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Why Are Some Large Cents Worth More Than Others Of Equal Or Greater Rarity?

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Valued Member

United States
177 Posts
 Posted 09/20/2019  01:08 am Show Profile   Bookmark this topic Add pasasap to your friends list Get a Link to this Message
Well, there are several examples, but let me list some of the most noticeable. First, 1803 (Large Date & Small Fraction, S-264) vs 1803 (Large Date & Large Fraction, S-265). Both varieties are now R-4's, so they are considered to be just about equally rare, yet you can buy a decent S-265 for about $50, but an S-264 in a similar grade will cost you thousands. Another example is 1809 vs 1811. For 1809 there is only one die type to collect (S-280), so the entire 200,000 mintage is collectively distributed in that one and only die variety. For 1811, you have to get 1811 (10 over 11, S-286) and 1811 (Normal Date, S-287), so the 220,000 mintage is actually divided just about in half. In addition, 1809 S-280 is an R-2, the same as 1811 S-287, but 1811 (11 over 10) S-286 is an R-3, which means it is rarer than 1809. So, why are 1809's worth more and considered rarer? Another example is 1839 (9 over 6, N-1) it is only an R-3, yet it commands way higher prices than other much more rarer varieties. So, what is up with the differences in prices? And why are some more popular than others of equal rarity or greater rarity?

I asked the same question about the 1909-S Indian Head cent vs the 1877 Indian Head cent. The answer I got was very logical. First, the 1909-S was actually collected more because it was the last date in the series, while 1877 Indian Head cents were more heavily circulated. However, that still did not explain the price differences for lower graded coins because 1877 has a mintage of twice as many as 1909-S. The real difference, if it is true, was that 100,000 to 350,000 1877 Indian cents were believed to be destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire that burnt down the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Well, with that information it all made logical sense to me why 1877 Indin Head Cents were more valuable than 1909-S Indian Head cents because many were lost in the fire and many were lost to circulation.

However, back to my Large Cent question. Picking on 1809, there just does not seem to be any reason why it should be rarer or more valuable than 1811 (11 over 10) or even 1811 for that matter. If most of the 1809's were melted down during the 1812 war, then who is to say that the same thing did not happen to the 1811's. I just cannot see the logic for this price difference or people thinking 1809 is somehow rarer than 1811. Can anyone explain this to me?

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 Posted 09/20/2019  03:16 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add GERMANICVS to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
The S-264 vs S-265 quandary is one which puzzled me for many years as well. With kind reference to my friends at EAC, I am posting some of the answers I received to just this question some time ago:

".....S-264 is more difficult to find than S-265. The old (2011) CQR lists S-264 as R4+ and S-265 as R-4. This would imply a relative rarity about 1.5x more for S-264 relative to S-265. Very non-scientific of course (I did not collect actual auction appearance data for the two varieties). However, anecdotally (my personal experience), S-264 is almost never found with AVG or AVG+ surfaces (often porous). S-265 seems to be found nice more frequently."

"...the CC for S-264 drops off quickly - only 10 coins are better than VG8 (by EAC grading), so that could also drive prices (particularly at auction) when only a few "nicer" pieces show up for sale.."

"...#1: It's the only large date, small fraction die pair combo in the entire, rather lengthy, 1803 Sheldon stable.
#2: Its high price is totally unjustified, considering its survivorship, but somehow acquired a1909-S VDB mystique early on in spite of it"

"Denis Loring is generally credited with naming the "FAMOUS 4" Large Cent varieties, which consist of 1794 S-48 (starred rev.), 1795 S-80 (Jefferson Head), 1803 S-264 (Lg. Dt. / Sm. Fr.), and 1807 S-272 (Small 7/6). This added fame has probably been a factor in keeping prices high for the S-264. The starred rev. remains desirable & expensive, in spite of the discovery of numerous other (typically low-grade) coins".

So there you have it, a combination of factors: S-265 is probably no longer R4;
S-264 is found in much lesser grades than S-265 reflected in the CC curve. Also, Promotion and Fame as a rare variety in favour of S-264.

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United States
15338 Posts
 Posted 09/20/2019  05:48 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Spence to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
An interesting question, but a fascinating answer. Thx @germanicvs for helping me to learn something today.
"If you climb a good tree, you get a push."
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Pillar of the Community
United States
3087 Posts
 Posted 09/20/2019  08:19 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Prethen to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Great info, Germanicvs!
Specializing in 2-3-20 cent pieces and 19th Century Proofs
Did someone mention 3CN?
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United States
905 Posts
 Posted 09/20/2019  09:01 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add CitationSquirrel to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Great information Germanicvs. Thanks.
Bedrock of the Community
United States
16315 Posts
 Posted 09/20/2019  12:50 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Conder101 to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Germanicvs explanation of the S-264, 265 is pretty much right on, but we can add one more thing to the mix. Back in 1949 when Sheldon wrote Early American Cents the known population of S-265 was MUCH lower. It barely missed out on being classified as an NC variety (No more then three known in collectors hands). In 1949 it was an R-7+. When Penny Whimsey came out in 1958 it was still a 5+ or 6-. It developed a reputation as being a great rarity and even though the rarity has been coming down the reputation has remained and held the price up. The 265 rarity has not changed that much over the years. If it was an R-4+ in 49 and another 100 coins have been identified it is still an R-4, maybe an R-4-. But if 100 s-264's have turned up it has gone from an R-7+ to R-4+. There are signs though that the S-264's premium is finally falling. An AG used to list at $5,000. This year at the EAC sale one sold for $2,800. (In 2018 it must have been a fluke, but I picked up one in the EAC sale for $550! And they sole TWO of them at that price, each)

As for the stories about the rarity of the 1877 cents I think you can ignore that store about the destruction in the fire. The Great Chicago Fire was in 1871 six years before the 1877 was struck, and the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank didn't exist before 1914.

As for the 1809 and 1811, you can't always believe the mintage figures. While 1809 shows a mintage of 222,000 the first 47,000 delivered in early 1809 are believed to have been dated 1808. So while it shows a mintage higher than the 1811, it does show up less often.

The 1839 9/6 N-1 I have to admit I don't understand at all. It brings silly money but it isn't that rare at all. I once saw a roll (yes 50 pieces) in a dealers case. And the strange thing is it is high in low grade but the price doesn't rise as fast as you would expect with increasing grade.
Gary Schmidt
Valued Member
United States
177 Posts
 Posted 09/20/2019  1:46 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add pasasap to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
I should have done my homework on the Chicago Fire better, which means the reason I was given was based on a false story. So, why are 1877 Indian Head cents more valuable than 1909-S Indian Head cents? Does it have more to do with what is available in the top grades than it has to do with the entire population?
Bedrock of the Community
United States
16315 Posts
 Posted 09/21/2019  10:07 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Conder101 to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
More than likely for some reason the mintage for the 1877 is either wrong or includes coins dated 1876. In that ears cent dies typically lasted for around 200,000 coins. I believe there is only one die pair for the business strike 1877 and as far as I know the dies didn't break down or show excessive die wear. That is highly unlikely if they made 4 times the normal number of coins for a pair of dies.

And of course more of the 09 S cents were saved as the last year of issue, so they have a higher survival rate.
Gary Schmidt
Edited by Conder101
09/21/2019 10:12 am
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