John Kleeberg submitted this piece on the “Noncollectible” designation. Thanks! This has been an interesting topic.
The question has been raised as to why other fields of collecting have not adopted the “Noncollectible” designation used in large cents. It should be noted that the NC designation in large cents has had a rather bumpy ride. William H. Sheldon gave the die varieties of large cents minted 1793 through 1814 the numbers 1 through 295, plus 32 varieties that he deemed too rare to collect, which he called “Noncollectible,” or NC. An NC is a variety of which there are fewer than three examples outside the collection of the American Numismatic Society.
This was not the original term; in an early study prepared for Early American Cents in the handwriting of Homer K. Downing, preserved among the Adams collection of papers on large cents at the ANS, the so-called “Noncollectible” varieties are marked with stars or asterisks. The NC designation appeared to solve the classic problem of a die study: How to write a numbering system that would not be thrown out of kilter by the discoveries of additional die marriages. Since any new discovery would be rare, it could just be tacked onto the NC numbering system for each year. Unfortunately, many NC varieties turned out to be quite common; at least one numbered variety, S-79, ended up quite rare; and in at least one case, variety Clapp-Newcomb 34 was originally listed as 1796 NC 6, got delisted, and since has been relisted, but as 1796 NC 7.
Sheldon admitted that it was bold to describe varieties as noncollectible, but he took up the challenge: “it is a courageous or perhaps a foolhardy thing to call a cent ‘noncollectible’ in public print. You then have a thousand or more cent watchers eagerly out for your numismatic scalp. But that is all right: the writer is willing to be fair game. He has had a chance to watch these early cents for several decades and if he has now made bad blunders his numismatic scalp should hang high on the ridgepole.”
As early as the Anderson-Dupont Sale, in 1954, it was clear that Sheldon had not realized how common some of the NC varieties were. In order to retain his numbering system, he decreed that any NC varieties of which more than four were discovered would be renamed “Now Collectible,” and appear as NC but in italic type. He adopted this system in Penny Whimsy, but omitted any mention of his “numismatic scalp,” – because under the terms that he had stated in Early American Cents, it should have been hanging high up on the ridgepole.
For one numbered variety, the S-79 reeded edge, Sheldon knew of five examples, of which one was in the ANS. Del Bland has also seen and graded five examples.
Unfortunately, Alan Brotman cornered the market and then disappeared, taking two examples of S-79 (including Downing’s wonderful brockage that was in the 1952 ANA sale) with him into oblivion. Since one example is in the ANS collection, and another example was in the Naftzger collection from 1972 through 1992, collectors who wanted to complete a numbered set of Sheldon varieties had to trade back and forth the only S-79 in “free circulation.” So the NC system was turned topsy-turvy: There is one variety, S-79, which for many years was de facto unique, but some NCs exist in as many as thirty examples.
1796 NC 6, the stemless wreath of 1796, variety Clapp-Newcomb 34, was included by Sheldon in Early American Cents. Then he decided that it was a fake variety that had been created by tooling and removed it from Penny Whimsy. However, in 1994 Mark Borckardt discovered a half cent overstruck on a cut down 1796 cent that was exactly this variety. Unfortunately another variety had been named 1796 NC 6 in the meantime, so the rehabilitated Clapp-Newcomb 34 had to be named 1796 NC 7 instead.
In short, the NC numbering system has not turned out to work well in practice.
Denis Loring pointed out another twist with the designation.
Last week, James Higby wrote:
As I understand the NC designation for large cents, it applies only to the early date die pairs (1793-1814) which were numbered sequentially from 1 to 295 by William Sheldon, leaving no room for new discoveries. NC then originally meant "not catalogued" and the first such discovery coin for a given date was given a designation such as 1793 NC-1.>>
Not exactly. Originally, Sheldon used NC to mean Non-Collectible; i.e., no more than two specimens in "numismatic circulation." When a third example was discovered, Sheldon italicized the "NC" and changed the meaning to "Now Collectible." This latter nomenclature never caught on, and varieties with the NC designation are simply referred to as "NC's".
Maybe it should be called Not Comprehensible by NinCompoops like me. The original question sparking this thread came from John and Nancy Wilson, who proposed a non-collectable category for U.S. Civil War tokens. Perhaps it's a solution in search of a problem. Completeness is in the eye of the beholder. There are many ways to slice that block of cheese, and anointing one and only one way can cause many problems of its own.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
NOTES FROM E-SYLUM READERS: FEBRUARY 2, 2014 : More On the Non-Collectible Designation
Wayne Homren, Editor
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