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HomeAuctionsFinest Known 1796 Liberty Cap Cent in Once-in-a-Lifetime Auction at GreatCollections

Finest Known 1796 Liberty Cap Cent in Once-in-a-Lifetime Auction at GreatCollections

Finest Known 1796 Liberty Cap Cent in Once-in-a-Lifetime Auction at GreatCollections

By CoinWeek …..
On December 19, bidding ends on this “Museum Quality” 1796 Liberty Cap Cent in the latest GreatCollections sale. As the finest example known, this Liberty Cap Cent is graded MS66+ RB in a Gold Shield holder by PCGS and approved by CAC as strong for the grade.

While there was a total mintage of 109,825 in 1796 for the Liberty Cap Cents, PCGS projects that there is a total estimated survival rate of only 1,000 pieces. However, in MS60 or better, there are only three, and according to PCGS Coinfacts, the next-closest 1796 S-84 Liberty Cap topped out at MS-64.


While an R-3 on the rarity chart, this “profoundly” rare coin is also highly pedigreed, with a stellar provenance that extends back over a hundred years to 1906 when it was sold as lot 549 in one of the last auctions conducted by the Chapman brothers. Shortly thereafter, the Chapman brothers dissolved their joint auction house and “operated independently” until the mid-1930s. In addition to the 1796 Liberty Cap Cent, the 1906 auction of US Army Major William Boerum Wetmore’s collection also included such rarities as multiple Pine and Oak Tree shillings and an 1804 silver dollar, which he purchased in 1878 for $600, or approximately $16,600 adjusted for inflation.

In their published auction catalog, the Chapman brothers recognized the importance of the coin and noted the “original red color,” the complete milling, and the strike. Even over one hundred years ago, this coin was known to be “unique,” with the brothers touting it as the “finest cent of this date known.” Dr. Lewis H. Adler won this specimen for a hammer price of $125, and it didn’t come to market again until B. Max Mehl purchased the Adler collection in its entirety for $10,000 in March 1917.

Deciding not to hold onto the coin, Mehl quickly sold it to Dr. Henry W. Beckwith, whose collection was subsequently sold in 1923. R.E. Naftzger, Jr. purchased this coin in the mid-1950s from T. James Clark, and it wouldn’t come to public sale again until 2008 when it was acquired by D. Brent Pogue for $690,000 in September. Most recently, when Stack’s Bowers sold the Pogue Collection in 2017, this coin hammered for $705,000. Stack’s Bowers then resubmitted the coin to PCGS, and the grade was nudged upwards from an MS-66 to an MS-66+.

This coin has rarely come to public auction, as all but three previous transactions have been private sales between collectors. The GreatCollections auction is only the second occasion since the 1923 Beckwith sale that the public has been afforded the chance to purchase this coin.

This example does have a partially struck denomination at the center of the reverse design, some small planchet defects that were “present… prior to striking,” and a minor die rotation. However, these extremely slight points are not unusual for the type and do not distract from the luster and beauty of the piece.


Inspired by Augustin Dupre’s 1783 Libertas Americana Medal, Joseph Wright designed the famous Liberty Cap type Large Cent. Production at the United States Mint started in 1793 and continued until 1796 when the coin was replaced by the Draped Bust Large Cent type. The bust of Liberty with “tamed” yet long flowing hair, faces to the left with the Phrygian cap, a symbol of freedom, behind. While on the earlier Flowing Hair Cent Liberty’s hair is blowing completely free in a gust of wind, the Liberty Cap type has a headband partially holding down her hair. The date (1794) is below the bust with the legend “LIBERTY” above, all of which is surrounded by a denticled border.

The reverse is centered on the denomination “One Cent” surrounded by a laurel wreath–which in this example has two wreath stems and the legend “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”. At the very bottom of the reverse design is placed the numeric fractional denomination of 1/100.

These coins represent a transitional phase for the early US mint, as they began introducing decimal-based coinage only several years prior with the Flowing hair Chain and Wreath cents of 1793. Since the Mint was a new institution and was manufacturing coins exclusively in Philadelphia, there is no mintmark on this type.

And due to a reduction in weight, the edges were made too thin for lettering. So from 1795, the edge is plain with no lettering.

At the time of writing, the high bid for this coin is $390,000 USD after 98 bids. Bidding closes on Sunday at 4:06 PM Pacific Time (1:06 PM Eastern).

Coinweek is the top independent online media source for rare coin and currency news, with analysis and information contributed by leading experts across the numismatic spectrum.

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