News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #221
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds…..
When I first wrote about “The Riverboat Collection” about a month ago, I did not realize just how much impact the sale of this collection, in Illinois on April 24, would have or just how strong some of the prices would turn out to be. Further, I am astonished by a few newsworthy ‘weak’ prices. Moreover, reports from Charlie Browne and Andy Lustig indicate that the the coins are of higher quality than I figured that they were likely to be. Pioneer gold coins tend to have significant problems. This collection is clearly much more important than I thought before the auction, and will be forever remembered as one of the half-dozen greatest collections of pioneer gold coins that was ever formed. Here, auction results re discussed.
Because of the incredible quality and depth of the California gold coins in this collection, the focus here is on issues that took place in California. It must be mentioned, however, that “The Riverboat Collection” had one of the greatest pairs of Oregon Exchange Company $5 and $10 gold coins. Just these two coins make this an incredible collection.
It seems that the Oregon $5 coin in “The Riverboat Collection” is the finest known. It is NGC graded as MS-62. “My favorite coin in the sale,” Charlie Browne declares,.“It has the eye appeal of a higher grade coin,with some light surface abrasions and slight field wipes. I grade it as 62+. This coin is absolutely marvelous, with wonderful color, and is truly mint state,” Charlie adds. It sold for $258,500, a moderate to strong price.
I wrote about “The Riverboat Collection” Oregon $10 piece in the first part. I expected it to bring more than $340,750. Browne likes this coin, too. It is PCGS graded “AU-55.”
Oregon Exchange Company coins tend to have serious problems. One of the most amazing aspects of “The Riverboat Collection” was the technical quality of the coins, many of which are amazing for extremely rare pioneer gold coins because they do not have serious problems.
II. Importance of This Auction
The emergence and sale of “The Riverboat Collection” is certainly the grandest story relating to coins since the auction of a Brasher Doubloon in January. Although it had been known since the middle of 2012 that a Brasher Doubloon was ‘on the market,’ very few knew of the magnitude and quality of the coins in this collection
“The Riverboat Collection” sold for more than $10 million in the Heritage auction extravaganza at the CSNS Convention in Illinois. This auction will also be remembered for Liberty Double Eagles, both business strikes and Proofs, though those came from multiple consignments and did not have the impact associated with a one-day sale of an epic collection.
The most famous pioneer gold coin in this sale is the Garrett-Riverboat, Kellogg $50 gold piece, a Proof-only issue. This coin is PCGS certified ‘Proof-64 Cameo’ and is one of the two finest of twelve to fourteen known. Adam Crum of Monaco Rare Coins was the successful bidder.
Another, which is PCGS graded as “64,” sold for $747,500 in a FUN auction by Heritage in Jan. 2007. The Garrett-Riverboat piece has always been more famous than that one. I find the current price realized of $763,750 to be a little weak. I figure a moderate price would have been in the $800,000 to $850,000 range. There was a good chance that this Kellogg $50 coin would sell for more than $1 million.
In last year’s Central States auction at the same location, Heritage sold seven different items that each realized more than $1 million, a Quint pattern, a 1913 Liberty Nickel, a 1796 Silver Dollar, Eric Newman’s Humbert-U.S. Assay 1852 $10 gold piece, and three currency notes. This year, the just mentioned Kellogg $50 piece and a Pacific Company coin each sold for $763,750, and no other coins came closer to the $1 million level.
Even so, gold coins lead a successful event. The whole auction extravaganza totaled more than $46 million, though it included thousands of coins, plus tokens, medals and paper money. I already wrote about a 1797 dime that was in this sale.
For information regarding the consignment and some historical background relating to pioneer gold issues, please read my pre-auction discussion of “The Riverboat Collection.” The focus here is on the prices realized, with comments by Charlie Browne and Andy Lustig regarding coins and results. Charlie’s qualifications are mentioned in my previous discussion and Andy has been an expert in pioneer gold coins for decades. Indeed, I have been discussing such coins with Andy, on occasion, for more than twenty years. Lustig has owned, or part-owned, many rare and important pioneer pieces. While working for large coin firms in the past, Charlie has handled many pioneer gold rarities, too, and Browne graded a large number of them during his stints at the PCGS.
“The Riverboat Collection was beautiful, absolutely magnificent,” Charlie exclaims, “incredible quality for pioneer gold coins. It was a thrill to look at them,” Browne adds.
III. Lead Coins
Andy Lustig “thought the sale was very strong. The best bargains were some of the most expensive pieces. I thought the Kellogg $50, the Pacific $5 and the Mormon $10 could easily have brought more,” Andy says. I agree that the results for the Kellogg $50 and for the Pacific $5 each were weak, The NGC graded “AU-58,”1849 Mormon $10 gold coin, however, brought $705,000, a result that I regard as very strong. I would have been shocked if it had “brought more”!
“The Riverboat Collection” 1849 Mormon $20 gold coin brought $558,125, another result that I regard as very strong. In Sept. 2012, the firm of Ira & Larry Goldberg auctioned an NGC graded “AU-50” Mormon $20 coin for $253,000, which was probably an auction record for any Mormon coin, before this CSNS auction.
Regarding the NGC graded “MS-62” Mormon $20 coin, Charlie did not agree with the “62“ grade. Furthermore, PCGS graded “AU-50” and “AU-53” Mormon $20 coins are around, and have illustrious pedigrees. I figure that a moderate price for the Riverboat 1849 Mormon $20 would have been in the range of $370,000 to $420,000.
As for the already mentioned, NGC graded “AU-58” 1849 Mormon $10 gold coin, Andy Lustig insists that the $705,000 price “was cheap. While the Pacific $5 has a great design and the Kellogg $50 is big, the Mormon has the best story. Although I only graded it AU-50, it is attractive, original and one of the best known,” Lustig declares.
Mormon coins were minted in an area that is now part of the State of Utah. Clark Gruber coins were minted in Colorado. Templeton Reid and Bechtler coins were minted in the South. As “The Riverboat Collection” is one of the half-dozen all-time best collections of West Coast pioneer gold coins, these are the focus here.
Indeed, in terms of West Coast pioneer gold coins, “The Riverboat Collection” is probably the best to have been auctioned since the Garrett Collection. Also, several Garrett Collection pioneer gold coins that were auctioned in March 1980 later found their way into “The Riverboat Collection,” including the already mentioned Kellogg $50 gold piece.
Templeton Reid and The Southern Gold Rush were covered in an analytical article last year. Due to the many subtle varieties, Bechtler gold coins are difficult to explain in auction reviews. Besides, despite their impressive quality, the Bechtler pieces in “The Riverboat Collection,” tended to bring moderate prices. These did not make waves on April 24, 2014.
Although Wass Molitor gold coins, which are from California, did make waves at the auction, it is not practical to discuss them here. The various varieties and their respective rarity require too much explanation. So, I am here ignoring Wass Molitor pieces here as well, except the $50 coins, which certainly are very newsworthy.
Wass Molitor 1855 $50 gold coins tend to be characterized by large numbers of contact marks, many of which are wide or deep. “The Riverboat Collection” Wass $50 piece has hardly any contact marks and has pleasing surfaces. It is NGC graded “MS-63.”
I have seen it before, though I have yet to remember where or when. Charlie had the same feeling. Maybe we saw it at the same location around the same time?
Browne examined “The Riverboat Collection,” Wass Molitor fifty again at the CSNS Convention. It has just a “few marks” and is mostly “original,” Charlie states, though it has a “little facial friction” and was “very lightly cleaned long ago.” Importantly, it has “none of the big wallops that normally plague” Wass Molitor $50 gold pieces. Browne figures, “technically 62,” though the assigned 63 grade is understandable, as it is “an attractive, decent coin with no [substantial] impairments.”
I have seen two Wass Molitor $50 piece that are superior to the Riverboat piece. I would not be surprised, though, if this piece turned out to be the fourth finest known. The $411,250 result is a little strong, though may be a good deal from a logical perspective. Wass Molitor $50 coins are much rarer than Humbert or later U.S. Assay $50 pieces, as type coins. Also, Wass Molitor fifties have more attractive designs.
There was another Wass Molitor $50 piece in this same auction, from an unnamed consignor. It is NGC graded ‘EF-40’ and has gashes that are typical of Wass Molitor $50 pieces. Indeed, its appearance is representative of many survivors of this issue. It brought $48,468.75, which is strong for this particular coin.
IV. Baldwin Coins
Some of the strongest prices in this auction were paid for Baldwin coins, though I am puzzled as to why? The PCGS graded “MS-61” 1850 Baldwin $5 gold coin sold for $82,250, a very strong price. Indeed, $65,000 would have been a strong price.
The 1850 Baldwin $10 coin is extremely famous as it depicts a cowboy on a horse. Other Baldwin coins were designed to resemble U.S. gold coins of the time period. “The Riverboat Collection” Baldwin Cowboy is PCGS graded “MS-61.” Browne suggests that is grade is in the high end of the 61 range and notes that it “has a tremendous amount of luster.” Even so, I have seen a few better representatives of this issue, which is not one of the rarer pioneer gold coins. I would have regarded $195,000 as a strong price. This coin sold for $381,875, an extremely strong price.
The 1851 Baldwin $10 coin looks very much like an 1851 U.S. Liberty Head Eagle ($10 gold coin). “The Riverboat Collection” piece is also PCGS graded “MS-61.” Browne found it to be “a great looking coin that would grade 62 or 63, but has some heavy reverse digs.” This coin sold for $235,000, a very strong price. I would have figured that $145,000 would be a moderate amount and $185,000 would have been a strong price.
Although there could very well be more than twenty -five 1851 Baldwin $10 gold coins in existence, there are only four known 1851 Baldwin $20 pieces, two of which are in institutional holdings. “The Riverboat Collection” Baldwin $20 gold coin is NGC graded ‘Extremely Fine-45,’ a grade which my sources suggest is not controversial.
This Baldwin $20 coin sold for $646,250, a price that I regard as very strong. “The Riverboat Collection” Pacific Company $1 gold piece brought less than half as much. A moderate price for this Baldwin $20 coin would have been $425,000.
The Baldwin $20 coins are an obscure issue, with an unexciting design. “ Maybe it’s obscure, but I’ve always loved this issue. I thought the price was strong but not crazy,” Andy Lustig comments.
V. Norris 1849 $5 coins
The short lived Norris firm probably issued just $5 gold coins just in 1849. While many private mints produced coins that were similar to U.S. gold coins of the era, the Norris coins are of a notably different design and are curious. “The Riverboat Collection” contained three Norris $5 gold coins.
Although I doubt that as many as two people collect Norris coins by die variety, it seems that at least a few collectors seriously seek both plain edge and reeded edge Norris coins. The first of the three in this collection has a plain edge and the next two each have a reeded edge.
The plain edge Norris is NGC graded as “MS-61.” Charlie noted that it has “some surface friction” and asserts that the coin “did not excite” him. In my view, the $28,200 result is neither strong nor weak. It is hard to imagine a price being more moderate, almost right in the middle of the market range.
The next 1849 Norris Five Dollar piece in “The Riverboat Collection” brought the exact same price, $28,200. Although this second piece is NGC graded “AU-58,” the reeded edge Norris coins are worth a little more than the plain edge pieces. The price is moderate as well. Charlie was even less thrilled about this coin. My impression is that the first two of the three Norris $5 coins in this collection are each a little overgraded, in the views of most relevant experts, while the third is special and could be undergraded.
Charlie is very enthusiastic about the PCGS graded “MS-62” Norris in “The Riverboat Collection.” It is“beautiful and crisp, with excellent eye appeal,” Browne remarks. He graded it as “MS-63” and notes that it is very much original. “I have seen so many of these over the years and this one of the nicest I have ever seen,” Charlie adds.
This PCGS graded “MS-62“ Norris $5 coin sold for $64,625. Although this price is higher than the values listed in price guides, those values are outdated. Moreover, Charlie might not have been the only bidder who grades it as “MS-63.” This result would be moderate for a MS-63 grade Norris, with a reeded edge.
Although Augustus Humbert was formally appointed U.S. Assayer and the Moffat firm entered into a contract with the U.S. Treasury Department to issue some coins as the “U.S. Assay Office,” the coins with the “Moffat” name are much different from the Humbert-Assay Office gold coins that were produced at the same facility during the same era. As there are so many Humbert-Assay pieces in “The Riverboat Collection,” it is not practical to review them here. Most are not very rare and most brought moderate prices in this auction. So, I mention a few Moffat pieces instead.
The “Close Date” variety 1852 Moffat $10 gold coin is rarer than the “Wide Date” 1852 Moffat $10 issue. Even so, the sale of a PCGS graded “AU-50” 1852 ‘Close Date’ coin for $64,625 is a little surprising. I would not have expected a price above $45,000. Charlie notes that this piece is “undergraded” and should grade at least 53. Even so, the $64,625 result is strong.
Curiously, “The Riverboat Collection” had a second, highly certified 1852 ‘Close Date’ Moffat $10 coin. This second piece is NGC graded “MS-60” and none have been certified as grading above 61. The three that are NGC graded “MS-61” may not amount to three different coins and may not be superior to this one.
When I began to analyze the prices realized, I tentatively found the $70,500 result to be strong. Charlie gushes about this coin,“loved it, one of the coolest things in the sale. Other than scratches near the forehead, it is absolutely marvelous, with barest traces of storage friction.” Browne determined that it is “undergraded.” If so, the $70,500 result might not be that strong.
“The Riverboat Collection” had a third 1852 Moffat $10 coin, this of the ‘Wide Date’ variety. It is NGC graded “MS-61.” Browne “liked the coin.” Charlie notes that, although it has “the slightest friction, it is attractive, with lots of luster.”
I suggest that it has incredible detail for a Moffat $10 coin. The sale price of $76,375 is moderate to strong.
The 1853 Moffat $20 pieces were made at the same facility as the U.S. Assay Office gold pieces, by the same people, though these could not be an official U.S. issue. At the moment, an estimate of forty-five pieces surviving seems logical. Although the PCGS and the NGC together report having graded more than sixty, maybe thirty-five of these are different coins. There are also at least eight that have not received grades from the PCGS or the NGC, as of yet, for whatever reasons.
The NGC graded “MS-62” Riverboat 1853 Moffat $20 coin is the second highest certified. Browne is not comfortable with the assigned 62 grade. He asserts that it has too much friction to grade 62 and that a 61 grade would be more appropriate.
Also, many representatives of this issue have sold at auction for less than $20,000. Additionally, in Jan. 2014, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded “AU-58” 1853 Moffat $20 coin for $22,912.50. The $82,250 result for the Riverboat piece is strong to very strong, though understandable. For a coin of this issue, the Riverboat piece has amazing detail.
VII. Pacific Company
The Riverboat Collection, Pacific Company $1 gold piece is one of just three that have been traced. One of the three is holed and has not been publicly seen in many decades. Another has the details of a Fine grade coin and reportedly has been “soldered.” Although the NGC graded of “MS-61” for the Riverboat piece is extremely controversial, this coin is vastly superior to the other two Pacific Company $1 gold pieces that have been traced.
It seems that all Pacific Company gold coins were dated 1849. Of three denominations, less than a dozen in total are currently known. Moreover, as far as I know, the Pacific Company $1 piece is the only known West Coast, pioneer gold coin of the $1 denomination. (California fractionals are a different topic.) Therefore, if a collector wishes to own a $1 gold coin from California that was minted by one of the recognized, private firms that made gold coins for circulation during the era of the California Gold Rush, then the Pacific Company $1 gold pieces are the only coins that meet such criteria and must be pursued.
“The Riverboat Collection,” Pacific $1 gold piece sold for $305,500. In my view, this is a very weak price, assuming that it is a true gold coin and that it does not have severe problems.
This coin has an interesting story. As cataloguers at Heritage indicate, it was acquired by legendary collector Virgil Brand in 1910 and remained in the Brand family until Bowers & Merena (New Hampshire) auctioned it in 1984. Although its composition is just 72% gold, it is nearly 17% silver, and this coin weighs considerably more than U.S. One Dollar gold coins. In the past, experts doubted that the three known pieces were true gold coins, though relatively recent research demonstrates that it is extremely likely that these are true $1 gold coins.
“The Riverboat Collection,” PCGS graded ‘Extremely Fine-45,’ 1851 Baldwin $20 sold for $646,250, more than twice as much as much as this Pacific 1849 $1 gold piece. That Baldwin is not rarer and certainly does not have more historical significance.
“The Riverboat Collection,” Pacific Company $5 piece is PCGS graded “AU-58” and the Brand piece is NGC graded as ‘Extremely Fine-45.’ Browne finds the Garrett-Riverboat piece to be truly gradable and the assigned 58 grade to be fair enough.
The Garrett-Riverboat, Pacific Company $5 piece brought a weak price, too, $763,750, though this price is just slightly weak. A moderate price would have been around $800,000. Of the four that experts list, one is permanently impounded in the Smithsonian Institution and another has not been publicly seen in more than fifty years. The very distinctive designs and the mystique of the Pacific Company add to the allure of these coins.
“When you compare the prices realized of the Pacific $1 and the $5, the $1 doesn’t sound all that expensive,” suggests Andy Lustig. “Still, it lacks the star appeal of the $5, and I did not consider it a bargain.”
There were other extreme rarities in the Riverboat Collection. It seems that just eight or nine Dubosq $10 gold pieces exist, all dated 1850. Two of these are impounded in institutions. The NGC graded “MS-60” 1850 is listed by Heritage cataloguers as the second finest known. The price realized of $329,000 is moderate to strong.
This Dubosq $10 “coin has a lot of problems and I am concerned about it,” Browne reveals. If the coin had fewer problems, it may be worth more, though this is not clearly so. Dubosq pieces do not appear very often, and the collectors who demand them may not focus on technical factors.
Though not famous, Dubosq pieces are attractive and interesting. Additionally, these are of interest to collectors of U.S. Liberty Head Eagles ($10 gold coins), which are far easier to collect than Liberty Head Half Eagles (U.S. $5 gold coins). Indeed, a Dubosq $10 gold coin would wonderfully complement a set of Liberty Eagles ‘by date.’
Schultz $5 pieces are not as rare or as appealing as Dubosq coins, though perhaps more collectors have thought about them. They tend to appear more often.
Incredibly, there were two Schultz $5 gold pieces in “The Riverboat Collection.” One is NGC graded as “MS-62.” The other is NGC graded as “AU-53.”
Initially, the $340,750 price for the “MS-62” Schultz seemed strong. Surprisingly, Charlie raved about the quality of this piece. Browne asserts that it is a “very nice looking coin that probably grades 63+ or 64.” Browne is concerned about some deep hairlines on the coin, though he emphasizes that it has “a great look, as made surfaces, no friction.” A very original, 63 grade Schultz coin is worth far more than $340,750. I would need to research this coin further before clearly commenting upon its value.
The $152,750 price for the “53” grade piece is not strong. In Aug. 2014, Heritage auctioned the Eliasberg Collection Schultz piece, which is PCGS graded “AU-53,”for $235,000, a strong price. I saw that coin twice, in 1996 and 2013. For a pioneer gold coin of one of rarer issues, it is exceptional. The Eliasberg certified “53” grade Schultz is very much superior to the Riverboat certified “53” grade Schultz, in terms of technical factors and originality. The $152,750 result might be appropriate, given the characteristics of this coin.
The “Riverboat” collector acquired pieces that are technically impressive for their respective issues. Further, he obtained many pieces that have favorable eye appeal for their respective certified grades. Moreover, he seems to avoided the very controversial and semi-controversial items in the field of pioneer gold. If the controversy surrounding Pacific Company $1 pieces has been resolved, then, as far as I know now, all the items in “The Riverboat Collection” are true coins. This is an additional reason as to why this collection stands above many other collections of pioneer gold coins that have been assembled during the last sixty years.
©2014 Greg Reynolds