When it comes to large cents, there are oftentimes as many questions as there are answers. The questions can be of many types, often centering around just how tough a given date is, or how many and how tough the varieties of that date are in the market.
In recent years the 1821 large cent, always viewed as among the better dates, has had some additional questions raised about its scarcity. Answers seem as elusive as the coin itself.
The 1821 has always been a highly regarded large cent. Its listed mintage is 389,000 pieces, which makes it the lowest mintage regular date of the Coronet type. All other cents of the type have mintages over 1 million, although there are many questions regarding the 1823, 1823/22 and 1824 mintages.
For many years the 1821 actually received a fair amount of attention as a tough date if not an actual key date in large cents. People paid solid if not high prices for it.
The 1821 had some who urged caution, suggesting that it was hyped and overpriced. That is not the sort of talk we expect from coin dealers and experts who many times seemingly know of no coin that is overpriced.
The case that the 1821 is overpriced probably depends on how Mint records are interpreted. The mintage of a specific coin for a specific year might be correct, but what was not by definition accurate was that the coin in question had the date of the year in which it was made. An 1809 coin might have appeared as part of the 1810 records, making mintage figures not totally, or in some instances, even generally reliable as indicators of scarcity.
In the case of the 1821, while certainly the mintage figures and prices in some minds indicated scarcity, there were others who seemed to have their doubts. The doubters received a boost a while back when a hoard of large cents numbering approximately 4,000 pieces was discovered.
The so-called “Butternut Hoard of ’96” while not large enough to view as proof positive of scarcity, was also too large to ignore. How often have we ever had the chance to do an analysis of the numbers of large cents plucked from circulation over a century ago? The hoard analysis could potentially mislead in a couple of cases, but realistically it had to be considered one of the best views we have had of large cent survival numbers in circulation during the 1800s.
What the hoard showed in the case of the 1821 was that it appeared almost three times more often than the probability based on its mintage would suggest. In fairness, with a low mintage, the 1821 would not have to have many coins in the hoard at all to significantly exceed its probability, but other scarce dates like the 1793 and 1804 had no dates in the hoard. It is also fair to say the hoard was not a scientific sample, but it was still too large to ignore. The initial impact on prices was negative. The VF-20 price dropped from $550 to $400, but is presently $525. The XF-40 went from $2,000 to $1,500 and is presently $1,375. In MS-60, it went from $6,650 to $6,000 and now is $7,500.
The reason for the declines might be the hoard, or the fact that the doubts were correct. But even so, the 1821 remains a very desirable piece to own.
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