Coins that were brought back from the former colonies as curiosities were typically kept as souvenirs and saved from the perils of general circulation.
The sale at Gorringe’s in Lewes on January 4 included a well-preserved example of the 1810 ‘classic head’ cent. The owner had inherited a group of loose coins in envelopes which had been collected by a member of their family prior to 1940.
The 1810 ‘classic head’ was one of the first issues of a new design by Johann Matthias Reich, the assistant engraver for the US Mint in Philadelphia. On the obverse is the left-facing personification of Liberty (in previous years, she was facing the opposite direction), while the wreath on the reverse is continuous and uninterrupted (unlike earlier issues). Five die marriages are known for this date.
The copper coin is not rare as such (1,458,500 were minted) but most surviving examples were poorly struck and show signs of extensive use. Although it had not been officially graded, this coin was described as ‘struck off centre otherwise Extremely Fine with signs of original lustre’.
In a market where condition is everything, that made all the difference. Estimated at £200-300 (the price of a typical 1810 ‘classic head’ cent), it sold to a UK phone bidder at £24,000 (plus 23% buyer’s premium).
“According to coin auction records, fewer than 15 examples of the 1810 cent in equal or better condition have appeared for sale in the last decade,” said Gorringe’s specialist Dan Bray.