The Fabulous Eric Newman Collection, Part 7: Gem Quality Early U.S. Silver Dollars
Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #196
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds ……….
The silver U.S. coins that were in the collection of Eric P. Newman, along with some U.S. copper coins and nickels, were auctioned by Heritage on Nov. 15 and 16 in New York City at the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion on the Upper East Side, near Central Park. In the sixth part of this series, I reported upon the overall auction event, with analytical comments from relevant experts. Furthermore, I then analyzed the auction results and characteristics of some astonishing, 19th century U.S. quarters. Here in the seventh part, the topic is gem quality, early silver dollars that were in the Newman Collection.
To silver dollar specialists, some of the the lesser quality coins are perhaps more important, particularly those of rare dates or major varieties. Indeed, this was a landmark offering of early silver dollars. “This was the best sale of early dollars since Eliasberg in 1997, if then,” Richard Burdick points out. Richard was not just referring to gem quality coins.
The Newman Collection “early dollars presented at auction were complete by date and major [sub]type, with the sole exception being the absence of the Newman-Green 1794 dollar , which is a stunningly beautiful choice about uncirculated specimen with superb natural album toning,” reports Martin Logies, the director and curator of the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation. On behalf of this foundation, Logies assembled a landmark collection of early silver dollars that was auctioned by ANR on June 30, 2005, in New York. I covered the sale of this foundation’s Specimen Striking 1794 dollar, gem 1792 half disme and landmark set of large cents, in January. Clickable links are in blue.)
Newman’s silver dollars of 1796 and 1797, among others, are among the very finest, if not the finest, of particular varieties. Four gem quality, type coins, however, brought exceptionally newsworthy prices in this auction, are of interest to collectors of type coins and are fabulous coins to discuss. In the future, I will focus on rarer silver dollars, including Newman coins, in other contexts. In general, far more people collect early dollars by type than ‘by date,’ by subtype, or ‘by variety.’
A type set of early U.S. silver dollars requires just three coins: 1) Flowing Hair 1794-95; 2) Draped Bust, Small Eagle 1795-98; 3) Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle 1798-1903. Newman had gem quality representatives of all three. Dollars dated 1804 are a different topic. (Clickable links are in blue.)
By tradition, coins that grade 65 or higher are of gem quality. (Coins are graded on a scale from 01 to 70. Uncirculated (‘Mint State’) or Proof coins grade from 60 to 70.
I. 1795 Flowing Hair Dollar
This Newman-Green 1795 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar is NGC graded MS-65 and it has a sticker of approval from the CAC. This coin scores very high in the category of originality, more so than many of the other Newman-Green coins. A large percentage of the high quality, pre-1840 U.S. coins in the Newman Collection were previously in the collection of Col. E.H.R. Green. The connection between Newman and Green is discussed in the first part of my series on the Newman Collection.
Many early silver coins, including quite a few Newman-Green coins, very apparently have been dipped and/or cleaned, as these terms are defined in the culture of coin collecting. This 1795 Flowing Hair Dollar was only lightly to moderately dipped. It was never cleaned to a significant extent. It has naturally retoned in a soothing and comforting manner.
The shades of gray and russet are not dark and are pleasant. Some green tones are appealing. There is much luster. Though it is more than attractive, it is not colorful in the sense that many of the Newman-Green quarters are colorful. The technical components of this silver dollar’s grade bring its overall grade well into the middle or possibly even the high end of the 65 range. It has soft luster and moderate toning
As far as I know now, this $646,250 result is the second highest auction price for a 1795 Flowing Hair Dollar, though I have not yet had time to extensively research auction records of 1795 dollars. Bidding was largely a battle between advance book bids and Heritage Live bids sent over the Internet in real time, until a floor bidder, who is a collector from the Midwest, captured this coin with the winning bid.
A ‘right on the money’ auction price is at the border between a wholesale price and a retail price, which, for this coin, would have been around $540,000. At least three bidders were willing to pay more than $540,000. The $646,250 result is somewhat strong, though understandable. The Newman pedigree and/or the excitement of this auction event probably pushed the price by more than $50,000.
There are at least four other MS-65 or higher grade 1795 Flowing Hair Silver Dollars in existence. There are also three gem quality 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollars, which are each worth a fortune. Although these are of the same design type, 1795 Flowing Hair Dollars are much less expensive than corresponding 1794 dollars, and 1794 dollars are much rarer than 1795 dollars.
John Albanese states that this Newman-Green 1795 “is not the most exciting Flowing Hair Dollar, but it is technically pristine. The price was strong, but fair. Most unc. early dollars have a lot of marks or problems. This is a great problem-free gem.” Albanese is the founder and president of the CAC.
Richard Burdick remarks that this Flowing Hair Dollar is a “lovely coin, way above average for a 1795 that is certified as grading ‘MS-65,’ very respectable, a nice honest 65. I have seen less than five better 1795 Flowing Hair Dollars in my whole life,” Richard adds.
Burdick has been enthusiastic about high quality, early U.S. dollars for more than forty years. Richard started attending major coin auctions in 1969 and became seriously interested in early dollars when he “saw the Garrett Collection in Baltimore in 1973.”
II. 1795 Draped Bust Dollar
The Newman-Green silver dollar that commanded the most attention was the 1795 Draped Bust coin that is NGC certified as “MS-66+*” and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. It was moderately dipped and much of this coin’s soft, rich luster survived the dip. After being dipped, this coin turned out unusually well. The owner then was lucky; such a dipping could have been a disaster. Indeed, this coin’s luster is very pleasing. Even someone, such as myself, who prefers natural toning to unnaturally white surfaces, can very much appreciate this coin. It is dynamic and cool.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect is an oval shaped toning patch that occupies more than one-third of the obverse (front of the coin). The colors of this oval include much deep purple, some orange russet, quite a bit of blue, and touches of red. The interior of the oval is characterized mostly by russet and gray tones.
The toning about and within this oval is very likely to be natural. The colors on this coin really appear to come from cloth, cardboard and/or paper, rather than from a liquid or other substance that was deliberately applied.
Only the purple hue is unusual. The orange-russet, red and blue colors are very often seen on silver coins that were properly stored. The textures and tints are normal. Indeed, other than the purple hue, the colors on this coin are very often found on U.S. silver coins that were in collections for long periods of time. While unusual, natural purple toning is not that rare. I have seen it on quite a few 19th century U.S. coins.
There is a good chance that this coin was stored with ‘the reverse up’ and a portion of the obverse was resting on something atypical, perhaps a piece of stray cardboard that broke away from a coin holder or a piece of paper that accidentally found its way into a coin holder or envelope. It could also be true that a piece of cardboard or tissue paper was resting on the coin, while it was sitting ‘reverse down.’
Another very realistic possibility is that this coin could have been in a case of the type that was often used by coin collectors in the 19th century. Cases very much like the cases used for Proof sets were sometimes used by collectors of business strikes. Indeed, such cases could be ‘made to order’ for collectors or dealers. Purple tones sometimes come from materials in these cases.
A variety of cases used to house coins had tabs, which were not made of paper. I am not exactly sure of the purpose of such tabs. I guess that each tab was supposed to lessen the extent to which a coin moved when the case was deliberately or accidentally moved.
It was common for a part of a coin to tone differently from the rest of a coin because a ‘tab’ rested on such a part. Indeed, so called ‘tab toning’ is found on many 19th century Proof coins and on some commemorative half dollars from the first half of the 20th century. The toning on this 1795 dollar could have come from a tab while it was resting in a coin case.
Despite the fact that most sophisticated collectors have a rather negative view of very apparently dipped, classic silver coins, experts at the PCGS, the NGC and the CAC all assign, in some instances, grades of 66 to 68 to such, very apparently dipped coins, especially to silver dollars. So, by widely accepted standards, the assigned “66+” grade is fair.
The obverse cannot grade 67, mostly because there are a noticeable group of small contact marks, plus one medium size gash, on Miss Liberty’s face and neck. The reverse, by itself, certainly merits a 67 grade.
“I love this coin,” John Albanese exclaims. “It has the eye appeal and luster of a 67. It did not grade seven because of a few marks. I especially like the oval,” John adds.
The buyer is a collector/dealer who formerly lived in New Jersey. He has, at times during the last fifteen years, been a very serious bidder for important rarities. He is very happy with his purchase and was prepared to pay more.
The price realized, $910,625, is probably the second highest auction price ever for a business strike Draped Bust Silver Dollar of any date. As I then reported, an NGC graded and CAC approved MS-65 1796 Draped Bust, Small Eagle Silver Dollar sold for $1,175,000 in April. Later, the PCGS graded that 1796 dollar as MS-65 as well.
It is likely that experts at the PCGS would grade this Newman-Green 1795 as “66+” or at least “66,” though it is impossible to be sure. Martin Logies asserts that this coin is one of the three finest 1795 Draped Bust Silver Dollars and, since the other two will not be sold in the near future, this Newman-Green 1795 “became the very finest available to other collectors.”
III. 1799 Heraldic Eagle Dollar
The Newman-Green, NGC graded “MS-67” 1799 is the only Draped Bust Silver Dollar to be currently certified as grading “MS-67.” The Eliasberg 1795 Draped Bust Dollar was formerly certified as “67.” I suggest that, however, the Newman-Green 1799 will never receive a CAC sticker as long as it is in a holder that indicates an assigned grade of “MS-67.”
As for whether experts at the PCGS would grade it as “MS-67,” I cannot predict a certain outcome. I suggest that, if this 1799 is submitted to the PCGS, there is a thirty percent chance that it would be PCGS graded MS-67, an eleven percent chance that it would be graded “66” without a plus, and a fifty-five percent chance that it would be PCGS graded “66+.” These numbers do not add up to one hundred because there are low probabilities of other results.
When I discussed this Newman-Green 1799 with a sophisticated collector-dealer from the Midwest, after the auction, I was intrigued that his evaluation of this coin was almost exactly the same as mine. We agree that the technical component of this coin’s grade is in the 67 range, though it does not really have the eye appeal that an expert would expect of a 67 grade Draped Bust Silver Dollar. Separately, we both figured that its grade is on the borderline between a 66 and a 67. He tends towards a “67-minus” grade while I believe that a ‘66+’ grade is best suited.
Bruce Morelan is a sophisticated collector and he has a financial interest in a coin firm. He is not the ‘sophisticated collector-dealer’ who I just cited. Morelan, too, grades the Newman-Green 1799 as “66+.” Bruce is the owner of the most valuable, privately owned coin, the Carter-Knoxville-Cardinal 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar.
It is hard to grade this coin. The Newman-Green 1799 is very well struck on an excellent planchet. Coins of this era frequently exhibit U.S. Mint caused imperfections that are annoying.
“As of the time of production of 1799-dated dollars, the U.S. Mint had definitely worked out the kinks of production,” Logies concludes. “The dies themselves were produced more consistently and the resulting coins demonstrate much higher average production quality than those that came before,” Martin emphasizes.
The Newman-Green 1799 is pleasing. The few hairlines are faint. There are no substantial contact marks. This coin just lacks pizazz. It is mildly brilliant and mildly lustrous with dusky russet and gray toning. Each time I examined it, I assigned to it a very high 66 grade or a very low 67 grade.
This coin has some neat green tones about the date and the E of “LIBERTY,” though much of the rest of the toning is thin and dusky, gray, russet, or gray-russet. It was just lightly dipped long ago and there is nice underlying luster. The overall look of the coin is very attractive. It just does not have the super-appeal that experts associate with 67 grade coins. After all, most 65 grade, uncirculated coins are very attractive.
Whether it grades 66-plus or 67-minus, this Newman-Green 1799 may be the finest known business strike of the entire design type of Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Silver Dollars (1798-1803). I have seen the two 1799 dollars that are each currently, PCGS graded MS-66, one of which I wrote about in Jan. 2012. That one, the so called “Boston” 1799, has a blatant fingerprint and is overgraded, though it is a terrific MS-65 grade coin.
The other, which Heritage auctioned in 2007 and again in Jan. 2011, maybe qualifies for a grade in the low end of the 66 range. This Newman-Green 1799 is very much superior to these two PCGS graded MS-66 1799 dollars. Indeed, both of the PCGS graded MS-66 1799 dollars realized ‘MS-65’ (or 65+) level prices when they were last auctioned in Jan. 2012 and in Jan. 2011, respectively, $260,000 and $299,000. A Draped Bust Silver Dollar of any date that most relevant experts graded as “MS-66” would have sold for more than $370,000 in Jan. 2011 or Jan. 2012.
Richard Burdick agrees that the Newman-Green 1799 “is certainly better than the two PCGS graded ‘66’ 1799s that I have seen. They are not even close to this one,” Richard insists. Burdick states that the Newman-Green 1799 is “the best Heraldic Eagle reverse dollar that I have ever seen”! Burdick has viewed all major offerings of collections of uncirculated, early silver dollars, since the mid-1970s.
An interesting question is whether this 1799 is the finest known business strike Draped Bust Silver Dollar, with either a Small Eagle or a Heraldic Eagle reverse? I like the Eliasberg 1795 Draped Bust Dollar much more than this Newman-Green 1799, though I am not asserting now that it is of higher quality overall.
The Eliasberg 1795 Draped Bust Silver Dollar is more sharply detailed, is semi-prooflike and is more exciting. Even so, it has more noticeable contact marks than the Newman-Green 1799, some of which are significant. The Newman-Green 1799 is much closer to being flawless than that Eliasberg 1795.
The Eliasberg 1795 Draped Bust Silver Dollar was NGC certified as “67” after it was auctioned in 1997 and before it was auctioned again by Bowers & Merena in 2002. Later, it was PCGS graded MS-66, perhaps long before ‘plus’ grades were introduced in March 2010.
I have never seen the Garrett Collection 1795 Draped Bust Silver Dollar. It is PCGS certified as ‘Specimen-66.’ According to Logies, it was earlier NGC certified ‘Specimen-66’ as well.
This Newman-Green 1799 sold for $822,500! Supposing that it is the finest known business strike of whole Heraldic Eagle Dollar design type, would the $822,500 result be a very strong price? This result is certainly an auction record for a business strike Heraldic Eagle Dollar of any date. Is this price a better value than the price paid for the Newman-Green 1803?
IV. 1803 Heraldic Eagle Dollar
The Newman-Green, NGC graded “MS-65+” and CAC approved, 1803 Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Silver Dollar sold for $705,000. Richard Burdick remarks that this “was an extremely strong price.” I maintain that this price is strong, not extremely strong.
This coin’s grade is definitely at least in the middle of the 65 range; a 65+ grade is fair. This coin, too, is superior to one of the two 1799 dollars that the PCGS has graded as “MS-66,” and has a relatively more original appearance than the other one.
As to whether this is the finest known 1803 of any variety, it is hard to say without knowing more about the two that are each PCGS graded MS-64. Were they so graded long ago? Certainly, this Newman-Green coin is the finest known 1803 business strike to emerge in a long time, maybe the finest ever.
Before this coin emerged, the highest grade assigned by the NGC to an 1803 business strike was “MS-64.” Logies reveals that, “when building the Cardinal Collection of Early Dollars, the 1803 dollar was actually the last one to be acquired in ‘mint state.’ During that search, I examined every high grade 1803 dollar, including those in existing collections,” and the Newman 1803 is “quite certainly the very finest of all of the 1803 dollars I have examined,” Martin reveals.
If the Newman 1803 is the only gem quality 1803 business strike, of any variety, then the $705,000 result is not outrageous, though is strong. Indeed, if most relevant experts had graded the Newman-Green 1799 as a mid-range “MS-67,” it would have sold for more than a million dollars. A 67 grade, business strike Draped Bust Dollar would just be irresistible to several, extremely wealthy collectors, particularly to those assembling amazing type sets.
Before 2013, did even one business strike Draped Bust Dollar ever sell at auction for more than $400,000? Yes, there could be one that I forgot about. Even so, it is noteworthy for three to sell in one auction for prices of $705,000, $822,500 and $910,625. These three plus the already mentioned 1795 Flowing Hair Dollar, which brought $646,250, went to four different buyers. I know at least three of them and I believe I know the identity of the fourth.
I did not discuss the the NGC graded MS-65 1800 that sold for $223,250 and the NGC graded “MS-65+” 1801 that sold for $329,000. If the grade of the 1800 really was thought to be a solid 65 by serious, relevant bidders, it would have sold for more in this auction.
For technical reasons, the 1801 is an unusually difficult coin to grade. There has been considerable debate about its grade among experts and will probably be more debate in the future. More so than others, it would be beneficial to examine this coin outside of a holder.
While most of the Newman Collection early dollars, which grade 64 or higher, went to collectors, dealers acting as agents for collectors, or collector-oriented dealers, the NGC graded “65+” 1801 was purchased by a wholesaler.
It is true that gem uncirculated, MS-65 or higher grade, Draped Bust Dollars are not offered at auction very often. There were not, and still are not, easily understood, market levels for gem quality, early silver dollars. The current strong prices, depth of the bidding activity, and my prior knowledge of activities by ‘players’ in this field, demonstrate that there is tremendous competition among many collectors for business strike early dollars that grade from MS-64 to MS-67.
©2013 Greg Reynolds