News and Analysis on scarce coins,  markets, and the  collecting community #87

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds

For decades, Denis Loring has been one of the most accomplished and knowledgeable collectors of large cents. The interest level in a large cent is almost always greater if Loring was a present or previous owner of it, part of the pedigree (history of ownership and origin). On Jan. 4, during the first Platinum Night session at the FUN Convention, Loring’s collection of 1793 cents, except three Denis retained as a 1793 large cent type set, will be auctioned by Heritage at the convention center in Orlando. Earlier this week, I wrote about Dr. Duckor’s Saints, which will be auctioned the following night.

In 1793, three different design types of cents were produced. Large cents have a slightly greater diameter than current quarters. Small cents, about the same size as pennies now, were not minted until 1856.

While Denis Loring is an expert in die varieties of large cents, most buyers of large cents collect them ‘by type.’ Furthermore, thousands of people collect large cents ‘by date’ and a much smaller number collect large cent by ‘die variety.’ There is are compelling reasons, however, to refer to Loring’s cents by die variety here as Loring consigned to this auction three Chain Cents, eight Wreath Cents, and one Liberty Cap Cent. Each is of a different variety.

Varieties are identified by Sheldon (‘S’) numbers. There is no need here to know the details of the varieties. The main point of mentioning varieties to people who are not interested in varieties is to distinguish one coin from another. For example, the Loring S-9 1793 Wreath Cent is, of course, a coin that is different from the Loring’s S-10 1793 Wreath Cent. How else should I distinguish these two coins? They are both 1793 Wreath Cents that were consigned by Denis Loring.

It was Loring’s plan to acquire representatives of all die pairings, and edge varieties, of 1793 large cents that were available to him in extremely fine to almost uncirculated grades, EF-40 to AU-58. “I like assembling matched sets. I don’t mind light touches of circulation,” Loring states. Besides, Denis finds that extremely fine and almost uncirculated grade coins are “far more affordable than ‘Mint State’ coins,” those that grade MS-60 and higher.

All three of the Chain Cents are PCGS graded “AU-53” and graded “EF-45” by the cataloguer, in accordance with the criteria employed by a club of people who collect large cents or half cents by die variety (the EAC). As their criteria is substantially different from the grading criteria employed by the PCGS, EAC grades may be significantly lower or higher than PCGS grades for the same coins.

One of these three Chain Cents has a sticker of approval from the CAC. Another is in a PCGS Secure holder. Please see my two part series on the SecurePlus program. (As usual, clickable links are in blue.)

“I have a complete set of 1793 varieties in EF to AU, by EAC grading,” Loring reveals. “I have every variety that exists in EF-AU outside of the ANS museum. I don’t have S-12, S-15 or S-16 [varieties of 1793 Liberty Cap Cents] because they don’t exist in EF to AU grades, outside of the ANS museum. There are fifteen coins in all. I am keeping one Chain, one Wreath, and one Liberty Cap,” Denis states. I have not yet seen any of Loring’s 1793 cents.

All of the twelve 1793 cents that Loring consigned to the Jan. 2012 FUN auction are PCGS graded, in the range from AU-50 to AU-58, except one Wreath Cent, with a ‘Vine and Bars’ edge of the S-5 variety, which is NGC graded “AU-55.” Nine of the twelve consigned 1793 cents have stickers of approval from the CAC. All twelve received grades from the cataloguer that fall within the range from EF-40 to AU-50.

Ten of Loring’s fifteen 1793 cents were purchased from John MacDonald, a collector. Two of the Chain Cents in this auction (S-2 and S-3) were acquired from MacDonald in 1998. Plus, Loring bought six Wreath Cents and two 1793 Liberty Cap Cents from MacDonald in 2000.

The most valuable and famous coin in this consignment of 1793 large cents is Loring’s 1793 Liberty Cap Cent. In my analysis of the sale of a PCGS graded “AU-55” 1793 Liberty Cap in the Husak Collection, I determined that around three hundred 1793 Liberty Cap Cents, of all varieties and of all grades, survive. Loring consigned an especially important 1793 Liberty Cap Cent to this auction.

I. 1793 Liberty Cap Cents

Loring’s 1793 Liberty Cap, of the S-14 variety, is PCGS graded “AU-50+” and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. The cataloguer, who is likely to be Mark Borckardt, grades it as EF-45. In my recent article about Al Boka’s collection of large cents, there is considerable discussion of the difference between mainstream grading criteria and the system employed by a small, though dedicated group of early copper specialists (the EAC).

As I already mentioned, Loring is keeping one 1793 Liberty Cap Cent. “My S-13 [Liberty Cap] is EF-40,” according to Loring. It “was last sold publicly as lot #124 of an April 1979 Bowers & Ruddy auction,” Denis states. Further, his S-13 was PCGS graded “AU-53” and has been “broken out” of its PCGS holder. I suggest that collectors refrain from removing rare and expensive PCGS certified coins from their respective PCGS holders. Denis may disagree.

The S-14 Liberty Cap, which is consigned to the Heritage FUN auction, is rarer than the S-13 Liberty Cap. The most apparent difference between an S-13 and an S-14 is that each S-14 was struck from an obverse (front) die that had a vertical crack from the ‘E’ in LIBERTY to the ‘3’ in 1793. As a result, S-14 coins were struck with a noteworthy raised line, which, in my view, gives them a special ‘artistic look.’

All 1793 Liberty Cap Cents are famous rarities and most coin collectors would be delighted to have one 1793 Liberty Cap, of any variety. The values of 1793 Liberty Cap cents has increased substantially over the last decade, even more so than the market values of other rare early copper coins. I hypothesize that a major reason for this increase is that more collectors now regard 1793 Liberty Cap Cents as one-year type coins.

Yes, Liberty Cap Cents were minted from 1793 to 1796. In the past, collectors assembling type sets of all classic U.S. coins, of cents only, of early types only, or of any other kind of type set that includes early large cents, sought just one Liberty Cap large cent, any date from 1793 to 1796.

Now that many more collectors regard 1793 Liberty Cap Cents to be of a design type that is different from those Liberty Cap Cents that were minted from 1794 to 1796, more collectors determine that two Liberty Cap Cents are needed for a type set, a 1793 and one dating from 1794 to 1796. The primary difference is that 1793 Liberty Cap Cents each have a beaded border, and 1794 to ’96 Liberty Cap Cents each have a dentilated border with toothlike devices near the edge to protect the fields while coins are circulating. Beads offer some degree of protection, too, yet seem to be less protective and much more decorative than dentils.

In the PCGS set registry, each type set that includes large cents requires two Liberty Cap Cents, a 1793 and one from the 1794 to ’96 period. In the NGC coin registry, in contrast, the 1793 Liberty Cap Cent is not regarded as a separate design type. Each relevant type set requires just one Liberty Cap Cent, a 1793, 1794, 1795 or 1796 cent. Further, the listing of large cents at seem to suggest that this guide does not regard the 1793 Liberty Cap as a one-year type, just as one member of the 1793 to ’96 Liberty Cap type. The beads, however, appear very different from dentils.

There is not a right or wrong answer to the question of whether two Liberty Cap Cents are required for a type set. It is a fact, however, that, over the last decade, more collectors have to come to view the 1793 Liberty Cap Cent as a one-year type. Indeed, many have voiced this opinion.

II. 1793 Wreath Cents

Chain Cents were the first one cent coins struck by the U.S. Mint. (Pattern one cent pieces were struck at a different location in 1792.) After there was a public outcry against Chain Cents, a new design was adopted with a wreath on the reverse (back of the coin). Wreath Cents, like Chain Cents, were struck only in 1793. These are thus one-year type coins, as are 1796 quarters and 1808 Quarter Eagles ($2½ gold coins).

Not only were Wreath Cents struck from several different pairs of dies, there are edge varieties as well. The Loring S-5 Wreath Cent is NGC graded “AU-55.” All of Loring’s other Wreath Cents are PCGS graded AND have stickers of approval from the CAC. Herein, I put the PCGS grades in parentheses: S-6 (AU-55), S-8 (AU-55+), S-9 (AU-58), S-10 (AU-50), S-11A (50), S-11B (55+) and S-11C (50). Loring is keeping his S-7. The S11s, A, B and C, are each of different edge varieties. All of Loring’s Wreath Cents have a ‘Vine and Bars’ edge, except the S-11B and the S-11C, which each have a lettered edge.

The S-11B and the S-11C each have ‘ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR’ lettered on the edge. On the S-11B, there are two leaves after the word ‘DOLLAR.’ The S-11C is the name of the variety that has just one leaf after the world ‘DOLLAR.’ Only specialists in varieties are concerned about this distinction. Generally, though, collectors of large cents ‘by date’ seek both a Wreath Cent with ‘Vine and Bars’ ornamentation on the edge and a Wreath Cent with a lettered edge, either an S-11B or an S-11C.

A third kind of Wreath Cents is listed as having the status of a distinct ‘date’ in many price guides, including those of PCGS and, though not in the “NGC Coin Explorer.” These are Strawberry Leaf Cents, Wreath Cents with unusual leaves above the numerals in 1793. Only four are known and I have been fortunate to have examined all three that are privately owned. Please see my article on the finest known Strawberry Leaf being auctioned and my article about Dan Holmes’ early dates.

Denis Loring reports that he was the “second underbidder” when ANR auctioned the finest known Strawberry Leaf Cent in 2004. I didn’t bid on [the same coin] in 2009,” Denis states, because “it was obviously going for more than I wanted to spend.” Further, he bid on one of Holmes’ two Strawberry Leaf Cents in Sept. 2009, “but didn’t get it. I didn’t like the looks of the [other], so didn’t bid on it,” Loring recalls. I, too, prefer the S-NC2 Strawberry Leaf Cent, which is PCGS graded “Fair-02,” to the S-NC3 Strawberry Leaf, which is PCGS graded “Good-04.”

III. 1793 Chain Cents

Chain Cents are among the most popular of all U.S. coins. These are the first one cent coins of the U.S. While people in 1793 were upset by the design, since the 1850s, coin collectors have tended to like it. Chain Cents are much scarcer than Wreath Cents and Chain Cents are less rare than 1793 Liberty Cap Cents. Probably around fifteen hundred Chain Cents survive, many of which are ungradable.

There are three major varieties of Chain Cents, which are collected as distinct ‘dates.’ As there are subtle differences in the design, it could be argued that these are subtypes rather than just varieties. Alternately, it could also be argued that these are just die varieties and are not really major. In my view, these are different enough to be distinct ‘dates,’ as the word ‘date’ is used by coin collectors, not subtypes and not obscure varieties.

On the first Chain Cents, the variety known as S-1, ‘AMERICA’ is abbreviated ‘AMERI.’, which is very unusual in any context. For coins of the same grade, these are the most valuable Chain Cents. Loring is keeping his ‘AMERI.’ Chain Cent.

In the second group (S-2 and S-3), ‘AMERICA’ is spelled out. The main difference between the S-2 variety and the S-3 is the width of the spacing of the numerals in the year ‘1793.’ Further, on S-3 cents, the ‘R’ in LIBERTY is unusually large. Loring’s S-2 is PCGS graded AU-53 and is in a Secure holder, which indicates that it has been encapsulated since March 2010 under the SecurePlus program. Loring’s S-3 is PCGS graded “AU-53” and is CAC approved.

In the third group (S-4), there is a period after ‘AMERICA’ and also a period after 1793. The presence of a period after a year is odd and very distinctive. Personally, I find the head of Liberty on S-4 cents to be more attractive than the respective heads on the S-1, S-2 and S-3 varieties that I have seen. Loring’s S-4 is PCGS graded “AU-53” as well.

IV. Loring’s Approach to Collecting

Denis Loring is certainly one of the most famous large cent collectors of all time. It is not practical to convey his experiences and list his qualifications here. I am curious, though, as to his collecting quests.

Loring states that his “collecting interests and objectives change over time. Rather than upgrade, I try to get coins within my target condition range, usually EF to AU, the first time out. Therefore, when I complete a set, it’s done. I can’t afford to keep [all my sets], so, when I develop a new interest, something has to go. Right now I am not trying to complete anything in copper, just buying individual coins that appeal to me. I also collect … neat coins that have stories such as the 1792 half disme and the 1848 Cal. Quarter Eagle,” Loring reveals.

Denis started collecting coins when he was eight years old. He has been collecting large cents since he was eighteen. Miraculously, “I completed the set [of Sheldon (S) varieties] when I was twenty seven,” Loring recalls. “I was the fifth person to do so. It’s been done a total of sixteen times [by] now, with one person, Robbie Brown, having done it twice,” Denis relates.

There are 295 “collectible” Sheldon die varieties and there are seven edge varieties, which are designated with letters rather than numbers, like the S-11B and S-11C Wreath Cents. In total, there are 302 “collectible” Sheldon varieties of large cents, including the seven edge varieties.

Additionally, varieties that are, or were, regarded as too rare to be collected are categorized as non-collectible (NC) varieties. Some NC varieties, however, have become less rare as more representatives were discovered. Loring had all 302 “collectible” varieties, a complete set, and twenty nine or so of the ‘NC’ varieties, some of which are unique.

V. Type Sets

Collectors who have never seriously pursued large cents before may wish to form a type set of large cents. Traditionally, a collector needed only seven large cents for a type set: Chain (1793), Wreath (1793), Liberty Cap (1793-96), Draped Bust (1796-1807), Classic Head (1808-14), Matron or Coronet (1816-39), and Braided Hair (1839-57).

In my view, the ‘Head of 1835-39’ is really a separate design type in the ‘Middle Date’ series. It looks substantially different from the 1816-35 Matron Head design and is also much different from the 1839-57 Braided Hair type. This type of 1835 to 1839 includes the 1835 with the ‘Head of 1836’ and the 1839 with the ‘Head of 1838.’ This type needs a widely accepted name.

As stated already, there has been an increase in the number of collectors who view 1793 Liberty Cap Cents as a design type that is distinct from the Liberty Cap Cents of 1794 to 1796. A beginner, though, should not feel compelled to acquire two Liberty Cap Cents. Completing a type set of eight large cents is fun and is a significant accomplishment. Plus, such a set is often very appealing overall.

‘Type Set’ builders who can afford a 1793 Liberty Cap may wish to add one to their respective type sets. In my view, it is a really neat issue. I have been tracking high grade 1793 Liberty Cap Cents.

©2011 Greg Reynolds