Statement of fact: The most popular American series to collect by die varieties is copper cents from 1793 to 1857.
Statement of fact: The most famous single coin in large cent lore and tradition is the Henry Hines 1799 cent, the only known Mint State example.
Crossing the auction block on Friday evening, March 31, will be this coin! The D. Brent Pogue Sale V is laden with rarities, of which this will be a highlight. Our venue is the famous Evergreen House, the T. Harrison Garrett mansion in Baltimore, now under the care of the Johns Hopkins University.
The 1799 cent, Sheldon-189, has been certified as MS-61 BN by PCGS. No other coin comes close. Grading is, of course, a matter of opinion, not a science. Assigned grades over the years -- and opinions have been numerous -- have ranged from AU-50 to MS-62. All along the way this has been considered the finest known. Some years ago a coating was removed from the coin using an inert solvent, and previously-unseen luster was revealed.
The surfaces are medium brown, lustrous, and with a hint of friction on the highest parts. In terms of Early American Coppers, Inc. conservative grading, the second finest is a VF-30 in the cabinet of the American Numismatic Society in New York City. Grading early cents has long been a sport, and opinions vary all over the place. It may be relevant to reiterate that both PCGS and NGC have graded the Hines coin as Mint State -- an honor not conferred on any other example. In the wide world of large copper cents, one of the most enthusiastic specialties in American numismatics, this coin has no equal.
The 1799 cent has been the most famous date in the series, ever since numismatics became a popular hobby in the 1850s. An estimated 900 to 1,100 1799 cents are known. Nearly all are well worn, in grades such as About Good to VG, usually porous, corroded, or with other detractions. Properly graded VG, Fine, and VF coins, if on smooth planchets and with excellent eye appeal, are very highly prized. A hand-selected VF has been top of the line for most of the "name" collections formed over the years.
The next owner -- and, who knows, it might be you -- will have his or her name added to this provenance of past numismatists who have had this coin pass through their hands:
A.H. Baldwin & Sons, Ltd. (London); Frank H. Shumway; Elmer S. Sears; Wayte Raymond; Henry C. Hines; William H. Sheldon; Harold E. Whiteneck; Numismatic Gallery's (Abe Kosoff and Abner Kreisberg) ANA Sale, August 1947, lot 851; Harold E. Whiteneck; Abe Kosoff's sale of the James O. Sloss Collection, October 1959, lot 50; W.M. "Jack" Wadlington; Ira and Larry Goldberg's sale of the Dan Holmes Collection, September 2009, lot 352, graded AU-55 by Chris Victor McCawley and MS-62 by NGC; D. Brent Pogue; via Stack's Bowers Galleries to the next owner.
In Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of Early United States Cents, 1793-1814 this coin is No. 1 in his Condition Census list. In William C. Noyes United States Large Cents, 1793-1814 it is No. 1 in his Condition Census list and also his plate coin.