Description and Analysis

Liberty Cap Cents

Description & Analysis

The most coveted of all Sheldon numbered large cents is 1795 S-79, the famous Reeded Edge cent, sometimes called the Holy Grail of Sheldon numbers. Just eight examples are known today, including one in the ANS holdings. When Dr. William H. Sheldon wrote Early American Cents in 1949, he devised an identification scheme where most large cent varieties were numbered from 1 to 295, with additional extremely rare varieties assigned special 'non-collectible' notations, the NC varieties. He reasoned that those varieties are so rare that most collectors had little or no chance to acquire them. Any variety with two or fewer examples (in some cases no example) available to collectors was designated as non-collectible. In 1949 there were 32 NC varieties and 28 numbered varieties that were assigned a rating of R.7 or R.8. Since 1949, new discoveries have increased the number of NC varieties to 53, while only 1793 S-15 (12 known) and 1795 S-79 retain the R.7 rating among Sheldon numbered die pairs. The official purpose of the edge reeding will likely never be known, much as the reason for the stars on the reverse of the 1794 Starred Reverse cent will probably never be known. In the case of the 1795 Reeded Edge cent, the most likely hypothesis is an experiment to prevent counterfeiting or clipping. In Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States Large Cents, the author writes:

{blockquote}The reeded edge was an experiment which proved to be a needless frill, adding to the cost of manufacture without compensatory advantage. Unlike precious metals, copper, especially at the new weight standard, was unlikely to attract specialists in clipping and shaving coins. Most likely the reeded edge was an attempted measure to combat counterfeiting.{/blockquote}

Earlier, Dr. William H. Sheldon wrote in Penny Whimsy that 'this was apparently an experiment which did not meet with favor, since it was immediately abandoned.' The experimental nature of these coins is a common theme in past descriptions. However, there are only a few facts known about the 1795 Reeded Edge cents. Only eight confirmed examples are known at this time, and all are from a single die pair. No examples of that die pair exist with any other edge type, plain or lettered. The obverse die was not used for any other variety, while the reverse die was also used for six different varieties of 1796 Draped Bust cents. The coins were reportedly minted at the 168-grain standard that went into effect on December 27, 1795.

Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.