A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #116 ……
At the ANA Convention in August, in Philadelphia, Stack’s-Bowers will auction a complete collection of Carson City (Nevada) Mint coins. The owner of the set has not revealed his name, though he has named this set the “Battle Born Collection.” In February, I wrote an article on the 1876-CC Half Eagle ($5 gold coin) in this set. I discussed the overall importance of the set in addition to that one coin. (Clickable links are in blue.) I then pointed out that, in addition to Louis Eliasberg and the current consignor, H. O. Granberg and Waldo Newcomer may also have completed sets of Carson City coins. Here, I focus on the unique 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ Liberty Seated Dime and I mention other U.S. coins that are also unique or nearly so.
I. What is an 1873 ‘No Arrows’ dime?
Liberty Seated coins were minted from the 1830s until 1891, though Liberty Seated Half Dimes and silver dollars were last minted in 1873. Liberty Seated Dimes were first minted in 1837. For a discussion of the design types of dimes, please read my recent article on collecting dimes by design type.
The use of arrows on U.S. coins to signify some kind of change in policy began in 1853. From 1853 to 1855, arrows were placed on half dimes, dimes, quarters, and half dollars. All these are Liberty Seated design types. Liberty Seated Silver Dollars were exempted from the new policy, which reduced the respective weights of most U.S. silver coins. It is curious that the weights of silver dollars were not then changed.
On a coin ‘with arrows,’ one arrow appears to the right and another to the left of the numerals of the year (‘date’). So, there are two arrows on each ‘with arrows’ issue. Although the new weight standard continued until 1873, the use of arrows was discontinued after 1855. In 1873, arrows appeared again on some U.S. coins.
In 1873, the denomination of half dimes was terminated. These are five cent silver coins that weigh half as much as dimes. In this same year, the mintage of silver dollars temporarily ended, and production of Trade Dollars, which are heavier, began. Liberty Seated Silver Dollars were not struck after 1873. Production of Morgan Silver Dollars commenced in 1878.
The coinage act of 1873 required a slight increase in the weights of dimes, quarters and half dollars. The main ‘change’ was political. Until 1873, the weights of U.S. coins were formally measured in grains. The coinage act of 1873 required the adoption of the metric system for this purpose. The primary reason for arrows appearing on silver coins in 1873 was to indicate the adoption of the metric system for specifications of coin weights.
Reference guides that specify weight standards for pre-1873 U.S. coins in grams are misleading. Before 1873, in laws governing U.S. coinage, weights of coins were denominated in grains, not grams. Even ounces would be more appropriate than grams. In the United States, the metric system was used to a minimal extent before 1873, and, even after 1873, there was little interest among U.S. citizens in the metric system. In 1873, the general population probably found the Treasury Department’s new policy in regard the metric system and arrows on coins to be peculiar or even unbelievable.
From some point in 1853 to some point in 1873, dimes were specified to weigh 38.4 grains (approximately 2.48 grams), and were allowed to range between 37.9 and 38.9 grains. The new ‘standard’ in 1873 required dimes to weigh 2.5 grams, with an allowed variance between 2.403 and 2.597 grams. As 2.5 grams is equivalent to 38.58 grains, just 0.18 grains above the old standard, most unused, old blanks were permitted under the new law for coinage of dimes under the new weight standard.
As for why arrows were used to indicate changes in weight standards, and why such arrows were used for three years in the 1850s, and for two years in the 1870s, sensible answers to these questions have not been found by historical researchers. As for why such arrows are not found on U.S. gold coins, the answer is simple. Arrows related to changes in weight standards and, for U.S. gold coins, weight standards did not significantly change after 1850. U.S. gold coins were last minted for commerce in 1933.
In some sense, all U.S. silver coins were ‘on the metric standard’ from 1873 to 1964. When copper-nickel clad dimes replaced silver dimes in 1964, however, the new specifications were in inches (for the diameter) and grains (for weights), not in millimeters and grams [Breen, Encyclopedia, 1988, p. 332].
In sum, arrows on Liberty Seated coins indicate changes in weight standards. The reasoning behind the use of arrows for two or three year periods and the reasons for all the details of the underlying polices will never be fully explainable.
With or without arrows, during the mid 1870s, coins of the Carson City Mint tend to be much scarcer than U.S. coins produced at the Philadelphia and San Francisco Mints. For dimes, quarters and halves dated 1873, the Carson City ‘No Arrows’ issues are rare. These were minted before the coinage act of 1873 was implemented.
Carson City Mint 1873 ‘No Arrows’ Liberty Seated Half Dollars are very rare. A well worn coin could be acquired for less than $1000. A ‘mint state’ piece, though, would be likely to cost substantially more than $10,000.
Carson City Mint 1873 ‘No Arrows’ Liberty Seated Quarters are Great Rarities. I am fortunate to have examined the three finest of four to six that are known. The one in the ‘Battle Born Collection’ was formerly in the Norweb Collection. It is PCGS graded “MS-64” and I will write about it at another time.
Even 1873-CC ‘With Arrows’ quarters are extremely rare, fewer than seventy-five survive. These are extreme condition rarities in AU-50 and higher grades. Philadelphia and San Francisco Mint issues of the 1873-74 ‘With Arrows’ quarter type are not rare.
Philadelphia Mint 1873 ‘No Arrows’ dimes are very scarce, and are condition rarities in MS-63 and higher grades. I emphasize that the 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ dime, which is the topic here, is unique.
A few years back, reports of the PCGS certifying another 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ dime were terribly wrong. Someone at the PCGS made a clerical error and referred to a ‘with Arrows’ 1873-CC dime as an 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ dime. Briefly, a listing for another erroneously appeared in PCGS population reports. There are no credible accounts of another existing, during the last century.
Even Carson City Mint 1873 ‘With Arrows’ dimes are about extremely rare, around one hundred exist in all grades. Carson City Mint 1874 ‘With Arrows’ dimes are even rarer. Philadelphia and San Francisco Mint 1873 or 1874 ‘With Arrows’ dimes, though, tend to be scarce, not rare. An appealing, naturally toned, 1873 or 1874, Philadelphia Mint ‘With Arrows’ dime in Fine-12 grade could be obtained for $20 to $30.
All Carson City Mint dimes of the 1871 to 1874 period are rare. There survive at least sixty of each, however, of the others. Moreover, there exist at least ten 1894-S Barber Dimes. Indeed, there is no other dime issue for which fewer than ten exist. The fact that the unique 1873 ‘No Arrows’ dime is a Carson City, Nevada Mint product adds to its allure, as there seems to be a special mystique relating to the history of this Mint and the nearby territory.
II. Eliasberg-Bolen Pedigree
There has been some debate among researchers regarding the early history of this 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ dime. There is no evidence that William Woodin ever owned this coin. The theory that it was in the crates of patterns that were traded to Woodin in 1910 by U.S. Mint officials for Woodin’s two fifty dollar gold patterns has been challenged by Scott Rubin, Saul Teichman and others. They suggest that this same dime was earlier in the collection of John Swan Randall, which Edward Cogan offered in 1878. It seems that an 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ dime was offered by Cogan.
In May 1915, the “U.S. Coin Company,” sold the “Collection of a Prominent American,” which included coins from more than one consignor. A New York dealer was the successful bidder for the 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ dime. Is it known whether he was bidding on behalf of himself or someone else?
In February, I cited research by George Fuld that indicates that Waldo Newcomer later owned this dime. Indeed, there is a good chance that H. O. Granberg and Waldo Newcomer each, in different decades, owned representatives of all 111 Carson City Mint coin issues.
Louis Eliasberg acquired the 1873 ‘No Arrows’ dime in 1950. He formed the most complete and greatest overall collection of U.S. coins. Contrary to popular belief, this dime was not the last U.S. coin that he acquired for his collection. In 1953, Eliasberg acquired the finest known 1817/4 Capped Bust Half Dollar. As a famous and readily apparent overdate, the 1817/4 half dollar issue generally has the status of a distinct ‘date.’
Eliasberg’s dimes were auctioned by Bowers & Merena (of New Hampshire) in New York on May 22, 1996. For the unique 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ dime, after the level surpassed $350,000 or so, the bidding contest became a duel between Andy Lustig and Waldo ‘Pat’ Bolen.
On May 22, 1996, Lustig was sitting next to Don Kagin. “Don and I partnered to bid on the coin,” Andy reveals. “We were bidding ‘for stock’ and had no particular client in mind for the coin. It just seemed like good value,” Lustig recollects. The late Pat Bolen, in contrast, was a non-investing collector.
Bolen’s collection of dimes had already been auctioned, by Rarcoa, as part of the Numisma ’95 event in New York, more than five months earlier. Bolen did own all other dates of Liberty Seated Dimes. I am now under the impression that Pat had needed just this one coin for a complete set of Liberty Seated Dimes by date and Mint location. Bolen consigned his dimes to be auctioned in 1995 because he was very ill. By May 1996, however, his health had dramatically improved. Pat then decided to collect coins dated 1873.
As Pat had previously specialized in dimes, for decades, Bolen really wanted this coin. Furthermore, he had failed to acquire an 1894-S dime. In 1992, at a Superior Galleries auction in Orlando, Bolen had been the underbidder for a PCGS certified “Proof-64” 1894-S dime, which was later PCGS graded 65 and then NGC graded 66.
So, Bolen had failed to obtain either of the two rarest dimes for his collection of dimes, before having sold that collection in 1995. On May 22, 1996, he successfully acquired the unique 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ dime for $550,000. By 1998, his health began to falter again. He consigned his set of 1873 dated coins to Heritage. In April 1999, Heritage auctioned this dime for $632,500. It was then PCGS graded MS-64. Jay Parrino was the buyer.
The old CoinFacts.com site and the new PCGS CoinFacts site suggest that Jim Gray once owned this unique dime. This is not true. Gray never owned it.
As far as I know, Parrino never sold this dime privately. If he did, he bought it back prior to 2004. For in 2004, Jay consigned it to a Spectrum-B&M auction, which was held in Baltimore during July.
While Parrino owned it, the NGC had upgraded this dime to MS-65. Parrino did not intend to upgrade it. At one point, Jay had his entire inventory NGC certified and placed in new holders.
In 2004, this dime realized $891,250. A Nevada dealer was the successful bidder, presumably on behalf of the collector who formed the ‘Battle Born Collection.’ It has, probably recently, ‘crossed’ into a PCGS holder with a MS-65 grade.
As this coin is unique, whether it grades MS-64 or MS-65 is a secondary issue in regards to its general importance. From the perspective of a connoisseur, however, aesthetics and overall physical characteristics matter.
In May 1996 and in Jan. 2012, I had opportunities to carefully examine this dime. When I unearthed my notes from 1996, I found that my notes from Jan. 2012 are very much consistent with my earlier notes. On both occasions, I determined the grade of this coin to be near the borderline between 64 and 65, perhaps 64.9 or so. As I already mentioned, it was PCGS graded MS-64 in the late 1990s.
On both occasions, I found this coin to be very attractive and I expressed concern about some graininess, especially on the obverse, from a past dipping. If this dime had never been dipped, it would likely grade 66 now.
There is no doubt about this coin being a business strike. It is not a Proof and it was not specially made. It was manufactured by ordinary means and its physical characteristics are similar to other business strikes of the era. In the past, I have analyzed the only known Proof 1876-CC dime.
On this unique 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ dime, there are noticeable contact marks below the “M” in ‘DIME’ on the reverse. These are minor. Under magnification, a group of light hairlines may be seen in the right obverse fields. In general, the hairlines, natural scuff and contact marks on this coin are all consistent with a MS-65 grade. It is the graininess from a past dipping that really keeps this coin in the 64 range, in my view.
There is much light to medium, mostly light, russet toning, which is even and blends well this with dime’s luster. In addition, there are some faint and some medium patches of blue. Overall, the toning is pleasant. This coin is moderately brilliant. Furthermore, this dime is fairly well struck. It would fit nicely into a collection of choice to gem uncirculated Liberty Seated Dimes.
My guess is that two bidders will be collectors who would like to assemble a complete, 111 coin set of all Carson City issues. Collectors of Liberty Seated Dimes ‘by date’ (and Mint location) are interested, too.
Interestingly, this dime is of higher quality than the finest known representatives, respectively, of a few other Carson City Mint issues. For example, it is likely to be of higher quality than the finest surviving 1874-CC dime, which is nowhere near as rare. More than sixty 1874-CC dimes exist.
IV. Other Unique U.S. coins
This dime is not the only unique U.S. coin that Louis Eliasberg owned. There is just one 1870 San Francisco Mint Three Dollar gold piece. When Eliasberg’s U.S. gold coins were auctioned in Oct. 1982, the ‘1870-S Three’ sold for $687,500, tying a record that was set when the Eliasberg 1822 Half Eagle ($5 coin) was auctioned earlier in the sale. A dealer was bidding for the late Harry Bass. This coin remains in the Harry Bass Collection, which is now owned by a private foundation. The Eliasberg-Bass ‘1870-S Three’ is or was recently on display at the ANA Museum in Colorado Springs.
Unfortunately, the unique 1870-S Three Dollar gold piece is not gradable. It has been badly mistreated and has serious problems. When I saw it, however, I found it to be much more appealing than I expected it to be. For a non-gradable gold coin, it is attractive. The color is not really bad, neat greenish hues dominate. A large percentage of the original design detail is present. If, imaginatively, it was to be auctioned in the upcoming Stack’s-Bowers ANA auction, it would probably sell for more than the 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ dime will realize, though I would rather own the dime.
When the unique 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ dime was last auctioned, the unique 1870-S Liberty Seated Half Dime sold in the same event in July 2004. To that auction, Jay Parrino consigned this dime, the 1870-S half dime and the finest known, Garrett-Queller, 1853-O ‘No Arrows’ Liberty Seated Half Dollar. In 2004, Parrino did not wish for his name to be mentioned in the auction catalogue. In a later conversation that I had with him, Jay granted permission for his name be mentioned in relation to these three coins and that specific auction.
A dealer from New Jersey was, I believe, the successful bidder for the unique 1870-S half dime, for $661,250. She may have been bidding on behalf of the New Jersey collector known as ‘Law,’ who owned this half dime for years. In an article that I wrote in 2007, I discussed the 1870-S half dime. Later, in 2009, it traded again, in a private transaction. The entire ‘Law’ set of Liberty Seated Half Dimes was sold as a unit. The 1870-S was imputed, I believe, by the parties involved to then be worth around “$1.4 million.”
For many years, the 1870-S half dime was PCGS graded MS-63. Before 2004, it was NGC graded MS-63. It later became PCGS certified as “MS-64.” It is an attractive coin.
Also, there are two unique 1797 Half Eagles ($5 gold coins) in the Smithsonian Institution. As I explained in an article in March 2011, it is widely believed that these two coins are the only known survivors of two very different issues of 1797 Half Eagles. It could be and has been fairly argued that at least one, and probably both of these, should be granted the status of being a distinct ‘date.’ In another words, is each of these clearly a separate issue, rather than merely a die variety of 1797 Half Eagles? I will discuss 1797 Half Eagles at another time.
Additionally, the 1849 Liberty Head Double Eagle ($20 gold piece) in the Smithsonian is sometimes regarded as a unique ‘coin.’ In my view, however, it is a pattern, not a coin. It is considerably different from regular issue Liberty Head Double Eagles, which were first minted in 1850. The relief especially is different. (Please see last week’s column for a discussion of the concept of ‘relief.’)
The unique 1849 Double Eagle pattern is a phenomenal piece. If it was auctioned, it would bring millions. Indeed, there are a few patterns that are each worth more than $2 million. Some of the Ultra High Relief Saints that I wrote about last week are worth more than $2 million each.
The 1822 Half Eagle is almost in the same category as unique coins. After all, two of the three known 1822 Half Eagles are in the Smithsonian. The lone privately owned 1822 Half Eagle is thus relevant to this discussion. It will not be offered in the near future. It is certainly worth more than $2 million, probably more than $3.5 million.
The PCGS price guide values the unique 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ dime at $1.5 million. In my view, the retail value of this piece is greater than $1.5 million. It is demanded by collectors of Liberty Seated Dimes, by collectors of Carson City Mint coins, and by some collectors who seek Great Rarities for other reasons. There is just one, and the one has the best of all pedigrees, that of Eliasberg. In some ways, it is more important than some of the other U.S. coins and patterns that have sold for more than $2 million each, which is a topic that I addressed in Feb. 2011.
I look forward to the upcoming auction of the “Battle Born Collection” of Carson City Mint coins. I will write about other coins in this epic set.
©2012 Greg Reynolds