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Large Cent Collecting opportunities endless
By Paul Gilkes

Collectors interested in United States copper large cents, issued from 1793 through 1857, have numerous ways to collect coins representing each of the six types that constitute the production.

All images courtesy of HeritageAuctions.com. Collectors seeking large cents, by type, from the Early Dates, will need examples of the 1793 Flowing Hair, Chain cent, top; 1793 Flowing Hair, Wreath cent, center; and an example of the Liberty Cap cent (a 1794 example is shown), bottom.

The Early Date period covers five design types. The final two design types of the Early Date period are the Draped Bust cent, top, and a Classic Head cent, bottom.

The Middle Date cents encompass the first half of the Coronet cent series, which could include an example from the first year of production in 1816. The Middle Dates run through 1839. Late Date cents, from 1840 through 1857, can be represented by an example of Coronet cent from the final year, 1857.

A wealth of numismatic reference books, monographs and other published works is devoted to the entire time period as well as individual series at collectors' disposal. The Early American Coppers club (EAC) was founded for collectors interested in becoming acquainted with other collectors with similar interests for the exchange of numismatic information and research.

Because of the price tags associated with acquiring many of the early dates, even in heavily worn condition, most collectors interested in the various large cent series will have to fashion their collecting strategy to match their collecting budget.

Time periods

The large cent collecting specialty is primarily cataloged by three major time periods – Early Dates, Middle Dates and Late Dates – from 1793 to 1857.

The three time periods comprise a total of six major design types or series, with the hobby nicknaming some of the coins within each series with individual monikers that distinguish them from the remainder of the coins in the series.

All large cents were struck at the Philadelphia Mint.

The Early Date large cents span the years from 1793 through 1814, representing coins from five different series, date inclusive.

The series or design types represented are the 1793 Flowing Hair, Chain cent, so named for Liberty's obverse hair style, and a reverse reflecting 13 chain links for the unified 13 original Colonies.

The same year, 1793 Flowing Hair, Wreath cents were produced with a similar Liberty obverse, but a reverse with a single-bow wreath.

The Liberty Cap type from 1793 through 1796 features yet another new obverse portrait of Liberty and a double-bow wreath reverse.

The Draped Bust type represents coins dated from 1796 through 1807, inclusive. The Classic Head type is dated 1808 through 1814.

No large cents were produced dated 1815.

The Middle Date large cents cover the first half of the all-encompassing Coronet cent series, spanning 1816 through 1839.

The Late Date cents represent coins dated 1840 through the end of the Coronet series and last of the large cents in 1857.

Within the Coronet type, the coins dated 1816 through 1834 and part of 1835 are sometimes referred to by their subtype name "Matron Head," which references the specific style of the obverse portrait of Liberty.

The "Young Head" designation applies to Coronet cents from later in 1835 through 1857.

How to collect

Collectors wanting to explore the realm of large cents can collect by assembling a type set that would include one coin of each of the six major design types, and in the case of the Coronet type, Matron Head and Young Head subtypes.

Collectors can also collect by date (acquiring a single example of each year struck within a specific period, for example).

Collectors may also consider collecting by die variety. Because of the means by which dies were made during the large cent era, coins with the same date may exhibit slightly different design nuances in the devices, date, lettering or dentils (border design).

The most common method of collecting large cents is by die variety, since each date offers more than just one variety.

Seeking an elusive variety to complete whatever goal has been set tends to hold a collector's interest.

Some advanced collectors will tackle a particular year with a significant number of varieties to pursue. One of those years, within the Liberty Cap series, is 1794, because of the large number of varieties made.

Sheldon numbers

Large cent varieties are usually referred to by Sheldon number, written as Sheldon 1, as an example, or simply S-1, and so on.

The varieties are tied to Dr. William H. Sheldon's reference on large cents, titled Early American Cents in the 1949 edition, and renamed Penny Whimsy in subsequent editions.

Sheldon also identified some varieties with numbers prefaced by "NC" for "noncollectible."

These are varieties with such a small number of pieces known that it precludes most individuals from acquiring them.

As new varieties have been discovered by large cent collectors and researchers, the new discoveries have been assigned new Sheldon numbers by researchers, and reported by EAC and in the numismatic press.

If collecting coins that were struck for circulation doesn't interest you, Proof issues exist from the later series. The Proof issues, in most instances, will cost more, because fewer were made than of the circulation strikes.

The Proof issues are examples that were specially struck, often for dignitaries, and are highly prized by collectors.

Additional references

Collectors of large cents will find many reference books, auction catalogs and other printed and online resources offering extensive information on large cents.

The list of sources referenced here is not necessarily all inclusive, and sources are not presented in any particular order.

In The U.S. Mint and Coinage, author Don Taxay details early U.S. Mint coinage history and production, which includes the large cent series.

Coronet cents exclusively are examined by Howard R. Newcomb in United States Copper Cents 1816-1857. Varieties are identified by Newcomb numbers.

J.R. Grellman and Jules Reiver are the authors of Attribution Guide for United States Large Cents 1840 to 1857.

Another reference covering all large cents is United States Large Cents 1793-1857 by Warren A. Lapp and Herbert A. Silverman.

Monographs on Varieties of United States Large Cents 1793-1794 was edited by John W. Adams, with Monographs on Varieties of United States Large Cents 1795-1803 edited by Denis Loring.

Middle Date large cents are studied by John Wright in The Cent Book 1816-1839.

Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins includes extensive information on large cents.

Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of Early United States Cents 1793-1814, in collaboration with Del Bland, edited by Mark R. Borckardt, is something of a successor to the Sheldon reference.

There's also Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Proof Coins 1722-1989; Breen's Proof Coins Struck by the United States Mint; Breen's United States Minor Coinages 1793-1916; and Breen's Proof Coins Struck by the United States Mint 1817-1921.

Additional works include America's Large Cent by John Kleeburg; and Die Varieties of the 1794 Large Cent by George E. Ewing.

Other references are The Official Condition Census for U.S. Large Cents 1793-1839 by Bill Noyes, Del Bland and Dan Demeo; U.S. Large Cents 1793-1814 and U.S. Large Cents 1816-1839, both by Bill Noyes; and Noyes' Encyclopedia of Large Cents, Volume I, Sheldon 1 to 1796 Sheldon 91.

The Web site Coinfacts.com provides a date-by-date analysis, with auction results and pedigree information, for large cents.

Collectors may also consider visiting the Web sites of auction firms where lots include extensive historical information and reference sources for large cents and other series, such as Heritage Numismatic Auctions at www.HA.com or www.heritageauctions.com; Stack's at www.stacks.com; Superior Galleries at www.sgbh.com; Bowers and Merena at www.bowersandmerena.com; and Ira and Larry Goldberg Coins and Collectibles at www.goldbergcoins.com.

Coin World's monthly magazine, Coin Values, offers up-to-date pricing information for U.S. large cents and other coin series. Subscribers also have online access to the latest pricing data in more grades than the published edition by visiting www.coinvaluesonline.com.

Collectors also have at their disposal the online research resources of the American Numismatic Society at www.amnumsoc.org.

One benefit of membership in the American Numismatic Association is use of the lending library, which includes many of the book titles noted previously, as well as a subscription to the society's monthly journal, The Numismatist.

Membership information in EAC can be found online at www.eacs.org. Dues for the first year in EAC are $25.

A junior membership (under the age of 18) is available for $5. The site also includes additional reference resources pertaining to large cents.

In 1983, EAC produced a 28-page booklet titled An Introduction to the World of Early American Copper Coinage.

This booklet is still sent to new members as an introduction to the hobby and the club.

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