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Category: Classic Rarities

The Olsen 1913 Liberty Head Nickel to be Auctioned by Heritage on Platinum Night at FUN in January

Coin World has reported that The Olsen specimen 1913 Liberty Head nickel, the most famous of five known specimens, will be auctioned by Heritage on Platinum Night at the 2010 FUN Sale in Orlando in January.

olsen_1913_liberty_nickelThe coin is graded Proof-64 by NGC.  It has the distinction of being the only 1913 Liberty Head nickel ever handled by B. Max Mehl, who made it a centerpiece of his lifelong advertising campaign. It was also briefly owned by Egyptian King Farouk. When the set of five 1913 nickels was broken up in the 1940s, the Olsen specimen was sold first to James Kelly and then to Fred Olsen, whose name it has kept ever since.

The Olsen specimen was featured on “The $100,000 Nickel” episode of Hawaii Five-O soon after it broke the record for the most expensive coin ever sold in 1972. During the episode, the “star” coin is stolen by a thief and spends much of the episode passing from hand to hand as the human stars of the program look for it. The coin’s price doubled to $200,000 when it was purchased by Superior Galleries in 1978. It has been resold on several occasions since then, most recently fetching $3 million in June of 2004.

The 1913 Liberty Head  Nickel is one of the most famous US coins. With only 5 made,  it is truly a remarkable coin. Liberty Head nickels dated 1913 first came to the attention of the numismatic community in 1920. All five were in the possession of Samuel Brown, a numismatist who attended the American Numismatic Association’s annual convention and displayed the coins there. Brown had previously placed an advertisement in The Numismatist in December 1919 seeking information on these coins and offering to pay $500 for each. Ostensibly, the coins had been purchased as a result of this offer. However, Samuel Brown had been a Mint employee in 1913, and many numismatic historians have concluded that he was responsible for striking the coins himself and then removing them from the Mint. Official records from the Mint do not record any Liberty Head nickels produced in 1913, However, that in and of itself is not conclusive sice record keeping at the US Mint was somewhat lax and there are many examples of coins that exist today that lack official records of their coinage. (more…)

Finest Known PCGS PR-69 Ultra High Relief $20 Saint Gaudens Gold Coin to be Exhibited at Santa Clara Expo

1907_uhr_pr69_camiThe finest known 1907 Ultra High Relief Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle gold coin, insured for $5 million, will be displayed during the first three days of the Santa Clara, California Coin, Stamp & Collectibles Expo to be conducted November 19 – 22, 2009. The show will be held in the Santa Clara Convention Center, 5001 Great America Parkway, where free parking is available.

“This magnificent-looking Ultra High Relief is graded PCGS Proof-69, and will be exhibited courtesy of Certified Assets Management of Wilmington, Delaware,” said Ronald J. Gillio, Expo General Chairman.

“This famous coin was designed by renowned sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, at the personal request of President Theodore Roosevelt. It was struck seven times to bring up all the beautiful features in the design. There are less than 20 known surviving examples, and this is the finest. There is no other example certified higher,” said Bob Higgins, President of Certified Assets Management.

More than 500 dealers will be buying and selling rare coins, paper money, stamps, vintage postcards, historical documents and other collectibles during the show. The Cupertino Coin Club will display exhibits, and there will be educational seminars on hobby topics.

Teletrade of Irvine, California will conduct the official auction during the Santa Clara Expo. A gold coin door prize will be awarded each day, and a children’s treasure hunt will be conducted between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday, November 20.


Stunning Smithsonian Coins Exhibit in PCGS Video

The acclaimed, new traveling exhibition of the Smithsonian’s National Numismatic Collection, “Good as Gold – America’s Double Eagles,” now can be seen on a free, new video available online courtesy of Professional Coin Grading Service.

pcgs_jim_hughes_101909The 7 minute program is on PCGS’ home page at By clicking the full screen option, viewers get can get an up close ‘n’ personal with some of America’s greatest numismatic gold rarities that were exhibited for the first time together outside of Washington, D.C. at the American Numismatic Association’s World’s Fair of Money convention in Los Angeles, August 5 – 9, 2009.

“This stunning exhibition will be displayed at the next three ANA spring and summer conventions. We created this video in cooperation with the Smithsonian and made it available on our web site so that everyone can enjoy seeing and learning about these amazing coins whenever it is convenient to do so,” said Don Willis, PCGS President.

Jim Hughes, Associate Curator of the National Numismatic Collection, gives viewers a “private tour” describing and showing on camera many of the 20 historic coins in the exhibit.
One part of the Smithsonian exhibit.

Highlights include an 1849 pattern Liberty Double Eagle, the first $20 denomination coin struck by the United States Mint during the early days of the California Gold Rush, and two of the Smithsonian’s three 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles, representing the last year of production.

Hughes describes the 1849 pattern as “probably the highlight of highlights of the Smithsonian collection.”

The videos also shows examples from the exhibit of branch mint gold pieces as well as territorial and private gold coins, such as Clark, Gruber & Co. of Denver, Baldwin & Co. of San Francisco, and Mormon gold pieces struck in Salt Lake City. (more…)

New Book: “King of Eagles” The Most Remarkable Coin Ever Produced by the U.S. Mint

kingofeagles_bookBy Dean Albanese – Albanese Rare Coins

The 1804 Plain- gold Eagle is without a doubt the most remarkable coin ever minted by the U.S. Min; it is indeed, the “King of Eagles.”

Only four specimens of this quintessentially rare coin were minted – but not in 1804, as the date on the obverse suggests. Instead, these near-priceless coins were minted by special order of President Andrew Jackson during the period 1834 – 1835 as diplomatic gifts to a king, two emperors, and a sultan.

1804_proof_eagle_100609The story begins in 1832, when Edmund Roberts sailed aboard the U.S.S. Peacock on a diplomatic mission to establish trade relations with Muscat (modern-day Oman), Siam (modern-day Thailand), Cochin China (modern-day Vietnam), and Japan. He succeeded with Muscat and Siam and returned to the United States, where complete sets of new gold, silver, and copper coins, neatly arranged in a morocco case, were made as princely gifts. These sets included the 1804 silver Dollar and the much rarer 1804 Plain-4 gold Eagle.

The return trip to the Far East was an adventure that has been the subject of many books, the sort of tale that can arouse one’s imagination and inspire movies. Men may fantasize and dream about high adventure, but the King of Eagles is a true story that is more exciting than any fantasy could be. It is a story about politics, greed, and courage that includes attacks by pirates, a shipwreck on a desert island, daring rescues, strange-but-true encounters with exotic natives, and, finally, tragedy.

Today the saga is told as never before, and the King of Eagles continues to be the ultimate prize for collectors of American coins and for history enthusiast.

Ten Underappreciated Early United States Gold Coins

By Doug Winter –

early_gold_dw_100509I’ve written numerous articles about Liberty Head gold coins that I think are clearly undervalued or underpriced. I’ve never really written one that’s focused on early United States gold coins for one simple reason: it’s hard to brand coins that trade for $10,000 and up (in most cases) as “undervalued.” That said, there are a number of issues whose price levels do not make sense given their rarity.

I’d like to thank my good friend Paul Nugget, from Spectrum East Numismatics, who helped me prepare this list and whose expertise in the area of pre-1834 gold is unrivalled.

Before we start, the basic question to answer here is why are these coins undervalued or underappreciated or “underwhatever?” I think the answer has to do with collecting patterns in the early gold series. Because of price considerations, most collectors who do focus on early gold do it from the standpoint of type collecting. This makes sense, especially in a denomination like half eagles that contains a number of spectacularly rare (and expensive) issues. Also, I have noted that many more early gold collectors focus on the pre-1807 issues by date (or even die variety) while the issues struck from 1808 to 1834 tend to less actively pursued as such.

Here is my list of ten underappreciated early US gold and the reasons why I think they qualify as such:

1. 1827 Quarter Eagle.

The short-lived Capped Head Left quarter eagle type was produced for only five years from 1821 to 1827. All five issues are scarce but pricing guides typically lump the 1821, 1824/1, 1825 and 1827 together and accord them similar values in virtually all grades. I think that the 1827 deserves to be priced at least 10-15% higher than the 1825.

The Vegas Collection Featured at Heritage’s Long Beach Auction

1920-S_saint_ha_sept09_vegasThe collecting history behind the Vegas Collection starts out like many others, but then takes decidedly interesting twists! The consignor became interested in collecting coins at the age of eight, while living in Southern California. His mother supported his efforts, but the single-parent household had no extra funds for indulgences. His low-key collecting continued through high school, where working at the student store promised a continual flow of interesting coins to swap out. In his early adulthood, he moved to Las Vegas, and continued his searching through all of the silver dollars swirling around him. His finished his Morgan series and began to increase his sophistication in collecting.

Fueled by the explosive growth of Vegas, the commercial success of his business allowed for increased buying of rarities and the upgrading of his Morgans and other series. He might buy entire collections from other collectors, but when buying at auction would be more inclined to pursue rarities and more expensive coins, and he began to focus on the eagle and double eagle series. Over the years, as he explains it, “the collector became an investor.”

One of the prime highlights in the collection is a 1920-S $20 MS64 PCGS. In 1920, the mints in both Philadelphia and San Francisco struck double eagles, the first since the production of the 1916-S coins. Philadelphia produced roughly a quarter-million coins, while San Francisco made more than a half-million. But while the 1920-P is common up to the MS64 level, the 1920-S is rare in all grades. Today, it is considered a classic rarity in a series that abounds with them. Unlike some later dates where repatriations from overseas have replenished the supplies of once-rare issues, no hordes of 1920-S coins have ever been discovered in international holdings. One of the latest references on the Saint-Gaudens series, David Akers’ Handbook of 20th Century United States Gold Coins, proposes:

The Pre-ANA Show and the Heritage Los Angeles Platinum Night Sale

By Doug Winter –

I recently attended a dealer-only pre-ANA show in Beverly Hills. I’m not usually a big fan of these pre-shows but I made an exception for this one as it was held in a location that was easy enough for me to get to and still go home for a weekend rest before the Big Show begins next week. Also, for better or worse these shows are an excellent opportunity for me to get an early shot as some major dealer’s coins. I was able to buy a few very interesting pieces (all of which are now imaged and described on my website,

These pre-shows don’t really give a great indication as to how the “real” show is going to turn out. My take on the market right now is that it is harder than ever to buy interesting coins and when nice stuff does show up, price levels are a bit stronger than they were a few months ago.

I sold quite a few coins at the pre-show. I noted demand for nice early gold, CAC-approved issues, Proof gold and anything that was “special.” No surprise there, of course…

On Friday, I attended the Heritage Platinum Night sale. The auction contained some very interesting early gold, quarter eagles and eagles and some of the results are worth a quick analysis.

Lot 1199 was an 1861-D gold dollar that was in an NCS “Uncirculated details” holder. This was a really intriguing coin. It had the look of an MS62 but it had been lightly wiped on the reverse years ago. I had thought the coin would bring around $20,000 but it was bid all the way up to $29,900. I’m guessing a dealer bought it and he thinks that with a little “improvement” it will be in an NGC or PCGS holder in the near future.

A group of early quarter eagles ran the gamut from truly exceptional to downright ugly. The ugliest of the ugly was a holed and plugged 1796 No Stars that brought just $19,550; probably the cheapest example of this celebrated issue to sell in a decade or more. The highlight was what is likely the finest known example of the exceptionally rare 1804 13 star reverse, graded AU58 by PCGS. I purchased it for $322,000 which is exactly the same amount as the Price coin, graded AU55 by NGC, sold for last year.

Prices for the Capped Head issues were strong. A nice NGC AU58* 1825 (which was accompanied by an old PCGS MS61 tag!) sold for $23,500 and a pleasing NGC AU53* 1827 realized $21,850. Even though I usually steer clear of cleaned coins, I did buy an NCS “AU details” example of the extremely rare 1834. This coin showed the detail of an AU53 to AU55 and, despite the cleaning, it was a presentable example of this great rarity. It sold for $25,300. (more…)

Three $4 Coil Hair Stella Pattern Coins to be offered by Heritage

The $4 Stella holds a special place in most coin collectors hearts, both in terms of design, its unique denomination and the allure of desirability. There are Two different types produced over two years; The Flowing Hair design of 1879 and 1880 (designed by Charles E. Barber) and the Coiled Hair design (Designed by George T. Morgan) of the same time period. All were struck as patterns and examples can be found in Gold, Aluminum, Copper and White Metal.

The 1880 Coiled Hair issue is clearly the rarest of four varieties. In past rosters, we have only been able to account for eight different examples, but have now added a ninth example from the Dallas Bank Collection.

For many years it was believed that just 10 pieces were struck, but it is more likely that 20 pieces were originally coined. A general rule for proof gold pieces from the mid- to late 1800s is that approximately half the original mintage survives.

Like the 1879 Coiled Hair and 1880 Flowing Hair coins, the 1880 Coiled Hair is a major rarity from an extremely small mintage. Only the 1879 Flowing Hair stella could be called anything close to common (with an estimated mintage of a mere 425 pieces), and that is the issue most often chosen by type collectors who want a single example of the stella.

Three examples of the Stella are going to be offered at the Heritage Sale in Los Angeles latter this month as part of the “pre ANA” auctions, offering collectors a unique opportunity to to view and bid on these beautiful coins. What makes this even more special is that the patterns are offered in Gold, Aluminum and Copper. (more…)

Unique PCGS-Certified 1870-S Sold by Legend Numismatics in Half Dime Deal

(Lincroft, New Jersey) – The top-rated sets of Capped Bust and Liberty Seated half dimes in the PCGS Set Registry have been sold in a multi-million dollar private sale by Legend Numismatics of Lincroft, New Jersey ( The 93 coins include many of the finest known examples and the unique 1870-S half dime that was individually valued in this transaction at $1.4 million. The coin is graded PCGS MS-64.

1870-S Half Dime - Photo courtesy of Lyle Engelson/Goldberg Coins & Collectibles. [ Editors Note: For an in depth profile on the 1870-S Half Dime, Read Greg Reynold’s Article in CoinLink’s Coin Guide ]

“The collections are known as ‘The Law Collections,’ named after the anonymous ‘Law Collector,’ a New Jersey hobbyist who sold the coins to us for $2.2 million,” said Laura Sperber, President and Founder of Legend.

“We then sold both sets intact to a Western states collector who told me he would like to exhibit the 1870-S and other coins from his extensive collection, perhaps at an ANA convention next year.”

“The buyer is especially excited about the mint state Liberty Seated half dimes because they will compliment his collection of proof half dimes,” Sperber explained.

The Law Collections of half dimes comprised a total of six different categories that are each ranked number one in the PCGS Set Registry:

* Capped Bust Half Dimes Basic Set, Circ. Strikes, 1829-1837 (with a weighted grade point average of 67.20);
* Capped Bust Half Dimes with Varieties, Circulation Strikes, 1829-1837 (66.091 GPA);
* Liberty Seated Half Dimes Date Set, Circulation Strikes, 1837-1873 (66.06 GPA);
* Liberty Seated Half Dimes Basic Set, Circulation Strikes, 1837-1873 (65.03 GPA);
* Liberty Seated Half Dimes with Varieties, Circulation Strikes, 1837-1873 (65.07 GPA); and
* Liberty Seated Half Dimes with Varieties & 1870-S, Circulation Strikes, 1837-1873 (65.03 GPA).

This is the only complete set of Liberty Seated half dimes possible since it includes the unique 1870-S, the only coin not in the legendary Eliasberg Collection.

Baltimore banker Louis E. Eliasberg Sr. assembled virtually one example of everything struck by the United States before his death in 1976. The 1870 San Francisco Mint half dime was not discovered until 1978 when it was reported to the hobby by Rare Coin Company of America (Rarcoa) in Chicago.


Finest Certified 1838 No Drapery Quarter, PCGS MS68 CAC to be Offered at Auction

R.W. Julian’s article “Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty,” published in the July 2003 edition of the magazine Coins, offers an excellent overview of how the eponymous design made its way to the quarter dollar. The Liberty Seated obverse, which Julian credits to a collaboration between engraver Christian Gobrecht and artists Titian Peale and Thomas Sully, was created for the silver dollar, but its use spread quickly to other denominations:

1838 Quarter“The designs were so well received that [Mint Director Robert] Patterson soon sought permission to improve the looks of the dimes and half dimes by putting the seated figure on the obverse… Once the dimes and half dimes had received the seated figure of Liberty, the quarter dollar came next. Gobrecht prepared the dies in the summer of 1838 and in September several trial pieces were sent to Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury and President Martin Van Buren for their inspection. Approval was soon forthcoming and coinage quickly began. Demand was strong enough that 466,000 pieces were struck by year’s end.”

Julian further notes that while Gobrecht’s obverse design was artistically successful, it created certain technical challenges that Mint Director Patterson decided to rectify. In a different article, “Collectors Clamor for Seated Liberty Quarters” in the February 29, 2000 edition of Numismatic News, Julian describes the change made and how it affects the way today’s collectors approach the series:

“The quarter coinage of 1838-1840, without drapery, is increasingly obtained by type collectors because of the distinct difference in the obverse dies. This variety was struck at Philadelphia in 1838 and 1839 but also at New Orleans in 1840; the dies for the latter were sent off before all the changes were in place. Philadelphia coined only the variety with drapery in 1840.

“Sculptor Robert Ball Hughes had been hired by Director Patterson to slightly redesign the silver coinage, especially the Seated Liberty figures; the change of drapery at the elbow is a mark of Hughes’ work. The point of the make-over was to reduce the height of the figure so that the coins would strike up better in the available coining presses.” (more…)

Historic 1854-S Quarter Eagle Highlights Heritage Auction

1795 half eagle, 1856-O double eagle and 1880 Coiled Hair stella among the offerings from Heritage, July 31-Aug. 2, in Beverly Hills

1854-S $2.50DALLAS, TX – Legends of TV and film will surrender the Hollywood spotlight for a night when a different kind of American star takes to the podium at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Beverly Hills: A historic 1854-S quarter eagle, graded VF35 NGC, will lead the Platinum Night offerings of Heritage Auction Galleries’ August 2009 Los Angeles U.S. Coin Auction

“This coin is truly a legendary rarity,” said Greg Rohan, President of Heritage, “and one of just a dozen known survivors from the first quarter eagle issue produced by the San Francisco Mint. In Heritage’s in-house condition census of the surviving 12, this example is rated fifth overall.”

Just 246 examples of the 1854-S quarter eagle were struck since the San Francisco Mint focused on making larger denominations such as the eagle and double eagle, and the relative “small change”denomination of the gold dollar, leaving the quarter eagle and half eagle relatively neglected. Despite the tiny mintage for the 1854-S quarter eagle, the coins that were produced found ready acceptance in California commerce; virtually the entire mintage was lost through attrition.

Every known 1854-S quarter eagle shows evidence of circulation, whether slight or extreme. The Choice VF example Heritage is offering exhibits moderate wear, but the surfaces show few of the usual marks that coins accrue while circulating and its eye appeal is remarkably strong.

“For decades, the 1854-S quarter eagle has been an underrated rarity,” said Rohan, “but a select cadre of collectors has long coveted the issue, and recent years have brought greater awareness of and appreciation for this emblem of the California Gold Rush.” (more…)

Three 1876-CC Twenty Cent Coins Sell in Spring 2009; Less than Twenty are Known! (Part 2 – Rarity, Quality & Condition Rankings)

By Greg Reynolds for CoinLink

The 1876-CC (Carson City, Nevada) Twenty Cent piece is the rarest date of this short lived denomination, and it is a famous Great Rarity. In a Sept. 2008 article on CoinLink, I tentatively estimated that between eighteen and twenty-six exist. As a result of further research, I am changing my estimate to a range of fifteen to nineteen, which is in line with estimates put forth by a few other researchers. The facts regarding 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces in general and the specific sales of three this Spring are put forth in part 1. Here in part 2, discussions involve rarity, quality, pedigrees and tentatively formulated condition rankings.

I have only been able to identify, with a high degree of confidence, fourteen different 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces, of which I have carefully examined eight. I have asked experts about most of these fourteen. Undoubtedly, there exists at least one other. After considering auction records, published rosters, various rumors, and alternate scenarios in my mind, I just do not believe that there could be as many as twenty.

There is an excellent chance that the Norweb 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece is the finest known. It was auctioned in New York as part of the Norweb I sale in Oct. 1987. At some point in the months that followed, it was NGC graded MS-65. The NGC upgraded it to 66 in the 1990s. For several years, Jay Parrino owned it. In 2001, when it was auctioned by Heritage, it was (and still is) PCGS graded 66. More recently, it is (or was) in the Driftwood collection in the PCGS registry.

Of the fourteen that I know about, I tentatively hypothesize that the Eliasberg piece is the second finest known, assuming that its appearance has not negatively changed since I last saw it. This is a sizeable assumption. I had previously thought that the Emery-Nichols-Lustig-Thomas 1876-CC was the second finest known.

Though I have yet to see the Emery-Nichols-Lustig-Thomas 1876-CC, discussion of its condition with several expert graders, along with recent images, have led me to conclude that it is not the second finest known, though it is an attractive, desirable coin. As discussed in part 1, it is the one that Heritage auctioned in April for $460,000. While I have traced the pedigree of this coin back to the mid 1990s, I am not completely certain that it is the Emery-Nichols piece, which was auctioned by Bowers & Merena (NH) in 1984 and owned by Andy Lustig in the late 1980s. (more…)

Stack’s to Sell More S.S. New York Gold Treasure

The discovery of the long-lost S.S. New York and the sale of gold and silver coins from the wreck made headline news last year. Since then, further explorations on the wreck have yielded more coins, including some amazing American gold rarities. These include high-grade Philadelphia and New Orleans coins from the 1830s and 1840s, some of which are among the finest known!

A book detailing the loss and recovery, The Treasure Ship S.S. New York, by Q. David Bowers, tells the exciting story (available from Stack’s for $29.95 postpaid). The sidewheel steamer, 160.5 feet in length, was launched in New York City in 1837, and under the direction of Charles Morgan and others put into the coastwise run from New York City to Charleston. There she remained for but a short time, and was sent to New Orleans. The Republic of Texas, formed in 1836, beckoned immigrants from foreign countries, American citizens, and others to settle the vast territory. In 1845, Texas joined the Union. The S.S. New York was in service from New Orleans to Galveston, the latter being the largest city in Texas at the time.

Departing Galveston on September 5, 1846, with several dozen passengers and crew aboard plus light cargo, the ship headed toward New Orleans. It was foggy and the wind was light, but there was no indication of any problem. Unexpectedly, stiff winds and high seas arose, and within a few hours the ship anchored about 50 miles off the coast, to weather out the storm. This did not happen. A hurricane developed, the ship foundered, and despite heroic efforts of the passengers and crew to save it, the New York went to the bottom of the sea with a loss of 18 lives and an estimated $30,000 to $40,000 in money. (more…)

Three 1876-CC Twenty Cent Coins Sell in Spring 2009; Fewer than Twenty are Known! (Part 1 – News & History)

by Greg Reynolds for CoinLink

The offering at auction of three different 1876 Carson City (Nevada) Mint Twenty Cent pieces between March 28 and June 11 is astounding. This issue is a legendary rarity, and there are just fifteen to nineteen known. The most curious piece of news, however, in regard to these offerings is that the same person, a Nevada coin dealer, acquired all three.

The physical characteristics and grades of these and other 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces will be discussed in Part 2. Here in Part 1, recent news will be reported and basic information relating to 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces will be introduced. Plus, historical issues relating to this coin issue and to the Carson City Mint in general will be briefly discussed. Finally, it will be explained that the departure of specific coins from a U.S. Mint need not be documented in order for the coins to be legitimate.

On June 11, in Baltimore, B&M auctioned an 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece that is graded AU-58 (on a scale from 01 to 70) by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). It brought $207,000.

On April 30, in Cincinnati, Heritage auctioned the Emery-Nichols-Lustig-Thomas 1876-CC for $460,000. It is PCGS graded MS-66, and is certainly among the four finest known. I acknowledge, though, that I have not seen it. Several experts have discussed it with me, including two past-owners of this coin.

The third recently offered 1876-CC did not sell on the date, March 28, that it was offered at auction, in Baltimore. Heritage and other auction companies allow bidders to buy, or offer to buy, unsold auction lots for a few days after each live auction ends. I recorded that, as of March 30, this 1876-CC was being offered at $345,000, on the Heritage website, with notice that any potential buyer had until the early morning of April 3 to commit to this $345,000 price, which I believe was the reserve at the auction. It did sell, via the Internet, under these circumstances, probably on April 1st or 2nd. (more…)

Assembling a Collection of Early U.S. Gold Coins

By Doug Winter

For many collectors, the decision to focus on Early United States gold coins is an easy one. These are some of the rarest, most historic and aesthetically appealing pieces ever produced by the United States mint. Once the decision has been reached to begin a collection of these coins, how do you start? This article seeks to focus on the steps required to begin an early gold collection, offers some suggestions on how to collect these coins and charts a course to help new collectors avoid some of the common mistakes that are often made with early purchases.

The term “early gold” refers to those issues struck between 1796 and 1834. There are three denominations: the quarter eagle, half eagle and eagle. Breaking these down further, the following types are known:

Quarter Eagles: Capped Bust Right (1796-1807), Capped Bust Left Large Size (1808), Capped Head Left Large Size (1821-1827), Capped Head Left Reduced Size (1829-1834). Total of four types.

Half Eagles: Capped Bust Right Small Eagle (1795-1798), Capped Bust Right Heraldic Eagle (1795-1807), Capped Bust Left (1807-1812), Capped Head Left Large Size (1813-1829), Capped Head Left Reduced Size (1829-1834). Total of five types.

Eagles: Capped Bust Right Small Eagle (1795-1797), Capped Bust Right Heraldic eagle (1797-1804). Total of two types.

In all, there are a total of eleven major types of early United States gold.

Before we discuss suggestions on ways to collect early gold, there are a few important points that I would like to address.

The first is, not surprisingly, budget. Collecting early gold is not for the collector on a shoestring numismatic budget. Just about any decent quality early gold coin is going to cost in the $7,500-12,500 range. Many of the types listed above start at around $25,000 and quickly shoot upwards. If you are not able (or comfortable) spending this sort of money, than early gold is probably not for you. (more…)

1856-O Double Eagle Certified Specimen-63 Sells for $1.4+ Million at Long Beach

The status of the 1856-O double eagle as the rarest New Orleans twenty, from a paltry mintage of 2,250 pieces, was established as long ago as the Atwater Sale (B. Max Mehl, 6/1946). In lot 1338 of that celebrated catalog Mehl proclaimed, “1856 Strictly very fine; free from any nicks or dents. The rarest Double-Eagle of the New Orleans Mint. Smallest coinage, that of only 2250. Not in some of the largest collections of U.S. Gold. Not even in the recent Sale of ‘World’s Greatest Collection of U.S. Gold Coins.’ ”

Many specialists believe that this is the single most important New Orleans double eagle in existence, and one of the most important O-mint coins of any denomination. The coin offered here is the finest example known by a wide margin. Its special characteristics have earned this coin the Specimen designation, certified as such by PCGS. Doug Winter once believed this coin was a proof, but he later revised his opinion to coincide with the PCGS designation. As an issue, the 1856-O needs little introduction. It remains one of the few transcendent rarities among 19th century U.S. gold, recognized as such even by non-gold collectors.

The 1856-O is one of the classic rarities in U.S. gold coinage. It is both the rarest gold coin struck by the New Orleans Mint, and the rarest regular issue Liberty Head double eagle. The estimated number of survivors ranges from a conservative 10-12 (Breen) to as high as 20-30 (Winter). The issue is very rare in AU grades, and the present coin is the only Uncirculated example known. The example in the Bell Collection (Stack’s, 12/1944), lot 899 was cataloged as Uncirculated, but that coin is believed to be the Eliasberg specimen, which graded AU50 in the sale of that storied collection.

The present coin has an appearance unlike any other 1856-O double eagle. While weakness is generally found on O-mint double eagles from this era, including the 1856-O, this coin shows an amazing full strike in all areas and fully reflective fields, somewhat different from the finish seen on other New Orleans twenties from this period. Each star has satiny luster and shows shadowing, as though impressed with an extra blow from the die. Liberty’s hair details and the stars above the eagle are equally well brought up. (more…)

Look What I Dug Up! 1817/4 Half Dollar

1817/14 Bust Half DollarIt is always an exciting event when a newly discovered numismatic rarity is reported. Such was the case when an 1817/4 half dollar was unearthed (literally!) by contractor George Williams while raking fill in upstate New York. This is the eighth known specimen of this rare overdate, originally offered in our January 2006 FUN Auction, shortly after it was discovered, and now available again in our upcoming Central States Signature Auction.

News of the discovery appeared in the October 24, 2005 edition of Coin World. Williams said he ordered a load of fill for some foundation work he was doing. He was raking the soil when he heard a ‘cling.’ His son Nial, 19, turned the hose on the object and revealed an early date half dollar.

The Coin World article goes on to say that when Williams returned home with the coin, his 14-year-old coin-collecting son, Cullinan, looked it up in A Guide Book of United States Coins (the ‘Red Book’). The boy then printed a copy of bust half dollar specialist Sheridan Downey’s commentary on the 1817/4 half dollar in Collectors Universe’s web site that revealed more details about the rare overdate. (more…)

1802 Half Dime Rarity to Be Offered in Cincinnati by Heritage

1802 Half DimeThe rarity of the 1802 half dime is well known to collectors of United States coins. Only 35 or so pieces are believed known in all grades. Most, of course, are in low grades and David Davis gives a roster of “The Fourteen Worst 1802 Half Dimes” on page 38 of the Logan-McCloskey half dime reference. There are a surprising number of high grade examples also known of this date, the finest of which is the AU50 Granberg coin that was last sold by Heritage in the 1998 FUN Auction.

David Davis’ article is well researched and well worth the time to read, especially if one is interested in bidding on this coin. He has surveyed auction catalogs and found 167 appearances at public auction over a 140-year period, for an average of 1.2 appearances per year. As he points out, the availability of this date has not been uniform. In fact, there were 17 years when only three or four pieces were offered. And there were two nine-year spans, 1894-1903 and 1926-1934, when none were available at auction.

This irregular availability is mirrored in Heritage’s offerings of this date. They have not handled a single coin between 1976 and 1998. That’s one example of this date for approximately every 100,000 auction lots to appear in Heritage auctions.

In Federal Half Dimes 1792-1837, Russ Logan and John McCloskey commented: “The 1802 half dime has not only been recognized as the key date in the early half dime series for well over a century, but it is often described as one of the classic rarities of U.S. numismatics.” It is also considered to be among the 100 greatest U.S. coins by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth.

The rarity of the 1802 half dime was recognized almost as soon as coin collecting became popular in the late 1850s. The first coin offered at public auction was in the 1859 sale by Edward Cogan of the J.N.T. Levick Collection, but that piece did not sell. The first actual sale of an 1802 half dime was four years later in the Lilliendahl Collection. (more…)

CLASSIC RARITIES: Adams-Carter 1804 Class III Silver Dollar

The Adams-Carter 1804 Class III Silver Dollar  will be offered for sale next month at Heritage’s Cincinnati (CSNS) US Coin Auction #1124 April 28- May 3. The following is a brief history and additional background on the 1804 Dollar and the Adams-Carter specimen specifically, provided by Heritage.

Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries

The acquisition and ownership of an 1804 silver dollar is a yardstick by which all great numismatic collections are measured, as it has been for more than a century and a half.  Known as “the King”, the 1804 silver dollar is the single most famous numismatic rarity, attracting more attention than any other single coin.

Several books, numerous articles, and many auction appearances have filled countless published pages over the past 150 years. Previous owners rank among the most famous numismatists, and in some cases among the famous personalities in this country. Limited market availability means that the successful capture of one of these prizes can take a lifetime.

Many American numismatic pieces, patterns and regular issues, are rarer than the 1804 silver dollar, with its population of 15 known specimens. Another issue, the 1933 double eagle, with an auction record in excess of $7 million, holds the title of most expensive, at least based on past sales. However, no other U.S. coin can ever be popularly accepted as the King of Coins. The 1804 silver dollar is clearly the most famous coin ever struck at a U.S. mint. Its rarity has been documented for more than 150 years.

B. Max Mehl once wrote: “In all of numismatics of the entire world, there is not today and there never has been a single coin which was and is the subject of so much romance, interest, comment, and upon which so much has been written and so much talked about and discussed as the United States silver dollar of 1804.”

1876-CC Twenty Cent being Offered by Heritage in Baltimore

A coin that was the result of the perfect confluence of partisan politics and poor planning in Reconstruction-era America, an 1876-CC twenty-cent graded MS64 NGC, is among the highlights of the Heritage Auction Galleries Baltimore Signature® US Coin Auction, March 28 – 31. The coin, from The Belle Collection of Carson City Coinage, is one of less than 20 known surviving examples from a mintage of 10,000.

From an mintage of about 10,000 coins, the current estimate of surviving examples, including the “Maryland Hoard” of seven to nine pieces discovered in the 1950s, is 16 to 18 coins. The 1876-CC twenty cent piece was known as a special and incredibly rare coin as early as 1893, when Augustus Heaton published his famous Mint Marks pamphlet that changed American numismatics forever.

The introduction of the ill-fated twenty cent piece occurred at the nexus of partisan politics and poor planning. Thomas Jefferson’s original coinage recommendation from the mid-1780s envisioned denominations of a half dollar, fifth of a dollar, tenth dollar, 20th dollar, and 100th dollar or cent. There was no quarter dollar in the Jefferson scheme. However, as adopted per the recommendation of Robert Morris, superintendent of finance for the Continental Congress, the quarter dollar was introduced instead of the fifth dollar.

According to Rusty Goe‘s The Mint on Carson Street, “For over 80 years, quarter dollars were one of the nation’s primary subsidiary coins. They served their purpose well–until a shortage of 1/20th dollars (or half dimes) in the West and parts of the South caused chronic problems in the nation’s retail markets. Customers using quarters to pay for items priced at ten cents often received only a dime in return. Merchants claimed to be out of smaller denominations. (more…)

Strawberry Leaf 1793 Cent Sells for $862,500: An Auction Record for a Copper Coin

by Greg Reynolds for CoinLink

On Monday, Jan. 5, 2009, the finest of four known Strawberry Leaf cents was auctioned in Orlando by Stack’s. In 1793, half cents and large cents became the first mass-produced coins of the U.S. Mint. Large cents (pennies) of the 1790s are a little larger than quarters are now, and half cents are greater in diameter than five cent nickel coins are now.

Strawberry Leaf Cent of 1793The Strawberry Leaf Cent of 1793 is a readily apparent variety that tends to be listed in guides as if it is a separate date, and is thus needed for a date-set (as opposed to a variety set) of early large cents. Curiously, during this first year, three design types of cents were minted: Chain Cents, Wreath Cents and Liberty Cap Cents. Strawberry Leaf Cents are Wreath Cents, as a head of Miss Liberty with flowing hair is on the obverse (front of the coin) and a distinct wreath is on the reverse (back of the coin: tail). In general, 1793 Wreath Cents are not particularly rare. More than two thousand exist, of all varieties. Strawberry Leaf 1793 Wreath Cents, however, are obviously different from typical 1793 Wreath Cents.

The main difference is that there is a leaf between the year 1793 and the head of Miss Liberty. Researchers have suggested that this leaf may not truly be of the likeness of a leaf from a Strawberry plant. Regardless of the true nature of the leaf, this coin issue, by tradition, is referred to as the ‘Strawberry Leaf Cent,’ and this name is likely to be used for the foreseeable future.

There are more than three hundred different die varieties of early large cents, which were minted from 1793 to 1814. A die is a metal cylinder with design elements engraved and/or punched into one end. To produce coins, an obverse (front) die and a reverse (tail) die are employed in a mechanical press to impart designs on prepared, blank, round pieces of metal. In the early years of the U.S. Mint, there were often considerable differences among dies. Sometimes, these differences are dramatic. Now, pairs of dies for the same date and type are almost identical. (more…)

Branch Mint Proof 1884-CC Dollar to be sold at FUN

1884-CC Proof Morgan DollarThe extreme rarity of the four known branch mint proof 1884-CC dollars is well known to specialists. What is not as well known, and is in fact extraordinary, is that Jack Lee owned two of the four known pieces.

At first Heritage thought the PR66 Cameo piece being offering in the firms January’s FUN Signature Auction was the same coin they sold in the Morris Silverman Collection in 2002. However, when compared it to the plate in the Silverman catalog they came to the startling conclusion that they are clearly two different coins with distinctly different pedigree markers.

In his 1986 book The Morgan and Peace Dollar Textbook, Wayne Miller termed the 1884-CC dollars as Class III coins, meaning little was known but these coins might be proofs. Other Class III branch mint dollars include the 1881-O and 1884-O. However, after we have examined two of 1884-CC dollars we are of the opinion these coins can be “promoted” to Class II strikings, i.e., “unauthorized but definite branch mint proofs.”

The four criteria set out by Wayne Miller for proof strikings include: a bold strike, square rims, virtually perfect surfaces, and mirror-like fields. This coin fits three of the four criteria listed. The only exception are square rims, which one really would not expect on a branch mint proof dollar, almost all of which were struck from dies intended for circulation. (The only exception we are aware of is the 1879-O).

The 1884-CC branch mint proofs were struck from VAM-3 dies. According to the VAMworld website, these heavily used dies are characterized by: “Doubled 18 in date. 1 doubled below top crossbar and to left of bottom crossbar. Die chips at inside right of top and bottom loops of first 8 and slightly doubled right outside of upper loop. Second 8 slightly doubled at top inside of bottom loop. Slightly doubled nose, lips, chin and back of Phrygian cap.” (more…)

The Queen of Carson City Gold: The 1870-CC $20 Double Eagle

by Greg Reynolds for CoinLink

1870-CC Double EagleAn 1870-CC Double Eagle ($20 gold coin) is ‘again in the news’ as one will be auctioned by B&M during the evening of Friday, Nov. 21st, at the Baltimore Convention Center. It is graded “EF-45” by the Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NGC). It is certainly the same 1870-CC Double Eagle that was sold by Stack’s on January 16, 2008 in New York, at which time it was not certified.

Stack’s auctioned another, the Husky collection 1870-CC, in June 2008, which was NGC certified Extremely Fine-40 at the time. For a price of $299,000, George Huang of Legend Numismatics bought the Husky 1870-CC. Though I am not certain, it is probably the same 1870-CC that was sold, in July, at the Legend Numismatics table during the ANA Convention. That 1870-CC is PCGS graded EF-40 and has a green sticker of approval from the CAC. Reportedly, it privately sold for $345,000 at the ANA convention, though I have not confirmed this price.

The Ohringer 1870-CC was auctioned for this same amount, though it might have later privately sold for more. The offering of the second part of the ‘Ohringer’ collection was a centerpiece of the September 2008 auction extravaganza conducted by the Beverly Hills firm of Ira & Larry Goldberg. Bob Green of Park Avenue Numismatics did not acquire this 1870-CC during the Ohringer 2 auction session, however he later made arrangements with the owner of this coin, or with the owner’s representative, and then Green sold the Ohringer 1870-CC to a collector.

While the 1870-CC that Legend sold in July might be technically stronger, the Ohringer 1870-CC certainly has more detail. It is PCGS graded EF-45 and is very sharp for an Extremely Fine grade 1870-CC. The numerous contact marks on Miss Liberty’s face and other issues keep it from grading AU-50 or higher. As a rule, 1870-CC Double Eagles have a very large number of imperfections, much more so than most other rare date Double Eagles.

One of the highest quality 1870-CC Double Eagles sold privately in the middle of August 2007. It had surfaced at the 2007 ANA Convention. As it did not come from a famous collection, at least not in recent decades, I will refer to it as the Green 1870-CC to distinguish it from others. It is NGC graded AU-53 and was PCGS graded AU-50. I have identified it as the 1870-CC that Heritage auctioned in Sept. 2003 in Long Beach, California. Bob Green of Park Avenue Numismatics sold this 1870-CC to a Nevada collector for an amount greater than $400,000! (more…)