Key date United States large cents are slowly disappearing from the numismatic marketplace today. Finding good examples to fill your set will prove to be a daunting task. Coins that do become available are out of reach financially to most collectors.
Large cents were first produced by the United States Mint in the year 1793. Every year there after, with the exception of 1815, is represented through 1857. Early years are some of the most difficult coins to obtain. Finding high grade examples now will run in the tens of thousands of dollars.
When the large cent was first introduced, the general public was pretty upset with the horrible look on Liberty's face. She was said to look frightened by some and, worse then that, frightening by others. The mint quickly reformed the dies and produced a different cap type for the following year.
This coin was well liked and remained in production through the year 1796, when it was replaced with the draped bust cent. Again a well liked design, this would run for 12 years, until the newest obverse containing the classic head bust would again please the public. The odd fact of the whole progression is that the coin nobody liked is now one of the most liked and most valuable examples within the series.
Following the classic head cents, a coronet head was introduced. The obverse had now undergone many changes and the general population was now looking forward to new designs. Collectors had begun to appear for the obsolete varieties and the numismatic collector base was born.
When thinking about key dates within the large cent sector of coin collecting, there are a few varieties that immediately make the grade. Below is a short list of coins that are considered keys for the series.
Of course the 1793 frightened head chain cent is a major rarity with only a handful over 30,000 produced, collectors salivate visually when one of these is encountered. Liberty faces left and the look on her face may be her fear of extinction as most of the surviving examples are socked away in collections.
The next key date large cent would take us to another variety produced within the same year. This is known as the strawberry leaf cent of 1793, The reverse is different, struck with a wreath and the bust is facing right. One die variety shows a strawberry leaf just above the date.
The next rarity is also from 1793 and the third design to come out that year. This one has a cap above the head of Liberty. Being a short run, as the design change came late in the year, only 11,000 of these we're produced and are now just about impossible to find.
1796 was a short year for the cap type coins and they carry a premium with collectors. Not as rare as the ones we've been talking about but certainly scarce. This is the last year and now the draped bust large cent has entered the scene. 1796 saw both designs produced. The draped bust example can be obtained in most grades and is always used in year sets. Both types would be required for a type set.
1799 was a very short run as well and large cents from this year sell for several thousand dollars even in mid grade. Rare in high grade as any that exist are already involved within high grade sets. Low grade examples do surface on eBay once in a while and the bidding is vicious.
1804 large cents are every collector's nemesis. The problem lies in the amount of forgeries and counterfeits that exist. Authentication is actually recommended for all the coins up to this point as any one can show up in a fake.
1804 had original coins and then there is a re-strike. Both types are rare. The easy way to tell the difference is the 4 in the date. The original coin will have a cross let 4 and the re-strike which was made from an altered 1803 die will have a plain 4.
Semi keys and rare proofs that were sold to collectors make up the rest of the keys.
There are a few notable over dates with this series as well. The year 1823 saw a die re-cut with a three over the two, from the previous year. This error is highly sought out by error coin collectors. Also over dates exist for several other years and bring the whole error coin collector base into this realm of coin collecting.
The last key, as well as the last coin struck for this series is the 1857. This ended the large cent series and the flying eagle small cent was born. The vast majority of large cents are available in low grades for 5 to 100 bucks and can be a blast to collect. eBay is a good source and any small coin shop will have a few of these on hand.
Focus on one type of large cent like maybe just the coronet cents, a realistic set to collect as all years are available. Take the time to perform a little research before you buy that first coin. Know what your completed set will consist of and the approximate investment to acquire it will be.
Make sure if you're going to collect these coins you set a realistic collecting budget so you will be able to complete your set. Try not to aim too high, as the prices are rapidly rising every day. More and more available pieces disappear into sets each day and popularity of collecting them grows.
Key date United States large cents are something that all coin collectors dream of owning. Cherry picking an early year at a yard sale or finding a cup of coins in an old house. The fact is that this is highly unlikely. The ones that do surface are usually already part of a set.
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