NGC Certifies Rare S-79 1795 Reeded Edge Liberty Cap Cent

Posted on 6/15/2010

Among early United States cents one of the rarest and most mysterious is Dr. William H. Sheldon’s variety number 79 having a reeded edge, an example of which has just been certified by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation. Only eight pieces are confirmed to exist, and this one has been off the market for some 30 years. Its last public appearance was in a 1977 auction by the now-defunct Numismatic and Antiquarian Service Corporation of America (NASCA). NGC has graded and encapsulated this remarkable coin as having Fine Details with corrosion.

1795 Reeded Edge Cent, S-79
click image to enlarge

Aside from its rarity, S-79 is an intriguing variety on several counts. It possesses a reeded edge, the only large cent of any type to have such an edge device. Its obverse is unique to this die marriage, though it is similar in most respects to those of other 1795 cents. Where things really get odd, however, is that this cent variety was coined using a reverse die shared only with several varieties of 1796-dated cents. It was thus almost certainly coined well into that year and possibly as late as 1797. The U. S. Mint is known to have employed dies of earlier dates for as long as they remained serviceable, and this appears to be the case with S-79.

The reason for applying a reeded edge is entirely undocumented. This edge device evidently was used well after the December 1795 order reducing the weight of cents in response to the rising price of copper. The thinner planchets that resulted from this weight reduction precluded usage of the lettered edge device common to some 1793 cents, all those dated 1794 and the early issues dated 1795, which is why most 1795 cents and all 1796 cents have plain edges. The only comparable instance of an unusual edge device occurs with the two die marriages of 1797-dated cents having “gripped” edges. These show a series of shallow cuts on their edges that were imparted by the edge milling machine. Perhaps they were contemporary with the extremely rare reeded edge cents dated 1795, as the U. S. Mint experimented to find a suitable replacement for edge lettering. Again, no documentation is known which would verify this theory.

The rare S-79 just certified by NGC is a previously-known specimen, though it has not been seen in the marketplace since its last recorded sale in 1977. It appears in fourth place in the condition censuses published by both William C. Noyes (United States Large Cents 1793-1814) and Walter Breen (Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of Early United States Cents 1793-1814, edited by Mark R. Borckardt). Though the variety was evidently known to collectors as early as 1862, this particular specimen was discovered by famed dealer Henry Chapman and included in his auction of June 1916, where it brought the grand sum of $1.75! It later passed through the collections of several legendary numismatists, including Howard R. Newcomb, Henry C. Hines and Dr. Sheldon himself.

The coin was submitted to NGC by Silvertowne of Winchester, Indiana. Owner David Hendrickson is delighted to be able to handle this great rarity. “It’s such a wonderful experience to come across a coin which has remained extremely rare despite a century and a half of searching by collectors,” Hendrickson said. “We at Silvertowne are proud to become a part of this cent’s distinguished pedigree.”

NGC President Rick Montgomery added, “We’re always very appreciative of the trust placed in us by the numismatic community as the service of choice to authenticate these rare treasures, and we’re also proud to demonstrate our expertise and unique capabilities in this way. This is a wonderful coin with a fascinating history.”

Walter Breen described S-79 as “by far the most coveted of all regularly numbered Sheldon varieties (those he did not give NC [non-collectable] numbers . . .)” Though William Sheldon considered this to be a collectable variety when he published his book Early American Cents in 1949 (later updated as Penny Whimsy), several of the ones he labeled as NC have since become more common than S-79, which remains today a key to the large cent series.

The initial attribution of this rare cent was made by NGC Research Director David W. Lange, who was pleasantly surprised to be holding such a rarity without any advance notice of its arrival. “The term rare is used rather cavalierly these days,” Lange observed, “but this coin carries its own credentials. It will be on the want list of every advanced cent collector for generations to come,” he added.

Though showing moderate corrosion on both sides, this cent is a still a pleasing one visually. The corrosion is evenly distributed, and the details of the coin appear with excellent contrast between tan high points and brown fields. The obverse is free of noticeable contact marks, while the reverse reveals just a small dig on the right ribbon and a single rim nick. It’s anticipated that this coin will see fierce competition when it appears at auction sometime in the near future. The most recent example sold, the Dan Holmes Collection specimen grading VG-10, brought $1.25 million at auction in 2009.

NGC would like to express its thanks to Early American Coppers President Denis W. Loring, a large cent expert and former owner of this rare S-79. Loring confirmed the genuineness of the coin, as well as its provenance.

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