Coin Rarities & Related Topics: Million Dollar Items Lead Central States Auction, Part 1
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #165 …..
In association with the Central States (CSNS) Convention near Chicago, Heritage conducted an auction extravaganza. During the night of Thursday, April 25, the sale of items from the Eric Newman Collection was followed by an extensive “Platinum Night” session. It is not practical to discuss the thousands of items that Heritage auctioned last week at this convention. As million dollar items tend to be exciting, I focus on the three coins and a pattern that each sold for more than a million: the Walton 1913 Liberty Nickel, the Newman 1852 Humbert $10 gold coin, the Garrett-Perschke silver pattern Quint of 1783, and a 1796 silver dollar.
On April 26, three paper money items realized more than $1.5 million each. In part 2, on Friday, I will reflect upon the importance of seven, individual million dollar items being in this one sale, including three pieces that each brought more than $2 million. The number of million dollar pieces and the bidding activity for them, in one auction event, relates to the breadth and depth of the demand for higher level pieces and has implications for overall markets for rare coins. Million dollar items command attention. Plus, these generate more interest in coins, patterns, and paper money.
In past weeks, I discussed some of the items in this auction, including the Eric Newman consignment overall, Newman’s patterns, the Garrett-Perschke Quint pattern of 1783, the O’Neal 1907-D half dollar, and the Pittman-Greensboro 1839 Liberty Seated Quarter. (Clickable links are in blue.). I am not just listing prices realized. I am covering the significance of the coins and analyzing the results.
I. Finest Known 1796 Silver Dollar?
The most astonishing result in this auction extravaganza was a 1796 silver dollar selling for $1,175,000. There are more than two thousand 1796 silver dollars in existence. The one in this auction, however, is the highest certified of all 1796 silver dollars, regardless of variety. It is one of only two that are PCGS or NGC graded above MS-63! This fresh piece, from the collection of “William Jacob,” is NGC graded MS-65 and has a sticker of approval from the CAC.
The PCGS graded MS-64 1796 silver dollar has been in the same private collection for more than a dozen years. It is not, though, listed in the PCGS population report of January 2007. Was it PCGS graded MS-64 at a later time? The PCGS price guide currently values it at “$260,000.”
In Nov. 2005, the NGC graded MS-62, Whitney-Lee-Thomas 1796 silver dollar was auctioned for $86,250. Now, it might be worth $100,000. On April 30, 2009, it was one of two certified “MS-62” 1796 dollars to be auctioned as part of the “Joseph C. Thomas Collection,” which is a code name. The other, the Cardinal piece, is graded by the PCGS. Each realized $57,500 in April 2009. Around that time, however, a market cycle for rare U.S. coins bottomed out.
Both the Whitney-Lee-Thomas and Cardinal pieces would probably fail to be approved if submitted to the CAC, while in holders indicating “MS-62” grades. The NGC graded MS-65 1796 that just sold for $1,175,000 is the only 1796 silver dollar that is certified as grading above AU-58 to be CAC approved. I doubt, though, that the one that is PCGS graded MS-64 has ever been submitted to the CAC. Among Draped Bust, Small Eagle type silver dollars that have been certified as grading MS-60 or higher, only ten, of any date, have been CAC approved, so far.
One of the leading bidders for this coin, who I know, is focused on CAC approved coins, and rarely bids on coins that do not have CAC stickers. Even so, the final price is startling.
The previous auction record for a 1796 silver dollar, as far as I know, is the $172,500 result for an NGC graded MS-61 coin that Heritage auctioned in 2006. That same coin was later PCGS graded MS-61 and was sold for $117,500 in Aug. 2012.
Some collectors will only be satisfied with coins that are certified as grading MS-63 or higher, and others demand coins that grade MS-65 or higher! To such a buyer who collects bust dollars ‘by date,’ this 1796 silver dollar was probably perceived as being the only option.
Martin Logies points out that most of the choice “mint state” representatives of the Draped Bust, Small Eagle dollar type are dated 1795. “The present coin is the single finest known non-1795-dated example of the type, and that would put it in high demand by type collectors,” Martin maintains. Logies is the founder and director of the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation.
It is unusual for anyone to collect Draped Bust, Small Eagle dollars ‘by date’ in ‘mint state’ grades. Besides, single Very Fine or Extremely Fine grade pieces of all the dates of this type are not very hard to find, generally for prices below $10,000 each. The $1,175,000 result for this 1796 amounts to an unusually large premium for a condition rarity of a non-rare coin.
II. Nickel Sells for $3,172,500!
As as already been reported and documented in a video by David Lisot, the Walton 1913 Liberty Head Nickel sold for more than three million dollars. Jeff Garrett was the successful bidder. Larry Lee of Florida was behind the purchase of this nickel. A dealer from New Jersey, who usually does not wish for his name to be mentioned, was the underbidder, at a level of $3,113,750.
When the Olsen-Hawn 1913 Liberty Nickel was auctioned by Heritage for $3,737,500 on Jan. 7, 2010, I covered that coin and the sale of it in detail. (Please click to read about it.) I will not now cover the history of the five known 1913 Liberty Nickels here. It is important to point out, however, that two are not collectible.
One of the five is part of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution and another is impounded in the ANA museum. So, just three of the five are collectible.
From some point in 2003 to some point in 2012, this 1913, the Walton piece, was on a long term loan to the ANA museum. While it was on public view for more than nine years, many collectors thought that it would eventually be donated to the ANA museum or another museum. It was not clear that it would ever again be owned by an individual collector.
Heirs of George Walton, a former owner, decided that it would be sold in 2013. As this nickel was rediscovered in 2003, and it is dated 1913, the year 2013 has symbolic meaning.
People do not typically think of 1913 Liberty Nickels as being beautiful coins. Indeed, there are many Proof Liberty Nickels of other dates that are far more attractive.
The appeal of 1913 Liberty Nickels relates to their rarity, their fame, and the fact that so many hundreds of thousands of people collected circulated Liberty Nickels at some points during their respective lives. Business strike Liberty Nickels are among the least expensive classic series to collect ‘by date.’
From the time I was eight years sold, I dreamed of owning a 1913 Liberty Nickel. I was not the only one. A major reason why 1913 Liberty Nickels are worth millions now is that many potential buyers collected Liberty Nickels before they were adults. These bring back childhood memories. When I was ten years old, during a presentation about coins to my elementary school class, I talked about 1913 Liberty Nickels for a while. A few of the hundreds of thousands of collectors who dreamed about owning 1913 Liberty Nickels as kids can now afford to buy them.
The Olsen Hawn 1913 that sold for $3,737,500 is a significantly better coin. In 2010, it was one of only two apparently collectible 1913 Liberty Nickels. Before Jan. 7, 2010, leading participants in coin markets figured that the Olsen-Hawn 1913 had a retail value of around $3 million. Now, there are clearly three collectible 1913 Liberty Nickels. Therefore, there was an increase in supply.
The Walton 1913 has a wholesale value of $2.5 to $2.85 million and retail value in the range of $3.0 to $3.5 million. It is hard to place an exact value on it. I am certain, however, that more than three dealers would have been willing and ready to buy it for $2.5 million, strictly for inventory, and it is likely that at least two dealers would have bought it for inventory for $2.85 million, if, imaginatively, it had been available at that price.
The $3,172,500 result was clearly in the retail price range, hence a strong auction result. For a discussion of auction results in general, and a definition of the term “strong” in the context of auctions, please read my piece on ‘What Are Auction Prices?’
If I soon revise my list of the top auction records of U.S. and world coins, the sale of the Walton 1913 Liberty Nickel will be in ninth place. The two that are tied for seventh place were both previously owned by Reed Hawn. These are the already mentioned Olsen-Hawn 1913 Liberty Nickel and the Mickley-Hawn-Queller 1804 dollar, which will be auctioned again in August 2013, shortly before the summer ANA Convention.
III. Pattern of 1783, one of two Quints
Before the auction, I devoted an entire discussion to the Garrett-Perschke 1783 Quint, a silver pattern denominated in five hundred Morris units. (Please click to read about it.) This is the most fascinating piece in the Heritage auction. Bits, Quints and Marks are silver denominations that were part of a coinage proposal in the early 1780s. Presumably, this is one of only two Quints that survive.
The Garrett-Perschke Quint sold for $1,175,000 on Thursday night, a strong price. A fair estimate would have ranged from $850,000 to $925,000, or so. I figured that the obscurity of this mysterious issue and the serious scratches on the reverse might keep it from bringing more than $900,000.
John Albanese remarks that “the Quint requires an education; you really have to be a scholar to appreciate it. The 1913 Liberty Nickel is a well known Great Rarity. The scholarly coins are discounted.” Albanese is the founder and president of the CAC.
Ultra High Relief 1907 Saint Gaudens pattern $20 gold pieces are more attractive and more famous, though much less rare than Quints. Leading buyers for rarities are not surprised when an Ultra High Relief Saint sells for more than one million dollars. One of the worse known pieces brought more than a million dollars in the Heritage pre-ANA Platinum Night event in Aug. 2012.
The only pre-1800 U.S. patterns to sell for more than $1 million each at auction are a 1792 silver center copper cent and two, gem quality 1792 half dimes. The results for the 1792 half dismes, however, can be explained by the fact that a majority of researchers incorrectly believe that these are regular issues and are thus needed for type sets and for sets of early half dimes. If 1792 half dismes were properly recognized as patterns, not as regular issues needed for completion of such sets, they would not have risen in value nearly to the extent that they did since the early 1990s.
The 1776 Continental Currency Patterns are very much relevant to the Morris patterns of 1783. The 1776 pieces, though, are far less rare and are much more widely known, Many of the people who seek to obtain 1776 Continental Currency Patterns have never even thought about the Morris patterns of 1783.
It is particularly relevant that, in April 2012, Heritage auctioned a 1792 Silver Center Copper Cent pattern for $1,150,000 and another, during the dame night that this Quint sold, for $822,500. There are more than a dozen of these in existence. The finest known, PCGS graded MS-67 Garrett piece sold privately in Jan. 2012 for a price that has been reported to be in the range of $5 million. (Due to the nature of the deal, the exact price cannot be confirmed.)
Suppose, imaginatively, that there were just two, surviving 1792 Silver Center Copper Cent patterns and both graded above 50, though less than 63? Each would probably be worth more than four million dollars.
Another relevant pattern is a 1792 disme in copper that was in the Ed Price Collection and later in the Greensboro Collection. It brought $690,000 on July 31, 2008 and $587,500 on Oct. 18, 2012. Is the Garrett-Perschke Quint clearly worth much more than the Price-Greensboro 1792 copper disme? According to Saul Teichman, there survive three 1792 disme patterns in silver and at least twenty-three 1792 disme patterns in copper, some of which are in museums.
For the Garrett-Perschke Quint, the $1,175,000 result is strong, though within the realm of reason. There are, though, mysteries surrounding the Morris 1783 patterns that place them in a category that is separate from the patterns of 1792. Morris 1783 U.S. patterns are not often discussed and are not widely understood. The circumstances of their emergence in the mid 19th century are curious as well.
In my view, there is a need for more research regarding the characteristics of the Morris patterns of 1783 and their origins. I hope that my recent research and writing will motivate others to further explore this area.
IV. Finest Known Territorial $10 Gold?
U.S. Assay Office $10 gold pieces were struck in 1852 and 1853 in San Francisco. Augustus Humbert was in charge of the operations of the U.S. Assay office, which contracted with a private firm to mint gold coins for circulation in California during the era of the ‘gold rush.’
There are four major issues of US. Assay Office $10 gold coins: a) 1852/1 overdate – with Humbert’s name spelled out as part of the design; b) 1852 – with Humbert’s name; c) 1852 – with no explicit mention of Humbert; d) 1853 – without Humbert’s name.
The Newman 1852 Humbert is NGC graded MS-68 and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. As far as I know, it is the only business strike American territorial gold coin, of any issue, to be graded 68 by recognized experts.
“I thought I was going to buy it,” exclaims John Albanese. “I was more than willing to hammer at 750 [$881,250]. I stretched to 850” [$998,750 = $850,000 + 17.5%]. It would have been for the CAC “inventory.” Albanese acknowledges that “it is not rare, one of the more common territorial coins. It is an amazing, true wonder coin, the finest territorial $10 gold piece in existence,” John states.
Some collectors demand a U.S. Assay Office ten with Humbert’s name featured and one that does not mention Humbert’s name. The 1852/1 and 1852 pieces that include the name are frequently called ‘Humberts,’ and the the 1852 and 1853 pieces that do not mention Humbert are termed ‘Assay Tens’!
Before the re-emergence of the Green-Newman coin, neither the PCGS nor the NGC had graded a Humbert above MS-62. Four 1852/1 Humberts have been NGC graded MS-61 and this total of four probably does not represent four different coins. Among 1852 Humberts, the PCGS has graded two as MS-60, two as MS-61 and two as MS-62, and none higher, though plenty lower.
The NGC has graded an 1852 Humbert as MS-61 and one as MS-62. In Aug. 2011, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned the NGC graded MS-61 1852 Humbert for $20,240. On May 22, 2007, Stack’s auctioned a PCGS graded MS-62 1852 Humbert for $33,350, which was from “the Collection of Marjorie Hayes [and accompanied] by a Columbus-America Discovery Group Certificate of Authenticity.”
Among ‘Assay Tens’ of 1852 and 1853, there are a few that have been graded MS-63 and two been NGC graded MS-64. On Jan. 10, 2008, an impressive PCGS graded 1853 ‘Assay Ten’ realized $44,850, when coin markets were very hot.
There are at least 170 1852 Humbert tens in existence, and probably another 125 1852/1 Humbert $10 gold pieces, including those that are non-gradable. Assay Tens look very much like Humberts.There must be more than two hundred 1852 and 1853 Assay Tens, in total. Condition rarities, however, are a different category. Someone who wants a superb gem territorial may not care how many pieces of the same issue grade lower than MS-63.
Despite the fact that there are more than one thousand 1796 Liberty Cap large cents around, a PCGS graded MS-66 1796 cent sold at auction in 2008 for $690,000. Furthermore, while there are dozens of pre-1800 large cents that grade above MS-64, there are fewer than one dozen California territorial gold coins, of all types, that grade above 64. At the moment, I recollect seeing three Moffat $5 coins, two U.S. Assay Twenties ($20 coins), a Specimen Striking Kellogg Twenty, a Humbert $50 coin, and a couple of other pieces that are not clear in my mind, which grade above 64 or maybe do.
Given the popularity and historical significance of California territorial coins, and the legacy of Eric Newman, plus this coin’s astonishing quality, is it surprising that it sold for $1,057,500?
“I was not surprised at all,” Richard Burdick exclaims. “An important coin of that kind of quality should bring more than a million dollars,” Burdick continues. “While the front grades MS-68, the back grades about MS-69! It is the most amazing territorial that I remember seeing and I have been a coin dealer for fifty years!”
In part 2, I will discuss paper money items and reflect upon auctions characterized by million dollar coins. Yes, I was present the first time that a coin was auctioned for more than one million dollars! It is truly a landmark that there were seven million dollar items in this one Central States auction extravaganza.
©2013 Greg Reynolds