By Steve Carr
A hoard, as defined by Webster's dictionary, is "a supply stored up and hidden or kept in reserve." When applied to early American coppers, a hoard is a large accumulation of these coins, usually collected at or shortly after the coins were minted. A number of early American copper hoards have been discovered The two best-known are the Nichols and the Randall hoards.
The Nichols hoard consisted of approximately 1000 uncirculated I796 and 1797 draped bust large cents, purchased at the Mint by Benjamin Goodhue, a member of the Continental Congress, in December 1797. The cents passed to his daughters and eventually became the property of the Nichols family of Gallows Hill, MA. They were dispersed in the early 1860's by David Nichols. This hoard contained high grade examples of 1796 S119, 1797 S123, and 1797 S135.
The Randall hoard was made up of one or more kegs (each holding around 14,000 large cents) of uncirculated early Matron Head cents. At least four different cent varieties, 18I7 N14, 1818 N10, 1819 N8, and 1820 N13, comprised the bulk of this hoard. A few other varieties, 1816 N2, 1817 N13, 1819 N9, 1820 N15 and 1825 N9, are often mentioned as part of this hoard.
These cents were supposedly found under a railroad platform in Georgia soon after the end of the Civil War. The cents made their way to New York, where a Norwich numismatist named John Swan Randall started selling them to collectors for 5 to 10 cents each. The Randall hoard contained thousands of large cents and has made it possible for many collectors of modest means to own an uncirculated Matron Head large cent.
Coins from these hoards were once available in the hundreds, at 5 cents apiece. But the days of seeing large numbers of uncirculated 1818 large cents in one place, for example, just do not exist anymore. Over the years, these hoards have been widely dispersed. Today, you can even see these hoard coins at flea markets and garage sales. Many have also been abused and/or severely discolored, mainly from cleaning. But there are still so many of these cents out there that values not unreasonable for a 180 year old mint state coin.
A comprehensive listing of other early American copper hoards can be found in Q. David Bowers' American Coin Treasures and Hoards, Wolfsboro, NH: Bowers and Merena Galleries, 1997.
Two other hoards have also played an interesting part in large cent lore. Unfortunately, these hoards are "missing."
What is a missing hoard? A missing hoard is a large number of coins that should exist but, unlike the Nichols and Randall hoards, have never been found. If they have not been found, you may ask, how does anyone know they exist? That leads to speculation and that is what makes these hoards so interesting.
Today we may forget, but for years the Red Book mintage figure said it all — 904,585 minted. Since so many were minted and so few known, people reasoned that a large number of 1799 large cents must still exist somewhere. Where were all those 1799's?
Explaining this disparity created a number of stories about the missing I799 large cents, most originating in the late 19th century. One involves a ship loaded with holed 1799's, destined for tribal chiefs in Africa. Supposedly, the ship sank, taking most of the 1799's to a deep, watery grave.
Another story suggests that most of the 1799 cents were delivered to one locale, with the place varying with the story. Many people have tried to locate this place, but no one has found it yet.
A third story relates that cents dated 1799 were struck on soft, inferior planchets. The soft planchets wore quickly and reacted more readily with the environment. Since many 1799s are worn, dark, and porous, this story had some merit.
A fourth scenario suggests something entirely different. As early as 1900, George Rice surmised that the recorded mintage for 1799 included cents dated 1798. In 1901, he even suggested that only 4,585 were minted using 1799 dated dies.
By studying die states of different varieties, other large cent collectors have determined that many varieties (as many as 20) of 1798 large cents were minted after cents dated 1799. This is most evident on 1799/8 S188, which used the same reverse die as 1798 S186. The reverse die on S188 is an earlier die state, indicating these 1799/8s were struck before the 1798's.
Finally, in 1979, the Red Book changed the mintage figure for 1799 large cents from 904,585 to 42,540. This number came from research done by Walter Breen. But more recent study has shown that even this number may not be correct. Current estimates put the number produced in the range of 100,000.
We realize today that very few large cents were minted with the date 1799 and that a missing hoard is unlikely. But we can always dream....
A second date frequently mentioned as a source for a missing hoard is 1835. In early 1835, the government of Venezuela purchased, through their agents Messrs. Moller and Oppenheimer of New York, $1000 in U.S. copper coin directly from the Philadelphia mint. No intended use for the coins was indicated.
During the late summer, the Venezuelan government approached the US Government about purchasing more coppers, this time $10,000 in large cents and $5000 in half cents. Mint correspondence suggests that the order could be filled, but not immediately. Part of the correspondence reads, "...they must submit to a delay, perhaps of some months, before the whole amount required could be coined for them."
No confirmation of a delivery to either Messrs. Moller and Oppenheimer or the Venezuelan Government has been found. Such a transaction, however, could have been handled through another source, like a bank. In fact, there is quite a bit of circumstantial evidence that suggests this transaction may have taken place. First, the recorded mintage for large cents in 1835 was 3,878,400. This is about 2 million more than the reported mintage for 1834 (1,855,100) and about 1.75 million more than the mintage for 1836 (2,111,000).
Second, when viewed as a year, 1835 large cents are slightly less common than other dates of the era. With such a large mintage, one would expect them to show up with more regularity than other dates and have a lower value. In fact, the Red Book consistently gives a higher valuation to 1835s, seeming to indicate either a higher collector demand (unlikely) or a lower survival rate.
One explanation for the high mintage may be that not all the cents struck in 1835 were dated 1835. Die state evidence shows that 1834 N5 (large 8 and stars, medium letters) was struck during 1835, after 1835 N1 and N5. 1831 N2 was also struck after 1835 N18 and N12, suggesting that this coin was actually produced in 1835.
Another is that if more than 1,000,000 large cents went south, fewer would obviously remain. That would explain their relative scarcity in relation to 1834s and 1836s. It has even been suggested that since the "Head of '36" 1835s are much more common than the "Head of '34" 1835s, perhaps a bunch of the "old head" 1835 cents that went south exist somewhere in South America.
If this transaction did take place, where did all those 1835 large cents go? Possible uses are endless. Perhaps they were meant to serve as a circulating coinage in Venezuela. Maybe they were overstruck to produce domestic copper coinage. It is also possible that some or all were later melted. Some of the coins may have found their way to Venezuela's neighbors, where they may have been used as circulating coinage, been melted, or been over struck.
Concerning their use as circulating coinage, a Smithsonian Institution official indicated several years ago that these large cents probably wore down to very low grade within a span of twenty years and came to the normal end for a circulating coinage. Walter Breen was of the same opinion.
And while there are no records of a mass melting, at least two coins from south of the border are known struck over U.S large cents, a Brazilian 80 Reis and a Haitian coin in the ANS collection. The Brazilian piece is probably an under size fantasy piece, struck during idle time in the Brazilian mint. The Haitian piece is similar to regular Haitian copper coinage.
Perhaps these 1,100,000 large cents saw extensive use and were "used up." Perhaps they were all over struck or melted. Or perhaps they never went south. But, darn it, the official mint correspondence and mintage figures tend to indicate a hoard. And there may be I834 N-5's among them. Any one interested in a "fact finding" trip to Venezuela???
Hettger, Henry T., "U.S. Large Cents Overstruck in Latin America, and the 1835 Cent Export," Penny Wise, Volume XXV, p. 155, 1991.
Schwarz, Ted, Coins as Living History, NY: Arco Publishing Co., 1976.
Smith, Pete, "Brazil 80 Reis Overstruck on U.S. Cent," Penny Wise, Volume XXIV, p. 304, 1990.
Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, NY: The World Publishing Co., 1968.
Wright, John D., "Ask John," Penny Wise, Volume XXI, p. 221, 1987.