by Greg Reynolds for CoinWeek
Every January at the FUN Convention, Heritage conducts a Platinum Night event as part of a large auction extravaganza that features rare U.S. coins and includes paper money, not so rare coins, tokens, medals, and more. Though one to three Platinum Night events are conducted at other coin conventions during each year, the January FUN Platinum Night tends to be the flagship of Heritage’s auctions. More than $31 million of rare U.S. coins and patterns were sold during Platinum Night.
While much of this total stemmed from sales of Proof gold coins, my analysis suggests that the sale of Proof gold during this Platinum Night is analytically a phenomenon that is different from the sale of gold and silver business strikes during the same Platinum Night. The Proof Gold from the Henry Miller collection was very fresh, incredibly original for the most part, and spectacular in other ways. An extensive explanation is not needed as to why the Miller Proofs brought very strong prices. Generally, for pre-1934 gold and silver coins, there are thousands more collectors who are interested in business strikes than there are who are interested in Proofs. It is my hope that a wide variety of collectors will at least be curious about my comments regarding the incredible variety of business strikes that sold on Jan. 6, 2011.
In this review of the Platinum Night event, I discuss gold and silver business strikes. Auction results for Proof gold coins from the Miller collection will be analyzed tomorrow in my weekly column. Next week, I will discuss the Satin Finish 1907 Eagle ($10 gold coin) that sold for $2,185,000! This Satin Finish Eagle, while fascinating, is not representative of the coins or the prices that characterized other parts of the auction. An incredible variety of noteworthy, business strike gold and silver coins brought strong prices or otherwise captured the attention of bidders during this Platinum Night event.
I. Criteria For Strong Prices
Why did so many coins bring strong prices? Although there are exceptions, each coin that brought a strong price met ONE OR MORE of the following criteria: (1) was fresh, (2) was from a non-dealer consignment, (3) was from an excellent collection or was in a great collection in the past, (4) is CAC approved, (5) has natural toning and/or mostly to fully original surfaces, (6) was fairly graded in the views of expert graders involved in serious bidding.
Occasionally, however, a coin that fails to meet any of these criteria will realize a very high price. On average, though, these criteria determine why some coins fare better than others in the same auction. The ability of an auction house to promote an auction is a different matter about which I will not comment as I remain neutral among auction firms. Also, to be fresh, a coin must have been ‘off the market’ for more than five years, preferably at least seven.
In columns published prior to this Platinum Night event, I wrote about Jim O’Neal’s set of Indian Head Half Eagles and, separately, about the Henry Miller collection. (As always, clickable links are in blue.) Herein, I discuss the results for a good number of the coins from these two great collections. Additionally, I will cover some silver coins and famous gold rarities from other consignments. This Platinum Night event will be best remembered for gold coins. Generally, the copper and nickel coins in this event were not anywhere near as newsworthy as the gold and silver coins.
II. Draped Bust Quarters
The most important silver coin in this Platinum Night event was an 1804 quarter. In addition to 1804 being a famous date in the field of U.S. coins for several reasons, the 1804 issue is the key date in the series of Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Quarters, a short lived type that was minted only from 1804 to 1807. In this auction, there was an NGC graded MS-65 1804 that was formerly in the collection of Col. E.H.R. Green.
I have not seen another 1804 quarter that is even in the same league as this one. John Albanese, Jim McGuigan and Matt Kleinsteuber all find this coin’s toning to be natural. It is unreasonable to expect much luster on an 1804 quarter; these just do not come with much natural luster. The Green 1804 is relatively sharply struck for the issue, does not have substantial contact marks or hairlines, and is more than attractive overall.
On the PCGS CoinFacts website, it is implied that the PCGS would only grade this coin as MS-64, not 65. Though I could understand why an expert might challenge the 65 grade, in my view, this is a true 65 grade coin. So long as it grades somewhere between 64.7 and 65.4, however, it is probably the first or second finest known 1804 quarter, an important key date and a very scarce coin in all grades.
In 2004, Steve Contursi “sold it for approximately $125,000.” Early in 2008, Kleinsteuber handled the coin as a dealer. In April 2008, when coin markets were near the overall peak that was reached in early August 2008, this same 1804 quarter was auctioned by Heritage for $310,500. In relation to this coin, some price guides do not seem to have been adjusted since 2008. Realistically, auction participants were probably expecting a price of $210,000 to $260,000 on Jan. 6, 2011. The Col. Green 1804 quarter brought $345,000. Indisputably, this is a very strong price.
Steve Contursi “was surprised that it brought that much.” Steve emphasizes, though, that, “it is a great coin. Collectors are willing to pay a lot for special coins that they really want,” Contursi finds. To a collector of famous rarities or to a collector of uncirculated bust quarters, the Col. Green 1804 is of extraordinary importance.
Another important bust quarter is this auction was an NGC graded MS-65 1796 quarter. These tend to tone in blue, greenish-blue and orange shades, as this one did. Unfortunately, lot viewing for a particular evening was just ending as I was examining this specific coin, and the overhead lights were turned on. Therefore, as I was rushed and did not view this coin under proper lighting condition, I may have missed some imperfections. So, I will not grade it. As best as I could tell, this coin is technically impressive and naturally toned. I like it.
Like the Green 1804 quarter, it is not a fresh coin as it was auctioned by Heritage during the Jan. 2007 Platinum Night event for $172,500. In Jan. 2011, it sold for $207,000. Some price guides would suggest that this is a weak result, though these guides are wrong.
The price guide values were a little high and were unduly influenced by the $322,000 auction result for the Norweb 1796 during Heritage’s Aug. 11, 2010 Platinum Night in Boston. The Norweb 1796 is of higher quality than this quarter, and the Norweb pedigree is worth a premium.
There is really a need to see these two coins to fully understand the reasons why the Norweb 1796 is worth substantially more than this one. I like them both. While there were some coins sold during Platinum Night that did not reach the levels that the exact same coins sold for or were worth during the 2006 to early 2008 period, this 1796 quarter sold for 20% more in Jan. 2011 than it did in the ‘hot’ market environment of Jan. 2007.
Other early U.S. coins sold during Platinum Night did not fare as well. A 1799 silver dollar sold for much less than it realized in a March 2007 Heritage auction, $379,500 in 2007, $299,000 in 2011. Besides being from a collector consignment, this 1799 may not have met any of the criteria for a strong price that I listed above.
Pre-1808 gold coins in this auction tended to realize prices that were lower, or not significantly higher, than the prices realized by the same or very similar coins in auctions during the last three years, or even during just the last year. Overall, the results for capped head gold coins, classic head gold coins, and capped bust silver coins in this auction are not easy to interpret.
III. Capped Bust Half Dollars
While I did not have an opportunity to examine the NGC graded MS-68 1811 half dollar in Jan. 2011, I remember seeing it before. It is a famous, superb gem coin. It has been in several auctions, including Heritage’s Jan. 2009 Platinum Night event, at which time it may have been acquired by the collector who uses the name “Joseph Thomas.” He consigned it to this event.
This 1811 half has a sticker of approval from the CAC. John Albanese, the founder of the CAC, “loves this coin.” The CAC tried to buy it at the auction and it seems to Albanese that the CAC was “the underbidder.” It sold for $92,000 in Jan. 2009 and $86,250 in Jan. 2011. Matt Kleinsteuber states that this coin has “no issues, can’t find anything wrong with it, guess it is okay for an eight. It is 100% original [with] light evenly toned colors which, on bust halves, are beautiful.”
The “Joseph Thomas” 1814 half dollar is NGC certified MS-68*. The NGC awards stars for ‘eye appeal.’ It, too, was from the Jan. 2009 Platinum Night event. It did not fare as well as the 1811 half. It realized $80,500 in 2009 and $54,625 in 2011. Some bidders were just not convinced that this coin merits a 68 grade.
The 1815/2 Capped Bust half dollar in this auction garnered a considerable amount of attention. It was from “The Allgood Collection.” Matt Kleinsteuber is especially impressed with this 1815/2 overdate half, and Jim McGuigan likes it as well. Furthermore, it has a CAC sticker. Though it is PCGS graded AU-53, which is not a high grade for a bust half on Platinum Night, the 1815/2 overdate is a key to the Capped Bust Half Dollar series and is, in all grades, highly demanded by collectors.
Matt declares that “this coin was very, very nice and pretty much fully struck, very light wear. The overdate is clear. It is a nice 53 or a higher grade. The 1815/2 is a really scarce coin, hard to acquire in any grade,” Kleinsteuber explains.
The ‘Allgood’ 1815/2 brought $16,675, which McGuigan regards as “kind of high”! Jim expected a result below $11,500. McGuigan is a specialist in U.S. coins dating from 1793 to the late 1830s. Though I (this writer) did not see this 1815/2, it seems to meet four to six of my six criteria for a strong auction result.
IV. 1933 Eagle
The ‘LV’ collection, NGC graded MS-65 1933 Eagle ($10 gold coin) sold for $359,375. I asked Steve Contursi why he did not bid more than this amount for it. Contursi has “handled four or five 1933 Eagles [for prices] between $400,000 and $500,000. Prior to 2009, it was easier to sell $100,000 to half million dollar coins in general,” Contursi points out.
Other than being consigned by a collector, the person known as “LV,” this 1933 Eagle does not meet any of the criteria listed above that brings about strong auction results. Dr. Duckor personally graded it as “64 plus” not 65, as did other experts. In my view, its grade is near the border of a 64 and a 65. I certainly understand the reasons why some experts grade it as MS-65.
This 1933 Eagle was in a Sept. 2008 Goldbergs auction, where it did not sell during the proceedings. It sold after the auction to Bob Green, who was acting on behalf of ‘LV.’ The final price then was $460,000. Coin markets were faltering in Sept. 2008, but some areas remained healthy until at least October 2008. Substantial demand for rare date Eagles and Double Eagles continued throughout the overall economic downturn.
V. Type One Double Eagles
Interestingly, the consignor of this 1933 Eagle, ‘LV,’ bought an 1854-O Double Eagle ($20 gold coin) for $603,750 from an Oct. 2008 Heritage auction and consigned this same 1854-O to this Platinum Night event, in which it realized $460,000. In Contursi’s view, the $460,000 realization is “what it should have brought, not weak at all, not strong, an appropriate price.” Adam Crum of Monaco Financial was the successful bidder.
Though coin markets in general peaked in early August 2008, demand for some coins did not fall as much as demand for most rare coins, or did not fall at all for a long time afterwards. “For over eight years,” Steve Contursi notes, “Type One Libs went up tremendously. Now, the market for them may not be quite as strong.” Though prices are not as high as prices were in Aug. to Oct. 2008, or even in Aug. to Oct. 2010, markets for Type One (1850-66) Double Eagles are still very active; this market is dynamic with much volume.
Though the Henry Miller collection will be best remembered for his fabulous Proof Type One Double Eagles, Henry Miller collected both Proof and business strike Liberty Head Double Eagles of all three types, plus some Saints. I mention a few of his business strike Type One Liberty Head Double Eagles here.
The Miller collection, Philadelphia Mint 1852 is a very appealing coin and received a lot of attention. It is NGC graded MS-64 and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. It is very attractive, has really nice luster, and its grade is in the high end of the 64 range. It meets all six of the criteria that I mentioned above, for a successful auction result. The Numismedia.com “wholesale” price is $23,500 and the PCGS price guide value is $50,000. This coin sold for $60,375.
Miller had two 1852 New Orleans Mint Double Eagles. The first, NGC graded AU-58 with a CAC sticker, sold for $19,550. In my view, this is a very strong price, especially since it was lucky to receive a CAC sticker. The second, NGC graded MS-65, received a large amount of attention prior to the auction. I was not thrilled by it. If it were a true gem in the view of most experts, it would have realized $335,000 to $400,000, I believe. Given its nature, the $276,000 price that it did realize is strong.
The 1856-O in this auction was not from the Miller collection. It is NGC graded Extremely Fine-40. In 2007, I devoted an article to 1856-O Double Eagles. The $207,000 price realized for this 1856-O was fair, given the specific characteristics of this coin. Bob Green reports that he recently sold an “EF-45 1856-O to Monaco for $225,000.”
VI. Miller 1823 Half Eagle
The Miller 1823 Half Eagle ($5 coin) meets all the criteria that I listed above for a successful auction result. Moreover, it is a wonderful coin. I really enjoyed viewing it. David Akers declares that it is “the second finest known 1823 Half Eagle” and was formerly in the famous Harold Bareford collection. Stack’s auctioned Bareford’s gold coins in 1978. This NGC graded MS-65, Miller collection 1823, with a CAC sticker, sold for $299,000. Joe O’Connor reveals that he was the successful bidder, “for a client.”
VII. Jim O’Neal’s Half Eagles
As I discussed in my column of Dec. 8, Jim O’Neal formed the all-time best collection of Indian Head Half Eagles ($5 gold coins). Several of the coins in this set are among the finest three known of their respective dates.
The Eliasberg-Thaine Price-Parrino-O’Neal 1909-O has received the most attention, for three reasons. First, the 1909-O is the scarcest date in the series. Secondly, this is the only 1909-O that is PCGS graded MS-66. Neither the PCGS nor the NGC have assigned a grade higher than 66 to a 1909-O Half Eagle. Third, this coin has an excellent pedigree.
Louis Eliasberg, Sr. formed the all-time best collection of U.S. coins, which included many coins that are among the finest known, or even certainly the finest, of their respective dates. Furthermore, Dr. Thaine Price formed one of all-time best collections of Indian Head Half Eagles, perhaps the third finest of all time. When this coin was auctioned as part of the Thaine Price collection by the firm of David Akers in May 1998, Jay Parrino was the successful bidder for the then astonishing amount of $374,000. Many gold rarities have tripled in value, or even quadrupled, since May 1998. For several reasons, this 1909-O was valued at $1 million, before this Jan. 6, 2011 auction, by the editors of the PCGS price guide and by other experts.
At the auction, this 1909-O sold for $690,000. Matt Kleinsteuber regards this “as a very high price for an Indian Half Eagle.” Adam Crum, too, maintains that “this is a lot for an Indian Head Half Eagle, a very strong price.” In contrast, Dr. Duckor “felt 1909-O PCGS-66 Half Eagle at $690,000 was CHEAP. [Duckor] thought it would go for $900000!”
Steve Contursi states that the “1909-O was a good deal [as it] could have brought close to a million dollars.” The Indian Head Half Eagle “series in general is not so strong right now,” says Contursi.
Todd Imhof is the Executive Vice President of Heritage and he is an expert in early 20th century gold coins. “We” at Heritage, Imhof states, “felt the 1908-S, 1909-O, 1913, 1913-S, 1914-D could have sold for more. The 1909-S, 1911-S, 1912-S, 1914, 1914-S and 1929 sold for more than our pre-sale estimates.” Imhof also reveals that the 1909-O and the O’Neal 1913-S were purchased by the same individual who concluded that “these were good values” at the prices realized, $690,000 and $218,500 respectively.
Steven Duckor, MD, is a famous collector who has assembled landmark sets of all four series of early 20th century U.S. gold coins. “The 1911-D PCGS MS-65+, population of one, was the BEST 1911-D $5 Indian out there and brought $100,000 less than [Dr. Duckor] thought it would bring.” I, too, graded it as 65+ and I very much like it.
I (this writer) thought that the O’Neal 1912-S was disappointing. I am not convinced that it really is the finest known. It has too much friction and scuff for its grade to make it into the middle of the 65 range. Plus, the mintmark is blurrier than usual. Yes, the O’Neal 1912-S is the only 1912-S Half Eagle that is PCGS graded MS-65 and none have been certified at a higher grade level.
The O’Neal 1912-S realized the startling amount of $195,500. Before the auction the PCGS price guide value for this coin was $87,500 and the Numismedia retail value was around $120,000. The O’Neal 1912-S is now in the Simpson collection, which is the “Number One” active Indian Half Eagle set in the PCGS Registry. The O’Neal set has been “retired,” which is logical since it was just auctioned on Platinum Night.
“As for the 1912-S PCGS-65,” Dr. Duckor says, “weak mintmark, brought $75,000 more than [Duckor] thought it would. [Duckor] felt 1913-S is a better coin and went relatively cheap!”
Steve Contursi reports that he sold a PCGS graded MS-66 1913-S Half Eagle, presumably this same coin, to Kevin Lipton in March 2006 for $210,000. Lipton has been mentioned in Heritage catalogues as one of the dealers from whom O’Neal purchased many coins.
“Of all the O’Neal $5 Indians the biggest surprise was the 1914 at $126,500,” Dr. Duckor exclaims. He “liked the coin but not at that price, [Duckor] felt it was a nice PCGS-66 but still the price didn’t fit the coin!” Adam Crum declares that “it is a puzzling price for a common coin!”
It seems very likely that the PCGS graded MS-66 O’Neal 1914 is the finest known. In my (this writer’s) view, the Heritage cataloguer put forth an excellent point that there have been an extremely small number of PCGS or NGC graded MS-65 1914 Half Eagles sold at auction over the past twenty years. I wonder if the respective published totals of certified MS-65 1914 Half Eagles, twenty-two for PCGS and eighteen for NGC, include a large number of repeat submissions of some of the same coins. There is a tremendous financial incentive to attempt to upgrade a “MS-65” grade 1914 to “MS-66” and one coin to three coins might of each been ‘cracked-out’ and re-submitted numerous times. Not all dealers return printed inserts to the grading services. If so, this could be a reason why the O’Neal 1914 may be worth much more than most experts previously thought that it was worth.
It is curious that the PCGS has never assigned a grade above 64+ to a 1914-S or a 1915-S Half Eagle. The O’Neal 1914-S is one of two that are PCGS graded 64+. My impression is that $92,000 was a very high price for this coin. Dr. Duckor does not think so. The 1915-S was a more appealing coin and a much better value at $54,625. Both the O’Neal 1914-S and 1915-S have CAC stickers.
The O’Neal 1916-S went for $97,750, and I find it hard to interpret this price. It may be reasonable. It certainly is gloriously original and an excellent coin overall. Does anyone dispute the 66+ grade?
The O’Neal 1929 is PCGS graded MS-65 and realized a high price of $86,250. In my view, this was not a good value. Pertinent past auction results are much lower. Also, I have seen at least two PCGS graded MS-65 1929 Half Eagles that are superior to this one.
Generally, Dr. Duckor “felt” that several of “O’Neal’s $5 Indians went cheap.” According to Duckor, “the $5 Indian series is the toughest [20th century] set to put together in 64 or finer [and] very few people collect it!” Furthermore, Dr. Duckor notes that Indian Head Half Eagles in the 64 to 66 range are very difficult to grade and he wonders whether grading issues may have discouraged some people from collecting this series. “This Platinum Night was really the BEST time to [build] this collection in GEM condition,” Duckor insists. “The previous great sets were mine in Auction ’90, and Thaine Price’s set [that was auctioned] in 1998, yet people were not aggressive” on Jan. 6, 2011.
Bob Green found that “prices were very strong for O’Neal’s $5 Indians.” Green has “a client who wanted to buy the CAC stickered O’Neal coins.” A majority of the Half Eagles in O’Neal’s set were approved the CAC. “My client got outbid by two increments for most of the CAC $5 Indians,” Green reports. Bob is “finding that CAC coins are bringing more money in the market than they did before.” Green’s “opinion” about the value of CAC “has changed. John Albanese is doing a good job. CAC coins bring, on average, a ten percent premium” in Green’s recent experience.
While it may be true that not as many people are collecting 64 to 66 grade Indian Head Half Eagles now as there were in the 1990s and 2000s, seeing gem representatives of the better dates was very exciting. At a major coin auction, coins that are cool, wonderful and/or fascinating spark bidders and garner attention. Since 2005, most FUN Platinum Night events have featured an amazing number of such coins.
©2011 Greg Reynolds