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Fifteen years ago, few would pay $1 million for a coin—no matter how rare. That’s changing.
hen Henry Voight designed the United States’ first copper coin in 1793, critics slammed the design.
“The American cents…do not answer our expectations,” wrote one journalist. “The chain on the reverse is a bad omen for liberty, and Liberty herself appears to be in a fright.”
The public joined in the penny pile-on. One critique: Lady Liberty’s casual locks signified madness or savagery. Another: the penny’s chain motif—intended to represent the interconnectedness of the founding colonies—reminded many Americans of the bonds of slavery.
The “chain cent” may have been unpopular in its own day, but last week, a single specimen sold for $2.3 million at a Florida auction, the latest in a series of high-profile coin sales that reflect all-time highs for the market. Coin World estimates that the 2014 market for coin sales was worth around $5 billion and listed 12 sales of more than $1 million. That included the $4.5 million purchase of a 1787 Brasher Doubloon and a Liberty Head nickel from 1913 that went for nearly $3.3 million.
A Beverly Hills man is now the proud owner of a penny. But not just any penny, the coin collector paid $2.5 million for the valuable gem at an auction in Florida on Jan. 8.
Kevin Lipton, a rare coin collector and dealer, said he cherishes the 1792 Birch penny more than any other.
“I did have a favorite and now this has become No. 1,”Lipton said. “It’s a penny…but this penny is more than just a penny. This penny is a piece of art. It’s a piece of an incredible part of our history.”
Lipton has been collecting coins since he was a boy. The longtime collector also purchased a 1792 quarter for $2.2 million at the auction.
The Birch penny, named after engraver Robert Birch, was a prototype. The penny was minted three years into George Washington’s presidency to help decide what the United States first coin would look like. Only 10 were made, and the valuable penny Lipton has was the pinnacle of those 10.
“It’s a fantastic piece of history. Like I said it’s one of the 10 greatest American coins,” Lipton said.
The penny has not arrived in California yet. It’s on an armored truck somewhere between Orlando, Florida and Beverly Hills. Lipton has been collecting coins since he was a boy. The longtime collector also purchased a 1792 quarter for $2.2 million at the auction.