Pogue, Part 1: Postmortem, Dealer Take-Aways, and the Sale as an “Event”

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By Charles Morgan for CoinWeek .....
 

A light round of applause met the $2,000,000 hammer price that lot 1128--a rare 1808 quarter eagle--brought at Stack's Bowers and Sotheby's joint offering of the D. Brent Pogue Family Collection.

The coin, once part of Congressman Jimmy Hayes well-regarded type set, closed the door on the first of seven scheduled Pogue sales. It was one of three million-dollar-plus coins offered in an evening of remarkable early federal issues. Pogue's 1796 Draped Bust quarter dollar (lot 1051 - a rare, high-grade first-year piece), brought $1,300,000 before the 17.5% buyer's premium, and lot 1103--a 1797 Draped Bust half dollar, graded MS66 by PCGS--pulled in the same amount.

A stout price--and a shocking one, according to Kagin's numismatist David McCarthy.

Before the clock struck 10:00 p.m., the evening's festivities were over. Stack's and Sotheby's will return to the 1334 York Avenue auction floor tonight to offer a varied assortment of numismatic rarities, many remarkable in their own right. But the pent-up energy generated by the surprise announcement last year that Mack and Brent Pogue were bowing out has eased somewhat, though the collection's headliners are yet to come.

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Q. David Bowers walks the auction floor during Stack's Bowers and Sotheby's first offering of coins from the D. Brent Pogue Collection. Photo Credit: Charles Morgan

The gallery was full of the usual suspects, including members of the New York numismatic scene and nationally-known dealers such as Laura Sperber and George Huang from Legend Numismatics, Doug Winter, Scott Travers, David McCarthy and Don Kagin from Kagin's, Kevin Lipton and Harry Laibstain (to name but a few). Heritage Auctions sent representatives. And the Stack's Bowers team was present in full force.

Well, almost.

Of the company's three scions, only two were present. Lawrence Stack worked the phones, while Q. David Bowers worked the crowd. Harvey Stack, unfortunately, had to watch the proceedings online, unable to attend due to a recent injury.

"My doctor said that I'm as good as new," Harvey related to me via email. "But I watched the entire sale over the internet." And that he did, summing up his opinion of the sale in another email to me just before midnight.

That Harvey Stack was able to watch the sale unfold through a live video feed from the comfort of his home speaks to the fundamental shift in the rare coin auction scene that’s taken place since the last time Stack's Bowers and Sotheby's teamed up in 2001 to sell the 1933 double eagle.

Auctions cast a much wider net of potential participants now as individual collectors can bid on items without the expense of travel or hiring a buying agent. While the floor was filled with interested spectators (the sale was a "happening"), there were far fewer paddle raisers in attendance. Much of the action was coming in over the phone or from online bidding.

Of course, there were exceptions.

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David Quint raises his paddle to bid on the Pogue 1803 dime. Photo Credit: Charles Morgan

Collector David Quint rampaged through the Pogue dimes, his paddle raising with such frequency in the sale's early going that his fellow collectors took note and a staff photographer from the New York Times took perch, training her lens on him in anticipation.

Sperber and Huang picked up lot 1095 - the Pogue 1794 Flowing Hair half dollar (finest-known at PCGS MS64).

Kevin Lipton told us that he spent about a million and a half dollars over the course of the night. He was ecstatic about his pick-up: the 1796 Draped Bust half in MS66 (lot 1102), which hammered at $700,000.

Don Kagin and David McCarthy were happy with what they bought, saying that they picked up a few more coins than they expected. Don remarked that the quarter eagles were strong but that overall, most of the prices felt right.

On the performance of the Pogue early gold coins on offer Travers agreed, saying, "[I]t's very clear that this type of sale validated what people who have been collecting and investing in early gold coins have believed all along. It's a very strong market, an exciting market ... with little downside risk and plenty of upside potential."

The 128-lot offering brought more than $25 million with buyer's premium, which amounts to $195,312.50 per lot--a coin-by-coin record price. What's amazing about this number is that 16 of the 128 coins sold for less than $20,000 (Trivia time: the lowest price realized of the night--about $4,994 with buyer’s premium--went to lot 1026, an 1834 Capped Bust half dime in PCGS MS66).

Brent Pogue and his family--including his father and co-collector Mack Pogue--were on hand for the sale. The family kept a low profile and watched the sale unfold from a private box overlooking the sales floor. Brent made a few brief appearances; once before the start of the sale, a second time during the bidding for lot 1103 and one last time at the end of the sale, when he was surrounded by well-wishers and Stack's Bowers and Sotheby's personnel.

Before the sale, I asked him how he felt going into it and whether it would be an emotional night for him and his family. Pogue told me that he had eight months to think about the decision and that he was at peace with it.

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D. Brent Pogue poses with Sotheby's Auctioneer David Redden after the sale. Photo Credit: Charles Morgan.

“This was a journey that lasted 40 years," he said. "It's not as if these coins are going into the smelter's pot. Maybe, I will begin the journey anew and rebuild the collection."

The raw emotion of Pogue's words betrayed a mixture of anxiety and relief. He didn’t seem to relish the spotlight or the individual attention. The quality of the collection, however, has made the attention impossible to avoid.

With the first sale in the books, the tempo for the next few sales has been established. The hors d'oeuvres have been well-received and the main courses are ready to be served.

The hobby of kings.

UPDATE: This article was updated on May 21, 2015. An earlier version incorrectly stated that only two coins brought in million-dollar-plus hammer prices when it fact three coins did. We apologize for the confusion.
 

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