Collecting by Sheldon Variety

Posted on 12/11/2013

The Mervis Collection and a new NGC Registry set option showcase one of the greatest challenges in US numismatics.

NGC has created a new Registry set option within its Cents category: Large Cents, 1793-1814, Complete by Sheldon Varieties. It includes a slot for every known die variety of early US Large Cents which are catalogued according to Sheldon numbers.

Dr. William H. Sheldon, known equally well for his reference Penny Whimsy and as the originator of the 70-point numerical grading scale, described each collectable Large Cent die pair with a Sheldon number, abbreviated as "S-" followed by a number. For example, the 1793 Chain Cent with America abbreviated as “AMERI.” is known from just one die pair and is numbered S-1. The numbers begin at S-1 and count upward, terminating at S-295, the 1814 Plain 4 Cent.

Those coins deemed by Sheldon as too rare to be collectable and those discovered since the final edition of Penny Whimsy (1976) are assigned NC numbers, for "non-collectable." For example, the great rarity Strawberry Leaf Cents, known from two die pairs, are cataloged as NC-2 and NC-3. Unlike the numbered Sheldon varieties, NC numbers begin each year anew at NC-1 and count upwards.

While some collectors still favor the original Sheldon reference, several new works have supplanted it while preserving its original catalogue numbers. Chief among them are United States Large Cents 1793-1814 by William Noyes and Encyclopedia of Early United States Cents 1793-1814 by Walter Breen and Mark Borckardt (editor).

The NGC Registry Set uses the most up-to-date version of the catalogue, including all numbered Sheldon varieties and NC numbers totaling 356 different coins. Its scope places it among the largest of all NGC Registry sets. Because the NGC Registry assigns a score value to each coin in grade, currently there are 25,936 different score values associated with this set!

Being such an arduous task, it is hard to imagine that any collector would complete a set by numbered Sheldon varieties. In fact, to date 13 have done so, accomplishing one of the great feats in US numismatics. The most recent collector to attain this goal is Adam Mervis.

The majority of the collection is certified by NGC and it is now listed in the NGC Registry in the new Large Cents, 1793-1814, Complete by Sheldon Varieties category and can be seen here with images: Mervis Collection. In addition to being complete by numbered Sheldon varieties the Mervis Collection also includes 33 NC varieties. Among these are all 11 1794 NCs; Mervis is only the third collector to assemble these great rarities.

A few NC varieties are unique and several more are known from just a handful of examples, such as 1794 NC-11 of which three examples are identified — the third was just identified in September of this year!


NC-10. 1794 HEAD OF 94

Normally, for one collector to complete a set, another must disassemble his. Alas, such is the case with the Mervis Collection which is scheduled to be sold by Heritage Auctions on January 10, 2014. The Mervis Collection will be available for viewing in the NGC Registry only briefly, but those coins should return in the future in the Registry sets of their new owners.