Coin Rarities & Related Topics: Major Collection of Colonials To Be Auctioned

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #157 …..

On Wed, March 13, at a convention center in Baltimore, Stack’s-Bowers will offer, at public auction, a large part of the Ted Craige Collection of colonial coins and other pre-federal items. Pre-1792 coins struck in North America, above the region that is now Mexico, and coins struck in England or France relating to North American colonies, all fall loosely into the category of American pre-federal items, a popular collecting specialty.

This category is often termed ‘colonials,’ even though it includes many items that are not colonial coins, including a wide variety of pieces that were struck after the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776, in which leaders of American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain, thus making clear that the former colonies were becoming independent States. So, it should be kept in mind that the term ‘colonials’ refers to a broad category of items, not just to coins that circulated in colonies.

Those interested in colonials (and other pre-federal items) are usually focused on the historical significance of the pieces or on the rarity of particular varieties rather than on the quality of the coins. Some collectors of colonials, though, are very concerned about quality and the late Ted Craige was so concerned, though he, too, may have been far more interested in die varieties than in quality overall. His collection contains large numbers of die varieties of several series. (A coin is made when a pair of hard metal dies is employed to strike a prepared circular blank, planchet. )

Parts of the Craige Collection were auctioned in November 2012, though a much more significant part is being offered on March 13. This is one of the best offerings of colonial coins in many years.

Before discussing rare or very high quality pieces in the Ted Craige Collection, it is important to point out that the vast majority of colonials are not nearly as expensive as the pieces that I am mentioning herein. To collect colonials (and other pre-federal items) ‘by type,’ a buyer does not need to be extremely wealthy. Some issues of Virginia Halfpennies, Nova Constellatio Coppers, Massachusetts half cents and cents, Connecticut Coppers and New Jersey Coppers, are moderately priced. Approximate values can be found in standard references and many auction results may be browsed online at the Stack’s-Bowers, Heritage and Goldbergs websites.

I. Lord Baltimore

Baltimore, Maryland was named after the first Lord Baltimore, George Calvert. Cecil Calvert was the second Lord Baltimore and the son of the first Lord Baltimore.

Cecil Calvert was born in 1605 and died in 1675. His father, the first Lord Baltimore, had sought to establish a colony in North America as a haven for English Catholics, who were not always comfortable in England and would not have been welcome in some English colonies. Largely as a consequence of the efforts of his father, Cecil Calvert received a charter to establish the colony of Maryland from King Charles I and became proprietor of this colony in 1632. Cecil Calvert, however, never visited Maryland. Two of his brothers did and were involved in governing the colony of Maryland.

In 1659, Cecil Calvert arranged for a mint in England, probably the Royal Mint at the Tower of London, to produce coins to be shipped to Maryland for use as ‘money.’ It is possible that all such coins were minted in 1659, though some may have been struck a few years later. It is extremely likely that all Lord Baltimore silver coins were struck before 1670. Although Cecil Calvert’s coinage project faced obstacles in 1659 for legal and political reasons, and Calvert himself became a defendant in legal proceedings, pertinent historians have concluded that Lord Baltimore coins circulated widely in Maryland during the mid-1660s.

Of the Lord Baltimore coinage, there are three silver denominations, one shilling (= 12 pence), Sixpence (=half a shilling) and Fourpence (Groat). There are also some Lord Baltimore copper pieces, which are a different topic and may not be coins.

Shilling, Sixpence and Groat were standard silver denominations in England, though Lord Baltimore’s coins were intentionally designed to be lighter than their British counterparts. These were very much subsidiary coinage, thus far from being bullion coins, as their respective silver bullion value was substantially less than their respective face values.

The Lord Baltimore Shilling in the Ted Craige Collection is PCGS graded ‘Extremely Fine-45.’ It is mostly a steel-brown color, with a slight russet tint. Interestingly, some of the design elements became a little glossy from die polish when this coin was struck. This shilling has a few very small hairlines and scratches. Furthermore, there are some small, blue cloudy areas on the reverse (back of the coin), which may be inconsequential. Though there are at least fifteen, maybe even twenty, Lord Baltimore Shillings that are of higher quality than this one, this Craige piece is much better than most.

The Lord Baltimore Sixpence in the Craige Collection is PCGS graded ‘Very Fine-35.’ It is characterized by attractive tan, russet and brown colors, with some faint purplish overtones. Moreover, it was formerly in the Matthew Stickney Collection, one of the all-time greatest collections of U.S. and colonial coins, which the firm of Henry Chapman auctioned in 1907.

Of the three Lord Baltimore silver denominations, the Groat (Fourpence) is, by far, the rarest. The Craige Collection contains the second highest graded Baltimore Groat by the PCGS, AU-53. There is a Groat that is NGC graded MS-62 coin, which someone at the PCGS estimates to grade “AU-58.” I am aware, though, of at least two, never encapsulated Baltimore Groats that may grade higher than AU-55, perhaps much higher, if submitted to the PCGS or the NGC. It would be fair to suggest that this Craige Groat is one of the top six.

At all levels, the PCGS has graded just six, the NGC just two, and these are not eight different coins. Most Baltimore Groats, though, are non-gradable. Overall, there are certainly fewer than twenty-five, privately owned pieces. A Lord Baltimore Groat is a classic rarity.

II. Chalmers Silver Coins of 1783

When I think about the Lord Baltimore silver pieces, the Chalmers silver coins come to mind, though these are from a much later era, after Maryland became a State independent of England. In 1783, John Chalmers of Annapolis was responsible for issuing silver coins, also in British denominations.

In my column of Feb. 27th, I mentioned the four Chalmers pieces in the Ted Craige Collection. (Clickable links are in blue.) These all graded by the PCGS: a Threepence coin (AU-58), a Sixpence (Fine-12), a Shilling with a Short Worm design element (AU-50) and a Shilling with a Long Worm (VF-25).

I have since examined them. The Craige Collection ‘Short Worm’ Shilling exhibits a really nice, natural greenish-brown-russet tone. Further, the details are exceptional. It may be undergraded. For an AU grade silver coin from the 1700s, it is particularly appealing.

One of the stars of this auction event is the Craige Collection, Chalmers Threepence. I estimate that there are eighteen to twenty-four in existence, and this is almost certainly one of the six finest, possibly one of the top three! Indeed, it is well struck, and has hardly any contact marks or scratches. The toning is definitely natural and the green tints are especially attractive.

I also saw the other ‘Short Worm’ Shilling in this auction, from an unnamed consignor. It is PCGS graded EF-45 and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. The PCGS holder indicates the name “Benson.” It was earlier in the first Benson sale by the firm of Ira & Larry Goldberg in Feb. 2001.

While not as impressive as the Craige ‘Short Worm,’ this “Benson” piece is very desirable. It was well struck on a nice planchet. This coin is characterized by attractive,light to medium brown tones, which are likely to be very stable. Additionally, there are a few small gashes and scratches. It is not as technically strong as the Craige ‘Short Worm’ Shilling. Even so, this coin scores highly in the category of originality and in the category of eye appeal.

III. Virginia Coins of 1773

As I am in the process of writing a series of articles on items to be auctioned from the collection of Eric P. Newman, I felt drawn to some of the Virginia coins in the Ted Craige Collection. After all, Newman, literally, ‘wrote the book’ about coinage for the colony of Virginia. In 1992, Newman received a commendation from the Virginia State legislature, relating to his research. (Please click to read the first part of my series.)

The Craige 1773 “penny” that is PCGS certified ‘Proof-65 Brown’ is really neat. It will be sold as lot #157. Whether it should be termed a Proof or other Special Striking (Specimen) is debatable, it is certainly not a business strike. It probably is a true Proof. Although I examined it quickly, to my eyes, under somewhat high magnification, it seems to have been struck twice on a specially prepared blank.

This special 1773 piece exhibits a really pleasing, neat bluish tint. The fields have minimal imperfections. The definition of some design elements is clearly superior to the definition of corresponding design elements on relevant business strikes. The letters on the obverse (front) exhibit considerably squaring, a phenomenon that relates to the relationships of raised design elements (devices) to the respective adjacent fields.

The next lot (#158), Craige’s Virginia Halfpenny that is PCGS certified ‘MS-66 Brown’ has already received much attention and may realize a strong price. I suggest discussing its characteristics with a grading expert before bidding on it. Is it really of significantly higher quality than those 1773 Virginia Halfpennies that have been PCGS or NGC graded MS-65?

In terms of quality for the assigned grade, the first listed, Craige 1773 Halfpenny that is PCGS certified ‘MS-64 Red & Brown’ (lot #159) is very impressive. The “RB” designation indicates that experts at the PCGS concluded that this piece exhibits a substantial amount of original mint red color. It certainly does so. There is a significant amount of very bright original red, which is really cool, in addition to other areas that exhibit red that has mellowed over time. Overall, this piece is very attractive and captures the attention of the viewer. A few minor spots and very small marks probably kept graders at the PCGS from assigning a MS-65 grade.

Among the uncirculated Virginia Halfpennies in the Craige Collection, another excellent coin is also PCGS certified ‘MS-64 RB’ coin, lot #164. It features wonderful bright red about some design elements and pleasing fields. Though the reverse is not as enticing as the obverse, more than half of the reverse exhibits original mint red color! This coin has no substantial scratches or other significant contact marks. It is a great 1773 Virginia Halfpenny.

I am ignoring die varieties here. In my view, most collectors would be happy to obtain one high grade Virginia Halfpenny. Those who collect them by die variety probably already have a copy of Newman’s reference book and have studied material from other sources. It is best to collect colonial coins ‘by type’ for a few years before even thinking about collecting one series by die variety.

Craige collected many series by ‘die variety’ and he obtained far more 1773 Virginia Halfpennies that I can practically discuss here. So, I chose to comment upon just a few of the higher quality pieces. While some die varieties are rare, 1773 Virginia Halfpennies are not rare as type coins. Indeed, they are not difficult to find.

IV. Fascinating Issues of the 1780s

There is a good chance that Nova Constellatio Coppers circulated somewhat widely in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. These are dated 1783, 1785 and 1786. There are quite a few such pieces in the Ted Craige Collection. The designs of the privately minted and distributed Nova Constellatio Coppers are deliberately very similar to the official, government authorized, Morris-Dudley patterns of 1783, which were among the most famous items in the epic Garrett Family Collection.

The PCGS graded MS-62 Nova Constellatio Copper in the Craige Collection is noteworthy. Although some Mint-caused imperfections are readily apparent and may have prevented this piece from receiving a higher grade, it is strictly uncirculated and is characterized by a pleasing tan color. This piece (lot #301) stands out in a nice way.

The next lot (#302) has appealing color as well. It is PCGS graded AU-58 and may be intensely demanded by collectors seeking a Nova Constellatio Copper for a type set.

The ‘Immune Columbia’ issues of 1785 feature a reverse that is very similar to the obverse of the Nova Constellatio Coppers. The true nature of the “Immune Columbia” issues is not now known. While they could be privately produced patterns, evidence indicates that many “Immune Columbia” copper pieces circulated.

‘Immune Columbia’ pieces are known in copper, silver and gold. All are rare and very expensive. The unique gold piece, which was formerly owned by Matthew Stickney, is in the Smithsonian. In 1843, Stickney traded it for an 1804 silver dollar, which was later in the Eliasberg Collection.

Ted Craige obtained a silver ‘Immune Columbia’ piece. Experts at the PCGS determined that it is authentic, has been damaged, and has the ‘details’ of an Extremely Fine grade coin.

This piece looks much better in actuality than it looks in enlarged images. Certainly, its color is relatively more appealing in reality. Moreover, the ‘damage’ is not that bad. I have seen many pre-federal items that are more heavily damaged, and severely damaged pre-federal items are often avidly sought after by collectors. On this silver piece, there are a couple of non-large gouges. Further, scratches in the reverse fields have been ‘smoothed’ with tools. When this silver ‘Immune Columbia’ piece is viewed without magnification, it seems to be of much higher quality.

According to the cataloger, this piece was in the sale of the Allison Jackman Collection in 1918, as was one of the Higley Coppers in the Ted Craige Collection.Furthermore, it was in the collection of George Earle, which the firm of Henry Chapman auctioned in 1912. Someday, I hope to write a series of articles on Earle’s Collection, which has been under-rated and under-appreciated for more than a century. In addition to having an epic group of pre-federal items, George Earle assembled one of the ten all-time greatest collections of U.S. coins from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

My discussion covered only a small percentage of the pieces in the Ted Craige Collection.  The scope, quality and depth of Craige’s collection of colonials (and other pre-federal) items are extremely impressive.

©2013 Greg Reynolds

About the Author:

Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a vast majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than two hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least fifty articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. For three years in a row, he has been the winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award of the NLG. Greg has also won NLG awards for individual articles, for a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site. Reynolds is available for private consultations: insightful10{a}gmail.com

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