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Classic U.S. Coins for Less Than $500 Each: Classic Head Large Cents


By Greg Reynolds for CoinWeek …..

As next week’s piece will concern classic U.S. coins that cost less than $100 each and expensive rarities do not tend to emerge ‘in the news’ during the month of December, it is appropriate to now continue the series on classic U.S. coins for less than $500 each. Importantly, new collectors are often under the false impression that really old, early U.S. coins are extremely expensive. In actuality, a complete set ‘by date’ from 1808 to 1814 of Classic Head large cents may easily be completed for less than $500 per coin, with all coins being truly gradable and pleasing.

Early U.S. coins are parts of series that began after 1792 and ended before 1840. Classic U.S. coins date from 1793 to 1933 or so.

Classic Head large cents are both early U.S. coins and classic U.S coins. E. Locke Mason, a collectibles dealer and author, coined the term ‘Classic Head’ in regards to these. While an inconsequential dealer, Mason published influential magazines during the second half of the 19th century.

Specialists in large cents classify Classic Head large cents as ‘early dates.’ Middle date large cents, which are mostly of the ‘Matron Head’ type, date from 1816 to 1839. ‘Late date’ large cents are those of the ‘Braided Hair’ type. They were first struck in 1839 and last produced in 1857. Large cents are much larger than Lincoln cents (‘pennies’) or Indian cents. (Words in blue may be clicked to access pertinent references.)

Classic Head large cents each had a diameter in the range of 17/16 to 18/16 of an inch, roughly 27 to 29 millimeters. They are thus significantly larger than current quarters, which have a diameter of 24.3 mm.

By tradition, many collectors of coins ‘by date’ regard a few readily noticeable, major varieties as having the status of distinct dates. This is especially true if the digits in the ‘year’ appearing on the coin are much different in one variety than in another variety of the same year. Confusingly, the numerals in the ‘year’ on a coin are sometimes called ‘the date’ as well.

An 1810 with normal numerals, which is usually called an “1810 normal date,” and an 1810/09 overdate are two different dates. Someone who is seeking to build a set of Classic Head large cents ‘by date’ would need two coins from the year ‘1810‘ to finish the project.

Classic_head_lg_cent_1808Two from the year ‘1811‘ are needed as well. The “normal” 1811 and the 1811/10 overdate are clearly two distinct dates. The underlying zero is very much evident. Moreover, I perceive remnants of a previous numeral ‘1’ underneath the second ‘1.’ This overdate should be referred to as “1811/10” not as “1811/0.” Either way, though, it is an overdate that is readily apparent without magnification.

There is not enough of a difference between the 1812 “Small Date” and 1812 “Large Date” varieties to categorize them as two different dates, in my view. It requires time and concentration to even notice such a difference in numeral sizes. Some large cent collectors, however, do regard them as two different dates. Interested collectors may wish to study 1812 large cents and make their own determinations.

By tradition, in the collecting of U.S. coins, a coin with a ‘crosslet numeral 4’ in the year (“date”) is defined as being very much distinct from a coin that is otherwise the same yet was struck from an obverse die that had a ‘plain numeral 4.’ In another words an 1814 large cent with a ‘Crosslet 4’ and an 1814 large cent with a ‘Plain 4’ constitute two different dates. The difference is readily apparent.

There are analogous pairs of different dates in other series of U.S. coins. Curiously, there are four dates of 1834 half eagles (U.S. $5 gold coins). There are 1834 Capped Head half eagles with a ‘Crosslet 4’ and with a ‘Plain 4.’ Furthermore, there are 1834 Classic Head half eagles with a ‘Crosslet 4’ and with a ‘Plain 4.’ There are thus four dates of the same year, including half eagles of two design types and two pairs of ‘Crosslet 4’ and ‘Plain 4’ dates.

In the series of Classic Head large cents, there are ten dates: 1808, 1809, 1810/09, 1810, 1811/10, 1811, 1812, 1813, 1814-‘Plain 4,’ and 1814-‘Crosslet 4.’ All were produced at the Philadelphia Mint and there are no mintmarks.

A collector who regards the 1812-‘Small Date’ and the 1812-‘Large Date’ as two different dates may easily acquire both for less than $500 each and thus assemble a set of 11 Classic Head large cents, which is enough. It may be enjoyable to collect coins in other areas before enhancing an already complete set or thinking about die pairings.

Grades and Auction Results

While it makes sense to buy coins that are PCGS or NGC certified, it is important not to take the assigned certified grades too seriously. The same coin might receive different grades from the same grading service at different times. Additionally, there are other factors that affect the value and desirability of a coin.

Two Classic Head large cents of the same date with the same certified grade from the same service are likely to vary in terms of texture, toning, surviving design detail, degree of originality, characteristics of contact marks, planchet quality and eye appeal. It does not make sense to draw conclusions about the value of a scarce classic U.S. coin just by considering its type, date and certified grade in the context of coin markets.

An 1809 large cent that is PCGS graded as VG-10 may be more valuable than an 1811 large cent that is PCGS graded as Fine-12. (All known 1809 large cents were struck from the same pair of dies.) There is no substitute for analyzing the coins themselves.

Die varieties are being ignored here. The current focus is on completing a set of ten or eleven Classic Head large cents ‘by date’ for less than $500 per coin.

Besides, a small number of die pairs were employed to strike Classic Head large cents. A complete set of representative coins of all die pairings of Classic Head large cents that are itemized in the standard Sheldon system would not be difficult to complete. There are nineteen in total and none are very rare. Therefore, a collector who builds a set of ten ‘by date’ would need just nine additional coins. Only a small percentage of active coin buyers, however, collect by die pairings. It is probably better for a collector to broaden his or her horizons before deciding to become a specialist.

Generally, a priority for all collectors of classic U.S. coins should be to learn at least a little about coin grading and originality. For most collectors, it is not a good idea to expect to become an expert grader. It is a good idea to learn enough about grading to have constructive conversations with experts and to benefit extensively from advice.

When certified grades and prices realized are cited herein, I am not recommending the respective coins or necessarily agreeing with the cited certified grades. In most cases, I have not seen the respective coins. While I would very much enjoy inspecting every single classic U.S. coin in a major auction, it is not practical to do so. Also, circulated Classic Head large cents are often offered in Internet-only sales, with competitive bidding, rather than in major auctions.

Auction results are put forth herein to serve as guides and to provide some evidence regarding market values. No one auction result, however, should be assumed to be a market price. There are many variables that may affect auction outcomes. (Please see my article on ‘What Are Auction Prices?’)

Classic_head_lg_cent_1811If sufficient samples of pertinent auction results are properly analyzed, market ranges for particular coins may be discovered and understood. In this series about coins that cost less than $500 each, most of the cited auction results are believed to be relevant to prevailing market levels, rather than being very strong or very weak prices.

Competition for circulated Classic Head large cents tends to be rather mild. For these, I do not recollect cases of maniacal, runaway bidding.

Retail prices will, on average, be higher than auction prices. In some instances, however, auction prices are well above typical retail levels. There is no simple formula or master guide for determining the value of a coin. Coin dealers, though, will typically ask customers to pay prices for Classic Head large cents that are higher than auction results, prices the same coins have recently realized or would be likely to realize at auction or in Internet-only sales with competitive bidding.

A collector must decide the extent to which a particular coin is desired by him or her. Some collectors will pay more for copper coins with chestnut colored tones. While subtle blue tints on circulated coppers coins are neat, bright or rich blue colors tend to seem weird, and are often artificial.

More than a few collectors like mustard-tan colors. Many collectors of early copper coins prefer rich, dark brown hues. Furthermore, orange-brown tones are attractive to some buyers. I am partial to russet-brown colors or military-green tints on circulated large cents. Auction results cannot reflect all the variables relating to the values and desirability of coins.


Priced below $500 each, there have been a substantial number of 1808 cents that are PCGS or NGC graded from Fair-02 to Fine-12 available over the past two years or so. On Oct. 20, 2013, the firm of “GreatCollections” sold a PCGS graded Fair-02 1808 cent, with a sticker of approval from CAC, for $36.63. On Nov. 20, 2014, this same firm sold a PCGS graded ‘Very Good’-08 1808 cent for $264. Three days later, Heritage auctioned a NGC graded ‘Very Good’-08 1808 for $223.25.

A year earlier, in Nov. 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a NGC graded VG-10 coin for $247.93. On June 9, 2015, Heritage sold a PCGS graded Fine-12 1808 for $399.50.


The 1809 is much scarcer than the 1808. Unsurprisingly, market levels are higher.

In May 2015, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded Good-04 1809 for $376. In January 2015, a noticeably damaged 1809 with the “details” of a Good-04 grade coin, in a PCGS genuine holder, brought $199.75, more than the PCGS guide value for a gradable Good-04 1809. In July 2011, a NGC graded AG-03 1809 was auctioned for $138.

The PCGS graded Good-04 1809 that realized $140.55 in a West Coast sale in early November has substantial problems and/or did not appear to bidders to be healthy in published images. There is a need to examine the coin in actuality to draw a conclusion.

On Nov. 25, 2014, a PCGS graded VG-08 coin sold for just $329. A close inspection of the images, however, reveals that this coin might have troubling imperfections. It would need to be seen in actuality to be fully interpreted. I am not convinced that it is truly gradable. It may be challenging to find suitable Good-06 to VG-10 grade 1809 cents for less than $500 each.


In circulated grades, the 1810/09 overdate is not as scarce as the 1809, though is markedly scarcer than the 1808. On July 10, 2010, more than five years ago, a PCGS graded Fine-12 1810/09 overdate was auctioned for $431.25. Other PCGS graded Fine-12 coins of this date, however, have recently sold for more than $500 each. A collector cannot count on buying a Fine grade 1810/09 for less than $500.

Many of the “Good” to “Very Fine” 1810/09 large cents that are submitted for grading are found by experts at PCGS and NGC to be non-gradable. An 1810/09 cent with the “details” of a Fine-12 grade coin can be easily found for less than $250, though the severity and extensiveness of each such coin’s problems varies considerably.

There do not seem to be nearly as many 1810/09 cents around as a few of the other dates in this series. I wonder if it is scarcer than most specialists have figured it to be. It might be difficult to even acquire a VG-08 grade 1810/09 for less than $500.

In February 2015, “GreatCollections” sold a PCGS graded AG-03 1810/09 for just $27.03. It is debatable, however, as to whether this coin is truly gradable. Even if its state of preservation is on the borderline of being gradable, it was still a sound purchase, from a logical perspective.

Although 1810/09 cents are not rare, pleasing, definitely gradable coins might be extremely scarce. Indeed, finding Classic Head large cents without serious problems is more difficult than most collectors realize. It is generally believed that a significant percentage of the prepared blanks (planchets) had serious problems, perhaps including saltwater damage, before many Classic Head large cents were struck.


There are also many non-gradable 1810 ‘normal date’ cents around. A chemically modified 1810 with the “details” of a Very Fine grade coin sold for $164.50 in October 2014.

On August 30, 2015, “GreatCollections” sold a PCGS graded Fine-15 1810 for $385.08. Earlier in 2015, Heritage sold two different PCGS graded Fine-12 1810 cents for the same price, $446.50, one in January and the other in March. It is fair to assume that a Fine-12 grade 1810 could be purchased for less than $500 at some point during the next two years. A VG-10 grade 1810 would probably retail for a price between $250 and $350.


Price guides may understate value of the 1811/10 in circulated grades. This is a scarce coin.

At the recent ANA Convention in Illinois in August, a PCGS graded VG-10 1811/10 brought $763.75. The corresponding PCGS price guide value is $395.

In July 2015, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS graded VG-08 1811/0, from the Doug Kaselitz Collection, for $528.75, a price higher than the PCGS guide estimate of “$310.” The pertinent numismedia.com value is “$390.”

In February 2015, a PCGS graded AG-03 1811/10 went for $176.25. A collector could probably find a Good-04 grade 1811/10 for less than $325, though months of waiting may be required.

In August 2013, Heritage auctioned an extensively corroded 1811/10 that has the “details” of a VF grade coin. The $364.25 result is hard to fairly interpret without actually seeing this coin. A true VF-20 grade 1811/10 would be worth multiples of this amount. Most collectors, however, would prefer a gradable Fine-12 1811/10 over a non-gradable coin with the “details” of a Very Fine grade.

1811 Normal

It would be rational to plan on an acquisition of a Very Good grade 1811 for significantly less than $500. In September 2012, at a Long Beach Expo, a PCGS graded VG-08, and CAC approved, 1811 was auctioned for $381.88.

At the pre-ANA auction in Philadelphia during August 2012, a PCGS graded VG-08 sold for $305.50. Earlier in the year at the FUN Convention during January 2012, a NGC graded VG-08 1811 brought a similar price, $310.50. In March 2014, an NGC graded Good-04 coin brought $205.63. The 1811 is not an elusive date.


Classic_head_lg_cent_1812“Even when looking at the great photos” on PCGS CoinFacts, declares Gordon Wrubel, “the differences between the 1812 Large Date and Small Date cents may not be readily apparent.” Wrubel is a founder of PCGS and an expert on early copper coins

Numerals are just slightly larger. One 1812 cent is sufficient for a set, in my view. In circulated grades, the 1812 “Small Date” and the “Large Date” have similar market values.

There is a good chance that Fine-12 representatives of either could be obtained for less than $500 each. It is extremely likely that 1812 cents that grade at least VG-10 could be purchased in the near future.

On Oct. 27, 2013, the firm of “GreatCollections” sold a PCGS graded Fine-12 ‘Large Date’ 1812 for $398.20. More recently, in August, another with the same exact certification, brought $332.20. In April 2015, GreatCollections sold a PCGS graded AG-03 1812 ‘Small Date’ for $30!


It is easy to purchase an 1813. This is one of the least scarce dates in the series.

In a range of grades, 1813 large cents trade for less than $500 each. This year, “GreatCollections” has sold two different PCGS graded VG-08 1813 cents, for $188.10 in September and for $184.80 in March.

In December 2014, Heritage sold a PCGS graded Good-04 1813 brought just $84! In June 2013, a damaged 1813 with the details of a VG-08 grade coin sold for $36. It is pleasing in its own way. It is likely that a Fine-15 grade 1813 could be acquired for well under $500, though some waiting may be required.

1814 ‘Crosslet 4’

Although each collector building a set ‘by date’ is likely to seek a ‘Plain 4’ and a ‘Crosslet 4,’ market values in circulated grades for these are about the same. It is unlikely that one is substantially scarcer than the other.

On August 17, 2014, GreatCollections sold a PCGS graded Fine-12 1814-‘Crosslet 4,’ with a CAC sticker, for $455.40. On Sept. 27, 2015, the same firm sold a PCGS graded Fine-12 1814‘Crosslet 4,’ without a CAC sticker, for $368.50. More recently, on Nov. 1, 2015, a PCGS graded VG-08 1814 brought $138.60


Realistically, a set of Classic Head large cents in the following respective grades, or higher grades, could be assembled for less than $500 per coin: 1808 Fine-12, 1809 VG-08, 1810/09 VG-08, 1810 F-12, 1811/10 Good-06, 1811 VG-08, 1812 (either Small Date or LD) VG-10, 1813 Fine-15, 1814-‘Plain 4’ Fine-12, and 1814-‘Crosslet 4’ Fine-12. I am referring to coins that most experts in the mainstream would agree are definitely gradable.

Finding a Fine-15 grade 1813 for less than $500 would be a realistic quest, though could be difficult. I am not certain that a VG-08 1810/09, which I would find to be acceptable, could be found for less than $500 in the near future. A collector might could have to settle for a Good-06 1810/09. So, the two overdates the only dates that might not be obtainable in at least VG-08 grade for less than $500.

Of course, a collector could purchase some lesser grade coins and put together a complete set for less than $300 per coin. Non-gradable pieces with the “details” of Fine or Very Fine grade coins are options as well. A collector who is willing and able to spend from $150 to $500 per coin may practically consider many strategies and options in the realm of classic U.S. coins, and build sets that most pertinent experts would regard as meaningful in the traditions of coin collecting in the U.S.

©2015 Greg Reynolds

[email protected]

Recent Articles in this series on Classic U.S. Coins for less than $500 each

Part 17: Gem Early Lincoln Cents

Part 16: Indian Head Half Eagles

Part 15: Two Cent Pieces

Part 14: Three Cent Nickels

Part 13 – Indian Head Quarter Eagles

Part 12: Copper-Nickel Indian Cents

Part 11: Standing Liberty Quarters

Part 10: Walking Liberty Half Dollars

* * *

Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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