Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #206
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
The collector known as “Tettenhorst,” who lives in the State of Missouri, has assembled the all-time most comprehensive set of half cents, which includes many gem quality coins. This collection will be auctioned by the Goldbergs in Los Angeles on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, shortly before the winter Long Beach Expo. This is the greatest collection of half cents to ever be publicly auctioned, and may be the greatest ever assembled. The catalogue will serve as a reference in regards to rare dates, die varieties, and gem quality type coins in the half cent series, which spanned from 1793 to 1857.
R. Tettenhorst, Owner, Missouri Cabinet Collection Interviewer: David Lisot…….
In part 1, the 1796 ‘No Pole’ Half Cent was covered, the rarest date in the series. Here in part 2, the focus is on a superb gem type coin, the PCGS certified and CAC approved, “MS-67-Red & Brown’ 1794 Half Cent in this collection. This coin may be the finest known 1794 half cent, of any variety, and 1794 half cents are often classified as a one-year only design type.
Tettenhorst is not this collector’s real name. He is related, in a sense, to Eric P. Newman, a real name. Newman assembled one of the most famous collections of all time, of coins and paper money. I have been discussing the continuing auctions of Newman’s collection in a series of articles. Part 9 of that series, on Newman’s European coins, was just published. (Clickable links are in blue.)
I. Types of Half Cents
For every one person who collects half cents ‘by date,’ there are hundreds of people who collect them ‘by type’ and thus need just one representative of each type for a complete type set of half cents. The design types of half cents are: 1) Liberty Facing Left (1793 only); 2) Liberty Cap Right, Large Head (1794 only); 3) Liberty Cap Right, Small Head (1795-97); 4) Draped Bust (1800-08); 5) Classic Head (1809-36); and 6) Braided Hair (1840-57).
Researcher Breen refers to these types by the names of designers and/or engravers: 1) Rittenhouse-Eckfeldt (1793); 2) Robert Scot – Liberty Cap (1794); 3) John Smith Gardner (1795-97); 4) Scot again (1800-08); 5) John Reich (1809-29+); 6) Christian Gobrecht (1840-57). Breen distinguishes between Reich’s design of Classic Head Half Cents (1809-29) and William Kneass’s modification of Reich’s design (1831-36), as if these are two different design types.
In my view, the differences in design between the Classic Head Half Cents minted before 1830 and those minted after 1830 are very subtle. All Classic Head Half Cents should be categorized as being of the same design type. Those dating from 1831 to 1836 may constitute a subtype.
Also, some experts argue that there are two types of 1794 half cents, one features the much higher relief, in the sense that the head of Miss Liberty is ‘higher’ from the fields on those. Most experts agree, however, that the difference between the ‘high relief’ 1794 half cents and the standard relief 1797 half cents is not substantial enough to justify categorizing the ‘high relief’ pieces as a separate design type or even as a distinct subtype. These are die varieties. Among early U.S. coins, especially in regard to some pre-1800 coins, there are sometimes substantial differences in the dies used to strike coins of the same denomination, design type and date.
Even so, the difference between the design of Liberty’s head for 1794 half cents is much different from the design of Miss Liberty’s head for 1795 to 1797 half cents. It is not just an issue of one head being larger than the other. The portraits are substantially different. Therefore, 1794 half cents are one-year type coins, even though 1795 to 1797 half cents also feature a Liberty Cap obverse (front) design and feature the same reverse (back) design as 1794 half cents. The heads of Miss Liberty are artistically different.
II. Tettenhorst-Missouri 1794 Half Cents
So, just six coins are needed for a complete type set of large cents. There are sixteen 1794 half cents in this collection formed by Tettenhorst. These represent all recognized die varieties and various die states. Generally, many of the sixteen are of interest to people who are already very knowledgeable about half cents and/or are being advised by experts in varieties of half cents. In general, though, 1794 half cents are demanded by thousands of collectors who are assembling type sets and are ignoring die varieties.
The PCGS certified and CAC approved ‘MS-67-RB’ 1794 is the current topic, as it is the highest certified 1794 half cent of any variety. In general, pre-1800 half cents are extreme condition rarities in gem grades and it is extraordinary for a gem half cent to now have any original ‘mint red’ color, which this “MS-67” grade 1794 certainly possesses.
III. Gem (65 & higher grade) 1794 Half Cents
There are several brown 1794 half cents that have been PCGS or NGC certified as grading “MS-65” or higher. Indeed, in this same “Missouri Cabinet” collection, the Parmelee-Mills-Tettenhorst 1794 is PCGS certified and CAC approved as ‘MS-65-Brown,’ and the Newcomb-Green-Newman-Tettenhorst 1794 is PCGS certified as ‘MS-66-Brown.’ This Newman-Tettenhorst piece is not CAC approved. Generally, a “brown,” early half cent has naturally toned brown and/or has color that is unnatural.
The Alto-Haber-Tettenhorst 1794 is PCGS certified and CAC approved ‘MS-65-Red & Brown.’ It does not have nearly as much ‘red’ color as the coin that is the focus here. Indeed, the cataloguer, probably Bob Grellman states, “Choice lustrous light steel brown with 20% of the original mint red remaining on the obverse” (front). There is hardly any red color on the reverse (back).
Before the Tettenhorst-Missouri Collection surfaces, there were not many gem or even choice quality 1794 half cents from which to choose. The 1794 half cent that seems to have been the best or second best 1794 half cent in the Eliasberg Collection is now in the Miller Collection, which is listed in the PCGS set registry under the name “ESM.” That 1794 is PCGS certified ‘MS-63-Brown.’ Earlier, when this same Eliasberg 1794 (C-9 die variety) was in the Oliver Jung Collection, it was PCGS certified as ‘MS-62-Brown.’
For half cents, the PCGS set registry is dominated by the three top sets: Tettenhorst-Missouri, Jim McGuigan and “ESM” (Miller). Before 2013, McGuigan’s set was the first ranked in both categories of business strike half cents for many years, perhaps for more than a decade.
After the collector known as Tettenhorst consigned the Missouri Cabinet Collection for auction, Larry Goldberg registered Tettenhorst’s set, which became the “All-Time Finest” set of half cents in the PCGS registry in both the “Basic” and “Major Varieties” categories of business strikes and in the category of Proofs. The ESM set is now number two in the Proof category and McGuigan’s set of Proofs is ranked third.
McGuigan’s 1794 half cent is PCGS certified ‘MS-66-Brown’ and is certainly among the finest known. I saw it in 2004.
Another high grade 1794 has been around over the past few years. The Madison-“Thomas” 1794 is NGC certified ‘MS-65-Brown.’ It was auctioned by Heritage on Jan. 10, 2008 as part of the Madison Collection type set and again in April 2009 as part of the “Joseph Thomas” collection. In Aug. 2010, in Boston, Spectrum-B&M sold it as part of a Cardinal Collection set of 1794 dated coins of all denominations. In all three auctions, this same coin realized exactly $103,500!
I believe, though I am not sure, that ANR auctioned this exact same Madison-Thomas-Cardinal 1794 half cent in Jan. 2006 for $80,500. According to the cataloguer for ANR (JK?), it was earlier in the Richard Winsor and George Earle Collections. The auction of the Winsor sale in 1895 is important and George Earle assembled one of the ten greatest collections of classic U.S. coins of all time! Earle’s collection was auctioned by the firm of Henry Chapman in 1912.
Over the last fifteen years, there are few auction results for other 1794 half cents that are PCGS or NGC graded as “65” or higher. Furthermore, some of the greatest type sets to be auctioned over the last fifteen years did not have a 65 grade, or even a 64 grade, 1794 half cent. After the Madison Collection, the Oliver Jung type set is the greatest type set that I have ever seen.
When ANR auctioned the Jung type set in July 2004, Jung had the Eliasberg 1794 that is now in the “ESM” collection. As I said, it was upgraded by the PCGS from “MS-62“ to “MS-63.”
Earlier in 2004, ANR auctioned the type set of Dr. Haig Koshkarian. His 1794 is (or was) NGC certified ‘MS-63-Brown’ (die variety C-1a). Evidently, this half cent was earlier in the collection of Bill Weber. A point here is that Jung and Koshkarian, and accomplished type coin collector James Swan before them, all did not have a 1794 half cent that graded higher than 63, though they each obtained many other, very expensive, gem quality (65 or higher grade) coins for their respective type sets. Koshkarian’s 1797 half, the Norweb coin, was auctioned in 2004 for more than $900,000! Before 2004, could Koshkarian or Jung have found 1794 half cents that grade higher than 63?
The fact that the Tettenhorst-Missouri Collection contains two 1794 half cents that are each PCGS certified ‘MS-64+-Brown’ (C1a, C5a), one as ‘MS-65-Brown’ (die variety – C3a), one as ‘MS-65-RB’(C-9), one as ‘MS-66-Brown’ (C4a) and one as ‘MS-67-RB’ (C7), is absolutely incredible. There will probably never again be such an offering of choice 1794 half cents.
I cite Cohen reference numbers for die varieties in parentheses, mostly to distinguish these several, high grade 1794 half cents from each other. According to the Cohen and Breen references, nine die pairings were employed to strike 1794 half cents. The details relating to the die varieties are really besides the thrust of this discussion. Very few people who collect half cents by die variety seek coins that are PCGS or NGC graded above ‘MS-63.’ Usually, those who collect ‘by die variety’ and those who buy expensive coins that are certified as grading above 63 are very different people.
IV. Quality of this coin
In my view, this certified ‘MS-67-RB’ 1794 is much more impressive than the certified ‘MS-65-RB’ 1794 in the same Tettenhorst-Missouri collection, though that coin is certainly appealing. That certified ‘MS-65-RB’ 1794, however, does not have all that much ‘mint red’ and its reverse (back) is not as soothing. This certified ‘MS-67-RB’ 1794 has an amazing amount of original ‘mint red’! Yes, some of the red color has faded. Even so, it is original, natural, balanced, and pleasing. The overall coin is more than very attractive.
Yes, there are few light contact marks and short, shallow gashes here and there, most of which would never be noticed with naked eyes. Although its grade is perhaps in the low end of the 67 range, it is a superb gem coin! As far as I know, this coin is the only 1794 half cent, with or without any original ‘mint red’ color, that merits a 67 grade or even comes close to grading MS-67!
Some other 1794 half cents that are certified as grading “65” or “66” are really neat, yet do not score nearly as high as this coin in the category of originality. This coin shows no evidence of having been cleaned, brushed or dipped. Moreover, as best as I can tell, when I examined it briefly at the ANA Convention, this 1794 has never been waxed, smoothed, or treated with anti-corrosive formulas. For a 1794 half cent, or for any early half cent, its quality is extraordinary.
I would not be shocked if it sold for more than one million dollars. After all, many experts classify 1794 half cents as one-year type coins.
V. Survivors with Original Mint Red
It is extremely relevant that so few early half cents survive with a significant amount of original mint red color. A significant percentage of such survivors are in the Tettenhorst-‘Missouri Cabinet’ Collection in this auction!
Stewart Blay’s 1796 ‘With Pole’ Half Cent, which is PCGS certified ‘MS-66-RB,’ is also an incredible coin that scores very highly in the category of originality. The wonderful Eliasberg 1796 ‘No Pole’ Half Cent, too, has a considerable amount of original mint red color, or at least it did in 1996!
The Eliasberg 1796 ‘No Pole’ was PCGS certified “MS-67RB” shortly after the Eliasberg auction of May 1996. In my view, though, this Tettenhorst-Missouri PCGS certified “MS-67RB” 1794 is of higher quality than the Eliasberg PCGS certified “MS-67RB” 1796 ‘No Pole’ Half Cent.
In part 1, I discussed the Tettenhorst-Missouri 1796 ‘With Pole’ that is PCGS certified ‘MS-65+-RB.’ That coin definitely has a substantial amount of original ‘mint red’! In my view, however, its grade is not near the MS-66 level. Blay’s ‘With Pole’ 1796 is clearly superior to it.
There are other pre-1800 half cents with original ‘mint red’ and/or that have been certified as having significant original mint red (“RB”). Two that were certified as having some original ‘mint red’ were in the Foxfire Collection.
One of the all-time best type sets of copper, nickel and silver U.S. coins is the Foxfire Collection, which was assembled by a medical doctor in the Midwest under the guidance of Richard Burdick. This type set was sold privately in 2003.
The Foxfire 1794 half cent (variety C9) was NGC certified as ‘MS-66-Red & Brown’ before June 2003. Reportedly, it is one of the “Lord St. Oswald” collection coins that Christie’s auctioned in London in 1964. It was acquired by the Foxfire collector, though Burdick, from Jay Parrino in 1995. I do not now have a recollection of ever seeing this coin, though it is plausible that Parrino showed it to me before 1995. I will search through my notes.
The Foxfire Collection contained the Bushnell-Jackman 1797-‘1 above 1’ half cent. It is or was NGC certified ‘MS-66-Red & Brown.’ Although I have not seen it, I have heard enough about it to believe that it has much original ‘mint red’ color.
Before the Tettenhorst-Missouri Collection was submitted to the PCGS, a 1794 half cent had been PCGS certified ‘MS-65-RB’ and another had been PCGS certified ‘MS-66-RB.’ It may be fair to guess that one of these two is the Oswald-Foxfire 1794. What is the pedigree of the other one?
Of half cents dating from 1794 to 1797, the only three PCGS or NGC certified ‘Red & Brown’ coins that are CAC approved are the three Tettenhorst-Missouri, PCGS graded half cents that have already been mentioned, including the coin that is the focus of this discussion. In part 1, I discussed the Tettenhorst-Missouri 1796 ‘With Pole’ that is PCGS graded “65+ Red & Brown” and is CAC approved at the ‘MS-65RB’ level. The visual effect of the PCGS certified ‘MS-67-RB’ Tettenhorst-Missouri 1794 is vastly greater.
It is also true that some collectors of early copper coins have never sent their coins to the PCGS or the NGC. In a few cases, these collectors acquired copper coins before the PCGS was founded in 1986. Someone in Long Island and Alan Weinberg are examples of collectors who own very valuable, early copper coins that have never been certified.
Are there any privately owned, gem quality, pre-1800 half cents, with much original mint red, that have never been certified? It is possible, though I am not aware of any such coins. Indisputably, the PCGS certified ‘MS-67-RB’ Tettenhorst-Missouri 1794 is reddest and finest 1794 to become available to collectors in a long time. It is not clear that a better one was ever available to collectors. This coin is, by far, the finest 1794 half cent that I have ever seen or heard about.
©2014 Greg Reynolds
A few comments: I had the 1794 (C-7) MS-67 in my hands two days ago (on 1/22/14) and my first impression, upon momentarily seeing it up close, was “Holy s…t!” It is definitely the finest known half cent pre-1800 of any date. I also held in my fingertips in summer 1966 the choice Unc 1794 same variety in the British Museum, raw and almost as choice. I have a photo of it. Strange that two [gem] pieces of the same variety (C-7) should turn up in Europe.
What struck me, as I examined at leisure the Tettenhorst half cents, was that they are clearly the stepchild of the U.S/ Mint, largely struck from lower quality copper and on defective, often “pecky” planchets. Examin[ations of] early, pre-1800 large cents yields many many times the quantity of gem coins … quality not present with half cents.
Some of the other half cents were disappointing. The ‘red and brown’ 1800 [was not exciting, as this date] is known by many specimens in full blazing original mint red. … The Uncirculated 1793s were quite decent, but I’ve seen better. No way they are MS-65-66. I personally liked the more appealing lower graded MS-65 over the 66.
The Long Island collector referred to above is [a private individual] and I’m certain what he now owns, largely colonials and medals, is still raw. I believe his collection of federal coins has been dispersed.
I’m gonna predict that only two half cents will approach the $1M level: the 1796 ‘No Pole’ and the 1794 C-7. Just too many high power rarities have entered or are about to enter the market.
Bill Anton’s collection and the Richard August collection are other examples of multi-decade long built collections in which there are no [PCGS or NGC certified] coins. Most such oldtimers are loath to keep a slabbed coin or medal in their collections and tend to break an item out of a slab upon acquisition. They like the tactile feel of handling rarity and examining the full edge. Slabs tend to conceal rim dings and dents and the slab grades often do not reflect such rim damage if the rim damage is concealed even in part. This does not mean, however, that when the time comes for sale, the collection will not be first slabbed as even the oldtimers recognize the vagaries of the marketplace.