Memorable Million Dollar Coins
By Stewart Huckaby – Heritage Auctions ……….
As I write this, the 1804 dollar in our 2013 August 8 – 10 US Coins Signature Auction in Rosemont, IL has been bid up to $2.8 million, which, after the Buyer’s Premium is added, will result in a sale for $3,290,000. This assumes that no bids are placed on the coin during our Platinum Night sessions, and as I’ve noticed in watching and occasionally attending Platinum Night sessions, bids on great coins can come in fast and furious when they hit the auction floor.
By my count, Heritage has sold coins for prices of $1 million or more at auction 32 times, all since 2005. Platinum Night will add one, perhaps two, coins to this total. But each of these coins has a story to tell, and while my going over all of these coins would cause all but the most die-hard coin weenie to give up the hobby, I thought I might share some reminiscences of a few of the more memorable pieces.
The Class 1 1804 dollar in our Rosemont auction is the same coin that, as I write this, shares the honor of most expensive coin ever sold by Heritage, when it sold for $3,737,500 in 2008. This was also the first 1804 dollar I was ever able to hold in my hand — in the slab, of course. Coin geek that I am, I immediately took the opportunity to whip out a loupe and give the piece a thorough eyeballing. Even though it was struck well after 1804, and only a few pieces were minted, the coin shows evidence of a small die break. What could have caused such a seldom-used die to crack?
The other coin that shares the Million Dollar Coins honor of the most expensive coin ever sold by Heritage is the Hawaii Five-0 specimen of the 1913 Liberty nickel, which we sold in 2010. More officially known as the Olsen specimen, this coin was a featured guest star on a seventies episode of Hawaii Five-0 entitled “The $100,000 Nickel”. I think most collectors would be happy to buy this coin for such a low sum today. But what I remember most about this coin are two things. First is the fact that, when I asked Mark Van Winkle one day if he had anything interesting to show me, one of our photographers walked by, and as if on cue, handed me this coin. Second is that, once my jaw came back from hitting the floor, the NGC certification number is instantly memorable. Yes, the Hawaii Five-0 coin has a certification number of 5050505-050.
During FUN of 2005, we offered two Brasher Doubloons which sold for $2,990,000 and $2,415,000, respectively. The former piece has since sold, in a private transaction, for $7.4 million. My personal remembrance of these Million Dollar Coins is, well, nil. As memory serves, Heritage employees had the chance to go see these coins at one point, but I either didn’t know or didn’t take advantage. I still have never seen a Brasher Doubloon in person. And I still have the bruises from kicking myself.
In FUN of 2007, we sold a 1907 Ultra High Relief double eagle for $1,840,000. It was neither the first one we’d sold, nor the most expensive (a coin we sold in 2005 holds both those honors), nor the first I’d seen (the Smithsonian has one). But these coins are distinctive even in contrast to the normal High Relief double eagles of the date, and they aren’t the semi-piedforts that the later 2009 issues are. This was another piece I saw in Mark Van Winkle’s office, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how it could possibly grade “only” PR68. That we’d sold another in PR69 still boggles the mind. The 1907 Ultra High Relief double eagles may be the most beautiful coins I’ve ever seen.
The 1856-O double eagle is the key to the Liberty Double Eagle series. Most of the outstanding gold collections don’t have one, and when it’s found at all, it’s in circulated grades. With one exception. A number of years back, a single coin turned up in Mint State; it’s actually a specimen strike that was believed to be a proof at one time. In hand, the coin has a soft, satiny luster and sharp devices, and it appears very much unlike circulation strike double eagles from the time period. We’ve sold it at auction three times, the last of which was in 2009. I remember not knowing until the day of the auction whether it was going to sell at all, as the reserve on the coin might best be described as aggressive. But it met the reserve before it got to the auction floor and sold for $1,437,500.
Finally, during my first year at Heritage, we were still shoehorned into a building in Highland Park. Jim Jelinski would come by my area on occasion, and one time he handed me a 1792 half disme. I don’t remember the grade that was on the holder at the time — or for that matter if the coin was even in a slab, but the coin eventually wound up in a Specimen-67 holder. It took a while for Jim to get the coin consigned, but it sold a couple years later for $1,322,500. At this year’s FUN auction, it sold again for $1,410,000.
Who knows what kinds of Million Dollar Coins — and stories — are coming up in Heritage auctions in the future? For a coin weenie like me, it will certainly be fun to find out.