It is interesting how a single variety of a coin can have a profound influence on a collector. In my case, this variety is 1818 N 4. Once considered a great rarity – only three examples were known in 1952 – it was often compared to the 1793 Sheldon 15 variety and acquired the nickname “14-K of the late dates” (14-K is Sheldon’s obverse/reverse designation of S 15). Sheldon 15 is one of the rarest early date large cents, with only 13 different coins known. The finest is Fine 15 and the average grade is Good.
The second large cent I purchased was an 1818 N 4. At that time, I was a complete large cent novice and this was just a pretty $5 coin at a local coin shop. The coin was a nice smooth VG 7, in better than average condition. I bought it.
At the time, I had no idea what I had. When I purchased another 1818 cent a month later, having forgotten I already had one, I noticed that the stars and dates digits on the two coins were aligned differently. How could this be? I had no idea why and decided I had to find out. This was my first numismatic adventure! Fortunately, our local library had a copy of Howard Newcomb’s “United States Copper Cents, 1816-1857” identifying the different varieties of 1816-1857 cents. I learned that older coins were struck with hand made dies, with each die being different. Thus, coins struck from different dies looked different.
Using Newcomb, I attempted to identify the two coins. One was easy – it was a Newcomb 10 with a die crack through all the stars (a very common variety). The second coin was tougher, but after a week of studying the coin, I had determined it was an N 4. “That can’t be,” I thought. After all, N 4 was listed as a Newcomb R 6, the rarest of varieties. I put the coin away for a week and tried again. It still came up as an N 4.
A couple of months later, with several different identifications, all leading to an N 4, I I took this coin to a coin show. One dealer confirmed my attribution and relieved me of the coin through a trade for three large cents valued at $150, none of which I had ever hoped to own (I was on a very limited coin budget at the time).
This coin started me on a numismatic journey that continues today. I started reading everything I could find about large cents. I joined the Early American Coppers club (EAC) and the local coin club (which had donated the Newcomb book to our library). I joined the ANA and attended my first Summer Seminar. I was hooked on large cents! In the years since, I have written articles about these coppers, developed and taught courses on them at the ANA Summer Seminar and at the EAC convention.
Obviously it was a significant coin, though I did not know it at the time. Over time, I discovered that I missed that N 4. I wish I had kept it.
I continued to look for another N 4, but could not find an unidentified one. About fifteen years ago, I bit the bullet and bought an identified one. The coin had the detail of my original, but also had a lot of pitting. It was inexpensive for an N 4 (less than $100) and it filled the hole in my collection. But it never did measure up to my original, so I kept looking for a better example.
In the summer of 2011, I finally found another 1818 that turned out to be an N 4. This “cherry pick” (finding a rarer unidentified variety) was definitely deja vue for me! This new copper was almost identical in looks to my original. Imagine that - finding a coin similar to my first cherry pick, 20 years later. No longer am I sad about trading away my first 1818 N 4. The trading of that cent put me in the position I am in today.