Coin Auctions: Famous Rarities Bring Millions in FUN Coin & Currency Sale
Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #204
A weekly CoinWeek column by Greg Reynolds
In the annual Platinum Night session of the FUN Convention auction that Heritage conducts every January in Florida, there are always famous rarities among a large offering of U.S. coins, and the Platinum Night event is just one part of an auction extravaganza that includes many thousands of U.S. coins, American colonial coins, medals, and currency notes (paper money). This year’s event totaled more than $80 million! Five rarities sold for more than $1 million each, and a sixth came very close to reaching the million dollar level.
A Brasher Doubloon of New York brought $4.58 million. The Olsen-Hawn-Greensboro 1913 Liberty Nickel and an 1890 Grand Watermelon $1000 U.S.Treasury note each sold for $3.29 million. The Duckor-Martin 1927-D Saint ($20 gold coin) sold for $1,997,500, a very strong price. The only privately owned representative of an 1882 $500 Gold Certificate (paper money item), with a large red seal, brought $1,410,000. All five of these items are certified and encased by the PCGS or the NGC.
Of the Grand Watermelon $1000 bills, only three are privately owned and available to collectors, two with a large brown seal and just one with a small red seal, which sold in this auction. The $1.41 million price for an 1882 $500 bill is stronger than the $3.29 million result for this red seal Grand Watermelon. Although this 1882 $500 bill is the only one with a large red seal, there are more than a few with a small red seal. Surely, an 1882 $500 Gold Certificate, with a small red seal, in Very Fine-20 or higher grade, could be acquired for a small fraction of the price realized for this one with a large red seal.
Although million dollar items are not representative of the vast majority of the coins and other items in the FUN auction extravaganza, these famous rarities are popular and are ‘in the news’ now. The focus here is on this Brasher Doubloon, this 1913 Liberty Nickel and this 1927-D Saint ($20 gold coin).
The general view, which could be challenged, is that the $4,582,500 result for this Brasher Doubloon is a notably weak price. Indeed, almost every relevant expert figured that a retail price for this piece would be in the range of $6.5 million to $8.5 million, and a wholesale price would not be much lower.
The Jan. 9th Platinum Night event, as a whole, fared well, and many other rarities brought strong prices, including nearly $1 million for a CAC approved Proof-65 1884 Trade Dollar and an astonishing $763,750 result for the Akers Collection 1826 Half Eagle ($5 gold coin). (Clickable links are in blue.)
I was figuring that the upper wholesale to lower retail price range for the Akers 1826 was $540,000 to $585,000. Other than the PCGS certified “Proof-65” 1829 ‘Large Date’ that brought $1.38 million in the Jan. 5, 2012 Platinum Night event, I cannot think of a Capped Head Half Eagle bringing more than $700,000 at auction, though a few choice representatives of the rarest dates might bring millions, if auctioned.
Though extremely rare, the 1826 is not one of the rarest dates in the series. The previous auction record for an 1826 Half Eagle was an $88,250 result in July 2004, for the NGC graded MS-64, Richmond Collection coin.
Admittedly, the rarer Capped Head Half Eagles do not appear in auctions very often and years may pass before a MS-66 grade Capped Head Half Eagle of any date appears. It is also true, however, that there could not be many people who collect Capped Head Half Eagles ‘by date.’ Perhaps some collectors would find a wonderful gem of such a rare date to be an exciting choice for a type set. Even so, although MS-66 grade Capped Head Half Eagles rarely appear, a MS-65 grade 1813, 1818 or 1820 is likely to appear within a few years and would probably sell for a fraction of the $763,750 result for this MS-66 grade 1826. While I recently estimated that twenty-three to twenty-seven 1826 Half Eagles exist, there are only ten 1884 Trade Dollars.
Before the auction, the PCGS price guide value for a ‘Proof-65’ 1884 Trade Dollar was “$600,000,” obviously low. In a conversation before the auction, John Albanese indicated that some dealers would be willing “to stock” this 1884 Trade Dollar for “$750,000.” Albanese “was thinking that it would sell for $750,000 to $900,000.” He regards the $998,750 result in this auction as “strong.”
I. $4.58 Million for a Brasher Doubloon
The sale of a Brasher Doubloon for $4,582,500 is the fourth highest price for a coin or pattern at auction, though a few other pieces have sold privately for greater amounts. Moreover, as I have discussed at length, another numismatic item, a Lafayette-Washington pedigreed medal, an order of the ‘Society of the Cincinnati,’ was auctioned by Sotheby’s for $5,306,000 in Dec. 2007. Also, it is perhaps relevant that the Garrett Collection 1792 Silver Center cent pattern sold privately in Jan. 2012, by John Albanese, for $5 million.
For this Brasher Doubloon, Adam Crum was the successful bidder. He is the vice-president of and a major shareholder in Monaco Rare Coins. Crum bid via his cell phone, while he was standing in the hallway outside the room where the auction was held.
“I read about Brasher Doubloons when I was in high school. I dreamed about owning one ever since,” Crum reveals. “ I am in no hurry to go and find a buyer for it.”
Monaco Rare Coins now owns 100% of this Brasher Doubloon. “We do not have a client in mind,” Adam says. We at Monaco “love this coin. We wish to educate people about Brasher Doubloons and about American numismatics in general. A lot of people don’t know about the first U.S. gold coins. This Brasher Doubloon is a wonderful piece of Americana, which transcends the coin market,” Crum declares.
Adam adds that it will “probably be on display at the winter ANA Convention in Atlanta” and we are “certainly” planning to “display it at the summer ANA Convention” in Rosemont, Illinois. There are tentative plans for showcasing it at other events as well.
Richard Burdick asserts that “I have always considered the Brasher Doubloon to be the pre-eminent numismatic item of America. It sold very cheaply. I was expecting six or seven million dollars or more,” Burdick exclaims.
John Albanese remarks, “this was absolutely a wholesale price. I would have bought it last year for more than $5 million.” Albanese reports that he and another major wholesaler teamed together and “were the underbidder,” at $4,465,000 ($3.8m + 17.5%). “I did not think that we would come close to buying it.”
My conversations with Albanese indicate that, had Albanese known how this auction would “play out,” he would have handled the matter differently. John is the founder and president of the CAC. When this Brasher Doubloon was submitted to the CAC, Albanese was enthusiastic about its originality and attractiveness.
Before it received a sticker of approval from the CAC, it was NGC graded as “MS-63.” This is the highest certified Brasher Doubloon, and it is probably the second finest known overall.
All genuine ‘New York’ type Brasher Doubloons were made by Ephraim Brasher in New York City in 1787. The so called ‘Lima’ Brasher Doubloons are a different topic and are not characterized by an original design.
‘New York’ Brasher Doubloons feature ‘New York’ concepts on one side, relating to the State of New York before the U.S. Constitution was effective, and U.S. national concepts on the other side. Brasher Doubloons have been thought of as New York gold pieces or as privately issued national gold pieces of some sort, depending upon how historical circumstances are interpreted. I find them to be privately issued patterns.
All experts and most collectors of classic U.S. coins agree that Brasher Doubloons are fascinating and historically important pieces. A serious case can be put forth that these are the first gold coins of the U.S.
The term ‘doubloon’ usually refers to multiple escudos gold denominations of coins of the Spanish Empire, though doubloons were minted in the mother country as well. For centuries, Spain ruled Mexico, almost all of Central America and most of South America. The Spanish established several mints in the Western Hemisphere, which produced large quantities of gold and silver coins. Spanish Doubloons served as a common currency throughout the world and were very familiar to many people living in the original thirteen States of the United States of America. Some leading silversmiths (who handled gold as well) in port cities encountered doubloons very frequently.
Ephraim Brasher was a famous silversmith in New York City, who was also widely known as an assayer of gold and silver coins. An ‘EB’ punch on a gold or silver item commanded respect and generally increased the demand for any such item. In another words, it was usually true in the 1780s that the demand for an item with an ‘EB’ counterstamp was greater than the demand would have been if the exact same item did not have a counterstamp.
For a time, Brasher’s location was near that of George Washington. Further, Brasher knew Alexander Hamilton, who had some knowledge of Brasher’s activities in relation to coins. Brasher Doubloons are among the most famous of all American numismatic items and have been coveted by collectors since the middle of the 19th century. Although I do not have the time to research early 20th century auction records right now, I wonder if the $6000 result for the Stickney-Garrett Brasher Doubloon in 1907 was an auction record for an American numismatic item that lasted for many decades?
There are known six Brasher Doubloons, with Brasher’s assayer punch (counterstamp) on the eagle’s wing, and just one with the punch on the eagle’s chest. Of these seven, two are in museums. The Norweb family piece was donated to the American Numismatic Society (ANS) in New York. The piece in the Smithsonian Institution is well worn and is probably the worst known. The only known “Brasher Half-Doubloon” is also in the Smithsonian.
When Heritage auctioned the ‘Gold Rush’ Collection in the Jan. 12, 2005 Platinum Night event, the Garrett ‘punch on chest’ Brasher Doubloon brought $2.99 million and the the McCoy-Parmelee ‘punch on wing’ piece went for $2.415 million. The McCoy-Parmelee piece is now PCGS graded “AU-55,” though it was NGC graded “AU-55” before Jan. 2005. Many rarities are worth more than twice as much in Jan. 2014 as they were in Jan. 2005.
The unique ‘punch on chest’ Brasher was NGC graded ‘EF-45’ well before 2005 and was later PCGS graded ‘AU-50.’ In Dec. 2011, it sold openly for $7.395 million. I have confirmed the veracity of this price.
Even if the assigned “MS-63” grade is subjected to challenge by relevant experts, John Albanese, Richard Burdick and others are in agreement that this Mills-Perschke-Monaco Brasher Doubloon is of much higher quality than the unique ‘punch on chest’ piece and than the McCoy-Parmelee, currently PCGS and formerly NGC graded “AU-55” piece.
Burdick emphasizes that “it has a light-orange, golden hue, no serious problems whatsoever.” Although Richard personally grades it “less than 63,” Burdick is very enthusiastic about the Mills-Perschke-Monaco Brasher Doubloon. Richard emphasizes that he saw “no evidence of cleaning or dipping. This Brasher has a pleasing natural look!”
When the Stickney-Garrett Brasher Doubloon was auctioned by Bowers & Ruddy in Nov. 1979, it was catalogued as grading “MS-63.” Whether it was graded “MS-63” by most experts in 1979 or whether it would be graded higher than 63 by most relevant experts now, I do not know. The Stickney-Garrett Brasher Doubloon has not been auctioned since 1979 and has not been publicly seen since then, as far as I know.
This Mills-Perschke Brasher Doubloon was on display during Aug. 2012 at an ANA Convention in Philadelphia. It was then, or soon afterwards, offered to dealers for $10 million. Reportedly, Walter Perschke’s asking price was later dropped to $8 million.
A very public display of an item that is really for ‘private sale’ is not an entirely private matter. If a coin is on exhibit at a major convention and is, at the same time, for sale; a public non-auction offering is occurring. If such an item is then consigned to auction, soon after not being sold directly, it is not entirely fresh. (Please read my article on ‘What are Auction Prices.’) Would this piece have sold for more on Jan. 9, 2014, if it had not been offered for direct sale in 2012 or 2013?
II. 1913 Liberty Nickel
The Olsen-Hawn-Greensboro 1913 Liberty Nickel is NGC certified ‘Proof-64’ and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. It was PCGS graded ‘64’ in late 1993 or early 1994.
When Heritage auctioned this same 1913 Liberty Nickel previously, I then analyzed this coin and its price in Jan. 2010. So, I will not repeat that discussion here. It suffices to say that this 1913 Liberty Nickel is the second finest of just five known. Two of the five are in museums. The PCGS certified ‘Proof-63’ Walton 1913 Liberty Nickel, which is clearly inferior to this one, was auctioned by Heritage in April 2013 for $3,172,500.
Curiously, the current $3.29 million price for the Olsen-Hawn-Greensboro ‘Proof-64’ piece is just a little more than the recent price for the PCGS certified “Proof-63” coin. In Jan. 2010, I then concluded that the $3,737,500 price then was strong, ‘above the market.’ I figured that it was worth $3 million in 2010, and my assessment was not controversial. Coin market levels in Jan. 2014 are not much higher than they were in Jan. 2010.
The current $3.29 million result seems neither strong nor weak. A moderate, ‘fair market’ auction result for an item is an area around the border between the upper end of the wholesale range and the lower end of the retail price range. For this 1913 Liberty Nickel, a retail price range would be from $3.25 to $3.75 million, with a mean of $3.5 million, in my view.
John Albanese values the Olsen-Hawn 1913 Liberty Nickel just a little bit higher than I do, and he may be right. “The $3.29 million for this 1913 Liberty Nickel, I view as a wholesale/dealer price. I feel that retail is between $3.7 and $3.9 million,” John says.
Adam Crum, too, finds the price realized to be moderate. “I was a competitive bidder,” Crum indicates. “I really like the story and the history this 1913 Liberty Nickel. I almost bought the coin,” Adam exclaims.
I am concerned about the fact that a collector did not buy it and the buyer was not a dealer acting as an agent for a collector. Further, my inquiries suggest that a collector was not the underbidder. I admit, however, that I am theorizing about the intent of the underbidder. I do not really know, though I have been analyzing coins and coin auctions for more than twenty years. I started collecting coins much earlier, when I was five years old.
When I was a kid, the 1913 Liberty Nickel and the 1894-S Barber Dime were the two most ‘talked about’ rarities. Although 1804 silver dollars may have been more famous, kids do not usually have access to bust dollars of any date.
When we were kids, my collecting friends and I were enthusiastic about Liberty Nickels. Additionally, my grandmother loved them. It is also true that I was particularly interested in Barber Dimes. Circulated Liberty Nickels and most dates in the Barber Dime series remain inexpensive now and are easily collectible. Given that there are only three privately owned 1913 Liberty Nickels, it is curious that a collector was not willing, on Jan. 9, to pay more than $3 million for one. Maybe many wealthy collectors in 2014 are far more interested in gold coins?
III. Nearly $2 Million for a 1927-D Saint
One of the strongest prices in the Jan. 9th Platinum Night event was $1,997,500 for the Duckor-Martin 1927-D Saint, which is NGC graded “MS-66.” Although Dr. Steven Duckor has not owned this coin since 1998, it seems best to name the coin after him, as he is the most famous of the previous owners of this coin.
This 1927-D was consigned as part of “The Douglas Martin Collection.” I never before heard of “Douglas Martin.”
When this coin was auctioned by the firm of David Akers in 1998, it was PCGS graded “MS-65.” Since I viewed this coin in August, no one has indicated to me that he agrees with the assigned “MS-66” grade. I doubt that the Duckor-Martin 1927-D would be CAC approved at the MS-66 level, if submitted while in a holder with a “MS-66” grade.
The Connecticut-Mueller 1927-D was auctioned by Heritage in the Jan. 7, 2010 FUN Platinum Night event for $1,495,000. That coin was PCGS graded “MS-66” and later was downgraded. It is or was NGC graded “MS-65+” and was CAC approved at the 65 level.
In my view, the Connecticut-Mueller 1927-D is of higher quality than the Duckor-Martin coin. Although the Connecticut-Mueller 1927-D has more contact marks than the Duckor-Martin 1927-D, it scores much higher in the category of originality, which I find to be particularly important. The Duckor-Martin 1927-D may have been dipped since Dr. Duckor owned it.
Curiously, this $1,997,500 result is an auction record for any 1927-D Saint. The finest known Charlotte-Parrino-Morse 1927-D is PCGS graded MS-67. It was auctioned by Heritage in Nov. 2005 for $1,897,500.
I have seen all seven PCGS or NGC graded 1927-D Saints, though I never had the opportunity to hold and carefully examine the Eliasberg piece. My revised condition rankings for currently known, privately owned 1927-D Saints are, as follows. 1) Charlotte-Parrino-Morse, low end to mid range 67; 2) Eliasberg, mid range 66; 3) Browning- ‘Dallas Bank’ -Simpson, low end to mid range 66; 4) Connecticut-Muller, high 65 to low 66; 5) McDougal-‘Jan. 2006 and Jan. 2007 FUN auctions’, high 65; 6) Duckor-Martin, mid range 65; 7) Kramer-Richmond-“Lord Baltimore”-Bently, 62.
I remember when the Charlotte-Parrino-Morse 1927-D was PCGS graded MS-66, years before it was PCGS graded MS-67. The McDougal piece was upgraded from 65 to 66 at some point. Although there is a light gash on Miss Liberty’s chest, it is a really beautiful coin.
The Richmond 1927-D was NGC graded AU-58 in the 1980s. It was later NGC graded MS-62, PCGS graded MS-62 and then PCGS graded MS-63. Despite some readily apparent friction, it is an especially attractive coin, with appealing luster. A 62 grade would be fair.
While reverse (back) of the presently discussed Duckor-Martin coin is technically strong, in the sense that it has an extremely small number of hairlines and contact marks, the obverse (obverse) has a few light gashes, which are a little distracting. Overall, its appearance is not very exciting. I was more enthusiastic about this coin when I first saw it in 1998. I really believe that it may have been dipped or lightly ‘conserved’ in the interim. It is also true that the colors of coins naturally change over time.
As there are only seven that are PCGS or NGC certified, and none of them have serious problems, a collector should be happy to own any one of the seven. Of many other dates in the series, even some truly rare dates, there are more than a few beautiful, gem quality Saints available to collectors.
©2014 Greg Reynolds
e-mail: insightful10 gmail.com