The First Stack’s-Bowers Auction, Part 2, Gold Coins
News and Analysis of scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #48
A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds
As I reported last week, the first live auction conducted by the new Spectrum-Stack’s-Bowers entity was held in Baltimore at the end of March and the beginning of April. In last week’s column, I discussed copper and silver coins in the auction. The topic this week is U.S. gold coins. These were auctioned on April 1st. For those who are generally puzzled by coin auctions and prices realized, please see my recent column on the meaning of auction prices. The gold coins in this auction seemed to have come from a large number of consignors and I am not focusing upon any one collection. I discuss herein a variety of important, interesting, curious or otherwise newsworthy gold coins of all standard gold denominations.
I. $1 Gold Coins
Gold Dollars were minted from 1849 to 1889. There was an assortment of them in this sale.
An 1851 Gold Dollar that is PCGS graded MS-66, sold for $6613. Another 1851 Gold Dollar, one that is PCGS graded MS-67 (on a scale from 01 to 70), and is in an old PCGS holder, sold for $20,125. “This one was just beautiful,” Jeff Ambio exclaims, “solid Superb Gem quality.”
Ambio has written four books on U.S. coins and a fifth, on Peace Dollars, will be finished shortly. Furthermore, Jeff has catalogued numerous rarities for auction houses and leading coin dealers. Although Ambio is a cataloguer for Stack’s-Bowers, I am herein citing remarks that he communicated to me, after the auction. I am not citing from the auction catalogue.
An 1853 in this sale was appropriate for a ‘not so affluent’ collector seeking a nice Type One Gold Dollar. It brought $276.
This 1853 Gold Dollar is PCGS graded AU-55 and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. Ambio reveals that “it is a fresh coin new to a holder, as is the case with all the gold in the Glenwick Family Collection.” For a coin to be ‘fresh,’ it must have been ‘off the market’ for five to seven years, or more.
Type Two Gold Dollars are scarce overall, and are highly demanded by collectors seeking to assemble type sets. In contrast, it is very easy to find Type One and Type Three Gold Dollars for type sets.
An 1855 Type Two Gold Dollar in this auction is PCGS graded MS-64+. Ambio asserts that “this one is all there [for the grade], and it has the added plus, no pun intended, of a sharp strike and no clashmarks.” Ambio strongly agrees with the “64+” grade. Furthermore, an anonymous source, who has earned a living from grading (and not writing) for many years, agrees that this coin’s grade is a “true 64+” and he finds that the “PCGS is using plus signs well, not over-using.” This Type Two Gold Dollar realized $13,800.
A Proof 1867 Gold Dollar in this auction is perhaps more important than most collectors realize. While it is often stated that anywhere from twenty to thirty Proofs of this date survive, I suggest that there could be just seventeen to twenty-one.
The Proof 1867 Gold Dollar in this auction is NGC certified Proof-65 Ultra Cameo” and it is CAC approved. Even so, I have heard, from more than one source, that it is not predicted that the PCGS would grade it as 65. My impression is that the price realized of $17,263 is reasonable to slightly strong.
II. $2½ Gold Coins
Among the offerings of Quarter Eagles ($2½ gold coins), there were a few rarities that commanded attention. Quarter Eagles dated 1804, with 14 stars on the reverse (back), are very rare and are popular. (The 13 stars variety is much rarer.) Importantly, it is very hard to find pre-1808 gold coins of any date (or 1808 Quarter Eagles) that have appealing, mostly original surfaces.
The 1804 Quarter Eagle in this sale is PCGS graded AU-58 and has a CAC sticker of approval. Doug Winter is enthusiastic about this coin. Winter says that it is a “really nice, really pretty, fresh, original coin, and is solid for the grade.” This 1804 sold for $31,625, which is “ten percent more than [Winter] would have thought” it would bring. Similarly, Jeff Ambio asserts that this 1804 Quarter Eagle “is just all there, solid for the grade, strong eye appeal and a rare issue to boot.” In regard to this coin, Doug and Jeff both employed the phrase “solid for the grade” without being aware that the other had done so.
An 1859 Quarter Eagle in this sale commanded attention as it is the highest certified of this date. It is NGC graded “MS-67.” Doug Winter exclaims that it is probably the “finest known for the date, a really nice, outstanding coin.” This 1859 sold for $46,000. Heritage auctioned an NGC graded MS-67, 1859 Quarter Eagle in Jan. 1998 for $21,850, probably this same coin.
An 1864 Quarter Eagle realized the exact same price, $46,000, though not because it is the finest known. Philadelphia Mint Quarter Eagles of 1864 are much rarer than those of 1859. Indeed, business strike 1864 Quarter Eagles are extremely rare.
The 1864 Quarter Eagle in this auction is PCGS graded AU-55 and has a CAC sticker. “The surfaces on this coin are quite heavily abraded with a considerable number of scuffs and other marks,” Jeff Ambio states, “but it is still an 1864 quarter eagle. For the issue, it is original enough, and try to find a better one in an AU [PCGS or NGC] holder. It is definitely one of the nicest examples of the issue that I have ever seen,” Ambio relates.
Doug Winter “thought it was nice. The marks are not totally out of keeping for the grade. Just three uncs are known. I have handled two of the three and I have seen the third, the Byron Reed” 1864 Quarter Eagle. This 1864 is “one of the two or three best circulated 1864 Quarter Eagles I have ever seen,” Winter continues. “This date is finally starting to be appreciated for its rarity” by gold coin buyers in general, not just “by specialists.” Winter declares that $46,000 is a “very strong price for that coin. A couple of years ago, it might have brought $20,000 to $25,000,” Winter adds. Doug had guessed that this 1864 would sell for $35,000 to $40,000.
I, this writer, found that this exact same 1864 Quarter Eagle was auctioned in the August 2010 ANA sale in Boston. It was then PCGS graded AU-53 and was in a PCGS Secure holder. (Please read my suggestions for improvement of the PCGS SecurePlus program.) The price realized in Aug. 2010 was $40,250.
There were a few Proof Liberty Head Quarter Eagles in this auction. It would not make sense to list all of them here. I mention two, as examples, an 1889 that is NGC certified ‘Proof-66 Cameo,’ and has a CAC sticker, realized $28,750 and an 1894, NGC certified ‘Proof-64 Ultra Cameo,’ sold for $8050. Also, this auction contained numerous common, or slightly better, date Liberty Head Quarter Eagles that are certified as grading MS-65 or higher.
III. $3 Gold Coins
The offering of Three Dollar gold coins was noteworthy. An 1872 that is NGC graded “MS-61” realized $4456. Among business strikes, the 1873 is one of the key dates in the Three Dollar series and an 1873 that is PCGS graded MS-61 brought $23,000.
A Proof 1864 Three merits discussion. While Proof 1864 Threes are very rare, there are other Proof issues in the series that are notably rarer. Probably, twenty-two to twenty-eight Proof 1864 Three Dollar gold pieces survive. In business strike format, 1864 Threes are very rare, and the rarity of business strike 1864s adds a little to the demand for Proof 1864 Threes.
The Proof 1864 Three Dollar gold piece in this auction is NGC certified ‘Proof-64 Cameo’ and has a CAC sticker. It sold for $54,625, a very strong price. The Henry Miller piece, which is also NGC certified ‘Proof-64 Cameo’ with a CAC sticker, brought $51,750 in January 2011. The Miller piece and this one are different coins.
Proof 1864 Threes are much rarer than Proof 1885 Threes. An 1885 in this auction is NGC certified ‘Proof-67 Cameo’ and it has a sticker of approval from the CAC. It realized $74,750 and I am not sure how to interpret this price. Certified 67 grade Proof Threes are condition rarities for all dates. Doug Winter states that $74,750 is “about the right price. The coin was nice.”
IV. $5 gold coins
There were some desirable Bust Right Half Eagles ($5 gold coins) in this auction. These tend to be popular as they date from the early years of the U.S. Mint and are not that rare, in most cases, nowhere near as rare as the Capped Head Half Eagles of the 1820s and 1830s.
A 1795 Half Eagle with a ‘small eagle’ reverse (back) is especially interesting. Many 1795 Half Eagles have a ‘small eagle’ reverse so this is not the reason why it is interesting. It is regarded as genuine by graders at the NGC, but was denied a numerical grade because of “scratches.” The label, paper insert, in its NGC holder indicates that it has the “details” of an AU grade coin. As pre-1808 U.S. gold coins tend to have been victims of harsh cleanings, repairs, or various forms of coin doctoring, bidders probably wondered if this non-graded 1795 Half Eagle had serious problems. Several sources indicate to me that it does not have multiple serious problems, just scratches that are not particularly severe.
“This one has a shot at a real holder” with a numerical grade, Jeff Ambio declares, “as it is an early five and the scratches are not all that bad.” Similarly, Doug Winter states that “other than the scratch on the reverse at 6:00, it was really nice, [and would grade from] 55+.” In Winter’s view, this is an appealing coin for a collector. Doug does “not think” that $31,050 “is an unfair price, a little bit strong,” Would most collectors prefer a gradable Very Fine-30 1795 Half Eagle or one with a few scratches that has the sharpness of an AU-55+ coin?
An 1800 Half Eagle in this auction is NGC graded MS-63 and realized $28,075. Jim McGuigan concludes that this is “a strong price.” None of the experts that I asked is tremendously enthusiastic about it. Some of the Bust Half Eagles in this auction had significant issues.
An 1837 Classic Head Half Eagle caught my attention because it is from the Dr. Albert R. Frederick, Jr. Collection, which contained many excellent silver coins. Please see last week’s column for discussions of several of the coins in this collection. The Frederick 1837 is in an old PCGS holder, is graded MS-61, and has a CAC sticker. It garnered $6498. The Numismedia.com retail value is $5380.
Another 1837 Classic Head Half Eagle, this one from the Glenwick Family Collection, is in a PCGS Genuine holder. It failed to receive a numerical grade because of serious problems. It sold for $633.
I did not find the run of Liberty Head Half Eagles in this auction to be exciting. While the offering of Indian Head Half Eagles was not particularly newsworthy, I found myself wondering about a few of them.
A 1908-S Indian Head Half Eagle is PCGS certified MS-64 and has a CAC sticker. In my view, 1908-S Half Eagles are more important than most dealers and collectors realize. In MS-63 and higher grades, the 1908-S is much scarcer than many of the other dates in the series. Jeff Ambio maintains that this 1908-S is “a very nice coin for the grade.” It sold for $10,038, which I take to be a very strong price, certainly a retail price.
In “mint state” grades overall, the 1908-S is much scarcer than the 1909. In this auction, a PCGS graded MS-65 1909 sold for $13,800, a healthy price. Ambio was not thrilled by this coin.
For a collector of early 20th century gold who cannot afford to spend four figure amounts on single coins, the 1916-S Half Eagle in this sale may have been a good value. It is PCGS graded AU-55 and CAC approved. It brought $633. “Just a great collector coin,” Ambio says.
V. $10 gold coins
Like early Half Eagles, Bust Eagles ($10 gold coins) are very popular. While rarer than such Half Eagles in total, Bust Eagles are available. Type coin collectors can find them without spending years on searches. Indeed, there are several in this auction and they are found in most major coin auctions throughout each year. Back in 2007, I wrote an article on the rarity of 1795 Eagles, in which I discussed the popularity and rarity of this issue.
In this auction, there was a 1795 Eagle that is PCGS graded VF-35. “Even though the coin has a rim bump on the top of the reverse,” Jim McGuigan states, this coin is desirable. Though I, this writer, have probably never seen this coin, my guess is that the auction result of $37,375 is somewhat strong.
On behalf of a collector-client, McGuigan was the successful bidder for the next lot, a 1799 Eagle that is NGC graded MS-61+. This coin sold for $31,625.
McGuigan was glad that he found this 1799 Eagle to be “really mint state, strictly uncirculated.” It is not unusual for coins that are certified as 61 or 62 by grading services to have a little friction on the highpoints, which sometimes came about when coins were handled by collectors. McGuigan adds that it was “moderately dipped in the past and is now a light to medium gold color.”
McGuigan’s customer collects “early tens by [die] variety.” This is of the rare BD-2, Taraszka-14 variety. It differs from similar minor varieties of 1799 Eagles, mostly due to the placement of some of the stars on the obverse (front). Only a small number of people collect minor varieties of Bust Eagles. More people collect major varieties of 1799 Eagles, which relate to the size of the stars and not their exact locations.
The 1803 Eagle from the Dr. Albert R. Frederick, Jr. Collection was the most talked about U.S. gold coin in this auction. It is PCGS graded MS-63, is in an old holder, and has a CAC sticker.
Jim McGuigan remarks that it has “good luster and no rub on the highpoints.” He likes the ‘look’ of the coin, but McGuigan is “turned off” by some scratches under and close to the eagle’s right wing. Although I have not seen this 1803 Eagle in actuality, an inspection of a high resolution image suggests that these scratches are not of tremendous importance and are likely be consistent with the overall certified grade of MS-63, in my tentative view.
Doug Winter, Jeff Ambio and Mark Feld all very much like this 1803. “It was a highly vibrant, original looking” coin, says Feld, who was “particularly impressed” by it.
Ambio remarks that this 1803 Eagle has “great luster, nice surfaces, good strike and color and just exceptional eye appeal. It’s all there, and then some.”
“Absolutely exceptional,” Winter exclaims, “very fresh, off the market for fifteen or twenty years. My favorite coin in the whole sale,” Winter declares, “just gorgeous, the sort of quality on early gold that you very rarely see anymore.”
As for the price, McGuigan was in the room when this 1803 Eagle was auctioned. “It opened at $57,500, and there were at least three bidders,” McGuigan says. It sold for $126,500!
Winter regards this price as “extremely strong.” Doug would have “guessed a significantly lower” auction result. Feld was stunned. It “brought roughly $50,000 more than [Feld] thought it would.”
Overall an 1883-O Eagle is rarer than an 1803 Eagle. Indeed, some collectors do not know that 1883 New Orleans Mint Eagles are extremely rare coins. Doug Winter estimates that thirty-five to forty-five are known, in all grades.
The 1883-O in this auction is NGC graded AU-53 and is from the David Solomon collection. No one suggested to me that this coin’s grade is in the ‘high end,’ or even in the middle, of the AU-53 range. Even so, any 1883-O Eagle is important.
Earlier in 2011, an NGC graded AU-55 1883-O Eagle was auctioned for $63,250. Winter finds the price realized, on April 1, of $67,333 to be “extremely strong. Three years ago, I sold a really nice AU-58 for $40,000 and my customer thought I was being aggressive,” Winter reveals.
VI. $20 gold coins
This auction will not be remembered for Double Eagles ($20 gold coins). Even so, there were a substantial number of desirable Double Eagles and a few that may be newsworthy. A PCGS graded MS-63 1873-S is important.
In MS-63 and higher grades, Type Two Double Eagles are much rarer than Type One Double Eagles. An 1873-S is a Type Two Double Eagle, a type that was produced from 1866 to 1876. The PCGS has graded only three 1873-S Double Eagles as MS-63 and the PCGS has not assigned a higher grade to an 1873-S. “This one I like,” Ambio states, “original and attractive for the grade.”
The price realized for this 1873-S is $27,888. The PCGS price guide value is $22,500 and the Numismedia.com retail value is $25,310. Usually, the auction of a specific coin is successful if it realizes a price in the retail range rather than a price at the wholesale level.
In MS-63 and higher grades, the 1878 Double Eagle is not nearly as much of a condition rarity as the 1873-S and it is a Type Three Double Eagle. It is easy for a type coin collector to find a MS-63, -64, or -65 grade Type Three Double Eagle. Even so, choice ‘MS’ 1878 Double Eagles are rare and there were two PCGS graded MS-63 1878 Double Eagles in this auction.
The first 1878 was in an old holder with a green label, and is CAC approved. Readers of last week’s column may be unsurprised to learn that it is “from the Dr. Albert R. Frederick, Jr. Collection.”
Winter states that this 1878 has “really rich luster and very smooth surfaces for the date. One of the two or three best 1878-P twenties that I have ever seen,” Doug says.
Jeff Ambio finds this 1878 to be “original, attractive and [exceptionally] appealing for the grade.” It realized $21,850, well above the PCGS price guide value of $15,000. Winter expected it to sell for less than $20,000.
The second PCGS graded MS-63 1878 Double Eagle realized $11,500, and is of lower quality than the first. About two weeks earlier, Heritage auctioned an NGC graded MS-63 1878 for this exact same price of $11,500.
I almost reached the end of an auction review without mentioning a coin struck at the Carson City, Nevada Mint. As CC coins are very popular, and quite a few are rare, I typically mention at least one in an auction review.
There were two 1884-CC Double Eagles in this auction. One is PCGS graded AU-58, with a CAC sticker. It was from the Glenwick Family collection and it went for $4313.
The second 1884-CC, which is said to be from the “Nevada” collection, is more newsworthy. It is PCGS graded MS-63 and also has a CAC sticker. “Nice, certainly one of the better examples of the date that I have ever seen,” Winter says about this 1884-CC. The PCGS has graded four as MS-63, which may not all be different coins, and none have received a higher grade from the PCGS. The CAC has approved just forty-two 1884-CC Double Eagles in all grades and this is the single highest graded 1884-CC that is CAC approved.
This 1884-CC realized $27,600, which I contend is a strong price. The PCGS price guide value is $27,500. The Numismedia.com retail value is $25,990. At a Feb. 2010 auction in Long Beach, CA, another PCGS graded MS-63 1884-CC was auctioned for $25,300.
My overall impression is that this auction went well. Most scarce or rare U.S. coins sold for moderate to strong prices. Stack’s-Bowers conducted a mammoth auction, in terms of the number of lots and the variety of material offered. Collectors were certainly drawn to the event.
In last week’s column and in an earlier column on the Henry Miller collection, I list factors that contribute to some coins faring better at auction than others. As I suggested last week, the U.S. coin sections of this auction event will be best remembered for the Denny Kemp and Dr. Albert Frederick collections. Generally, the offering of U.S. silver coins in this auction was much more impressive than that of U.S. gold coins.
©2011 Greg Reynolds