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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: The Auction of the Irwin Waldman Collection

News and Analysis on scarce coins, markets, & the coin collecting community #70

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

The firm of Spink-Smythe auctioned Irwin Waldman’s collection of U.S. gold and silver coins during the evening of Wed., Aug 31st, in New York. Though Spink-Smythe will auction some coins from other consignors today, all of the coins that went ‘on the block’ last tonight were the property of Irwin Waldman. Of the 212 lots, 155 of them are comprised of single U.S. gold coins. Although his collection realized more than $850,000, it was assembled over a period of decades and, undoubtedly, cost much less than $850,000 to build. There were no reserves.

Andy Lustig was one of the leading bidders at the event. “The prices [realized] ranged from all the money to all the money and then some,” Lustig exclaims.

Scott Mitchell was an active bidder on many coins, though he succeeded in obtaining only one lot, an NGC graded “AU-58” 1876-CC $20 gold coin for $4700. “The prices were strong, retail prices. There were no bargains,” Mitchell declares.

Matt Orsini, the cataloguer, attributes the strength of the absentee bidding overall to the fact that Spink-Smythe showed the Irwin Waldman Collection at the ANA Convention in Illinois, earlier in August. Some serious bidders viewed Waldman’s coins there.

I. The Waldman Collection

I like the fact that all of the coins listed in one catalogue come from one consignor and there is a short biography of him in the front. This is not unique. I have attended several single-consignor coin auctions, including Eliasberg and Pittman sales. Even so, such a presentation is refreshing, as most coin auctions contain a substantial number of dealer-consignments. A single-consignor auction event, consisting of coins that were part of an organized collection that was assembled over decades, is newsworthy, even if most of the coins included are not of tremendous importance.

Waldman Coin CollectionWaldman did not own any Great Rarities or quarter-million dollar coins. His collection, though, is cohesive and organized. He had a long-term plan. Some coins seem to have been purchased in the 1980s and a few were acquired during the last three or four years. A substantial percentage of his gold coins were probably obtained in the 1990s.

While the collection was comprised mostly of gold coins, there were fifty-seven lots of U.S. silver coins, a few of which contained more than one coin. A collector in the New York Metropolitan area, who may be a part-time dealer, bought a substantial number of the vintage commemorative half dollars in the Waldman collection. He was the underbidder on others.

Waldman’s commemoratives brought substantially more than I expected. There were many in PCGS holders that date from the 1980s. A book bidder beat Andy Lustig to capture a PCGS graded “MS-65” Gettysburg Half Dollar for $780! Another book bidder bought a “MS-65” 1922 Grant Half Dollar for $1020.

Waldman’s world coins and other numismatic items will be auctioned by Spink-Smythe in the future. As almost all of the silver coins in this sale are relatively common and are not particularly newsworthy, I focus on Waldman’s gold coins.

Waldman collected 20th century Quarter Eagles ($2½ gold coins) and Half Eagles ($5 coins) ‘by date. (I discuss the term ‘by date’in last week’s column.) Furthermore, he assembled a nearly complete set of Proof Indian Head Quarter Eagles. For the most part, though, Waldman was collecting 20th century business strike Quarter Eagles, Half Eagles and Eagles, plus 19th century Double Eagles. Below, I review a small number of these, not necessarily the rarest or the most expensive.

It is not my intention to provide a fair sample of all the 155 gold coins in his collection. Instead, I seek to mention a selection of coins that are newsworthy or otherwise noteworthy for one reason or another.

Waldman acquired Liberty Head Quarter Eagles, Half Eagles, Eagles and Double Eagles from the 1900 to 1908 time period, in addition to Indian Head gold coins. Usually, the term ‘Early 20th Century Gold’ refers to the gold series that started in 1907 or 1908, not to the Liberty Head pieces that were minted from 1900 to 1908. It seems that Waldman focused upon pre-1933 20th century U.S. gold coins in a more literal sense, coins dated from 1900 to 1932. (I am assuming that he was unwilling to buy a 1933 Eagle, which would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.)

It is clear that Waldman collected Indian Head Quarter Eagles (1908-1929), Half Eagles (1908-29), and Eagles ‘by date.’ He obtained two ‘No Motto’ (pre-1866) Eagles and one 19th century (with) ‘Motto’Liberty Head Eagle, presumably as type coins. His only Proof gold coins were Indian Head Quarter Eagles.

Curiously, Waldman seemed to be collecting Type Two (1866-76) and Type Three (1877-1907) Liberty Head Double Eagles ($20 gold coins) ‘by date,’ though he was very far from completing a set of either type. He had a few Saint Gaudens Double Eagles, of non-rare dates, which are not newsworthy. Also, Waldman had one vintage commemorative gold coin, a 1926 Sesquicentennial Quarter Eagle that is NGC graded “MS-65,” which realized $2745. All in all, Waldman had a notable collection of 20th century U.S. gold coins and some important 19th century Double Eagles.

II. 1870 $20 Gold Coin

1870 $20 Double Eagle Gold CoinAmong business strikes, the star of Waldman’s collection is an 1870 Philadelphia Mint Double Eagle that is NGC graded “MS-63.” It brought $46,100.

This issue is scarce in all grades and extremely rare in MS-62 and higher grades. This is likely to one of the four finest known 1870 Double Eagles. Charles Vaganis was the leading bidder at this sale and he failed to buy this coin, though he “loved it.”

The Waldman 1870 is a really neat coin. It had great color and luster. The fields have a wonderful texture and glisten. The eagle on the reverse (back of the coin) is frosty. When tilted under a light, this coin exhibits much personality.

The heavy, small contact marks are not numerous and would be consistent with a higher grade. The reverse is just fabulous. I would be surprised if the lone 1870 that the NGC had graded “MS-64” has more eye appeal than this coin. Indeed, I wonder if it superior to this coin. The PCGS does not list any 1870 Double Eagles as grading MS-64 or higher. This coin should be appreciated in actuality. I just cannot completely describe it here.

III. Liberty Head $20 Gold Coins

Waldman’s 1866-S Type Two Double Eagle is NGC graded “MS-61.” Although this issue is not rare in circulated grades, a relatively small number have been certified as grading “MS-60” or higher. Neither the PCGS nor the NGC currently report one being graded higher than “MS-62.” There must be substantial bidder interest in this particular 1866-S. While it has issues, it is lustrous and better than some others that have been so certified. Even Andy Lustig, a relatively conservative grader, grudgingly acknowledges that “it is accurately graded.” It sold for $21,950, a strong price.

The Waldman 1867 is also NGC graded “MS-61.” Though it has been dipped in something besides a typical acid solution, it is a lively coin, with much luster and dynamic surfaces. Vaganis bought it for $5562.50.

Waldman’s 1867-S and 1868-S Double Eagles are sort of average quality, at best, for their NGC assigned grades of “AU-58.” The 1867-S went to a book bidder for $6712.50, a little more than I expected it to bring. The 1868-S realized $4125.

I like Waldman’s 1869-S. Though it had its imperfections, it had a really neat look to it, a soothing mellow appearance. I am accepting of NGC’s grade of “61.” It brought a moderately strong price of $11,600.

The Waldman 1872-S is NGC graded “MS-61” and is attractive for a certified MS-61 Double Eagle. It is certainly more appealing than I expected it to be. It is not unusual for 1872-S Double Eagles to be ‘very much beat up’ or to be heavily cleaned. It might not be easy to find an 1872-S Double Eagle that is substantially better than this one. Waldman’s 1872-S garnered $4700, a fair price.

The 1872 Carson City Mint Double issue is scarce and popular. Waldman’s 1872-CC is not impressive, though it is genuine. It sold for $21,950, a very strong price for this specific coin.

The 1902 San Francisco Mint issue is very common and easy to obtain in grades up to MS-63. It is moderately rare, however, in MS-64 and higher grades. Waldman’s 1902-S is PCGS graded “MS-64” and its grade is in the middle of the MS-64 range. It has subdued cartwheel luster. This 1902-S scores high in the category of originality. It is more than attractive overall, and quite likable. It sold for $8725, a healthy price.

IV. Regular Indian Head $2.5 Coins

Although Waldman’s Proof Indian Head Quarter Eagles are presented after his business strikes in the Spink-Smythe catalogue, my impression is that Waldman mixed Proofs and business strikes into the same set of Indian Head Quarter Eagles. Before the 1990s, it was very common for collectors to mix Proofs and business strikes in the same sets. Eliasberg did so, as did the Norweb family.

Waldman’s set of business strike Indian Head Quarter Eagles is complete accept for the 1912 and 1914 Philadelphia Mint issues. He does, though, have these two dates in Proof format. As 1912 and 1914 business strikes are so easy to find, and as he had duplicates of many dates in the series, it is logical to suggest that he regarded his set of Indian Head Quarter Eagles as complete, with his 1912 and 1914 Proofs negating the need for business strikes of these two dates.

The key business strike in the series is the 1911 Denver Mint issue. Waldman had two, both of which are NGC graded, one as “MS-63” and the other, “AU-58.” The first sold for $16,775 and the second, $4987.50, both strong prices, given the quality of these two coins. (The prices realized cited herein are preliminary.)

One of Waldman’s more desirable business strikes is a 1929 that is PCGS graded “MS-64.” It is not rare and, in terms of prices for classic U.S. gold coins, it is not expensive. This is the last year that Quarter Eagles were minted in the U.S. This coin is sharply struck, is moderately brilliant, had neat orange toning, and is very much original. I like it. The Waldman 1929 Quarter Eagle sold for $1200.

V. Proof $2½ Gold Coins

Waldman’s set of Proof Indian Head Quarter Eagles ($2½ gold coins) is the most interesting part of his collection. Of the eight coins needed for a complete run, dating from 1908 to 1915, Waldman had seven of them. For one reason or another, he did not acquire a Proof 1915 Quarter Eagle. Perhaps he was waiting for one of his favorite dealer-agents to find a likable 1915 for him.

Coin experts and/or very experienced collectors of gold coins often come to appreciate Matte Proofs after years of viewing coins, largely because these are so different and distinctive. Indeed, a coin enthusiast may sometimes ‘acquire a taste’ for Matte Proofs over time, even if he or she does not like them at first. When Matte Proof gold coins were minted from 1907 to 1915, collectors were then disappointed and disapproving.

All seven of Waldman’s Proof Quarter Eagles are NGC certified. His 1908 is graded “67,” as his 1914. Waldman’s 1909 and 1910 are each graded “65.” His 1912 and 1913 are each graded “66.” His 1911 is one of just a few Proof ‘Quarter Eagles that is NGC graded “68” and it sold for $48,975.

VI. Proof 1908 $2½ Gold

1908 Matte Proof $2.50 Gold CoinI have seen a large number of both business strike and ‘Matte Proof’ Indian Head Quarter Eagles and this 1908 stands out as an extremely cool item. Matte Proof gold coins of 1908 tend to be much darker than those struck in most other years. Frequently, Matte Proof Gold is described as being olive in color, though this description would apply to only a few issues, While many later date Matte Proofs are of a light to medium mustard color, this and other original 1908s are more of a grayish ‘Dark Goldenrod’color. This coin’s color and texture are had to describe. I am sure, though, that more than a few experts who have seen many Matte Proof gold coins, of the 1907 to 1815 era, would find this coin to be intriguing or at least entertaining.

Tragically, there is one conservation service that has modified coins such as these and turned them blonde. It is fortunate that the color and texture of the Waldman 1908 Proof Quarter Eagle are very much original.

Researcher Breen states that 1911 “Proofs have [a] dark matte finish similar to 1908” [1988 encyclopedia, coin 6333, p. 503]. In my view, original Proof 1908s are typically even darker than original Proof 1911 Quarter Eagles.

As for whether the Waldman 1908 deserves its certified grade of “67,” I am not commenting. As before, I suggest that collector-bidders hire experts to evaluate auction lots for them. This Proof had more imperfections than I would like to see in a 67 grade Proof Quarter Eagle. The overall impact of the cool original, dark finish and the deeply impressed, excellent strike, though, is very favorable. It was certainly struck twice, with substantial force. This 1908 sold for $37,475, a mildly strong price for this coin, which perhaps includes a premium for its originality.

VII. Proof 1912 $2½ Gold

The Matte Proofs of 1912 and 1913 are much different in finish from those minted earlier and different from Proof 1914 and 1915 U.S. gold coins. (On this point, I suggest referring to books by Breen, Garrett & Guth, and David Akers.)

Fortunately, the Waldman Proof 1912 Quarter Eagle had original color. A good sign that Matte Proof gold coins have original color, though not a conclusive indicator, is the presence of a small number of dark ‘microdots.’When coins are treated with acid mixes or other chemicals, such microdots are often obliterated. Furthermore, Matte Proofs of 1912 and 1913 have innumerable, subtle facets, which cannot be simply described. The overall appearance of these coins is curiously pleasing.

The obverse (front) of the Waldman 1912, by itself, would grade 67! The reverse had a couple of minor scratches. A 66 grade for the whole coin is fair. It would be a great addition to a type set of Proof gold. The $26,550 result is reasonable.

VIII. Indian Head $5 Coins

Waldman’s set of Indian Head Half Eagles ($5 gold coins) is missing several dates that he could easily afford to buy. Further, he had duplicates of others. I was planning to review Waldman’s Indian Head Half Eagles again, though Hurricane Irene prevented me from doing so.

The 1913-S is common in medium grades and is a condition rarity in MS-64 and higher grades. Waldman’s 1913-S is PCGS graded “MS-64.” Andy Lustig remarks that it is “a mid-range 64.” I find its grade to just barely be in the 64 range. It does have more than a few hairlines, some of which are distracting. Even so, the Waldman 1913-S is very brilliant and has nice natural orange toning with touches of blue. Three bidders at the auction told me that they each found the Waldman 1913-S to be very attractive. I agree that it is attractive and likable. Plus, it is superior to at least a couple of the other 1913-S Half Eagles that have been certified as grading “MS-64.” Charles Vaganis bought it for $28,850, a fair price.

While the 1929 Half Eagle is much scarcer overall than the 1913-S, it is less of a condition rarity in MS-64 and higher grades. Waldman’s 1929 is PCGS graded “MS-64“ and sold for $46,100, a very strong price.

Even though the 1914 Philadelphia Mint issue is a common date, I like Waldman’s 1914 Half Eagle. It is very attractive and solid for its certified grade of MS-64. It brought $4412.50, a healthy price.

IX. Type Coins

The Waldman collection contained several especially appealing type coins. I mention a few here.

$10 Indian Gold CoinsWaldman’s 1908 Liberty Head (not Indian Head) Half Eagle is PCGS graded “MS-63” This is the last year of the Liberty Head Design Type, which dominated U.S. gold coinage since 1840, or earlier, depending upon how gold types of the late 1830s are defined. In any event, this 1908 is very appealing. It sold for $1200, a strong price.

The 1909 Denver Mint Indian Head Half Eagle is a common coin. Collectors assembling type sets, though, often choose common coins. Moreover, expanded type sets sometimes include a representative of each Mint that produced coins of a given type. For a Denver Mint Indian Head Half Eagle, the Waldman 1909-D is especially nice for its certified grade of “MS-63.” It realized $3205, and was perhaps purchased by someone who is aiming to attempt an upgrade, though I hope that a collector bought it.

A 1901 Eagle ($10 coin) that is PCGS graded “MS-63” is very common. This one, though, is very likable. It scores highly in both the categories of eye appeal and originality. It sold for $1920 to a dealer, who will probably ‘crack it out’ of its present holder.

The first three lots in the sale, Waldman’s three Liberty Head Quarter Eagles, are all appealing. Indeed, the first one is quite an eye opener. It is a 1903 that is PCGS graded “MS-66.” It had never been cleaned and probably had never been dipped. This 1903 is original and exceptional. Though very common, it is a great type coin. It sold for $1860, a somewhat strong price that is understandable to those who have seen this specific coin.

The second lot is also a 1903 Quarter Eagle, though it is PCGS graded “MS-62.” It is appealing for a gold coin that is fairly certified as grading “MS-62.” It went for $630.

Another variation of type collecting is to assemble a 20th century gold type set, including both Liberty Head and Indian Head types, while ignoring more expensive 19th century types. For a collector taking such a route, the auction of the Waldman collection presented many opportunities. Such coins, though, are available in many other auctions and from dealers.

Perhaps, long ago, Irwin Waldman decided to collect gold coins dating from 1900 to 1932 and he stuck to this objective. He assembled a satisfying collection. Although I am unaware of their respective identities, I am not certain that his favorite dealers are grading experts. I suggest that collectors seek the advice of experts and learn at least a little about the physical characteristics of coins.

©2011 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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