If you can find an 1817 large cent offered for the current price of $690 for the more available 13-star variety as opposed to the less available 15-star variety, which is around $3,600 in MS-60, you should probably take the deal on the 13-star variety. While not a rare coin, an uncirculated 1817 is without a doubt an interesting coin because it almost certainly traces its roots back to the famous Randall Hoard.
The Randall Hoard was just plain special. There is not much else you can say. Over time there have been a lot of large cent hoards. The reason seems to be that people simply liked to hold large cents. It certainly was not something you would do like you would hoard silver and gold in a time of crisis. People just seemed to hoard large cents, and we have a number of records of hoards going back to the 1790s.
Most of the time, in the case of large cent hoards, the numbers involved are relatively small. A few hundred pieces was a pretty good hoard, and sometimes they were small. The Randall Hoard, however, dwarfs even the bigger large cent hoards even though we cannot be precisely sure what the total number of coin in the hoard was. That might be part of the charm as the Randall Hoard, like so many other hoards of the past, is not always perfectly described in the historical accounts. In fact, you could probably say that facts are a bit tougher than the actual coins in the hoard. A lot of legends and stories have grown up around the Randall Hoard, and many of them are without a strong foundation in fact.
The Randall Hoard was described as being a keg of large cents, and that may well be true. Of course that tells us nothing as to the number of coins because kegs of large cents back at the time came in different sizes. The typical keg of the day was 14,000 coins, but the Randall Hoard was a small keg – if it was a keg at all – with a good estimate being 5,000 coins.
The story was always that the keg was found around 1869 beneath a railroad platform in Georgia. Well, it might have been 1869, but there are some doubts about the railroad platform as they were few and far between in 1869 in Georgia. Moreover, the man for whom the hoard is named is John Swan Randall. In a letter reprinted in Q. David Bowers’ excellent book, American Coin Treasures and Hoards, it states rather clearly that the coins were found buried, but there is no mention of a railroad in his account.
How the coins were divided is also a matter of some uncertainty. Randall took them at the rate of 90 cents for 100 of the coins from a Georgia merchant, who claimed that was the price he had paid. The whole keg was almost certainly not intact when Randall made his deal for whatever number was left. He then started selling the coins as well.
We sometimes forget that just because a coin was in Mint State perhaps 40 years after being produced, it does not mean that it stayed in Mint States for another 165 years. Things happen that cause Mint State coins in collections to be circulated, lost or impaired, so we cannot expect to account for 5,000 large cents dated 1816-1820 today. What we can do is look for unusual numbers of these dates in high grades, and there is ample evidence of that in the case of all dates including the 1817.
We would expect, based on other dates, that there would be perhaps a few dozen examples of the 1817 reported by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and the Numismatic Guaranty Company (NGC) combined but, thanks to the Randall Hoard, we see far greater numbers.
The 1817 was not the most heavily represented date in the Randall Hoard, but PCGS reports 121 examples of the 1817 in Mint State while the total at NGC is 74, making a combined total of 195 examples a significantly higher total than would normally be expected.
While the 1817 may not be scarce as a Mint State 1817, it is a coin likely to have come from the famous Randall Hoard, making it even more interesting.