Large Cent Collecting opportunities endless
By Paul Gilkes
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),
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
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.
The large cent collecting specialty is primarily
cataloged by three major time periods – Early
Dates, Middle Dates and Late Dates – from 1793
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
Coronet cents exclusively are examined by Howard
R. Newcomb in United States Copper Cents
1816-1857. Varieties are identified by Newcomb
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
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
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
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
In 1983, EAC produced a 28-page booklet titled
An Introduction to the World of Early American
This booklet is still sent to new members as an
introduction to the hobby and the club.