Famous 1795 S-79 Reeded Edge Cent, Fine Details
1795 1C Reeded Edge-Corrosion-NGC Details. Fine. Bland Good 5.
S-79, B-9, R.7. Also Judd-20, Pollock-29. 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.
This appearance is the fourth auction offering of a 1795 S-79 since
November 2008. Prior to that time, 21 auction appearances spanned
146 years, for an average of one appearance every seven years.
The Newcomb-Hines-Sheldon Specimen
Last Publicly Offered in 1977
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:
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.
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.
The first notice of the Reeded Edge cent appeared in the Lilliendahl catalog (William H. Strobridge, May 1862, lot 538), where the cataloger wrote: "Thick die, milled edge, in excellent preservation, and excessively rare." The identity of the Lilliendahl specimen is unknown today. The next auction appearance was in W. Elliot Woodward's sale of April 1890, lot 866, the coin that is now in the ANS Collection.
The eight confirmed examples include the following, presented in order of grade:
VG8. Dr. S.T. Millard; B. Max Mehl (3/1915), lot 75; G. Kraft; Robert D. Book (5/1930); George H. Clapp, traded for a "famous 1794 Cent"; Howard R. Newcomb (J.C. Morgenthau & Co., 2/1945), lot 76; James Kelly (Fixed Price #21, #22, and #23, 1945-1947); Celina Coin Co. (3/1947), lot 2037; James Kelly (11/1947), lot 927; James Kelly (4/1948), lot 1327; Christian M. Petersen; Hollinbeck Coin Co. (10/1953), lot 278; Dr. William H. Sheldon (4/1972); R.E. Naftzger, Jr. (2/1992); Eric Streiner; Anthony Terranova (12/1993); Daniel W. Holmes, Jr. (Goldberg Coins, 9/2009), lot 128. This is the plate coin in Penny Whimsy by Dr. William C. Sheldon and United States Large Cents: 1793-1814 by William C. Noyes.
VG7. W. Elliot Woodward (4/1890), lot 866; Charles Steigerwalt; Hon. George W. Lewis; Henry Chapman (6/1916), lot 633; Dr. Charles E. McGirk; Walter F. Webb (2/1937); George H. Clapp; American Numismatic Society.
Good 6. Homer K. Downing, discovered in 1947 in a New York City coin dealer's junk box; 1952 ANA Sale (New Netherlands, 8/1952), lot 1712; K.P Austin; Alan J. Brotman (Numismatic Gallery, 1973); First Coinvestors; Pine Tree (2/1975), lot 663; First Coinvestors (4/1976); Denis W. Loring (6/1976); Robinson S. Brown, Jr. (Superior, 9/1986), lot 105; Jack H. Robinson (Superior, 1/1989), lot 147; G. Lee Kuntz (Superior Galleries, 10/1991), lot 90; John R. Frankenfield (5/1995); Daniel W. Holmes (9/1995); Robinson S. Brown, Jr. (Superior 1/1996), lot 112; W.M. "Jack" Wadlington (8/2005); Ralph W. Rucker.
Good 5. Henry Chapman, discovered in a large lot of old coins; Henry Chapman (6/1916), lot 634; Henry Chapman (3/1917), lot 549; Howard R. Newcomb (2/1939); Henry C. Hines (1945); Dr. William H. Sheldon; Dorothy Paschal (1/1974); Denis W. Loring (5/1974); Dr. Robert J. Shalowitz; George Korsing; American Auction Association (1/1975), lot 908; George Korsing; Hap Seiders; Ronald Cooper; NASCA (11/1977), lot 96. The presently offered specimen.
Good 6/4. First seen at Baltimore in March 2010 and again in Baltimore on June 17, 2010, the property of John Baker, who discovered the coin in a group of coins given to him by his father many years earlier; Goldberg Coins (9/2010), lot 796.
Good 4 PCGS. Brower's Stamp and Coin in Florence, Oregon (circa 2003/2004), purchased over the counter as part of a large group of coins; unknown collector; Brower's Stamp and Coin, repurchased from the heirs of the preceding; a second unknown collector; Bowers and Merena (11/2008), lot 1143.
Good 4/1. Christy's Auction House (Indianapolis, Indiana, circa 1999); Charles Knapp (1/2010); M. Scott Barrett (5/1/2010); Steven K. Ellsworth (5/26/2010); L. Michael Lawrence, M.D.
No assigned grade. Holed brockage. Homer K. Downing, discovered in 1944 in a Chicago coin dealer's junk box; Dr. William H. Sheldon (1945); 1952 ANA Sale (New Netherlands, 1952), lot 1712a; Dr. Charles L. Ruby (12/1972); Superior Stamp & Coin Co.; Superior (2/1974), lot 414; Alan J. Brotman (Numismatic Gallery); Kagin's (11/1974), lot 51; Alan J. Brotman (Numismatic Gallery, 11/1974); Denis W. Loring (1/1975); Alan J. Brotman (Numismatic Gallery).
Two other examples remain unconfirmed at this time. They are both recorded in Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of Early United States Cents, 1793-1814:
"MS-60 Rumored to exist in a provincial European museum." If the coin exists and could be located, it would be a landmark event in numismatics.
"G-5 From an old Texas collection; L.R. Davis McKinney, Jr.; House of Davis McKinney #22, 1/1964: 227; L.R. Davis McKinney, Jr.; House of Davis McKinney 12/1968: 36; L.R. Davis McKinney, Jr. Currently untraced."
Dr. William H. Sheldon called the present piece the discovery coin for the variety in Penny Whimsy, writing: "The Proskey-Hines piece, which was the discovery coin for the variety, is about G-5." While David Proskey no longer appears in the provenance, this piece is the only one that Henry Hines ever owned. Today, the first notice of the variety is attributed to William Strobridge in 1862, as earlier discussed.
NGC describes this example as Fine, Corroded. Del Bland describes it as VG10 Details, pitted, Net Good 5, and places it fourth in his census. Bill Noyes grades this coin VF20 Details, Net Good 5, and records it as third finest, making it the second best available to collectors behind the Holmes specimen that sold for seven figures in September 2009. The present cataloger, Mark Borckardt, grades the coin sharpness of Fine 15, and suggests a net grade of Good 6. This coin and the specimen now in the Ralph Rucker Collection are so similar that they should probably share the third position in the roster of known specimens.
The two previous auction descriptions of this coin, in 1975 and 1977, gave no physical description. With a sharpness grade of Fine 15, this piece exhibits moderate corrosion on both sides with intermingled steel and tan color. A few insignificant rim nicks are evident, most noticeable being over the D in UNITED. The reverse has a single shallow mark at the right ribbon end but no other marks appear on either side.
The number of collectors who desire ownership of the Reeded Edge cent has grown substantially in recent years, and for most, such ownership will remain a dream. However, today, one lucky collector will fulfill that desire. MRB Good 5.
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