The First American Cent – Bushnell-Parmelee-Jenks-Col. Green 1792 Birch Cent – Choice AU-58 (PCGS)
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds …..
Analysis regarding scarce coins, markets, and coin collecting #348
This week’s column is about those 1792 patterns that, in my estimation, are likely to be worth more than $1 million in the current market environment. In 2010, PCGS veterans formulated the “Million Dollar Coin Club,” a conceptual grouping of U.S. coins and patterns that were each worth more than one million USD.
After they updated their accounting in early 2011, I reviewed this PCGS grouping. It was obvious then that several U.S. patterns of 1792 are worth more than $1 million.
There are even patterns from an earlier time period that are worth more than $1 million a piece. Some Robert Morris patterns of 1783, at least two “Continental Currency” pieces of unknown origin, and three Brasher Doubloons have all sold for more than $1 million each–far more, in some cases.
Also, the unique NE Threepence of 1652 in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society is worth $1 million, and was worth more than $1 million during the last decade. There is a gold Washington piece, which is sometimes said to be an early pattern, in the Eric Newman Collection. It may be worth more than $1 million, though I am not yet familiar enough with this item to evaluate it.
Silver Center Copper Cent
Of the 14 or 15 Silver Center Copper Cent Judd #1 (J-1) patterns that have been publicly listed, three to six have retail values of more than $1 million each in the current market environment. In January 2012, the Garrett piece sold privately for $5 million. It was PCGS-graded as MS-67 and CAC-approved.
The Norweb-Jung J-1 pattern was PCGS-certified as “MS-64“ for a long time and has since been questionably upgraded to “SP-65.” Indisputably, however, it is currently worth more than $1 million. It sold privately in 2011 for more than $2.5 million.
As far as I know, the Newman piece is the third finest. It is NGC-graded as “MS-63+.” In May 2014, it realized $1,410,000. It is, of course, fair to hypothesize that it is worth more than $1 million now.
The Charles Morris piece is the fourth finest on my roster, with the qualifier that I have never seen the Weinberg J-1 pattern and thus am not sure where to place Alan’s piece in a condition ranking. Charles Morris was a 19th-century collector who should not be confused with Gouverneur Morris nor Robert Morris, founding fathers connected to the patterns of 1783.
The Charles Morris J-1 pattern is PCGS-graded as “MS-61.” In April 2012, it brought $1.15 million in the Central States auction, as I then reported.
Although the Morris J-1 exhibits a little friction, this is a wonderful Silver Center Copper Cent pattern, which scores much higher in the category of originality than some of the others. Whether it is worth more than $1 million now is debatable; perhaps its current value is slightly below the one million mark.
Values of J-1 patterns are largely dependent upon the quality of the respective pieces. I am not commenting as to whether Alan Weinberg’s Silver Center Copper Cent is worth more than $1 million. This pattern is probably not often seen by anyone other than Alan, has never been PCGS- or NGC-certified, and has not traded in decades.
J-2 patterns are of the same artistic design as the Silver Center Copper Cent (J-1) patterns. The idea behind Judd #2 patterns was for one-cent coins to be struck in an alloy that is predominantly copper and does contain some silver (in other words, billon). There would be no way, however, to evaluate the silver content by glancing at such a coin. Testing would be required, and might have been inconclusive given the technology available in the 1790s.
The compositions of all the known J-2 patterns have not been determined. During much of the 19th century, patterns of gold denominations were usually struck in copper, as gold is expensive. Therefore, the composition of the surviving J-2 patterns is beside the point as the corresponding regular issue–if it had become a reality–would have contained some silver. The J-2 pieces are the so called “fusible alloy” patterns.
The two most valuable J-2 patterns are the Parmelee-Norweb-Weinberg and Smithsonian pieces. At some point in 2008, one or both of these could possibly have been worth more than $1 million, though probably not quite that much. Although J-2 patterns are rarer, demand has always been stronger for the Silver Center (J-1) patterns.
There are multiple varieties of Birch Cents (though they are basically of the same design), which most early copper enthusiasts find to be rather attractive. These are large cent patterns dated 1792, though the identity of Birch and the circumstances of the production of “Birch Cents” are unknown. Except for the unique, odd “white metal” piece, the differences among the varieties are relatively inconsequential.
At least one Birch Cent is currently worth more than $1 million, possibly as many as three. The Garrett-Partrick Judd #4 is NGC-certified as “MS-65*RB” and has a sticker of approval from CAC. In January 2015, it realized $2,585,000. This was a very strong price at the time, and market levels have since fallen. Nonetheless, it is certain that the Garrett-Partrick J-4 is worth much more than $1 million in the present.
The Bushnell-Parmelee-Jenks-Kendall J-4 Birch Cent is PCGS-graded AU-58 and has a sticker of approval from CAC. It is a well-struck, pleasing piece, which scores high in the technical category.
In March 2015, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned this J-4 pattern for $1,175,000, a strong price at the time. It has wholesale value below $1 million, though it could plausibly retail for more than $1 million in the future.
If the Parmelee-Smith-Brand J-3 Birch Cent grades above MS-63, it would likely be worth more than $1 million. If it grades a little below 63, it could still possibly be a million-dollar item if it were offered in the near future. It hasn’t been seen publicly in a long time.
The J-6 Birch in white metal is unique and could possibly be worth more than $1 million. As far as I know, it has never been certified. Its current condition could certainly affect its value. Before anyone spends a million dollars to buy it, I would hope that someone would find information as to its whereabouts before it reportedly appeared in a Sotheby’s auction in 1888, rather late for a first appearance of a new 1792 pattern variety.
The other Birch Cents and the already mentioned J-1 and J-2 patterns all feature the digits of a mathematical fraction “1/100,” on the reverse. The unique Birch Cent in “white metal”, however, is of a different design. The portrait of Miss Liberty is artistically different. “G. W. P.”, presumably for “George Washington, President”, appears at around 6:00 on the reverse, where the 1/100 fraction is found on all other 1792 one-cent patterns.
This “white metal” piece realized $90,000 in the Garrett IV sale of March 1981, well after markets for rare U.S. coins crashed. During this time period, bidders must have figured that it is genuine and important, as $90,000 was then a large amount for a coin or pattern. Moreover, it is likely that the unique J-6 Birch would have realized even more if it was auctioned in the Garrett I sale of November 1979 or the Garrett II event of March 1980. Markets for rare U.S. coins caved in April 1980.
During the late 1850s, there was a rage for Washington numismatic items, not just for items from earlier eras, but also for Washington items that were created in the middle of the 19th century. Among Washington items produced, there were fantasies of numismatic items that seem like medals or patterns from earlier eras. For Birch Cents in general, and for this “white metal” piece in particular, more research results are needed if solid theories about their origins are to be formulated.
There was a time when it was believed that this “white metal” J-6 was struck before the J-3, J-4 and J-5 variety Birch Cents, all of which are copper. Many Washington numismatic items were made circa 1791.
In an article published by the American Numismatic Association (ANA) in the early 1990s, Carl Carlson argued that an already used Birch cent obverse die was modified and that was used to make the white metal J-6. Given the differences in design, this is a curious theory. Could the subsequent striking have been effected with a transfer die or a copy die? I do not know.
I have explained that all 1792 half dismes are patterns, not regular issues. These were meant to introduce not just plans for U.S. coinage but a decimal-based monetary system, which was considered weird at the time and almost unheard-of for coinage. The British monetary system was characterized by multiples of odd numbers, especially of three (though fives played a role, too). The French system was far too complicated to even begin to explain here. The Dutch and German systems were non-decimal and are not easy to explain either.
Almost all transactions of significant amounts in the Western Hemisphere during the 1790s were figured in accordance with the monetary system of the Spanish Empire, which was factored in eighths and multiples of eight. The U.S. silver dollar, half dollar and quarter dollar were based upon the pre-existing Spanish Eight Reales, Four Reales and Two Reales coins, respectively.
A point that I neglected to put forth in my discussion of 1792 half dismes in 2013 is that it would have been illegal for the U.S. Mint to strike silver coins before 1794. The law required that certain U.S. Mint personnel be bonded before silver or gold coins could be legally produced. This provision in the law was clear. Because such bonding was required, U.S. silver coins were not made until 1794. Copper coins were minted in 1793.
It is logical to assume that the 1792 silver half disme patterns that circulated did so after 1795. By that time, enough people in the Philadelphia and New York areas were familiar with the new U.S. system, such that they would accept 1792 half disme patterns along with half dimes dating from 1794 to 1797 or later, which were regular coins.
In 1792, the notion of a coin denominated in a twentieth (five cents) or a tenth of a dollar (10 cents) would have been considered just too awkward to be practical. Many merchants would have laughed or strongly doubted the authenticity of half dismes or dismes if they saw them in 1792. Half dismes were given to influential people and diplomats for promotional and political purposes.
Two 1792 half dismes seems to have retail values above $1 million in the current market environment. The PCGS-certified “SP-67” Floyd Starr 1792 half disme was last auctioned in August 2014, for $1,292,500. In 2006, it realized $1,322,500. In January 2013, it went for $1.41 million.
The Knoxville-Cardinal 1792 half disme was NGC-graded MS-68 before 2005 and finally crossed into a PCGS holder before August 2013. Reportedly, it sold privately for $1.5 million on July 3, 2007. The Knoxville-Cardinal 1792 was auctioned in January 2013 for $1,145,625, at which time a dealer bought it for his inventory.
Only one 1792 half disme in copper is known, which is NGC-graded as AU-55 and CAC-approved. The copper half disme has an impressive pedigree, which includes Mickley, Parmelee, Morris, Roper and Partrick. Heritage auctioned a large part Donald Partrick’s collection in January 2015 in Orlando.
If the enthusiasm that coin buyers have for the hundreds of silver half dismes that survive is considered, the $824,850 auction result in January 2015 for the unique copper piece does not seem like all that much. Maybe, the unique copper piece (J-8) could be fairly valued at more than $1 million in the near future.
There is a high-grade, 1794 “half disme” pattern in copper in the Smithsonian (Judd #14) that is unique and has a very distinctive design. Unless there is something wrong with this pattern, it is extremely likely that this 1794 half disme is worth more than $1 million.
Just three 1792 dismes (dime patterns) in silver survive. The Mickley-Norweb-Partrick J-9a, thick planchet piece has serious problems and exhibits the details of an Extremely Fine grade coin, according to experts at NGC. I have not seen it. The Starr-Granberg-Simpson disme is silver and NGC-graded Fine-15.
The Brand-Partrick 1792 silver disme was NGC-graded AU-50 when Heritage auctioned it in January 2015 and PCGS-graded as AU-50 when auctioned this year in the Central States auction. In both events, it realized the exact same price, $998,750.
As for 1792 disme patterns in copper, cataloguers at Heritage have identified 18 that each have a reeded edge (J-10). It has been clear that there are three with a plain edge (J-11).
The Garrett-Partrick piece, with a plain edge (J-11), sold for $1,057,500 in January 2015. It was NGC-certified ‘MS-64RB’ and CAC-approved.
The red aspect of the Garrett-Partrick piece may have been the characteristic that spurred bidding to the million dollar level. I have not seen it. Importantly for its market value, experts at NGC and CAC have determined that this copper disme features a substantial amount of original mint red color, which certainly distinguishes the NGC-certified “MS-64RB” Garrett-Partrick piece from the other 1792 disme patterns.
The Garrett-Simpson 1792 disme in copper with a reeded edge (J-10) is PCGS-certified as “SP-64BN.” It sold for $705,000 in April.
The 1792 quarter patterns feature a distinctive design, unlike any that was adopted for regular coinage. None are known in silver, though they were clearly proposals for silver coins. The Norweb-Partrick J-13 consists of a “white metal” alloy already cited to be “50% lead, 48% tin” in this case.
In 2011, the PCGS Million Dollar Club valued this same piece at “$1,000,000 to $1,400,000”.
In January 2015, it went for $376,000, a surprisingly low price, which must have been weak.
This Norweb-Partrick “white metal” quarter pattern is NGC-graded EF-45. The Parmelee-Partrick 1792 quarter pattern in copper (J-12) has been graded as 63 by PCGS, NGC and CAC. NGC certified it as “MS-63”, while PCGS designated it as a Specimen (“SP-63”). It is clearly a business strike, with mint luster, soft design elements, minimal reflectivity and obvious striking imperfections. It is, though, a fabulous piece.
The Parmelee-Partrick 1792 quarter in copper is much more attractive in actuality than it appears to be in published images. As I spent a few minutes examining this pattern at the 2016 ANA Convention in Anaheim, the $2,232,500 auction result in January 2015 became much more understandable. It is a captivating piece of Americana.
These two 1792 quarter patterns in the Partrick Collection seem to be the only 1792 quarter patterns available to collectors. The other survivors are in museums. In the Simpson Collection, however, there are two single-sided die trials of 1792 quarter patterns. A uniface die trial features just one side of a coin or pattern. These obverse and reverse trials have been kept together as a pair at least since the 19th century, maybe since 1792.
This pair of die trials is probably not worth $1 million. At a time in the future, however, when the two just-mentioned Partrick Collection quarter patterns are unavailable, this pair of die trials may be the only choice for a collector who wishes for 1792 quarters to be represented in his or her collection. Would this pair then be worth more than $1 million?
Although it is unlikely to ever be available for private ownership, the 1792 quarter in copper (J-12) in the Smithsonian could be worth more than $1 million.
As for the two 1792 quarters in white metal in the collection of the New York Historical Society and the one in the ANS museum, their values are difficult to estimate. In theory, at least one of these three could plausibly sell for more than $1 million if offered.
I’m not suggesting that officials at any of the museums mentioned have plans to sell 1792 patterns. A main point is that collectors highly value 1792 patterns, and more than a few are “million dollar” items. These are the beginnings of United States coinage.
Thomas Jefferson wrote to George Washington about Silver Center Copper Cent patterns. The notion of a U.S. Mint was then controversial. Patterns played a role in persuading influential people to support the Mint and a decimal system for coinage, which was a remarkably radical idea at the time.
© 2016 Greg Reynolds
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