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HomeAuctionsA Million-Dollar 1943-D Copper Cent and Other Copper Rarities

A Million-Dollar 1943-D Copper Cent and Other Copper Rarities

By Greg Reynolds for CoinWeek …..

I had originally intended to write this week about a variety of coins that were offered in the recently concluded Southern California auctions by the Goldbergs and Heritage. News regarding auction results, however, has been superseded by a 1943-D copper cent selling privately for a reported price of $1.7 million USD. So, I will discuss this piece, some of the early copper in the Goldbergs auction, and the 1811/0 overdate large cent that Heritage sold. This column is devoted to copper.

1943-D Copper Cent

In 1943 only, in order to allocate more copper for purposes relating to World War II, U.S. cents were made of zinc coated steel and have a whitish-steely appearance. Probably by accident, a few were struck in copper, almost certainly on planchets (prepared blanks) that were leftover from 1942. Perhaps a few copper planchets were temporarily stuck in the hoppers and became loose over time. Likewise, some 1944 cents were accidentally struck on steel planchets dating from 1943.

I am very skeptical of claims that any of these off-metal strikings were intentionally made. It is possible that U.S. Mint employees may have discovered one or more such errors and intentionally released them from the premises. These are, though, probably true errors. In the 1940s, it would have been extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, for U.S. Mint employees to strike their own fantasy pieces.

Ten or 11 1943 Philadelphia Mint copper cents and five to seven San Francisco Mint 1943 coppers are known. Curiously, only one 1943-Denver Mint copper cent is believed to exist. It is PCGS-graded MS-64 and Laura Sperber sold it to a collector for “$1.7 million.”

Stewart Blay feels “the price has been inflated because the buyer seeking the coin is a billionaire. He loves coins. He wanted to own it and eventually paid what the owner was willing to accept.” Blay is the leading collector of Lincoln Cents and is a long-time participant in coin markets. Stewart also collects silver coins.

A price of “$1.7 million” is, by far, a record price for a Lincoln Cent and for a Mint Error of any kind. For the same collector, Sperber was responsible for the previous record of $373,750 that a 1944-S steel cent realized in the Summer 2008 ANA Auction, which was conducted by Heritage in Baltimore. Furthermore, a 1943-S copper cent was sold privately, a day or so earlier, at the Summer 2008 ANA Convention.

Sperber reveals that this “deal really was four years in the making. We agreed to terms in late July. The deal closed Sept 16th.” A total of $2 million, she says, was paid for three items, this 1943-D, a 1944 Philadelphia Mint steel cent and a 1942 pattern cent in “white metal.” This collector is “not seeking” patterns, Sperber relates, “the white metal pattern was just part of the deal.”

Sperber used to collect these off-metal strikings herself. The building of this set “started when” Laura sold this collector her “personal 1943-S PCGS AU-58” copper cent, “which he still has.” She and this collector “have been working on [a set of 43-PDS coppers and 44-PDS steels] for about five years.” Sperber maintains that “completing the 1944 [three piece steel] set was a very underrated piece of work.” I (this writer) point out that there are only two or three known 1944-S steel cents and Sperber acquired the finest 1944-S steel in 2008.

To save time and space, I usually refer to all coins, patterns, and errors that are at least 90% copper as being ‘copper.’ The distinction between copper and bronze, which is usually 95% copper, is beside all points put forth herein.

This same 1943-D cent was auctioned by the Goldbergs in Feb. 2003. It then brought $212,750, which was the auction record for a Lincoln cent until the just mentioned 1944-
S steel cent went for $373,750 on July 31, 2008. I know of only two 1944-S steel cents, though there could be a third. The PCGS graded MS-64 1944 Philadelphia Mint steel cent, which was part of the deal, was valued by Sperber at “$250,000.”

This collector, Sperber’s client, now has the only complete dual set of 1943 coppers and 1944 steels from all three U.S. Mints that produced cents during this era. Sperber’s “client is thrilled to have satisfied a life’s goal in coin collecting.” Laura explains that “he is not a penny collector” in general. He has been focused, since childhood, on these off-metal cent strikings of 1943 and 1944.

“I [Sperber] rank this as the real highlight of my career. Yes, [the building of this set is] greater than owning a 1913 [Liberty] nickel or an 1894-S dime! Never before has a set of these fabled coins been assembled.”

I (this writer) maintain that there are other events in Sperber’s career that are of greater importance than building a set of these off-metal pennies. Parts of the Simpson collection come to mind, especially Saints, Indian Head Eagles and patterns. The “Law” collection of half dimes, including the unique 1870-S, was spectacular, as was the “Legend” (TDN) collection of Trade Dollars, with the Eliasberg 1884 and 1885 Gems.

1795 Reeded Edge Cent

The reported private sale of this 1943-D copper for “$1.7 million” notwithstanding, the auction record for a copper coin or copper pattern remains $1,265,000. It was set in Sept. 2009 when the Goldbergs auctioned the Dan Holmes collection of early date large cents, 1793 to 1814. Holmes’ 1795 Reeded Edge cent, a variety that is known as Sheldon-79, realized this amount.

In September 2009, Greg Hannigan was the successful bidder for the Holmes 1795 Reeded Edge cent. Hannigan was acting on behalf of a collector who recently, during the summer of 2010, completed his set of all 295 Sheldon die varieties of “collectible” early large cents.

Hannigan was the consignor of another 1795 Reeded Edge cent to the Goldbergs’ Sept. 2010 auction. It is a new discovery. I have never seen it. My impression is that it grades Poor-01 at best by widely accepted standards. In accordance with the criteria employed by specialists in early U.S. copper coins, however, its net grade is “Good-04,” I am told by more than one source.

In early 2009, there were, in my view, 5½ known 1795 Reeded Edge cents. Now, it seems that there are 7½! The ½ is a brockage.

Personally, I find it curious that, since the announcement of the sale of Holmes’ early dates circa Jan. 2009 along with the speculation that then started regarding the value of Holmes’ 195 Reeded Edge cent, two ‘new’ 1795 Reeded Edge cents have been discovered and another emerged that had not been publicly seen, as far as I know, since it was offered at auction in 1977.

Both the recent discoveries and the one that recently re-emerged probably would be considered ungradable by the PCGS and the NGC. In another words, if all three were submitted to both the PCGS and the NGC, experts at these services would, I guess, find that all three have problems that are so serious that these coins do not merit numerical grades. Specialists in the die varieties of early copper coins employ grading criteria that is different from the respective criteria used by the PCGS and the NGC.

Specialists in die varieties seem to rank the known 1795 Reeded Edge Cents as follows: (1) Holmes – VG-08 {PCGS VG-10};(2) ANS VG-07; (3) Robinson–Kuntz-Frankenfield-Brown — Good-06; (4) coin auctioned by B&M in Nov. 2008 – Good-05 {PCGS Good-04}; (5) Coin that NGC encapsulated without a grade in the Spring – Good-05; (6) Newly discovered Hannigan coin that was just auctioned in Sept. 2010 – Good-04 {PCGS Genuine Holder – No Grade!}; (7) Coin that was newly discovered during the Spring or Summer of 2009 – Poor-01; (½) Brockage that has not been seen in decades. Additionally, Chris McCawley has doubts as to whether the 1795 Reeded Edge cent in the ANS museum, (#2 above) would receive a numerical grade if (hypothetically) it were to be submitted to the PCGS. So, only two of the seven have received numerical grades from the PCGS and the Robinson-Brown coin might if it were submitted.

As for the one that was discovered in 2010, a relatively young man received an assortment of coins from his father, who was not a wealthy collector. His father, however, seemed to know that his 1795 cent was very special and emphasized to his son that it might be worth ‘a lot of money.’ The son, John B., attended a coin show in Baltimore in June 2010. Greg Hannigan bought this coin from him and Hannigan consigned it to the Sept. 2010 Goldbergs auction. During the summer, it was authenticated and encapsulated, though it failed to be graded, by the PCGS. It was in a PCGS genuine holder when it was auctioned. It realized $322,000, a healthy price. The 1795 Reeded Edge issue is now not as rare as it was two years ago. Though none were seen for many years, four have been around in 2009 or 2010.

I maintain that 1795 Reeded Edge cents are experimental pieces rather than coins. The fact, however, that this issue is a recognized die variety that is strongly demanded by those who wish to assemble sets of the 295 recognized, “collectible” Sheldon die varieties indicates that it is of tremendous importance to large cent collectors. Oddly, many standard price guides list this issue as if it were a separate, distinct date that is needed for a regular set of large cents. Such listings, in standard price guides, may have contributed to the current values of 1795 Reeded Edge cents. While I can understand the reasons why die variety collectors are eager to buy 1795 Reeded Edge cents, it makes no sense for standard price guides to list them along with the major varieties that have the status of distinct dates.

These should not be demanded by collectors who are assembling regular sets of large cents. It is logical for variety specialists and ‘pattern’ collectors to seek 1795 Reeded Edge cents. Patterns, narrowly defined, are embodiments of proposals for new designs or for other changes in coinage. The category of patterns, broadly defined, is comprised of a wide range of items, including most all experimental pieces.

Highest-Graded 1811/0 Cent

In the official auction of the Sept. 2010 Long Beach (CA) Expo, Heritage sold the highest graded 1811/0 overdate large cent. Though it is known to die variety specialists as Sheldon-286, it is an overdate that is actively and rightfully collected as if it was a separate and distinct date. The overdate is clear. In the die, the last numeral one was certainly punched over a zero. This issue is not just of interest to die variety specialists. It is certainly and logically collected by those assembling regular sets of large cents ‘by date’!

This 1811/0 cent in the Heritage auction is NGC graded MS-63 and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. There is also an 1811/0 cent that is NGC graded MS-62. Neither the PCGS nor the NGC have graded any other 1811/0 cents above MS-61.

Collectors take other factors into consideration in addition to the certified grade of a coin, and large cent collectors tend to be wary of the grading services. Personally, I find that the criteria employed by the PCGS and the NGC, respectively, are far more logical than the grading criteria employed by early copper specialists. These specialists maintain, for example, that a coin that has no wear and is indisputably uncirculated may grade EF-45 if it has many contact marks, even if all such contact marks came about at the U.S. Mint before the respective coin was released.

As I have not seen some of the highest ranked 1811/0 cents, and there may be high quality 1811/0 cents that are not in PCGS or NGC holders, I am not concluding that this is the finest known 1811/0 cent. It is certainly one of the finest known. As the highest graded of a scarce issue, it is very much newsworthy. Plus, it is the only 1811/0 cent that has had its PCGS or NGC grade approved by the CAC. How many others been submitted to the CAC?

This coin has appeared at auction several times. According to cataloguers at Heritage, it was in Heritage auctions in 1997 and in 2003. In 1997, it was NGC graded MS-62 and realized $12,362.50. Later, ANR auctioned it twice. In August 2004, it realized $23,575. In March 2005 in Baltimore, however, it sold for only $14,950.

In Sept. 2010, this NGC graded MS-63 1811/0 realized $41,400. The 1811/0 cent that is NGC graded MS-61 realized this exact same price at a Heritage auction in Jan. 2005. Unlike the Heritage auction event of Sept. 2010, the Heritage auction extravaganza of Jan. 2005 included a major collection of large cents and other famous early coppers. So, demand for large cents was probably more intense at the Jan. 2005 Heritage auction. There were not many noteworthy large cents in the Sept. 2010 Heritage auction.

I wonder if the just mentioned NGC graded MS-61 1811/0 may has more natural toning than the NGC graded MS-63 coin. If so, this may possibly explain why an NGC graded MS-61 1811/0 could be worth as much or more as an NGC graded MS-63 1811/0 cent.

Half Cent Errors

This month, the Goldbergs auctioned the Dan Holmes collection of large cent errors and the “Davy” collection of half cent errors. Both collections are mentioned in my column two weeks ago.

As I have written so much about large cents over the last three years, and in passages in this column, it seems fair to provide more coverage of half cents. Besides, while there have been one or two better collections of large cent errors sold at auction in the past, there has never been a recognized collection of half cent errors that is in the same league as the “Davy collection.”

Brockages attracted the most bids of any category of errors. It suffices to say here that a brockage has two obverse designs or two reverse designs. On one side, there is an ordinary striking (unless the same piece is characterized by more than one kind of error that affected the ‘regular’ side of the respective brockage.) On the other side, there is a sunken (incuse) backwards image of the coin’s design. In most cases, a reverse brockage lacks a date (stated year).

As it is not practical to analyze the prices realized of many of the hundreds of half cent errors in the Davy Collection, I will mention a few. An 1803 obverse brockage (lot #125) was also struck 5% off-center. It is thus a “double error,” states Bob Grellman, who catalogued it. “Very attractive glossy chocolate brown, with smooth surfaces,” Grellman exclaims, this piece’s “eye appeal is excellent.” It sold for $12,075, a stunning price for a half cent brockage. I expected a result in the six to eight thousand dollar range, which would have been significant.

I was startled that an 1804 obverse brockage (lot #140), which seems to be artificially toned, brought $9,487.50. It is graded by McCawley & Grellman as Very Good-08. I just do not understand the result. There are many other more appealing brockages in this auction. I would have guessed that this piece would bring less than $3500.

Another 1804 obverse brockage, lot #145, seems very special to me. It was estimated by McCawley to bring “$2,000 [and] UP”! It sold for $23,000! Is it the queen of half cent brockages?

Two weeks ago, I also mentioned that I found a particular reverse brockage, lot #213, to be entertaining. Though it is widely believed to be an 1806, Grellman maintains that it is really an 1804. The obverse, which features a backwards reverse design, looks ghastly. It garnered $6037.50, probably twice the amount that some experts estimated. I suggest that its entertainment value played a role in the demand for this piece.

Though it is not related to brockages, a particular 1809 half cent error caught my attention as being both noteworthy and affordable, lot #256. It was struck twice. “One strike was centered and the other was 95% off center to [the area conceptually referred to as being around four o’clock] creating a tab at stars 11 [to] 13,” states Grellman, who grades this coin as Good-06. This 1809 half cent sold for $126.50. Several half cent errors realized prices below $300.

Another 1809 half cent error caught my attention because it lacks fascinating characteristics, lot #295. It has no obverse. The front of this piece is just blank. The reverse is ordinary. It is graded VF-20. This uniface piece sold for $12,075. Is this a high price?

A thorough analysis of the Davy Collection of half cent errors would require discussions of several varieties of errors, including various double and triple-struck coins, blundered edges, half cents struck over large cents, clipped planchets, etc. I continue to insist, though, that brockages are the most exciting of all early copper errors. There were numerous brockages in the Dan Holmes collection of large cent errors. Both these collections of early copper errors fared well at auction.

©2010 Greg Reynolds

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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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