By Steve Roach - First published in the Jan. 3, 2011, Special Edition of Coin World - Rare Coin Market Report
For the past few years, arguably the main annual event for the rare coin market has been the massive Heritage auctions at the Florida United Numismatists convention, a major coin show that will take place during the first week of the new year in Tampa Jan. 6 to 9.
The multiday auctions and the packed bourse floor at FUN set the tone of the market for at least the year's early months, as dealers reposition their inventories, and collectors make their first buys of the year.
Some expensive coins were sold at the 2010 FUN Heritage auction, including $3,737,500 realized for one of finest known examples of the 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coin, tying the third-place record for the largest sum ever paid at auction for a single U.S. coin.
Two other million-dollar coins traded hands in the 2010 Heritage FUN auctions: a 1927-D Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle graded Mint State 66, which sold for $1,495,000, and an 1874 Dana Bickford gold $10 eagle pattern in Proof 65 deep cameo, which sold above expectations for $1,265,000.
In total, more than $36.5 million in coins traded hands at the 2010 Heritage official FUN coin auctions.
While the new year's first auction lacks an obvious million-dollar superstar on the level of the 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent piece, three exceptional coins could prove dazzling.
Perhaps the most noteworthy is an 1852-O Coronet $20 double eagle graded MS-65. It is the finest known example of the date and the catalog description states that it is "quite likely the finest New Orleans twenty of any date."
In 2009, a Specimen 63 1856-O Coronet double eagle realized $1,437,500. In addition, 1850 to 1866 New Orleans Mint double eagles enjoy a healthy popularity.
Since the offered 1852-O Coronet double eagle has been off the market for more than 30 years, it's anyone's guess as to what this grand condition rarity will bring.
Another New Orleans Mint gold coin may also soar – the finest collectible 1909-O Indian Head $5 half eagle, graded MS-66. The lot description counts 19 examples graded MS-64 to MS-66 and the issue is the key to the series. The offered example last sold publicly in May 1998 as part of the Thaine B. Price Collection for $374,000, where it was described by auctioneer David Akers as "the finest collectible example of the rarest issue in the entire series."
While the Indian Head half eagle lacks the broad popularity that Coronet double eagles enjoy, coins that are undoubtedly the "best of the best" have thrived in the current market.
A third coin that could surprise is a Proof 67 1907 Indian Head, Normal Rim gold $10 eagle, formerly in the collection of Mint Director Frank A. Leach and held by his family for more than 100 years.
It's the finest example known, and the catalog makes an argument that it may be a trial piece. With an impeccable provenance and nearly unparalleled beauty, this coin has broad mass appeal.