1861 Original Confederate Cent, PR63
1861 1C Confederate States of America Cent, Original PR63 PCGS
Secure. Generations of numismatists have repeated a canon of
commonly held beliefs about the original Confederate cents. The
maxim still holds true that once a numismatic fallacy is repeated
it becomes fact; after it is repeated again it becomes an
absolute fact. Very little is known as fact about original
Confederate cents. What is known is either 12 or 16 pieces were
struck in early 1861. Robert Lovett, Jr. was the engraver
responsible. The first appearance at auction was in January 1874.
Beyond that, just about everything is open to conjecture.
Off the Market and in the Same Family for 40 Years
Struck From an Uncracked Reverse Die
Much of the uncertainty about the original Confederate cents stems from an address made by John Haseltine at the 1908 ANA Convention. By 1908, Haseltine was "one who belongs to the old school of numismatics," as Henry Chapman considered him. His address introduced several previously unmentioned "facts" about the discovery of the Confederate cents. These so-called facts were listed and debunked in Harold Levi and George Corell's book The Lovett Cent, a Confederate Story. They have long been an integral part of the CSA cent story. They include:
"First, Robert Lovett, Jr. spent the discovery coin in a West Philadelphia bar. Second, Haseltine purchased the discovery cent from the bartender. Third, the order for the Confederate cent dies had come through Bailey & Company. Fourth, Lovett buried the cents, and presumably the dies, in his cellar. Fifth, one day Lovett opened a drawer of a cabinet and Haseltine saw a little line of Confederate cents."
Undoubtedly, as the recipient of a honorary life membership in the American Numismatic Association, Captain Haseltine wanted to spin a fine story about the Confederate cents for his audience, but the truth was just as interesting as the stories he created. The story about one of Lovett's pocket pieces surfacing in a Philadelphia bar was not part of the story until Haseltine's address in 1908. The assertion that the dies had come through Bailey & Company seems highly improbable. This also seems like a 1908 afterthought as Robert, Jr.'s brother George had been contacted directly by an agent of the Confederate government to engrave a seal for the Confederacy. Unless Robert was contacted directly by a Confederate agent also, The National Bank Note Company is the most likely link to the Confederacy as they printed the first issue of Confederate notes. A bank note company would have maintained a list of engravers and die sinkers as a service to their clients. As for Haseltine's 1908 assertion that Lovett buried the coins and dies, there is no physical evidence on the known pieces that he did so. Haseltine's assertion that he saw "a little line of Confederate cents" seems highly unlikely. At the time of the appearance of the discovery piece in late 1873, Haseltine was busy preparing two impending auctions, and it was not Haseltine but Dr. Edward Maris who actually purchased the Confederate cents from Lovett (Maris is not mentioned in the 1908 address). Haseltine did purchase the dies and soon began his restriking scheme. He also purchased eight of the original cents from Maris in 1874.
The greatest concentration of truth about the original strikes of the Confederate cents seems to be clustered around the time of their discovery and the sale at auction of the discovery piece. In Haseltine's January 1874 sale, he apparently knew some of the facts, but appears to have not known how many pieces were struck. It appears that Haseltine believed the mintage was limited to the coins he had seen. This fact was later clarified by Dr. Maris, who actually owned the coins. Lot 665 in the 1874 sale states:
"The dies for the above piece were made by Mr. Lovett, of Philadelphia, in 1861. Mr. Lovett says that they were ordered in 1861, for the South, and that the dies were delivered. Previous to delivering the dies, he struck twelve pieces, but showed them to no one and kept the matter quiet, fearing that he might be arrested if it were known. It was not until about six months since Mr. Lovett parted with all he had (either ten or twelve) to Dr. E. Maris, of Philadelphia, from whom this one was obtained. Although it is evident that the Southern Confederacy did not adopt the piece, still it will always be considered interesting and valuable as the only coinage designed for the Southern Confederacy, and will no doubt bring a high price. I have been somewhat particular in giving the facts about this piece, as there are persons who always sneer at and doubt anything new and interesting that is discovered by other than themselves."
In Dr. Maris' catalog from 1886, he stated "I believe only about sixteen were ever struck." This number is in line with the number of pieces known today (13), allowing for a loss of three coins over the period of 150+ years.
The original Confederate cent discovery coin was mentioned in the October 1873 edition of the American Journal of Numismatics. Under Notes and Queries, Ebenezer Mason posed a question dated July 21. He described the French Head of Liberty and the reverse design and gave the composition as nickel (meaning copper-nickel). The editors of the AJN at that time were William Sumner Appleton, Samuel Abbot Green, and Jeremiah Colburn. Their response to Mason's query was:
"The head on the above mentioned piece is the same as on a business card issued in Philadelphia, and from the initial on the cotton bale, on the reverse of the piece, we should think that our correspondent would not have much difficulty in learning, from the engraver, the origin of the coin."
The discrepancy between question and answer is that Mason never mentioned the prominent initial L (for Lovett) on the cotton bale. This would indicate that sometime between July 21 and when the AJN went to press (probably early September), the editors saw the discovery coin. This was not an easy matter in 1873. It would have required the coin either be sent by post or hand-carried from Philadelphia (where Lovett, Maris, and Haseltine lived) and Boston (where the editors of the AJN lived). The most likely suspect for such a trip is John Haseltine. Just the previous year he sent letters to the descendants of Charles Thompson, a member of the Continental Congress and the last owner of record of the Nova Constellatio patterns, asking if they had any coin collections to sell. The result was the reappearance after several generations of the mark and quint. He alluded to this discovery in his extensive comments in his January 1874 sale when he concluded by stating: "... there are persons who always sneer at and doubt anything new and interesting that is discovered by other than themselves." The significance of this early publicity is the widespread readership of the AJN. This early published mention may have alerted an astute collector such as Dr. Edward Maris to ask Ebenezer Mason about the discovery piece, eventually leading to his purchase of Robert Lovett's remaining inventory of original Confederate cents.
Some original Confederate cents were struck from perfect dies, but most show a faint die crack along the right side of the wreath on the reverse. Numismatic researcher P. Scott Rubin used this die crack to pose the question: "Why would Lovett deliver a broken die to the Confederacy?" It appears that even though the dies were ordered by the South, they were not delivered to the South. This example shows no trace of die cracking along the right side of the leaves on the right side of the wreath, indicating this was one of the first, if not the first of these historic coins struck. A curious feature is noted in that area, though: Pronounced mechanical doubling is seen along the leaves on the right side of the wreath. The strike details show slight softness over the high points of the design on each side. However, the L (for Lovett) is especially strong, as seen on all original Confederate cents. Restrikes have significantly softer definition, presumably because of reduced striking pressure used by Haseltine because of the cracked reverse die. Another notable difference between originals and restrikes is that originals were all struck with a medallic turn, while restrikes were produced with a coin turn.
Original Confederate cents have been designated as both business strikes and proofs by PCGS and NGC. Examination of the population data from both services indicates the divided opinion about the nature of the striking of these pieces. PCGS has certified four Mint State pieces, ranging from MS61 to MS64+. This is the only proof PCGS has certified. NGC has only graded two originals as business strikes, a pair of MS62 pieces. The other five pieces they have certified have been graded as proofs, and range from PR61 to PR64. (Undoubtedly, there are resubmissions included in these numbers.) In our opinion, this coin is a shallowly mirrored proof that was most likely only struck once. The fields, especially the reverse fields, show evidence of slight die polishing, but not enough to actually give the coin the appearance of a proof, as understood in the traditional sense. The surfaces display the tan-golden color expected from a copper-nickel cent of 88% nickel / 12% copper alloy. The reverse shows deeper, reddish-tinted patina. Areas of shallow planchet porosity are seen on each side - mostly around the margin on the obverse, more obviously seen in the lower reverse field below the CE in CENT.
This original Confederate cent has been off the market since 1974. It was bought by the consignor's father, Dr. Dudley Noble, in April 1974 for $14,995. Mr. Noble died at the all-too-early age of 48. His sons saw the significance of the coin and how it would fit into their collections of Civil War memorabilia that included guns, swords, ambrotypes, tintypes, buckles, buttons, and Confederate currency. Included with the lot are copies of a letter from Q. David Bowers acknowledging Dr. Noble's purchase of the coin, invoice, PNG Dealer's Certificate of Title, Guarantee of Genuineness and Registration, and even a photocopy of the original envelope it was shipped in.
This roster was expanded from the population data in The Lovett Cent a Confederate Story, by Harold Levi and George Corell. We believe 16 Original cents were struck by Robert Lovett, Jr. in 1861 and he may have lost one or two of them before his stock (probably 14 remaining examples) was purchased by Dr. Edward Maris in late 1873. Captain John W. Haseltine handled most of these pieces over the years, but Maris retained at least two specimens in his own collection until many years later, and Haseltine was probably unaware of them. Unfortunately, it is impossible to determine exactly which coins Haseltine sold, as they were primarily offered in undocumented private transactions. PCGS and NGC have combined to certify 12 specimens in all grades, with an unknown number of resubmissions and crossovers. We can trace 13 distinct specimens today, with many earlier appearances that may or may not represent the same coins.
Roster of 1861 Original Confederate Cents
1. PR64 NGC. Robert Lovett, Jr.; Dr. Edward Maris; unknown intermediaries, most likely including Captain John W. Haseltine; F.C.C. Boyd; Boyd estate; John J. Ford, Jr.; John J. Ford, Jr. Collection, Part X (Stack's, 5/2005), lot 4478.
2. PR63 PCGS. Robert Lovett, Jr.; Dr. Edward Maris; unknown intermediaries, most likely including Captain John W. Haseltine; possibly John J. Ford, Jr.; Q. David Bowers; offered in Rare Coin Review numbers 19 and 20; purchased in April 1974 for the Noble Family Collection; the present coin.
3. Choice Brilliant Proof. Robert Lovett, Jr.; Dr. Edward Maris; unknown intermediaries, most likely including Captain John W. Haseltine; F.C.C. Boyd; Boyd estate; John J. Ford, Jr.; John J. Ford, Jr. Collection, Part X (Stack's, 5/2005), lot 4477; Q. David Bowers; 74th Anniversary Sale (Stack's, 11/2009), lot 794 (grade per Ford auction appearance).
4. Choice Brilliant Uncirculated, Prooflike. Robert Lovett, Jr.; Dr. Edward Maris; unknown intermediaries, most likely including Captain John W. Haseltine; F.C.C. Boyd; Boyd estate; John J. Ford, Jr.; John J. Ford, Jr. Collection, Part I (Stack's, 10/2003), lot 321 (grade per Ford auction appearance).
5. Extremely Fine. Robert Lovett, Jr.; Dr. Edward Maris; unknown intermediaries, most likely including Captain John W. Haseltine; F.C.C. Boyd; Boyd estate; John J. Ford, Jr.; John J. Ford, Jr. Collection, Part I (Stack's, 10/2003), lot 322 (grade per Ford auction appearance).
6. A fifth specimen that was included in the John J. Ford, Jr. Collection at the time of its sale in 2003. Sold privately via Stack's and not described in any of the catalogs.
7. AU58 PCGS. Robert Lovett, Jr.; Dr. Edward Maris; unknown intermediaries, most likely including Captain John W. Haseltine; Aubrey and Adeline Bebee Collection (Bowers and Merena, 8/1987), lot 1545; West Coast collector, via Liz Coggan; William H. Labelle, Sr. Collection (American Numismatic Rarities, 7/2005), lot 26.
8. AU. Robert Lovett, Jr.; Dr. Edward Maris; unknown intermediaries, most likely including Captain John W. Haseltine; Hain Family Collection (Stack's, 1/2002), lot 876 (grade per 2002 auction appearance).
9. Choice Uncirculated. Robert Lovett, Jr.; Dr. Edward Maris; unknown intermediaries, most likely including Captain John W. Haseltine; Kensington Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 12/1975), lot 431 (grade per 1975 auction appearance).
10. MS62 NGC. Robert Lovett, Jr.; Dr. Edward Maris; unknown intermediaries, most likely including Captain John W. Haseltine; Dodsen/Collier Collections (Bowers and Merena, 6/1984), lot 3421; New York City Auction (Spink Smythe, 11/2008), lot 475.
11. MS60. Robert Lovett, Jr.; Dr. Edward Maris; unknown intermediaries, most likely including Captain John W. Haseltine; Lee F. Hewitt Collection (Bowers and Merena, 11/1984), lot 2799; Hoke S. Green Collection (Bowers and Merena, 6/1985), lot 498 (grade per last auction appearance).
12. XF. Robert Lovett, Jr.; Dr. Edward Maris; unknown intermediaries, most likely including Captain John W. Haseltine; Charles Steigerwalt; purchased by T. Harrison Garrett in late 1881; Robert Garrett; John Work Garrett; Garrett Collection, Part IV (Bowers and Ruddy, 3/1981), lot 1995 (grade per Garrett auction appearance).
13. A specimen in the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society.
A. Coin Sale (Captain John W. Haseltine, 1/1874), lot 665, the first auction appearance.
B. A coin in the possession of Dr. William Lee circa 1874, which he photographed and published in a book on Confederate notes.
C. Dr. Edward Maris Collection (Harlan Page Smith, 6/1886), lot 304.
D. Maris Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 11/1900), lot 850.
E. A specimen exhibited by Judson Brenner at the 1914 ANS Exhibition. This piece may have passed to Virgil Brand in 1919, when Brenner sold him the Confederate cent dies and many other coins.
F. George Earle Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1912), lot 3823, based on toning patterns this coin resembles number 10 above, but the match is not definitive.
G. George M. Parsons Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1914), lot 2707, toning patterns resemble the coin in number 5 above, but the match is not definitive.
H. John Story Jenks Collection (Henry Chapman, 12/1921), lot 6471, toning patterns resemble the coin in number 5 and letter G above, but the match is not definitive.
I. Fred E. Olsen Collection (B. Max Mehl, 11/1944), lot 1632, reportedly struck on a large planchet, possibly an off-center restrike according to John Ford.
J. A specimen reported in the Philpot/Zander Sale (B. Max Mehl, 11/1945), catalog not available for study.
K. Will Neil Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1947), lot 3071.
L. A coin in the possession of John J. Ford, Jr. which he sold to Dr. Irving Schuster, reportedly later handled by Q. David Bowers, possibly number 9, 10, or 11 above.
M. An eighth specimen owned by John Ford at one time according to Michael Hodder, no longer in the Ford Collection at the time of the 2003 sale.
N. A specimen in the ANS Collection, accession number 1908.181.2 listed as an Original by Harold Levi and George Corell in The Lovett Cent a Confederate Story, but the ANS website says this piece is a Haseltine Restrike in copper.
From The Noble Family Collection. (NGC ID# 2C4W, PCGS# 521351)
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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