1868 Large Copper Cent

1868 Large Copper Cent

The official mintage of large copper cents ceased in early 1857, but years later at the Mint certain employees decided to create a rarity—and produced a similar cent dated 1868! This went along nicely with the Type III 1804 silver dollars being made at the Mint about the same time. Today, the 1868 is an unsung rarity, and few have ever heard of it.

Looking for Books

In the early 1950s, after I discovered the numismatic hobby, I spent countless hours reading every book about American coins that I could find. The be all and end all to popular references was A Guide Book of United States Coins, edited by R.S. Yeoman, and issued each year, with revised prices and updates. For many in the field, the Guide Book was a one-volume “library.”

Wayte Raymond’s Standard Catalogue of U.S. Coins was in print, but the distribution was erratic, and most hobby shops did not stock it. It seemed that this excellent text, published in over 15 editions since 1934, had been eclipsed by the Guide Book, for the latter was sold just about everywhere—in coin shops, of course, but also in general book stores, hobby shops, and even in Woolworth, Kresge, and S.H. Kress five-and-dime emporiums. Besides, Wayte Raymond was getting along in years and was spending most of his time enjoying retirement—with his wife Olga in their New York City apartment at 29 Sutton Place overlooking the East River, and at their getaway at Montauk, on the eastern tip of Long Island. Much of his coin stock was being liquidated through the office of the New Netherlands Coin Company, the proprietors being Charles M. Wormser and John J. Ford, Jr. Later, Ford took over the Standard Catalogue and published it for one edition, in 1957, after which it faded into obscurity.

There was not a great deal of interest in other books about coins, this due in part to most being out of print. Ebenezer Gilbert’s 1916 book on half cents could hardly be found, M.L. Beistle’s 1929 text on early half dollars was scarcer than many of the coins it described, and it took a lot of searching to track down D.W. Valentine’s 1931 treatise on half dimes.

Undaunted, I tried to find copies of all of the standard books. The fact that some were hard to find was just dandy, as I didn’t have much money, and in this way I was forced to buy them slowly. When found, most were quite inexpensive. I also was given, or purchased back copies of The Numismatist to 1904, then back to 1894 (the 1888-1893 issues were not acquired until later), the Numismatic Scrapbook back to 1935, and, not long thereafter, a complete run of the American Journal of Numismatics. Copies of most issues of the Journal were available cheaply from the American Numismatic Society, New York City, which had bundles of them stored in its cellar. I also acquired hundreds of old auction catalogues, most of which collectors were happy to give me. Interest in building numismatic libraries, while not nil, was very low.

Enjoying Books

In 1954 I met Jim Ruddy, who at the time was operating a coin office known as the Triple Cities Coin Exchange in Johnson City, New York. We became business partners in the Empire Coin Company on April 1, 1958, but before then I had spent much time as his house guest and associate in certain business transactions.

On some summer evenings we would sit in his backyard and “talk coins,” quizzing each other on the contents of the Guide Book, which each of us had just about memorized, at least for the narrative text.

The great rarities were exciting, and although neither of us had ever seen most of them, we knew their stories. Among these were the 1913 Liberty Head nickel, 1894-S Barber dime, 1876-CC twenty-cent piece, 1827 quarter dollar, 1838-O half dollar, 1804 dollar, and 1884 and 1885 trade dollars. A lot of what I knew about these came from reading B. Max Mehl’s old auction catalogues. Whenever a rarity was at hand, Mehl pulled out all stops and devoted dozens or even hundreds of words to it. As a result, such pieces seemed to acquire their own personalities.

Certain of these rarities were issued after the regular series had been terminated, or a new design had been adopted. They were added to the end of the series. These included:

“1913 Liberty Head nickel: The regular mintage of Liberty Head nickels was 1883-1912, but somehow five pieces were made during the following year, 1913—creating one of America’s most famous rarities.

“1804 silver dollar: Mintage of early silver dollars ended with pieces dated 1803. Years later in the 1830s the Mint made up some pieces dated 1804, for use in presentation sets. These dollars became numismatic rarities, and others, from a slightly different die combination, were made from about 1858 to, possibly, the early 1870s.

“1884 trade dollar: Mintage of trade dollars extended from 1873 to 1883. However, somehow 10 pieces were made in 1884.

“1885 trade dollar: And five pieces were made in 1885.”

A watershed event in my life was the buying of a copy, probably for only a few dollars—I don’t recall—of United States Pattern, Trial, and Experimental Pieces. Being a List of the Pattern. Trial, and Experimental Pieces Which Have Been Issued by the United States Mint from 1792 Up to the Present Time. This blue-covered volume was issued by the American Numismatic Society in 1913 and was written by William H. Woodin, with Edgar H. Adams taking the photographs.

In the pages of this book I found several other rarities of the preceding character, but they were not listed in the Guide Book, so few had ever heard of them. They were:

“1868 Large copper cent: Of the style of 1857, but dated 11 years later.

“1866 Quarter without motto: The motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the reverse of the quarter dollar, half dollar, and silver dollar in 1866. However, a few pieces of the 1866 issue without motto were found in later years. No one ever knew how many were made, but it was stated by pattern specialists that one each of the quarter and half dollar were struck and two of the silver dollar.

“1866 Half dollar without motto: See preceding.

“1866 Silver dollar without motto: See preceding.”

Obviously, these were not patterns at all—for a pattern coin is a piece made to test a new alloy, or design, or some other concept. The preceding are numismatic delicacies pure and simple—right along with the 1913 Liberty Head nickel and other rarities previously mentioned.

By this time, I realized that if a coin was listed in the Guide Book it was highly desired by collectors, as this was the main and sometimes only text they consulted. If a coin was listed somewhere else, it would be overlooked by the vast majority of numismatists.

Although the Guide Book is devoted to United States coins of regular designs, some pattern pieces have crept into the listings. Most famous are the 1879 and 1880 Flowing Hair and Coiled Hair $4 gold “stella” coins. These are patterns pure and simple, as not a single piece was struck for circulation. They are listed in the Adams-Woodin 1913 book as patterns. However, as the pattern 1879-1880 stellas are listed in the Guide Book, they achieved wide popularity and immense value. Ditto for certain other patterns listed there, such as the 1856 Flying Eagle cent (regular Flying Eagle cents were not struck until 1857) and the “transitional” half dimes and dimes of 1859-1860.

Focus on the 1868 Large Copper Cent

Jim Ruddy and I discussed the fantastic potential that these great rarities might have if found. We quickly determined that the 1866 silver coins without motto were so rare that we might never find any, but the 1868 copper cent seemed to be worth tracking down.

The hunt was on!

The mid-1950s coincided with several fabulous events in the field of collecting pattern coins. The collection of King Farouk of Egypt, laden with patterns, was auctioned in Cairo in 1954, and the main buyers of such pieces brought them back to America and offered them for sale, these buyers being Abe Kosoff (of Beverly Hills, California), Sol Kaplan (of Cincinnati), and James P. Randall (of Chicago, later Fort Lauderdale).

In addition, Kaplan and Kosoff had hundreds of patterns in stock left over from the estate of William H. Woodin, which had been dispersed in bits and pieces in New York in the 1940s. Toward the end of the 1950s Jim Ruddy and I would purchase the Maj. Lenox R. Lohr collection of patterns en bloc from Abner Kreisberg.

The net result of all of the preceding was that there were lots of patterns for sale, but not much in the way of a retail market. Abe Kosoff was trying to remedy that by encouraging his friend and customer, Dr. J. Hewitt Judd, of Omaha, to write a book on the subject, to replace the 1913 Adams-Woodin text.

Year in and year out Jim Ruddy tried to sniff out some 1868 large copper cents. The American Numismatic Society had one in its collection, but it was not for sale and the curator did not want to trade it (the Society sometimes traded or exchanged pieces that were not in its core interest field).

Not much luck. Only one piece turned up!

Now and then another was found or came and went as part of a collection consigned for auction or purchased outright. Now as I write these words in the year 2001 I have handled about four or five different specimens. How many exist totally? No one knows, but it is probably about in the same league as the 1884 trade dollar (10 minted, all of which are accounted for today) and is rarer than the 1804 dollar (15 known).

I have always enjoyed buying and selling great rarities, and in later years of my career many of them have come my way. However, whenever I lay eyes on an 1868 large cent I think of “what might have been” had Richard S. Yeoman listed it in the Guide Book, where logic suggests that it belongs.

This remains one of my favorite rarities, never mind that few people know about it! Publicity-wise, it is antipodal to the 1804 dollar.