This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
>> Subscribe today!
There are many interesting stories about large cents. The 1820 large cent is among the dates involved in the story of the Randall Hoard.
If we go back to 1820 we find that the 1820 large cent had a mintage of 4,407,550. That was a very large total. In fact, it was a record for the time.
Under the circumstances we would expect the 1820 to be an available date. This is basically true in every grade starting at $29 in G-4 and going up to $300 in MS-60.
While the mintage would suggest the 1820 should be at available date prices, that is not always the case with coins of the era. After all, there were very few collectors at the time and just because there was a large mintage, didn’t mean many examples were saved, especially in Mint State. If anything, a large mintage was more likely to result in less saving. Again, this was especially true for Mint State examples. Had the 1820 large cent never appeared in a major hoard, or had nothing else special happened in its history, there would probably be very little to write about it today.
As it turned out, however, the 1820 was one of the dates included in one of the more dramatic hoard stories in U.S. numismatic history. In his book, American Coin Treasures and Hoards, Q. David Bowers goes through the entire story and some of the questions about the hoard. Like most good hoard stories, there are sometimes pieces that do not quite fit perfectly with the facts.
At some point after the Civil War but before the autumn of 1869, a keg of large cents was discovered under a railroad platform in Georgia. There is no proof that it was found under a railroad platform, but that is the story and most people are sticking with it.
In the period from 1869 to the early 1870s, there were lively communications regarding the cents and allegations that they were restrikes, which they were not. There were also offers to sell various dates. In his book Bowers even includes a copy of a letter from John Randall after whom the hoard is named suggesting that the coins were not restrikes and explaining that he had purchased them from Wm. H. Chapman & Co. In his tracing of the hoard, Randall says that it was originally from Georgia but found buried. He never mentions a railroad platform.
The Randall Hoard dates have sometimes been described as “spotty red” or “oily,” and in a hoard of this size there are likely to be some imperfect coins. Randall himself suggested this, saying some were corroded.
How many coins were in the alleged keg is far from certain. Estimates vary from 5,000 to 18,000. What is certain is that the 1820 large cent was seen as quite elusive back in 1859. In his book Bowers has the writing of Dr. Montroville W. Dickeson, who stated in his American Numismatic Manual that, in the case of the 1820, “The slight milling of the edges of these coins render good specimens difficult to be obtained.”
We can’t be sure how many examples of the 1820 were in the hoard but we can, however, be sure that a lot of 1820 Mint State large cents emerged from somewhere.
If you check the grading service totals today, the numbers are impressive. Professional Coin Grading Service has seen roughly 267 Mint State examples of the 1820. Numismatic Guaranty Corporation reports 391. The only date that comes close is the 1818, which is generally seen along with the 1820 as the most heavily represented date in the hoard. Its PCGS total is 296, and its NGC total is 288.
The difference of the Randall Hoard can be seen when you compare those totals to the 1825, which was not a low mintage date, either, but it also was not in the hoard. The Mint State PCGS total is 27 pieces, while NGC has seen 14.
Clearly the Randall Hoard made a great difference in the supply of the 1820 today, making almost any example in Mint State at today’s $300 price one that was likely to have been a part of the hoard.