Queller Collection of Coin Patterns Sells for $8.36 Million (Part 1)
by Greg Reynolds for CoinLink
The FUN Convention is the leading event for rare U.S. coins, and Heritage devoted an entire evening to the auction of one collection of U.S. Patterns. On Wed., Jan. 7, 2009, at the Orlando Convention Center, the entire Queller collection of pattern, experimental, trial, and fantasy pieces was sold without reserve.
- Part 1 - An overview of the sale of the Queller collection and a definition of patterns in general, along with discussions of $50 gold denomination patterns and the famous Washlady patterns of 1879.
- Part 2 - Famous patterns and a few ‘not so famous’ silver dollar (or trade dollar) patterns.
- Part 3 – Discussions of 1792 cent patterns, relatively inexpensive items in the sale, patterns of gold denominations, and my favorite piece in the Queller pattern collection.
The most expensive item in the collection is a proposed $50 gold denomination piece. The primary U.S. Mint in Philadelphia never regularly issued $50 gold coins. These were considered. Patterns of $50 gold coins were made, probably for Treasury Department officials and U.S. Congressmen. It is likely that at least some Mint officials would like to have produced $50 gold coins, and many influential Americans probably wanted them to be issued. One of the purposes of such patterns is to show people what a $50 gold coin would look like and to ’show off’ proposed designs for $50 gold coins. Only two $50 gold patterns that are actually struck in gold are known to exist, and both of these are in the Smithsonian. Several copper patterns are known, some of which were gold-plated at the Philadelphia Mint. There are two varieties that are subtly different. Queller had the first variety in gilt, meaning that it is gold-plated, and the second variety in copper. All $50 gold patterns are dated 1877.
The gilt $50 pattern sold for $207,000. Bidding for the copper one started at $115,000. A New York dealer was still involved as the bidding surpassed $240,000. As the level reached $400,000, the contest became a duel between Laura Sperber, of Legend Numismatics, and Larry Hanks. It is widely believed that both Sperber and Hanks were representing collectors. Later, Sperber stated that she expected the coin to sell for between $287,500 and $400,000. She battled Hanks until she captured the coin for a record $575,000. No $50 gold denomination pattern has ever sold, at auction, for anywhere near as much. This result is also a record for any copper pattern. Veteran dealer Chris Napolitano, who is a major player on the auction circuit, had estimated that it would “sell for around $350,000.”
The $8.36 million total is astonishing. Andy Lustig remarked that he expected the Queller collection to realize $6.9 million. Lustig has been a dealer, a collector, and a recognized expert in patterns for more than twenty years. He was the successful bidder for a small number of patterns at the sale. Andy “expected to spend three times” the amount that he did.
Lustig declares that the “sale brought solid prices across the board, with few bargains. There was none of the discounting that [he] expected to see, given the vastness of the offering and the weakness of the general market. In fact, all of the big surprises were on the upside, with many coins bringing two to three times” the prices that Lustig “expected.”
A collector-dealer from New Jersey, who prefers that his name not be mentioned, revealed that he “expected many of the patterns to go for about a third of what they went for.” Furthermore he “spent days on [his] bids” and he “figured a bid for every single pattern in the auction”! After all that, he “was only able to buy a few.” One of the more interesting items that he bought was an 1839 half dollar pattern in copper that was formerly in the Woodin, Newcomer and Farouk collections.
On this 1839 half, the obverse (front) is somewhat similar to that of 1938-39 U.S. ten dollar gold coins (Eagles), though the Liberty Head is facing to the right on this piece while it is facing to the left on regular issue Eagles. The reverse is not much different from that of an 1839, regular Liberty Seated half dollar. The obverse was probably designed by Christian Gobrecht. Researcher Saul Teichman concludes that four are known in copper and six or so in silver. This one realized $37,375. It was just one of a large number of interesting items in the Queller collection of patterns.
Queller had more than four hundred and sixty different varieties of patterns (broadly defined). As far as I know, only two other collections of patterns that have been publicly auctioned have had more than four hundred. In 1892, the George Woodside collection of patterns was publicly auctioned in New York. In 1954, King Farouk’s coin collection was auctioned in Egypt. Farouk had the all-time largest collection of U.S. Patterns, with well over a thousand different varieties. The Farouk collection, though, was poorly catalogued and the Farouk auction was not sensibly planned. The Queller pattern collection auction was both well organized and well planned.
Queller’s collection is the most extensive pattern collection to have been auctioned in more than a half-century. There is only one collection extant that is already, or may become, more extensive, that of one of Laura Sperber’s clients, who will be referred to here as ‘SIM.’ He has devoted considerable resources to seriously collecting patterns, broadly defined.
Patterns, narrowly defined, are coin concepts that are being proposed or at least considered, or are prototypes of regular coin issues. Patterns, broadly defined, include many additional items. Consider Queller’s Pan-Pac 1915 commemorative ‘half dollar.’ It is not really a half dollar; it is a fantasy piece. It was struck in gold. Other than some small, ring-type patterns, there are no half dollar patterns, narrowly defined, that are struck in gold. This gold Pan-Pac is a neat piece that was probably made by Mint Officials for fun. There are only two known. The Norweb-Queller piece sold for $345,000. In my view, this is a high price. It is a piece that does not logically fit into coin collections or even into most pattern collections. For a total of $345,000, at least three famous patterns (narrowly defined) could be obtained, as will become clear in my discussions herein.
Die trials are also items that fall into the category of patterns, broadly defined. Die trials are usually items that consist of 90% to 100% copper with the same designs as regular issue U.S. coins or with the same designs as patterns, narrowly defined. Copper is less expensive than silver or gold, and nickel is too hard a metal to use for die trials. Dies and/or the ’set-up’ of a coining press are tested by way of strikings in copper of nickel, silver and gold denominations.
Most patterns of gold denominations were struck in copper. For these, copper was employed not just to test dies. U.S. Mint Officials could not often justify the use of gold to make patterns. So, copper patterns of gold denominations, frequently gold plated (gilt), were used to show proposed new designs for gold coins. Generally, it was difficult for Mint officials to persuade influential people to consider new coinage designs and/or new denominations.
Three Cent Nickels are an example of new denomination that was proposed and then accepted. These were actually issued from 1865 to 1880.
A piece can be both a pattern (narrowly defined) and a die trial. Consider, as examples, the famous Washlady patterns of silver denominations, which were struck in both silver and copper. Washlady patterns are unlike any regular issues.
Washlady patterns are dated 1879. Queller had a Washlady quarter in silver. It is certified Proof-66 by the Professional Coin Grading Service. (Uncirculated or Proof pieces are graded on a scale from 60 to 70). It is unsurprising that it is made of silver as U.S. quarters were 90% silver (more or less) from 1796 to 1964. Bidding for the Queller 1879 silver Washlady quarter opened at $11,500 and sold to an Internet bidder for $20,700, a fair market price.
Queller also had an 1879 Washlady quarter that was struck in copper. This piece can be thought of as being both a pattern and a die trial. In the 19th century, no one was really considering making quarters in copper. The copper strikings were for internal Mint use and/or for coin experts. These were probably later been given or sold to collectors, after they were no longer needed by U.S. Mint or other Treasury Department officials.
The Queller Washlady quarter (lot #1906), in copper, is NGC certified ‘Proof-66′ with both ‘Cameo’ and [Original] ‘Red’ [Color] designations. Furthermore, it has excellent detail, and was certainly struck at least three times. It is a great looking coin. The originality and vibrancy of the ‘Mint Red’ color are unquestionable.
This copper Washlady quarter sold for $32,200. Saul Teichman believes that “this is a high price” for a copper Washlady quarter. He points out that more than a dozen exist. Teichman had been thinking that it would sell for an amount “in the $17,000 to $20,000 range.”
Saul Teichman is the foremost researcher in the field of U.S. pattern, experimental and trial pieces. He did most of the research for the current reference books, and he is the mastermind behind the uspatterns.com website. He has been researching patterns for more than twenty years.
Queller also had Washlady half dollars in silver and copper. These are also dated 1879. The silver piece is NGC certified “Proof-66 Cameo.” A Maryland dealer, perhaps on behalf of a collector, took it for $21,850. Teichman regards this price as “fine” and “fair,” about the level that he “expected.” Longtime pattern specialist Robert Hughes was the successful bidder for the copper Washlady half. It is NGC graded “PF-64BN.” This copper pattern brought $12,650.
Queller’s Washlady dime in silver has terrific natural toning. Indeed, it is a great looking piece. It is PCGS graded Proof-66. At $13,800, Sperber was the top bidder. I believe it was for her firm’s inventory or for another collector, not for SIM.
Queller’s Washlady silver dollar pattern in silver is fairly graded Proof-64 by the NGC, and it sold for $29,900. Queller’s copper Washlady silver dollar pattern realized $27,600. It is PCGS certified ‘Proof-66′ with a designation (“RB”) for natural ‘Red and Brown’ color. Andy Lustig was the successful bidder, “for a client.”
Other famous patterns will be covered in part 2, along with a selection of not so famous patterns of the silver dollar denomination. Most pattern enthusiasts, and many coin collectors in general, become excited when famous, interesting and/or dazzling patterns are offered.
In all the years that I have analyzed coin auctions, I have become convinced that there are certain auction events in which euphoria over a great collection results in above-market prices or pushes market prices to levels higher than would have been reached in more typical circumstances. I do not agree with the theory that the Queller collection of patterns should have been ’spread out’ over three or four auctions. Such a series would be less exciting than one blockbuster event and bidders would have far less enthusiasm. Much of the potential, emotional impact on the coin collecting community is lost when a great collection in one field is dispersed over time.
©2009 Greg Reynolds
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About the Author
Greg Reynolds is a numismatic writer, researcher and analyst. Greg has examined almost all of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest type coins and patterns, He has extensively researched the pedigrees of important numismatic properties, and he has written about and analyzed numerous auctions, private sales and collections.