Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #272....
A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds....
In Schaumburg, Illinois, a small city not far from Chicago, the annual CSNS convention will be held from April 22 to 25. In the official auction, which will be conducted by Heritage, there are a wide variety of coins and other numismatic items. The most newsworthy coins are 19th century gold rarities. There will be an incredible offering of these, especially including many Proof gold coins from the 1840s and 1850s.
Many of the major gold rarities come from a single consignment, “The New Orleans Collection” (NOC). This was a “portfolio” assembled in large part, or maybe entirely, during 1997 and 1998, through the Blanchard firm in Louisiana.
1933 Eagle ($10 gold coin)
A leading highlight is not from the 19th century, the 1933 eagle ($10 gold coin) in this “New Orleans Collection”. Although not meriting the media coverage surrounding 1933 double eagles, 1933 eagles are the rarest Indian Head eagles of the ‘with motto’ type (1908-33). The one in this auction is PCGS graded MS-65 and CAC approved. “Beautiful, real five-plus, this one is the best I have ever seen,” John Albanese remarks.
Only three 1933 eagles are CAC approved, all at the MS-65 level. Six 1933 eagles are PCGS graded MS-65 and two are PCGS graded as “MS-65+.” These might not be eight different coins. Furthermore, some of the 1933 eagles in the NGC census are PCGS graded as well. The population data may provide the impression that there are more 1933 eagles than really exist, though a collector in Connecticut may have more than one that has never been certified.
How does the NOC 1933 in this auction compare to the Kruthoffer 1933 eagle? That one was auctioned in 1981 for $79,000 by Paramount under the direction of David Akers, as part of the epic Kruthoffer Collection of early 20th century gold coins. Before 2000, it was PCGS graded MS-65, and Heritage sold it for $207,000 in June 2000. It was handled by the National Gold Exchange and then by Jay Parrino.
The Kruthoffer 1933 was NGC graded as MS-66 before Stack’s (New York) auctioned it for $718,500 in October 2004. I believe that the consignor in 2004 was the family or estate of one of Parrino’s clients. Later, the Kruthoffer 1933 was PCGS graded as “MS-65+.”
According to the PCGS CoinFacts site, the Morse-O’Neal 1933 eagle is now PCGS graded “MS-65+” as well. It was PCGS graded as MS-65 when I saw it in July 2005, in January 2009 and again in July 2009. The Morse-O’Neal 1933 realized $488,750 in January 2009 and then $460,000 in July 2009. Kris Oyster reports that “a collector in Texas, who was in the oil business, bought this coin and had it upgraded to 65+ around three years ago.” Unfortunately, this collector died not long afterwards.
I was a little surprised to learn that the Morse-O’Neal 1933 received a plus grade. It has a large number of contact marks on the Indian’s face and on the eagle on the reverse. The Kutasi-Madison 1933 eagle has fewer marks and a richer overall appearance, with rose toning and crisp luster.
The Kutasi-Madison 1933 is also PCGS graded as MS-65. In January 2008, it brought $552,000, just slightly more than the $546,250 result one year earlier. On April 6, bidding for the New Orleans Collection (NOC) 1933 has already surpassed $693,250!
The NOC and the Central States Auction
For clarity, I refer to “The New Orleans Collection” as the ‘NOC.’ There was a branch U.S. Mint in New Orleans from 1838 to 1909, though it was not operational during all years in between 1838 and 1909. “The New Orleans Collection” is thus not an ideal name for a group of coins and patterns that were mostly or entirely produced at the Philadelphia Mint and this name may be confusing to some collectors.
As I have not seen a majority of the coins in this sale, and have seen some more than 15 years ago, I am not commenting upon the assigned grades here. It should not be assumed that I am recommending any of the coins that I mention herein. As always, I suggest that prospective bidders hire expert consultants--who are not partners or employees of auction firms--before spending sums that the respective collectors regard as substantial.
Although many of the most newsworthy gold rarities come from the NOC consignment, there are also several consignments of gold rarities from other non-dealer sources in this auction. In terms of rarity and quality, this is an exceptional auction of rare U.S. gold coins from the 1840s to the 1880s, with some notable pieces from earlier and later eras.
1880 Coiled Hair Stella
Amazingly, there will be 10 Stellas in this auction. Four-dollar gold pieces (Stellas) are patterns that were minted for just two years, 1879 and 1880. In “The New Orleans Collection” (NOC), there is a set of Stellas that includes the finest known representative of the rarest variety, the NGC graded 67 Coiled Hair Stella of 1880, which is CAC approved.
Stella is a proper name for a U.S. four-dollar gold pattern, and actually appears on the reverse of the pieces themselves. Although patterns, four-dollar gold pieces are often collected ‘as if’ they were true, regular issue U.S. gold coins. Of the four varieties struck in gold, the 1880 Coiled Hair Stella is certainly the rarest. Researcher Saul Teichman has traced just nine.
The presently discussed 1880 Coiled Hair Stella was auctioned by Superior (Goldbergs) in August 1991. As most of the past owners of this pattern remained anonymous, there is no obvious choice for a name. Jay Parrino was the buyer in 1991 and I believe that he still owned it in November 1995, as I remember discussing this piece with him at that time. So, I will refer to it as the Parrino 1880 Coiled Hair Stella.
The Parrino 1880 was PCGS graded 66 when it was auctioned in August 1991 and NGC graded 67 not long afterwards. About this piece, John Albanese declares that “it's definitely the best 1880 Coiled Hair Stella I have ever seen; it is beautiful and original!” Albanese is the founder of CAC and the sharpest grader of U.S. gold coins.
In September 2013, Bonhams auctioned the NGC certified ‘Proof-67 Cameo,’ Tacasyl Collection, 1880 Coiled Hair Stella. When Heritage auctioned the exact same piece on January 12, 2005, it was NGC-certified as ‘Proof-66 Cameo’ and realized $977,500. I carefully examined it in 2005 and I saw it in a display case in 2013.
In Sept. 2013, Richard Burdick “had an interest in bidding on the Tacasyl 1880 Coiled Hair Stella, but decided not to because it had been noticeably dipped and was not original enough.” Did it appear the same in 2013 as it did in 2005?
In my view, the Parrino piece is clearly superior to the Tacasyl 1880 Coiled Hair Stella; it is more original and more attractive overall. The Parrino piece has wonderful orange tones and rich, glistening fields. Bonhams reported that the Tacasyl piece sold for “$2,574,000”!
This same consignment (NOC) features a PCGS graded 65, and CAC approved, 1879 Coiled Hair Stella. These are not as rare as 1880 Coiled Hair Stellas. I estimate that seventeen survive. The NOC piece is famous as having earlier been in the epic collection of Amon Carter, which Stack’s (New York) auctioned in January 1984. Also, there are perhaps 25 1880 Flowing Hair Stellas in existence and the NOC piece is PCGS graded 66.
Of Proof 1844 quarter eagles, half eagles, and eagles, just two of each are known. One of each was in the Pittman Collection and those three Pittman Proofs are now in the NOC. They were part of a complete Proof set, with an original case, when auctioned by the firm of David Akers in October 1997.
The quarter eagle is NGC certified as “Proof-66 Cameo,” the half eagle as “Proof-64 Cameo,” and the eagle as “Proof-63 Cameo.” I am certainly not commenting on these grades here, though I remember liking the coins when I saw them in 1997, before they were ever certified.
Indeed, I was stunned by Pittman’s 1843 and 1844 Proof sets, which contained copper, silver and gold. Although Saul Teichman has demonstrated that Pittman’s 1843 and 1844 sets had not been intact since being issued, these were original in important ways, incredible, and among the most exciting of all numismatic items.
There are just two Proof 1857 quarter eagles. One is in the Smithsonian and the other is in the NOC. It is PCGS certified as “Proof-65” and is CAC approved. It was previously in the Norweb and Trompeter Collections. I have never held it.
Only three different 1857 three-dollar gold pieces are PCGS certified as Proofs. The NOC has the one at the top of the list, which is graded “65.” It was formerly in the Parmelee, Woodin and Eliasberg Collections.
Proof 1859 Gold Coins
There is an 1859 gold Proof set in the NOC. As the old Bowers & Merena (New Hampshire) firm frequently did in a past era, a group of distinct auction lots will be offered as a “provisional set.” Each coin in the set will ‘come on the block’ by itself. Afterwards, the whole set will be offered. If there is a bid that is one increment above the total of the provisional prices that each coin had realized in single coin lots, then the sales of the individual Proof gold coins in the set will be eradicated and the whole set will sell as a unit.
I always found the offering of “provisional sets” of coins to be fascinating. Although a whole set may have emotional or cultural value, it is not necessarily true that ‘the whole is worth more than the sum of the parts’ in a financial sense in an auction during a slice of time.
Once, in the early 1990s, Bowers & Merena, in an auction in New York, offered a complete set of Standing Liberty quarters in this manner. Many of the quarters had pleasing blue and russet toning. Most of the quarters attracted very strong bids. Some of us in attendance were shocked when the whole set sold for about 5% more than the total ‘prices’ for all the individual Standing Liberty quarters that had just been offered. Curiously, the buyer was a Long Island wholesaler who had not bid at all on any of the individual coins and was waiting to bid on the whole set.
In any event, in this upcoming Central States auction, the 1859 one dollar gold piece, quarter eagle, three dollar gold piece and double eagle are each NGC certified as “Proof 66 Cameo.” The half eagle is NGC certified as “Proof 65 Cameo.” The eagle is NGC certified as “Proof 64 Cameo.” Not one has a CAC sticker. I would really have to examine this set to be able to intelligently interpret it. Generally, fewer than 10 1859 Proofs of each gold denomination are known.
Proof 1880 Gold Coins
Although Proof 1880 quarter eagles are not particularly rare, the NOC piece is was formerly in the Eliasberg and Clapp Collections. Many of the highest quality, pre-1934, Eliasberg coins were acquired when Eliasberg purchased the entire Clapp Collection intact in 1942, through Stack’s (New York), for $100,000. The Clapps had innumerable coins that were later PCGS or NGC graded from 66 to 69.
In other cases, buyers should be careful, as many Clapp-Eliasberg gold coins have been doctored or otherwise harmed since 1982. This piece might be excellent. It is NGC certified as ‘Proof-65 Cameo’ and is CAC approved.
The 1880 Three Dollar Gold piece in this sale is NGC certified as ‘Proof-67 Cameo’ and CAC approved. The 1880 five in the NOC is also NGC certified as ‘Proof-67 Cameo,’ though does not have a CAC sticker.
The NOC Proof 1880 eagle is NGC certified as ‘Proof-64 Cameo’ and CAC approved. It was formerly in one of the most famous and interesting collections of all time, that of the Garrett family. Bowers & Ruddy auctioned most of the U.S coins in this collection during 1979 and 1980. Earlier, Stack’s (New York) had auctioned some, circa 1976.
The NOC Proof 1880 double eagle is also from the Garrett Collection. It is NGC certified as “Proof-65 Cameo.”
Though not particularly rare for a pioneer gold coin, the Clark-Gruber $2.50 gold piece in this sale is a condition rarity, if the PCGS assigned “MS-63+” grade is accepted by specialists in this area. Really choice pioneer gold pieces, of most issues, are very hard to find.
Milas ‘No Motto’ Half Eagles ($5 gold coins)
The NOC contains several Liberty Head ‘No Motto’ half eagles that were earlier in the epic collection of the late Ed Milas. He was the founder and longtime owner of Rarcoa, a coin firm in Illinois that remains active. In addition to being a dealer, Milas was a famous collector. He owned many Great Rarities and superb type coins. Additionally, Ed was known for his dynamic personality and tremendous enthusiasm for coins.
Milas’ set of Liberty Head ‘No Motto’ half eagles (1839-65) was offered by Stack’s (NY) during May 1995. It was of the half-dozen best sets of these that has ever been assembled, rivaling those of Louis Eliasberg, Waldo Newcomer and Virgil Brand.
“It was the best group of ‘No Motto’ fives that I have ever seen,” asserts Richard Burdick, who has been attending major coin auctions since 1969, including most epic sales in the interim.
The Milas-NOC 1842 ‘Small Letters’ half eagle is still in the same NGC holder that it resided in when it appeared at auction in 1995. Recently, it received a sticker of approval from CAC. It is one of the three finest among just six truly ‘Mint State’ 1842 ‘Small Letters’ half eagles. Most interested bidders, however, for Gem-quality ‘No Motto’ fives are seeking them for type sets. It is unusual to collect ‘Mint State’ Liberty Head ‘No Motto’ half eagles or eagles ($10 gold coins) ‘by date,’ as so few ‘Mint State’ pieces survive. Usually, people who collect these ‘by date’ seek circulated coins.
The Milas-NOC 1843 is NGC graded MS-64 and CAC approved. It, too, is surely among the five finest of its date. The Milas-NOC 1845 half eagle was formerly in the Eliasberg Collection, the all-time best collection of U.S. coins. It, too, is NGC graded MS-64 and CAC approved.
The Milas-NOC 1848 is also NGC graded MS-64, though lacks a CAC sticker. For a Liberty Head ‘No Motto’ half eagle, a grade of 64 is high.
The Milas-NOC 1850 is NGC graded MS-65 and has an excellent pedigree. It was in both the Eliasberg and George Earle Collections. According to Heritage cataloguers, this is the only 1850 half eagle that is certified as grading above MS-62 to ever appear at auction!
George Earle’s collection was auctioned in 1912 and a large number of the coins included have been PCGS or NGC graded from 66 to 68, since PCGS was founded in 1986. In terms of quality and depth, the Earle Collection is phenomenal in retrospect.
The Milas-NOC 1852 is among the finest known of the entire Liberty Head ‘No Motto’ half eagle design type. It is NGC graded MS-66 and CAC approved.
There are too many Milas-NOC half eagles in this auction to list here. The 1860 is very rare overall and an extreme condition rarity in ‘Mint State’ grades. The Milas-NOC 1860 is NGC graded MS-63 and CAC approved. It is certainly among the four finest known, and is the only ‘Mint State’ grade 1860 half eagle to be CAC approved.
Although the NOC 1861 was never in the Milas Collection, it may be a terrific type coin. It is PCGS graded MS-66 and CAC approved, one of the highest certified coins of the whole design type.
1869-S Eagle ($10 gold coin)
From an unnamed consignment, there is a PCGS graded and CAC approved, AU-58 1869 San Francisco Mint eagle. This is an underrated rarity. Probably just 50 to 60 survive. This could be among the best.
Just nine 1869-S eagles in total have been CAC approved, the two highest at the AU-58 level. PCGS had graded one as MS-60 and another as MS-61. Neither of those have sold at auction in more than 15 years, suggests the PCGS CoinFacts site.
The 1870 Carson City Mint eagle is equally rare or a little rarer than the 1869-S, though it is far more popular. Many collectors specialize in Carson City Mint coins. In my review of the auction results for gold coins in the “Battle Born Collection,” I discuss my estimate that fewer than 60 1870-CC eagles exist, maybe even less than 50. As far as I know, there are no true ‘Mint State’ 1870-CC eagles.
Although the 1870-CC in this auction is non-gradable, it is has the details of an AU grade coin and is of interest to thousands of collectors. This is the first year of the Carson City Mint and 1870-CC eagles are much less expensive than 1870-CC double eagles. Among non-gradable Carson City Mint gold coins, I have seen many that probably have much more serious problems than this coin.
Rare Date Double Eagles
There is an 1870-CC double eagle in this sale. It is NGC graded as AU-50. This auction contains several more, rare Liberty Head double eagles. An 1854-O is PCGS graded AU-50.
The Harry Bass 1856-O is PCGS graded AU-55. It was PCGS graded as AU-53 when Bowers & Merena (New Hampshire) auctioned it in 1999.
There are two 1861-S double eagles with the short-lived Paquet reverse design, both apparently from non-dealer consignments. One is NGC graded EF-40 and the other is PCGS graded AU-55.
The 1879-O is a major rarity. The one in this sale has serious problems and is non-gradable. Even so, there is much demand for it among collectors assembling sets of Liberty Head double eagles. The 1879-O is a very rare date. A true AU-50 grade 1879-O would probably realize a price from $32,500 to $45,000 at auction. This coin will probably sell for considerably less and may be a good deal for a collector who does not wish to pay more than $30,000 for an almost ‘Mint State’ 1879-O.
The 1882 is extremely rare in business strike format. The 1882 in this sale is PCGS graded AU-58 and CAC approved.
Business strike 1886 double eagles are not quite as rare as those of 1882, though are extremely rare, too. The 1886 in this auction, “from the Big Sky Collection,” is PCGS graded AU-55 and CAC approved.
There is a Proof 1886 double eagle from the same “Big Sky” consignment. Although not particularly rare in comparison to other proofs of the era, this may be a terrific coin. It is NGC certified as ‘Proof-67 Ultra Cameo’ and CAC approved.
1849-C ‘Open Wreath’ One Dollar Gold
On some 1849-C one dollar gold coins, the wreath is shorter and seemingly wider; there is more space between the two tips than there is on the vast majority of surviving 1849-C one dollar gold coins, which are of the “close wreath” variety. The top ranked of the five known of the “open wreath” variety is in this auction. It is NGC certified as “MS-63 Prooflike.”
Although it was sold in the same auction session as the gold coins that were in the Richmond Collection in New York, during July 2004, this coin was never in the Richmond Collection, which DLRC auctioned. It was an added consignment. The $690,000 result in July 2004 is probably an auction record for a one dollar gold coin.
There are additional gold rarities in this sale. My selections above relate to rarity, fame, quality or possible quality, and freshness. A coin is 'fresh' if it has not been publicly offered in the mainstream of the coin community for at least five years. Fresh coins tend to generate more excitement in auction proceedings.
©2015 Greg Reynolds