Generations of numismatists have repeated a canon of commonly held beliefs about original Confederate cents, one of which Herutage will be able to offer as a part of the 2014 January 8 – 12 FUN US Coin Signature Auction in Orlando. The maxim still holds true that once a numismatic fallacy is repeated it becomes fact; after it is repeated again it becomes anabsolute fact. Very little is known as fact about original Confederate cents. What is known is either 12 or 16 pieces were struck in early 1861. Robert Lovett, Jr. was the engraver responsible. The first appearance at auction was in January 1874. Beyond that, just about everything is open to conjecture.
Much of the uncertainty about the original Confederate cents stems from an address made by John Haseltine at the 1908 ANA Convention. By 1908, Haseltine was “one who belongs to the old school of numismatics,” as Henry Chapman considered him. His address introduced several previously unmentioned “facts” about the discovery of the Confederate cents. These so-called facts were listed and debunked in Harold Levi and George Corell’s book The Lovett Cent, a Confederate Story. They have long been an integral part of the CSA cent story. They include:
“First, Robert Lovett, Jr. spent the discovery coin in a West Philadelphia bar. Second, Haseltine purchased the discovery cent from the bartender. Third, the order for the Confederate cent dies had come through Bailey & Company. Fourth, Lovett buried the cents, and presumably the dies, in his cellar. Fifth, one day Lovett opened a drawer of a cabinet and Haseltine saw a little line of Confederate cents.”
Undoubtedly, as the recipient of a honorary life membership in the American Numismatic Association, Captain Haseltine wanted to spin a fine story about the Confederate cents for his audience, but the truth was just as interesting as the stories he created. The story about one of Lovett’s pocket pieces surfacing in a Philadelphia bar was not part of the story until Haseltine’s address in 1908. The assertion that the dies had come through Bailey & Company seems highly improbable. This also seems like a 1908 afterthought as Robert, Jr.’s brother George had been contacted directly by an agent of the Confederate government to engrave a seal for the Confederacy. Unless Robert was contacted directly by a Confederate agent also, The National Bank Note Company is the most likely link to the Confederacy as they printed the first issue of Confederate notes. A bank note company would have maintained a list of engravers and die sinkers as a service to their clients. As for Haseltine’s 1908 assertion that Lovett buried the coins and dies, there is no physical evidence on the known pieces that he did so. Haseltine’s assertion that he saw “a little line of Confederate cents” seems highly unlikely. At the time of the appearance of the discovery piece in late 1873, Haseltine was busy preparing two impending auctions, and it was not Haseltine but Dr. Edward Maris who actually purchased the Confederate cents from Lovett (Maris is not mentioned in the 1908 address). Haseltine did purchase the dies and soon began his restriking scheme. He also purchased eight of the original cents from Maris in 1874.
The greatest concentration of truth about the original strikes of the Confederate cents seems to be clustered around the time of their discovery and the sale at auction of the discovery piece. In Haseltine’s January 1874 sale, he apparently knew some of the facts, but appears to have not known how many pieces were struck. It appears that Haseltine believed the mintage was limited to the coins he had seen. This fact was later clarified by Dr. Maris, who actually owned the coins.
In Dr. Maris’ catalog from 1886, he stated “I believe only about sixteen were ever struck.” This number is in line with the number of pieces known today (13), allowing for a loss of three coins over the period of 150+ years.
Some original Confederate cents were struck from perfect dies, but most show a faint die crack along the right side of the wreath on the reverse. Numismatic researcher P. Scott Rubin used this die crack to pose the question: “Why would Lovett deliver a broken die to the Confederacy?” It appears that even though the dies were ordered by the South, they were not delivered to the South.
The example Heritage will be offering at FUN shows no trace of die cracking along the right side of the leaves on the right side of the wreath, indicating this was one of the first, if not the first of these historic coins struck. A curious feature is noted in that area, though: Pronounced mechanical doubling is seen along the leaves on the right side of the wreath. The strike details show slight softness over the high points of the design on each side. However, the L (for Lovett) is especially strong, as seen on all original Confederate cents. Restrikes have significantly softer definition, presumably because of reduced striking pressure used by Haseltine because of the cracked reverse die. Another notable difference between originals and restrikes is that originals were all struck with a medallic turn, while restrikes were produced with a coin turn.
Original Confederate cents have been designated as both business strikes and proofs by PCGS and NGC. Examination of the population data from both services indicates the divided opinion about the nature of the striking of these pieces. PCGS has certified four Mint State pieces, ranging from MS61 to MS64+. At PR63, this is the only proof PCGS has certified. NGC has only graded two originals as business strikes, a pair of MS62 pieces. The other five pieces they have certified have been graded as proofs, and range from PR61 to PR64. (Undoubtedly, there are resubmissions included in these numbers.) In our opinion, this coin is a shallowly mirrored proof that was most likely only struck once. The fields, especially the reverse fields, show evidence of slight die polishing, but not enough to actually give the coin the appearance of a proof, as understood in the traditional sense. The surfaces display the tan-golden color expected from a copper-nickel cent of 88% nickel / 12% copper alloy. The reverse shows deeper, reddish-tinted patina. Areas of shallow planchet porosity are seen on each side — mostly around the margin on the obverse, more obviously seen in the lower reverse field below the CE in CENT.
This original Confederate cent has been off the market since 1974. It was bought by the consignor’s father, Dr. Dudley Noble, in April 1974 for $14,995. Mr. Noble died at the all-too-early age of 48. His sons saw the significance of the coin and how it would fit into their collections of Civil War memorabilia that included guns, swords, ambrotypes, tintypes, buckles, buttons, and Confederate currency.