The Fabulous Eric Newman Collection, part 6: Auction Results for silver U.S. Coins
Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #195
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
The vast majority of the U.S. silver coins that were in the Eric P. Newman Collection, plus some other coins from the same collection, were auctioned by Heritage on Nov. 15 and 16 in New York City at the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion on 2 East 79th St. Here in the sixth part of a series, the purpose is to reflect upon the overall event and to discuss classic U.S. quarters that brought astonishing prices.
In the seventh part, the results for the early silver dollars in the Newman Collection, and the silver dollars themselves, will be analyzed. This was certainly a landmark offering of early silver dollars, including incredible representatives of varieties and four type coins that brought more than $600,000 each! This sale, however, and maybe the Newman Collection as a whole, will be best remembered for 19th century quarters, as dozens of these are stunning. Indeed, many are almost unbelievably cool.
I. Mostly Silver Coins
Though more than eighteen hundred, Newman Collection coins were sold, the major silver coins in this collection were auctioned in the Platinum Night session on Friday, Nov. 15. Even so, many excellent coins were sold in all sessions, including coins that cost less than $100 each.
This sale consisted of U.S. coins dating from 1794 to the middle of the 20th century. An extremely high percentage of the lots were silver U.S. coins, though some Two Cent pieces, Lincoln Cents, and an assortment of nickels were sold as well. If Newman had landmark collections of copper coins or of nickels, these were not in this auction. Many of the silver rarities were owned by Col. E.H.R. Green before Newman acquired them.
While the present discussion is about the results of this auction, earlier installments in this series are not about auction results. Part 1 features an introduction to Newman’s collecting activities, along with some information about the man himself, who is 102 years old. The Newman Collection patterns and a few other rarities that were auctioned in April are covered in Part 2. I analyzed the Newman Collection Draped Bust Quarters, in part 3. (Clickable links are in blue.)
The importance and characteristics of Newman’s Proof 1818 Capped Bust Quarter are analyzed in part 4. This 1818 sold for $381,875. To the best of my recollection at the moment, this is an auction record for any Capped Bust Quarter, business strike or Proof.
Also, the $411,250 amount realized for the Newman-Green, NGC graded MS-66 1807 is probably an auction record for any Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Quarter. The Eliasberg 1807 quarter has traded for more in private transactions.
The two 1796 half dollars in the Newman Collection are the topic of part 5 of this series, which was published prior to the auction. The NGC graded MS-62 1796 went for $282,000 and the NGC graded MS-63 1796, which is CAC approved, garnered $470,000. These are two of the most moderate prices in this auction.
II. Success of the Auction
The total amount realized, more than $23 million, is important in that this sum is among the all-time highest totals for an auction event, in which all the coins offered were from one consignor. More so than this $23+ million total, the rarity, quality and overall importance of individual coins, plus the extensiveness and depth of the offerings of 19th century quarters and bust halves, are the factors that define this event. The early silver dollars of the Newman Collection are important as a group as well.
“This auction was extraordinary because so many coins traded at impressive premiums that could be considered above fair market value,” Scott A. Travers concludes. He does “not recall any rarities at this sale selling for less than fair market value. In most auctions, it is not unusual to see coins selling for less than their fair market value for a multiplicity of reasons.” Scott adds that “the pedigree of Eric P. Newman will be admired for many generations to come.”
Scott A. Travers is the author of several books, including the award-winning Coin Collector’s Survival Manual. He is also a frequent guest on television and radio shows as an expert commentator on rare coin and bullion markets.
Travers maintains that it is too early to analyze the overall impact of the sale of the Newman Collection. “Even after the Garrett and Eliasberg Collections were sold, it was difficult to assess the significance of them until years later,” Scott says.
In my view, the sales of Eliasberg’s copper, nickel and silver U.S. coins in 1996 and 1997, plus the auctions of John J. Pittman’s U.S. coins in 1997 and 1998, were factors that contributed to a boom in coin collecting that kept growing from 1997 to early 2008, and is being sustained, for the most part, in the present. It is not sensible to discuss now how the sale of the Newman Collection will affect trends in coin collecting and future market prices. As Travers says, it “will take years to sort this out.”
There were a substantial number of classic U.S. silver coins in this sale that are not particularly distinctive other than having a Newman pedigree, and look similar to equivalent coins found in many other collections. This was also true of the offerings of the Eliasberg and Pittman Collections.
John Albanese found that “the pedigree and the hype of the event led to large premiums over market prices. The great coins would have brought big money anywhere; the cheaper the coins, the greater the premium. In many cases, a coin that has a market value of $50 to $100 brought $200 to $300 in this auction.”
John continues, “maybe some of the rare die varieties did not do so well, but there were just a few of these in the auction. Many type coins and better dates brought very large premiums over market prices; lots of collectors were enthusiastic about the coins in this sale.” Albanese is the founder and president of the CAC, which approved a significant percentage of the coins in this sale.
Grant, an active collector-bidder, remarks that “it was great that there were coins available at all price ranges from over a million to coins under $100, which allowed collectors of coins in every price range to participate. I love the coin envelopes that will be included with each lot purchase. Many of these coins were sitting in these envelopes for seventy years. It was also fun to see how much Eric Newman paid for these coins as many coins sold for 1,000 to 5,000 times what he had paid for them,” Grant exclaims.
“The bust halves clearly had the highest Newman pedigree premium as compared to similarly graded examples that have appeared in other auctions,” Grant continues. “The really nice ones,” Grant emphasizes, “went for strong prices, which is completely expected for fresh collections. It was the bust halves that were average [in quality] or even below average that surprised me the most as they were also in general very strong.”
Grant is a particularly sophisticated collector, who I know rather well. (His real name is not Grant. He does not wish to be identified.) Grant “did purchase a few coins at the sale and [has] been attending epic auctions for twenty years.” He participated in the Eliasberg sales in 1996 and 1997, and he attended the Pittman sales in 1997 and 1998. I have seen him at many auctions.
Grant maintains that “the premiums for Newman coins over similarly graded [and otherwise equivalent] coins were highest for the least expensive coins, which is typically what happens. For the higher priced coins, [Grant is] not sure if the pedigree made much, if any, difference. If a fresh coin that was known to be locked away for multiple generations was auctioned off, a similar price realized would be expected.” Grant acknowledges that he personally paid a Newman pedigree premium of “probably about 25%” for some of the coins that he purchased for his collection.
III. Startling Prices for 19th Century Quarters
As many of the Newman Collection 19th century quarters are so beautiful and so astonishing, they would have realized strong prices if they had come from an anonymous consignor, though not quite as much. People paying premiums for coins because they are beautiful is a concept that is distinct from the idea of paying a premium for a pedigree or because of the excitement of a particular auction event.
“Newman-Green coins with beautiful, natural toning brought significant premiums,” Scott Travers agrees. “The value of beautiful toning, however, is not easy to quantify.”
Matt Kleinsteuber says likewise, “it is very hard to price the great color and attractiveness of these quarters. A lot of Newman’s quarters brought at least 25% more than I expected them to bring.” Kleinsteuber is the lead grader and trader for NFC coins. Matt was the successful bidder for more than a half dozen coins in the Platinum Night session and for more than a few coins in other sessions of this auction. Additionally, he was frequently an underbidder on Platinum Night. From my seat, I could see him bid.
Matt states that the “Newman 1840-O quarter definitely brought a runaway price. I did not expect a ’40-O quarter to ever bring more than $300,000. The PCGS MS-65 1840-O sold at auction for $27,000 in April. This Newman 1840-O is worth much more than that one, but how much more?” Kleinsteuber wonders.
This Newman-Green 1840-O ‘No Drapery’ quarter is NGC certified “MS-67*” and has a sticker from the CAC. The colorful toning on the obverse appears more vibrant when the coin is tilted under a lamp than the toning appears in published pictures. The red, orange-russet, blue and green tones really come alive in actuality. Even so, it is a coin that has a few contact marks here and there. The colorful toning on the obverse and the excitement of this auction event are largely responsible for much of the $329,000 price realized. It is not a very rare coin and its grade is not close to the 68 level.
John Albanese remarks that the Newman Collection “1864 quarter is one of the prettiest type coins I have ever seen, maybe the prettiest.” It is NGC certified “Proof-68+ Cameo” and it has a sticker of approval from the CAC.
The Newman 1864 sold for $141,000. The previous auction record for a Proof 1864 quarter was set in a Heritage auction in March 2008, a few months before markets for rare U.S. coins peaked. An NGC certified Proof-68 piece then sold for $37,375. A Proof-66 1864 is worth less than $10,000, and a certified Proof-63 1864 quarter would retail for $1500 at most.
On the obverse (front of the coin), tan, orange-russet, magenta and blue toning are somewhat apparent in images of the Newman 1864. Published pictures, though, do not accurately reflect the wonders of the reverse (back) of the coin. The very frosted, glistening eagle looks cool and magisterial. The blue-gray inner fields are glossy and soothing. The legend, “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,” is tinted tan-russet and red in an incredible pattern. Even the blue, green and russet colors about and on the reverse border are extremely appealing.
Some connoisseurs found the Newman 1861 quarter to be the most attractive coin in the sale. It is NGC certified “Proof-68* Cameo” and is CAC approved. This 1861 sold for $188,000. In April 2012, Heritage sold a PCGS certified “Proof-65 Cameo” 1861, with a CAC sticker, for $9,200.
Though not in the same way as the Proof Liberty Seated Quarters, an incredible number of business strike bust quarters in the Newman Collection were exceptionally attractive. An 1836 is one of them.
Quarters dated 1836 are not rare. Thousands exist. According to the standard reference book on bust quarters by Rory Rea et al., quarters of the die variety of the highest quality 1836 quarter in the Newman Collection (B-3) are not rare either; more than 1250 survive. This Newman 1836 quarter is NGC graded “MS-67.” Its grade is in the low end of the 67 range, though the obverse is awestriking. Red, blue, yellow, green, and orange-russet tones developed in an even and enticing manner, while this coin was in a “National” brand coin holder.
An 1836 quarter in Good grade would retail for less than $100. A not particularly attractive uncirculated (‘mint state’) 1836 would retail for less than $3000. The Newman-Green 1836 brought $99,875! It is unlikely that the CAC would approve it at the MS-67 level. There is perhaps, though, a slightly better than 50% chance that the PCGS would grade it as MS-67, if it was submitted to the PCGS. The immediate point is that much of the value of this coin stems from the eye appeal of the obverse, which is especially colorful.
An 1815 quarter is one of the most attractive early coins with a Newman pedigree. It is NGC certified “MS-67+*” and it has a sticker of approval from the CAC. The second finest 1815 quarter that I have ever seen is a PCGS graded “MS-66” coin that was formerly NGC graded “MS-67.” Heritage auctioned it for $37,375 in 2010.
If submitted, the PCGS would be likely to grade this Newman 1815 as “MS-67” or maybe “MS-67+.” In my view, it is not on the borderline of grading MS-68. There are a lot of short hairlines on the obverse, and a few noticeable contact marks on the reverse.
It is the stunning appearance of the obverse that is responsible for much of the $282,000 result for this 1815. The collector who bought it, through an agent, is known to like very pretty coins.
Matt Kleinsteuber comments that this $282,000 result is “extremely strong. There are many other attractive, gem quality 1815 quarters, though I have never seen one that intense. If an 1815 quarter was white and graded 67, it would be worth around $70,000. People who buy the coins not the plastic holders understand the difference,” Kleinsteuber emphasizes.
John Albanese points out that “in the commem world and in the Morgan Dollar world, people pay outrageous prices for outrageous color. It should not be surprising that some people will pay outrageous prices for beautiful 19th century quarters.”
In 2011, I wrote an article on the super premiums that some collectors pay for colorful bag-toned Morgan Silver Dollars. I refer to prices for colorfully toned commemorative half dollars in my article on ‘What Are Auction Prices?’ (Clickable links continue to be in blue.)
IV. $1.5+ million for a quarter
The Newman Collection 1796 quarter sold for $1,527,500, far and away an auction record for a quarter. It is NGC graded “MS-67+” and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. I discussed it in part 3. The PCGS price guide value for the sole PCGS graded MS-67 1796, the Norman-Knoxville coin, is (or was before this auction) “$1,200,000”!
An NGC press release states that this result is a record for a silver coin other than a silver dollar, “a new record for a silver minor coin.” This is incorrect. On Oct. 17, 2007, Stack’s auctioned a PCGS certified Proof-64 1894-S dime, for $1,552,500. On Aug. 9, 2012, SBG auctioned the unique 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ dime for $1,840,000. While 1796 quarters are not rare and these dimes are Great Rarities, 1796 quarters are the first issue of quarters and are one-year type coins.
I am not aware of any other 1796 quarter even selling for as much as $400,000 at auction. I have written about quarters that set auction records in the near past.
To the best of my recollection, an auction record for a quarter was set in Jan. 2008 when the Pittman pedigreed Proof 1850 quarter sold for $460,000. I wrote about this Proof 1850 this year as it was auctioned again by Heritage on Aug. 9, 2013, prior to the summer 2013 ANA Convention. This 1850 did not bring as much in 2013 as it did in 2008.
If the $460,000 result in Jan. 2008 was an auction record for a quarter of any kind, that record was broken in April 2008 when the Pittman-Kaufman Proof 1839 quarter sold for $517,500. I also wrote about this coin in 2013 as Heritage sold it again in April. As with the Pittman 1850, the Pittman Proof 1839 brought less in 2013 than it did in 2008, which is not very surprising as markets for rare U.S. coins peaked in July or August of 2008.
The previous auction record for a business strike U.S. quarter was probably $460,000. On Aug. 9, 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned the “Battle Born Collection,” a complete set of Carson City (Nevada) Mint U.S. coins. The PCGS graded MS-64 “Battle Born” 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ quarter was previously in the Norweb Collection and is the second finest of five or six known.
My research suggests that the oft-reported auction result of “$550,000” for a 1901-S quarter in 1990 is probably not accurate. The consignor then may have maintained ownership of it by effecting an arrangement with the successful bidder, possibly without informing the auction firm. That same 1901-S quarter was auctioned for $327,750 on March 4, 2010. Later in March 2010, it became the first coin of any type to be PCGS graded “MS-68+.”
As far as I know, a 1796 quarter that is PCGS or NGC certified as MS-66 or higher has never before sold at public auction. Although coins that were later PCGS or NGC graded 66 have sold at auction before being certified, those results occurred long ago.
The PCGS graded MS-65 Norweb 1796 quarter was auctioned by Heritage in August 2010 for $322,000. While the Norweb 1796 is a great coin, it is not in the same league as the Newman and Knoxville 1796 quarters.
The PCGS graded MS-66 ‘LA Type Set’ 1796 quarter is in this same league, though it has not sold at auction in more than twenty years, and probably was PCGS graded MS-66 many years ago. It was NGC graded MS-66 in 1990. Richard Burdick and I agree that the Knoxville, L.A. Type and Newman-Green coins are the three finest 1796 quarters that have been available over the last twenty-three years, as far as either of us know.
Before Rory Rea examined and photographed this Newman-Green 1796 quarter in 2007, no one publicly declared that it was a gem or even whispered much about it at major coin conventions. Moreover, its numerical grade was not widely publicized until it was sent to the NGC and to the CAC during the summer of 2013. It then became a major attraction at the Summer ANA Convention in Rosemont, Illinois. So, this year, it became clear that there is an additional 1796 quarter that grades above MS-65, an increase in supply for those who demand such 1796 quarters.
Given my knowledge of private transactions of 1796 quarters that are certified as grading MS-65 or higher, and my experience in evaluating market prices for famous rarities, in addition to my thorough examination of this Newman 1796, I conclude that $1.3 million would have been a moderate auction result, neither strong nor weak.
Generally, a ‘right on the money’ auction price is around the border between the upper end of the wholesale price range and the lower end of the retail price range. (Again, please see my article on ‘What Are Auction Prices.’) The $1,527,500 result is a middle to high retail price and is thus a strong auction result. It was not as strong, however, as the prices realized for many of the 19th century quarters in this auction.
Most of Newman’s best U.S. silver coins were acquired in the 1940s. Before 2013, the Newman Collection was perhaps the last epic collection of U.S. coins and patterns that was assembled, for the most part, before 1960 and was still intact. Indeed, are there any other magnificent collections of U.S. coins that have now been largely intact for more than half a century?
Some (or all?) of Newman’s world coins will be sold by Heritage in January. Will the paper money and pre-federal American coins in the Newman Collection be auctioned later in 2014? Even if many rare and interesting Newman Collection items have yet to be offered, the level of excitement for the bust halves, early dollars and beautiful 19th century quarters in this auction will probably not be surpassed in the near future.
©2013 Greg Reynolds