Coin Rarities & Related Topics: The Rarities Night in Baltimore, Part 1
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #100
It seems appropriate for the one hundredth column in this series to be about a ‘Rarities Night’ auction event. My focus, of course, is often on coin rarities, rather than living people, history, coin related lawsuits, collecting trends, current U.S. Mint products, or bullion markets. On Thursday, March 22, the relatively new combination of Spectrum-Stack’s-Bowers (SBG) will conduct their second Rarities Night event, at the Baltimore Convention Center. Last year, I wrote five pieces about the first SBG Rarities Night.
I spent several hours viewing coins that will be offered this time. It is not my purpose here to summarize the contents of this Rarities Night offering, nor is it my intention to list the most expensive items. I have instead picked out items that I find to be desirable and/or interesting, or items that I suggest should receive more attention, for various reasons, than these may have otherwise received. Additionally, I often focus on areas in which an auction has a particularly impressive and/or particularly extensive offering. Herein, I cover patterns, colonials, Two Cent pieces, an 1839-O half, Proof Liberty Seated Dollars, and a few gold coins.
The broad assortment of patterns in this Rarities Night event should be noted. Many of the better patterns come from the Samuel Berngard Collection, which is excellent.
Yes, I know that just a small number of people collect patterns. I suggest, however, adding patterns to collections of regular issues. For example, a collector of Liberty Seated Quarters may wish to add alternate designs of seated quarters and/or quarter ‘patterns’ that were struck in other metals, like copper or aluminum. Also, consider that an 1864 Liberty Seated Quarter pattern, ‘With Motto,’ is in this auction. The ‘motto’ was not added to quarters until 1866. This 1864 ‘With Motto’ is PCGS certified ‘Proof-66 Deep Cameo,’ and is flashy.
This Rarities Night event contains a large number of silver dollar patterns struck in copper, some of which are identical or similar to regular Liberty Seated Dollars. An 1865, ‘With Motto,’ that was struck in copper is cool and very attractive. It is PCGS certified Proof-66. The designs of some other silver dollar patterns in this auction are quite different from the designs of regular issue Liberty Seated Dollars or Morgan Dollars.
This auction also contains several different aluminum patterns, including gold denominations. An unusual pattern Half Eagle ($5 piece) comes to mind. It looks nothing like any regular issue U.S. coin. A human head, which is unlike any found on regular U.S. coinage, is on the obverse (front) and the reverse features denominations of “5 DOLLARS” and “25 FRANCS” (lot #4196). This aluminum pattern is from the Berngard Collection. It is PCGS certified ‘Proof-65 Cameo’ and has a CAC sticker.
This ‘Rarities Night’ contains a noteworthy offering of colonial coins. A Bermuda Two Pence coin is PCGS graded ‘Fine-15.’ Although Juan de Bermudez sighted Bermuda in the early 1500s, George Sommers was very much involved in securing these islands for England in 1609. After Sommers died in 1611, the English Government re-named the islands of Bermuda after him, ‘Sommer Islands.’ Coins were introduced there in 1615 and 1616.
Over the years, I have seen quite a few Bermuda (Sommer Islands) coins of four of the five denominations. All those that I examined have serious problems. This one is better than average in terms of surface quality.
In this auction, there are two highly certified, ‘Large Size’ Pine Tree Shillings. The Massachusetts Bay Colony issued its own coins during most of the second half of the 17th century. These are dated 1652, though researcher Breen theorized that ‘Large’ Pine Tree Shillings were minted from 1667 to 1674.
While the NGC grades for these two Massachusetts Pine Tree Shillings are debatable, the NGC grade of “MS-61” for the first is fair enough, in my view. This coin has attractive gray, blue-gray and russet toning, and no readily apparent contact marks. Massachusetts silver coins often have mint caused imperfections and this piece had some even before it was struck. Even so, it is a pleasing and desirable representative of this issue. The other ‘Large’ Pine Tree Shilling in this Rarities Night event is NGC graded MS-62.
The most interesting pre-1793 piece in this auction is a New Hampshire Copper. It features a pine tree on the obverse (front of the coin) and a harp on the reverse (back of the coin). Evidently, the design of this piece matches the design specified in legislation passed by the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 1775. It is believed that New Hampshire Coppers were struck in 1776.
This same New Hampshire Copper was part of the epic Garrett Collection. It was auctioned by the firm of Bowers & Ruddy, a predecessor of the current Spectrum-Stack’s-Bowers combination, in the Bowers & Ruddy firm’s third Garrett Collection auction. In October 1980, it sold for $13,000. Numerous Garrett coins are now worth many multiples of the prices that these realized, respectively, at auctions in 1979 or 1980.
Before it was in the Garrett Collection for decades, it was in the collection of Matthew Stickney, who had an absolutely incredible holding of U.S. coins plus an outstanding group of pre-1793 American coins.
Matthew Stickney began collecting coins well before 1840. He and Joseph Mickley were among the first to systematically collect U.S. coins in a sophisticated manner. The auction of Stickney’s collection in 1907, by the firm of Henry Chapman, was an epic event.
This Stickney-Garrett New Hampshire Copper is PCGS graded Very Good-10. It has serious problems, from a technical standpoint. I found its light tan-brown color to be more original and more appealing than I expected its color to be. This is an item that looks better in actuality than it does in pictures. It is a piece, though, for history-minded collectors rather than quality-minded collectors.
III. Two Cent Pieces
The Two Cent pieces in this sale grabbed my attention. Last year, I wrote an article, primarily for non-wealthy buyers, on collecting Two Cent coins. This auction contains some prizes for affluent collectors.
Among Proofs, the 1864 ‘Small Motto’ issue is the key to the series. The one in this auction is PCGS certified ‘Proof-65 Red & Brown,’ meaning that experts at the PCGS determined that it exhibits a considerable amount of original mint red color. It certainly does! Further, this coin has a sticker of approval from the CAC, which indicates that experts at the CAC have judged its grade to be in the middle or high end of the 65 range. While it does not have the most powerful Proof characteristics, it meets the PCGS and the NGC criteria for an 1864 ‘Small Motto’ Two Cent piece to be a Proof.
This 1864 has terrific color, which is vivid and natural. There are shades of brown, tan hues, bright red areas, patches of magenta toning, and a neat ‘woodgrain-like’ area on the reverse. When tilted under a light, it is captivating.
I believe that this is the W. L. Carson coin, the exact same coin that Stack’s auctioned in Nov. 2010. It was then PCGS certified ‘Proof-64 RB’ and it then had a CAC sticker. The price realized, at the time, $63,250, suggests that leading bidders may have then graded it as 65 or even 66. It is not unusual for experts in attendance at a major auction to conclude that some coins offered are undergraded or overgraded, respectively.
Though I would feel more comfortable about it if it had stronger Proof characteristics, this coin has terrific color and eye appeal. It really dazzles. Additionally, its grade is above the midpoint of the 65 range, in my view.
In Nov. 2011, SBG auctioned another 1864 ‘Small Motto,’ one that is PCGS certified ‘Proof-64 RB’ and has a CAC sticker. It was in the Teich Family Collection, and had been ‘off the market’ for decades. The Teich Proof 1864 ‘Small Motto’ sold for $97,750. This coin is of higher quality than the Teich coin.
The Proof 1871 in this sale is an important condition rarity. It is PCGS certified Proof-67 Cameo with a ‘RD’ designation that indicates full original mint red color. This is the third time that Stack’s-Bowers has offered this same coin at auction over the past year. It was in the June and November 2011 auctions. While there is no doubt about the Proof status of this coin, it may not have sold in the past because it does not, in some technical-anal sense, exhibit full red color.
In my view, this coin is fortunate that it does not have full red color. Its colors are terrific. The reverse has too much green to be full red, though the natural shades of yellow-green and lime-green are very enticing. Further, the reverse has pleasing touches of magenta. The obverse, in contrast, has green hues in the inner fields, some tan-brown shades on the devices and a nice orange shield. Additionally, there are small blue areas on the central obverse device. Overall, the toning is balanced, natural and exceptional.
The Proof characteristics of this 1871 are much more powerful than those of the just mentioned 1864 ‘Small Motto’ Two Cent piece. The mirrors are complete, full and of medium depth. The numerals and dentils are mostly squared. Moreover, the bodies of the letters are much different from those on corresponding business strikes. There is no doubt that it was struck twice.
Perhaps this coin should have been certified ‘Proof-67 RB’ rather than “Proof-67 RD Cameo,” I have always been opposed, however, to the notion propagated by the PCGS and the NGC that a full red copper coin is necessarily more desirable than a ‘red and brown’ copper coin of the same numerical grade. Copper coins tend to naturally fade, anyway. Natural green and magenta tones on Proof copper coins should be cherished, and are not reasons to penalize a coin.
If I owned this 1871 and was planning to hold a set of Two Cent Pieces for a long time, I would not trade this Proof 1871 for a truly full red Proof 1871 of the same grade, if one exists. This coin is more than very attractive and is one of the more pleasing coins in this auction.
The rarest business strike issue in the Two Cent series is the 1872. One of the more highly certified 1872 Two Cent Pieces is in this auction. It is PCGS certified “MS-65+” with a full red designation. Further, it is in a PCGS SecurePlus holder. In addition, it has been approved by the CAC, which indicates that experts at the CAC regard is grade as in the middle OR high end of the 65 range. CAC experts ignore ‘+’ grades assigned by the PCGS or the NGC.
An 1872 that is PCGS graded “MS-65+” is worth much more than one that is PCGS certified “Proof-65+.” It is indisputable that this coin is a business strike. Even if it was removed from its holder and shown around without any explanation, no knowledgeable expert would think it is a Proof.
In Jan. 2011, Heritage auctioned a PCGS certified ‘MS-65 RD’ 1872 for $25,300. In March 2011, SBG auctioned a PCGS certified ‘MS-66 RD’ 1872 for $40,250.
An 1872 business strike is probably a scarce coin in all grades. One in Good-04 grade could be worth around $400.
IV. Special 1839-O Half
Even before I ever saw one, I have been fascinated by the 1839-O halves that Breen regarded as Proofs and the NGC certified as Proofs after Breen’s death. It is my understanding that the PCGS will not certify any of the four, which Breen authenticated and the NGC later certified, as Proofs. The CAC, though, has approved one, presumably indicating that experts at the CAC regard it as a Proof. I have seen three or four of the five that Breen says exist.
If experts at the CAC regard one as a Proof, then at least one other would be regarded as a Proof by them as well. My guess is that the CAC has rejected at least one Breen authenticated Proof 1839-O, not because of its Proof status, rather because experts at the CAC did not find it to be “solid” for its NGC assigned numerical grade.
As for the NGC certified ‘Proof-63′ 1839-O Reeded Edge Half Dollar in this auction, I have seen it twice before. It is the Byers coin. In my view, it is not a business strike and its grade is in the middle of the 63 range.
Miss Liberty’s hair and the reverse central device exhibit a light cameo contrast. This coin has fully reflective surfaces. The dentils, toothlike structures at the borders, on this coin are much different from the dentils on business strike Reeded Edge Halves. Plus, almost all of the design elements are sharper than corresponding elements on business strikes; some are in relatively higher relief.
It is possible that hairlines on this coin deter some experts from grading it as 63. For a special coin from this era, however, I find the hairlines to be minor. Besides, hairlines are more apparent on mirror-like reflective surfaces than on lustrous surfaces.
The toning, which is natural, is nice. This coin looks much better in actuality, especially when tilted under a light, than it does in catalogue images.
This half was in the epic collection formed by George ‘Buddy’ Byers. His set of half dollars was auctioned by Stack’s in Oct. 2006. Reportedly, this coin then realized $63,250.
In Sept. 2008, Heritage sold the Byers 1839-O for $149,500. In July 2009, Heritage auctioned this same 1839-O again, for $80,500. (Remember that a coin must be ‘off the market’ for at least five years to be fresh.) In Feb., 2012, Heritage sold the NGC certified Proof-65 1839-O, the Queller piece, for $299,000!
Are the 1839-O halves that Breen authenticated and the NGC certified truly Proofs? This is a topic that requires a separate discussion. As I said, though, I contend that this coin is not a business strike. Whether it is termed SP-63 or Proof-63, it is a special coin. I would prefer an SP-63 certification, though a Proof certification is fair enough, considering many of the less convincing 19th century “Proofs” of other dates that have been certified as “Proofs.”
Although I do not often write about modern coins, and I do not expect to see many moderns in a Rarities Night event, a Proof Franklin Half Dollar from 1950 captured my attention. While more than fifty thousand were struck, maybe only twenty-five thousand survive? Over the last thirty-five years, numerous significant silver coins were melted by people who did not understand them.
The Proof 1950 half to be sold during the upcoming Rarities Night is certainly a condition rarity. It is PCGS certified ‘Proof-67 Cameo’ and it has a sticker of approval from the CAC. I am puzzled that the PCGS has only certified around 3400 in all grades, including duplicate submissions, and the NGC, less than 2500! Were many Proof 1950 halves harshly cleaned in the past such that these are ungradable today?
In Proof-66 or higher, with or without cameo designations, the PCGS has certified less than 400 different 1950 halves. Probably fewer than twenty-two different Proof 1950 Franklins have been PCGS graded 67 or 67+.
The Proof 1950 Franklin Half Dollar in this auction has impressive Proof characteristics, truly grades 67, and is very attractive plus. Those assembling registry sets may focus on its cameo designation, as only a few certified Proof-67 1950 Franklins are so designated.
Evidently, a prepared blank (planchet) for a cent (penny) found its way into a coining press that was being used to strike Franklin Half Dollars. The obverse of this error depicts much of the obverse of a 1963 Franklin Half. Although the cent planchet got ‘flattened out’ beyond the diameter of a cent, it is still smaller than a half dollar. The reverse (back) is less attractive, though more interesting.
It seems likely that an already minted Franklin Half failed to be ejected from the press and was resting on the reverse die when a cent planchet landed on top of it. As a result, a mirror (inverse) image of part of the obverse of a Franklin Half Dollar appears on the reverse of this bronze item. While this bronze error was being made, it was forced to absorb some of the detail of the already minted Franklin Half beneath it in the press. (Click here for an explanation of a brockage.)
This Franklin bronze error is NGC certified ‘MS-67 RB.’ It has some original mint red and much appealing blue toning.
VI. Proof Liberty Seated Dollars
There is a sizeable offering of Proof Liberty Seated Dollars in this event. In general, I find that Proof Liberty Seated coins from the 1840s are not fully understood because these tend to have deep, natural toning. Coin experts should appreciate their natural lack of brilliance. If a Proof Liberty Seated coin from the 1840s is very bright, then there is probably something wrong with it. Deep, often hazy, russet, blue and gray tones are to be expected.
As for the Proof 1840 in this auction, I have seen it more than once before. I like it. I do not have an objection to the NGC grade of 63. This coin has not been doctored and it probably has never been dipped. It is attractive.
I am fond of the Proof 1845 silver dollar in this auction. It is fairly graded Proof-65 by the PCGS and is in a Secure holder. The medium to dark toning is pleasant. This coin was probably never cleaned and perhaps was never dipped. Indeed, I have seen this coin on at least three different occasions over the years and its toning seems stable. Gray and dark green hues dominate, though these blend nicely with blue and orange-russet colors.
There should be no doubt about the Proof status of this 1845 dollar. There is much evidence that it was struck twice. Also, when this coin is tilted under a light, full mirrors reveal themselves, including mirrored areas within the reverse shield.
I note an 1857 that is NGC certified ‘Proof-64 Cameo’ and has a CAC sticker. As a Proof-only issue, the NGC certified ‘Proof-65 Cameo’ 1858 dollar should be mentioned as well. There is also an 1859, which is NGC certified ‘Proof-66.’ I was not thrilled by these three.
Although I did not spend much time examining it, the NGC certified ‘Proof-66+’ 1862 is very attractive. There is no reserve on this coin. I did not like the Proof 1865 dollar.
In this sale, there are also Proof Liberty Seated Dollars of the following dates of the ‘With Motto’ type. I have placed their respective NGC grades in parentheses: 1867 (65 Cameo), 1869 (67*), 1871 (65 Cameo), and 1872 (65)
The 1872, I like. While its grade is in the low end of the 65 range, it ‘makes the grade’ and has attractive natural toning. This same coin was in a Spectrum-B&M online auction in May 2010, in which it realized $8568. Like most of the Proof Liberty Seated Dollars in this Rarities Night event, it is being offered without reserve.
Also, the 1867 business strike in this auction is a significant condition rarity. It is NGC graded MS-65. This specific coin was formerly in the collection of Rod Sweet, who was certainly serious about Liberty Seated coins. In my view, its grade is on the borderline between 64 and 65. The reverse is of much higher quality than the obverse. A 65 grade for this coin is defensible. Besides, it does not have any serious problems. It may be difficult to find a better 1867 dollar.
Unfortunately, it is practical to list only a few gold coins here. I will write more about this auction event after it occurs. There are many gold coins included.
The 1796 ‘No Stars’ Quarter Eagle in this auction merits close examination. It is NGC graded MS-62. It has some excellent characteristics and some troubling characteristics. I have followed coins of this issue, for years, and I suggest that there are not many that are better than this one. It is being offered without reserve. Despite its flaws, this is an extremely important one-year type coin. Indeed, it is the rarest of all U.S. types.
I should devote a separate article to the Parmelee-Mills-Eliasberg 1836 Quarter Eagle that is NGC certified ‘Proof-66.’ Though overgraded, this coin is interesting and important. I am not discussing the 1841 Quarter Eagle in this auction, which I really do not like.
The 1799 Half Eagle with large reverse stars is not bad. It is NGC graded MS-61. Although I would prefer a grade of MS-60, this coin is truly uncirculated and has fewer problems than most 18th century U.S. gold coins. Indeed, most of its imperfections are U.S. Mint caused, which are less serious, in my view, than problems caused by later, accidental or deliberate mis-treatment.
I forgot to view an 1839, ‘Type of 1838,’ Eagle ($10 gold coin) that is PCGS graded AU-53 and CAC approved. The rarity and aesthetic appeal of the type of Eagles that were struck in 1838 and 1839 are often overlooked. Plus, many of the coins of this type have moderate to serious problems. This could be an excellent addition to a type set.
Any highly certified 1879-CC Eagle commands attention. These are extremely rare in all grades. The PCGS graded AU-50 1879-CC in this auction is subject to a reserve of more than $40,000 (=$35,000+15%).
The 1872-CC, 1879-CC and 1882 Carson City Half Eagles in this auction are noteworthy as well. I just did not have time to view them.
I did view a very appealing 1884 Eagle. The reserve has already been met for this Proof. As of Monday night, the bidding level was over $25,000. It is PCGS certified “Proof-64 Deep Cameo” and has a CAC sticker.
The most important Double Eagle ($20 gold coin) in this auction is an 1876-S. In MS-64 and higher grades, Type Two Double Eagles (1866-76) are much scarcer than Type One Double Eagles (1850-66). Indeed, of all dates, there are probably fewer than sixty-five Type Two Double Eagles that truly grade MS-64 or higher. For Type One Double Eagles, there are more than 2500, and there are more than 25,000 Type Three Double Eagles that grade MS-64 or higher.
Collectors assembling relevant type sets demand three Liberty Head Double Eagles, one of each type. This 1876-S is one of the finest known Type Two Double Eagles. It is in a PCGS SecurePlus holder with a grade of MS-64+. Further, it is CAC approved. In my view, this coin scores very high in the category of originality.
This 1876-S has never been cleaned and probably has never been dipped. The carbon flecks and subtle natural copper areas are terrific. In addition, the light russet tones on the obverse central device (head of Liberty) and the various pale green overtones on this coin are soothing. This coin probably grades 64.6 or 64.7, mostly because of its originality. If it was to be dipped, its grade would probably drop to MS-63. I hope that it finds its way into a type set being assembled by a devoted collector.
It should be emphasized that I have discussed just a small number of the hundreds of rarities that will be offered during this event. I look forward to writing about other coins in this sale, next week.
©2012 Greg Reynolds