Early American Cents

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by NSP, Sep 23, 2018.

  1. NSP

    NSP Well-Known Member

    Periodically checking Amazon listings for certain numismatic books can sometimes pay off. Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to find a copy of Early American Cents by William Sheldon on Amazon for $30 plus shipping. I immediately bought it for the historical significance of the book, and was not disappointed when it arrived.

    The front cover of the book.

    Early American Cents was published in 1949 and studies in depth the die marriages of large cents dated 1793-1814. I do not collect early large cents, but I was interested in this book because it was the first publication that coupled numerical grades with the adjectival grades that had been in use for many years. The numbers were initially intended to be predictors of an early large cent’s value. Sheldon’s logic was that if a coin was perfect (Mint State-70), it would be worth 70 times what it would be worth if it was worn smooth (Basal State-1). Sheldon intended for each large cent to be given a value that was dependent on its grade and basal value. This linear pricing scale fell apart rather quickly as higher grade coins ended up outpacing Sheldon’s model. The numerical grades remained however.

    Part of Sheldon's pricing scale (from BS-1 through AU-50).

    This book also established the Sheldon numbering system for large cents. Early American Cents describes 327 distinct die marriages. However, 32 of these marriages were deemed by Sheldon to be too rare to be encountered and they were put on the Non-Collectible (NC) list. The other 295 die marriages had at least three examples known to exist outside of museums and were numbered S-1 (1793 Chain AMERI.) through S-295 (1814 Plain 4).

    I greatly enjoyed reading through Early American Cents. The first 50 or so pages cover background information regarding early large cents. Sheldon reminisces about his experiences with the coins in a way that captivates the reader. The attributions are very detailed, and 51 collotype plates of die marriages are present in the back of the book. Obviously new NC varieties have been discovered since 1949, so these are absent from the book. While I don’t collect large cents, it does appear to be a solid attribution book, though later editions (titled Penny Whimsy) may be more complete. Overall, I am very glad I came across the listing for this book. I highly recommend it for its historical significance to numismatics and for its die marriage attributions.

    IMG_0823.jpeg Sheldon reminiscing about large cents.

    An example of the collotype plates.

    I do have a question for people who have been in numismatics for a while. How long did it take for the numerical grades to be adopted by the rest of the coin collecting community? I can’t imagine that it was an overnight change, especially since Sheldon intended for them to be exclusive to early large cents.
    DEA, Cheech9712, Seattlite86 and 8 others like this.
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  3. CircCam

    CircCam Victory

    Ah! I want to read on about him and his father studying the old cents! Sheldon paints a nice picture. My dad grew up in rural Massachusetts and his stories have a similar tone.

    Great find on the book !
    NSP likes this.
  4. Eduard

    Eduard Supporter**

    Congratulations on finding the Sheldon book. I find Breen's Encyclopedia generally adequate for my collecting purposes, but the Sheldon book, which I do not have, seems contain very interesting and historical information for anyone interested in this area.
    Cheech9712 and NSP like this.
  5. Conder101

    Conder101 Numismatist

    They were intended for large cents and for the most part only the large cent community used them through about 1972 when they finally scrapped them because there was just no way to make the pricing system they represented work and without the pricing connection they had no reason to be used. Around that time Paramount coin company had begun using them but they were the only firm I'm aware of that did. And they were most famous for their use on the Redfield hoard dollars in 1974. Then when the ANA decided to to produce the "Official" grading guide in 1977 they resurrected the pricing numbers. Then since this was the "Official" grading guide the numbers then took off in common use. So from introduction to common widespread use call it 28 to 29 years.
  6. NSP

    NSP Well-Known Member

    Very interesting! Thanks for providing the rest of the story.
  7. halfcent1793

    halfcent1793 Well-Known Member

    As I understand it, the ANA was under heavy pressure from the dealer community to adopt the numbers. They give the false sense that grading is somehow objective and quantifiable. It is neither. Sheldon's notion was pseudoscience, and it has harmed numismatics as much as his notion that one's physique controlled his behavior.

    Sheldon is no longer worshiped by the early copper community, mostly because he stole coins from the ANS. Also because of his racism.

    By the way, he was never active in Early American Coppers, the club.

    He did write an entertaining book.
  8. Cheech9712

    Cheech9712 Every thing is a guess

    Very nice. Looks like interesting reading. Maybe we'll learn a thing or two from you. Keep us honest and informed
  9. 1916D10C

    1916D10C Key Date Mercs are Life! 1916-D/1921-D/1921

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