By Steve Carr
When I started looking at the coppers in the National Collection, I was fascinated by the high grade copper coins, saved by Mint employees I also liked the fact that the collection also contained many circulated coins, which were collected by either the mint of individuals, who later donated them to the National Collection.
There were several chain cents, with one nearly new. There were also a lot of cents from 1793 to 1868 (more on that coin later). Among the half cents, there were several 1793 coins, two of which were nearly new. There were also several 1796 half cents, a few in almost new condition.
There were also American coins struck before the mint came into being. The National Collection has a beautiful 1792 silver center Birch cent,. This coin was struck so it contained one cent worth of copper and silver. Plans to use this composition for coinage were dropped, probably since they were more labor intensive.
I mentioned earlier that the mint saved proof coins for their collection from 1817 on. When the collection was on display, these coins were the ones that had the most appeal.. More than 100 years ago, the proper preservation of these coins was often unknown and some currently unacceptable methods were used. For example, the coins shown in the 1902 display of the Mint Collection has most of the coins in a vertical orientation.
Pictured below is a proof 1830 cent, a Newcomb 10, that is part of the collection. Notice the circular green reside on the reverse. This is one of the coins featured in the 1902 display. The green residue is from the glue used to attach it to the display. Recently, the Smithsonian has been working with NCS (Numismatic Conservation Service) to remove this crud.
While the later date cents and half cents were in great condition, they were, as a friend of mine said, “buttons. All looked alike (except the date) and most were in great condition. What made this stretch of photographing and describing these coins great was the occasional “unusual” coin. Starting in 1854, the Mint struck large cent coins with different designs. One was an 1854 cent with no stars on the obverse and another was an 1855 cent with a flying eagle on the obverse. Both are pictured below.
Even when the new flying eagle cents were introduced in March 1857, the mint continued to strike large copper coins. The latest I was able to find was the coin pictured below. It was a dime! I guess it was considered appropriate at that time to at least give people some precious metal in their coins!
My sabbatical ended in May. There were still a couple of boxes of loose low grade cents that I did not attribute. Most were later dates, but a few were early dates. including a 1796 S 119 cent in about good condition. This variety was a hoard coin that is seen in high grade more often than low grade.
When I left the Smithsonian, I knew I would be back. The Berings Building, which housed the collection and all the displays made from it, was closing for repairs and a new Star Spangled exhibit featuring the flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and was the inspiration for our National Anthem. Taking down the displays was a task shared by about 20 collectors and dealers, including me! That will be my topic next week.