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Copper record: $1,265,000 price achieved by cent

The finest known 1795 large cent with a reeded edge sold for a record $1,265,000 Sept. 6. It was a highlight of the Dan Holmes collection of early large cents. This collection was auctioned by Ira and Larry Goldberg in association with Chris McCawley and Bob Grellman at the Beverly Hills Crowne Plaza.

Although many coins in the collection sold for record prices, the spotlight here is on the Holmes 1795 reeded edge, as this is a bewildering price for a copper coin. Greg Hannigan was the successful bidder and was acting on behalf of a collector of large cents by die variety.

This 1795 large cent is of the die variety known as Sheldon-79. Though it is best known for having a reeded edge, it is truly a die variety, not just an edge variety. A particular die pair was used only to produce the coins that are now known as Sheldon-79.

The 1795 reeded edge cent is listed as a separate issue in most leading price guides, including various Krause Publications. I regard it as an experimental piece. Generally, copper coins do not have reeded edges. Note that it is listed in the standard Judd reference on pattern, experimental and trial pieces. Editors of most guides, however, imply that the 1795 reeded edge cent is a true, regular issue coin that is needed to complete a set of large cents.

The Holmes 1795 reeded edge cent (S-79) is the finest of five to six known. It is graded Very Good-10 by the Professional Coin Grading Service. It is one of only two that have been certified. Last November, Bowers & Merena auctioned one that is PCGS graded Good-4 for $402,500. No others have been auctioned in recent years.

The auction record for a copper coin has been broken a few times over the last five years. On Jan. 5, 2009, in Orlando, the finest known Strawberry Leaf cent was auctioned by Stack’s for $862,500. It was NGC graded Fine-12 in 2004, and, after the Jan. 2009 auction, PCGS graded VG-10. It is curious that the finest known Strawberry Leaf cent and the finest known 1795 reeded edge cent are both PCGS graded VG-10.

Of the four known Strawberry Leaf cents, Holmes had two. Hannigan was the top bidder for both. One is PCGS graded Good-4 and it sold for $218,500. The other is of a unique variety. The placement of “ONE CENT” on the reverse is different. It is PCGS graded Fair-2 and it brought $264,500. I expected these two coins to bring more. Strawberry Leaf cents are rarer and much more famous than 1795 reeded edge cents or 1799 cents.

A 1799 cent in the Holmes collection sold for $977,500. It is the only 1799 cent that has been graded as Mint State by PCGS or NGC. It was in an NGC holder with an MS-62 label and is now in a PCGS holder with an MS-61 label. I grade it as AU-58. McCawley & Grellman grade it as AU-55.

My impression is that this 1799 cent will now be placed with a collector in the Southwest. He specializes in U.S. coins dating from the 1790s to the late 1830s, though he collects other pieces as well. 

This $977,500 price is incredible for a 1799 cent, which may be very rare as a date, but is not extremely rare. In February 2008, the Eliasberg-Husak 1799 cent brought $161,000. It is PCGS certified EF-45. I could understand this Holmes 1799 cent being worth three times as much ($483,000). The amount the Holmes 1799 cent brought is more than six times as much as the Eliasberg-Husak 1799 cent realized. If the Holmes 1795 reeded edge cent had not sold a few hours earlier, this result would have set an auction record for a copper coin.

A longtime auction record for a copper coin, or pattern, was established at the May 1996 Eliasberg sale by Bowers & Merena in New York. The Eliasberg 1796 “No Pole” Half Cent realized $506,000. Not long after the May 1996 auction, it was PCGS graded “MS-67RB.” This record stood until January 2008, when Stack’s auctioned a copper 1838 silver dollar “pattern” for $529,000. A few days later, Heritage sold a 1792 cent pattern for $603,750. The exact metallic composition of this 1792 cent pattern is not known. It may not be a copper pattern.

On Feb. 15, 2008, the auction record for a copper coin was broken and then tied at the Heritage auction of Walter Husak’s early date cents. Husak’s PCGS graded AU-55 1793 Liberty Cap cent realized $632,500. In contrast, Holmes’ best 1793 Liberty Cap, PCGS AU-53, sold for $506,000 on Sept. 6. I strongly believe that Holmes’ best 1793 Liberty Cap is more desirable than this Husak 1793 Liberty Cap cent.

Husak’s Starred Reverse 1794 cent also realized $632,500. On July 31, 2008, Heritage auctioned a 1792 dime “pattern,” struck in copper, for $690,000, which is the same price that a 1796 cent realized on Sept. 14, 2008, in a Goldberg auction. This 1796 cent was consigned by the family of the late Ted Naftzger. It is PCGS graded MS-66RB.

In sum, if the results for the Eliasberg 1796 “No Pole” half cent and for copper patterns are set aside, the auction records for copper coins in general, since 1996, all pertain to large cents: (1) Eliasberg 1793 Liberty Cap cent, B&M auction, New York, May 1996, $319,000 – probably later PCGS graded MS-64. (2) Oliver Jung 1793 Chain cent, PCGS MS-65BN, ANR auction, New York, July 2004, $391,000 (3) Finest known 1793 Strawberry Leaf cent, ANR, November 2004, Baltimore, $414,000. (4) 1793 Chain cent, PCGS MS-65BN, ANR, January 2005, Fort Lauderdale, $431,250. (5) Husak 1793 Liberty Cap cent and Husak 1794 Starred Reverse cent, Heritage, February 2008, Long Beach, $632,500 each. (6) Naftzger 1796 cent, PCGS MS-66RB, Goldbergs, September 2008, Los Angeles, $690,000 (7) Finest known 1793 Strawberry Leaf cent, Stack’s, January 2009, Orlando, $862,500. (8) Holmes 1795 Reeded Edge cent, PCGS VG-10, Goldbergs, September 2009, Los Angeles, $1,265,000. I wonder about the next auction record for a copper coin.

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