1794 1C Starred Reverse. AU50 PCGS. S-48, B-38, R.5....
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Equivalents. Maris 51; Doughty 24; Hays 8; McGirk 2-D; Ross 5-E; Chapman 30; EAC 36; Encyclopedia 1663; PCGS #1374.
Variety. Back of the bust is short, doubled dentil left of 1. The Starred Reverse. The reverse border consists of 94 stars and 83 denticles. The obverse appears on S-47, S-48, S-49, and NC-9. The reverse appears on S-48. Lettered Edge, leaf points up.
Surfaces. Sharply struck with all details boldly visible, including complete obverse and reverse borders. The surfaces are medium brown with a splash of steel color on the obverse. Each of the 94 stars on the reverse is boldly visible. A small abrasion over N of ONE will identify this coin to provenance researchers.
Die State I. An early die state with faint obverse clash marks.
Appearances. The obverse and reverse are illustrated in Smith, Breen's Complete Encyclopedia, Noyes (1991 and 2006), and in Breen's Large Cent Encyclopedia.
Census. This piece is clearly the finest known example, followed by four pieces that grade VF. After these are a small number of Fines. A number of Starred Reverse cents have been discovered in recent years, almost always in lower grades. Bill Noyes records 49 different pieces in the Official Condition Census. In time, the Starred Reverse may cross over to the R.4 rarity level.
Commentary. Few varieties of U.S. coinage are identified solely by their name. When a numismatist mentions the Little Princess, others know that the 1841 quarter eagle is being discussed. The Orphan Annie is known to most as the 1844 dime. And the Starred Reverse is immediately understood to be the 1794 S-48 large cent. Even such rarities as the 1804 silver dollar do not have this distinction, although some call it the King of Coins. Usually, the latter is called the "04 Dollar," requiring at least some connection with its date and denomination. When Hays described this variety in 1893, he was only able to count 87 stars, the other 7 hidden by dentils.
This variety was discovered by Henry Chapman in 1877, and confirmed by Dr. Maris who was standing between Henry and S.H. Chapman at the time. Today, the discovery coin grades VF20 and was sold most recently by the Goldbergs in February 2001.
In Early American Cents, Sheldon rated the Starred Reverse R.6, but suggested that it might actually be High R.5 at that time: "Although rare, this coin is by no means so rare as is sometimes indicated. At one time I owned nine of them, and I have seen nearly thirty, so it is likely that if a complete census were taken in the outlying numismatic bogs and hamlets, more than thirty, at any rate, could be turned up. But the same may be true of some of our other R-6's, so we may as well let this famous one stand at that level of rarity. To list the Hays 8 as an R-5 would be too much of a shock to the old time collectors, who have been accustomed to read 'only five or six known.'"
In 1986, Pete Smith published an in-depth study of this variety, The Story of the Starred Reverse Cent. Although some census information has changed in the past 20 years, his record of this variety is invaluable to the student of the series.
Over a great many years, scholars and students have come up with various theories to explain the Starred Reverse. One early theory suggested that the Starred Reverse was created through the use of leftover planchets from the 1792 pattern coinage. Pete Smith attributes the theory to R.C. Davis, in the July 1880 issue of Mason's Numismatic Visitor. Smith writes: "This theory was based on the assumption that the star design was applied to the planchets independently of other design elements. The belief was that some planchets originally struck with stars for the pattern were later overstruck with the design of the 1794 cent."
Ed. Frossard responded in agreement to this explanation in the September 1880 issue of Numisma: "Of course since the stars were already stamped upon the old rejected planchets when put in use in 1794, it follows that the chain of stars may in some cases be found on the obverse as well as reverse; and since a large number of dies were used, it also follows that the stars may be found on several varieties. Since the happy discovery of Mr. Davis, the starred cent cannot, in fact, any longer be considered as a distinct variety. It becomes simply an oddity, an interesting peculiarity and nothing else."
Pete Smith defends Davis and Frossard: "Even the best numismatic scholars of the time may not have had the best understanding of minting practices."
There have been many other theories and ideas published over the years. Sheldon suggested an idle hour at the Mint. Don Taxay called these pieces "at once an essai and a regular issue" in his Comprehensive Catalogue. R.W. Julian suggested the concept was intended to be an anti-counterfeiting scheme. In 1975, Breen suggested that the star punch was laying around and rediscovered in the Mint in 1794. In 1982, Dave Bowers suggested a scenario where a die in 1792 was punched with the stars, but not further completed, and had to wait until an issue of similar 29 mm. diameter was produced.
Denis Loring notes that the Starred Reverse and the reverse die of S-63 are punch-linked, while Walter Breen believed that the reverse dies were actually the same, and that the S-63 reverse was softened and retooled, including the addition of the 94 tiny stars. The punch-link theory of Loring is easily supported, but Breen's theory of the dies being the same is easily discounted. As Smith points out, the Starred Reverse has 83 denticles, while the reverse of S-63 has 91 denticles. The old denticles would have needed to be removed, then the perimeter of the die would have needed to be "rebuilt" before a new series of denticles could be put in its place.
Perhaps it is best that the origin of the Starred Reverse remains a mystery. In 1979, John Adams wrote: "For one hundred years, the 'Starred Reverse' has been the premier variety of 1794. Its origins have caused hours of speculation. Its acquisition inspires collectors to frenzied effort. Its very being is contemplated with what Dr. Sheldon described as 'religious awe.'"
Provenance. Spink & Son, Ltd. (London, 1972 FPL); New York Collector (Stack's, 9/1972), lot 662, $15,000; John W. Adams (Bowers and Ruddy, 1982 FPL), lot 43, $50,000; Bowers and Ruddy (RCR 43, 1982); Bowers and Ruddy (RCR 46, 12/1982); Dr. Boyd Hayward (11/1985); Bowers and Merena (4/1986), lot 945; R.E. Naftzger, Jr. (2/1992); Eric Streiner; Jay Parrino; Bowers and Merena Galleries (3/1995).
Personality. Q. David Bowers was born on October 21, 1938 in Honesdale, Pennsylvania and educated at Pennsylvania State University, where he graduated in 1960. Well known for his numismatic research and award-winning writing, Bowers has also served as president of both the PNG and ANA. He has attended more than 50 consecutive ANA Conventions since his first convention in Omaha in 1955. Bowers and partner Jim Ruddy operated Empire Coin Company in the 1950s and 1960s, and Bowers and Ruddy Galleries in the 1970s. Later, he joined Raymond Merena to operate Bowers and Merena Galleries, Christine Karstedt in American Numismatic Rarities, and is currently associated with Stack's. Bowers has several other interests in addition to numismatics. His Encyclopedia of Automated Musical Instruments is still the standard reference in that field. (Variety PCGS# 35705, Base PCGS# 1374)
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