The First Stack’s-Bowers Auction, Part 1, Copper and Silver
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins and coin markets #47
A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds
As I reported in my column on The Ten Leading Topics of 2010, the West Coast auction firm of B&M, a subsidiary of Spectrum, merged with Stack’s, an East Coast coin firm. Spectrum, a Fortune 500 company, owns 51% of the combined entity and the former shareholders of Stack’s-ANR own 49%. Most of this 49% share is held by a family that has a publishing empire in the South, including Whitman.
The first live auction conducted by the new Stack’s-Bowers entity was held in Baltimore during the last few days of March. It was a large auction. Herein, I will discuss copper and silver U.S. coins that were sold. Next week, I will cover U.S. gold coins. Regrettably, I will not be able to discuss, in my weekly columns, the colonials, U.S. nickels, world coins, paper money, and other items that were also auctioned in this event.
There is just not enough time and space to write about all the coins that I would like to discuss. Even so, I will not focus exclusively on the most expensive coins in an auction, as these are often not representative of the event as a whole and the most newsworthy coins are not necessarily the most expensive. Even so, on average, more expensive coins are more likely to be newsworthy.
While a naturally toned, Extremely Fine grade Barber Half Dollar of a non-rare date might be a wonderful coin, the sale of one is not extraordinarily interesting, at least not usually. Also, I do not perceive much of a point in mentioning the aggregate amount realized of all the coins in a large auction that has a wide variety of items from many consignors.
After all, a $15 million auction can be more successful than a $25 million auction. Much depends upon the content of an auction, the presentation of the material, advertising and public relations, and other factors. Please see my recent column on the meaning of auction prices.
In terms of auctions, coins that are worth publicly noting are those that come from special collections, are exceptionally attractive, bring particularly strong prices, are of elusive rare dates, are among the finest known of their respective issues, and/or are unusual in a distinctive way.
I. The March Auction
This Stack’s auction contained too varied a mix of material to even attempt to summarize. I divide my report by denomination. (Large cents, quarters, and silver dollars are examples of denominations.) In terms of U.S. coins, the best components of the auction, in addition to special individual coins, were two consignments of exceptional collections, those of Denny Kemp and Dr. Albert Frederick.
Each of these collections was carefully assembled by a knowledgeable collector, consists of coins that were sold by an expert dealer who offered excellent coins and/OR was built with the assistance of an expert who selected excellent coins. Moreover, the Kemp and Frederickson collections had been ‘off the market’ for a long time and thus constituted ‘fresh material.’ For a coin to be ‘fresh,’ it must have been ‘off the market’ for five to seven years, or more.
As I stated when I covered the sale of the Henry Miller collection, typically, each coin that realizes a strong price in a major auction meets ONE OR MORE of the following criteria: (1) was fresh, (2) was from a non-dealer consignment, (3) was from a named excellent collection when consigned or was notably in a great collection farther in the past, (4) is CAC approved, (5) has natural toning and/or mostly to fully original surfaces, (6) is ‘high end’ for its stated grade or is undergraded in the views of expert graders who were involved in serious bidding. I am referring here to scarce or rare U.S. coin, though my explanation is largely applicable to auctions of other kinds of coins.
Note that a statement about the strength of a prices realized in an auction does not imply a conclusion about overall coin markets. Though the Stack’s-Bowers auction did well, better than last year’s March B&M auction, coin markets so far in 2011 are about the same as such markets were during the beginning of 2010. This March event was an intense auction within the larger context of a slow to moderately paced, stable, relatively quiet, U.S. coin market environment.
II. 1831 Half Cent
Among the offerings of half cents, a real newsworthy piece that sold is an 1831 that is PCGS certified ‘Proof-66 Brown’ and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. This 1831 is a so called “First Restrike.” It was minted later than 1831, but before the ‘second’ run of Restrikes, which are rarer. The 1831 issues are important dates in the series of half cents.
Jim McGuigan liked the “reddish brown” color and noted a significant amount of “original mint red on the back, around the letters.” In addition, Jim found that the “mirrors were good,” better than on many other Proof Half Cents. Andy Lustig found this 1831 to be an appealing coin and could not find any problems with it.
This 1831 sold for $28,175, reportedly to a dealer, and sometime collector, from New Jersey. The price realized is “more than I thought it was worth,” McGuigan says. Jim is one of the leading authorities on half cents and, for decades, he has specialized in pre-1840 U.S. coins of all metals.
III. Large Cents of 1793
Ever since the 1860s, the large cents of 1793 have been among the most popular of all U.S. coins among collectors. Last week, I discussed a Chain Cent that is valued at more than $2 million, The Nevada Accumulation and the Morelan Collection of Type Coins. (Click to read; last week’s column also includes some general information about Chain Cents.) This auction in Baltimore contained two Chain Cents and two Wreath Cents, which are types that were minted only in 1793.
One of the two Chain Cents is not gradable. It is “corroded” and is an NCS holder, which indicates that experts at the NGC found it to be genuine. The holder provides a determination that it has the “details” of a Very Good grade Chain Cent. It sold for $8625, which I take to be a strong price. A gradable Good-04 Chain Cent would have a retail value in the range of $7000.
The other Chain Cent in this auction is PCGS graded Extremely Fine-40 and is in a ‘Secure Holder.’ (Click to read about the PCGS SecurePlus program.) This coin sold for $50,025. McGuigan remarks that the PCGS graded EF-40 Chain Cent “in the recent Sacramento Heritage sale brought a lot more but it was much nicer for the grade.” According to Jim, the price realized for this one was “strong for what it was.” In McGuigan’s view, this Chain Cent has a few imperfections that some other certified EF-40 grade Chain Cents do not have, or not to the same extent. Nonetheless, McGuigan finds that this “is a decent piece.”
As with the Chains, there was a high grade Wreath Cent and an ungradable one, which also was “corroded.” It is said to have Very Fine details and it sold for $2300. The high grade Wreath Cent is PCGS certified ‘MS-64 Brown.’
I wish to thank Kathleen Duncan for showing this coin to me at the Jan. 2009 FUN Convention, at least I am 95% certain that it is the same coin. At the time, Duncan had just completed an arrangement to handle the ‘Sounder’ type set, which she had assisted a client in building. The anonymous collector, who assembled the ‘Sounder’ sets, lives (or lived) in the Puget Sound area in Washington State, not far from Kathleen’s office. According to the NGC Registry, this Wreath Cent was added to the ‘Sounder’ Type Set in Sept. 2008.
Personally, I just cannot agree with the PCGS assigned grade of “64.” McGuigan disagrees as well, though Jim maintains out that both the PCGS and the NGC tend to grade very early large cents of this quality as “64.” I am not so sure. Large cent researchers tend to grade this coin below 60, though they employ grading criteria that is different from the respective criteria employed by the PCGS and the NGC. Perhaps a 62 grade would be fair? In any event, the price realized of $143,750 is certainly healthy. Indeed, the auctioning of this Wreath Cent was very successful.
IV. 1874 Carson City Dime
Other than the unique 1873-CC ‘No Arrows,’ the rarest business strike dime may be the 1874 Carson City (Nevada) Mint issue. In this auction, there was one that is NGC graded AU-55.
About this dime, Matt Kleinsteuber states, “nice, I liked it, no problems, not dipped in a long time if ever, attractive, nice original mid grade AU” 1874-CC. Andy Lustig states that it “was presentable for the grade, nothing wrong.”
This 1874-CC sold for $43,125. It is true that the Simpson 1874-CC, which is PCGS graded AU-50 and is CAC approved, sold for more in Sept. 2010. My guess, however, is that the Simpson 1874-CC is of a little higher quality than this one, especially surface quality. Both this one and the Simpson 1874-CC are of higher quality than the Madison-Thomas 1874-CC, which I have seen. The Madison-Thomas 1874-CC was auctioned by Heritage for $63,250, when coin markets were booming in Jan. 2008, and for 34,500, when coin markets probably hit bottom in April 2009. The $43,125 result here seems to be neither high nor low, just right.
The run of the quarters in this sale was not extraordinary, though there were some newsworthy pieces. There was an 1828 Quarter that is NGC certified ‘Proof-65.’ Unfortunately, I have never seen this coin. My sources were not convinced that it is a Proof, though they did not assert that it is not. It sounds like it may be a borderline case. In any event, Proof Capped Bust Quarters do not trade often, and price guides are generally not accurate. The result at this auction was $69,000, and it is hard for me to interpret it right now.
I also wish I had seen an 1832 Capped Bust Quarter from the Dr. Albert R. Frederick collection. The online images suggest that it may be a marvelous coin. It was NGC graded MS-65 long ago, and recently received a sticker of approval from the CAC. Matt Kleinsteuber suggests, however, that it is “not an upgrade. I like this coin, nice cobalt blue toning, real gem, very pretty,” Matt says. Kleinsteuber is lead grader and trader for NFC coins, and is sometimes an instructor in grading courses at ANA seminars.
My guess is that there are just three different 1832 quarters that have been PCGS or NGC certified as grading MS-65. The NGC has graded just one as MS-66. This is the only certified MS-65 grade 1832 quarter that is CAC approved and the CAC has approved just eight 1832 quarters in all grades. I do not know, however, how many 1832 quarters have been submitted to the CAC.
It seems likely that the Frederick 1832 quarter is high in the condition ranking. The price realized was $25,875, a retail price and a somewhat strong auction result.
Another quarter from the Dr. Albert R. Frederick, Jr. Collection is an 1877-CC, about which Matt was very enthusiastic. This 1877-CC quarter is NGC graded MS-64, is in an old NGC holder, and has a CAC sticker. Kleinsteuber asserts that “this coin is phenomenal, [with] beautiful original color.” It sold for $3450, a very strong price. A typical MS-64 certified 1877-CC quarter would be worth less than $2000.
Still another from Dr. Albert R. Frederick, Jr. Collection is a key date 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter. This is a very popular issue.
This specific 1916 quarter impressed Matt a great deal. It is PCGS graded MS-64, with an old green label, and has a CAC sticker. It sold for $34,500. A retail price would be in the $20,000 to $24,000 range. As Matt pointed out, though, it is likely to be ‘cracked out’ and re-submitted to the PCGS or the NGC with an expectation of a 65 or 66 grade, probably with a ‘Full Head’ designation. Again, I suggest my recent column on the meaning of auction prices for information relating to bidding and interpreting auction results.
Matt was not impressed by the two PCGS graded MS-65 1932-D quarters in this auction. The 1932-D and the 1932-S are the key dates in the Washington Quarter series. The first 1932-D did not sell and the second realized $14,375, a price that is strong. In addition, there was a PCGS graded MS-63 1932-D that went for $1265 and an NGC graded MS-63 1932-D, with a CAC sticker, which brought $1496.
The quarter section was not the best part of this auction. There were, though, some really nice Proof Liberty Seated Quarters. My sources suggest that, generally, the quarters from the Dr. Frederick collection were exceptional, not just mid range to ‘high end’ for their respective grades, appealing in other ways as well.
VI. Half Dollars
The offering of half dollars in this sale was better than that of quarters. There was a substantial group of 1826 Capped Bust Half Dollars. An 1826 that is PCGS graded MS-66 and realized $20,700. An 1826 “from the Denny Kemp Collection” is PCGS graded MS-65, with an old green label, and a new CAC sticker. It sold for $12,650 and may be a better value than the MS-66 certified 1826. An 1826 half in this same auction that is PCGS graded AU-58 sold for $1380 and one that is NGC graded AU-58 brought $748. It does not make sense to draw conclusions about these solely from the prices realized.
The Eliasberg 1831 half commanded a lot of attention, much more so than the group of 1826s that I just mentioned. The Eliasberg coin is the only 1831 half that is PCGS graded MS-67 and is widely believed to be the finest known 1831. Louis Eliasberg formed the all-time best collection of U.S. coins and many Eliasberg coins are the finest known representatives of their respective dates.
The online images of this lot definitely match the plates in the 1997 Eliasberg catalogue. The Eliasberg “1831 is absolutely gorgeous, no friction, great color, guess 67 is okay, just made it 7, terrific coin,” Matt Kleinsteuber says. Charlie Browne, a PCGS grader years before this auction and years afterwards, graded this 1831 as “66+” in April 1997. Grading standards loosened during the period from 1997 to 2006 or so, and Charlie is a conservative grader anyhow. If Charlie grades a coin as “66+,” it does not surprise me that others would grade it as 67.
As for the price realized of $51,750 for the Eliasberg 1831 in March 2011, it is important to consider the Eliasberg pedigree, the aesthetics of the coin and the likelihood that it is the finest known 1831 Capped Bust Half Dollar. Even with all such factors included in an analysis, however, this price is extremely strong.
This exact same Eliasberg 1831 half was auctioned in April 2009, when rare coin markets ‘hit bottom,’ for $19,550. It was then, though, in an NGC holder. It could be that the buyer this time planned on placing this coin in a PCGS Registry Set.
Mark Feld is “particularly impressed” by the 1834 half dollar from the Denny Kemp collection. It is PCGS graded MS-65 and has a CAC sticker. Feld regards it as “breathtaking.” This 1834 garnered $18,400. Feld was a grader at the NGC in the 1990s, has worked for Steve Ivy and other coin business leaders, and has been an independent dealer since 2004.
The Proof 1836 half of the variety where ’50′ is stamped over ’00′ on the reverse die was one of the more famous coins in the sale. It was formerly in the George Byers collection, which Stack’s auctioned in 2006. I have seen it, though I have not had a chance to ‘dig out’ my notes about it. Kleinsteuber found it be “very nice.” This 1836 ’50/00′ is PCGS certified Proof-64 and it has a sticker of approval from the CAC. The price realized was $51,750. In Oct. 2006, Stack’s auctioned it for $37,375.
One of Matt’s favorite coins in the auction was an 1860 Liberty Seated Half Dollar that is PCGS certified ‘Proof-66+.’ It sold for $30,475, a strong price. This 1860 has “absolutely beautiful color, really,” Kleinsteuber exclaims.
Additionally, Matt declares that both the Proof 1862 and the Proof 1867 “were incredible.” Generally, there was a terrific group of Proof Liberty Seated Half Dollars in this auction.
The 1862 was “from the Denny Kemp Collection” and is PCGS certified ‘Proof-65,’ is an old holder with a green label, and has a CAC sticker. It went for $14,950.
The 1867 was “from the Dr. Albert R. Frederick, Jr. Collection” and is also in an old holder, with a green label, and has a CAC sticker. This half is PCGS certified ‘Proof-66′ and it brought $10,350. Mark Feld “thought this to be a very attractive, albeit deeply toned example, which fetched considerably more than I expected.”
Kleinsteuber also directs attention to the Proof 1883 halves in this auction. These two “coins were really, really, really nice, great color, great surfaces, undergraded,” Matt gushes. Both are PCGS certified and CAC approved. The first 1883 is graded 66 and is from the Denny Kemp Collection. The second is graded 65 and brought $3853, a strong price. The first sold for $9775, which is a very strong price.
VII. 1912 Proof Set
It seems that Dr. Albert Frederick assembled, or acquired intact, a Proof Set of 1912. Each of the coins was sold separately and I have heard great comments about them. All are PCGS certified and are in old holders with green labels. (It is widely held that PCGS certified coins with green labels are more conservatively graded than PCGS certified coins with standard blue labels.) Except the Lincoln Cent, all are CAC approved. Here are the grades and the prices realized: Lincoln Cent 66RB $4888, Liberty Nickel 66 $1380, Barber Dime 67 $6900, quarter 67 $17,250, half 67 $25,875!
Mark Feld “thought that the 1912 Proof Dime, Quarter and Half were each exquisite and pristine in their appearances. That, combined with the allure of old holders, told me that the coins would go for big money. And indeed, they did,” Mark concludes.
In regards to the quarter, Matt Kleinsteuber states, “absolutely insane color, lock 68, an amazing coin.” It brought “even more” than Matt expected.
Kleinsteuber was extremely enthusiastic the Frederick 1912 Barber Half. He declares that “it is one of the top five best Proof toned Barber Half Dollars that I have ever seen.”
VIII. Frederick Collection
There were other special coins in the Frederick collection. When I asked Mark Feld to list some coins in this auction that impressed Mark, I did not mention the Frederick collection or any other consignment. Nonetheless, two of the five coins that Feld picked were from the Dr. Albert Frederick collection and two were from the Denny Kemp collection, including the 1834 half that was already mentioned.
In regards to a Frederick Collection, PCGS certified ‘MS-65 RED’ 1855 Large Cent, with a CAC sticker, Feld says that “it was about as un-mellowed red and spot-free as any I have seen in a long time.” This natural red cent brought $5721. An NGC certified ‘Proof-64′ 1858 Flying Eagle Cent with large letters, also with a CAC sticker, is “one of the best looking and obviously Proof examples I have seen,” Mark states. It sold for $17,480!
Though no one mentioned any of the Twenty cent pieces to me, I note that an 1878 Twenty Cent piece from the Frederick Collection brought a significant price, $24,725. It is NGC graded Proof-65 and has been approved by the CAC. There were too many neat coins in the Frederick collection to discuss in one column.
IX. Silver Dollars
There was a significant offering of silver dollars in this auction. It will be remembered for an extensive run of Liberty Seated Dollars, including many that were relatively affordable. The offering of Bust Dollars was not exceptional, though there were a few appealing coins.
McGuigan thought that $43,125 was “a pretty strong price” for a PCGS graded AU-58 1797 dollar, which sold as lot #3181. A 1799 Draped Bust Dollar of the same certified grade, though with a CAC sticker, realized $18,400, a result McGuigan said is “strong, not outrageous. It is a very nice coin.”
Two silver dollar rarities sold for significant prices. An 1839 Gobrecht Dollar Restrike (of the variety known as Judd #104) is NGC certified Proof-65. It sold for $92,000. I feel that I have seen this coin in the past, not that long ago. I cannot remember where. If anyone knows the pedigree, please let me know.
A Proof Restrike 1852 Liberty Seated Dollar brought $69,000. McGuigan likes it. If “someone was collecting seated dollars and wanted an 1852 Proof Restrike, this would be a good coin to have,” McGuigan relates. This 1852 was formerly in the John Pittman and Phil Kaufman collections. Heritage auctioned it in July 2008 for $46,000. It was reholdered in the interim.
The Proof 1896 Morgan from the Dr. Albert R. Frederick, Jr. Collection brought a strong price. Although it was NGC graded 67, at least two bidders seem to have concluded that it is likely to be recertified as ‘Proof-68 Deep or Ultra Cameo.’ I do not find the $34,500 result to be interesting. It is just another case of aggressive crackout artists speculating about an upgrade. Besides, Proof Morgans that have been certified as 67 or 68 are not hard to find and tend to be liberally graded in comparison to19th century Proof coins of other denominations.
In regard to U.S. coins, the Dr. Albert Frederick and Denny Kemp collections constituted the core of this auction. Remember the factors that tend to bring about strong prices that I list in the section I above.
An excellent collection does not have to include Great Rarities, complete sets, or many coins in the most popular series. It is important to consider the importance of attractive, truly scarce coins, not condition rarities of very common issues. I am referring to scarce coins that have natural toning, mostly to fully original surfaces, and merit grades at least in the mid range to high end of their respective certified grades. It does not require a fortune to collect such coins, which will tend to generate enthusiasm and realize strong prices when auctioned.
©2011 Greg Reynolds