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Dr. William Sheldon and the S-79

As anyone with an interest in early American coppers is well aware, Dr. William Sheldon is the dean of early American large cents.  His groundbreaking book Early American Cents 1793-1814 (later revised and reissued as Penny Whimsy) was the first attempt at a truly broad and all-encompassing survey of the U.S. Mint’s earliest copper coinage.  To this day, 75 years after the original publication, we still use “Sheldon Numbers” to attribute large cents, a testament to a job very well done!  Imagine the size of Sheldon’s collection and the resources he had to draw upon to complete this monumental work.

Of all the great rarities documented by the good doctor, a few really stand out:  the 1793 Strawberry Leaf, the 1794 Starred Reverse, and the 1795 Reeded Edge among several others.  These varieties are the Holy Grails of the early copper world, and Dr. Sheldon knew it.  In discussing the Starred Reverse, he concluded his section by stating “Collectors mention it with religious awe.”  In discussing the 1795 Reeded Edge, Sheldon-79, he mentions: “Many years ago WHS found in Chicago, in another junk box, what is almost half of a fifth example of this variety.  It is a freak coin, with a nice obverse, but struck without a reverse.  It is holed, and the obverse is also incused on the reverse.  WHS bought it for a few cents, carried it as a pocket piece for years, and gave it to Homer Downing about 1945.  It was one of Downing’s first Early Cent acquisitions and was later sold with the Downing Collection.”

This year in March, a nice group of type coins came into our Philadelphia gallery on consignment. Included was a 1795 large cent, reeded edge, holed.  It was originally housed in an old-fashioned envelope that documented a sale at the 1975 EAC convention for $10,000.  A little research showed that this coin is, in fact, Sheldon’s aforementioned “pocket-piece”!  We are proud to present this unique and historical rarity in our upcoming August Global Showcase Auction, where Stack’s Bowers Galleries is an official auctioneer partner of the ANA World’s Fair of Money in Rosemont, Illinois.  Looks like this old cent is going home to where Sheldon originally found it.

If you have numismatic items you would like to consign to a Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction or have appraised by one of our experts, contact us today. I invite you to visit our Philadelphia Gallery at the corner of 18th and JFK Boulevard, Monday through Friday from 10 AM to 5 PM. To make an appointment call 267-609-1804 or email Philly@StacksBowers.com. Our New York City and Boston galleries are open the same hours and can be reached at NYC@StacksBowers.com and Boston@StacksBowers.com.

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