PCGS Coin of the Week: 1794 Liberty Cap Cent

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1794 Liberty Cap Cent

The 1794 Liberty Cap cent is a classic collector coin, representing just the second year of large cent production in the United States and also bearing a revised version of the Flowing Hair motif that debuted in 1793. While the first-year large cents of 1793 are all considerably rare, the 1794 large cents are a different story, as 918,521 were struck. To be sure, not all exist today, in fact most don't.

The higher output of 1794 large cents offers a much larger pool of coins from which collectors can draw specimens for their collections. Yet, the 1794 large cent saw the production of many varieties, due to their individual dies being handcrafted. Some of these varieties are extremely rare, as is the case with the 1794 Starred Reverse variety with 94 stars showing.

Giving rise to this variety's name are the 94 stars that lay between the denticles along the rim of the reverse. Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) estimates perhaps 45 to 60 examples of this coin exist in all grades, which provides but a very small number of examples for large cent enthusiasts to pursue -- and this is not an obscure area of collecting. Dr. William Herbert Sheldon's mid-century book Penny Whimsy popularized such early American copper varieties, which are hotly contested among collectors with the time and treasure to seek out these difficult pieces.

Stack's Bowers Galleries auctioned off a specimen of the 1794 Starred Reverse Liberty Cap cent in August 2020 that was graded VF30 by PCGS. This particular specimen also exhibits all 94 stars, which is an important point of desirability given how many of these early coins saw weak or otherwise incomplete strikes. This PCGS VF30 specimen realized $156,000.

*Images are courtesy of Stack's Bowers Galleries.

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