By Michael Fleeman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A Beverly Hills rare coin dealer purchased a 1792 American penny for nearly $2.6 million, the most ever paid for a one-cent piece at auction.
Named after its engraver, Robert Birch, the so-called "Birch Cent" was among the first pennies struck for the United States, part of a series of prototype coins. Only 10 are believed to exist and collector Kevin Lipton said the coin he purchased is in the best condition of those 10.
"I felt elated, just wonderful,” Lipton, 55, of Lipton Rare Coins Inc said Monday of his winning bid made last Thursday at the Heritage Auctions sale in Orlando, Florida. "I thought the coin would bring more money. This was a really good buy."
One side of the Birch Cent features the profile of Lady Liberty with flowing hair and the motto “Liberty Parent of Science and Industry.” The other side says “United States of America” and gives the denomination “One Cent” within a wreath.
"It’s a gorgeous coin, breathtaking,” Lipton said. “And the history is important. This is our earliest depiction of what we thought of ourselves as a nation.”
Jim Halperin, co-chairman of Heritage Auctions, said the $2,585,000 Lipton paid for the coin tops a record set the day before at the same auction: $2.35 million for a 1793 “chain cent,” named after the chains around the denomination.
Before that, the record was $1.38 million, also for a “chain cent,” in 2012, Halperin said.
Halperin said the auction brought in a total of $80 million over five days, with rare coins a hot commodity these days.
"The economy is pretty good right now and there isn't a lot of other things to put your money in. People recognize that diversity is a very good financial strategy. And coins are just cool," he said.
Lipton, who plans to hold onto his new purchase for himself for now, said he was so excited to get the coin that the next day he spent another $2,232,500 for the “Wright quarter,” America’s first quarter.
“For 26 cents,” he said, “I spent $4.8 million.”
(This version of the story corrects Lipton's age to 55, paragraph 3, corrects name to Heritage Auctions in paragraph 6)
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb, Bill Trott and Eric Walsh)