ANR To Offer Finest Known 1793 Strawberry Leaf Cent Only 4 Specimens Exist; First Auction Appearance Since 1890
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September 27, 2004
(WOLFEBORO – September 27) American Numismatic Rarities will offer the finest known specimen of the 1793 Strawberry Leaf cent in their upcoming November 30 auction event, to be held in Baltimore, Maryland. The coin, pedigreed to 1877 and certified as F-12 by NGC, is the finest known specimen by several points and one of only three examples in private hands. The lowest graded specimen, in the EAC Condition Census as Fair-2, is impounded in the collection of the American Numismatic Society. The other two examples are both graded AG-3 in the same listing. Off the market since 1941, this coin has not been sold at public auction since the June 1890 sale of the Lorin Parmelee collection, widely judged to be the finest cabinet sold in the United States in the 19th century.
The Strawberry Leaf cent is a distinctive major variety within the cents of 1793. Three major types exist for the year – Chain, Wreath, and Liberty Cap – but for an unknown reason a single obverse of the Wreath type was prepared with an unusual cluster of trefoil leaves beneath the bust of Liberty rather than the olive sprig used on every other obverse die of the 1793 Wreath cents. Variously called a “clover leaf,” a “cotton leaf,” and a “strawberry leaf,” the latter appellation has stuck for more than a century. Identical leaves appear among the reverse device of all 1793 Wreath cents, but only this celebrated variety incorporates the design element into the obverse.
An aura of mystery and great desirability has always surrounded the 1793 Strawberry Leaf cents, due in large part to their impressive rarity. “No large cent variety captures the imagination of early copper specialists like the 1793 Strawberry Leaf,” said ANR Director of Numismatic Research John Kraljevich. “Most collectors have never even seen a Strawberry Leaf, let alone had the chance to purchase one.” The example to be sold in November was the first specimen ever sold at public auction when it brought an impressive $77.50 in 1877. Since that time, collectors have had only 8 opportunities to bid on a Strawberry Leaf cent at public auction, and only 3 of those chances arose during the entire 20th century: one in 1950, and two in the same 1984 auction. The variety is so rare that William Sheldon called it “Non-Collectible” in his 1949 Early American Cents and 1958 update Penny Whimsy. The specimen to be offered was assigned the number NC-3 by Sheldon. The only known example of the 1793 NC-2 Strawberry Leaf, which uses a different reverse die, was last sold publicly in 1984.
The Parmelee specimen has been owned by the same family since 1941. Charles Steigerwalt, a dealer from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, purchased the piece from the Parmelee sale and soon after sold it to Dr. Thomas Hall, an advanced collector best known for his pioneering work on varieties of Connecticut coppers. In 1909, Chicago brewery baron Virgil Brand purchased the Hall collection intact, including the famous Parmelee 1793 Strawberry Leaf cent. After Brand’s death, on February 7, 1941, Burdette G. Johnson of St. Louis received a consignment of 17 different 1793 cents from the Brand estate – every one of the 17 specimens was Condition Census (i.e. among the 6 finest known) for the variety, and every one of the five NC varieties then known was included. Amazingly, despite the presence of several Mint State 1793 Chain cents and Wreath cents, the first coin Johnson was able to sell was the Parmelee Strawberry Leaf cent, for which he got a hefty $2,500 from dealer James Kelly. Kelly sold the coin to a Maine collector, and the family of that collector has owned the piece until the present day. The man who bought the coin in 1941 was killed in action in the Solomon Islands in 1943; he was awarded the Silver Star posthumously.
For more information about the November ANR sale or for details on how to consign to a future event, contact American Numismatic Rarities at Box 1804, Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, 03894 or call 866-811-1804. The American Numismatic Rarities website, including full photos and text from all previous ANR sales, is available online at www.anrcoins.com.