The Fabulous Eric P. Newman Collection, part 11: Auction Results for pre-1793 coins, patterns and tokens
Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #223
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds.....
A very substantial number of pre-1793 items from the Eric P. Newman Collection were auctioned by Heritage on May 16 at the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion, 2 East 79th St., New York. Part 10 of this series was a pre-auction review of this event, including discussions of the importance and popularity of various items. More recently, I mentioned two Newman Collection patterns of 1792 in a broader discussion, and I analyzed Newman’s Higley Coppers within an article devoted to auction appearances of all Higley Coppers. The purpose here is to analyze the auction results on May, 16.
The whole event totaled more than $11 million, which is a vast amount for a collection of pre-1793 items. Rare U.S. coins tend to be worth more than their pre-1793 counterparts. Andy Lustig and Jim McGuigan separately remark that the sale “was strong” overall. In addition to bidding for collectors and for his dealer-inventory, Jim was hoping to acquire Massachusetts Half Cents for his own personal collection and found that the prices realized were much more than he was willing to pay for certain coins.
Jason Carter determined that “prices were higher than expected on the rarities, [especially] on really high end six and seven figure coins, about what I expected on everything else. There was probably a Newman premium on most everything. Percentage-wise, the Newman premiums tend to be higher on lower priced coins,” Carter points out. A Newman premium refers to the reality that, on average, these same coins would have realized less at auction if they were not known to have been in the Newman Collection and were spread out, as unnamed consignments, in several auctions.
I. Contents and Theme
Two different items each sold for $1,410,000 and I repeat that the total was more than $11 million. The meaning of this consignment, however, reaches way beyond the total prices realized.
One objective here is to make pre-1793 coins, patterns and tokens, which are also called pre-federal items, more understandable to a wide audience. Coins of rare die varieties will not be emphasized herein, though these were important components of this auction. Only a small percentage of coin collectors assemble sets by die variety, and there is not a need to understand die varieties to put together a meaningful and interesting collection of pre-1793 American coins, patterns and/or tokens.
Various items are discussed that are distinctive, unusual and particularly newsworthy. Coins that are the most entertaining or curious are not necessarily those that sell for the highest prices.
In this auction, there were sold important and extensive sets of colonial and State coinage, including pre-1700 Massachusetts silver coins, 1773 Virginia Halfpennies, 1786-88 New Jersey Coppers, Connecticut Coppers, Vermont Coppers and coins of New York. This auction featured a landmark offering of Elephant Tokens, which some leading researchers believe circulated as coins in British American colonies before and shortly after 1700.
A London Elephant “Halfpenny” with a hole sold for $1292.50, not a fortune for a rare and unusual 17th century item. Also, there is some mint red color inside the hole.
An NGC graded “AU-50” London Elephant of the least scarce variety sold for $1645, a good value from a logical perspective. These have been avidly collected by sophisticated coin buyers since the mid 19th century. Jim McGuigan and I, separately graded it as Extremely Fine-45, though we both regard the NGC grade of 50 as fair enough. Personally, I find the array of small fractures in the obverse surface that stem from defects in the planchet (prepared blank) to be cool and attractive. Plus, this piece has appealing medium brown tones. This was one of the better buys in the sale.
The rarer varieties of Elephant Tokens sold for much more. The unique piece struck in brass, rather than copper, was bought by John Kraljevich for $19,975. The two 1694 Carolina Elephant pieces, of different varieties, brought $30,550 and $47,000, respectively.
In terms of technical factors and surface quality, the $47,000 “PROPRIETORS” Carolina piece is exceptional. Although there are probably at least forty of them in existence, my guess is that many of the others have problems. It may be true that Newman’s collection of Elephant Tokens is the best to be offered at public auction since the Norweb I sale, by Bowers & Merena, during Oct. 1987, also in New York.
Mark Newby, St. Patrick coins are less mysterious than Elephant Tokens or Continental Currency Patterns. They certainly did circulate in New Jersey and New York before 1700, and there was an impressive group of these in the Newman Collection. So called “American Plantation Tokens” were well represented.
Last week, the details of Newman’s group of Higley Coppers were discussed, so these will not be analyzed here. My favorite coin in the auction, the NGC graded “AU-50,” Hammers Higley (H-3P-CT), sold for $470,000 to a Heritage Live customer. John Kraljevich was the underbidder. Although this is an auction record for any variety of Higley Copper, I was expecting a higher price.
The $76,375 result for the NGC graded VG-08 H-Please-IAGC was very strong. The record $199,750 price for the NGC graded “VF-20” X-Please-ND was strong. A moderate to slightly strong price would have been in the range of $150,000 to $175,000. The $199,750 result is more than double the previous auction record for an Axe type Higley. Andy Lustig was “not surprised at all” by the results for the Newman Higleys.
There are so many historically important and/or really neat items in this sale, it is impossible to cover many of them in one review. Therefore, in the near future, I will devote separate discussions to 1652 Massachusetts Silver Coins and to the early coins of Bermuda (Sommer Islands), and therein discuss Newman Collection coins in broader contexts, along with pertinent coins from other collections. I will thus ignore Massachusetts and Bermuda coins here, other than to note that the Newman NE Sixpence, a Massachusetts silver coin that was minted in 1652, sold for a record price of $646,250.
A separate article on 1783 Nova Constellatio Patterns, including detailed coverage of Newman’s supposed 100 Unit (‘Bit’) piece, is planned as well. For now, I report that Newman’s piece sold for $705,000. Interested collectors may wish to read an article last year on the Garrett-Perschke Quint.
Many of the items in this auction appeal to collectors who are very interested in history and/or to buyers who appreciate curious and distinctive items. In contrast, the sale of Newman’s U.S. silver coins on November 15 and 16, at the same location, appealed to a much larger number of buyers. The surprisingly high quality of Newman’s 19th century U.S. silver coins and the unanticipated depth of that offering then contributed to much hysterical bidding.
On Friday, November 15, 2013, the auction atmosphere was energized. Indeed, there were then maniacal contests for eye appealing, gem quality, 19th century U.S. coins, including non-rare type coins. The bidders on May 16, 2014, were calmer, more thoughtful and calculating. The items that were subject to intense bidding competition on May 16 tended to be extremely unusual.
II. 1787 Pattern New York Copper
The 1787 Clinton Copper Pattern is certainly a prime example of a Newman Collection item that is extremely unusual and very distinctive. There is nothing else like it in the realm of American coins, patterns and tokens.
Captain Thomas Machin petitioned the New York State Assembly in 1787 for a contract to mint copper coins. George Clinton was then the Governor of New York, and, according to historian Louis Jordan, “Machin’s close friend.” Researchers believe that Machin was responsible for the 1787 Clinton Copper Patterns that began to surface in 1859. There are perhaps thirteen in existence and the Newman piece is one of the two finest privately held Clinton Copper Patterns, and may possibly be the finest of them all, in public or private holdings.
The NGC assigned grade of “MS-63” to the Newman Collection Clinton Copper was widely accepted. This piece has zero scratches and the few contact marks are miniscule. It was very well struck on a choice planchet (prepared blank). Indeed, it is an attractive piece that commands attention.
“I love this Clinton” pattern, declares Jason Carter. It is the “highest [certified] Clinton by far, strike was great, surfaces were really nice. I was the underbidder. I was bidding for a customer. He likes coins and patterns that we think are iconic,” Jason adds.
John Kraljevich was the successful bidder, for $499,375. Although this sounds like a tremendous amount, it should be noted that, in November 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned the Roper-Royse piece for $218,500. The Roper-Royse piece is PCGS graded Fine-15 and is near the bottom of the condition ranking for Clinton Coppers. Moreover, the present Heritage catalogue suggests that the Newman and Roper-Royse pieces are the only two Clinton Coppers to have been publicly auctioned since 1982, more than thirty years ago.
It is curious that George Clinton was Governor of New York in 1787 and it seems was then depicted on serious pattern for a coin issue that, if accepted, would have been authorized by the State of New York. He later served as the Vice President of the United States from March 4, 1805 to the time of his death on April 20, 2012.
III. Silver Continental Currency Dollar Pattern
Continental Currency Patterns are dated “1776” and were struck in pewter, brass, copper and silver. Reportedly, this Newman piece is, by far, the finest of just four that were struck in silver. There survive hundreds in pewter, including quite a few that grade MS-64 or higher.
Although several experts do not seem comfortable with the 63 grade assigned by the NGC, this is a piece with pleasing natural green toning and minimal contact marks in the fields. As for the $1.41 million price, there does not seem to be much agreement about the meaning of the result.
Andy Lustig and Jason Carter find the $1.41 million price to be reasonable. Indeed, this “was a bargain,” Andy exclaims, “among the expensive coins, the big bargain of the sale”!
Carter states that this is “a really good deal, good to own over the long term. There is little or no downside to owning the finest known silver Continental Dollar.” In Jason’s view, the pewter pieces make all these patterns famous and the silver pieces are more important. Silver, not pewter, was the metal for silver dollars.
John G. disagrees with Lustig and Carter. John is a veteran collector-dealer and he has been buying major rarities since 1991. He prefers that his last name not be mentioned.
John has owned dozens of six figure coins. On Nov. 15, he bought the Newman 1795 Draped Bust Silver Dollar that is NGC graded “MS-66+” and is CAC approved. In the past, he has owned three different types of 1792 cent patterns, including a 1792 Silver Center Copper Cent. He has also owned more than a dozen different Chain Cents, the highest graded Strawberry Leaf Cent, and a vast number of pre-1840 U.S. coins in all metals.
“For a Continental Dollar, I can’t see just a different metal amounting to that much of a jump in value. There are plenty of great ones in pewter. A MS-65 pewter Continental could be worth $350,000. The silver one does not look much different. I would not pay more than $750,000 for a silver Continental Dollar,” John announces.
Before this sale, the PCGS retail guide value for this coin was $1,000,000 exactly. The other piece that was struck in silver from the same pair of dies, the Granberg-Boyd-Ford piece, was auctioned by Stack’s (New York) for $425,500 in 2003. It was not certified. Neither of the two silver Continental Dollars that were struck from a different pair of dies has ever been auctioned for more than $350,000. The other three, though, are characterized by substantial wear.
I point out that these “patterns” are undocumented and were made at a currently unknown location. Moreover, there is little evidence that they were made in 1776. Further, I am not aware of any evidence relating to who orchestrated or paid for the project. Newman’s hypothesis regarding Elisha Gallaudet being the engraver of the dies raises additional questions regarding the importance of these ‘patterns.’ Gallaudet could have been paid by private minters at a later time or Gallaudet’s concepts could have been copied without permission. Also, using Gallaudet’s initials may have benefitted the minters, whoever they were, even if Gallaudet himself was not involved.
I was figuring that $1,050,000 would be a moderate price and a $1.15 million result would be strong. Saul Teichman, a leading researcher of patterns, was “surprised” that the level surpassed even one million. We find the $1.41 million result to be “very strong,” and not one of the better values in the sale.
IV. Mysterious Bar Copper
Another very unusual item is a Bar Copper. In 1875, Sylvester Crosby, a recognized collector and researcher, wrote that “little is known” about Bar Coppers and then Crosby quotes Charles Bushnell, a famous and knowledgeable collector in the mid 19th century. Supposedly, Bar Coppers were minted in Birmingham, England, in 1785 and later circulated in New York and in New Jersey.
There is a short statement in the New Jersey Gazette issue of Nov. 12, 1785 that describes pieces that may be the items that are now known as Bar Coppers. It is noted that the central obverse (front) design element of Bar Coppers closely resembles the USA logo of the buttons on the uniforms of the Continental Army, the American revolutionaries who fought British forces so that the United States could become an independent nation.
Although the Newman Bar Copper is NGC graded as “MS-65,” I am not aware of anyone outside of the NGC grading it as “MS-65.” Even Jason, who says that he agrees with most all of the NGC grades for Newman pieces in this auction, “could not get to 65 on this coin.” Carter grades it as “64+.”
This Bar Copper has very noticeable spots and contact scuff. Further, there are many small marks on the bars. It seems plausible that the PCGS graded “MS-64” piece that is pictured on PCGS CoinFacts is a better coin, though coins should not be graded via images. Further, the PCGS reports having graded three Bar Coppers as “MS-66.” It is true, however, that the Newman piece has crisp luster, is attractive and scores highly in the category of originality. Even so, I figure its grade in the low end of the 64 range. Also, I theorize that at least 140 Bar Coppers are now privately owned.
One of the strongest prices in the sale was $64,625 for the Newman Collection, Bar Copper. Is this amount more than double the previous auction record for a Bar Copper? A floor bidder who I did not recognize, perhaps a collector, was the successful bidder. I was figuring that a moderate price for this piece would be around $42,500, including a Newman premium.
V. Silver Center Copper Cent Pattern
For the Newman Collection 1792 Silver Center Copper Cent, $1,410,000 was a moderate price. An amount above $1.55 million would have been strong. The NGC graded “MS-63+” Newman piece is of much higher quality than the PCGS graded “MS-61” Morris piece that Heritage auctioned for $1.15 million in April 2012.
The surface quality of the Morris piece, in turn, is much greater than that of the Bushnell piece that Heritage sold for $822,500 in 2013. Though there was much rumbling in recent weeks regarding the grades assigned by the NGC to the coins in this sale, the “63+” grade for this piece is fair enough; While I personally graded it as MS-63, not near a 64 grade, I could certainly understand a 63+ grade. It is truly ‘mint state,’ has minimal contact marks, and is attractive.
Jason asserts that “the 63+ grade is right on. It is one of my favorite pieces in the whole sale,” Carter adds. Jim McGuigan does not grade it as high as 63+, though he very much likes this pattern and acknowledges that it is “a true unc. Most dealers [who Jim knows well] would probably grade it as 63 at most,” Jim guesses.
Andy Lustig is not commenting on the grade, though is extremely enthusiastic about Silver Center Copper Cent Patterns in general. He would very much “like to own” this Newman piece. The $1.41 million result is “unsurprising; not strong, not weak, just about right,” Lustig concludes.
Bidding started at a $650k hammer level, which meant commitment to pay $763,750 with the standard fee. Several bidders were involved before the level climbed to $1 million. Jason Carter reports that he bid “850 hammer [$998,750]. That was my customer’s limit,” Carter reveals.
A dealer named Tony bid $950k (+17.5% = $1,116,250). Another bidder on the ‘floor’ cut the bid to a $25k increment, thus $975k ($1,145,625). I was not sure who bid $1 million hammer ($1,175,000) and then $1.1 million hammer (+17.5% = $1,292,500).
The auctioneer was then asking for $1.2 million at the hammer level. A Heritage Live bidder cut the increment with a bid of $1.15m ($1,351,250). Tony then motioned to cut the increment with a bid of $1.175m ($1,380,625), a $25k ($29,375) advance. Tony had not cut a previous bid for this lot.
There was then a disagreement between Tony and the auctioneer. I may not remember the exact words spoken, though I honestly believe that I am accurately representing the incident here. The auctioneer, Bob Merrill, denied Tony’s motion to enter a “cut bid,” a bid at half of an increment. I believe Bob said, “You can’t cut a cut.” Tony responded, “I didn’t cut sh*t”!
The auctioneer made clear that a bid of $1.2 million at the hammer level was then required for the lot to remain open. What is “this sh*t,” Tony exclaimed. Bob explained that the standard hammer increment, evidently $100,000 at levels just past $1 million hammer, had already been cut to $50,000 and thus it could not be further cut to $25,000. At other auctions, I have witnessed auctioneers make exception to such rules expecially when bids reach levels that are generally considered ‘high’ for a rare coin.
Next, a telephone bidder, communicating through a Heritage employee in the front row, bid $1.2 million hammer ($1,410,000 with the 17.5% fee). There were no additional bids. The Newman 1792 Silver Center Copper Cent Pattern was sold.
I heard mixed opinions regarding Bob’s refusal to accept Tony’s cut, which amounted to 2.17% above the previous bid, though a significant amount of money, $25k ($29,375), in absolute terms. It is true that Tony has been the successful bidder for many expensive coins in a large number of auctions. Although I am not familiar with all the polices of Heritage, I have attended countless auctions conducted by a variety of firms and auctioneers often have considerable discretion.
“The auctioneer did the right thing by sticking to the rules,” Andy Lustig declares. “I have been watching Bob Merrill call auctions since the late 1970s. His calling of this auction was the best performance that I have ever seen an auctioneer give,” Lustig asserts. “It was a masterful job.”
Personally, I found that Bob Merrill was more methodical than usual and even a little bit mechanical, on Friday night. At many other auctions, I have watched him tell jokes and otherwise entertain the audience. In the past, he was clever during the proceedings and less predictable than most auctioneers.
In all cases, Bob makes auctions more enjoyable than they probably would otherwise be. In addition to serving as a business, coin auctions should be and often are fun. Coin dealers should keep in mind that coin buyers usually wish to enjoy collecting coins. If a bidder decides to openly disagree with or to otherwise challenge a directive by an auctioneer, the bidder should try to do so in a fun way, without the use of expletives.
In any event, I had a lot of fun at this auction, and I hope that others did so as well. Ever since I was a little kid, I have heard about Newman’s pre-1793 items. It was thrilling to finally see them and to watch collectors buy them. Examining a Virginia Pattern in silver, though, was not as much fun as I had hoped that it would be.
VI. Virginia Pattern in Silver
Virginia Patterns in silver are mysterious. Virginia Halfpennies of 1773 are not mysterious and are not rare. Some die varieties are extremely rare. As type coins, however, these are easy to find, even in high grades. These halfpennies, though, were stuck in copper. There are 1774/3 overdate silver pieces with a design that is similar to that of the 1773 Virginia Halfpennies. These are now thought to have been patterns of Virginia Shillings, coins which never materialized.
The cataloguers at Heritage, with the assistance of Saul Teichman, determined that just five are known. The Newman piece is NGC certified as ‘Proof-58.’ It has noticeable wear. It is a dull gray color with mild green-russet tones and some very noticeable contact marks. It was probably somewhat glossy when struck, though its assigned Proof status is very questionable. The price realized of $94,000 was strong.
The Ten Eyck-Brand-Boyd-Ford piece sold for $115,000 in 2005. I have been informed that it is a stunning piece that is of much higher quality than the Newman piece.
VII. High Grade Vermont
Before the U.S. Constitution was adopted, several States, including Vermont, authorized the production of copper coins for wide circulation as official money. Vermont Coppers that grade above AU-53 are significant condition rarities.
An obviously circulated, NGC graded “MS-62” 1786 Vermont Copper of the non-rare Vermontensium variety, brought $44,062.50! Besides the fact that it grades AU-58 at best, it is very original and has very few contact marks. While it is an excellent coin, the price realized is hard to understand, very strong for sure.
In Jan. 2008, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded “MS-62” VERMONTENSIUM for $25,300. If this is the coin that is pictured on PCGS CoinFacts, it seems likely that it is of higher quality than the Newman piece.
VIII. Running Fox in New Jersey
In 1786, the New Jersey legislature authorized three citizens to mint three million copper coins, under certain conditions. Thousands survive and there are a vast number of varieties. In the live auction sessions, the lowest price for a New Jersey Copper was $411.25 for a 1787 piece that is NGC graded “VF-30,” though many experts would conclude that it is non-gradable. There were several New Jersey Coppers in the range of $440 to $705.
The highest quality New Jersey Copper in the sale is of a famous variety, that of the “Running Fox.” There is a picture of a moving fox on the left side of the reverse (back of the coin). There were four 1788 “Running Fox” New Jersey Coppers in this auction.
The NGC graded “MS-65” coin was formerly in the famous collection of Allison Jackman, which was auctioned in 1918. In my view, its grade is at least in the high end of the 65 range. It has almost zero contact marks, is wonderfully struck and is more than very attractive. This “Newman Running Fox is gorgeous,” John G. comments.
All New Jersey Coppers dated 1788, of any variety, are extreme rarities in grades above AU-55. Indeed, a ‘mint state’ 1788 New Jersey Copper is of great importance. One that truly grades “MS-65” is incredible.
This coin is really neat. I was captivated by it. The color is a nice medium brown with rich reddish tints and some green tints. There is some deeper red about the letters and the shield glows. A little bit of unwanted green stuff in the reverse outer fields is a concern, though a minor imperfection for a New Jersey Copper.
The $105,750 price might seem absurdly high to someone who did not view this coin. After seeing the coin and thinking about the condition rarity of ‘mint state’ 1788 New Jersey coppers, this result seems just slightly strong, if strong at all?
“I was the underbidder, Carter recollected with a disappointing tone. “The coin just jumped out at me. I really wanted it.”
Newman had a 1786 that is also NGC graded “MS-65.” The just mentioned 1788 Running Fox coin is clearly of higher quality, and 1788 is a ‘better date’ than 1786 in the series of New Jersey Coppers. That “MS-65” 1786 sold for $25,850.
IX. Connecticut Coppers
More than 120 Connecticut Coppers were auctioned on Friday. Additional Connecticut Coppers sold on Saturday. On Friday, an NGC graded Fine-12, 1787 Bust Left copper brought $211.50. Several rare varieties, even a couple with much corrosion, sold for prices between $50,000 and $100,000 each!
Only two 1787 Connecticut Coppers are known of the variety where the Liberty Seated figure on the reverse (back) is facing to the right, with the pole at her left. On all other 1787 Connecticut Coppers, the Liberty Seated figure is facing to the left, with the pole at her right. The other piece was in the Norweb family collection and was auctioned by Bowers & Merena in New York in 1987. The Newman piece is inferior to the Norweb piece, and is graded “Fine-12” by the NGC. It brought $164,500! Is this an auction record for a Connecticut Copper?
The most distinctive Connecticut Copper in the sale is an error. This 1788 Draped Bust Left type piece was struck twice, though the two strikes were not close to being in alignment. The result is a sideways oval-shaped coin that literally exhibits two heads. The reverse (back) includes a partial brockage. This error is NGC graded as “MS-62.”
Jim McGuigan says that, although it is a circulated coin, “it is coolest colonial era error that [Jim] has seen in more than thirty years.” Andy Lustig, an expert in errors, remarks, “the quality was not great. It is a spectacular error and the price was commensurate with that.” It went for $25,850, a weak price.
For his own personal collection, Jason Carter bought a 1787 Connecticut Copper of “The Laughing Head” variety. It is NGC graded “MS-65.” I did not see this “Laughing Head” coin, which brought $44,062.50.
X. Gem 1787 New York Copper
For his own collection, Jason Carter also bought a wonderful 1787 New York Copper, which I did see. It was one of my favorite coins in the sale. He and I are certainly on the same wavelength in regards to interpreting this coin.
This New York State Copper is a Nova Eborac, ‘Normal Head’ obverse, Liberty Seated to left reverse. The NGC certification of “MS-64+-Red & Brown” is certainly more than fair.
Indeed, experts at the NGC may have undergraded this coin. It is just amazing. Indeed, I carefully examined this coin during different days and the bright red color seems authentic. It is a true, original red and brown coin, with much bright red! Furthermore, it is very attractive and has minimal contact marks. The price realized of $55,812.50 is certainly a record, though I am not aware of any 1787 Nova Eborac Coppers that are in the same league as this one.
Jason’s collection contains “a little bit of everything,” Carter reveals, “just coins that I like that I think are good values, many high grade rarities.” Jason started collecting coins when he was “nine years old” and has “never taken a break.”
Carter was not the only dealer to seek coins for his respective personal collection at this sale of Newman’s pre-1793 items. Many dealers seek fresh and unusual items that are distinct from the kinds of U.S. coins that are typically seen in most major coin auctions and at major conventions.
©2014 Greg Reynolds