I was the underbidder on a raw unidentified 1796 U.S. large cent. It was advertised on eBay and closed Oct. 19. It was advertised as very fine, not mentioning the corrosion, and for Early American copper purposes, it might grade good or AG, depending on removal of crud and verdigris.
The very fine details help to clearly identify the variety as 1796 NC-7 Stemless Wreath. The date position seemed to match, and the lowest point of the ?7? appeared to point directly to a dentil below. The reverse was clearly of the stemless type, first seen, although extremely rare on the 1796 cent. It is believed this 1796 large cent was actually coined in 1797 as it is paired with the stemless reverse die of 1797 S-143, a scarce number in 1797-dated cents. The S-143 stemless reverse appeared to match precisely in the eBay auction photograph.
This was the chance of a collector?s lifetime, and two questions were sent to the seller regarding the coin. No answers were received, puzzling, and encountered in rare instances. I placed a bid, and for a day or two, I was on top at about $300. On the last day, my bid of $5,000 was topped and the auction price of $5,100 was listed.
The last minute of the auction determined the final outcome. A number of bids were placed, rapidly one at $12,000, another at $16,000, and mine at $17,000. I was on top with $17,000 and 10 seconds to go, and ready to break out the champagne. Suddenly, I was outbid by only $100, at $17,100 with only two seconds to go, too late to bid again.
This is a Red Book listed variety with only two known examples, now three known. The 1793 Strawberry Leaf cent has four known examples, the 1795 Reeded Edge has 4 known, and the 1795 Lettered Edge Jefferson cent has 3 known.
The value of the 1796 stemless cent is more modest, perhaps due to less collector interest for this variety. The value in Penny Prices is $15,000 for the Fair-2 example clearly inferior to the new coin, as it lacks the superior sharpness of the new coin.
Although this 1796 variety dates back to J.P. Kennedy in 1928, and the best example has been with the American Numismatic Society for possibly about 60 years, the variety was delisted by William Sheldon in his issue of the book titled Penny Whimsy.
It was listed in Sheldon?s earlier book, Early American Cents as 1796 Reverse BB, Stemless, same reverse as 1797 S-143. This fact is mentioned in Penny Whimsy under the description for the 1797 S-143. It was described as unique in Early American Cents, probably quickly retired as a die due to a strong die break horizontal through the center of the obverse. It was listed as NC-6 at that time.
The variety was delisted in Penny Whimsy as the coin was tooled, and some believed a fabrication, not unlike some other dated coins, specially altered to create new varieties. It was not until 1999, that the reputable numismatist, Rod Burress, located another example although it was very worn. It confirmed the variety making for two known examples, and confirming that the first example was clearly authentic after all.
Meanwhile the NC-6 designation had been used by another new variety. The old NC-6 stemless then became the new NC-7 stemless variety.
The new example has decent sharpness, and further confirms the variety as the stemless reverse is quite clear in every respect.