The Incredible Eugene Gardner Collection, part 3: Stunning, Classic U.S. Silver Coins
Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #229, Special Monday Edition
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds….
As was said in part 1, incredible is the right word to describe the Eugene Gardner Collection. In part 2, famous coins that sold on June 23rd were discussed. Here, in the third part, the focus is on some spectacular U.S. silver coins.
Only the first of four planned sales of the Eugene Gardner H. Collection has been conducted so far. As far as I know, this collection contains no gold coins. It will be best remembered for Liberty Seated and Barber coins.
Yes, it would make more sense to write about Eugene’s Barber Quarters and his Liberty Seated Quarters as sets, because Gardner assembled the all-time greatest collections of these. Not all of his Barber Quarters and Liberty Seated Quarters, however, were offered on June 23rd. It makes sense to wait until a greater percentage of his coins have been auctioned before analyzing Eugene’s respective sets of specific series. His sets of Liberty Seated Dimes and Liberty Seated Half Dollars will eventually be analyzed as well. Plus, Gardner’s set of Barber Half Dollars is certainly among the ten all-time greatest sets of that series.
The purpose here is to draw attention to some of the Gardner Collection coins that are of high quality and are particularly attractive; those pieces that really capture the attention of most all coin enthusiasts who view them. Beginning collectors and people outside the coin collecting community are often puzzled by ‘mint state’ (MS) and Proof grades. which range from 60 to 70.
Surface quality, technical factors, strike, and eye appeal are all incorporated into a coin’s numerical grade. The trickiest part to conceptualize how aesthetic (eye appealing) characteristics are measured, which, unfortunately, can never really be explained in words. While there are, of course, legitimate differences of opinion among experts, especially in regard to the eye appeal of coins, it is fascinating that there is wide scale agreement among those expert graders who are connoisseurs, especially regarding the eye appeal of specific coins. When I interview experts about grades, especially when I did so in the past after major auctions of non-certified coins, I have found that experts are often in agreement regarding the assigning of a 66, 67, or 68 grade to a specific coin, grades which are largely a function of a coin’s eye appeal.
It is also true that there are coins in PCGS or NGC holders that have been artificially toned or otherwise doctored for the purpose of deceiving experts and others into thinking that such coins are naturally attractive and meet other criteria for high grades. So, the focus here is on coins that have clearly naturally toned and have never been doctored.
As it is only practical to mention a few of the hundreds of coins in this auction, there are no implications regarding coins that are not mentioned. The vast majority of the coins that were in this June 23rd auction are appealing. Attention is drawn to some of the more visually stunning pieces, most of which are important for other reasons as well.
I. Three Cent Silvers
Eugene Gardner’s 1863 Three Cent Silver business strike in this sale is NGC graded “MS-65” and has a CAC gold sticker, which means that experts at the CAC determined that it is definitely undergraded, in their view. It is the only coin cited herein that has a CAC gold sticker. Most CAC approved coins have green CAC stickers, which are affixed to PCGS and NGC holders.
Prevailing price guides tend to value a certified “MS-65” 1863 Three Cent Silver between $3000 and $4250. A PCGS or NGC certified “MS-66” grade piece is so valued between $6000 and $7000, more or less. This NGC graded “MS-65” 1863 Three Cent Silver sold for $23,500!
In terms of describing this coin, it is hard to know where to begin. The obverse (front) of the coin certainly has the eye appeal that would be associated with a 67 grade. The reverse (tail) is not as pretty. Perhaps this coin grades “67” overall, though its grade is not in the high end of the 67 range.
Curiously, it is also true that it was struck twice, which does not mean that it is a Proof. There are many double-struck coins that are not Proofs. The effects of the strike of this coin are intriguing, though, and I would like to see this coin again.
Another issue is whether the leading bidders were grading this coin as 67, as I did, or even as 68? The PCGS price guide value for a 68 grade 1863 is $24,500. It could, though, just be the stunning appearance of the obverse that propelled the price realized into this range. Undoubtedly, many collectors would like to cherish this coin for decades.
The next lot was a stunning coin, too. Eugene Gardner’s 1866 Three Cent Silver business strike is PCGS graded “MS-67” and has a CAC green sticker. This coin is very original and has terrific natural color. It was auctioned by Heritage in Jan. 2010 for $14,950 and it realized $15,275 on June 23, 2014. This was a moderate price for a great coin that is not fresh, meaning that it has been ‘outside the mainstream of coin markets’ for less than five years.
Gardner’s Proof 1872 Three Cent Silver is also exceptionally appealing. It has an extremely attractive obverse, along with a more than very attractive reverse. The blue and russet toning, with red and green tints, is exceptionally pleasing and there were no significant contact marks or hairlines. It is PCGS certified ‘Proof-67 Cameo’ and is CAC approved. The assigned 67 grade is probably indisputable, though there is not much of a cameo contrast. The $12,925 result is neither weak nor strong. There was very healthy demand for the gem Three Cent Silvers in this auction.
II. 1837 ‘No Stars’ Half Dime
Liberty Seated Half Dimes with ‘No Stars’ were minted for just two years, 1837 and 1838, a scarce design type. The distinction between the ‘Large Date’ and ‘Small Date’ 1837 issues is minor and is ignored by most collectors. The Gardner 1837 ‘Small Date’ is one of the most attractive silver coins in this whole auction. The toning is unquestionably natural and is beautiful. This coin was NGC graded “MS-67” before 2003 and was recently CAC approved. Its grade is now held to be in the high end of the 67 range.
While strong, the price realized of $23,325 was not surprising. The Newman-Green 1837, which is also NGC graded MS-67 and CAC approved, brought $19,975 on Nov. 16, 2013. The Gardner coin is relatively more original and has more vivid toning.
III. Enchanting 1807 Dime
In this auction, Gardner’s 1807 Draped Bust Dime was overwhelming. The blend of green, russet and blue toning is surely natural and is incredible. This is a coin that really captures the attention of all collectors who see it.
This same coin was auctioned by Heritage for $43,125 in Aug. 2010 in Boston. It did not then have a CAC sticker. This time, with a sticker, it brought $55,812.50.
The prominent collector of dimes who refers to himself as “Easton” was interested in this coin. He notes the “great blue color” and find the $55,812.50 price to be “very strong.” Easton did buy Gardner’s PCGS graded and CAC approved MS-64 1809 dime, which he found to be a “better deal.” Easton has a PCGS registry set of Capped Bust Dimes.
IV. Proof 1859 Liberty Seated Dime
Someone who has not seen this coin might figure that the $17,625 result for Gardner’s NGC certified ‘Proof-68* Cameo’ 1859 dime is weak. The PCGS price guide value for a ‘Proof-67 Cameo’ 1859 is “$25,000” and, in 2011, a PCGS certified ‘Proof-67 Cameo’ 1859 was auctioned for $19,550.
Although this Gardner 1859 dime is more than very attractive, with wonderful toning, no expert I know grades it as “68.” It may be true that it has just has too many imperfections to merit a 68 grade. Also, while the obverse is extremely attractive, the reverse does not quite have the eye appeal that most relevant experts would associate with a 68 grade. Even so, it is a stunning coin. Besides, each 67 grade Proof 1859 dime is an important condition rarity. A true, ‘solid’ 68, if one exists and was acquired by Eugene, would probably have sold for more than $30,000 if offered in this auction.
It is puzzling that Eugene has three other Proof 1859 dimes. These three will be auctioned in 2015. One is NGC graded 65 and is CAC approved. Another is NGC certified ‘Proof-67 Cameo’ and does not have a CAC sticker. I will be curious as to how the PCGS certified and CAC approved ‘Proof-67’ 1859 will fare at auction. If it has wonderful toning, it might realize more than the just mentioned coin. Has another prominent collector owned four Proof 1859 dimes at the same time?
V. 1880 Liberty Seated Quarter
Although the $7637.50 result for Eugene’s 1880 business strike quarter is slightly strong, it is an excellent value from a logical and cultural standpoint. This coin is PCGS graded MS-67 and is CAC approved. Its grade is in the middle of the 67 range. The obverse, though, is truly beautiful. It is a great representative of a 19th century U.S. silver coin.
Although the low mintage figure, 13,500, should not be taken too seriously, as much more than a thousand survive, 1880 business strike quarters are scarce in all grades. There could not now be more than 5,000 of them, maybe just 2,500! Also, the fact that other superb gems exist does not make this coin any less beautiful. It would be a memorable choice for a type or date set.
VI. 1895 Barber Quarter
Among all the great sets in his collection, Gardner’s Barber Quarters are the most impressive. While there was an amazing group of these in this auction, many more of Eugene’s Barber Quarters will be auctioned in October. One of the most soothing and prettiest pieces in the current group was Eugene’s 1895 Philadelphia Mint issue.
This Barber Quarter is in a PCGS holder from the 1990s, is graded MS-67, and is CAC approved. It has almost zero contact marks that can be seen under five-times magnification. The reverse is more than very attractive and the obverse is extremely attractive. The blue, russet, and yellow hues are even and balanced. Further, this coin’s luster is exceptional. While $8812.50 is a strong price, the appeal of this coin supersedes market levels. Besides, it is likely to be the finest or second finest known 1895 quarter, which is a condition rarity in grades above MS-64.
Despite the exciting reality that there were several other extremely attractive and otherwise impressive Barber Quarters in this auction, discussions of those will wait until Eugene’s Barber Quarters as a whole are analyzed. This set may never be surpassed.
VII. Pittman 1851 Half
The most famous, exceptionally attractive half dollar in the whole auction was the Pittman 1851 Liberty Seated Half Dollar. Eugene Gardner purchased it while attending the Pittman II auction by the firm of David Akers in May 1998. I was there. The late John J. Pittman is one of the most famous collectors of all time.
Jason Carter was “very disappointed” that he was not the successful bidder for this coin, as he “really wanted it.” Additionally, Jason had sought it in 1998, too, at the Pittman 2 sale. John Albanese is also thrilled about this coin and “would have liked to buy it” at a lower level.
The Pittman-Gardner 1851 is PCGS graded MS-66 and is CAC approved. This is not just a condition rarity; 1851 halves are truly rare in all grades.
The PCGS and the NGC together have graded fewer than 120 different 1851 halves. There are maybe three or four dozen non-gradable pieces. Furthermore, some 1851 halves that grade from AG-03 to VF-30 have never been submitted to the PCGS or the NGC. At most, 300 1851 halves survive, probably less than 225.
The PCGS has graded just this coin as “MS-66” and another 1851 half as “MS-65.” The NGC has also graded an 1851 half as “MS-66.” The PCGS CoinFacts site reports that the NGC graded “MS-66” 1851 was auctioned by the Goldbergs in Jan. 2004 for “$20,125.” My impression is that this is not true. That coin did not sell in Jan. 2004. In any event, I do not remember seeing the NGC graded “MS-66” 1851 and most relevant experts believe that the Pittman-Gardner 1851 is the finest known.
This coin appears better looking in actuality than it appears to be in published images. The blue and orange-russet tones are really neat. The reverse is very attractive and the obverse is even more attractive. Nevertheless, the $49,937.50 price was strong.
A PCGS or NGC certified MS-64 1851 would probably sell at auction for a price between $4000 and $7000, depending upon the characteristics of the individual coin. The $38,500 result in 1998 at the Pittman II sale was much stronger at the time, however, than a $50,000 price is now. Market prices for Liberty Seated coins rose dramatically from 1998 to 2007.
Besides, even if this coin was of a non-rare date, it would still be outstanding. The obverse, by itself, grades 67. This was one of the most noteworthy coins in the Gardner Collection.
VIII. Awesome 1879 Half
Finding a Proof 1879 Liberty Seated Half Dollar would not be difficult. Finding one that is truly beautiful is a different matter. The one in this auction is PCGS graded as “68” and has a sticker of approval from the CAC.
This coin does have many, small imperfections, mostly mint-caused, in the fields near the face, hair and cap. I am not here commenting on this coin’s grade. I am admiring its beauty. The green, blue, red and orange-russet hues nicely blend together.
Perhaps I am not the only one who found this coin to be especially appealing. This 1879 sold for $30,550. In Jan. 2013, the NGC certified “PF-68” Greensboro piece brought $15,275, which is more than that same coin realized in 2009. Although the PCGS price guide value is (or was) $41,550 for this Gardner 1879, I do not know how this ‘value’ was formulated. The previous auction record for any Proof 1879 half was less than $20,000.
The pedigree of this coin is particularly noteworthy. Reportedly, it was in the epic collection of John Story Jenks, which was auctioned by the firm of Henry Chapman in 1921. It is not mentioned in the Heritage catalogue that a massive ‘Jenks deal,’ a startling run of Proof Sets from the 1860s to the early 1900s, was handled by Eric Streiner in 1990 or early 1991.
Eric sold more than a few of the later Proof sets to Michael Ruben and many (or all?) of the earlier sets to Jay Parrino, who consigned a large number of Proof Liberty Seated coins, including this 1879 half, to the Superior Galleries auction of August 1992. In 1999, this same 1979 half was auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York as part of the astounding, and largely forgotten, John and Rebecca Moores Collection. It was later owned by Phil Kaufman, who formed one of the all-time greatest collections of Proof Liberty Seated coins. It seems that this is a coin with a tremendous history.
IX. 1904 Barber Half
Yes, 1904 Philadelphia Mint Barber Half Dollars are not rare and the Gardner piece is clearly not the finest known. Nonetheless, the Gardner 1904 is an extremely attractive coin with elaborate natural toning. The shades of orange, red, green and blue are indescribable.
This 1904 is PCGS graded MS-66 and is CAC approved. In Dec. 2013, Heritage sold an inferior PCGS graded MS-66 1904 for $6462.50. I probably never saw the PCGS graded MS-66 1904 that Heritage sold in May 2009 for $7187.50, which certainly does not have colorful toning. On Jan. 12, 2005, the NGC graded MS-66 Hugon 1904 brought $9200, a very strong price at the time.
This Gardner 1904 brought $15,275. Whether leading bidders were willing to pay a premium because they figured that this coin is undergraded or merely because of this coin’s eye appeal is not clear. There are more than a few, very small, minor contact marks and light hairlines on the face and in the inner field near Miss Liberty’s face. These, though, are largely obscured by the stunning toning. Moreover, there is no doubt that the reverse, by itself, solidly grades MS-67. Overall, a 67 grade would probably be fair.
There were too many very attractive to extremely attractive Gardner coins in this auction on June 23rd to practically list. The group chosen certainly includes some of the most attractive coins in the June 23rd auction. In addition to being entertaining, this discussion was intended to be educational. Collectors of gem quality coins should think about how eye appeal is incorporated into a coin’s grade and how eye appeal affects the market values of ‘mint state’ and Proof coins.
©2014 Greg Reynolds