Coin Rarities & Related Topics: The Top Ten Auction Records for Coins & Patterns
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #150 …..
Last Thursday, I was present when the Carter 1794 U.S. Silver Dollar realized $10,016,875, a world record for a coin sold at auction. As the auction result for this 1794 dollar is unlikely to be surpassed by the public sale of any coin in the near future, it is now appropriate to list the top ten auction results, worldwide, for individual coins or patterns.
Although I am extremely confident regarding my analytical reports of U.S. coins and patterns, I am not analyzing the sales of ancient pieces or islamic coins. Indeed, for coins minted before the year 1000 and sales of them, I have gathered information from several sources and not interpreted the pieces or the auction results myself.
I am very familiar with the auction houses here in the USA, and I often have information regarding the consignors of and bidders for million dollar coins. Indeed, I know many of the bidders personally. As for auction records set in Europe, I report data that I honestly believe to be accurate, though no representation is being made here regarding the accuracy, fairness or completeness of information coming from auction firms in Europe.
Orders, decorations and medals are being excluded from this list, as it is about coins and patterns that directly relate to coins. To qualify for this list, a coin or pattern must have sold for at least $2,760,000 or the equivalent in U.S. Dollars at the time of the respective auction. While I knew that a Brasher Doubloon and 1804 dollars would be included, I was surprised by a few of the coins that made the top ten. The preparing of this list turned out to be a more interesting project than I thought that it would be.
10. Ultra High Relief $20 Gold Pattern
The most famous and desired of all U.S. patterns are Ultra High Relief (UHR) Saint Gaudens $20 gold pieces of 1907. Probably, nineteen to twenty-one pieces exist.
These are demanded by many collectors, not just specialists in patterns. Indeed, on many occasions, UHR Saints have been obtained by collectors of gold type coins or of business strike Saint Gaudens Double Eagles. There are no other U.S. issues that were struck with such amazing relief and depth of fields. Plus, President Theodore Roosevelt was extremely interested in UHR Saints.
On Friday, June 29, 2012, the firm of Stack’s-Bowers auctioned the Trompeter-Morse Ultra High Relief (UHR) $20 gold pattern for $2.76 million. As this exact same piece had earlier been auctioned, on Nov. 4, 2005, for a reported price of $2.99 million, I am registering it in this list in accordance with its most recent price, and not listing it twice. For a detailed discussion of this specific piece’s history and physical characteristics, please read my analysis that was published on July 4, 2012. (Clickable links are in blue.)
9. ‘Punch on Chest’ Brasher Doubloon
On Jan. 12, 2005, in Fort Lauderdale, Heritage sold the “Gold Rush Collection,” which contained two Brasher Doubloons. These were made by a famous silversmith in New York in 1787. The exact nature and meaning of these gold pieces are subject to debate among researchers, though there is no doubt that they have been highly cherished by coin collectors for more than 150 years.
There are seven known Brasher Doubloons, six with an “EB” punch on the eagle’s wing and this one with the punch on the eagle’s chest. Additionally, there is one Brasher Half-Doubloon in the Smithsonian and there exist two “Lima Style” copies of Doubloons of the Spanish Empire that have been attributed to this same silversmith, Ephraim Brasher. The term ‘Doubloon’ usually refers to eight escudos gold coins of Spain and the Spanish Empire. (For an explanation of such denominations, please see my article on gold coins as world currencies.)
This Brasher Doubloon was NGC graded Extremely Fine-45 in the 1990s and later PCGS graded AU-50. On Jan. 12, 2005, it realized $2.99 million. Steve Contursi, the successful bidder, owned two-thirds of the coin and Don Kagin owned one-third, as I reported in Numismatic News newspaper soon after the sale. In Dec. 2011, as mentioned on CoinWeek, John Albanese arranged for this gold piece to be traded privately.
7 (Tie). Mickley-Hawn-Queller 1804
Fifteen ‘1804′ U.S. Silver Dollars exist, though none of them were struck in 1804. Seven of these fifteen are currently in museums.
Joseph Mickley and Matthew Stickney were among the first, if not the first two, collectors to systematically collect many series of U.S. coins, in copper, silver and gold, ‘by date,’ with the intention of building sets. They each owned 1804 silver dollars. Reed Hawn was one of the most famous coin collectors of the late 20th century. This 1804 silver dollar was purchased by David Queller, for $522,500, at a Stack’s (New York) auction in October 1993. Queller built a large collection of U.S. coins and patterns, over a period of more than three decades.
In April 2008, Heritage auctioned Queller’s set of silver dollars. Though most experts grade this 1804 at a level less than 60, the Mickely-Hawn-Queller 1804 silver dollar was certified as “Proof-62.” It sold for $3,737,500. An East Coast collector, who had not viewed the coin in advance, purchased it via the Internet.
7 (Tie). Olsen-Hawn 1913 Liberty Nickel
In the same Stack’s auction of Oct. 1993 that featured the Mickley-Hawn 1804 dollar, the Olsen-Hawn 1913 Liberty Nickel sold. Dwight Manley, then a partner of Spectrum Numismatics, was the successful bidder, for $962,500.
On Jan. 6, 2010, Heritage sold this nickel for $3,737,500, as I reported on CoinLink. I then discussed the bidding at that auction and the history of this nickel. It suffices to say here that just five 1913 Liberty Nickels exist, all struck as Proofs. This one is PCGS certified “Proof-64,” and has a sticker of approval from the CAC.
In April 2013, Heritage will auction, without reserve, another 1913 Liberty Nickel. The heirs of George Walton have decided to sell, after allowing the coin to be exhibited by the ANA for around nine years. The Walton 1913 was recently certified as “Proof-63” by the PCGS.
6. Pantikapaion (c. 350-300 B.C.) Gold Stater
On Jan. 4, 2012, in New York City, the London firm of Baldwins, with partner-firms, auctioned a gold coin from the ancient Greek society of Pantikapaion, which included an important city and port. The city of Kerch in the Ukraine is now at the same location.
Most previous reports in the media of the sale of this coin mentioned the hammer price. It seems that the true price realized was $3,802,500. My impression is that this piece is almost uncirculated (AU) and has few contact marks. It weighs 9.12 grams, about 10% more than the weight of a U.S. Half Eagle ($5 gold coin).
On the front, this coin features a bearded head of a Satyr, a minor figure in Greek mythology. The back depicts a griffin, a fictional creature with the body, back legs and tail of a lion, along with the head and wings of an eagle. An ear of grain on the back is important as grain was a major product of Pantikapaion. The well being of the society declined from 300 to 200 BC as business people in North Africa exported substantial quantities of grain to the region now known as Ancient Greece.
5. Russia: 1704 Pattern Silver Rouble
Though literally just a baby, Ivan VI was emperor of Russia, at least in theory, from late October 1740 to early December 1741. Few coins and patterns were issued in his name. One is more valuable than the rest; it is a pattern rouble struck at the St. Petersburg Mint in 1740. This silver pattern weighs 25.78 grams, a little less than a United States Morgan or Peace Silver Dollar.
During the afternoon of Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, at a hotel in Zurich, the Swiss firm of Sincona auctioned an Ivan VI silver rouble pattern for the equivalent of US$3,858,850. Evidently, a collector who owned it in the past stamped or engraved a couple of small letters into the rim. Images suggest that it is probably naturally toned and may have the sharpness of an Extremely Fine-40 grade piece. The cataloger for Sincona cites just two different pieces of this issue as having been auctioned over the past century.
This pattern was part of the most complete, private collection of the silver and copper coins and patterns of the Russian Empire to have been assembled during the 20th century. The collection contained more than 9000 items, most of which have not yet been sold. Sincona will conduct additional auctions of coins from this collection.
4. The Oman-Childs 1804 Dollar
On Aug. 30, 1999, in New York City, Bowers & Merena sold the coin collection of the Childs family, which had been quietly held in Illinois for decades. B&M (New Hampshire) was then managed by Q. D. Bowers and Christine Karstedt, who later founded ANR.
Among other rarities, the Childs Collection contained an 1804 silver dollar of the first “class” or category. ‘Class I’ 1804 dollars were minted in 1834 or 1835 and intended for presentation to foreign monarchs as part of “1834” Proof Sets. Evidently, this 1804 dollar was in the set that was, in fact, presented to the Sultan of Oman (“Emir of Muscat & Oman”). Oman is a nation at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. It shares a border with Saudi Arabia.
I have examined almost all 1804 dollars that plausibly grade above 60 and the Childs coin is the highest quality 1804 dollar that I have ever seen. Prior to being auctioned in 1999, it was graded “68” by the PCGS. David Akers was the successful bidder and Jay Parrino was the underbidder. Scott Travers was a serious bidder as well. Akers was acting on behalf a dedicated collector in the Southwestern United States.
3. Islamic Umayyad Dinar, 105h (circa 723 AD)
This gold coin was auctioned by the firm of Morton & Eden, in association with Sotheby’s, at the Sotheby’s gallery in London, on April 4, 2011. It sold for £3,720,000, an amount which was then equivalent to between 6.0 and 6.1 million U.S. Dollars. Admittedly, I do not understand this coin.
A dinar was a standard denomination in many societies in ancient and early medieval times. This specific gold coin weighs 4.28 grams, about 0.1376 troy ounce. It is thus slightly heavier than a U.S. Quarter Eagle ($2½ gold coin).
According to the cataloger for Morton & Eden, in my words here, there are two subtypes of dinars that were presumably made from gold originating from the “Mine of the Commander of the Faithful.” Those of the first group were minted around 711 AD. Eight are “reliably reported,” including one in that same auction, which sold for £648,000, an amount that was then equivalent to about 1,047,000 U.S. Dollars.
Ten or eleven of the second subtype are known, including this $6 million coin. Only a few of these are owned by individuals. This subtype, according to the cataloger, “is of particular significance in that it is the first Islamic coin to mention a location within the present Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” Although the dies were prepared in Damascus, there is some debate as to where coins of this issue were struck, possibly by a traveling mint at various sites.
2. The Fenton 1933 Double Eagle
Though often referred to as the Farouk 1933 Double Eagle ($20 gold coin), it was never proved that Stephen Fenton’s coin is the same 1933 Double Eagle that King Farouk once owned. Someone in Europe or Asia who wished to sell a 1933 Double Eagle may have wanted potential buyers to think it was the Farouk 1933 Double Eagle, and may have found a dealer who previously handled some coins that Farouk certainly did own in the past. In the 1940s, an export permit was issued for a 1933 Double Eagle to leave the United States and be delivered to King Farouk. In the U.S., permits were needed for the export or import of any gold coins during that time period.
Fenton and the U.S. Treasury Department became involved in a legal battle in the 1990s, which went on for years. Fenton was unable or unwilling to bear the financial and/or other burdens of a trial and thus agreed to a settlement with the U.S. Treasury Department, which maintained that it was illegal for Fenton to possess any 1933 Double Eagle. The deal required that the coin be auctioned. Fenton and the U.S. Treasury Department split the proceeds apart from the auction commission. (It is relevant that I wrote articles on the more recent Switt-Langbord case regarding additional 1933 Double Eagles, an analysis of the issues and my interpretation of the result of the trial.)
On July 30, 2002, in New York City, Sotheby’s, in cooperation with Stack’s, auctioned the Fenton 1933 Double Eagle ($20 gold coin) for $7,590,020. David Redden was the auctioneer. The buyer was not really a coin collector.
1. Specimen Striking 1794 Silver Dollar
On Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned the Cardinal Collection of large cents, the Knoxville-Cardinal 1792 half disme, and the Carter 1794 silver dollar, which is fairly PCGS certified ‘SP-66.’ (Please click to read my detailed analysis of the importance, rarity and special nature of this silver dollar.)
At the auction, Laura Sperber was successful with a bid of $10,016,875 (=$8.525 million + 17.5%). The firm of Legend Numismatics is the buyer of record for this coin. Sperber and Bruce Morelan are the two principals. I do not anticipate any other coin selling at auction for even as much as $8 million in the near future.
It is interesting that the first coin to be auctioned for more than $1 million was a nickel, the Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Nickel in May 1996, and the only coin to be auctioned for more than $10 million is made of silver. Indeed, note four silver pieces and one nickel on this list. Non-collectors and beginning collectors are often under the false impression that gold coins are necessarily more valuable than relevant silver, copper or nickel coins. My next column concerns large cents, from the Cardinal Collection, expensive copper coins which were auctioned this same night.
©2013 Greg Reynolds