How I turned a $1.50 Ike into a $5 Liberty Half Eagle

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker  for CoinWeek  …….

Oh, the art of the deal.

Wheeling and dealing has been a part of the coin hobby since its inception, which is ironic when you consider that coins were created primarily to replace the barter system. Collectors, however, have a different relationship with coins. Unlike those who use them only in the course of commerce, collectors have an emotional attachment to them, oftentimes sentimental, and sometimes quite irrational.

Hubert: The following is a very true story about a series of coin trades and purchases that will make your jaw drop, or at least crack a smile. It begins with Charles cherry-picking Eisenhower dollars at a large coin wholesaler on the East Coast.

*****

First Purchase

If you’ve followed our many articles for CoinWeek, you may have gathered that I’m a big fan of Eisenhower dollars. I’m constantly picking up Mint Sets, only to break them apart looking for nice Ikes. Even if the Mint Set is full of dogs, I cut all of the coins out and put them in tubes (or place them in circulation if they’re damaged). In my own little way, I look at this process as thinning the herd. At the very least, I know that every Mint Set I ever buy is one I’ve never seen before.

Charles deal How I turned a $1.50 Ike into a $5 Liberty Half EagleFor Ikes, however, you can only find uncirculated specimens from 1973-1978. The first two years’ issues weren’t released in Mint Sets, so finding B.U. Examples will require finding a dealer that knows what they’re doing and who stocks quantities of uncirculated coins, or getting lucky and finding some unopened mint bags. As far as I can tell, unopened mint sewn bags from 1971-1972 Ikes aren’t all that common anymore – because if they were, I wouldn’t waste as much time as I do scrounging around for a roll here and a roll there.

One stop I try to make every few months is to a catalog dealer and wholesaler. I have a fairly cordial relationship with the owner. He doesn’t deal specifically in Eisenhower dollars, but does sell them regularly, which means that he has more than most coin shops – although, technically, most of his material has been picked through before he gets it.

After a half dozen stops over the course of the year, I’ve purchased maybe $100 in various Ikes. I always try to leave having bought something so as to be welcome back. The owner knows that I write and I think that’s why he humors me. Besides, dealers typically don’t have much respect for guys like me that collect modern stuff.

On my last stop, I noticed that he had a few rolled ‘71s and ‘72s. Looking through them, it was obvious that the rolls weren’t original, and that several pieces were AU at best. I did find a 1971 and a 1972 Type 3 that seemed worthwhile, so I Saflipped them, paid $1.50 each, and took them home.

It turns out that only the ’71 was truly all that great. The ‘72 had too many hairline abrasions, which only revealed themselves when I put the coin under a grading lamp. I thought that the ’71 was probably in MS-65 and could be sold at a tidy profit, so I bundled it with some other coins I had lying around and sent it off. To my disappointment, the ’71 came back MS-64+, making it the only MS-64+ so far graded by PCGS.

Date Type Grade Cost Comments
1971-P Ike $1 RAW $1.50 Shot MS-65. Came back MS-64+

 

Knowing better than to risk auctioning the coin just to end up with only what I paid for it, I posted that it was available on a couple of forums (forums? fora?) . My offering price was $120. Admittedly, this proved to be a little high as I had no immediate takers…

First Trade

After a few days, I received a counter offer. It was from a collector who asked about the quality of the coin and said that he wanted it, if my price could come down a bit. What he offered was a mix of cash and coins for my 64+. Instead of the $120 I asked for, I’d get his 1971-P, graded MS-64, $50 cash, and a 1921 Morgan dollar that had been cleaned. I estimated the total value of the offer to be $95, $25 lower than my asking price, but a strong offer nonetheless. I took it.

Date Type Grade Cost Comments
1971-P Ike $1 MS-64+ $18.50 PCGS, $1.50 cost + $14 grading + $3 shipping (estimate)

For ………….

1971-P Ike $1 MS-64 ½ grade lower than the coin he traded for.
1921 Morgan $1 Cleaned Valued at Melt +/- $20
 Cash $50.00

Second Trade

1971 ike1 How I turned a $1.50 Ike into a $5 Liberty Half EagleThe first thing that had to go was the Morgan dollar. My game plan was to take it to a cash for gold jewelry and coin store and see if I could get $25 for it.

The shop I stopped at I hand-picked for this job because it was a small shop that was a little out of my way. I’d say that this place is the third or fourth stop I make when I sweep the area. Usually, they have very little in terms of value. They probably make most of their money dealing with jewelry. That being said, the store has netted me my share of successes. For instance, I’ve cherried several cameo 1950s- and 1960s-era proofs from this location, as well as some PCGS- and NGC-graded coins at incredibly soft prices. Numismatically, the shop is ill-prepared to deal with someone teeming with confidence and a penchant for small talk. At shops like this you can always get a great deal for yourself by simply offering a little bit of education on items you don’t want.

When I walked through the door, I pulled the Morgan out and put it on the counter, saying, “I’d like to sell this.” The clerk picked the coin up, looked at it, and said, “I can give you $20 for it.” “20 dollars? Can you do $25?” At first he was reluctant but then he gave the coin a closer inspection, under a loupe, then said, “Yeah, I can see that this one is new. I can do $25.” Excellent.

Not being one to leave a shop like this without vetting everything, I noticed a box of odds and ends behind the counter. Inside were some PCGS-graded State Quarters, a baggie of foreign silver, some hilariously overgraded SGS slabbed coins (who buys those things?), and some well-worn silver certificates. Nothing I had much use for. I did notice, however, a baggie of large cents. I asked if I could look at them. The guy said, “Sure, I just got them in.”

For the most part, the coins were unspectacular. A mix of 1850s dates and the occasional earlier date. The last coin, however, was an AG-03/ G-04 detailed Bust Cent dated 1798. Honestly, I’ve never owned an 18th century federal coin. I’ve longed for one ever since the days that I got my first Redbook as a birthday present when I was ten years old. This coin had a legible date, scant detail on the busted figure, and LIBERTY was fully visible. Two scratches resembling some type of graffiti marred the otherwise smooth surfaces of a quality flan. The reverse was stronger with 80% of the perimeter inscriptions visible, and the leaves and inscriptions ONE CENT 1/100 were still fairly crisp.

I took the coin to the glass doorway to see it in a better light and said, “I’ll give you five bucks for this one. It’s scratched… but it is cool.” I handed the coin back and the guy looked it over. “Yeah, this is a cool one. I can do five bucks.” Awesome, an 18th century large cent for the price of a Frappuccino. This is why I love that store! The guy then reached into his drawer and pulled out something else, “You might like this one. I don’t know what it is but maybe you will.” He then handed over an 1837 Hard Times Token. “It came from the same lot.”

I explained that the coin was produced during the Panic of 1837, when runaway speculation caused by Jacksonian economic policies led some to produce private issues lampooning the government. The piece he had, which featured Liberty on the front with scrollwork overhead reading E PLURIBUS UNUM, with a wreathed reverse reading MILLIONS FOR DEFENSE NOT ONE CENT FOR TRIBUTE, was one of the most common for the period. The coin was in XF, so I offered him $20, which he took.

My cleaned Morgan dollar turned into a 1798 cent and an 1837 hard times token

Date Type Grade Cost Comments
1921 Morgan $1 Cleaned

For ………….

1837 Hard Times Token XF $20 Liberty/ Millions for Defense- the most common of the 1837 Hard Times Tokens. I probably overpaid.
1798 Bust 1C AG-3 Details $5 Two scratches on the obverse, but basically AG-3 Obverse with G-4 Reverse

As soon as I returned home, I posted the coins online for trade, asking for $3.00 face value in silver for both.

Second Purchase

With the $50 from the trade, I turned my attention to a week’s worth of auctions at Teletrade. I didn’t find anything that I really needed, but I did notice that a five ounce, 999 fine silver 25 ruble Bolshoi Theater ballet proof had no takers at $55. I placed a bid at the opening price and figured it would get bid up to spot.  By 9:50 PM there were no takers. I was sure someone would chime in before the bidding closed at 10:00. I kept refreshing my browser. 9:55, 9:56, 9:57… The price did not move. At 10:00 the sales status of the coin went to Pending and at 10:15, I got an email confirming that I was the lucky winner of a giant silver bullion coin for little more than $11.00 an ounce. It was 2008 all over again!

Date Type Grade Cost Comments
1993 Russian 25 Ruble PR64DCAM $55 + fees and freight Used $50 cash (+ a little more) from my trade to buy a five ounce 999 fine silver commemorative on Teletrade. Amazingly, no one else bid on this coin which has a spot price of +/- $160.

When the coin arrived a week and a half later (Teletrade takes its sweet time shipping lots these days), it was packaged with the utmost care in a secure box, wrapped in bubble wrap and padded with Styrofoam peanuts. Housed in PCGS’ oversized holder, the coin had the heft of a paperweight or an ashtray. It sported rich white frosting and brilliant mirrors. Two milk spots marred the otherwise clean obverse. The sheer size and thickness of the coin was impressive.

The simple novelty of the coin caused me to contemplate keeping it. This, so far, was the only one PCGS had graded. The low grade, however, and the lack of connection I felt to the coin’s design (despite having attended ballet at the Bolshoi myself), led me to the inevitable conclusion: I should sell the coin for at least melt and get something I really want.

Third Trade

It took about a week and several inquiries before I found a taker for the copper at $3.00 of 90% silver face value.  Although the two coppers were certainly cool, they weren’t my thing. At least not in their present condition.  Getting a 300% return for a couple minutes of work felt great and lead me to my fourth trade.

Date Type Grade Cost Comments
1837 Hard Times Token XF $20 Liberty/ Millions for Defense- the most common of the 1837 Hard Times Tokens. I probably overpaid.
1798 Bust 1C AG-3 Details $5 Two scratches on the obverse, but basically AG-3 Obverse with G-4 Reverse

For

Date Type Grade Cost Comments
Silver $3.00 in 90% face value silver = +/- $80.00

Fourth Trade

I took my silver to a different cash for gold coin and jewelry shop. After shopping the items around, I found one willing to get a little closer to melt. In fact, I actually did a little better, getting melt for the coins and a little bit more for the PCGS ruble, getting a total of $280 cash.  I also pushed the envelope a bit and got the owner to throw in a raw 1986-D Statue of Liberty half dollar just because I could.  The commemorative sells in a PCGS MS-69 holder (typical grade) for less than it costs to get one slabbed, so the coin only has a little value over face. I’m inclined to go along with the shop owner’s $5.00 price tag, but in all honesty, that may be overly generous.

After dumping the silver, I still had the MS-64 Ike, a half dollar commemorative, and now $280. I’m $215 ahead of where I started so I figured that I might just revisit the1798 cent issue and see what I could get with a little more money…

Date Type Grade Cost Comments
Silver $25 $3.00 in 90% face value silver = +/- $70.00
1993 Russian 25 Ruble PR64DCAM $55 999 fine silver 5 ounces. melt value of +/- $170.

For

Date Type Grade Cost Comments
Cash $280
1986-D Statue of Liberty Half Dollar MS Store wanted $5 for it, included as part of the trade.

 

Third Purchase

Fortunately for me, Shawn Yancey of Early Copper Coins had one for sale in an Accugrade holder graded VF-25. The photos left a little to be desired and made the coin look too glossy. And while it’s never a good idea to blindly trust now-defunct third party grading company evaluations, I felt that the necessary details were there, even if the surfaces exhibited signs of minor porosity. Figuring that the 1798 cent in “VF-25” would be a great score, I placed my maximum bid at $80. With two days left to go, I was the high bidder. A few hours later I was outbid. I returned the day the auction was set to close and bid my maximum of $280. That bid carried the day, with the final hammer price coming down at $272.

1798 cent How I turned a $1.50 Ike into a $5 Liberty Half Eagle

So now I had a choice: take a risk and submit the coin to PCGS and see if I had a $1200 large cent, or maybe end up getting it back in a Genuine holder with Environmental Damage or worse. $50 is quite a gamble. I reached out to a couple guys I know to see what they thought. One early copper dealer thought the coin didn’t have enough hair detail to warrant VF. He offered $100 for it, which he said was dealer wholesale for the piece.

Having the coin in hand, I just didn’t believe that was right. Besides, I could use the seller’s return privilege. I thought about what I wanted to do and decided that I paid a fair price for the coin. If I couldn’t turn it into something better, I’d keep it and be happy. All that remained was for me to see what kind of offer I could expect for the coin should I decide to part with it. I headed back to my main cash for gold shop.

Date Type Grade Cost Comments
1798 Bust 1C 2nd Hairstyle ACG VF-25 $273 Attractive, but unsure if it would cross due to surfaces.

Fifth Trade

I arrived at the shop when nobody was around – which is great for negotiating. I walked in and told the guy, “Man, do I have a nice coin for you today. A rare one.” I pulled out the ’98 and handed it to him and he gave it a long, careful look. “Man,” he said, “this is nice. I could see by his expression that he believed the coin was valuable and watched as he made a beeline straight to the Greysheet.

1903 5g How I turned a $1.50 Ike into a $5 Liberty Half EagleThis is good, I thought. I didn’t want him to think numbers because as a business owner you always want to pay out as little as possible. I said, “You have a coin here that I want in trade.”

Now, you have to understand the psychology of the owner of this kind of shop. They sell coins, but typically know little about them. They buy coins, but they’re frequently more concerned with the precious metal value. The coin I wanted was a 1903 Gold $5 Liberty in a PCGS MS-63 holder. If I could drive him down to close to melt for his “common” gold coin, while pushing the rarity of the 1798 cent, I might be able to pull it off. I presented my argument and he was listening.

Just then, a stroke of luck. Two customers arrived, both with bags of jewelry. Pushed for time, he told me, “Man, I can’t do it. I got too much into the gold.”

“What do you have in it?” I said, “Melt’s what, $400?”

“I got about 600 in it,” he said.

“Well, this is a 215-year-old coin and they just don’t come this nice. You can move it. The gold is common, you know?”

“How about $50?” he said, clearly demonstrating that he was eager to move on.

“50? I can do that.”

“Alright, I’ll ring you up”

Date Type Grade Cost Comments
1798 Bust 1C 2nd Hairstyle ACG VF-25 $273 Attractive, but unsure if it will cross due to surfaces.

For

Date Type Grade Cost Comments
1903 Gold $5 MS-63 $50 + 1798 cent.

Reflections on the Trades

As much as I really liked the 1798 cent, I felt that I owed it to myself to try and trade it out. Despite the obvious difference in value between the gold and the cent, it was still a tough call, emotionally. A rational collector makes that trade every single day, but we collectors are not always rational beings.

Another issue this exercise brings up is the morality of the trader and the fairness of the trades. Coming from a business background, I find that you have to tread a fine line between being an ethical, honest, and easy customer, and cutting through dealer hype to avoid paying retail at all costs.

The private collectors who traded me silver for coins got what they wanted. The silver was really just a vehicle to get something without paying out of pocket for it. A hard times token and a 1798 cent is a fair trade for $3.00 of silver. Likewise, the original trade wasn’t that unreasonable. It was, after all, a nice coin, even if PCGS didn’t think it was nice enough.

In the end, the collectors got what they wanted and the shops did what they do best, move inventory. In the retail game sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

As for the MS-64 Ike? It’s still available if any of you would like it. But I think after reading this column you may be reluctant to trade with me.  – Charles

***

What are your best coin trade stories? Tell us about them in the comments.

FLIP OF A COIN

Although Martin van Buren gets most of the blame for the policy ramifications, it was Andrew Jackson who issued the Specie Circular Executive Order, which required payment for federal lands (taken from Native American tribes, mind you) be made in silver or gold specie. For numismatists, this led to the reintroduction of the silver dollar in 1836. For the economy, it was a disaster, which, some argue, helped to land the country in the depression known as the Panic of 1837.

270,232,722: That’s the number of silver dollars most numismatic scholars believe were melted in 1918 in accordance with the Pittman Silver Coinage Act. It’s believed that the entire business strike mintage of the 1895 Morgan dollar (only 12,000 coins to begin with) was melted due to this Act.

That must have weighed him down: Midnight rider Paul Revere, famous for warning the rebellious colonists that the British were coming, made a small mint by providing rolled copper stripes to the First Mint of Philadelphia for use in the production of cents and half cents.

Charles Morgan is a member of the Ike Group and is working with Rob Ezerman on GradeView™: Eisenhower Dollars and with longtime collaborator Hubert Walker on a number of other projects, including the Registry Set Collector’s Guide to US Coinage, which will be published sometime next year.

Hubert Walker’s background is in the classics. A nationally-recognized Latin scholar when younger, Hubert’s interest in history and symbology connects him to modern coins as well as ancients. He also likes the movies, among other things.

Charles and Hubert’s writing has been published in The Numismatist, by CAC, and by PCGS. Their informative columns appear weekly at CoinWeek.com.

 

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3 Comments on "How I turned a $1.50 Ike into a $5 Liberty Half Eagle"

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  1. joe says:

    Love these types of articles…good stuff!

  2. Mike says:

    The essence of your article is knowledge is power.

  3. Louis says:

    Excellent and entertaining piece.

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