A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #151 …..
On Thursday, Jan. 24, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned the Cardinal set of large cents, along with an NGC graded MS-68 1792 half disme and the PCGS certified SP-66, Carter 1794 silver dollar that alone realized more than ten million dollars! For Wednesday’s column, I compiled a list, with comments, of the top ten auction records for all coins, U.S., world and ancient. The Carter-Cardinal 1794 dollar is number one. The topic here is the auction results for coins dating from 1792 to 1794 in this consignment by the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation. The most newsworthy and exciting pieces in the sale fall into this date range, though I will write about other large cents next week, some of which are fabulous.
The Cardinal Foundation consignment featured a set of large cents from 1793 to 1857. Further, it included a selection of smaller one cent coins and a few one cent patterns. There was also a U.S. Mint Medal from 1836, commemorating the introduction of the steam press. This medal realized $4112.
In early January, I wrote a two part series on 1792 half dismes, which covered the Knoxville-Cardinal piece. Additionally, before the auction, I analyzed the rarity, quality and special nature of the Carter 1794 silver dollar. (As before, clickable links are in blue.) As the $10 million record for this silver dollar has already been widely reported, the purpose here is to focus on some of the other items in the Cardinal Collection that date from 1792 to 1794.
After all, it is known that Laura Sperber was successful bidder for the Carter 1794 silver dollar. I was able to track down Brent Pogue, a serious bidder, and ask him a few questions. Pogue reveals that “I walked into the auction room prepared to bid $5.25 million hammer. We did, and we were outbid. We had no intention of re-entering the bidding. I congratulate Laura Sperber and Bruce Morelan for winning that coin,” Pogue adds.
Given the mechanics of the auction and the Stack’s-Bowers commission structure, Pogue’s “hammer” bid of $5.25 million is equivalent a true bid of $6,168,750. Sperber’s winning “hammer” bid of $8.525 million amounted to a final price of $10,016,875.
Legend Numismatics is the buyer of record. Sperber and Bruce Morelan are the principals of this firm. Bruce is widely regarded as a very sophisticated collector, who has assembled all-time finest sets of Liberty Seated Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars. Plus, he formerly owned the Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Nickel, among other rarities.
I. $1.146 Million for a 1792 Half Disme
Most leading players in markets for rare coins figure that the $1,145,625 result for the Knoxville-Cardinal 1792 half disme was weak, though I am not sure that it was weak. This same piece was reportedly sold by Steve Contursi to Martin Logies for “$1.5 million” on July 3, 2007 and the inferior, in my view, Starr 1792 half disme just realized $1.4 million in the Heritage Platinum Night event of Jan. 10, 2013, in Orlando.
Yes, I am aware that the Floyd Starr piece has been designated by the PCGS as a Specimen Striking and has been awarded a 67 grade. As I explained in a recent article, I do not regard it as such. Certainly, in terms of special characteristics, the Carter 1794 dollar is in a class well above that of the Starr 1792 half disme.
A major reason why both pieces brought less than some influential players expected is that, since the middle of 2009, coin buyers have become less reliant upon grades assigned by the PCGS or the NGC and more likely to value coins based upon how advanced experts evaluate coins, even if such interpretations are not consistent with the grades and/or designations on the respective PCGS or NGC holders.
Stewart Blay is the most sophisticated collector of small cents, and a sharp grader overall, of copper, nickel and silver coins. Stewart declared that, in his opinion, the PCGS is the leading grading service for classic U.S. coins and that “PCGS grades now do that mean as nearly as much as they used to. [Buyers often] grade the coins themselves and decide how much to pay [based upon] the coin not the holder,” Blay emphasizes.
In an article last February, I provided an example of a bust dollar that was PCGS certified as grading “MS-66“ yet was graded MS-65 by the vast majority of experts. At a leading auction in January 1912, it realized a price that was consistent with a MS-65 grade, not a price that corresponded to a MS-66 price. The buyer recognized that it may only grade “MS-65.” In that case and in many others, bidders discounted the grade on the holder and bid in accordance with values that correspond to the ‘true’ underlying grade of the coin. Also in January 2012, the PCGS graded MS-66, Duckor 1921 Saint realized at auction s price that was more in line with the value of a MS-65 grade 1921 Saint ($20 gold piece), rather than the value that a true MS-66 grade 1921 Saint would have realized.
Although the Knoxville-Cardinal 1792 half disme is NGC graded MS-68, I grade it as 66.8. I would not be upset if it was later graded MS-67. The assigned MS-68 grade, though, is not plausible. If it really did grade MS-68, in the views of most relevant experts, it would have realized more than two million dollars at this auction.
While I maintain that the grade of the Knoxville-Cardinal piece is clearly in the high end of the 66 range, Richard Burdick places its grade in the “middle” of the 66 range, “all day long.” Burdick would never even consider a 67 grade for it, though Richard emphasizes that “it is exquisitely toned and has super eye appeal.”
Richard “thought that it would sell for more than it did.” Richard had “$1.35 million in mind,” though he “had no interest bidding on it.” John Albanese also thought that the price for this 1792 half disme was a “little weak.” The buyer was a New Jersey dealer who I have not mentioned in this publication.
Now that the certified grades do not govern relative values among coins of the same date and type to the extent that they did before 2009, auctions have become more interesting and results less predictable.
I wonder if the $1,145,625 million result really is a weak price? This specific 1792 half disme has not been sold at auction since 1988, when it realized $68,750. Before 2013, the only 1792 half disme to sell for more than $600,000 at auction was the Starr 1792 half dime. Moreover, in 2006 when the Starr 1792 realized a shocking price, there were more active buyers who uncritically accepted the grades and designations on the respective PCGS or NGC holders. The $1,322,500 result in 2006 should not be taken out of context.
II. Cardinal 1793 Chain Cent
As I have already devoted an entire, long discussion to the Cardinal 1793 Chain Cent, I am not commenting further upon it here, other than to repeat that I really like the coin and that it scores extremely high in the category of originality. It went for $998,750.
When I wrote that article, I had not yet discussed the Cardinal Chain Cent with Richard Burdick. Though he does not have as favorable a view of this coin as I do, Richard agrees that “it is substantially superior to the Eliasberg Chain Cent,” which Heritage auctioned in Jan. 2012 for $1.38 million. Both coins are PCGS certified ‘MS-65 Brown’ and both have been approved by the CAC.
Chain Cents were only minted in 1793. There are three subtypes, which are explained in my earlier article. For simplicity, I refer to them here as ‘AMERI.’, AMERICA and ‘With Periods.’ The Cardinal Chain Cent has AMERICA spelled out; it is of the second subtype.
Chris Napolitano, the president of Stack’s-Bowers, suggests that the Eliasberg piece, which Heritage sold in 2012, is “definitely the finest known of its variety,” the third ‘With Periods’ subtype. Napolitano emphasizes that there is at least one ‘AMERICA’ Chain Cent that is much better than the Cardinal Chain Cent, and perhaps another in the same league.
I expected bidding to cross the million dollar barrier. In my view, the $998,750 price was slightly weak. Laura Sperber was the successful bidder. The Cardinal Chain Cent “is going to a new collector in Asia. He is buying early U.S. type. We were prepared to go a lot higher,” Sperber adds.
I very much like the coin and I trust the new owner will be happy with it. Even Richard, who grades it as less than 65, regards this coin as “the fourth or fifth finest known Chain Cent” of any variety.
III. “MS-69” Wreath Cent
There are many more uncirculated Wreath Cents currently in existence than uncirculated Chain Cents. Only one, though, is certified as grading “MS-69” by the PCGS. There are no other pre-1800 U.S. coins that are are certified as grading “MS-69” by a leading grading service. This would be a wonderful point, if this coin truly graded MS-69!
Over the last twenty years, I have discussed this coin with many grading experts and with specialists in early copper coins. No one has ever said that he agreed with the assigned grade of “MS-69.” For fear of making officials at the PCGS angry, few experts are willing to be quoted about this coin. In my opinion, dealers and other experts should be more concerned about coins and collectors than their respective relations with grading services.
Jim McGuigan grades this coin as “MS-65.” Most experts grade it as “MS-66.” Indeed, at the auction, Stewart Blay declared that it grades “MS-66.” When I asked Stewart if its grade was close to the MS-67 range, perhaps 66+, he said, “no, it is just a 66”!
Actually, the Naftzger-Cardinal, PCGS graded MS-69 Wreath Cent is an excellent coin; it is just overgraded. Though it has a small number of contact marks, it has are far too many contact marks for a 69 grade. This coin is well struck on an exemplary planchet (prepared blank), though there exist other Wreath Cents that are significantly better struck.
This Wreath Cent has appealing mottled, tan-brown fields, with russet tints. When tilted under a light, some blue colors become apparent. It is a little glossy, though its glossiness is not entirely natural. The coin otherwise scores highly in the category of originality, and on technical grounds, it is impressive.
IV. Boka 1793 Liberty Cap Cent
I admit to a fondness for 1793 Liberty Cap Cents. These are more attractive than Wreath Cents, in my opinion, and are truly rare. For an explanation of the issue, please read my article on why the Husak 1793 Liberty Cap Cent sold for $632,500.
The Halpern-Boka-Cardinal 1793 Liberty Cap is PCGS graded AU-53. It is very attractive for an AU grade coin, and is more than attractive overall. The two-tone obverse (front) is very appealing, with a chocolate center and mellow red-brown shades above and at the lower left.
“It has fantastic eye appeal and it was struck on a choice planchet,” John Albanese finds. “The surface quality and color were ‘off the charts,’” John exclaims.
The contact marks in the fields and on the design elements are few and small. Unfortunately, there are some significant rim nicks. Without these, this coin would probably have been graded AU-55 or AU-55+ by the PCGS.
This coin sold for $282,000 to bidder #594, a collector from California. The exact same coin realized $253,000, when Heritage auctioned Al Boka’s set of large cents at a Long Beach Expo in Sept. 2011. In my view, the current result is a moderate price. If this coin did not have any rim nicks, it probably would have realized at least an additional $125,000.
V. 1794 ‘Head of 1793’ Cent
Perhaps the strongest and most astonishing result in this whole auction is the $881,250 price for the Cardinal 1794 ‘Head of 1793’ cent. There are three often-collected major varieties of 1794 large cents, Head of 1793, Head of 1794 and Head of 1795. The 1794 ‘Head of 1793’ cents feature a head of Miss Liberty that is of the same design as the head that appears on 1793 Liberty Cap Cents. Two other ‘head’ designs were employed on large cents of the year 1794.
The 1794 ‘Head of 1793’ cents are much scarcer than 1794 cents of the other two major varieties. These three ‘heads’ of 1794 are listed as separate issues in many standard references for U.S. coins in general.
The Cardinal 1794 ‘Head of 1793’ is probably the finest known of this major variety. It is PCGS graded MS-64 and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. The 1794 ‘Head of 1793’ cent that was in the Husak Collection, which Heritage auctioned on Feb. 15, 2008, is PCGS graded MS-63. The Husak 1794 ‘Head of 1793’ cent realized $253,000, which then set an auction record for this major variety.
That auction record was shattered when the Cardinal piece sold for $881,250. “It brought a lot of money, though it is a very important coin,” John Albanese says. “This is now the new market price for the leading ‘Head of 1793’ 1794 cent,” John adds. Albanese is the president and founder of the CAC.
In my view, this is an extremely strong price, well above market levels. Even a price of $550,000 would have been thought of as very strong. Among U.S. coins, many Great Rarities are available for less than $500,000, rather than just a variation of 1794 cents.
Prices for circulated 1794 ‘Head of 1793’ cents are each just small fractions of $881,250. In 2011, Heritage auctioned one in a PCGS Genuine holder for $805. One of Walt Husak’s 1794 ‘Head of 1793’ cents was PCGS graded VF-30 and sold for $10,350 in Feb. 2008.
VI. Highest Graded 1794 Large Cent
When Walter Husak showed me this 1794 ‘Head of 1795' cent, long before his collection was auctioned on Feb. 15, 2008, I was mesmerized by it. At that time, it had never been graded by the PCGS or the NGC. This coin and another Oswald-Husak 1794 ‘Head of 1795’ cent were just the two greatest Liberty Cap Cents that I had ever seen up to that point in time. At the moment, I remember only one other in the same league.
This Oswald-Husak-Cardinal ‘Head of 1795’ cent is PCGS certified MS-67 with a designation that it has considerable original Mint Red color along with naturally toned brown color, ‘Red & Brown.’ It certainly is so. The obverse is 45% red and the reverse is at least 30% red. The obverse does not need to be tilted under a light to shine. It would glow in a dimly lit room. The reverse is not quite as impressive.
“Great coin, and its grade is a solid 67,” Burdick says. In my view, its grade is in the low end to mid range of the 67 range. The obverse, by itself, is in the middle to high end of the range. The obverse is very attractive to extremely attractive and just amazing.
This coin sold for $488,750 on Feb. 15, 2008 and for $499,375 on Jan. 24, 2013. One reason that it did not sell for more is that some collectors of type coins, who often assemble type sets, do not understand that all the apparent indentations and extra raised items on the obverse were caused by the U.S. Mint. This coin does not have any technical problems; there are no significant scratches and no readily apparent hits.
It is not quite as brilliant now as it was in Feb. 2007. Even so, it is an amazing coin. This Oswald-Husak-Cardinal coin is the queen of 1794 cents and deserves more acclaim.
©2013 Greg Reynolds