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High Desert Collection of Large Cents at the Long Beach Expo

In 2011 and 2012 we were pleased to have the opportunity to display two remarkable sets from the High Desert collection. At the ANA World's Fair of Money in Chicago, August, 2011, we displayed a selection of coins from the number one ranked PCGS Set Registry™ type set. Of the 30 amazing coins, 19 were the single finest known for their date and type. Then in 2012, at the August Philadelphia ANA and the September Long Beach Expo, we displayed the complete Walking Liberty half dollar set from the collection. Ten of the coins in this set were either tied for or were the single finest known for the date.

Now in 2013, we are privileged again to unveil for the first time another part of the High Desert collection, the large cents. Shown first at the January Florida United Numismatists show in Orlando, we will again display the collection at the Long Beach Expo, February 7-9. This amazing assemblage of 132 coins includes numerous rarities and finest known examples. The High Desert Basic Large Cent Set (1793-1857) ranks number one in the current finest category with a weighted GPA of 61.65. The display includes 67 coins from the basic set and additional 65 major varieties.

Large cents have a huge collector base due to their size, color, interesting die varieties, and historical significance. The 1793 Chain cent, which is ranked as #15 by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth in their book 100 Greatest U.S. Coins, was the first issue for the large cent denomination in the U.S. Mint's first year of operation. When the coin was released, it was hugely unpopular due to the wild haired Liberty on the obverse and the linked chain design on the reverse. In addition, the coin's edge did not have a raised border so the coin was not stackable. Numismatic historian, Walter Breen wrote that of the 36,103 coined, only about 5% survive and of those only about 10 specimens can be found uncirculated condition. Imagine owing a chain cent in PCGS Secure MS63 BN? You will find one in the High Desert collection.

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Late in 1793, the large cent was redesigned by Joseph Wright, who more than likely never saw his design come to fruition as he succumbed to yellow fever in September of that year. Called the Liberty Cap design, the basis of Wright's design was continued by other engravers until 1796 when the Draped Bust type was introduced. Today, the 1793 Liberty Cap is an extremely rare coin with only 2% of the mintage estimated to survive. Just think how special it is to own a 1793 Liberty Cap large cent in uncirculated condition? Not only does the High Desert collection have one, but it is graded PCGS Secure MS64+ BN, the single finest known specimen. Valued at just $.01 in 1793, 220 years later the coin is now worth about $1.5 million! The earliest known pedigree is Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. who assembled his collection from 1925 to 1976. Who first owned the coin, why it was saved and not spent, and how it was passed from generation to generation to finally land in Mr. Eliasberg's hands may never be fully answered. This only adds to the allure and mystery of collecting rarities such as this.

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Seldom do collectors see early large cents in any color other than brown. Time has a way of taming the original red hue of the copper. That's why viewing the High Desert collection is such a treat as there are a number of Red Brown examples and even some full Red specimens! The 1797 Draped Bust in PCGS Secure MS66 is a beautiful Red Brown cent and is the single finest graded.

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The Draped Bust type had an 11 year run from 1796 to 1807 after which the Classic Head design was introduced. For collectors the new design proved to be unpopular. The copper used was softer than earlier issues thus causing the coin to wear more quickly. Today, although locating high grade uncirculated examples is difficult, the High Desert collection has an 1808 graded PCGS Secure MS64 RB.

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The Liberty Head type had the longest run from 1816 to the demise of the large cent series in 1857. Within the type are three design variations: the Matron Head (1816-1835), the Young Matron Head (1835-1839), and the Braided Hair (1839-1857). The High Desert's 1839 "Silly Head" is simply a stunning coin. Graded PCGS Secure MS66+, the coin is full red. And, yes, you guessed it; it is the finest known example for the date.

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The High Desert collection quietly began its formation in 1999 with the expert guidance of New York coin dealer and author Scott A. Travers. (Scott also edited PCGS's grading standards volume published by Random House.) Today, the collection is considered one of the finest U.S. coin collections ever assembled. The type set has surpassed the collection of the famed Louis Eliasberg in rarity and quality.

Early copper expert Denis W. Loring assisted in locating the majority of the large cents. The coins mentioned in this article are just a few of the amazing specimens you'll see when viewing the High Desert collection of large cents at the Long Beach Expo. Visit the Collectors Universe Collectibles Display (Booth #828). For dates, times, and location of the Long Beach Expo, click here.

For more information about the PCGS Set Registry and how you can manage your inventory and build sets, click here.

BJ Searls is a graduate of Pepperdine University with a Master’s in Business Administration. She has been involved in numismatics since 1973 and has worked for Collectors Universe since 1997. BJ is the Set Registry and Special Projects Director for PCGS, PSA and PSA/DNA. Email: [email protected].
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