Gold Coins and Quality Rules in Heritage World Coin Auction
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #202
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds ……….
On Jan. 5th and 6th, Heritage conducted one of the official auctions of the New York International Numismatic Convention, which is held every January at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Manhattan. Although this Heritage auction event featured more than one thousand items from around the world, ranging from ancient times to the 20th century, this discussion is mostly about high quality gold coins dating from after 1300, with emphasis upon coins from the 19th century.
The total prices realized for the live auction sessions at the Waldorf on Jan. 5th and 6th was $14.7 million, which was substantially higher than the total, almost precisely one year earlier, of $11.6 million. Also, ancient and Medieval coins played more of a role in last year’s Heritage world coin auction in New York. This year’s event contained an extraordinary offering of post-1500 coins of Europe, Canada and Latin America.
I. $14.7 million in context
While it should never be concluded that the total revenue is in any way indicative of the success of an auction, this total does provide evidence that the size of the overall market for rare world coins is dramatically smaller than that of U.S. coins. This was probably the largest auction at the premier annual convention for world coins. Each year, there are several live auctions of U.S. coins that each total more than $25 million.
At the FUN Convention this week in Orlando, Heritage may auction more than $50 million worth of U.S. coins plus more than $10 million in scarce U.S. paper money, perhaps much more than $65 million altogether. Overall, markets for rare world coins are much smaller than markets for rare U.S. coins. The growth in markets for and values of rare or scarce U.S. coins over the last fifteen years may be a reason for some collectors of U.S. coins to consider collecting world coins, as world rarities may often be acquired for fractions of the prices of corresponding or analogous U.S. rarities.
In my estimation, with the exceptions of Chinese and Russian coins, rare world coins tend to be worth about 30% of analogous or conceptually similar U.S. rarities. This auction of $14.7 million worth of world coins, which did not include all that many Chinese and Russian items, is equivalent, to perhaps a $40+ million auction of rare or scarce U.S. coins, in terms of rarity, popularity, quality and quantity of the coins featured. Of course, there is no precise formula that can be effectively employed to measure the importance and scale of world coin auctions and/or U.S coin auctions. I am using my analytical skills and my knowledge acquired over a period of twenty years of covering coin auctions to put forth a hypothesis regarding the importance of this auction event. I viewed most of the post-1500 coins and I engaged in research.
Besides the Eliasberg sale in 2005 and the auction of the Millennia Collection in 2008, this was the greatest sale of world coins that I have personally attended, in terms of the post-1500 world coins included. In this event, however, there was no one collection that was in the same category as the Eliasberg world gold collection or the Millennia Collection.
Of course, my review here is addressed to collectors in Europe and around the world as well those in the U.S., I just wish to mention to my usual readers that collectors who find that they have trouble affording rare U.S. coins that they seek (or could afford fifteen years ago) may find particular areas of world coins to be affordable and satisfying. I suggest British coins of the 1300s to the 1600s to collectors of pre-1840 U.S. gold coins as these are historically significant and are often available in AU to ‘Mint State’ grades in relatively original states. I believe that many collectors of rare U.S. gold coins would like them.
II. King Edward III (1327-77) of England
There were many choice uncirculated (MS-63 or higher grade), pre-1500 British gold coins in this auction. Within two weeks, I will devote a separate article to the British coins offered by Heritage and Stack’s-Bowers in January. Here, I must mention that a major part of this sale was the “The Hans Cook Collection of British Gold.”
While some of the rarer and more exotic pieces in the Cook Collection will be covered in that upcoming discussion, I now mention a few of the pre-1500 historical gold coins in the Cook Collection that are relatively affordable and may appeal to a very wide audience.
Indeed, Hans Cook had many uncirculated (‘mint state’) coins from the era of King Edward III (1327-77). During the 1300s, England became a world power.
From logical and historical perspectives, one of the better values in this auction was a Cook Collection Quarter Noble, sold as lot #24038. This gold coin was minted in the 1360s. It is fairly NGC graded MS-64. Although moderately dipped in the past, it was probably never cleaned and has naturally retoned in a nice manner. Further, it is better stuck than most Quarter Nobles (small gold coins) of the era. Additionally, it has almost zero contact marks. Moreover, it is very lustrous. It brought $2232.50.
Yes, I know many Quarter Nobles were found in unearthed stashes of coins and that these are not extremely rare. Even so, the quality of this piece is impressive and the whole type is under-rated. This coin was one of the best values in the whole auction.
A King Edward III gold Half Noble (lot #24039) that is NGC graded “MS-64” is attractive, too. Though it is not quite of the quality of the just mentioned Quarter Noble, it perhaps just makes the 64 grade and is very original. It has just been very lightly dipped. Though the Mint-caused imperfections are a little distracting, these are much less bothersome than the harm done by careless or unethical dealers to many other coins.
The fact that this coin survives in such an excellent state is itself very appealing. At $4700, this is almost as good as deal as the just mentioned Quarter Noble. Indeed, this Half Noble was probably minted during the 1350s and is of a rare variety. (The NGC holder and the Heritage catalogue list this coin as Spink reference #1485. In my 48th (2013) edition of the Spink standard catalogue of British coins, Spink-1485 is a Noble, and this Half Noble may a representative of S-1493?)
There were three full Nobles of Edward III in the Hans Cook Collection. In this auction, these relatively large gold coins fared better than their little brothers. Two are each fairly NGC graded “MS-63,” are of the same variety (Spink #1490), and were minted during a period from 1356 to 1361. These were made in London. Though the first was more original than the second, both are pleasing coins. The first realized $6462.50, a strong price, and the second brought $5875.
The third Cook Collection full Noble or Edward III was struck at the then recently established British society on the European Continent, Calais. This NGC graded “MS-64” Noble, which was struck at some point from 1363 to 1369, sold for $8225, a strong rice. It was lightly to moderately dipped. Though I grade it as 63, it is fair to point out that most experts in U.S. coins would agree with the 64 grade that was assigned by the NGC. Although this coin is mostly original, it is not quite original enough for a 64 grade, in my view.
In contrast, for $8225, a collector of early U.S gold coins might hope to acquire a relatively unoriginal, Fine-15 grade U.S. $10 gold coin (Eagle) from the early 1800s. The 1801 is the least rare date of the Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle $10 gold design type and a mediocre Very Fine-20 grade piece of this type would retail for more than $10,000. In comparison, prices for Nobles from the 1300s seem very reasonable, in my view.
Due to archaeological excavations of stashes, quite a few MS-63 grade pre-1600 British gold coins survive. For many other types of world coins from past centuries, a MS-63 grade piece may be the finest known, and be far above the second or third finest. Indeed, in many cases, the finest known may grade just MS-62
So, a coin that a collector of classic (1793-1934) U.S. coins would not consider to be superb may be of amazing quality in the eyes of a collector of pre-1900 world coins. In this auction, certified 62 to 65 grade coins that place highly in condition rankings for whole design types brought strong prices.
Of course, a narrow generalization should not be applied to all price realized in an auction. In this auction, though, more so than in many other auctions of world coins, coins of special quality for their respective design types seemed to bring strong prices, while very rare coins in general did not fare as well. Again, it should be emphasized that, in an auction of hundreds of rare items, no one rule can explain or even shed light upon all results.
III. $500k in honor of the first Brazilian Emperor
Is the highest price in this auction an exception to my interpretation that ‘quality ruled’? Much of the appeal of a coronation piece, an 1822 dated 6400 Reis gold coin, of Emperor Pedro I of Brazil, stems from its historical significance, and its rarity is a central factor. Even so, this is one of the finest of the fifteen to twenty that survive. Could it be the finest?
This RLM Collection piece is NGC graded “AU-55” and looks wonderful to naked eyes. The copper in the alloy became alive and dominates much of the surface with an appealing rose tone. The remainder of the coin is a neat orange-gold color. Under five times magnification, a lot of imperfections are visible. Even so, it is much more attractive than I expected it to be and it is unlikely that a potential buyer could acquire a better one in the near future.
Only three of these have been available in decades. The Eliasberg piece has been badly mistreated and has serious technical problems. It has the details perhaps of a Very Fine grade coin. It sold for $69,000 in 2005 and for $138,000 in 2012.
In a sense, this gold piece is both a medal and a coin, a commemorative relating to the rise of an individual. Pedro I was the first emperor of Brazil. In 1822, he declared independence from Portugal and to some extent from his family, as his father was then king of Portugal. Emperor Pedro I led armies to defeat various opponents within Brazil. In a way, he is the father of the Brazilian nation.
In some societies, coronation pieces are medals. This coronation piece is not really a medal; it has a denomination, 6400 Reis, and, in a sense, is the first coin issue of Brazil as an independent nation. This piece was part of the consignment of a large portion of a major collection by Dr. Roberto Monteiro (RLM).
I am astonished by the $499,375 result for this 1822 6400 Reis gold coronation piece. When that Eliasberg piece sold for $69,000 in 2005, people in the room were stunned. Most were then expecting a price of around $25,000, in 2005. Now, the RLM piece sold for around three times the $138,000 price that the same Eliasberg piece realized in 2012.
It has been typical for such politically and historically significant coins to be polished and/or damaged. Many were very harmfully mounted for displays. The quality of this piece exceeded my expectations. In a sense, the AU-55 grade and aesthetic characteristics of this piece are analogous to a “65” grade for one of the first U.S. coins
Although the gold coronation 6400 Reis coins of 1822 are extremely rare, my guess is that the quality and eye appeal of this specific coin were important factors that contributed to the astronomical price realized. Would a gradable VF-30 grade piece have realized even half as much?
IV. 1711 Spanish-Mexican “Royal” Large Gold Coin
The second highest price in this auction, $293,750, was paid for a high quality Spanish-Mexican Eight Escudos gold coin that is dated 1711. It probably weighs around 0.85 Troy Ounce, more or less.
For centuries, the Eight Escudos denomination was the largest gold coin in the Western Hemisphere. Coins that were carefully made on nicely prepared blanks (flans) are termed ‘Royals.’ These tend to have much fewer mint-caused imperfections than typical strikings and are generally more impressive.
Are coins that are well struck on properly made blanks are coins that were made as they should have been, not special strikings? At the mints of the Spanish Empire, typical strikings of coins, especially of gold coins, were very sloppy, by later standards, and much emphasis was then placed on the quantity that could be produced every day.
The cataloguer explains that “likely no more than fifty” Spanish-Mexican Eight Escudos ‘Royals’ survive. These date from 1695 to 1729. I have not heard of anyone collecting them ‘by date.’ Generally, one Royal is added to a collection of more typically struck Spanish Empire coins of the same respective time period.
In my view, the main determinant of the $293,750 price is the quality of this specific coin. In addition to several other choice pieces from the Mexican Mint, there are other Royals from other societies in the Spanish Empire that survive. Someone who really wants an Eight Escudos Royal can find one for a much lower price. Additionally, collectors seeking especially rare coins can find relevant, especially rare, attractive Eight Escudos coins that have better than average strikes, for dramatically less than $300,000 each. This specific coin that has a magnetic effect on those enthusiasts who view it.
This King Felipe V, Eight Escudos 1711 gold “Royal” is PCGS graded “MS-64.” Though it was lightly dipped not long ago, this coin is mostly to very original. For an uncirculated coin from 1711, it scores very high in the category of originality. Furthermore, while there were many indentations on the dies used to make this coin, there are no significant scratches or contact marks on the coin. Moreover, this coin is very attractive. I am puzzled to why it was not certified as grading “MS-65.” It is a terrific coin.
The 1714 Eight Escudos Spanish-Mexican “Royal” that was in the Millennia Collection is relevant. That piece was moderately dipped, while this one was just lightly dipped. The Millennia 1714 is brighter, though this one is more original. That one is (or was) NGC graded MS-65. The just sold 1711 and the Millennia 1714 are of about the same quality, though each has its respective strengths.
That 1714 selling for $253,000 and this 1711 bringing $293,750 are commensurable results. Many of the prices realized at the Millennia sale in 2008 were extremely strong.
V. Eight Escudos of Chile and Peru
In terms of quality and aesthetics, the Chilean Eight Escudos gold coins in this auction are impressive. Though not extremely rare, these coins brought strong prices because of popularity and quality.
As for King Ferdinand VI Eight Escudos gold coins, the 1758/7 is a better date, yet the whole design type is not rare. This (KM #3) design type was minted from 1750 to 1758. Those dating 1750 and 1751 are easy to find. I doubt, though, that there are many people who collect these ‘by date’ and those who do usually seek circulated coins.
The value of the Spanish-Chilean 1758/7 Eight Escudos coin in this auction is largely a function of its quality. Although collectors of gem quality, U.S. gold coins would not be overwhelmed by it, this coin is especially noteworthy, in terms of striking quality and grade, for a coin of its type.
Though fair, the NGC assigned MS-62 grade does not reveal the great aspects of the coin. Yes, it has been moderately cleaned, extensively, and it has been a little mishandled. No one expects a 62 grade coin to approach perfection. A 62+ grade for this coin, though, is certainly warranted.
The underlying reflectivity of the fields, the well formed outer design elements, the crispness of the strike, and other positive factors separate it from its brethren. It is stunning for a Spanish-Chilean gold coin. The $11,750 result was strong and very much understandable.
The Spanish-Chilean coin in the next lot (#23319), though lightly circulated, is also excellent and impressive. It is a King Carlos II 1762 Eight Escudos that is NGC graded AU-55. It was just lightly cleaned and the fields have a few contact marks. The striking quality is exceptional, though cannot be briefly explained. Moreover, the toning is very attractive. The $7050 price was apparently strong, yet really very reasonable.
The Eight Escudos gold coins of the independent Republic of Chile are generally collected ‘by type’ and the major types are not very rare. The three uncirculated pieces in this sale are exceptional in terms of eye appeal. Plus, the artistic excellence of the designs is noteworthy and culturally significant.
The PCGS graded “MS-64” 1819 is very lustrous and more than attractive overall. The $12,925 price was strong, though consistent with my theorem that 62 to 65 grade, rare or scarce world coins brought relatively strong prices in this auction. Although the grade of this 1819 gold coin is perhaps on the border between MS-63 and -64 grades, it is of exceptional quality for a coin of its type.
The Eliasberg 1832 coin of the same design type is even better than the just mentioned 1819 and was also in this auction. This Eliasberg Collection 1832 is NGC graded MS-64 and, if not for some moderate cleaning in a few small areas, it would certainly merit a grade in the high end of the 65 range. Indeed, it could be fairly argued that it deserves a 65 grade. The neat natural toning and overall appearance of this coin are excellent. The blue, russet and green colors on the reverse are especially memorable.
This Eliasberg 1832 Eight Escudos Chilean gold coin sold for $15,275. In April 2005, when ANR sold Eliasberg’s world gold coins, this same coin brought $4830, which was considered an extremely strong price in 2005. It was NGC graded MS-64 then, too.
The 1842 Eight Escudos gold coin in this auction is of a markedly different design type. It also has an extraordinary pedigree; it was in the Millennia Collection, one of the all-time greatest collections of world coins. After the Millennia Collection was sold in May 2008, I authored a six part, analytical series about it.
This 1842 Chilean gold piece is NGC certified “MS-63.“ Some aspects of this coin are terrific, especially an excellent strike, much luster, and a high score in the category of originality.
On May 26, 2008, it brought $5750, a moderate to strong price at the time. On Jan. 5, 2014, it shot to $12,925. In this auction, ‘quality ruled.’ This coin is only somewhat scarce.
An 1838 Eight Escudos gold coin of South Peru is relevant. It is not extremely rare. Though NGC graded MS-62, the one in this auction is of unusually high quality for an Eight Escudos coin from Peru of any type. It is very lustrous and very attractive overall. If not for some light friction on the highpoints, it would merit a higher grade. It sold for $15,275, a very strong price, and a multiple of the value of a MS-60 grade coin of the same design type.
This gold coin of South Peru was in the “Bently Collection,” as were many other noteworthy coins in this auction. It should be noted that coins consigned as parts of collections, especially of impressive collections, tend to fare better at auction, on average, than coins consigned by dealers or other unnamed sources. (Please see my article, ‘What are Auction Prices.’)
IV. CAR-Guatemala 1824
The Central American Republic (CAR) was a loose federation, rather than a true republic. Leading historians do not agree as to whether this political entity emerged in 1821 or in 1823 and do not agree as to whether it ended in 1838 or in 1840. Indeed, there have been sharply differing interpretations of pertinent historical events.
For some time, all of Central America between Panama and Mexico was part of this federation (CAR), including the areas that now constitute the nations of Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and the Honduras. Briefly, the CAR included a sixth state, Los Altos, which was later partly annexed by Guatemala and partly annexed by Mexico. Although most CAR coins were minted in Costa Rica, a substantial number were minted in Guatemala.
The Guatemala-CAR 1825 Eight Escudos is much rarer than the 1824. The 1825 in this auction was determined by experts at the NGC to be non-gradable, with the details of an ‘AU’ grade coin. This extremely rare coin sold for $38,187.50 to a collector in the auction room.
The Guatemala-CAR 1824 Eight Escudos in this auction is NGC graded MS-65 and was formerly in the Mortimer Hammel Collection. In 1982, Stack’s (New York) auctioned the Hammel Collection. Though before my time, I have heard from reliable sources, including Larry Hanks, that the Hammel Collection contained world coins of tremendous quality, many of which are the first or second finest known pieces of whole design types.
This Hammel 1824 was just lightly dipped and has naturally retoned. Indeed, it has a great golden color with neat orange-russet and green areas. Further, this 1824 Eight Escudos coin is flashy. Indeed, this coin is more than very attractive. If it did not have a few hairlines here and there, it would certainly merit a 66 grade.
The $176,250 result was not surprising, given the trends in this auction event. A sub-62 grade CAR-Guatemala 1824 NG-M Eight Escudos would have realized a small fraction of the price of this coin; ‘quality ruled.’
Unfortunately, it is not practical to discuss here a large number of the appealing coins in this auction. The RLM Collection of Brazilian coins will be remembered for decades. The Rudman Collection of Guatemalan coins, especially, merits further discussion. I will soon discuss more coins from the Hans Cook Collection of British Gold.
©2014 Greg Reynolds