The John Y Harper US coin collection - America's history from Washington to WWII

To determine the value of a coin, whether to yourself or in general, one thing you must be able to do is use your eyes.

As a practicing opthamologist, John Y Harper Jr must know the value of using one's eyes more than most - and perhaps their limitations. He became known as "the guy with the microscope" amongst fellow coin enthusiasts due to his tendency to bring his favourite piece of equipment to auctions with him.

A collector from the mid-1970s, he gradually focussed in his hoard on examples which are either interesting or important. He has acquired and held on to some greatly coveted examples over the years.

The greatest strength of the collection is in early, 18th century US coins. It's here that the coin collection crosses over into Americana most clearly, as the newly independent United States generated its own currency for the first time.

Jefferson Head large cent
The Jefferson Head large cent - from one Harper to another?
(current bid: $70,000)

The most prized item is probably the 1795 Jefferson Head 'large cent' - considered by some not to be a large cent at all. The argument is that the collector's namesake - an unrelated historical John Harper whose day job was making saws - created them as part of a bid to win a coinage contract.

Regardless, the 'large cent' is greatly coveted by collectors, and it is the Garrett specimen which is held by Harper, with impressive provenance. Its ownership can be traced back through three generations of Garretts to the 19th century collector Dr. Edward Maris.

(This is despite its nearly being lost forever in the back of a taxicab by collector Tom Morley, on his way home from the auction of the Garrett collection.)

1792 Half Disme Fine Details coin
1792 Half Disme Fine Details coin (current bid: $45,000)

Another great highlight of the collection is a the 'fine details' example of the half-disme, America's first silver coin which George Washington was supposed to have personally put up silver to create (possibly from tableware, though the evidence for that is weak).

The handful of coins remaining are all in 'strong hands' and rarely seen on the markets.

1942-1 10C MS65 Full Bands dime coin
The 1942/1 MS65 Full Bands dime coin (current bid: $32,500)

Despite the focus on early coins, there are highly desirable examples from all through the 19th century and later. One of the finest leaves the aftermath of the American War of Independence far behind and reaches WWII.

This is a Full Bands Gem example of the 1942/1 Dime, so-called due to its obvious die-doubled overdate. Given the obvious nature of the error it was preserved in high-grades, but the Harper example is one of the very finest.

John Y Harper's collection is set to be sold from March 8-12 in New York.

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