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The Greatest World Coin Auction of All Time (Part 4): The structure of the Millennia collection

by Greg Reynolds for CoinLink
This is Part 4 of my review and analysis of the auction of the Millennia collection of world coins.

Lion d'Or (Bruges, struck 1454-1460)The main purpose of Part IV is to cover the structure of, and the plan for, the Millennia collection. Several more coins from the collection will be discussed and related to the plan, with emphasis upon types that were not discussed in the first three parts.

The Millennia collection contained coins of many nations, and this collector never intended to complete a series of coins ‘by date.’ Also, there was not a plan to construct a type set of all denominations of any one nation.

Generally, for each nation or coin-producing society represented, there is a carefully selected group of high quality Crowns (large silver coins), plus a smaller number of gold coins, if any. Curiously, all the Belgian coins in the Millennia collection were gold coins.

A 4.22 gram (0.15 ounce) Belgian coin, a ‘lion of gold,’ which was minted in Bruges, is noteworthy. It is not extremely rare. It is important in an artistic and cultural sense. The growling lion and other symbols are carefully chosen and placed. It was probably minted in the 1450s, and it provides clues regarding the independent and defiant, as well as flamboyant, personality of the reigning Duke, ‘Philip the Good.’ It is also one of the few coins of the period that is not overcrowded with design elements. This coin has sizeable, carefully balanced fields. It is NGC graded MS-62, a high grade for a Belgian coin from the 1400s. It sold for $5750.

For Britain and for a few Latin American societies, there were more gold coins than Crowns in the Millennia collection. A substantial percentage of the gold coins that circulated worldwide from the 1730s to the 1850s were minted in Latin America within the Spanish Empire or by former Spanish colonies that became independent. It is thus logical that there were a large number of Latin American gold coins in the Millennia collection. To a meaningful extent, Ira Goldberg intended for the Millennia collection to reflect the large coins that were widely used, and characteristic of their respective societies, over the last two thousand five hundred years. Large coins usually weigh more than one-half an ounce.

When Ira Goldberg was a teenager employed by the Goldberg family coin and stamp firm, he became enamored with world coins. Ira’s cousin and longtime partner, Larry, also has been, and continues to be, very interested in world coins, and Larry, too, worked for the family firm as a teenager. Their respective fathers would not allow Ira and Larry to collect coins and stamps. Ira and Larry understood their reasoning. Ira feels that “it is a conflict of interest for dealers to collect as they are then competing with their clients.” Ira points out, too, that if two or more partners of a firm collect then they ‘end up’ “competing with each other” to acquire coins for themselves rather than “sell them as a coin business is supposed to do.” So, Ira reveals that he and Larry, “all those years ago, made a pact” that they “would not personally collect coins or stamps.” Ira continued to dream of collecting world coins.

The collector behind the Millennia collection knew almost nothing about world coins in 2002. He was a very serious collector of U.S. coins. He had an excellent collection of U.S. Proof sets. After he had decided to sell his U.S. coins, Ira & Larry decided to present him with a plan for a collection of world coins.

My interpretation of Ira’s revised plan, based on conversations with him and Larry, and on my analysis of the collection, is, as follows: (1) The collection will require five years to build. (2) One year will be allocated to market and promote the collection before a public auction by the Goldbergs. (3) A book regarding the collection will be published. (4) The Goldbergs will charge “only costs” and not make a profit when selling coins to the Millennia collector. (5) Only extremely high quality coins, for their respective issues, will be included. (6) The collection will mostly comprise of large coins. (7) A very high percentage of the coins will be those that were minted for circulation. (8) Preference will be given to coins that reveal artistic and social aspects of the societies that issued them. (9) The key point is that almost all the coins will be of historical importance.

Ira attended many coin auctions in Europe. On several occasions, Ira and the Millennia collector traveled to auctions together. Ira reveals that this collector “had a lot of fun of buying coins for this collection. He had a great time visiting Europe.” According to Ira, the Millennia collector gave Ira & Larry “free reign” to select the coins that were best suited for the collection. “There were no restraints.” Ira fulfilled a dream that he had for more than forty years; he designed and built an incredible collection of historically important coins, many of which are of almost unimaginable quality for their respective issues.

The first coins for the Millennia collection were acquired in late May 2002. By early June 2007, the Millennia collection was finished.

The original plan limited the collection to business strikes that were truly intended for commerce. Patterns, Proofs and other specially struck items found their way into the collection mostly because Ira & Larry had the opportunity to purchase a fantastic collection of Latin American gold and silver coins from an anonymous collector, and an amazing collection of British gold coins from Jacob Terner. They could not resist incorporating these two phenomenal collections into the Millennia collection.

The incredible gem quality Noble, struck circa 1370, that I discuss in part 1 was from the Jacob Terner collection. Also earlier from the Terner collection was another Noble of British King Edward III, this one probably struck in the 1350s! It, too, is of gem quality and is almost unbelievable. It is undergraded MS-64 by the NGC and it sold for $7475 even though it is not a very rare coin due to the discovery of hoards.

Great Britain. Angel, Elizabeth I, 1558-1603The Millennia collection, via the Terner collection, contained six gold coins from the era of British Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603). The most attractive of the six is an Angel, which weighs 5.1 grams (about 0.18 ounce). It was struck around 1580. It has really neat orange-russet and yellow tones, and is very cool overall. If the toning is natural and it probably is so, it certainly deserves its NGC grade of MS-65. It is fairly well struck and has almost no contact marks and zero scratches. An American collector who lives in Canada bought it for $15,525. He “loves studying British history.”

This history lover also acquired, among other items, a 1664 Guinea, which is one of two varieties with the distinctive Elephant device. A Guinea weighs 8.5 grams, about 0.3 ounce. This Guinea is fairly graded MS-64 by the NGC, which means that it is of high quality for an early Guinea of any variety. I really like this piece. It is another Millennia-Terner British gold coin that has to be seen to be believed. The price realized of $77,625 surprised me a little, even after considering the rarity of this particular variety.

Another Millennia-Terner Guinea of Charles II is not nearly as high in quality and is not nearly as rare. It is dated 1665 and has no elephant. It is NGC certified ‘Specimen-62′ and is viewed as a special “Specimen” striking by the cataloguer as well. I agree that it is a distinctive, specially struck piece that was not intended for circulation. The definition and relief of the design elements, and the reflectivity of the surfaces, indicate that it was meant to be different from business strikes and was attentively manufactured. While it is not important in the history of human civilization, this piece is important in regard to the history of the coinage of special pieces, though not nearly as important as the 1656 Broad mentioned below. This ‘specimen’ sold for $33,350.

Great Britain. Gold Pattern Broad, 1656The Millennia-Terner, Oliver Cromwell ‘Broad’ dated 1656 was clearly not struck for circulation. It is, though, of great importance to the study of the history of minting technologies and techniques.

This Cromwell Broad, a nine gram gold coin, is NGC certified “Proof 64 Cameo”! While its Proof status could be challenged, my conclusion is that it just qualifies as a Proof, and is thus one of the earliest Proofs in existence. I believe that it was probably struck twice and certainly well struck with heavily polished dies on a buffed planchet (blank). It has additional characteristics of Proofs as well. It is more convincing as a Proof than the piece of the same date and type in the 2005 Eliasberg sale, which is NGC certified ‘Proof-61.’ That one could possibly be a Proof as well. It might be true that the Eliasberg 1656 Broad was struck only once while the Millennia 1656 Broad was struck two or three times.

Assuming that the Millennia 1656 Cromwell Broad really was struck in 1656 or ’57, as is generally believed with some historical documentation, it is of absolutely incredible minting quality for the era. I believe the price realized of $57,500 is reasonable from a logical perspective.

From other sources, there were items in the Millennia collection that have tremendous historical importance though were not minted for circulation. I wrote a separate article about the Queen Anne ‘Vigo’ Five Guineas, which was probably not minted for circulation, though it, indisputably, has great historical importance.

In part 1, I highlighted ‘specially made’ early Latin American Crowns and I discussed the Maximilian I, Holy Roman Empire gold piece. It is large, and it features illustrations of Maximilian I and Mary of Burgundy, along with information about them and their marriage, which is of tremendous importance in European history. The design and contents of the design are reflective of the culture and time period. Ira relates that “part of the reason” that large coins dominated the Millennia collection is that they showcase artistic and cultural characteristics of the respective nations better than smaller coins. Larger coins can accommodate more design elements.

The main reason, in Ira’s view, for the focus on large coins is that these were “coins of the realm,” and “until World War I,” the history of a nation’s coinage represented the “nation’s wealth and financial history.” Businesses employed gold and silver coins for international trade. Over most of the history of human civilization, people and governments kept most of their savings in coins. Sizeable purchases, inevitably, were made with coins; and even people of modest means used large coins for substantial purchases. Before checks, credit cards, debit instruments and electronic transfers became practical, and paper money was not yet widely accepted (especially not for trade among people from different societies), coins were used for a very large percentage of transactions.

Ira Goldberg contends that large coins that were truly minted for circulation have much more historical significance than smaller coins minted for circulation. In the field of U.S. coins, silver dollars and $20 gold coins are the coins to which Ira refers.

Single Ducats are small coins and are not extremely well represented in the Millennia collection. Should they have been? From the late 1200s to the early 1900s, Ducats and multiple Ducat coins, or other gold coins minted to the Ducat standard, widely circulated in Europe. For centuries, a large number of European societies produced Ducats, or multiples of Ducats, of one sort or another.

A single Ducat coin weighs 3.5 grams, a little less than an eighth of an ounce. There were a small number of important single Ducats and a few, high quality multiple Ducat coins in the Millennia collection, especially in the sections regarding German speaking societies. Ira has discovered that “it is very hard to find Five-Ducat or higher denomination coins that are of choice quality.”

German States -- Erfurt. Swedish Occupation; Gold 2 Ducats, 1646A 1646 Two-Ducat coin issued in, or for, the German speaking State of Erfurt, while it was occupied by Sweden, is extremely rare. Queen Christina of Sweden is depicted. It is NGC graded MS-62 and is very sharply struck. The details of the design are fascinating. It realized $13,225.

I wish I had time to view a Five-Ducat coin that was issued by the German speaking city-state of Nuremberg in 1698. It is really rare, really well struck, and of a really neat design. This coin realized $20,125.

A relatively common Nuremberg Two-Ducat coin, minted in 1700, sold for $1438. So, a bidder did not have to be extremely rich to acquire an historically significant and interesting gold coin, dated 1700, from the Millennia collection.

An Eight-Ducat coin weighs just a little more than a Spanish eight escudos coin. In some parts of Europe, however, an Eight-Ducat coin was a very large, imposing gold piece. In the Millennia collection, there was an Eight-Ducat coin issued by the German speaking city-state of Regensburg in the 1770s or 1780s. The design of this coin is intricately detailed. It is extremely rare, possibly a Great Rarity. This Millennia collection Regensburg coin is NGC certified ‘MS-63 Prooflike.’ It sold for $63,250, which is a strong price for a coin from a German speaking society, especially a society that outsiders rarely hear about. Nuremberg is much more famous. This price for an extremely rare, late 1700’s gold coin seems reasonable in contrast to prices for U.S. coins. It is not unusual for a U.S. $10 gold coin from the 1790’s that is PCGS or NGC graded MS-63 to sell for dramatically more than $63,250.

Another reasonably priced coin for the collector who is not ultra-rich is the 1723 Ducat of Zurich in the Millennia collection. It is NGC graded MS-63 and is attractive. Though it is not very rare, it might be a good value at $1898.

Chile. Republic. The “UN PESO” 1866 Chilean silver piece is of great importance in the history of Chilean coinage. The cataloguer asserts that it is “unique,” the “only known” coin “of this date and type.” Evidently, it is unlisted in several major references. I disagree with the NGC certification of “Specimen-62.” It seems deeply struck, possibly with an unusual amount of pressure. The broad rims and relatively high central elements, though, are part of the design, not evidence a special striking nor of multiple strikes. This piece should be graded MS-63. It brought $42,550, which is a tremendous amount for a Chilean silver piece. An American collector at the auction bought it.

After Chile became an independent nation in 1818, fighting continued between the forces of independence and royalists who demanded that Chile be a colony of Spain. The Millennia collection contained two emergency coins that were struck during a conflict in 1822. The designs are crude, though curious. Both coins exhibit neat natural toning. One is NGC graded EF-40 and it brought $9775, way above the high estimate of $3500. The second, which I am unable to explain, sold for $3795.

Several Mexican coins came about in similar circumstances. Regional forces supporting Spain, which were sometimes not able to receive deliveries of coins, and forces of independence both minted their own respective coins. An 1810 Crown of the royalist coinage of Somberete, NGC graded EF-40, realized $10,063.

An 1811 Crown issued by an independence movement in Zitacuaro is well designed and intriguing. Further, it contains symbols and political messages that are very important in Mexican history. Although I just glanced at it quickly, I did not have a problem with the NGC grade of AU-55. It realized $63,250, which is probably some kind of an auction record.

An 1811 Crown issued by the Oaxaca revolutionaries, NGC graded EF-40, sold for $3795. The Millennia collection had two slightly different 1812 Crowns of the Oaxaca royalists. The first, NGC graded AU-55, realized $23,000. The second, NGC graded MS-61, sold for $17,250. Both of these were earlier in the collection of Dr. Pradeau.

In the first four parts of my review, I have discussed many coins in the Millennia collection that are historically important and I have now explained how the concept of historical importance is defined in Ira’s plan for the collection. My view of the concept of historical importance is different, though somewhat consistent with Ira’s framework.

Coins can be historically important for several, often overlapping reasons: (1) Some coins served as international monetary units. (2) Many coins reflect historical figures, concepts, social values, and/or events. (3) Some coins are those by which people identified and/or remembered a particular time period of a society. (4) Some coins reveal information about the agricultural products or natural resources of a society. (5) Many coins reflect specific political administrations and/or their respective policies. (6) Certain coins have special meaning in the history of coinage and/or the history of coin collecting. Coinage and coin collecting are both important parts of the culture of a society.
The Millennia collection of world coins Series of Articles
Part 1Overview and Famous Pieces
Part 2European Coins
Part 3Latin American coins
Part 4The structure of the Millennia collection
Part 5 - Gold Coins as World Currencies
Part 6The Event of the Millennia

©2008 Greg Reynolds

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.

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