Davy Collection of Half Cent Errors

The Goldbergs auction events will be highlighted by the “Davy” collection of half cent errors and the Dan Holmes collection of large cent errors. Please read my discussion of the Dan Holmes collection of early date large cents, which were auctioned about a year ago, and click here to read my June 9th column that covered some of Holmes’ Middle Date large cents.  As I have written so much about large cents over the last three years, I will focus upon half cent errors here.

A collector in the Midwest, who prefers to remain anonymous, formed the “Davy” collection of half cent errors. My strong impression is that it is the best collection of half cent errors to ever be publicly sold. Plus, I am not aware of a finer collection ever having been sold privately.

Half cents and large cents were minted from 1793 to 1857, though not in every year in between. Large cents (pennies) are similar in size to quarters, and half cents are a little greater in diameter than five cent nickel coins are now. (Five cent nickels were first minted in 1866; Three Cent Nickels were first minted a year earlier.)

The Davy and Holmes collections each contain literally hundreds of errors. There are several kinds of errors. Often, coins were struck off-center. Sometimes, when a coin was struck off-center, it was struck again, or even a third time, to ‘correct’ the initial error. There are numerous coins that were each struck multiple times. In other cases, the edge lettering is blundered. Coins that are too light in weight, or too heavy, are also errors. Coins that were struck on planchets (prepared blanks) that had various kinds of sharply noticeable imperfections, too, fall into the category of errors.

I find brockages to be most significant of early error coins. These are more interesting, in my view, than the coins that are struck off-center, or even struck off-center two or three times. For an explanation of a brockage, please see the appendix below. In some ways, a brockage has two obverses or two reverses. Usually on a brockage, one side is a regular obverse (front) or reverse (back) and the other is an incuse (sunken) backwards image of an obverse or a reverse design.

“Brockages have always been fascinating to most all collectors of early U.S. coins,” remarks Greg Hannigan. “They are a lot rarer than some of the other categories of errors.”

An 1803 half cent error, which will be sold as lot #125, is an obverse brockage and it is struck five per cent off-center. So, this piece is characterized by two major kinds of errors. The cataloguers grade it as Fine-15. “Sharpness VF-20.” they say, “and the eye appeal is excellent, but there are a few dull contact marks on the incuse [sunken devices] brockage side.” It was formerly in the collection of Richard Picker and it is estimated, by the cataloguers, to bring at least $4000, maybe much more. There are many items in the “Davy” collection that have low estimates below $500, though it is plausible that some items will bring multiples of their low estimates.

An obverse brockage of an 1804 half cent will be sold as lot #145. It is of the famous spiked chin obverse variety. An 1806 half cent reverse brockage, which has no visible date, will be sold as lot #213. I find this piece to be entertaining. Seeing reverse designs on both sides of the same early U.S. Mint item, including one with sunken devices, is curiously cool.

U.S. Mint personnel often thought of brockages of early copper coins as failed strikes and sent them through the system again, as if they were bare planchets (prepared blanks). So, a coin, with a proper obverse and reverse, may be ’struck over’ a brockage. These are sometimes particularly noteworthy.

A 1795 half cent ’struck over’ a reverse brockage large cent, lot #31, caught my attention. It is estimated to bring $300 or more. A similar error will be sold as lot #114. It is an 1802/0 half cent that was “struck over a cut-down spoiled large cent with an obverse brockage,” explains the cataloguer. “The obverse of the half cent is struck over the incuse off-center brockage side of the large cent. Incuse [sunken] letters from the undertype cent show along the throat and jaw.” It is said to be one of the most valuable half cent errors in this collection.

Jim McGuigan finds ’struck over’ brockages to be among the most desirable of all early copper errors. McGuigan is a specialist in pre-1840 U.S. coins of all metals. Jim personally collects half cents and much of his collection is listed in the PCGS registry. He reveals that he “started collecting half cents in 1957.”

McGuigan declares that the “Davy collection is the best ever of half cent errors, both in quality and quantity.” Greg Hannigan “would agree that it is best collection of all time of half cent errors.” Hannigan is a leading dealer in large cents, and handles several other types of early U.S. coins. Hannigan particularly likes “double struck and triple struck errors.” Interestingly, Hannigan finds that “early copper errors did not get any respect until the last twenty years.”

The consignor is not named “Davy.” He has been collecting errors, and many other coins, for decades. McGuigan “is not aware of anyone else ever having more than a hundred half cent errors.” The “Davy” collection contains more than three hundred.

The 1839/6 issue is a clear overdate. No magnifying glass is needed to see the underlying numeral. It is certainly rare. I am somewhat impressed that Dan Holmes had three, relatively high grade representatives. Naftzger did, too.

The first Holmes 1839/6 is PCGS graded AU-53 and M&G graded EF-45. Perhaps “microscopic roughness” was a factor in the M&G determination. Also, M&G remark that “it may have been lightly cleaned and expertly retoned long ago.” Its $16,675 price is less than the estimate and not overly impressive by any measure. Without having seen this coin, I will not comment further. It did bring considerably more than the $8050 that the NGC certified AU-58 Rasmussen 1839/6 realized more than five years ago.
During the same week in Jan. 2005 when the Rasmussen collection was auctioned, Heritage also sold a PCGS graded EF-45 1839/6 for $14,950. According to M&G, the Rasmussen coin became the second Holmes 1839/6. Evidently, the PCGS upgraded it from EF-45 to AU-55, which is quite a jump. It is M&G graded EF-40. Even so, Greg Hannigan, a leading dealer in large cents, very much likes “the second Holmes 1839/6 a lot more than the first one.” Hannigan focuses on the die break and other characteristics. This second Holmes 1839/6 brought a respectable $20,125, about 35% more than it realized in 2005.

Surprisingly, the third Holmes 1839/6 realized more than the first two, $22,425. It is graded EF-45 by the PCGS and VF-35 by M&G. I have some idea as to how this happened. The collector who bought it is known in the PCGS Registry as ‘G H Rays’ and has granted permission to be referred to by that name here. His ‘Big Bear Middle Dates’ is third on the list of “All-Time Finest” Middle Date sets, and second among the “current finest.”
GHRays did not attend the auction and he instructed his agent to bid on the third Holmes 1839/6 and not the preceding two. It did not occur to him that the third Holmes 1839/6 would bring more than either of the first two. He was baffled. Nonetheless, he is delighted to be the owner of a relatively high grade 1839/6.

The Holmes Middle Date cent that I really wish I had a chance to examine is the 1834 that is PCGS certified Proof-64 with a designation that it exhibits ‘Red and Brown’ color. The images suggest that it is mostly original Mint red. M&G grade it as Proof-64 and note that “80%” of its surfaces are original, “mellowed Mint red”! This cent is generally believed to be of a Proof-only die variety, with a large 8 in 1834 plus relatively large stars and letters. It was earlier owned by Floyd Starr, who formed one of the all-time best collections of large cents. Starr was one of the most famous collectors of the 20th century. Why did this 1834 bring only $48,300?


”Although many coins in the collection sold for record prices, the spotlight here is on the Holmes 1795 reeded edge, as this is a bewildering price for a copper coin. Greg Hannigan was the successful bidder and was acting on behalf of a collector of large cents by die variety.”


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