Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #187
A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds
Every September or October, the third Long Beach Expo of the year is held at the Long Beach Convention Center in the county of Los Angeles. This event will be open to the public from Sept. 26th to Sept. 28th. As usual, Heritage is conducting the official auction while the Expo occurs. Also as usual, the Goldbergs held an auction in the city of Los Angeles just prior to the Long Beach Expo. The Goldberg auction started on Sept. 22nd and ends today with an offering of “World Crowns and Minors.” Their current offerings of U.S. coins have concluded. The purpose here is to provide brief, analytical remarks about a variety of U.S. coins in this auction.
The focus here is more on coins that are of interest to a large number of collectors, who might plausibly participate in auctions, rather than on coins that are expensive or set auction records. Indeed, I have selected coins that many collectors care about. In addition to some rarities, I mention coins that are relatively inexpensive. Much more so than usual, I discuss rare coins that are non-gradable, though I mention some superb gems as well.
The Goldbergs sale was not the only coin auction event to be held in Los Angeles County just prior to the autumn Long Beach Expo. Bonhams auctioned a major collection of Proof gold coins yesterday, on Sept. 23rd.
I will cover the Bonhams and/or Heritage sales soon. There are a large number of items in both the Goldbergs and Heritage auctions that cannot be practically discussed in auction reviews. Indeed, SBG, Goldbergs and Heritage auctions are typically just too large to fairly or accurately summarize. Each such event includes thousands of coins. So, I usually select coins that are of interest to many collectors, as I did here, or, in other discussions, coins that serve important educational purposes. It never makes sense to list the coins that brought the highest prices in an auction.
Generally, I prefer to discuss coins that I have personally examined. Regrettably, I was not be able to travel to Southern California this month and I have not seen many of the coins auctioned this week. So, even more so than usual, mentions of grades assigned by the PCGS or the NGC do not in any way imply that I am in agreement with such certified grades. Collectors should, however, purchase coins that are certified by the PCGS or the NGC, as acquiring such certified coins involves much less risk than the purchases of not certified coins or of coins certified by less influential services. Additionally, I recommend that collectors, who spend substantial amounts by way of auctions, hire an expert agent, someone who is not an owner or employee of an auction company, to examine coins and provide reports.
I. Famous Husak 1793 Chain Cent
The Goldbergs offered a famous Chain Cent (S-2 variety) that McCawley and Grellman grade as “AU-58.” I remember the coin. It was, in the past, PCGS certified “MS-63 Red & Brown.” The current cataloguer (Grellman?) notes, “Why it was removed from that holder remains a mystery, and PCGS has refused to reholder it at the original grade. The lot descriptions and accompanying photos of this cent in [four previous] sale catalogs suggest the coin has not changed in any way.”
This coin was formerly in the epic set of Walter Husak. It sold for $126,500 in Heritage’s auction of the Husak Collection on Feb. 15, 2008. I was there. This coin was then one of few Husak pieces that was not in a PCGS holder. In my view, although Goldbergs and Heritage catalogs indicate that is has been ‘lightly smoothed,’ it has more serious problems.
Both the PCGS and the NGC tend to apply their respective grading criteria rather loosely, and make exceptions for, pre-1800 cents, especially for Chain Cents. If being ‘lightly smoothed’ was this coin’s only serious problem, it would have qualified for a PCGS or NGC grade that is equal to or higher than the “58” grade that McCawley & Grellman assigned to it. Coins with a little friction, especially if they are famous rarities, are often PCGS or NGC graded “MS-62.” Experts at these services frequently grade coins with readily noticeable friction as “MS-61.”
This Chain Cent is uncirculated or very nearly so. It is not unusual for specialists in early copper coins to assign grades below 60 to coins that they regard as being uncirculated, because they deduct grading points for certain kinds of imperfections. Before 2008, Mark Borckardt graded this coin as “55.”
This Chain Cent did not sell on Sept. 22nd. A bid of more than $150,000 would have been required to buy it. This reserve was a little aggressive and the values of non-gradable coins are harder to estimate than the values of corresponding gradable coins. Maybe this coin has a retail value of around $100,000?
Though an entirely different matter, I was hoping that a 1798 cent that is graded ‘01,’ by the cataloguers, would sell because I like using it as a great example of a pre-1800 U.S. coin that tens of thousands of coin collectors could afford. It has quite a bit of design detail. Although this 1798 cent maybe qualifies for the lowest numerical grade, Poor-01, it is somewhat attractive. For a readily identifiable, genuine 18th century U.S. coin, the high bid, $57.50, would have been a good value, from a logical perspective.Unfortunately, $57.50 was not enough to buy it. I wonder about the exact reserve, which I assume must have been less than $100.
In any event, when I was a kid or an early teenager, I would have been thrilled to own such a coin. A genuine 18th century U.S. coin with a visible design is often a treasure to a beginning collector who cares about classic coins and history.
II. Roll of 1943-S cents
Another offering that would have excited me when I was a kid, and is probably exciting to kids now, is a choice uncirculated roll of 1943-S zinc coated steel cents. For just one year, all three U.S. Mints struck Lincoln Cents in steel so that the copper that would otherwise have been used could be dedicated to purposes directly related to World War II.
According to the Goldbergs cataloger, there “are many gems in this roll.” It sold for $196, less than $4 per coin. Certainly, it would be fun to sort through such a roll.
III. Morgan Dollars
In the offerings of Morgan Silver Dollars, there were many coins with substantial toning. In my recent piece on dipping and the culture of coin collecting, I noted, with some sadness, that many collectors of Morgans prefer coins that have been unnaturally brightened with acid, dipped!
Fortunately, there are still many Morgans that have attractive natural toning. I note an 1880-S in this auction. It is a very common date. An artifically brightened, PCGS graded MS-65 1880-S would have a retail value of around $150. There was a PCGS graded MS-65 1880-S in this auction that has very pleasant toning, I guess, as I have never seen the coin. The shades of blue, russet and orange-russet certainly seem natural, and probably came about when this coin was stored in a standard album or coin board in the 1960s or 1970s, after being removed from an original roll.
This coin brought $460, three times the retail value of a dipped “MS-65” 1880-S Morgan. Though attractive, the toning is not that spectacular. I have seen many Morgans with far more colorful toning.
In this same auction, an NGC certified “MS-64*” 1883-O with colorful ‘bag toning’(which presumably stems from Treasury Department bags) sold for more, $690, than an NGC certified ‘MS-66*’ 1883-O, $414, which is not as impressive. A typical, dipped MS-64 grade 1883-O has a retail value of around $80. At $690, this NGC certified ‘MS-64*’ 1883-O brought more than eight times as much, a 762.5% premium.
A PCGS graded MS-63 1886 in this auction has really cool toning on the obverse. While I have not seen this coin, it is CAC approved, which means that experts at the PCGS and experts at the CAC regard the toning on this coin as natural. It sold for $368, seemingly a reasonable price. In the past, I analyzed the stunning prices that some, colorfully toned Morgans realize at auction. (Clickable links are in blue.)
Morgan Dollars are the most common type of classic U.S. silver coins and the most common type of 19th century coins of any metal. The 1892-S is one of the better dates in the series of Morgan Dollars, perhaps just 75,000 1892-S Morgans survive in all grades.
For people who collect Morgans ‘by date’ (and U.S. Mint location), one of the better buys in this auction may have been a PCGS graded Extremely Fine-45 1892-S that has a CAC sticker. It seems to have natural toning and just a small number of light to moderate contact marks. It sold for $414, a weak price.
This auction includes a somewhat significant offering of Three Cent Nickels. A noteworthy piece is a PCGS certified ‘Proof-67’ 1885, which is CAC approved. The PCGS population figure of thirty-one probably amounts to maybe fifteen different coins and just one has been PCGS certified as Proof-68, which is the only 1885 that is PCGS graded at a higher level than this coin. Additionally, there are probably five different 1885 Nickels that are each PCGS certified ‘Proof-67 Cameo.’
The PCGS CoinFacts “Survival Estimate” of “3,250” Proof 1885 Three Cent Nickels is too high. There could not be anywhere near that many around in the present. This Proof 1885 sold for $1208, a moderate price.
This auction will be remembered for an impressive run of gem quality Buffalo Nickels, business strikes and Proofs, which were consigned by Gerald Forsythe. While these are duplicates from Forsythe’s collection, my hunch is that these nickels are very impressive, for the most part. Of any Buffalo Nickel collection that has ever been formed, it is likely to be true that, in terms of a combination of quality and depth, Forsythe’s collection did tower over all others.
In most cases, when a collection is offered of Buffalo Nickels that are PCGS or NGC graded 65 or higher, a substantial percentage of them have been artificially toned. More so than in any other series of classic U.S. coins, experts at the two leading services have been fooled by artificially toned Buffalo Nickels. One coin doctor in particular is or was making a good deal of money by artificially toning Buffalo Nickels and many of those that he modified were mistakenly assigned high numerical grades by the PCGS or the NGC, especially in the late 1990s or early 2000s. My research suggests that the Buffalo Nickels in this offering from the Forsythe Collection, however, tend to be naturally toned. If so, some of them could be of great importance. It is relevant that many of them are in relatively old PCGS holders with ‘green labels’ and have CAC stickers.
One important condition rarity, among others in this offering, is a PCGS graded MS-66 1917-S that is CAC approved. It has few imperfections. Indeed, it probably merits an extremely high score in the technical category. This 1917-S brought $6900, a weak to moderate price. The CAC has approved just two at the MS-66 level and just five PCGS or NGC graded MS-65 1917-S nickels.
My tentative belief is that the Forsythe 1919-S in this auction scores even higher than the Forsythe 1917-S in the category of originality. It is also in an old holder with a green label. This 1919-S is PCGS graded MS-65 and has a CAC sticker. The CAC has approved six PCGS or NGC graded MS-65 1919-S nickels and none at a higher level.
Although the PCGS has published a population of thirty-one 1919-S nickels as having been PCGS graded MS-65, this total probably amounts to less than than twenty distinct coins. As only four have been assigned higher grades by the PCGS, some wholesalers figure that there is much to gain by re-submitting MS-65 grade 1919-S nickels in the hopes that they will be regraded as MS-66 or even as MS-65+. Even if there is just a five percent chance of an upgrade, the cost of a resubmission may be more than covered, in probabilistic terms.
After all, the PCGS price guide lists a value of “$14,000” for a PCGS graded MS-65 1919-S and a value of “$100,000” for a PCGS graded MS-66 1919-S nickel. This 1919-S did not sell. A bid above $15,500 would have been required to buy it, though I am not sure how much of an amount above $15,500 would have been needed. In any case, the reserve was clearly too high. A reserve that falls well into the retail price range for the coin being offered discourages auction participation. Most active bidders do not regard auctions as fixed price offerings and, instead, like to be part of bidding activity in situations where bidding starts at a low wholesale level and than rises with real participation.
In terms of PCGS population data, there are many condition rarities in this offering of duplicates from the Gerald Forsythe Collection, too many to list here. A 1920-D that is PCGS graded “MS-66” is noteworthy. This 1920-D is CAC approved and it brought $44,850, a weak to moderate price for the certification, the ‘holder’ and the ‘sticker’!
If I had attended the sale, I would have made a point of viewing this Forsythe 1921-S. It is PCGS graded MS-66 and is CAC approved. If the online images are fair to the coin, it seems to have the kind of very natural and pleasing, hazy and streaky orange-russet toning that coins doctors are probably unable to approximate.
This 1921-S is one of only eight that are PCGS graded MS-66, with none higher, and this is the only 1921-S that is CAC approved at the MS-66 level. If this 1919-S really does score extremely high in the category of originality, then it would be a wonderful prize. Although markets for gem quality Buffalo Nickels have fallen considerably since their peaks during the period from 2006 to early 2008, the price realized of $17,250 for this coin seems rather weak. I would really have to examine this coin in actuality to draw a conclusion. My hunch, though, is that this auction result is a great deal for the buyer, assuming that he or she is building a set of gem quality Buffalo Nickels.
V. Important Half Dime Type Coin
Another coin in this sale that would be great to see is an 1838 ‘With Stars’ half dime, an important type coin. There are five design types of Liberty Seated Half Dimes: A) Liberty Seated, No Stars on Obverse (front) 1837-38; B) Liberty Seated with Stars and ‘No Drapery’ on Obverse, 1838-40; C) Liberty Seated with Stars and Drapery on Obverse 1840-1853, 1856-59; D) Liberty Seated — Arrows on Obverse, 1853-55; E) Liberty Seated – Legend on Obverse, 1860-73. This coin is of the second type (‘B’), which lasted for just three years or so. (The obverse is the front of the coin and the tail side is termed the reverse.)
This 1838 half dime is NGC graded “MS-67” and is CAC approved. The online images suggest that the toning may be wonderful. This coin did not sell. There was a bid of $7475 (=$6500+15%). Clearly, the reserve was too high. The consignor did not allow enough room for bidding activity to gain momentum. An $8100 result would have been a moderate to strong price. A $7475 result would have been moderate, not weak.
VI. Colorful Barber Quarters
There were some Barber Quarters with very colorful toning in this auction. If all such toning is natural, these may be really stunning coins. An 1892 business strike is PCGS graded 67 and CAC approved. It did not sell. Evidently, there was a bid of $6900 (=$6k+15%). Was the reserve clearly out of line?
Although this coin may be very attractive, there exist quite a few, certified 67 or 68 grade 1892 quarters. There have been several auction results below $6500 for PCGS graded MS-67 quarters. In July, Heritage sold a PCGS graded “MS-67+” 1892 for $5287.50. Even the CAC has green stickered fourteen 1892 quarters at the MS-67 level and four as MS-68! In the context of rare coin prices overall, market prices for these, though, are low. Many such Barber Quarters were worth more in 1989 or 1990 than they are worth now. I would recommend them to people who would like a superb quality, business strike Barber Quarter for a date or type set.
A colorful 1901 that is PCGS certified as ‘Proof-65’ and CAC approved should not be tremendously expensive. It also did not sell. There seems to have been a bid of at least “$1840.” The PCGS price guide retail value is “$1950.”
One coin that may be incredibly stunning is the 1910 quarter in this auction. It is PCGS certified as Proof-68 and is CAC approved. The shades of blue and green on the reverse are especially enticing. It sold for $13,225, a moderate to strong price that may be a very pleasant deal for the buyer. This could be a coin that a connoisseur could view for hours without being bored. I really wish that I had seen it.
VII. Other Silver U.S. Coins
On the other side of the grading spectrum, the Goldbergs offered a group of Draped Bust Half Dollars that are non-gradable, yet have substantial detail and probably are not bad looking. For collectors who are unable or unwilling to spend the sums required to obtain gradable Draped Bust Halves, these are sometimes good values. Usually, they realize much lower prices at auction than corresponding gradable coins.
An 1806 with a ‘pointed 6’ is in a “PCGS GENUINE” holder with a notation that it has the details of an AU grade coin. A moderate auction price for a corresponding, PCGS graded AU-50 1806 half would probably be a little more than $3,000. This non-gradable coin, however, has the details of a grade well above 50! A moderate auction price for a truly gradable AU-55 or higher grade 1806 ‘pointed 6’ half would certainly be above $4000. This coin sold for $1688, which is more than I expected.
A gradable VF-35 or EF-40 1806 ‘pointed 6’ half may be obtainable at auction for around this $1688 price and I would rather have a gradable coin, provided that I like its toning and really believe that it should have been graded. I could understand, though, why many collectors would rather have this very sharp 1806 half for $1688. It may be a great deal for a collector who is more interested in the design detail on such coins than in surface quality.
An 1807 Draped Bust Half Dollar is also in a PCGS Genuine holder, “AU Details.” Again, the level of sharpness is well above the detail that would be typically associated with an AU-50 grade. Indeed, it has just as much detail as some PCGS or NGC graded PCGS or NGC graded AU-55 Draped Bust Half Dollars. A PCGS or NGC graded AU-53 1807 Draped Bust Half would sell for at least $3000 at auction, and an AU-55 would bring somewhere between $4000 and $7000, most likely. This non-gradable coin brought $2185. As I am not sure of the extent of this coin’s problems, I cannot draw a conclusion about the $2185 auction result. For some collectors, surely, it would be a good deal.
Most of the collectors I know very much prefer gradable coins, even if some detail must be sacrificed in order to acquire coins that fall within a given budget. Many non-gradable Peace Dollars are melted and these are usually collected in grades above 60, though collecting Peace Dollars in Extremely Fine-40 to AU-55 grades may be a good idea for budget minded collectors and others seeking good values.
This auction includes a run of Peace Dollars that are PCGS graded from 64 to 66, mostly “MS-65.” A few have CAC stickers and I sense that most (or all) of them have been blatantly dipped. There are, though, many collectors of Peace Dollars who like them that way, as I pointed out last week.
The key to the series is the 1934-S. The one in this auction is white, PCGS graded MS-65 and CAC approved. It brought $8338, a moderate price, neither strong nor weak.
A 1946-S Booker T. Washington commemorative half dollar has terrific natural toning. It is NGC certified “MS-68*” and it has a sticker from the CAC. This commemorative sold for $4255.
VIII. 1839 ‘Head of 1838’ $10 Gold
Most of the survivors of the first design type of Liberty Head Eagles ($10 gold coins), which were minted only in 1838 and 1839, tend to have substantial problems. Many of those that should be considered non-gradable or are on the borderline of being gradable have been graded by the PCGS or the NGC. Collectors need to be especially careful when selecting one of these and they are not easy to find.
The 1839 ‘Head of 1838’ issue is rare in all grades, including those that are non-gradable. Indeed, it may be very rare. The only other issue of the design type, the 1838, is even rarer.
For both dates, there are certainly fewer than one hundred coins in total qualify for a numerical grade of AU-50 or higher from the PCGS or the NGC, maybe fewer than seventy-five! So, a non-gradable gold coin of this type with the details of an AU-50 or higher grade is important and is much less expensive than a corresponding coin that has received a numerical grade from the PCGS or the NGC.
The 1839 ‘Head of 1838’ Eagle in this auction has very substantial amount deal of design detail. Indeed, experts at the NGC refer to it as having the details of an AU grade coin, though is non-gradable. Either people at the NGC or the cataloguer refers to it as being “harshly cleaned.” Unfortunately, many of those that have been numerically graded have been heavily cleaned. As I have not seen this coin, I cannot comment on the extent or nature of its cleaning in the past.
This Eagle did not sell. A bid of $2300 ($2k+15%) was not sufficient. I am surprised that no one bid more than $2300. A PCGS or NGC graded AU-50 coin of this type, some of which also have problems, would probably sell for much more than twice as much. A PCGS or NGC graded VF-30 1838 ‘Head of 1838’ Eagle would have a retail value above $2300 and it could also have plenty of imperfections as well as having been notably cleaned in the past.
Unless this coin is really terrible, and it might be so, collectors of Liberty Head Eagles ‘by date’ or ‘by type,’ and those assembling type sets of 19th century gold coins, may have missed an opportunity. In any major coin auction, there are some coins that are great values for the consignors and there are coins that are excellent values for collector-buyers. It may, though, take plenty of time for a collector to find coins that are appropriate, desirable and good values for him or her. Seeking assistance is often a good idea.
©2013 Greg Reynolds