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Upper-grade Wreath cent in Goldberg sale

liberty.jpgWhat could be the finest known 1793 Wreath cent of its variety found in 2007 in England will star in Goldberg Coins & Collectibles Pre-Long Beach Sale Feb. 10-13, 2008.

Described as a 1793 Wreath Cent, Lettered Edge, with Single Leaf following DOLLAR, S-11c, Rarity 3, Bruce Lorich writes extensively of it for the firm and this is extensively excerpted here.

He calls it an extraordinary find, obtained from the family of a British Royal Navy sailor who served in the War of 1812; believed to have been brought back to England from America in his ?naval kit? about 1814 and in his descendants? possession until it came to light in March of 2007.

The coin is virtually as struck, with no evident wear, is pristine, and therefore may well be the finest known S-11c struck after the dies clashed, producing the famous ?ghost? letters showing AMERICA? incuse and reversed in the field before Miss Liberty?s face, as well as ghosted features of the wreath between the date and the truncation of the portrait.

At first glance there appears to be a slight loss of temporal hair detail, but this is not wear; there is no change at all in the texture of the metal on these high points; the slightly flat spots were caused by the worn and clashed dies only.

While the Wreath cent is today celebrated by collectors as an American classic, at the time of its manufacture it failed to gain acceptance, or so we have been led to believe from contemporary newspaper accounts.

 The Chain Cent before it was savagely criticized, and was replaced quickly by the Wreath style. This design lasted for three months. The mintage of Wreath cents was struck and delivered to the banking outlets in and around Philadelphia between April 9 and July 17, 1793.

Nine varieties were produced, differing only slightly to the untrained eye. Most often seen today are the first few die varieties, struck on planchets of good metal; a small number exist in superb conditions. This is not true of the last of the Wreath cents struck, all variants of the die-pairing which are now known as S-11.

There are three varieties of S-11, differing principally by the kind of edge ornamentation employed: the Vine & Bars device on S-11a, and the incuse Lettered Edge reading ?ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR,? with two leaves serving as ?stops? on S-11b. The Lettered Edge variety with the Single Leaf for the stop, S-11c, however, was the last of the Wreath cents, as the Liberty Cap variety replaced it.

William Sheldon?s variety 11c is generally believed to be the final emission from the Wreath cent dies and was likely struck in the few days between July 6 and July 17. Walter Breen and other numismatists have estimated the final Wreath cent mintage to have been between 6,500 and 7,000 coins, all of the Vine & Bars and Lettered Edge varieties (all die-pairings of S-11).

Fewer than 100 examples of S-11c are thought to exist today in all grades.  Most known pieces are in wretched states. Most of the pieces showing the finest details are in the VF to EF grade range, although many of these bear signs of abuse or minting faults, and usually both kinds of problems.

The minting faults are understandable, and in particular for the 11c versions of the Wreath cent, because the mint at Philadelphia had used up the best-quality copper planchet blanks for the earlier minted coins, and by mid summer of 1793 the Mint was literally throwing old copper bits (junk metal) into the alloy pots in order to strike coins. This is the reason that most 11c cents show black pits and other flaws?all from manufacturing. The copper alloy used to strike these coins is far from pure. This is especially true of the last coins struck, those with clashed dies.

Although rated R3 compared to higher rarity ratings for certain other Wreath cent varieties, the S-11c variety is seen infrequently in high grades. A typical condition is poorer than VF. In any grade finer than marginal EF, in fact, the popular earlier Wreath cents (such as S-5 and S-9), and even the Chain cent, are more easily obtained. Fewer than 6 pieces have surfaced that are Mint State.

Another important consideration is that the texture of the metal of the earlier struck S-11 pieces is entirely different from that found on S-11c coins struck from clashed dies. It is easy to mistake natural flaws, found on these last issues, thinking them to be after-minting damage. It is also easy to confuse the wear seen on the more finely made, early pieces with lack of sharpness on Miss Liberty?s hair on S-11c coins struck after the dies had clashed. By that point, the dies were well worn. There is no wear on the present specimen, which was coined from dies used thousands of times that had clashed together.

It is important, therefore, to recognize the difference between a beautifully struck early Wreath Cent, such as S-9, and one made almost at the end of the line from clashed dies. There are also two entirely different versions of S-11c, each of importance to the most advanced collectors of this series.

The cataloger has been privileged recently to have been afforded the opportunity to study two other examples of this variety in ultra-rare grades, and as a result of these comparisons believes the present specimen to rank as either finest or second finest known, among examples of all extant specimens struck after the dies clashed.

This newly discovered coin is being offered uncertified in the auction but, compared to two other examples that rank at or near the top of the Condition Census, its status stands on its own merits. Following is a comparison of this specimen with these two other exceptional examples of S-11c:

A well-known specimen is the Husak coin, currently graded AU-58 BN by PCGS. This important coin is familiar to many copper collectors. It is a glossy coin showing heavy die-clashing in the obverse right field and below Liberty?s chin above the date, exactly as seen on the present specimen.
The Husak coin, although exceptional and clearly within the Condition Census, bears a heavy stain to the right of the date (at about 4:30 to 5:30 o?clock). As well, on the obverse it is slightly discolored, has light pitting (at least 100 tiny black carbon-pits), and multiple (at least six) fine scratches through Liberty?s cheek and into her lower hair. Her face and eye are sharply detailed, however. The reverse is glossy brown but also slightly discolored, and shows an old carbon spot above the first ?T? of STATES.

Importantly, there is a planchet flaw, or crack, through the center to the legend, transecting the coin from approximately 2 to 8 o?clock. The leaves are not as sharply detailed in their central veins as may be seen on the present specimen.

At the very top of the Condition Census for S-11c is a glossy brown coin presently graded MS-64 BN by PCGS. It is more sharply struck than the Husak coin (the leaves of the wreath show great outline detail as well as their central veins). This gorgeous coin, however, shows no die clashing at all, and thus it is an early strike from the dies, and consequently entirely different in its collector appeal from the present specimen. The obverse of this MS-64 is slightly off-center (to left) in strike. Importantly, there is also a noticeable planchet flaw (light crack) on the reverse extending from the ?T? of UNITED to the top leaf on the right side, and a second small crack above ?TAT? in STATES, to the rim. Despite these faults, the coin is exquisite in its eye appeal. ?Flaws? such as these are endemic to the earliest cents made on native planchets.

In the PCGS census, the top-rated S-11c coins are three pieces, graded MS-64 BN (the coin just described), MS-63 BN, and AU-58 BN (Husak). This cataloger has not seen the MS-63 BN cent, which may possibly be the same as the MS-64 BN piece. This is uncertain.

The specimen to be offered in February is stunning. It is almost perfectly centered on each side, with the beading entirely sharp. On the obverse, Miss Liberty?s hair is flattened on the central highest points ? remember, this is perhaps the last Wreath cent minted, and the dies had pounded together about seven thousand times, taking away their deepest details on the obverse die (most of the high points of the flowing hair). However, proof of the pristine condition of this coin is the crispness of detail evident on the date, on the three leaves just above the digits, on the curve of the truncation, on Miss Liberty?s eyelids, eyelash, nostril and lips ? and especially on the very highest point on this side, which are the strands of flowing hair above and to the left of the truncation?s curve. Similar sharpness may be readily observed on the leaf details of the wreath and on all the letters of the reverse legend. A die flaw (depression, but not a crack) is to be seen from the left stem through the bottom of the left ribbon and underneath the 1/100 to the beading at 6 o?clock. There is no question that the reverse side is as struck.

The surfaces of this coin are pristine, untouched, original. The coin is entirely ?fresh,? and is presented exactly as it was found in England. It has not been brushed. No attempt has been made to ?improve? it. Its color is a luscious, multi-hued mahogany brown, showing the endemic tiny stains or metal ?faults? created by the fabric of the alloy used to strike it. While no red luster remains, this coin has a ?glow? from beneath its lush brown surfaces. It exhibits a subdued satiny sheen, a decided luminescence. It is also almost entirely free from abrasions of any kind. Compare it to the PCGS-graded AU-58 Husak coin, and it is obviously superior. The metal texture is that of a coin made from copper scrap, and it is this texture which defines the piece as being among the last Wreath cents made. Seen for what it actually is, it is a beautiful classic of a coin.

Thus, while the PCGS-graded MS-64 BN coin without die clashing is without question at the top of the Condition Census, and was struck on a planchet of superior quality, the present specimen may well be the finest known S-11c struck from clashed dies. If the MS-64 and MS-63 pieces are one and the same, this coin is #2 in the Condition Census for all S-11c cents, and #1 for the die state. If the unseen MS-63 coin was struck from clashed dies, it would make the presently offered coin #3 in the Condition Census for the die variety, and #2 for the die state.

The catalog will go on sale after Jan. 15, 2008, or is viewable online at www.goldbergcoins.com.

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