The Incredible Gene Gardner Coin Collection, Part 1: Preliminary Thoughts and Dime Preview
Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #210
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds ……..
Incredible is the right word to describe the collection of Gene Gardner. Dictionaries, such as Merriam-Webster, tend to define “incredible” as ‘amazing’ or ‘extraordinary,’ perhaps even “too extraordinary to believe”! Indeed, I feel a need to write now about the Gardner Collection, because initial press reports are misleading. The central features of the Gene Gardner Coin Collection and his collecting achievements are being overshadowed. Over the next few months, I plan to cover highlights in addition to analyzing the overall impact of this collection and its role in the history of coin collecting. This is an epic collection, which will be discussed for decades or centuries, though not for the reasons that have been revealed thus far. Herein, preliminary interpretations of the whole Gene Gardner Collection are followed by general remarks about dimes.
So far, media coverage has given the impression that silver dollars and pre-1800 coins are epic or central aspects of the Gene Gardner Coin Collection, which is not true. Other collections have contained better bust dimes, higher quality 1796-97 halves, and much more impressive early half cents. While Gardner has a few terrific or otherwise important Liberty Seated Dollars, silver dollars are not among the epic aspects of this collection and, though he has a few extremely important early pieces, my impression, over the years, has been that pre-1800 coins are beside the core of this collection.
I. History being made in the present
There are planned four auctions of the Gene Gardner Coin Collection, all of which will be conducted in New York. In the past, the Eliasberg, Norweb family, James A. Stack, and other sales of epic collections were conducted in New York, including key Garrett Collection sales. In November, Eric Newman’s U.S. silver coins were auctioned in New York, and many of the Newman Collection pre-1793 American items will be auctioned in New York in May. In sum, a plurality of the auctions of epic collections of U.S. coins have been conducted in New York.
In the history of coin collecting, Gardner will not be remembered as a collector of silver dollars. Only to a mild extent is he regarded as an eminent collector of pre-1800 U.S. coins. Reports written by others do not reflect the truth that U.S. silver coins, both business strikes and Proofs, dating from the late 1830s to around 1915 constitute the core of his collection, and Gardner’s collecting achievements in this regard will be often reflected upon in the future.
Indeed, Gardner is already a legend among collectors of Liberty Seated coins, which are silver types that date from the the late 1830s to 1891. Morgan Dollars are not Liberty Seated coins and Trade Dollars are not classified as Liberty Seated coins either, though Gardner does have a noteworthy set of Trade Dollars.
II. Core of the Gardner Collection
Although I have not yet seen a majority of his coins, my preliminary view is that Gardner does have the all-time greatest sets of business strike Liberty Seated Dimes, Liberty Seated Quarters, Barber Quarters, and Liberty Seated Half Dollars! Plus, Gardner has one of the three all-time finest sets of Liberty Seated Half Dimes and one of the five all-time finest sets of business strike Barber Dimes.
I am concerned about the published claim that Gardner’s “current collection is widely considered by experts to be among the finest collections of silver coinage ever assembled.” While somewhat true, this statement may be misleading.
As far as I know, Gardner never implemented a plan to build one of the all-time best collections of Morgan Dollars, Mercury Dimes or Walking Liberty Half Dollars, and his collection will not be remembered for these. Apparently, Gardner is focused upon rarer coins and on 19th century types, and has not focused on building landmark sets of most series of U.S. silver coins. It is the core of his collection that should be judged, not a few assorted items, however important, that fall outside of his main collecting objectives.
To an astonishing extent, he has fulfilled landmark collecting objectives. His collections of Liberty Seated and Barber Coinage, considered as a unit, could be the finest of all time. At the moment, for Liberty Seated and Barber coinage, considered together, I tentatively suggest that only the Eliasberg Collection is in the same league as that of Gene Gardner, though it is true that I never saw most of the Norweb holdings of Liberty Seated and Barber coins.
It is also true that Gardner’s sets of Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Half Dimes and Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Quarters are certainly among the five all-time best of these respective types. As for his Draped Bust Dimes and Capped Bust Dimes, these are exceptional, though there have been better collections of early dimes. After I see more of his coins, I will be better suited to analyze various sets and individual rarities in this collection. Besides, it is not practical to preview a substantial portion of his collection here in part 1. So, dimes are discussed.
A large percentage of Gardner’s gem quality, silver coins have been purchased over the last eighteen years and I have probably seen a substantial percentage of the gem quality, 19th century silver coins in his collection. I have witnessed Gardner’s agent or Gardner himself buy many coins in a few auctions. Also, a substantial portion of Gardner’s better coins are listed in the NGC registry and I recognize a substantial number of them. Even so, it is not my intention here in part 1 to put forth my opinions about the precise characteristics of any of Gardner’s coins.
Instead, I mention grades assigned by the PCGS or the NGC, without agreeing or disagreeing with such grades. Also, I will wait to discuss some of the more breathtaking coins until after current Heritage photos of Gardner’s coins become available.
I repeat that I am not necessarily endorsing the specific coins that I mention. I have not seen some in a very long time, and others I have never seen. As always, I recommend that prospective bidders in any major auction, of coins or other expensive items, hire an expert advisor, who is not connected with an auction firm. Even so, it should be acknowledged that many of the gem quality rarities in Gene Gardner’s collection are so wonderful that they ‘speak for themselves’ and captivate collectors who view them.
IV. Bust Dimes
Gardner’s best set of coin series that began before 1810 is undoubtedly his Draped Bust Dimes. He has a complete set comprising of both the ‘Small Eagle’ and ‘Heraldic Eagle’ design types. While his pretty, PCGS graded “MS-66” 1796 has already received media attention, some collectors do not realize that 1797 dimes are much rarer than 1796 dimes. Gardner has highly certified representatives of both the ‘sixteen stars’ (on the front) and ‘thirteen stars’ major varieties of 1797 dimes, PCGS graded “MS-62” and NGC graded “AU-55,” respectively.
He also has ‘sixteen stars’ and ‘thirteen stars’ major varieties of 1798/7 overdates, PCGS graded “MS-64“ and NGC graded “MS-62.” These are very scarce, too.
An 1800 that is PCGS graded “MS-66” will draw attention. Although his 1802 is PCGS graded “MS-62,” this is a key date and it is very hard to find an 1802 dime that grades above AU-50!
His 1804 dimes, also a key date, are extremely important, too, despite being of AU grades. Are there any 1804 dimes that truly grade as high as 63? An 1805 that is NGC graded “MS-67“ and an 1807 that is PCGS graded “MS-65” are also especially noteworthy.
Also, Gardner has a PCGS graded “MS-66“ ‘1827’ Capped Bust Dime that was formerly in the Eliasberg Collection. It realized $19,800 in the Eliasberg 1996 sale by Bowers & Merena, and then $15,525 when Heritage auctioned this same coin in Oct. 2000. Gardner has some other neat Capped Bust Dimes, though my belief is that the James A. Stack and Louis Eliasberg sets, respectively, of Capped Bust Dimes were vastly superior to Gardner’s holding in this area. A few earlier collectors had great sets, too.
V. Liberty Seated Dimes
I am almost certain that no one has ever assembled a better set of business strike Liberty Seated Dimes than has Gene Gardner. Indeed, the assigned numerical grades do not reflect the facts that some of Gardner’s dimes are conservatively graded and/or have wonderful natural toning. A listing of a few of the coins here provides some impressions of the greatness of the set, though does not capture the whole impact of all of Gardner’s Liberty Seated Dimes, which is far greater ‘than the sum of the parts.’
An 1837 that is NGC graded “MS-68” is one of the highest certified of the ‘No Stars’ (1837-38) type. The 1838-O is the key date of this short-lived type and is a product of the first year of operation of the New Orleans Mint. Gardner’s 1838-O is PCGS graded “MS-65.” This exact same 1838-O was in an Internet-only sale by the firm of David Lawrence on Aug. 10, 2007. This could very well be the fourth finest known 1838-O.
Few collectors realize that 1842 Philadelphia Mint dimes are rare in all grades. Gene Gardner has one of only three that are PCGS graded MS-66 and these are the highest certified by the PCGS.
Famous dates of the ‘Stars on Obverse (front)’ type are the 1844 and the 1846. Gardner’s 1844 is NGC graded “MS-64” and his 1846 is PCGS graded “MS-63.” These are both likely to be in the condition rankings for their respective dates.
New Orleans Mint dimes through 1854 tend to be very scarce and gem coins are condition rarities. Gardner’s pieces are graded, as follows: 1841-O (PCGS-65), 1842-O (NGC-65), 1843-O (PCGS-62), 1845-O (PCGS-69), 1849-O (NGC-64), 1850-O (PCGS-67), 1851-O (NGC-65), 1852-O (NGC-65), 1853-O (PCGS-65), 1854-O (NGC-67).
Gardner’s 1841-O is probably one of the three finest of this date. It was formerly in the Eliasberg and Simpson Collections. Heritage auctioned this 1841-O for $10,350 in Sept. 2010.
The PCGS has certified one 1842-O dime as “MS-65” and Gene Gardner has one of just two that the NGC has so certified. Neither the PCGS nor the NGC have graded an 1842-O dime above 65.
Gardner’s 1843-O, as NGC-65, is certainly among the highest certified of this rare date. In grades above AU-53, the PCGS has certified just two 1843-O dimes; Gene Gardner’s coin is graded “MS-62” and one has been PCGS graded “MS-65.”
As for 1845-O dimes, the PCGS has graded one as AU-55 and only two at higher levels, one as “MS-62” and Gardner’s coin as “MS-69.” It was formerly in the Eliasberg Collection. I was present when B&M (New Hampshire) auctioned it in New York during May 1996. In April 2005, Spectrum-B&M auctioned this Eliasberg-Gardner 1849-O for $161,000, which was not considered a strong price at the time. Curiously, in Nov. 2012, Heritage sold a PCGS graded VG-08 1845-O for $105.75 and a Good-04 grade piece would probably now retail for less than $50.
Gene Gardner’s 1850-O dime is not nearly as famous as his 1845-O, though it has a legendary pedigree. It was formerly in the collection of John Pittman and was later in the Simpson Collection. The PCGS has graded two 1850-O dimes as MS-65, one as MS-66 and this coin as “MS-67,” which was CAC approved before Sept. 2010. This coin sold for $48,875 when Heritage auctioned the Simpson set of business strike Liberty Seated Dimes in Sept. 2010. Importantly, 1850-O dimes are rare in all grades; this is not just a condition rarity.
I look forward to seeing Gardner’s NGC graded MS-67 “1854-O.” Although this date is not as rare as some of the other New Orleans Mint dimes that were just mentioned, 1854-O dimes that truly grade above MS-65 are extremely elusive and the date may be rare in all grades. All New Orleans Mint dimes of the ‘Arrows & Stars obverse’ type are very scarce.
The 1853-O ‘With Arrows’ is clearly rarer than the 1854-O and is rare in all grades. The PCGS has graded three as MS-63 and three as MS-64, a total of perhaps less than six different coins. The only one that is PCGS graded “MS-65” is Gene Gardner’s coin. The NGC has graded one as “MS-66.” The PCGS has not graded an 1853-O ‘Arrows’ above 65 and the NGC has not graded one above 66.
Of the ‘Legend on Obverse’ type (1860-91, except 1874), some of the Philadelphia Mint dates of the 1860s are rare or very scarce. Gene Gardner’s PCGS graded “MS-67” 1865 dime sold for $8338 at auction in Oct. 2001, which was an enormous price at the time. This is another coin that I especially look forward to examining. Could it be the finest known 1865 dime?
The rarest Liberty Seated Dimes are not the Philadelphia Mint dates of the 1860s or the already mentioned New Orleans Mint dates of the ‘stars on obverse’ type; they are the Carson City Mint coins of 1871 to 1874. The PCGS only lists two 1872-CC dimes as being graded above EF-45, one that is graded “AU-58” and one that is graded “MS-63,” which is owned by Gene Gardner. It has an impressive provenance. This 1872-CC was formerly owned by James A. Stack, who probably had all-time greatest collection of U.S. Dimes dating from 1796 to 1916. Later, this same 1872-CC was in the Battle Born Collection, a complete set of all 111 Carson City, Nevada Mint coin issues.
On Aug. 9, 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned the Battle Born Collection at an ANA Convention in Philadelphia. Gene Gardner was present. This 1872-CC dime brought $184,000. The highest certified 1872-CC dime that is currently listed by the NGC is graded as “AU-55.” Therefore, even if the Gardner-BBC 1872-CC is overgraded, there would still be an excellent chance that it is the finest known. I am not asserting that it is overgraded.
The 1871-CC is perhaps even rarer than the 1872-CC. There are probably not more than 125 around of either of them. Gene Gardner’s 1871-CC was also formerly in the James A. Stack, Sr. Collection, which Stack’s auctioned in Jan. 1990 in New York. It was later in a Spectrum-B&M auction in March 2005, probably in Baltimore, at which time it brought $230,000. It seems likely that this is the finest known. It is at least the second finest. The Gardner 1871-CC, which is NGC graded “MS-65,” is of higher quality than the Battle Born 1871-CC, which is PCGS graded “MS-63.” and, according to the Stack’s-Bowers catalogue, was earlier PCGS graded “MS-62,” when ANR auctioned it in 2004. I could not grade this 1871-CC as high as 63.
It is fascinating that Gardner’s 1873-CC (With Arrows) is from the James A. Stack Collection as well. It, too, could very well be the finest known. I really like the natural toning on many of the James A. Stack coins. The late James A. Stack, Sr. (JAS) was not related to the family that founded and operated the Stack’s auction firm. He did form one of the dozen or so all-time greatest collections of U.S. coins, which was auctioned by Stack’s in several events dating from 1975 to 1995.
The JAS-Gardner 1873-CC was also in the Spectrum-B&M auction of March 2005. Importantly, Gardner has the highest certified 1874-CC, a PCGS graded “MS-63” coin. I have never seen it. Given the reality that there are probably only around forty-five 1874-CC dimes in existence, and just a handful of those are ‘mint state,’ this is one of the most anticipated pieces in the Gardner Collection.
Gardner’s Proof Liberty Seated Dimes are really neat, too. Almost all of those dating from 1858 to 1891 are are certified as grading 67 or 68. A majority of Gene Gardner’s Proof Barber Dimes are PCGS or NGC graded as 68!
VI. Barber Dimes
Except for two tough dates (1892-S and 1895-O), which are PCGS graded MS-65, all of Gardner’s business strike Barber Dimes are PCGS or NGC graded MS-66 or MS-67, as far as I know. His 1893-O is PCGS graded “MS-67” and his 1893-S is NGC graded “MS-66.” His 1896-O is NGC graded “MS-67.”
Gardner’s 1896-S is PCGS graded “MS-66.” It was auctioned by Heritage in June 2005 for $9775. Only one 1896-S has been graded higher by the PCGS. The Simpson 1896-S is graded “66+.”
Simpson’s set has a higher grade point average and has more coins that are the highest certified. Even so, many of Gardner’s Barber Dimes were purchased a long time ago and have not been re-submitted to the PCGS or the NGC. Most (or all?) of Simpson’s Barber Dimes have been regraded after the PCGS Secure program was instituted in March 2010.
My tentative belief is that Stewart Blay has the all-time greatest collection of Barber Dimes, many of which are in old PCGS holders with green labels. (I am assuming that these have not been resubmitted since I last spoke to Stewart about his Barber Dimes.) Barber Dimes were graded more conservatively in the 1990s than they were in the 2000s. Also, almost all of Blay’s Barber Dimes received stickers of approval from the CAC. I have seen many of them.
It seems very plausible that Gene Gardner has one of the five all-time best sets of business strike Barber Dimes. It is difficult to hypothesize further without actually examining the coins. It is also true that collectors in the past did not pay as much attention to superb quality, business strike Barber Dimes as collectors have during the last thirty-five years. Before the late 1970s, collectors tended to complete sets of uncirculated Barbers without giving much thought to each piece.
VII. Closing Remarks
At some point, I will discuss the half dimes, quarters and half dollars in the Gardner Collection. I hope to discuss many of his quarters and half dollars in tremendous detail, as many of these are incredible. I will reconsider his dimes after these are auctioned. Undoubtedly, there are some terrific coins in this collection that I do not know about. I hope to be pleasantly surprised. An aspect that is unknown to me is the extent of his holding of pre-1858 Proof silver coins. An 1823 quarter has already been announced. Gardner may have some other extraordinary early Proofs.
©2014 Greg Reynolds