News and Analysis on scarce coins, markets, and the coin collecting community #65
A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds
While Heritage has been organizing 'Platinum Night' events for more than six years, the relatively new Spectrum-Stack's-Bowers combination will conduct this firm's first 'Rarities Night' on Thursday, Aug. 18, at a convention center in Rosemont, Illinois, near Chicago, during the ANA Convention. It is the flagship session of the official ANA auction, which includes a wide variety of numismatic items and goes on for days. It is just not practical for anyone to review the whole ANA auction extravaganza. I am concentrating on the Stack's-Bowers 'Rarities Night' and this is just the first part.
I. Special Nights for Rare Coins
The mere fact that Spectrum-Stack's-Bowers is the second firm, after Heritage, to host such an event is 'news.' A 'Rarities Night' or a 'Platinum Night' contains coins that are very valuable and/or are exceptional in some way. Exceptional characteristics include physical rarity, condition rarity, popularity, unusual aspects, being part of an extremely important set, and/or just coins that are the highest certified for their respective issues.
As I really cannot carefully and thoroughly examine every single rarity that is offered, bidders should not rely exclusively upon comments that I put forth in my articles. Sometimes, I really need to look at a coin more than once to draw a firm conclusion. Questions are welcome. As usual, I suggest consulting experts and learning about coins before bidding large amounts.
I had planned to write about the Heritage pre-ANA Platinum Night event as well. It is scheduled to be held at a hotel in Chicago on Friday, Aug. 12th. I have not, though, seen many of the coins that Heritage will then offer. It seems that I neglected to make an appointment for lot viewing and Heritage lot viewing in New York was crowded and brief. In contrast, Stack's-Bowers maintains two locations in New York. I am glad that Stack's-Bowers had four days of lot viewing in New York.
Yes, when I have not seen an important coin myself (and often even when I have), I ask sources who are expert graders, including major bidders. They are not always available for long conversations around the time of a Summer ANA Convention, however, and they are usually reluctant to reveal their views prior to an auction. Many collectors, in contrast, wish to read about an auction before it occurs. Generally, I aim to write about 'news' as events unfold as well as analyze auctions afterwards.
Many times, including in last week's column, I have written about coins only to later regret what I wrote after I have actually viewed the coins. I then would like to withdraw some of the positive remarks that I wrote about specific coins, and add positive remarks regarding others. When I view the coins that will be offered in an auction event, my choices as to which coins to write about are different from, and better grounded than, the selections that I would make if I was unable to view many of the coins offered.
Importantly, viewing a large number of coins in a particular auction provides an impression of the quality and 'look' of the coins offered that is not conveyed in pictures. Moreover, it is important to consider whether coins are 'high end' or 'low end' for their respective certified grades. A coin can be wonderful and be 'low end' or overgraded in the opinions of most experts (though few experts will publicly acknowledge the overgrading of a specific coin.) Plus, there are some coins that I really do not like that are fairly graded.
While I often find coins that are very apparently, moderately to heavily dipped to be irritating, I feel a need to be honest and acknowledge that many of these are fairly graded 65 or 66 in accordance with grading criteria employed by the PCGS or the NGC. While originality adds to a coin's grade, and dipping does not directly, a recently dipped silver coin that is sharply struck, vibrant, lustrous, and has minimal hairlines and contact marks will often receive a high grade. Several factors are incorporated into the determination of a coin's grade. To be honest, in many circumstances, I must employ prevailing grading criteria without incorporating my opinions as to how grading criteria should be defined.
II. Osburn's Half Dollars
The Dick Osburn Collection of Liberty Seated Halves represents a tremendous achievement and will 'leadoff' the first 'Rarities Night' event. Collecting any series of Liberty Seated coins 'by date' is not easy. Such an undertaking requires time and patience in addition to money, plus a form of dedication.
Liberty Seated Halves were minted from 1839 to 1891, every year in Philadelphia, and, in various years, New Orleans, San Francisco, and/or Carson City, Nevada. While Osburn's set is really of business strikes, some Proofs and patterns are included in the Osburn collection. Many of Osburn's halves are among the most highly certified of their respective dates. (The term 'date' here refers to both the year on the coin and the location of the Mint that manufactured it, within the context of a series of a particular type.)
The Osburn 1851 is one of my favorites in his set. It is deservedly graded MS-65 by the NGC. It is very attractive and has excellent natural toning, with blue and green shades over brown-russet on the obverse (front of the coin). The reverse (back) is characterized by light and mellow russet-tan shades with patches of green and red. The Osburn 1851 is really very attractive. My guess is that this is one of four finest known 1851 half dollars, which are rare overall or nearly so. There is no reserve on the Osburn 1851.
The 1878-S is the key date in the series of business strike Liberty Seated Half Dollars. Fewer than sixty survive, including the ungradable. The Osburn 1878-S has a fabulous pedigree. Indeed, according to the cataloguer, it was previously in the William Atwater, Reed Hawn and Douglas Noblet collections. The Atwater collection is one of the twenty greatest collections of all time of classic U.S. coins. Reed Hawn's collection of half dollars is legendary.
This 1878-S is PCGS graded MS-63 and it has a sticker of approval from the CAC. In my view, its grade is in the very high end of the 63 range. The toning is definitely natural and the contact marks are not significant for a 63 grade coin. If it were a more attractive coin, it would certainly merit a higher grade. It is terrific for a certified MS-63 Liberty Seated Half, and I recommend it. Due to a reserve, at least $132,250 will be required to obtain this 1878-S during 'Rarities Night.' Also, there is another 1878-S half in this same auction, a PCGS graded Fine-15 1878-S that is not from a named consignment. More than three percent of all 1878-S halves are thus in this auction.
I will review other Osburn halves on Saturday. The point here is to provide an overview of the 'Rarities Night' with mentions of a variety of items included.
III. Copper Coins
I have not had a chance to review the copper coins that will be sold on 'Rarities Night.' There is just too much silver and gold to see.
Two 1793 half cents are in the sale, the first is NGC graded “MS-60.” Mark Feld, an expert grader, has a positive impression of it.
The second was formerly in the collections of Harold Newlin and the Garrett family. Although PCGS graded “AU-53,” and not one of the finest known 1793 half cents, the Newlin-Garrett pedigree makes this coin much more interesting than it would otherwise be. Newlin was a famous and influential collector in the 19th century. The Garrett family had one of the all-time greatest collections, if patterns, pre-federal items, U.S. coins and territorials are all somehow factored into a single equation to rate collections.
An NGC graded “AU-58” 1794 half cent is especially important in that 1794 half cents are sometimes considered to constitute a one-year design type and thus a 1794 half cent is needed to complete many type sets. Other half cents in this sale are primarily of interest to specialists in this series and cannot be briefly explained here.
Although this sale will not be remembered for large cents, a Holmes 1793 Wreath Cent should be mentioned. It is PCGS graded “MS-65” and is in a PCGS Secure holder. In the past, it was NGC certified “Specimen-65.” It sold for $264,500 when the Goldbergs offered Dan Holmes' early dates in Sept. 2009.
I have seen this Holmes Wreath Cent. It is not a Specimen striking and even the term 'prooflike' may be inaccurate. Even so, it is struck in a slightly higher relief than many other Wreath Cents. Some of the devices are better formed than usual. Other than a hairline on the face, there are no readily apparent hairlines or contact marks. A few faint hairlines in the right obverse field would probably only be noticed by coin experts. Generally, the fields are naturally smooth. There are aspects, though, of this coin that are difficult to explain. A prospective bidder should really consult a top expert in large cents to attain an understanding of this Wreath Cent.
In regard to the PCGS certified 'Proof-64' Matron Head 1821 Large Cent in this sale, I have seen it before and I like it. I am under the tentative impression that it also was earlier in the William Atwater collection, like the 1878-S half that I already mentioned.
I am not prepared to comment on the Proof small cents to be offered in this 'Rarities Night' event. Undoubtedly, numerous collectors of Proof Flying Eagle, Indian or early Lincoln Cents will be interested.
IV. Medals and Pre-Federal Items
There is a very impressive assortment of medals and pre-federal items in this sale. Unfortunately, all these cannot be practically explained in an auction preview.
This sale contains a particularly noteworthy, small group of the silver coins produced by John Chalmers in 1883. He was a silversmith in Maryland. Remarkably, a 'Long Worm Shilling' from “the Howard Collection [was] purchased privately from Don Taxay in the 1970s.” The cataloguer further states that a “paper envelope with Taxay's original notes [is] included” with this lot.
Don Taxay was a widely recognized writer and researcher, in the 1950s and 1960s. He later disappeared. Rumors suggest that Taxay joined a religious cult in India. In any event, this shilling is PCGS graded “MS-61” and is CAC approved. Is it the finest privately owned shilling of the 'Long Worm' variety?
Although this sale contains two copper Libertas Americana Medals of 1782, a famous 1826 Erie Canal Medal in silver, and other historical items, the most noteworthy medal or similar object in this sale relates to the sinking of the S.S. Central America, the most famous shipwreck in the history of the U.S. (Click here for some historical information about this shipwreck and the coins found onsite.) A large percentage of the uncirculated Type One Double Eagles ($20 gold coins) that are known came from this shipwreck, especially thousands of 1857-S Double Eagles.
In “100 Greatest American Medals and Tokens” (Whitman, 2007), Katherine Jaeger and Q. David Bowers state that the “SS Central America medal was commissioned by the [State] of Virginia to honor its fallen son, William Lewis Herndon, captain of the ill-fated side-wheel steamer SS Central America, who went down with his ship” (page 60). This book indicates that one or two are known in 'white metal,' three to five in copper and two or three in silver, plus one in gold was struck and may no longer exist.
The medal to be sold during 'Rarities Night' is one of the two currently known in silver. It will be sold with a document relating to the medal that was struck in gold for Captain Herndon's widow. The other known in silver was formerly in the Garrett collection and may be owned by a California collector.
This medal itself is in a small case. When I opened it, I was startled! This medal was struck in amazingly high relief, much higher than that of an Ultra High Relief 1907 Double Eagle. I have never seen anything quite like it. Moreover, the natural toning is very colorful and this medal is enticing overall. I may never forget it.
V. Half Dimes
I have yet to carefully examine the 18th century half dimes in this auction. There are, though, some desirable 19th century half dimes being offered.
The Pittman 1805 Draped Bust Half Dime is important. John Pittman spent around a half-century assembling a collection and his U.S. coins were auctioned by the firm of David Akers in 1997 and 1998. In July 2005, Heritage auctioned this same coin for $18,400.
The 1805 issue is very rare in all grades! The Pittman 1805 is PCGS graded AU-53 and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. This coin has excellent natural toning and minimal imperfections. It is more attractive than most AU-50 to -55 grade bust silver coins.
A Proof 1829 Capped Bust Half Dime is noteworthy. This 1829 has attractive and colorful natural toning. While the toning is a little deep, I point out that such deep, rich toning is traditionally desirable in the culture of coin collecting. This half dime is NGC graded '64' and its grade is in the middle of the 64 range, though I admit that I did not spend a lot of time inspecting this coin. I am more interested in its Proof characteristics than its numerical grade, anyway.
This 1829 is a true Proof. It was stuck twice, though just barely so. It was probably not stuck three times, though some other Proof Capped Bust Half Dimes were struck three or four times. The level of detail, the mirrors, some relatively squared devices and other factors all contribute to this coin's Proof status. This was the first year of Capped Bust Half Dimes and it is surprising that both Proof and business strike 1829s are not more popular.
This exact same Proof 1829 was auctioned by Heritage in Tampa in Jan. 2011, though it was then in a different NGC holder with the same grade. A 'crackout artist' may have tried and failed for a 65 grade for this coin.
In this 'Rarities Night' auction, there is also a cool 1852 New Orleans Mint Liberty Seated Half Dime. It is NGC certified 'MS-65 Prooflike' and it has a CAC sticker. This 1852-O is truly prooflike. Indeed, the substantial reflective surfaces are dynamic. The reverse (back) has much less toning than the obverse (front) and the white inner fields really glisten.
The fact that Miss Liberty's head is very weakly struck is more bothersome in pictures than it is when the coin is viewed in actuality. After having been moderately dipped a while ago, perhaps decades, the obverse (front) has naturally retoned in a very pleasing manner. Indeed, this half dime is very attractive and has minimal technical imperfections. If it were not for its flat head, it would easily merit a 66 grade. It is very appealing 'as is'!
In general, 1852-O half dimes are rare in all grades. Perhaps only two hundred exist that have been, or would be, determined to be gradable by the PCGS or the NGC. Some collectors of relatively low grade, circulated Liberty Seated Half Dimes trade prefer coins that are not certified. Another fifty ungradable 1852-O half dimes may exist.
At some point, I may write more about the half dimes in this auction. There are, though, coins in several other categories that merit coverage.
This 'Rarities Night' event features a terrific group of patterns, mostly from the Richard Jewell collection. Some of the more esoteric items are little hard to explain. A hub trial of an Indian Cent from the 1860s is a highlight. It is an especially interesting pattern.
“From the Raji Collection,” there are copper patterns of gold denominations. It seems that “Raji” was acquiring coins and patterns during the 1980s and the 1990s.
The most famous pattern in this sale is Raji's 1877 Half Union ($50 gold denomination) of the 'Large Head' variety. If $50 gold coins had been produced for circulation in the 1870s or 1880s, then these would have been called 'Half Unions.' Though this pattern is an NGC holder, it has also been PCGS certified as 'Proof-64 Brown.' Additionally, it has a CAC sticker.
I examined it. This pattern becomes cool when it is tilted under a light. Full, colorful mirror surfaces then come alive. When tilted, the greenish-blue tints on the obverse (front) really shine, and the reverse (back) turns vibrant orange and red with green hues about the devices.
There are only two Half Union patterns that were actually struck in gold and both of these are in the Smithsonian. Including representatives of both varieties, which are very similar, there exist more than fifteen copper Half Unions, some of which are gold plated (gilt). The 'true' copper pieces, in my view, have a more natural and appealing appearance than the gilt Half Unions. This 'Raji' piece was formerly owned by William Woodin and later F.C.C. Boyd. More recently, it was in an auction in 1983 that was conducted by the firm of Steve Ivy, according to the cataloguer.
“Raji” has two different 1859 Paquet Double Eagle ($20 gold) patterns. The Paquet obverses are interesting. Some “regular” Double Eagles of 1861 feature a Paquet reverse along with the standard obverse design.
This offering of patterns will be best remembered for Richard Jewell's phenomenal collection of patterns that were struck in aluminum. There are too many to mention here. He has copper, silver and gold denominations in aluminum, including strikings with regular issue dies and strikings of alternate designs, especially the famous Amazonian series.
The Amazonian quarter is one my favorite patterns and Richard Jewell has one in aluminum. He also has an Amazonian Half Dollar and a silver dollar pattern in silver. Further, Jewell has several Amazonian gold denominations in aluminum and/or copper. Jewell's Amazonian gold denomination patterns in aluminum tend to grade 66 or higher and a few are extremely enticing. Typically, aluminum patterns have technical problems; several of Jewell's are amazingly pristine.
I attended the auctions of the Rogers Fred, Harry Bass, Rothschild, 'Jones Beach' and David Queller collections of patterns. The Jewell collection has the most appealing group of aluminum patterns that I have ever seen in one auction event.
VII. Famous Gold Rarities
On Saturday, I will discuss dimes, quarters and a few more halves in this 'Rarities Night' event. In part 3, I will discuss gold coins. The two most significant gold coins in this sale are an 1821 Half Eagle ($5 gold coin) and an 1875 business strike Eagle ($10 gold coin).
Before addressing those two, I mention the Baldwin 'Horseman' 1850 Eagle, as it is also important and is very valuable. The 'Horseman' is an extremely famous California, gold rush era, type. It is a privately issued, territorial $10 gold coin, with an unusual and attractive design. Most territorials were designed to be similar to regular U.S. gold coins of the mid 19th century; the 'Horseman' type is different.
This 'Horseman' Eagle is NGC graded “MS-64.” Is it the same coin that Superior offered in Sept. 2008?
The “Raji” 1821 Half Eagle was “privately purchased from Stack's [in] April 1983,” the catalogue says. It is thus very fresh. I maintain that the 1821 Half Eagle issue is a Great Rarity, as fewer than twenty-five exist, including the ungradable.
The “Raji” 1821 is NGC graded AU-55 and is CAC approved. While it is not a dynamic coin, it is especially pleasing in its own way. In my view, the “Raji” 1821 could easily merit a 55+ or possibly even a 58 grade. Mark Feld finds it to “very nice looking” and its grade to be a “premium quality 58”! Feld was a full-time grader for the NGC in the 1990s.
In regard to business strike 1875 Eagles ($10 gold coins), David Hall suggests that just seven or eight survive. Saul Teichman, however, maintains that there are more than a dozen business strikes and, a while ago, Saul transmitted his findings regarding this issue to Ron Guth at the PCGS. The 1875 in this auction is PCGS graded 'AU-53+' and no uncirculated 1875 Eagles are known.
The 1875, the 1933 and the 1795-9 leaves are the three rarest Eagles overall. There is a 1795 Eagle with nine leaves in this 'Rarities Night' event. I will discuss it next week.
©2011 Greg Reynolds