News and Analysis on scarce coins, markets, and the coin collecting community #64
A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds
In the Internet era, there is no need to provide a list of the attractions at the upcoming ANA Convention near Chicago. Catalogues of the Heritage and Stack's-Bowers auctions are available on the websites of these firms, respectively. There is information about exhibits and events on the ANA website. On CoinWeek, a recent report on PCGS sponsored exhibits may be found. I have noticed, however, that there will be many rare coins in the auctions and at this convention that were previously in the collection of Louis Eliasberg. Sr., which is the most important of all pedigrees that can be associated with a rare coin.
I. The Eliasberg Collection
There is no doubt that Louis Eliasberg formed the all-time greatest collection of U.S. coins. Yes, it was the most complete in terms of classic (pre-1934) U.S. coins. Completeness, however, is not the only reason that the Eliasberg collection was so great and will forever be a towering legend in the culture of coin collecting. The second reason is the quality of the coins. Many of the finest known coins of particular issues, or even of whole design types, were in the Eliasberg collection. Indeed, a large number of the coins in the collection were, and hopefully most of these still are, of exceptional quality. Importantly, Eliasberg did not dip or otherwise tamper with his coins. The vast majority of Eliasberg's classic U.S. coins have (or did have) natural toning and mostly to fully original surfaces.
Another reason for the greatness of Eliasberg's collection is his willingness to share it during his lifetime. He arranged a myriad of showings over a period of more than twenty years, culminating in a months-long exhibit at the Philadelphia Mint from April 1976 to some point in the middle of 1977. Unfortunately, Eliasberg died before this exhibit began. Health permitting, he would have been proud to attend himself and meet many of the visitors, as he did during many earlier exhibits.
The Philadelphia Mint exhibit of the Eliasberg collection was supposed to close at the end of 1976. Because some groups that had planned to visit were unable to complete trips in 1976, it was agreed that the exhibit continue into 1977. Furthermore, in the early 1960s, the Eliasberg collection was exhibited at the Smithsonian. The collection, or some parts thereof, was also shown at an ANA Convention in the 1950s and at numerous banks in the Eastern United States.
In 1982, the firm of Bowers & Ruddy auctioned the U.S. gold coins of the Eliasberg collection. The U.S. gold coins were consigned by Louis Eliasberg, Jr. In May 1996 and in April 1997, Bowers & Merena (New Hampshire) auctioned Eliasberg's copper, nickel, and silver U.S. coins, plus patterns and colonials, along with an assortment of other items.
In April 20005, ANR auctioned Eliasberg's collection of world gold coins. Though not quite as famous among world coin collectors as Eliasberg's U.S. gold coins are among U.S. coin collectors, Eliasberg had epic collections of European and Latin American gold coins, plus some important rarities from elsewhere in the world.
The Eliasberg 1996, 1997 and 2005 auctions consisted of coins consigned by Richard Eliasberg and all of these events were conducted in New York, at hotels near Central Park. In 2010, Stack's auctioned additional coins and other items, including medals and coin related literature, from the estate of Louis Eliasberg, Jr., Richard's brother.
Anyways, I could easily write a book about the Eliasberg collection, if I had time. My objective here is to indicate its tremendous importance and to report on the Eliasberg coins that will be traveling to the Chicago area in August to be shown the ANA Convention or be offered in auctions.
II. The ANA Convention
The ANA is a nationwide club for collectors of coins, paper money, medals and related items. The Summer ANA Convention is the longest and most important of the three annual ANA Conventions. This year, it will be held from Aug. 16th to Aug. 20th, at a convention center in Rosemont, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. ANA members may attend for free and non-members who attend must pay a small admission fee. Pre-Convention events begin several days before.
The fact that so many rare coins will be available for viewing is one of many reasons for coin collectors to attend. Sometimes, coin collectors who do not have a lot of money are afraid to attend major coin conventions. There is not a reason to be afraid. Coin enthusiasts of all income levels, including beginners, are welcome and are likely to benefit from attending.
I strongly believe that it is important for each coin collector to see coins that he or she cannot afford to buy. Art enthusiasts often enjoy viewing paintings that are not affordable or even available. An art collector cannot have an advanced, or even an intermediate level, understanding of paintings in a particular field without viewing and learning about paintings that he or she cannot feasibly purchase. Coin collectors likewise can attain a better understanding of the coins that they can afford, and of the culture of coin collecting, by viewing significant rare or scarce coins that they cannot acquire.
III. The High Desert Type Set
The star exhibit at the ANA Convention may be the display of thirty coins from the “High Desert” type set. For around a decade, this set has been the first ranked comprehensive set of coin types dating from 1793 to 1964, in the PCGS registry. This set contains some amazing type coins, at least six of which were earlier in the Eliasberg collection.
It may be true that more than six of the “High Desert” coins were previously in the Eliasberg collection. Information from the PCGS suggests, though, that only six have been so designated on their respective PCGS holders. It is likely that I will write about the whole set in the future. The purpose here is to report upon coins from the Eliasberg collection.
Three of the Eliasberg-“High Desert” coins are the dated 1902-S, a Half Eagle ($5 gold), an Eagle ($10 gold) and a Double Eagle ($20 gold). All the coins in the “High Desert” set are in PCGS 'Secure' holders. (Please click to read an explanation of the PCGS SecurePlus program.)
For the owner of this type set, Scott Travers obtained these three 1902-S coins from John Albanese, “ten to twelve years ago.” Travers is the primary dealer and expert consultant for the owner of the High Desert type set.
Albanese remembers selling these Eliasberg 1902-S coins during “a bear market. The coins were so amazing, especially with their great color,” John exclaims.
The Eliasberg-“High Desert” 1902-S Half Eagle is PCGS graded “MS-69”! It is rather unusual for a pre-1934 gold coin to grade as high as 67, except some issues of gold dollars for which 67 grades are not prohibitively rare. Even true MS-66 grade, classic gold coins are prizes. The 1902-S Eagle is graded “MS-68+” and the Double Eagle is graded “MS-67+.” These are among the highest quality Liberty Head 19th century gold coins in existence.
A few experts suggest that the Eliasberg-“High Desert” 1902-S Half Eagle is THE finest known pre-1934 U.S. gold coin of any date or type. I have never seen it.
The Eliasberg-'High Desert' 1793 Liberty Cap Cent is PCGS graded MS-64. The Husak 1793 Liberty Cap, which is very much inferior to this one, sold for $632,500 on Feb. 15, 2008. Please read my article about it, in which I explain the rarity and importance of 1793 Liberty Cap Large Cents.
Although the Garrett 1793 Liberty Cap, which I have never seen, is rumored to have some original mint red color, the Eliasberg-'High Desert' coin is, indisputably, the finest known 1793 Liberty Cap cent. There are many finest known coins that were previously in the Eliasberg collection.
IV. Eliasberg 1832 Half Dollar
In April 1997, the Proof 1832 Capped Bust Half Dollar in the Eliasberg collection realized $225,500, an astonishing amount at the time. Laura Sperber was the successful bidder and the collector-dealer 'J.G.' was the underbidder. 'J.G.' prefers that his name not be mentioned, though he does not object to being referred to as 'J.G.' in some contexts. This 1832 half will be on display at the ANA Convention, at the table of Legend Numismatics.
Soon after it was auctioned during the evening of April 7, 1997, Sperber sold this Proof 1832 half to a collector “from the Midwest. He has been involved in coins since his teens. He buys only the finest neat coins [Laura] can find him,” she states. Furthermore, Sperber asserts that this collector “has one of the finest and most comprehensive commem collections,” here referring to vintage commemoratives that were minted from 1892 to 1954. For example, he owns the only PCGS certified Matte Proof Missouri commemorative half dollar. Curiously, “he has the complete Pan Pac pattern set [including pieces in] gold, silver, and copper,” Sperber reveals.
The Proof Eliasberg 1832 half, long ago, was NGC graded “68”! It is a famous coin.
V. The pre-ANA auction
On August 11th and 12th, Heritage will conduct a pre-ANA auction. Over the next few weeks, I will have plenty to say about coins in this Heritage auction and in the Stack's-Bowers sale, which is the official auction of the ANA Convention. Now, though, I point out coins in this auction that were previously in the Eliasberg collection.
The first an 1865 Liberty Seated Half Dime that is PCGS certified 'Proof-66' and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. This half dime is currently in the “Daryl J. Haynor” collection. So far, I am impressed by Haynor's coins. This 1865 half dime was in the May 1996 Eliasberg sale.
A 1907 Denver Mint Barber Dime was also auctioned in the May 1996 Eliasberg sale. It is now PCGS graded “MS-66” and is one of highest certified 1907-D dimes.
In this auction, the Eliasberg 1910 San Francisco Mint Dime is PCGS graded “MS-66.” After it was auctioned in 1996, it was in the 'Law' collection. “Law” is the code name for a lawyer who is or was a long-time client of Laura Sperber. He likes coins denominated from two cents to ten cents (dimes). He has assembled terrific sets of Liberty Seated Half Dimes, Barber Dimes, Three Cent Nickels and other types.
A 1905 Barber Half Dollar is lot #4147 in the current Heritage sale. It was lot #2100 in the April 1997 Eliasberg sale, in which it sold for $5940. It is now PCGS certified 'Proof-65.'
An 1873 Liberty Seated silver dollar has been in at least three auctions since the April 1997 Eliasberg sale. This 1873 is PCGS certified 'Proof-63 Cameo' and has a CAC sticker. While an 1873 dollar is not extremely rare in Proof format, this coin may be a good value, from a logical standpoint. It would be nice to have an Eliasberg Proof Liberty Seated Dollar in a type set. A 63 grade coin is likely to be much less costly than a Proof-65 or -66 Liberty Seated Dollar.
The NGC refers to an 1866-S Double Eagle as being in the Eliasberg collection, though the Heritage cataloguer points out that this coin was not pictured in the 1982 catalogue. Presumably, experts at the NGC had access to other evidence. In any event, it is NGC graded AU-53.
Another Eliasberg dime in this pre-ANA auction is an 1803. It is PCGS graded AU-55 and has a CAC sticker. Well before being in the Eliasberg collection, it was in the moderately famous collection of Richard Windsor, which the Chapman brothers auctioned in 1895. J. M. Clapp bought it. In 1942, Eliasberg acquired the 'father and son' Clapp collection, through Stack's (New York). This dime is now in “The Oliver Collection.”
Like this 1803, an 1805 dime in this auction was previously in the Eliasberg 1996 sale. It is NGC graded “MS-65.”
An 1820/19 overdate half dollar was, perhaps, purchased by Phil Kaufman at the Eliasberg 1997 sale. Kaufman was in attendance in 1997 and this coin was in his collection. It is NGC graded “MS-66.” A second Eliasberg-Kaufman half dollar in this Heritage sale is an NGC graded “MS-67” 1823.
The Proof 1842 Liberty Seated Half Dollar in this sale was formerly in the Eliasberg collection. It is NGC graded '63' and is currently in “The Oliver Collection.”
“The Oliver Collection” also contains the Eliasberg 1907-D Barber Half Dollar. This coin was also formerly in the epic Hugon collection, which was sold during the January 2005 Platinum Night event. Though I wrote about the Hugon collection for Numismatic News newspaper, those articles are not available on the Internet. The importance of the Hugon collection is mentioned in my discussion of Dr. Duckor's Barber Halves, part 2.
VI. The Official ANA Auction
Stack's-Bowers is conducting the official ANA auction and a startlingly large number of coins and other numismatic items will be offered. The theme here, though, is Eliasberg coins that will soon be traveling to the Chicago area.
A 1787 Connecticut Copper coin, of variety “Miller 11.1-E,” is said by the Stack's-Bowers cataloguer to be from the Eliasberg 1996 event, then lot #69. This coin is not certified.
The 1796/5 overdate Draped Bust Half Dime in this auction was previously in the May 1996 Eliasberg sale. At some point, years ago, it was PCGS graded “MS-64” and is in a holder with an old green label.
An 1800 half dime of the LIBEKTY variety in this sale was formerly in the Eliasberg collection. It is NGC graded “MS-63.” This half dime is now owned by Richard Jewell who is a major consignor to this year's ANA auction. I remember when ANR auctioned Jewell's exceptional set of $3 gold pieces. I enjoyed writing about those.
A 1798 dime, with a 'Large 8' was lot #1045 in 1996. It is lot #7265 now. The PCGS has graded it as “MS-63.”
The Eliasberg Proof 1837 dime will be offered. It is PCGS graded “64” and it has a CAC sticker. Long ago, I graded this coin as “63+,” before the grade-inflation of the early 2000s. I am accepting of a 64 grade. I know a Philadelphia area dealer who graded it as “64” in 1997. I like this coin.
The Eliasberg 1872-S quarter is NGC graded “MS-63.” In 1997, Charlie Browne assigned this same grade to it. None of the coins sold in the 1982, 1996 and 1997 Eliasberg auctions were certified.
An 1876 quarter in the Stack's-Bowers sale was previously in the April 1997 Eliasberg auction. It is NGC certified 'Proof-66.'
A few of the Liberty Seated Half Dollars in the Dick Osburn collection were earlier in the Eliasberg collection. Osburn's set is the lead offering on 'Rarities Night,' Aug. 18th. The first of these is Osburn's 1842 New Orleans Mint half that is of the 'Small Date' variety. It is NGC graded “MS-63.” Before Osburn owned it and after Eliasberg owned it, this 1842-O half was in the moderately famous collection of Douglas Noblet.
The Eliasberg-Osburn 1846/6 overdigit variety is now PCGS graded “MS-63” and has a CAC sticker. Curiously, it was graded “MS-60” by a B&M cataloguer in 1997. Charles Browne attended the 1997 Eliasberg auction and examined this coin. Browne is currently a PCGS grader. In 1997, Browne graded this coin as “MS-63+.” Charlie is generally a fairly conservative grader. I do not know, though, if this coin is in the same state of preservation as it was in 1997. Many coins change over time.
Osburn's 1865-S was in the Eliasberg collection and also was in the Richmond Collection, one of the twenty-five greatest U.S. coin collections to ever be publicly auctioned. DLRC auctioned this coin in March 2005. It is NGC graded “MS-64.”
The Eliasberg-Osburn 1875-S was graded “MS-63” in the Eliasberg catalogue and is NGC graded “MS-63” now. Charlie Browne does not have an objection to this grade.
The Eliasberg Proof 1899 silver dollar is NGC certified 'Proof-68' and has toned. Viewing coins from the Eliasberg collection, which have not been modified since they departed the Eliasberg collection, is often educational, partly because collectors may see varying manifestations of natural toning. Experts sometimes find it difficult to distinguish natural toning from artificial toning.
Four territorial gold coins from the Eliasberg collection are in the Summer 2011 ANA auction, three of which were produced by the firm of “Wass, Molitor & Co,” an 1852 $10 coin, an 1855 $10 coin and an 1855 $20 coin. The fourth is an 1853 $20 gold coin that was issued by the U.S. Assay Office in San Francisco.
“From the Raji Collection,” the Eliasberg 1885-S Liberty Head Half Eagle ($5 gold coin) will be offered. This 1885-S is PCGS graded “MS-64+” and has a CAC sticker.
It is a pleasure to note that this same “Raji Collection” features the Proof 1909 and 1911 Indian Head Half Eagles from the Eliasberg collection. Each is now PCGS graded “66” and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. These will attract a lot of attention. It has become more difficult to find gem quality Proof gold coins of the 1908 to 1915 era that have original surfaces. Many have been 'conserved.'
A 1923 Saint Gaudens Double Eagle ($20 coin) from the Eliasberg collection is also in this auction. The Stack's-Bowers catalogue notes that the original “Lot tag [is] included.” This 1923 Saint is PCGS graded “MS-64” and is in a holder with an old green PCGS label.
Cataloguers for Stack's-Bowers deserve credit for raising issues regarding two particular coins that are pedigreed to Eliasberg on their respective holders. A 1795 silver dollar in an NGC holder is not from the Eliasberg collection, according to the Stack's-Bowers cataloguer. As for an 1842-O 'Medium Date' half, in a PCGS holder, the cataloguer writes, “Although attributed to the Eliasberg Collection, the piece offered here does not match the illustration of the specimen in [the] Eliasberg sale of April 1997.”
Additionally, Stack's-Bowers will auction several world coins that were previously in the Eliasberg collection. These, though, are a topic for a separate discussion. A very important piece among them is a really neat Uruguayan 1870 pattern that was struck in gold.
As many of the pictures in the 1982, 1996 and 1997 catalogues are fuzzy and quite a few coins then sold are not pictured, there are Eliasberg coins around that are not identified as such. In my view, more resources, especially time, should be devoted to pedigree research. A surprising amount of useful information can be unearthed. While numerical grades and even grading criteria sometimes change over time, the past pedigrees of coins should not change and are of great importance.
©2011 Greg Reynolds