Picking up a decent Classic Head Large Cent for your type set is often one of the big bottlenecks to completing the 7070 album. The entire type has a short production run and the coins themselves are often ugly, damaged and heavily worn. Once you've decided to spend a couple hundred bucks for a penny (and avoided getting divorced for doing so) completing the entire date run, Red Book
set or even the variety set become very achievable.
Designed by engraver John Reich
the Classic Head Large Cents were minted from 1808 to 1814. The design is called the Classic Head due to its similarities to the statuary of classical Greece. Liberty wears a fillet, inscribed with the word liberty across the brow, that is reminiscent of the awards given at ancient athletic competitions. The design was the product of several major advancements in American hub and die making and represented a substantial increase in uniformity across the entire series.
Classic Head Cents were a struck on nearly pure copper blanks purchased from Matthew Boulton of the Soho Mint in Handsworth, West Midlands, England. These blanks were shipped across the Atlantic ocean and used as ballast in the bottoms of the shipping vessels. The exposure to bilgewater combined with the blanks high purity created a perfect storm for corroded and pitted coins. Most of the Classic Head Cents you will see today are black with granular or pitted surfaces.
The series consists of 19 die varieties. The dies used to strike these coins had remarkably long life, averaging about 300,000 coins per die. That's more than 20 times the life of dies used just 15 years earlier. Because of this long lifespan there are no rare classic head varieties. The rarest variety is R-3 (201-600 copies believed to survive today).
I added a bit of historical context for each date. Some of them I knew. Some were shamelessly ripped from Wikipedia. I own all of these coins except the 1810 restrike.
Mintage - 1,007,000
On January 1 of this year the importation of slaves was banned in the United States. In December Beethoven introduces the world to Symphony No.5 at a benefit concert in Vienna.
This is often called the 12 star variety. The first star is often weak or completely missing due to a large die crack on the reverse opposite the star.
There are a small number of coins from this die pair struck on oversized 30mm planchets. It is unclear if they are from mis-cut Boulton blanks or if they were made from some other source such as tokens or foreign coins.
Though much more common in circulated conditions than the other 1808 varieties this variety is very difficult to locate in higher grade.
Mintage - 222,867
On April 10th the Napoleonic wars begin when the Austrian Empire invades Bavaria. May 17 Napoleon annexes the Papal States. In response the pope excommunicates him. In August the USS Constitution is recommissioned as the flagship of the American North Atlantic squadron. The Constitution is the oldest military ship still floating.
The only die marriage for this year. 1809 is the "key" date for the series. There is a small die crack under the ES on statES into the wreath that is diagnostic and can be used to identify dateless coins. This has been called the 1809/8 and the 1809 over smaller 9.
Mintage - 1,458,500
The first Oktoberfest takes place when Bavarian royalty celebrates the wedding of the crown prince. King George III is declared insane. The United States annexes the Republic of West Florida.
All the cents of this year have the top lock of hair individually engraved and that lock can be a useful tool for identifying the varieties. 1810 is easily the most common year of Classic Head Cents. A good year to target for your type set, they are all quite similar and there isn't much to say about their variations.
The 1810/09 has a bold and clear overdate.
This has the same reverse as the 1804 restrike. Struck in tin. Two copies are known to exist. Likely produce by Joseph Mickley. I had the opportunity to handle this copy a number of years ago when it belonged to Doug Bird. Doug is one of the people who taught be how to handle large cents and other than my father is the person from whom I learned the most about numismatics. Photo is from the Goldberg auction catalog of Doug's collection.
Mintage - 218,025
The Great Comet of 1811 is visible to the naked eye for 260 days. The New Madrid earthquake centered in New Madrid, Missouri temporarily reverses the flow of the Mississippi river.
1811/0 overdate. This is the true rarity of the classic head series. It commands significant premiums and is unknown in mint state.
Normal date. This is an underrated rarity. The mintage and survival is undoubtedly lower than that of the 1809 but because the 1809 has been declared "The Key" the prices don't reflect that scarcity.
Mintage - 1,075,500
June 1 President James Madison asks congress to declare war on England and on June 18th The War of 1812 begins. This put a stop to the import of blanks for copper coinage as there was an import embargo. July 12th America invades Canada. In December Grimm's Fairy Tales are published for the first time in Germany.
Large date. There was a small hoard. Many mint state and AU examples exist.
Small date. There was a small hoard of mint state examples. This coin is available nice.
Small date. Found axially misaligned with the strongest strike around 10:30 on the obverse. This coin is hard to find in mint state.
Mintage - 418,000
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is published anonymously in January. The Plague (yes.that plague) spreads for Malta to Egypt. The War of 1812, the Napoleonic Wars, the Mexican War of Independence, and the Russo-Prussian War rage across Europe and North America.
Star 13 is far from the date
Star 13 is close to the 3 in the date
The Great Stock Exchange Fraud was exposed in London, proving that war profiteering is nothing new. In November Vice President Eldridge Gerry (the namesake for the term Gerrymandering) dies of heart failure. He is not replaced. on December 24th the Treaty of Ghent is signed officially ending The War of 1812.
Mintage - 357,830
Plain 4. Possibly the best preserved of all Sheldon cents. They are plentiful. It is often the case that the last year of a type is well preserved. The public saves them. This is another good target for the type set collector. I have a nicer coin in my set but its in a slab that is scratched. I plan to crack it out one of these days but havent done so yet.
I collect low grade large cents. I currently have >230 Sheldon varieties and >235 middle date Newcomb varieties.