Thursday, July 15, 2010

1815 Large Cent is Still Fooling Collectors

Examples of altered 1845 large cents on Coin 1, Coin 2

For those of you who are not familiar with the large cent, they were produced continuously from 1793 until 1857, with the exception of 1815. There are no legitimate 1815 large cents.

So if they never existed and that fact is well publicized, why do I keep coming across collectors who think they've discovered the real McCoy?

I think the answer lies in the fact that in numismatics, you never know what might be found that was thought not to exist.

How about the ten 1933 $20 gold double eagles that suddenly appeared a few years ago?

Or the missing 1913 Liberty Head nickel that sat in a closet for 40 years until being rediscovered in 2003?

There is always the hope that you have found the one example that has so far eluded everyone else. So it seems only natural that someone possessing a coin altered to look like an 1815 large cent would hope that theirs is the first to be discovered.

So how can you tell if it's an altered coin?

Although some 1815 large cents were created by altering an 1813 or 1816 large cent, it seems most are altered 1845 large cents. So here are some things to look for to see if your 1815 large cent is really an altered 1845:
  • The obvious answer is to look for tool marks around the second 1 in the date. But tool marks are not always present, so fortunately there are a few other things you can look for.
  • Take a look at the curls under the neck truncation. If they end just above the 8, this is a feature of the "mature head" braided hair produced from 1843 until the large cent ended in 1857.
  • Another telling feature is a protruding eyebrow or hair curl on the forehead. Examples dated prior to 1839 didn't have this, and for 1843 through 1857 coins this curl is pretty distinct.
  • Look at the positioning of stars 5 and 6 in relation to the tip of Liberty's tiara. If the tip looks to be smack in the middle between the two stars, this positioning is also only found on the "mature head" braided hair large cents from 1843 until 1857.
  • Finally, if still in doubt, flip the coin over and look at the letters for ONE CENT. The 1843 to 1857 large cent had larger letters for the words ONE CENT than earlier dated large cents.
Since these diagnostics require comparing what a "mature head" braided hair large cent looks like to an earlier large cent, you might not have a coin or image handy to compare to. In this case, just pull out your copy of the Official Red Book. Pretty much every collector has this book and the pictures in it are more than enough to properly identify that your 1815 large cent is really an 1845.


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