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Obverse of 1794 Large Cent - Sheldon 48     Reverse of 1794 Large Cent - Sheldon 48

Blowup of reverse of 1794 Large Cent - Sheldon 48


Variety Nickname: Starred Reverse

Rarity: Rare

This variety, which has 94 tiny stars within the denticles on the reverse, was discovered in 1877 by Henry Chapman in the presence of Dr. Maris and S.H. Chapman.  The story of the discovery was recounted in 1926 by S.H. Chapman in his book, "United States Cents of the Year 1794".

The purpose of the tiny stars is unknown, nor do they appear on any other regular issue U.S. coin.  The only other used of stars as a border device was on the Quarter Dollar Pattern of 1792.

Pete Smith, who has devoted a significant amount of time and effort to researching the 1794 Starred Reverse Cent, tracked 41 examples of this variety in 1986 and 56 examples in 2004.  According to Smith, the finest S-48 is the example illustrated above (variously graded from VF-35 to EF-45).

Images courtesy of WH

Significant examples:
VF-35 to EF-45 (illustrated above).  Stack's 9/1972:662, $15.000.00 - John W. Adams - B&R FPL, 1982:43, offered at $50,000, not sold - B&R "Rare Coin Review 46", $50,000 - Dr. Boyd Edwards Hayward - B&M, offered at the 1985 ANA convention for $65,000, not sold - B&M 04/1986:945, bought back at $41,000 - Ted Naftzger - Eric Streiner (purchased in 1992) - Jay Parrino - B&M 3/1985 - Walter Husak

VF-30 (EF-45 but with planchet defects and edge dents).  Garrett - Johns Hopkins University

VF-25.  ANS Collection

VF-25.  Jackman--Sheldon--R.E. Naftzger, Jr.

PCGS graded VF-30 and Del Bland graded VF-20 (illustrated below).  Ex - Samuel A. Bispham; S. H. Chapman 2/1880:162; John W. Hazeltine collection; John W. Hazeltine 3/1881:771: C.T. Whitman; S. H. and H. Chapman 8/1893:826; Dr. Thomas Hall 9/7/09; Virgil M. Brand, 1934; Armin W. Brand; New Netherlands Coin Co. #34 10/51:579; Willard C. Blaisdell 9/74; Del Bland 1/2/85; Jack H. Robinson; Superior Galleries 1/89:84: Douglas F. Bird - Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Inc.'s "The Benson Collection - Part I", February 16, 18-20, 2001, Lot 266, where it was described (in part) as follows: "1794. Starred reverse. Sheldon-48, Rarity-5. Fifth Finest Known. Medium dark chocolate brown with traces of microscopic porosity scattered around the obverse, a horizontal pin scratch far below C in CENT and an edge dent between O and F. Perfectly centered and sharply struck, all the stars boldly visible. This variety, the most famous of the entire large cent series, is clearly the highlight of this sale. It is the fifth finest known, fourth finest available to collectors as one of the examples graded VF-25 is in the ANS collection and is permanently off the market. Another example graded VF-30 is very sharp, but has serious defects making the piece offered here more desirable...It appears that the ninety four tiny stars were engraved in the reverse die before the dentils. Some of the stars are covered over by the dentils, and if the stars were added later, they likely would have been placed between the dentils. Much speculation has been written and discussed as to why the stars are there. No answer or theory has proven definitive on the matter.", illustrated, sold for $66,125.00

F-15.  Dorothy Paschal Collection

F-15.  Dr. French, Lot 29 - T. James Clark

Sources and/or recommended reading:
"Penny Whimsy" by Dr. William H. Sheldon

"Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of Early United States Cents 1793-1814" by Walter Breen

"Starred Reverse Update 2004" by Pete Smith, PENNY-WISE, November 2004, pages 292-309

Relevant collector organizations:
Early American Coppers Club

Obverse of 1794 Large Cent - Sheldon 48     Reverse of 1794 Large Cent - Sheldon 48

Images courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Inc.