1793 With Periods Chain Cent, MS65 Brown
1793 1C Chain, AMERICA, Periods, S-4, B-5, R.3, MS65 Brown PCGS.
CAC. The plate coin in Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of Early
United States Cents 1793-1814. Periods follow the date and
LIBERTY on the obverse of the S-4 Chain cent. The reverse, with
AMERICA spelled in full, appears on S-2, S-3, S-4, and NC-1. Breen
Die State II, early, with a faint crack from the rim at 7 o'clock
into the hair, and another faint crack from the first, following
the rim toward the date. A tiny planchet lamination obscures the
second crack. A small planchet clip is also evident at the same
S-4, B-5, Breen Plate Coin
A small number of sensational Chain cents have survived for more than two centuries since they were coined in March 1793, including this example that carries a provenance to 1864. A sensational Gem, the Eliasberg specimen has a bold strike with excellent definition of the motifs, including the fine strands of Liberty's hair. The rim is bold and the centering is excellent. Every aspect of this superlative Chain cent is remarkable.
The rich olive and mahogany-brown surfaces are highly lustrous and virtually flawless. A small patch of reverse corrosion that was described in the Eliasberg catalog remains unchanged over the last 21 years, and it is completely stable, unlikely to change in the future.
After Congress authorized the Mint in April 1792, plans for the establishment soon began, and all was ready late that year. Although 1792 half dismes were minted before the Mint opened, and a few patterns were struck in the new facility late in 1792, the Chain cents were the first actual United States coins minted at the Philadelphia Mint in March 1793. These coins are the very first federal type coins, minted before the 1793 half cents, or the other large cent designs. Mint records identify a total mintage of 36,103 Chain cents were delivered March 1 through March 12, 1793.
A Distinctive Variety
The obverse of the S-4 Chain Periods cent is unlike earlier Chain cent varieties. The hair shows a different treatment, and the periods that follow the date and LIBERTY are unprecedented among all 1793 cents. Walter Breen made the reasonable suggestion that a different engraver prepared this obverse. The periods are similar to Joseph Wright's 1792 pattern quarters, and led Breen to suggest that Wright engraved this die. Harry Salyards suggested that the engraver of this die continued to prepare the Wreath cent obverse dies. The identification of engravers of the 1793 cents and half cents remains a perplexing numismatic mystery.
The five finest examples of S-4 in Del Bland's census carry a 19th century provenance. The opportunity to compare descriptions of a single coin through the years will give the 21st century numismatist an opportunity to better appreciate the work of 19th and 20th century numismatists.
In lot 603 of the Fifth Semi-Annual Sale (W. Elliot Woodward, 10/1864), Woodward described this specimen as "1793 Flowing hair, dot after Liberty and after the date; rev. links, 'United States of America.' A vine and stripes on the edge. Splendid, uncirculated, of the highest degree of rarity." The lot sold to Joseph Zanoni, for $27. Zanoni sold the main body of his collection through Edward Cogan in 1867, but this coin was not described in the catalog for that sale. It must have been sold to the next owner, Thomas Cleneay, privately at some point.
The next auction appearance was in lot 1795 of the Thomas Cleneay Collection (S.H. and H. Chapman, 12/1890), where the Chapman brothers noted:
"1793 Same type. Head larger and hair more abundant but lower relief, periods after LIBERTY and 1793 and the inscription close. R. Same die. Beautiful sharp impression of rich light olive color. The finest specimen known of this variety which is much rarer than the preceding. See Plate VIII. From Zanoni coll."
The preceding lot the Chapmans referred to was the Zanoni-Cleneay S-3 cent. The S-4 Chain cent sold to coin dealer Charles Steigerwalt for $122.50. Either Steigerwalt was acting as an agent for Albany collector John G. Mills at the Cleneay sale, or he later sold this coin to him privately, as the coin next appeared in lot 1227 of the John G. Mills Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 4/1904). The Chapman brothers wrote:
"1793 Chain. Head of Liberty r. with hair flowing loosely behind, long, reaching nearly to edge and exquisitely executed. LIBERTY above; below 1793 (periods after LIBERTY and date). Rev. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; in centre endless chain of 15 links enclosing ONE CENT 1/100. Edge vine and bars. This specimen of the most delicate and rarest die of the 1793's, a cent that when slightly worn is almost invisible, is in uncirculated condition with a beautiful, lustrous, light olive surface. Unique state and very rare. From the Cleneay Coll. Plate XII."
The lot realized $235, to Philadelphia collector George Earle. A few years later, in June of 1912, Henry Chapman wrote in lot 3355 of the George Earle catalog:
"1793 AMERICA. Small head of Liberty, long flowing hair. Period after LIBERTY and 1793. R. as last. Uncirculated. Sharp, even impression. The planchet on edge to left of date was not quite circular, and while it took the edge design, yet the coin is not a true circle at this point. However, it detracts so slightly that I feel this to be one of the finest specimens of this variety known. Its color is a lustrous, rich brown. Plate. Excessively rare. Crosby 4-c."
The lot was purchased by "C", possibly an abbreviation for Chapman, for a relatively modest sum of $140. The coin was sold privately shortly after the sale to fellow Philadelphian Clarence Bement.
Just four years later, in May of 1916, Henry Chapman found this coin on his desk again, this time as part of the Clarence S. Bement, Esq., Collection. The description for this piece in lot 286 reads:
"America. Small head of Liberty r., the profile outlined, the hair very fine. LIBERTY. Below 1793. Periods after the word LIBERTY and date. R. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in center within a circle of 15 links ONE CENT 1/100. Sharp, even impression with high edge. The planchet on edge to left of the date is not quite circular, though it has taken the edge bars, but it is hardly noticeable and even with this very slight defect it detracts so slightly that I feel this to be one of, if not the finest specimen known of this variety. Surface beautiful and of a rich, lustrous, light brown color. Plate. Excessively rare. C. 4-C. From Zanoni coll., then to Cleneay, later from Earle sale, No. 3355, though subsequently purchased at private sale for $200."
The lot realized $300 to "Innis", an alias for James W. Ellsworth, who bought heavily at the sale.
This specimen soon found its way to William Cutler Atwater, via Wayte Raymond, who purchased Ellsworth's collection in 1923 in a partnership arrangement with John Work Garrett. It must have been one of the last coins Atwater purchased, because he stopped collecting around 1923, although his collection was not sold until after his death, in 1946. B. Max Mehl handled Atwater's collection, which was one of the highlights of his long and immensely successful numismatic career. In his description of lot 10 in his June 1946 catalog, Mehl overlooked the planchet clip that had been described earlier:
"1793 Chain type, but of an entirely different die, smaller head with longer flowing locks. Periods after LIBERTY and date. Uncirculated with raised borders. Glossy medium brown surface. Bold impression. Mr. Atwater's catalog described it as 'superb.' From the famous Ellsworth collection. Extremely rare and valuable both as to variety and beautiful condition."
The lot sold to super collector Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. for $330.
Heritage cataloger Mark Borckardt had the pleasure of describing this coin for its appearance in lot 487 of the May 1996 catalog of the Eliasberg collection, where it was graded MS64 Brown, writing, in part:
"Superbly detailed with excellent definition of all designs, including the highest points of the hair. Well centered. The letters are bifurcated on the obverse, slightly so on the reverse, an artifact of striking, due to planchet spreading. Obverse and reverse with high rims, as struck. Superb preservation without rim bruises or bumps. Lustrous brown surfaces with a tiny area of raised granularity at and to the right of F in OF. Struck on an incomplete planchet with very slight flattening of the edge at 7:00."
Prior to marketing of the Eliasberg collection in 1996, the early provenance of this coin was unknown. The Zanoni-Cleneay provenance ended with Clarence Bement. At the same time, the provenance of the Eliasberg coin began with James Ellsworth. They were listed as two different specimens, and the connection was only made when the Eliasberg coin was compared to the Bement plate.
Sometime between May 1996 and July 2004, this specimen was certified MS65 Brown PCGS, and today it remains in a green-label holder. The coin next surfaced in lot 6 of the Oliver Jung Collection (American Numismatic Rarities, 7/2004). The cataloger for American Numismatic Rarities, the now defunct New Hampshire firm, wrote:
"Sometimes in the course of numismatic events, a coin 'has it all,' with little else to be desired. Such an instance is here, with this simply incredible 1793 Chain cent, one of the most famous and rare of American coin types, combining the certification in gem grade, plus the incomparable pedigree of the Eliasberg Collection. Just about every adjective that you might care to apply would be relevant-marvelous, wonderful, and so on. You can add your own descriptions."
The cataloger continued with a reprint of the Eliasberg description. The lot realized $391,000.
This coin's most recent appearance was in lot 3020 of our FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2012), where it realized $1,380,000 (see description online at https://www.ha.com).
High Condition Census and Provenance
Just three examples of S-4 exist with claims to Mint State status. The finest piece is sometimes called "The Coin" and is the example illustrated in Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins. "The Coin" is certified Specimen 67 Brown PCGS and carries a provenance back to Joseph Mickley who may have received it from the Mint Cabinet in trade for other numismatic items. Dr. Sheldon called the Mickley piece "possibly the most perfect Chain cent in existence."
The second finest example is the Parmelee coin that was illustrated in the 1991 Noyes Photo book. Dr. Sheldon called the Parmelee cent MS65 in the 1949 publication of Early American Cents. Today it is certified MS66 Brown PCGS Secure, CAC. The Parmelee specimen recently sold for a record $2,350,000 in lot 4011 of the FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2015).
The Eliasberg 1793 S-4 With Periods Chain cent, the third finest PCGS certified example, is considered the third finest of the S-4 cents, and carries a provenance back to 1864. In Early American Cents, Sheldon discussed the "recent sales" of examples that traded hands in the 1940s. This piece appeared in B. Max Mehl's sale of the Atwater Collection in 1946 but was overlooked by Sheldon in that discussion.
There exists a wide gap between the grades of the three pieces discussed here and the next tier of S-4 Chain cents that include four or five AU examples. Current market values for the top grade Chain cents are significant, although they seem low in comparison to other numismatic rarities. This magnificent S-4 Chain cent is one of the most important offerings in this sale. We expect intense competition from series specialists when this lot is called. Housed in a green label holder. Our EAC grade MS60.
Ex: Fifth Semi-Annual Sale (W. Elliot Woodward, 10/1864), lot 603; Joseph Zanoni; Thomas Cleneay (S.H. & H. Chapman, 12/1890), lot 1795; Charles Steigerwalt; John G. Mills (S.H. & H. Chapman, 4/1904), lot 1227; George H. Earle, Jr. (Henry Chapman, 6/1912), lot 3355; Clarence S. Bement (Henry Chapman, 5/1916), lot 286; Col. James W. Ellsworth (3/1923); Wayte Raymond (1923); William Cutler Atwater (B. Max Mehl, 6/1946), lot 10; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; Eliasberg Estate (Bowers and Merena, 5/1996), lot 487; Spectrum Numismatics; American Numismatic Rarities (7/2004), lot 6; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2012), lot 3020, where it realized $1,380,000.
From An Important New York Collection. (NGC ID# 223F, Variety PCGS# 35444, Base PCGS# 91341)
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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