Coin Rarities & Related Topics: The Shrike-Karschner Set of Indian Head $2½ Gold Coins
News and Analysis on scarce coins, markets, and the coin collecting community #72
A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds
On Friday, Sept. 9, Heritage auctioned the Shrike-Karschner set of Indian Head Quarter Eagles ($2½ coins). It is an exceptional set. Karschner’s PCGS certified “MS-65” 1911-D, the key date in the series, went to a West Coast buyer for $54,625! An Extremely Fine-40 grade coin of the same date could be easily acquired for less than $4,000. Indeed, a whole set of Indian Head Quarter Eagles in EF-40 grade or better, including a 1911-D, could be assembled for less than $8000.
Herein, I discuss many of the coins in this set and the prices these realized at the auction, which was conducted at the Long Beach Coin, Stamp & Collectible Expo in California. Last week, I wrote about Al Boka’s large cents in the same auction event. I also discuss topics relating to the Shrike-Karschner set as a whole.
The series of Indian Head Quarter Eagles is the easiest set to complete of any type of U.S. gold coins. These were first minted in 1908 and last minted in 1929. While produced every year from 1908 to 1915, Indian Head Quarter Eagles were not minted again until 1925. Just fifteen coins are required for a complete set of business strikes and there are no rarities in absolute terms. Many of the issues, however, are condition rarities in MS-65 and higher grades (on a scale from 01 to 70).
The Shrike-Karschner set was of business strikes, not Proofs. I mention some Proof Indian Head Quarter Eagles in my recent review of the auction of the Waldman Collection.
Jerry Karschner assembled one of the all-time best sets of business strike Indian Head Quarter Eagles, which he named the “Shrike” set. Eleven coins are PCGS graded “MS-66” and four are PCGS graded “MS-65.” Six have stickers of approval from the CAC.
I. The Shrike 1914-D $2½ Gold Coin
The Shrike-Karschner 1914 Denver Mint Quarter Eagle was the most important coin in this set. The PCGS has not graded a 1914-D Quarter Eagle higher than MS-65. The total of “thirty-nine” that are said to have been PCGS graded MS-65 undoubtedly includes multiple counts of some of the same coins, which are repeatedly submitted. I would not be surprised if fewer than twenty 1914-D Quarter Eagles are currently PCGS certified as grading MS-65.
The Shrike-Karschner 1914-D is one of only three PCGS or NGC graded MS-65 Quarter Eagles that are CAC approved. I really liked this coin, though, before I even saw the CAC sticker. To an extent, I have trained myself to pickup a coin in a PCGS or NGC holder and focus immediately upon the coin without looking at the label. Frequently, I wish to form my own opinion without being subconsciously influenced by a coin’s certified grade or by CAC approval.
The Shrike-Karschner 1914-D is very attractive, mostly original, technically strong, sharply struck and impressive overall. Indeed, it is an excellent coin. The price realized of $43,125 is very strong, though unsurprising.
Don Kutz bought the Shrike-Karschner 1914-D. For many years, Kutz’s set has been the ‘number one all-time finest’ in the PCGS registry. “I bought the 1913 and the 1914-D from the Shrike set last week,” Kutz reveals, as Don “thought they were the two best coins in his set that may upgrade the ones I have.”
II. The meaning of this set
The Shrike-Karschner set of Indian Head Quarter Eagles was the second “current finest” such set in the PCGS Registry, behind that of Don Kutz, and is fourth on the “all-time” list. Only PCGS certified coins may be entered into the PCGS registry.
While it is true that many people collected Indian Head Quarter Eagles before the registry concept was developed less than fifteen years ago, few people sought out gem quality representatives of each date, coins that would grade “MS-65” or higher by current standards. As Indian Head Quarter Eagles are not rare in absolute terms, or even in grades through MS-64, collectors in the past, especially before the PCGS was founded in 1986, tended to be content with owning Indian Head Quarter Eagles that grade in the MS-62 to MS-64 range.
Historically, not a lot of thought was given to condition rarities of common date Indian Head Quarter Eagles. Generally, as Indian Head Quarter Eagles are so common, advanced collectors only paid attention to the key 1911-D or maybe the 1914-D. Before the 1990s, it was very unusual for a collector to search for superb representatives of all the other dates. Therefore, it is probably fair to say that the Kutz and Shrike-Karschner sets really are among the “all-time finest”! There just have not been many sets of gem Indian Head Quarter Eagles.
Jerry Karschner consigned his “Shrike” set of Morgan Dollars to the Jan. 2011 FUN auction. It, too, was highly ranked in the PCGS registry. There were formed, however, a large number of sets of gem Morgans in the 1970s and 1980s, and quite a few in earlier decades. So, the “all-time” PCGS registry set rankings of business strike Indian Head Quarter Eagles, from an historical perspective, are more significant than the “all-time” registry rankings of Morgans.
Karschner “started collecting in 1980. A friend owned a coin shop in my home town and sold the coin shop to me after he moved to North Carolina,” Jerry relates. He “also had an insurance agency at the time.”
“I have had the sets for many years and had fun building them but did not want to upgrade the sets any further,” Karschner explains. “Also, I may want to upgrade my airplane,” he declares. Jerry does, though, continue to collect coins.
III. The Shrike-Karschner 1909
I was not impressed by the Shrike-Karschner 1908, which is PCGS graded “MS-66.” The price realized of $14,950 is extremely strong, a great result for Jerry.
I have a favorable impression of the Shrike-Karschner 1909 Quarter Eagle, which is very original and very attractive. It is PCGS graded MS-66 and has a CAC sticker. Its grade is in the middle of the MS-66 range. It is not a ‘plus’ or premium quality coin. The grade of this 1909 is, in my view, just barely in the middle section of the MS-66 range. Even so, it is an excellent coin. Many collectors would be thrilled to own it.
The price realized of $20,700 is very strong, almost as much as another brought in the ANA Convention auction in Aug. 2008, when coin markets in general literally reached a long-term peak. I would have guessed that this 1909 would bring around $16,500.
IV. CAC Stickers
Six of Karschner’s Quarter Eagles have stickers indicating approval by the CAC. Such a sticker, though, does NOT indicate that the grade of a coin is necessarily very close to the next grade level, though it may be so. Furthermore, if experts at the CAC reject a coin, it is not necessarily because they determine that it is overgraded or doctored. If a coin is PCGS or NGC certified as grading MS-66 and CAC experts determine its grade to be in the ‘low end’ of the 66 range, it will not receive a CAC sticker.
To receive a sticker of approval, a coin’s grade must be, from the perspective of CAC experts, in the middle or high end of the range pertaining to its already certified grade. At this time, the CAC considers only coins that have already been certified by the PCGS or the NGC. CAC experts ignore plus grades. In another words, if a coin that is PCGS graded “MS-65+” receives a CAC sticker, experts at the CAC may have determined that its grade is just in the middle of the MS-65 range and not really a plus coin, or they may be in agreement that the coin’s grade is close to the MS-66 level. The assignment of a sticker itself does not reveal whether CAC experts regard a coin’s grade to be in the middle or the high end of the range pertaining to its already certified grade. The same green sticker is used for both mid range and high end coins. A gold sticker is sometimes awarded to coins that CAC experts determine are definitely undergraded. There are, though, some undergraded coins that have received green stickers, not gold stickers.
V. The Shrike-Karschner 1910
The Shrike-Karschner 1910 is one of the best coins in this set. Neither the PCGS nor the NGC has graded a 1910 Quarter Eagle as MS-67 or higher. My guess is that there only exist ten, at most, that I would grade MS-66. This is certainly one of them. In addition to being PCGS certified, it is one of only two certified MS-66 1910 Quarter Eagles that is CAC approved.
I very much like the Shrike-Karschner 1910. It is moderately brilliant with terrific natural toning, brassy hues and rich orange shades. It has never been cleaned or dipped. Indeed, it is fully original. Contact marks are minimal. It is an excellent coin overall that about makes it into the high end of the 66 grade range. While $25,300 is a solid retail price and thus a strong auction result, I suggest that the purchase of this coin is a good value. I do not remember ever seeing a better 1910 Quarter Eagle.
VI. The Shrike-Karschner 1911
The Shrike-Karschner 1911 Philadelphia Mint Quarter Eagle is also very appealing. It has naturally toned, with neat green and orange colors. A few medium scratches near the stars on the left of the obverse (front) of the coin keep this coin from grading at least a half-point higher. It is more than very attractive overall.
The 1911 is a condition rarity as very few have been certified as grading “66” or even “65+,” though quite a few have been certified as grading “MS-65,” including the Shrike-Karschner 1911, which is PCGS graded MS-65 and has a CAC sticker. The $6900 price is a good deal.
VII. The Rest of the Set
I mentioned the 1911-D already. The Shrike-Karschner 1912 sold for $24,150, less than other PCGS graded “MS-66” 1912 Quarter Eagles have realized at auction. Experts who actually viewed the coin, however, may agree that this price is not weak. The grade of this coin, in my view, is near or on the border between MS-65 and MS-66. I would prefer that it is graded MS-65+, though a MS-66 grade is not offensive. It is very attractive with nice orange toning. When tilted under a light, though, many annoying hairlines become apparent.
I am not sure about the Shrike-Karschner 1913. Certainly, the reverse (back) of the coin is excellent, with attractive natural toning. I would really need to see this coin again to form a firm opinion. There is no doubt, though, that it brought a strong price, $27,600. Coincidentally, this same coin brought the same strong price in the January 2010 Heritage FUN auction. Don Kutz viewed the Shrike-Karschner 1913 at the recent ANA Convention in Illinois and then bought it via “Heritage Live” last week.
The Shrike-Karschner 1914 is not exciting and its certified “MS-66” grade is debatable. Jerry should be happy that it sold for $46,000, a very strong price for this specific coin. It is true that this same exact coin was auctioned by Heritage for $40,250 in Jan. 2005 when it was in the FUN Convention auction in Fort Lauderdale. The $40,250 result was a startling price in Jan. 2005. This 1914 was then in the “H. R. Luchs Collection.” In the interim, it was owned by Don Kutz, whose name appears on the current PCGS holder. Karschner bought it from Kutz in 2010.
Curiously, in 2005, three 1914 Quarter Eagles were PCGS certified MS-66. Now, only two are PCGS graded MS-66. Was the third MS-66 grade 1914 upgraded by the PCGS to “MS-67”? The lone “MS-67” 1914 is in Kutz’s collection.
The 1914-D has already been discussed. It is the star of the Shrike-Karschner set.
Though only three 1915 Quarter Eagles have been PCGS graded MS-66, the grade of the Shrike-Karschner 1915 is in the low end, at best, of the 66 range, in my view. The scratches near the face are bothersome and the contact marks in the upper reverse fields are quite noticeable. Plus, it has been lightly dipped. This 1915 does, though, exhibit a cool beige-orange blend of color. It brought $40,250, a moderately strong price, more than the $37,375 amount that this same coin realized in March 2010.
I am not comfortable with the Shrike-Karschner 1925-D, which went for $9775. There are good reasons why other PCGS graded “MS-66” 1925-D Quarter Eagles realized more than this one, in previous auctions. The Shrike-Karschner Quarter Eagles that date from 1909 to 1913, and the 1914-D, of course, are much more desirable than the Shrike-Karschner Quarter Eagles from the 1920s, which are not impressive.
The 1926 sold for $11,212.50. This is a strong result, more than several other PCGS graded “MS-66” 1926 Quarter Eagles have recently brought at auction, and is nearly a retail price.
The Shrike-Karschner 1927 and 1928 are each PCGS graded “MS-66,” and the Shrike-Karschner 1929 is graded “MS-65.” The $11,500 result for the 1927 is an expected price for the holder. The $14,950 result for the 1928 is very strong. The $6900 result for the 1929 is strong, a solid retail price.
The Shrike-Karschner set fared very well at this auction. Even the ‘low end’ or questionably graded coins tended to bring prices in the retail range. Prices would have been higher and there would have been more excitement among bidders if the true, underlying grades of the coins were a little more solid for their respective certified grades.
Even ‘low end’ coins can be fun to collect. It is important for coin buyers to have some understanding of the coins that they are acquiring. I am not opposed to a carefully thinking collector KNOWINGLY buying a coin that is ‘low end’ for its respective certified grade or otherwise problematic.
Above all, coin buyers should receive honest advice from qualified experts and should enjoy fulfilling their collecting quests. While it is unrealistic and to some extent it is counter-productive for most collectors to seek to become advanced experts, collectors should have some idea as to the quality of the coins they are buying and should have a collecting plan. Karschner seems to have had clear collecting plans. Jerry likes Indian Head Quarter Eagles and certainly enjoyed building this set.
I enjoyed viewing this set. I emphasize that the 1909, the 1910, the 1911 and the 1914-D are all excellent coins that impressed me, as well as being well suited for their respective certified grades. The 1912, the 1913 the 1925-D and the 1926 are all very attractive, from an aesthetic perspective.
Building a gem set of Indian Head Quarter Eagles is not easy. Such a pursuit is not merely a function of spending money. Some collectors will not part with their coins, and other collectors, who own gems, are known to only one or two dealers. Excellent, accurately graded coins may be hard to find, especially condition rarities. Jerry Karschner deserves a good deal of credit for completing this set, which contains some truly memorable coins.
©2011 Greg Reynolds