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10 Obsolete United States Copper Large Cents To Invest In

By Edited May 3, 2015 3 6

This article is being written as a guide to investing in rare United States copper coins.

Buying these obsolete items as an investment, is a way to diversify a portfolio and enjoy some early American history while we're at it. Making sure the right coins are pursued, will take time and research.  

When the United States mint was opened, they produced the 1793 chain cent pictured here.


1793 Chain Cent (30739)
Everyone grimaced when they took their first look at the terrified Lady Liberty. The reverse depicts a circular chain with thirteen links that was meant to represent the 13 original colonies. The coin was very quickly discontinued the same year and now realizes 5 and even 6 figure prices at auction. Acquiring this type of large cent is now left to the few that have the financial means to make a large investment. The point is quickly made, considering that these could be purchased for under a thousand dollars less then ten years ago.

Chain cents today are a highly sought after commodity. Try a search on eBay and the results will be few and far between. Many replicas will be offered but the real McCoys are huge in cost. There are better alternatives out there for most of us.


1794 Capped Liberty Cent
Caped Bust Cents were minted next and became a popular version of the large cent. People liked  this coin much better and it circulated widely. In comparison to it's earlier predecessor, this coin can be bought at a fair price today, as they were minted in greater quantities. These are still rare enough however and disappearing very quickly.

When thinking of purchasing a coin in this high value range, certified coins are recommended. Three of the biggest certification companies, are PCGS, NGC and ANA. These have been recognized by the industry, as very competent in their field and they each maintain a website, with daily updates for the graded value of their respective products. In other words, you can look up your certified coin by the number. Check their price guide for the day and you'll know right where you stand with the investment. Another benefit to this is getting an authentic US coin. there are many counterfeits out there so buyer beware.

1803 Draped Bust Large Cent





#3 The Draped Bust series is a great place for most collectors to start. This type coin is available in all grades with adequate quantities to sustain for a few years. Minted from 1796 through 1807 in varying quantities, this is a coin that may be purchased as a longer term investment. Buying the highest grades that can be afforded is recommended as these will disappear first.

Draped Bust Reverse
Pictured is an 1803 Draped Bust large cent closer to the top of the condition scale. Details are full and no distractions. This is a very nice coin.

There are many die combinations for this year and they all carry different rarities and values corresponding to these rarity numbers. The reverse lettering, is where most of the differences lie. Die varieties all carry different values so this collector number should be known, to ascertain fair market value. The different die varieties for large cents can be found at PCGS.com. They have enlargeable photo's to help decide what variety the coin is.

1808 Classic Head Large Cent
#4 The coin pictured here, is an 1808 Classic Head large cent. These are also in very high demand. Minted beginning in 1808 and ending in 1814, the classic head cent is exactly that, an American classic. It was a short run that has made a short series. Collectors can fill an entire year set of this type coin with only several years, it becomes affordable. They have appreciated rapidly and are becoming harder to find since Ebay and other on line sources have blown up the market.

Collectors flock to this beautiful design and the prices show their eagerness to buy up whatever's offered. Limited but still available without spending a fortune, this type is hard to get in higher grades. The copper was very soft in the planchets used and most are well worn.

1823 Coronet Large Cent



#5 A great coin to buy today would be this 1823 Coronet Head large cent. This type of large cent was minted from 1816 through 1839 with minor variations and many die combinations. Most of the dates within this type are relatively lower priced. They can be obtained in very high grades.

The 1823 has an over date as well where the 1822 die was still good, so they re-cut a 3 over the 2. This resulted in a collectible that is not only sought out by large cent collectors but error specialists as well. This doubles the collector base for this coin. Making it more limited in availability. These coins will disappear within the next few years into collections.

1857 Braided Hair Large Cent
#6 This is a braided hair large cent. Minted from 1840 through 1857. The coin pictured is infamous for being the last of the large cents. Made in a limited quantity, the 1857 is a short mintage for the braided hair cents. There is a special interest in the last coin minted of the entire large cent series. Collectors buy these coins as fast as they come up for sale. Acquiring one in a grade as good as the one pictured will be a daunting task to say the least. They are however out there and appreciating every day. This is a rare window that will evaporate very quickly.

#7 Would have to be a type set. Collect one of each variety above. Common years are better for this purpose and the highest priced year within a series, should be purchased first. Spend as much as possible within the budget. Doing this will get the best set that can be afforded. Finding the subsequent years, will become easier as it goes, as they will cost less. The higher the end resulting grade, the better. Make sure the coins are all approximately the same grade. Color is also important, as visual appeal can add to price, when we're ready to sell.

#8 For this one we're looking for any over dates. There we're several years that previously dated dies, were re-cut with the new year. Each time this occurred an over date was created. Now this over date is not always on every coin from the year, as dies broke often, creating many different die combinations between the obverse and reverse dies. They all carry a premium to collectors and this is a fun niche to play in. The value of these error coins as they are described, has risen to incredible levels as they have their own entire collector base.

#9 One year all varieties is another way advanced collectors put together large cents. 1794 for instance sports dozens of varieties and die combinations. The steel they used was brittle and the dies broke quickly. This caused many obverse and reverse dies to be employed for this year.

A publication for the serious large cent collector who has an interest in verifying die numbers is called Penny Whimsy, this book was written by William Sheldon who studied these coins his entire life. There are new reference books that have made his rarity scale obsolete but for identification purposes this one can't be beat. The book is available on line, as it has been out of print for quite a while.

#10 Now the holy grail of large cent collecting. Assemble an entire year set of United States large cents. From 1793 through the last year made in 1857. Collectors are buying up complete sets so fast they can't finish the auctions before an offer that can't be refused comes along. In high demand today even with the economic conditions , a complete set of large cents is almost impossible to find.

Putting together a set like this, can be done in any grade that's affordable for the individual doing it. Focus on the total cost of the endeavor should be taken before beginning. Estimate the amount it will take to complete the set at current prices. This number can be found with a little on line research. Watch realized prices for each year, on eBay and other on line auction sites. Starting out at too high of a grade may put the total cost out of reach. Again the highest priced years should be purchased first.

Collecting United States large cents is a good investment. With prices from entry level coins at 5 bucks, to coins that cost more then some homes. No matter where, or at what level the investment is made, profits are inevitable with this limited commodity. Large Cents are rapidly disappearing from the market and soon there will be years that cannot be found at all. Imagine the cost then? 

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Oct 28, 2010 9:21am
Well done! Great overview of these highly collected coins.
Oct 28, 2010 10:12am
Thank you.
Nov 22, 2010 10:34am
I just inherited a coin collection and am trying to learn as much as I can about the various coins I have.
Nov 24, 2010 4:01am
I can answer any question you have ernie drop me an email from the blog on my user page and if you have scans I do appraisals for all US coins.
Thanks for coming by.
Mar 23, 2011 9:45pm
I learn something new every day. Thank you so much for the information concerning the Large Cents.
Mar 23, 2011 10:44pm
My grandmothe ralways said if you don't, your not paying attention and I believed her. Paid off in the long run I know a lot of crap Lol (`; thanks for the visit Venetia
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