HomeAuctionsCopper and Bronze U.S. Coins in Mid-Winter Auctions

Copper and Bronze U.S. Coins in Mid-Winter Auctions

Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #262

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds ………..

After the auctions at the FUN Orlando and New York International conventions in early January, coin auctions continue to be held during the winter, in both cold and warm climates. The New York branch of Spink, formerly Spink-Smythe, holds an auction every January. The Goldbergs and Heritage conduct auctions in Southern California to coincide with the winter Long Beach Expo and Stack’s-Bowers conducts an “Americana Sale” in New York in early February. The main purpose of this discussion is to cover copper U.S. coins in mid-Winter auctions, including ‘bronze’ coins. The emphasis here is on very popular coins and coins that are only modergr_jan28_thumbately expensive.

It is not practical to cover copper, nickel, silver and gold coins in one discussion, especially if multiple auctions are considered. Besides, interested collectors may find lists of offerings in these mid-winter auctions at the web sites of the respective auction firms. A point here is draw attention to and provide some insights about copper coins that are important, popular, rare, just moderately expensive or otherwise interesting. I hope that beginning, intermediate level and advanced collectors will benefit from or at least enjoy this discussion.

Perhaps the greatest mid-winter news about coin auctions was not an auction; it was the exhibit in New York, at Sotheby’s, of coins from the Pogue Collection, which will be auctioned in the future. The coins in this exhibit will not be analyzed yet, though I rave about one herein. To understand that copper and the other coins cited in this discussion, at least a little knowledge of grading criteria is needed.

Those seeking additional material regarding the 70-point grading scale may find educational information at www.pcgs.com, including photograde online, and in leading reference books, such as those written by Scott Travers. There is no substitute, however, for examining coins and listening to experts. Additionally, reading some of my past articles may contribute to an understanding of grading and market realities. (Clickable links are in blue.)

In regards to classic U.S. coins, more people collect copper, including ‘bronze,’ than coins of any other metal. Lincoln Cents remain the most popular of all classic U.S. coins, and Indian Cents are among the top ten most popular series. Among pre-Civil War coins, large cents are the most avidly pursued. Also, tens of thousands of people collect half cents ‘by type,’ as collecting these ‘by date’ is particularly difficult.

Generally, coins that are at least 90% copper are termed copper coins. Although such a definition is debatable, an alternative definition might not be practical. Five-cent nickels are 75% copper, yet are logically called “nickels,” not coppers. Moreover, in scientific or cultural realms, there is no precise, widely accepted definition of “bronze.” So, referring to 90% to 100% copper coins as being ‘copper’ is traditional, fair and accurate enough.

For the most part, I am mentioning coins that I have not seen. It should not be assumed that I am recommending any of the specific coins mentioned or that I am necessarily in agreement with particular grades assigned to coins by PCGS or NGC. As always, I recommend consulting relevant experts and not relying upon certified grades while determining bids to be placed in auctions. One purpose here is provide information regarding the breadth and depth of offerings of popular copper coins in mainstream auctions.

The Goldbergs sale was held on Jan. 25th and 26th at this firm’s offices in the city of Los Angeles. The U.S. coins in the Spink “Collectors Series” sale this week were sold during the afternoon of Tues. Jan. 27th, at this firm’s New York office, 145 West 57th St. The live sessions of the Heritage auction at the Long Beach (California) Convention center will be conducted on Thurs. Jan 30th and Friday, Jan. 31st. The Stack’s-Bowers 2015 Americana Sale will be at the Stack’s auction firm location in New York during Feb. 5th and 6th.

Garrett-Pogue Chain Cent

Before discussing any coins in the current auctions, I feel compelled to share my excitement about again seeing the Garrett-Pogue 1793 Chain cent, which is of the major variety with ‘AMERICA’ entirely spelled and of the S-3 die pairing. I examined this coin more than twenty years ago and I was delighted to view it again on Jan. 21st, at Sotheby’s headquarters in Manhattan, as part of a large exhibit of coins from the Pogue Collection. This Chain cent will probably not be in the first sale of the Pogue Collection on May 19 and probably will be offered by Stack’s-Bowers, in partnership with Sotheby’s, in a future sale.

Reverse of the Garrett Chain cent. Image: PCGS.
Reverse of the Garrett Chain cent. Image: PCGS.

The Garrett-Naftzger-Pogue S-3 Chain Cent is one of the most famous of all U.S. copper coins. I first saw it more than twenty years ago. Jay Parrino had acquired it from Eric Streiner, who, in turn, had purchased most of Naftzger’s collection of large cents, via Stack’s (New York), early in 1992. This Chain cent was graded MS-65 by PCGS in 1992.

Shortly before an Eliasberg sale in 1996, Parrino sold it to a collector in the Midwest who was represented by Richard Burdick. Later, the type set that contained this coin was certified by NGC, with pedigree information on each NGC label (‘insert’). This Garrett-Naftzger Chain cent was then NGC certified ‘MS-66-RB.’ It has since found its way back into a PCGS holder, again with a ‘MS-65-RB’ certification.

The ‘RB’ designation for having significant original ‘mint red’ color is, undoubtedly, merited. Although there are not bright red patches, substantial original red is blended with natural brown tones over much of this coin. The mix of red and brown on the reverse (back) is such that the reverse is at least 30% red overall.

Given this coin’s minimal imperfections, the original mix of red and brown in combination with wonderful luster and a nice planchet result in the Garrett-Pogue Chain cent having an amazingly cool appearance. I was spellbound when I saw it in 1992 and I was enticed again last week. This is certainly one of the most exciting early copper coins in existence.

Although the PCGS graded MS-66 S-4 (‘With periods’) Chain cent that just sold on Jan. 7 for $2.35 million is technically sounder, the Garrett-Pogue S-3 (‘AMERICA,’ no periods) has more eye appeal and pizazz. In terms of overall quality, the two are close, though I would rather own this Garrett-Pogue coin. Two weeks ago, I longed to see it again in my report about rarities in the FUN auction and I then had no idea that I would be able to view it on Jan. 21 in New York. Some wishes become realities.

Half Cents

Surprisingly, another 1793 half cent from the Tettenhorst-Missouri Collection was sold by the Goldbergs. A year ago, the Goldbergs auctioned the all-time greatest and most complete set of half cents that was ever publicly offered. A variety (C-2) of 1793 half cents was then missing from the Tettenhorst-Missouri Collection. This C-2 half cent had been misplaced by the collector known as ‘Tettenhorst’ or by someone he had trusted with it. It was later found and consigned to the just concluded Goldbergs auction.

Half centThis same 1793 half cent was formerly in the epic sale of George Earle’s collection in 1912, which was one of the dozen all-time greatest collections of U.S. coins. It is now PCGS certified ‘MS-63 Brown’ and was graded “MS-60 choice” by the cataloguer, probably Bob Grellman.

The preliminary auction result for this Tettenhorst-Missouri half cent is $114,563. All auctions results mentioned here may be subject to revision.

The next lot was another 1793 half cent of the same C-2 die pairing. It is graded by the cataloguer as “AG-3,” an increment below Good-04. This piece went for $999.

On Friday, Heritage will offer a PCGS graded Fair-02 1793 half cent that was struck from this same pair of dies (C-2). There is “no reserve.”

Stack’s-Bowers will be offering three 1793 half cents, though none of the three are of the just mentioned C-2 die pairing. As 1793 half cents are among the first U.S. coins, constitute a one-year design type, and are scarce, most collectors would be happy to own one, regardless of variety.

Two of these three in the Stack’s-Bowers ‘Americana’ sale are clearly non-gradable due to serious problems, though have quite a bit of detail. In some cases, non-gradable coins are excellent values, especially for collectors who do not wish to spend the sums required to buy gradable representatives of the same type, date and level of detail.

A 1793 half cent with a large amount of corrosion is said by graders at PCGS to have the details of a Very Fine grade coin. A PCGS authenticated 1793 with not as much corrosion has the details of a Very Good grade coin. This could turn out to be a good value for a budget-minded collector who is building a type set. A PCGS graded AU-53 1793 in this same auction will cost much more, probably above $30,000, and might not necessarily be worth such a premium over representatives of this issue that failed to receive numerical grades.

The images of an 1806 half cent in the Heritage auction caught my attention. It is PCGS certified and CAC approved, ‘MS-63 Red & Brown.’ A copper expert at Heritage seems to be in agreement with the certification. If the red areas are truly natural, and I have no reason to think otherwise, this is a very impressive coin.

Stack’s-Bowers will be offering two 1806 half cents that are not nearly as expensive as a certified ‘MS-63 RB’ coin. A PCGS graded AU-55 1806 might very well sell for less than $1000. One, which has the details of an Extremely Fine grade coin, was judged by the staff at PCGS to be not gradable because of “rim damage.” It will sell for less than $600, though it is hard to estimate a price range for a coin that failed to receive a numerical grade from PCGS or NGC. It is fun to view these and later learn how much they bring at auction.

Many of the half cents and large cents in this Goldbergs auction are not certified, including a rare 1808/7 half cent that is said to have the sharpness of a VG-07 grade and a net grade of AG-03 due to problems. It seems that the preliminary auction result for this coin is $22,913, a strong price.

A type coin for a beginner might be an 1828 Classic Head half cent in the Stack’s-Bowers auction that is PCGS graded MS-64 and CAC approved. Another Classic Head type coin for a beginner is a NGC graded and CAC approved MS-63, 1833 half cent that Heritage will sell on Feb. 1st. There are many other half cents in these auctions.

Large Cents

The first coins struck by the Philadelphia Mint are Chain Cents in Feb. 1793, essentially the first formal U.S. coins. There were seven Chain Cents in this Goldbergs auction, most of which were not certified. As I mentioned two weeks ago, there are three major varieties of Chain Cents: ‘AMERICA’ abbreviated as “AMERI.” (S-1 die pairing), ‘AMERICA’ entirely spelled (S-2, NC-1, S-3), and ‘with periods’ after the letters of ‘LIBERTY’ and after the numerals of the year (S-4).

Large CentThe following Chain cents, along with preliminary prices realized, were in this Goldbergs auction: S-1 (not certified) VG-07 $9400; S-1 (not certified) G-04 $2938; S-1 PCGS graded Fair-02 $4230; S-1, last die state, (not certified and has an engraved symbol) Poor-01(at best) $5640; S-2 (not certified) Fair-02 $1704; S-4 (not certified) AG-03 $2761; S-4 (not certified) Poor-01 $1645.

The Stack’s-Bowers Americana sale contains four well circulated Chain cents, all of the S-3 ‘AMERICA’ variety: PCGS graded Fine-15; PCGS graded Good-04; PCGS authenticated, but not graded, “Fine Details”; PCGS authenticated, but not graded, “VG Details.” It is not unusual for early copper coins to suffer as a consequence of corrosion, which is often extensive.

Stack’s-Bowers is also offering a run of heavily worn and/or corroded 1793 Wreath cents for those who are seeking relatively affordable representatives of this historic type. The third design type of 1793 is actually the rarest if the 1793 Liberty Cap is deemed to be a one-year type.

In 2008, I estimated that just three hundred 1793 Liberty Cap cents survive, in all grades, including the ungradable. The piece that Stack’s-Bowers is offering is PCGS graded Fine-12, though I am not convinced it is truly gradable. I look forward to examining it.

A highlight of the Spink auction was an NGC graded MS-60, 1794, ‘Head of 1793’ large cent. I explain this variety in my coverage of the sale of the Cardinal Collection of large cents in Jan. 2013. (Clickable links are in blue.)
Heritage is offering a PCGS graded Good-06, 1794 ‘Head of 1794,’ which is nowhere near as scarce as a 1794 ‘Head of 1793.’ Heritage is also offering a 1794 ‘Head of 1795’ cent, which is NGC graded Good-06.

Stack’s-Bowers will sell a 1794 ‘Head of 1794,’ of a common variety, which is PCGS graded AU-55. This piece is photogenic, though it is unfair to discuss it further before actually seeing it.

The 1799 is a key date and one of the most famous U.S. coins. This Stack’s-Bowers sale includes two non-gradable 1799s. One has been horridly re-worked and the other has been heavily worn in circulation and exhibits some readily apparent marks from hits during her lifetime, though is perhaps acceptable as a Fair-02 grade coin.

The 1823/2 overdate is a key to the series of Matron Head large cents. There are two in the HA Long Beach auction. The first is PCGS graded VF-26 and CAC approved, though is graded “Fine-12” by a prominent member of a club of specialists in die varieties of early copper coins. The second is NGC graded EF-40, with a grade of “VF-25” assigned by the same member of ‘the club’ (EAC).

Many collectors like relatively inexpensive, high grade type coins. In the upcoming Stack’s-Bowers auction, there is a bright 1853 Braided Hair cent that probably will not be very expensive. It is NGC certified ‘MS-64-Red’ and is CAC approved.

Indian Cents

From 1859 to 1864, copper-nickel Indian cents were minted. From sometime in the middle of 1864 until some point in 1909, 95% copper Indian cents were struck

Indian CentThe 1872 is a semi-key, which retails for around $100 in Good-04 grade and maybe for $500 in Extremely Fine-40 grade. When I was a kid, I never was quite able to afford one. For $3172.50, the Goldbergs sold an 1872 that is PCGS certified ‘MS-65 RB’ and is CAC approved.

In the upcoming HA event, there is an 1872 that is PCGS certified ‘MS-64 RB’ and CAC approved. Although I probably have never seen this coin, the online images seem appealing. It would be very difficult for a coin doctor to emulate such mottled toning and vertical streaks. Further, had this coin been doctored, the doctor probably would have sought to cover or obscure the horizontal contact marks on the neck and in the field near NI of UNITED. It is extremely unlikely that this coin has ever been doctored. Indeed, my hunch is that this coin scores very high in the category of originality and is a very likable coin overall, though I would not draw a conclusion without seeing the coin in actuality.

In the run of Indian cents in the Stack’s-Bowers Americana sale, I am drawn to the images of the 1873 that is PCGS certified ‘MS-65+ Red’ and is CAC approved. This could be a great coin. Also, 1873 is a somewhat ‘better date’ and the ‘close 3’ variety is worth a premium.

Of all the Indian Cents in the Goldbergs auction, one that may have captured the most attention among those who attended lot viewing sessions is the PCGS certified and CAC approved ‘MS-66 Red’ 1874. This is a ‘better date’ and is a condition rarity in MS-65 and higher grades, with any designation. It brought $27,025, a strong price.

The 1877 is the key to the series of Indian cents. There are six in this HA event: PCGS graded VF-30; NGC graded VF-30; PCGS authenticated, scratches, with “AU Details;” PCGS graded Fine-15; PCGS authenticated, serious problems, questionably said to have “Unc. Details;” PCGS graded and CAC approved Good-06.

Lincoln Cents

Lincoln cents have been produced since 1909 and are still being made. I spend them almost every day.
Lincoln cents with a ‘wheat’ reverse (back) design were struck from 1909 to 1958. Early or ‘classic’ Lincolns are those dating from 1909 to 1933, which are often collected separately or ignored by collectors seeking modern Lincoln cents.

Lincoln CentThere were four, key 1909-S VDB cents in the Goldbergs auction: PCGS certified and CAC approved ‘MS-64 RB’ $2233; two that are PCGS certified and CAC approved ‘MS-64 Brown’ – $1586 and $1645; NGC certified ‘MS-62 Brown’ $1293; and a non-gradable piece that is said by experts at NGC to have the “details” of a Very Fine grade coin, $588. I am not aware of any solid evidence that market levels for these have recently fallen.

There are eleven 1909-S VDB cents in the HA event. Three are said to be non-gradable and are in PCGS ‘Genuine’ holders, with EF Details, “AU Details,” and “Unc. Details,” respectively. Two are PCGS graded AU-53, and one of these two has a CAC sticker. In addition, there is included a PCGS graded VF-30 1909-S VDB, with a CAC sticker. There is a PCGS certified MS-64 Brown’ 1909-S VDB and four that are PCGS designated ‘Red & Brown’ (“RB”), which are graded: 62, 63, 64, and 64 with a CAC sticker.

The 1914-D is a key, too. There are two 1914-D Lincolns in this Heritage auction, one in a PCGS ‘Genuine’ holder with “AU Details.” The other is PCGS graded MS-62.

When I was ten years old, my mother drove me to a coin store on my birthday and I picked out a VF-25 or so grade 1914-D. I cherished it for years. When I was in college, I sold that 1914-D to help pay for a long weekend trip with a girlfriend.

By the time I was a teenager, I was seeking uncirculated early Lincolns. In my personal experience, one of the hardest early Lincolns to find in choice ‘mint state’ grades is the 1918-S. In this HA Long Beach auction, there is a PCGS certified ‘MS-65 Brown’ 1918-S, which is CAC approved. This 1918-S may bring much more than most collectors of pennies would guess.

Two Cent pieces

Two Cent Pieces were minted from 1864 to 1873. The Goldbergs sale had three 1864 ‘Large Motto’ Two Cent pieces that are certified as being gems, condition rarities of sorts. The first, from the consignment of a private collection, is in a holder with an old green PCGS label. It is certified ‘MS-66 Red’ and is CAC approved. The preliminary $2996 result is strong and unsurprising.

Two centThe second, which is PCGS certified ‘MS-65 Red,’ reached the level of $1410, a very strong price. The third is NGC certified ‘MS-65 Red & Brown,’ and seems to have realized $705, which would be a strong price.

Indeed, in early February, Stack’s-Bowers will offer fourteen, ‘mint state’ grade, 1864 ‘Large Motto’ Two Cent pieces: PCGS certified ‘MS-66 Red’; (2) PCGS ‘MS-65 Red’; NGC certified ‘MS-66 RB’; PCGS certified ‘MS-66 RB’; NGC ‘MS-65 RB’; PCGS certified ‘MS-65 Brown’; NGC certified ‘MS-65 Brown’; NGC certified and CAC approved ‘MS-64+ Red’; PCGS certified ‘MS-64 RB’; (2) PCGS certified ‘MS-64 Brown’; (2) PCGS certified ‘MS-63 RB.’ A few of the PCGS graded coins are in holders from the 1980s or early 1990s. These fourteen are all business strikes. Proofs are being ignored here and will be discussed in the future.

The 1864 ‘Small Motto’ is much scarcer than the ‘Large Motto’ variety. Two Cent pieces are the first U.S. coins to feature ‘the’ motto, “In God We Trust.”

HA will offer an 1864 ‘Small Motto’ that is PCGS certified ‘MS-65 Brown.’ HA will also sell a more affordable representative of this famous variety, one that is PCGS graded VF-35 and CAC approved.
On Feb. 5, Stack’s-Bowers will sell a certified ‘MS-65 Red’ coin that is in a PCGS holder dating from some point between Feb. 1986 and Sept. 1989. In an Internet session that follows the live auction sessions on Feb. 5th and 6th,Stack’s-Bowers will offer a PCGS graded VF-35 1864 ‘Small Motto,’ too.

Usually, collectors of type coins will not seek an 1864 ‘Small Motto,’ though obtaining a ‘Small Motto’ Two Cent piece along with a ‘Large Motto’ coin might make a type set more interesting. Collectors building type sets generally pursue just one Two Cent piece and most gem quality Two Cent pieces are purchased by collectors of type coins, though type sets of circulated coins are fun to build as well.

HA will sell an 1866 that is PCGS certified ‘MS-65 Red’ and is CAC approved. Perhaps this is a neat type coin, as could be a PCGS certified and CAC approved ‘MS-65 RB’ 1868 in that same event.

The 1872 is the key business strike of this somewhat short-lived denomination, of which just one design type was issued. Heritage will be offering an 1872 that is PCGS certified ‘MS-65 Red & Brown’ and is CAC approved. HA will also be offering another 1872 that is NGC graded as Extremely Fine-45.

Stack’s-Bowers is offering two PCGS graded VF-30 1872 business strikes, one of which has a CAC sticker. These are highly demanded.

A point to keep in mind, though, is that Indian cents, Lincoln cents, and Two Cent pieces are classic U.S. coins that are not rare. All dates (and mint combinations) are easy to find and enjoyable to collect, though half cents and large cents tend to be more challenging series.

Collectors should read and ask questions, while becoming at least somewhat educated, before spending large sums of money on coins. Each collector should think about the coins that are appealing and important to him or her, respectively. Coin buyers who spend more reading and thinking are likely to be disappointed.

©2015 Greg Reynolds


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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  1. A well written article. I hope to read the rest of
    the Pogue collection reports. Reading Greg’s
    articles are the next best thing to holding the
    coins he is reporting on; well detailed.


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