale, Stewart Blay said in 2008 that he was the buyer in 1999. There is no living collector who has a better ability to grade, gem quality copper coins, or a greater appreciation for them. Indeed, in my entire life, I have never met anyone who is more enthusiastic about gem quality copper. For years, Stewart would often and eagerly talk about gem large cents, Indian cents and Lincoln cents. In addition to forming the all-time greatest set of early Lincoln cents, Stewart assembled the best set of Barber dimes. Also, Blay advised and graded for several other collectors.
At the 2008 ANA Convention in Baltimore, Stewart’s set of Lincoln cents was on display. As red copper coins tend to turn brown or green over time, there will probably never again be a set of red, early Lincolns that is in the same league as Blay’s set. Some sets that might seem to be in the same league, such as the one assembled by the late Jack Lee, are not really so. Grade-inflation and mistakes by grading services may have resulted in other sets of Lincolns appearing as though they are equivalent to Stewart’s set.
In August 2008, this 1807/6 large cent and a gem early half cent, which will be the topic of a future discussion, were in one of the display cases of gem Lincolns. Stewart also displayed a Gem Proof 1975-S Lincoln cent that was struck in aluminum. It was said to be an error that was accidentally struck on a planchet that was intended to become a foreign coin.
At some point, the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation privately purchased this 1807/6 cent. Martin Logies, the director and curator of the foundation, probably acquired this 1807/6 directly from Blay, though the details of such a transaction have not been investigated.
In January 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned the Cardinal set of large cents. For some reason, this 1807/6 was not included. The Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation was the consignor of this coin to the Rarities Night event at the ANA Convention.
A detailed pedigree of this coin was published in the Stack’s-Bowers catalogue and elsewhere. “The pedigree is substantially correct missing only a couple dealer intermediaries,” states Chris McCawley, in response to my inquiry. “I do know the private buyer and can confirm” that the consignor did not re-acquire this coin, Chris adds. McCawley is a leading dealer in early copper coins and is associated with a competing auction firm.
The Color of Large Cents
Soon after being struck, large cents like most newly made copper items are bright red. Copper is an especially active metal. When stored properly over time, copper coins tend to turn brown, often with shades of orange, russet, medium green and/or blue naturally appearing at times. Ultimately, most copper coins will turn dark green, though toning processes may take centuries. Trace metals and other impurities that were accidentally included in prepared blanks (planchets) or resting on dies may affect the colors that develop on the surfaces of copper coins. Until around the 1830s or 1840s, pertinent refining processes were extremely imperfect and coins that were specified to be 100% copper included relevant amounts of other metals.
Toning is largely function of the environments in which coins are stored. Varieties of paper, wood, felt, and cloth, along with humidity and particles in the air, influence the toning of coins.
PCGS, NGC and CAC distinguish between copper coins that are ‘brown’ (BN) and those that exhibit a significant amount of original mint red color (‘red and brown’ = RB). If a very large percentage of the surfaces is characterized by original mint red, a copper coin may be designated as ‘full red’ (“RD”).
If an early large cent is 75% red, it would probably receive a full red (RD) designation. A Lincoln cent from the 1950s would have to be close to 100% red to receive a ‘full red’ (RD) designation from PCGS or NGC.
Coin doctors artificially stimulate or add red color to deceive people into thinking that a coin has far more original red than is really there. In many cases, there is not a concensus among experts as to whether a particular coin is truly full red or has been doctored to appear to be so.
Although red color tends to fade to brown over time, there are a few copper coins that retain much original red for centuries. PCGS does not guarantee the ‘RD’ or ‘RB’ designations. It is best for buyers to consult appropriate experts before paying large premiums for coins with such designations.
Neat, enticing, lively and unbelievable were the words that came to my mind when I viewed this 1807/6 large cent again in 2015. I have now seen it during three different decades. I had remembered the fullness of the original mint red. I had forgotten that it is such a dynamic coin with much personality.
The cartwheel luster is unbroken and the coin really sparkles when tilted under a lamp. Indeed, it is the most red-lustrous pre-1815 copper that I have ever seen, of U.S., American colonial, British or Latin American origin. Furthermore, at the moment, I cannot think of a red ‘middle date’ U.S. large cent that is more dynamic than this early date large cent. Maybe more than fifteen, 75+% ‘full red’ middle date cents survive.
The carbon flecks on this 1807/6 are not a problem. These are re-assuring. Most early copper coins that lack carbon spots have been treated with chemicals or modified with tools. Carbon flecks are evidence of originality, though do not, by themselves, prove a degree of originality.
By chance, some carbon flecks are in locations that results in them being a little distracting. Even so, a few hairlines and contact marks are the main factors as to why this coin was not certified as MS-67. Its grade is in the middle of the 66 range, and this 1807/6 cent is more than very attractive overall.
Generally, a true ‘MS-66-Red’ coin is considered more desirable than a fairly certified ‘MS-67-RB’ coin that was struck from the same pair of dies, though it is important to keep in mind that original mint red color does not last forever. In regard to early dates overall, there are varying degrees of original red texture. Most uncirculated early date cents entirely lack original mint red.
Other Full Red Early Dates
On Jan. 3, 2006, ANR auctioned an 1803 that is PCGS certified as ‘MS-64-Red.’ Although I have never seen it, the online images are impressive. Denis Loring has seen this coin and says now that the mint red is original and that the coin is “a real gem.”
Jim McGuigan attended that sale and reports that this 1803 has “fully original mint red.” McGuigan started collecting early copper coins in the 1950s. He became a full time professional numismatist in 1981. I have seen Jim in attendance at dozens of major auctions.
Of all the early large cents that McGuigan has examined since the 1950s, this 1807/6 and the 1803 that ANR auctioned in 2006 are the only two that Jim currently “recollects as being full red.” He has not agreed with the full red designations assigned to a some other large cents by PCGS or NGC.
The 1803 that ANR auctioned in 2006 was said to have been previously owned by Arthur Wells, presumably a collector. An 1801 Draped Bust cent was also owned by Wells. It may possibly be true that Wells acquired both from a sale by the firm of Thomas Elder in 1937.
Both the Wells 1803 and the Wells 1801 were auctioned by Bowers & Ruddy in the official auction of the ANA Convention in 1981. Some large cent enthusiasts believe or did believe that the Wells 1801 is also “full red” and is similar in appearance to the Wells 1803.
Curiously, a companion story indicates that there is another pair of 1801 and 1803 cents that are each ‘full red’! These two were in the “Essex Institute” auction by Stack’s in 1975. The pertinent Essex 1801 and the Wells 1801 were struck from the same pair of dies, which are known as S-216 in the Sheldon system of identifying die varieties of early large cents. The Wells 1803 and the “Essex” 1803 were likewise struck from the same pair of dies, S-254.
PCGS has certified one 1801 as ‘MS-64-Red’ and NGC has certified an 1803 as ‘MS-64-Red.’ These could both be Essex-Naftzger-Streiner-Parrino coins.
Denis Loring attended the Stack’s “Essex Institute” sale in 1975. “The Essex S-216 [1801 cent], lot 149, was fully red but mellowed a bit. I called it 65+,” Loring notes.
As for the “Essex” 1803 (S-254), “would probably call it 67/65 now, ” Denis says. He is indicating that he would grade the obverse as 67 and the reverse as 65. Given the way of thinking of specialists in die varieties of early copper coins, including Denis, this 67/65 grade would mean that the coin has or had a tremendous amount of original mint red, perhaps more than 75%.
The sole 1803 that has been designated as ‘full red’ by PCGS seems to be the already mentioned Wells 1803 that ANR auctioned in 2006. So, this 1803, an 1801, the 1807/6 that was just auctioned, and the Atwater-Naftzger 1793 Wreath cent are the only four ‘early date’ large cents that are designated by PCGS as being ‘full red’ (RD), as far as I know.
In addition to an already mentioned 1803, NGC has reported a 1796 Draped Bust large cent as having been certified ‘MS-64-Red.’ Coincidentally, there was a 1796 Draped Bust cent in the “Essex Institute” sale, with much mint red, that was later in the collection of John Whitney Walter.
The Whitney Collection of 1796 U.S. coins was auctioned by Stack’s on May 4, 1999. The cataloguer said that the Essex-Whitney 1796 Draped Bust cent was “80%” original mint red. This Essex-Whitney 1796, however, was later in the Husak and Cardinal Collections. In 2013, it had 30% to 40% mint red. Walt Husak’s set of ‘early dates’ was auctioned on Feb. 15, 2008, at a Long Beach Expo.
The Essex-Whitney-Husak-Cardinal 1796 was PCGS certified as ‘MS-65-RB’ and CAC approved when it was sold on January 24, 2013. I found it to be one of the most original large cents that I have ever seen. It is certainly plausible that it had full original mint red in 1975 and gradually toned over a period of more than thirty years.
The PCGS certified “SP-68RD” Wreath cent has faded as well. The certification of this Earle-Atwater-Naftzger 1793 Wreath cent is extremely controversial. Two leading experts declined to be quoted about this Wreath cent. “It is more of a red & brown coin than a red coin,” remarks Richard Burdick, who refused to comment on the coin’s numerical grade, as he has not seen the coin in more than ten years and did not take notes.
I did take a few notes when I saw it in 1992. Although this coin scores incredibly high in the technical category, being virtually flawless, it was not bright red and did not have that much pizazz. Denis agrees that “the red has faded some,” though he acknowledges that he has not seen it in a long time. I noted in 1992 that the strike is excellent and the coin is somewhat prooflike.
This Wreath cent was part of the illustrious group of Naftzger coins that Eric Streiner sold to Jay Parrino early in 1992. I would have to see this Wreath Cent again to draw a firm conclusion about it. Jim McGuigan would like to see it again before commenting at all. Since 1996 or 1997, the Earle-Atwater-Naftzger 1793 Wreath Cent has been in a private collection in the South.
Oswald-Naftzger, Considerably Red Cents
Two of the Oswald-Naftzger-Husak 1794 ‘Head of 1795’ large cents have considerable original mint red color. The PCGS certified ‘MS-67-RB’ coin (S-67) was also in the Cardinal Collection and was auctioned by Stack’s-Bowers for nearly $500,000 in January 2013.
The other gem Oswald-Naftzger-Husak 1794 ‘Head of 1795’ large cent is of the S-71 die pairing. In 2008, I noted that it has far more original red color than it appears to have in published images. It if it still just as red, then it is one of the reddest early dates, not far from meriting a ‘full red’ (RD) designation. Indeed, when I first saw it in early 2007, it had never been certified and many experts thought that it might receive a ‘full red’ designation from PCGS. I have heard that it has since mellowed a little
The Oswald-Naftzger-Husak S-71 1794 cent was PCGS certified as ‘MS-65-RB’ in the middle of 2007 and obviously undergraded. Richard Burdick acted as agent for the Pogues, who bought this coin for $253,000 on Feb. 15, 2008. It will be auctioned by Stack’s-Bowers, perhaps in 2017.
In an analytical article in September 2008, it was noted that the Oswald-Naftzger-Husak S-71 was undergraded. At the time I did not know that Richard had enabled the Pogues to acquire it. I then had no idea who bought it on Feb. 15, 2008.
There is another Oswald-Naftzger ‘Head of 1795’ 1794 that was struck from the same pair of dies (S-67) as the just mentioned Oswald-Naftzger-Husak-Cardinal coin. The Oswald-Naftzger-Holmes S-67 is PCGS certified as ‘MS-64-RB.’ It may have a great deal of original mint red. I do not clearly remember it.
The early U.S. coins in the “Oswald Collection” had been in England since a British collector brought them from Philadelphia to England in the 1790s. These were auctioned by Christie’s in 1964 and there were twenty-two 1794 large cents, most or all of which had substantial original mint red. The 1794 silver dollar in the Pogue Collection, which will be auctioned on Sept. 30, was also in the “Oswald Collection.”
“When the Oswald-Naftzger 1794 cents came to market in the 1990s and 2000s, I noticed many of them had mellowed in color, some much more than others. Ted Naftzger at one time owned sixteen of the twenty-two St. Oswald 1794 cents. I feel most fortunate to see these at his house in the 1980s. Since then, many have lost red color or lost some brilliance,” Richard Burdick has observed.
Richard and I agree that the Oswald-Naftzger-Husak S-67 was brighter in 2007 than it was in 2013. The Oswald-Naftzger-Husak S-71 was more than 65% red, maybe much more, when I first saw it. So, it would be impossible to know the number of early date large cents that continue to qualify as ‘full red’ even if the number that were 75+% ‘full red’ fifteen years ago could be conclusively determined.
L.A. Type 1811
In the realm of red early dates, the most puzzling of all is the L.A. 1811 Classic Head large cent. Several sources are unwilling to be publicly quoted about it, and I will also refrain from expressing an opinion about it here. I last saw it in 1991 or 1992, when a dealer from New Jersey had it in his case at coin shows. It was then NGC certified as ‘MS-66-Red’ and has since been PCGS certified as ‘MS-65-Red.’
Before it was ever certified, it was auctioned by Stack’s (NY) during October 1990 as part of the “L.A. Type Set.” This was one of the all-time greatest type sets. I had never before seen a type set in the highest echelon. This set included the 1796 quarter that was later in the Pogue Collection and a gem quality 1795 Draped Bust silver dollar, among other treasures. I was pleasantly stunned by many of the coins, though I was puzzled by this 1811 cent.
Among experts, there are legitimate differences of opinion regarding the originality of this coin. I hope to examine the L.A. 1811 again and to further investigate the matter. A reliable source indicates that it is likely to be auctioned in the near future. Maybe several experts will then conclude that it is a gem quality, very original coin?
As for premiums that should be paid for substantial original red color, a recommendation is neither explicit nor implicit. Collectors of uncirculated early dates should ask many questions and think carefully about the characteristics of the coins being considered. A collector who puts forth much effort to understand the coins that he is buying is likely to enjoy collecting and be satisfied with his acquisitions over the long run.
It best not to think of originality in ‘all or nothing’ terms. Most early copper coins have been brushed, oiled, waxed, washed, or cleaned in some way at one time or another. Treatments are often employed to contain corrosion or mitigate the effects of corrosion that has already occurred. It is best to conceptualize ratings of coins in the category of originality, while not thinking of any coin as being 100% original.
©2015 Greg Reynolds