Queller Collection of Coin Patterns Sells for $8.36 Million (Part 3 of 3)
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 Queller collection of pattern, experimental, trial, and fantasy pieces was sold without reserves.
- 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.
Collectors who are interested in history may be particularly attracted to the patterns of the 1790s. Even those collectors who cannot afford them may enjoy learning about them. Besides, studying the patterns of the 1790s contributes to an understanding of the denominations and designs of U.S. coins in the 1790s and the decades that followed, with some connections to the U.S. coinage of the present. Indeed, patterns of the 1790s relate to the beginning of the U.S. Mint and the concepts that link patterns to the philosophical underpinnings of the United States.
The Birch cents of 1792 are legendary patterns. Even the motto, “LIBERTY [is the] PARENT OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY,” is fascinating and stems from the views of some of the founding fathers.
There are three varieties of Birch Cents, though, as far as I know, no one collects them by variety. Teichman suggests that “there are about a dozen known of all three varieties combined.” It would not surprise me if sixteen or seventeen exist. The Queller piece is NGC graded Fair-02. In my view, the obverse grades a high end AG-03,while the reverse does not quite grade Poor-01, maybe 0.4? Many experts would accept the overall Fair-02 grade for this Birch cent.
Saul Teichman figures that this Birch cent had a market value in the range of “$30,000 to $40,000.” My guess is that, if another considerably circulated Birch Cent had been available on the FUN Convention bourse floor, it would have traded for substantially less than $60,000. The $86,250 auction result for this piece is surprising.
Queller’s 1792 silver-center cent was much earlier in the famous collection of Joseph Mickley. The idea of a cent coin containing $0.0075 silver and $0.0025 copper is intriguing. This piece brought $253,000. It also features the motto mentioned above, “LIBERTY PARENT OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY”! Moreover, Thomas Jefferson discusses these silver-center cent patterns in a letter to George Washington. Jefferson and Washington were involved in the process of selecting coin types. Please see my article about another 1792 One Cent pattern that was auctioned at the Jan. 2008 FUN Convention.
Queller also had a 1794 half dime die trial in copper. Teichman reports that “there are definitely four of these, three with a reeded edge and one with a plain edge.” The Queller 1794 half dime is NGC graded AU-55 and it brought $86,250.
While other collectors have assembled better groups of patterns from the 1790s, Queller’s holding of patterns dating before 1850 was extremely impressive. The weakest area of the Queller collection was gold patterns that were actually struck in gold. The Jones Beach collection of patterns that was auctioned in Orlando in Jan. 2007 had a superior group of such pieces, as did the Rothschild collection that was auctioned in New York in Oct. 2003.
Queller did have an excellent selection of gold denomination patterns that were struck in copper. His two $50 pieces are discussed in Part 1.
A gold-plated aluminum 1875 Eagle ($10 gold denomination) definitely grabbed my attention. It is sharply struck and very glossy. It is NGC certified Proof-65. It is of the exact same design as Proof and business strike 1875 Eagles, which are both more than extremely rare. The true gold 1875 Eagles are Great Rarities as there are fewer than twenty-five Proofs and business strikes combined. It is the rarest date in the Liberty Head Eagle series. I would have thought that a collector who is unable to obtain a true gold 1875 Eagle might like to have this piece. A pattern collector got it, though, via Laura Sperber, for $25,300.
For $54,625, the same buyer obtained Queller’s 1875 Double Eagle in copper. An Illinois collector was the underbidder. Other than the fact that is in copper, it looks the same as a standard Proof gold 1875 Double Eagle. This is another one of the really cool pieces in the Queller collection. It is NGC graded PF-66-Brown and has very appealing toning, with pleasant green hues. Despite a few hairlines on the obverse, the wonderful look of this piece keeps its grade in the 66 range. It is certainly memorable.
An undated, Type 1 Double Eagle ($20 gold) pattern struck in SILVER is amazingly cool. Though NGC graded Proof-62, it is an attractive coin with blue, orange-russet and green tones. This is one of just two known in silver of this variety. I have never before seen another Double Eagle pattern, of any variety, that is struck in silver. A Southern California dealer, not Hughes, took it for $57,500.
There were some other Double Eagle patterns in the Queller collection, though the Eagle ($10) patterns are more interesting. An 1872 Amazonian Eagle, in gold-plated copper (gilt), is important, mostly because the design is extremely famous. Personally, I find designs of the Amazonian silver coins to be more attractive. In any event, this piece, which is NGC graded PF-62, went for a reasonable price of $18,400.
Queller had two 1874 Bickford Eagles. These relate to proposals for gold coins that could circulate in certain European nations in addition to in the U.S., with exchange rates specified on the reverse (back) of the coins. Queller’s reeded edge Bickford is NGC graded ‘Proof-62-Brown’ and the plain edge piece is NGC graded PF-66BN. The former brought $6325 and the latter realized $34,500. The reeded edge pieces are less rare, but it is probably the difference in quality that accounts for most of the price difference.
I just glanced at Queller’s 1875 Sailor’s Head Eagle, though I liked it. It is NGC certified Proof-65 with ‘Red and Brown’ color. Though not as rare as the Sailor’s Head dollars that were discussed in Part 2, it is neat and attractive. The $12,650 price is sensible, from a logical perspective. I believe Robert L. Hughes was the successful bidder, though I am not certain.
An 1875 Sailor’s Head Half Eagle ($5 denomination) seemed pleasing, though nowhere near as impressive as the Eagle, sold to Hughes for $9775. I admit that I only viewed each of them for a few seconds. This Half Eagle pattern is NGC graded PF-64BN.
Queller had two 1878 patterns of an unusual design that does not have a name. I call it Morgan’s Miss Liberty with two headbands, a bun and a little flowing hair. There are two varieties of this obverse, one with dots (or pellets) and the other without them. Queller’s 1878 Quarter Eagle pattern is of the variety with no dots. It is gold plated copper and is fairly NGC graded PF-64. It brought $10,350. Although no one would describe it as being beautiful, it is distinctive and this design something much different from the designs of regular U.S. gold coinage.
Of course, Queller had other gold denomination patterns and many patterns of denominations that I have not yet mentioned. I cannot here analyze, or even allude to, a majority of Queller’s patterns. Many very desirable pieces had to be excluded from my discussions. Consider that the auction catalogue is more than four hundred pages long.
Not all patterns have very high market values. More than fifty patterns in the Queller collection realized less than $5,000 each in this auction, though many of these brought more than I expected them to bring. “Generally,” in Saul Teichman’s “opinion,” prices for many of these were “weak.” An important point is that it does not require a fortune to collect patterns, and it certainly does not take millions to add a few pertinent patterns to respective collections of regular issues.
Consider An 1878 Half Eagle pattern in copper, sold as lot #1897. I did not examine it. Its design is very similar to the Morgan 1878 Quarter Eagle pattern that I already mentioned; Miss Liberty has two headbands, a bun and a little flowing hair. It brought $4887.50. So, the buyer obtained a gold denomination pattern that looks completely different from any regular U.S. gold coin, for less than $5,000!
An array of Queller’s patterns could have been obtained for less than $5,000 each. A collector of Three Cent Silvers might have like to own the Queller 1850 Three Cent Silver with the Mexican style Liberty Cap on the obverse (front), lot #1533. It is NGC graded Proof-65 and is a very attractive piece. While it is one of the least rare silver patterns, it is much rarer than relevant regular issues, and it sold for $3450.
A collector of Three Cent Nickels may wish to add an 1865 in copper, with no nickel, to his or her collection. Lot #1628, Queller’s copper 1865 brought $2760. Moreover, an 1865 quarter pattern, with the regular Liberty Seated obverse and an unusual reverse that was designed by legendary engraver Anthony Paquet, also realized $2760. Additionally, an 1866 Indian Cent struck in a copper-nickel alloy sold for $2300.
There were several 1866 Five Cent Nickel patterns in the sale with portraits of George Washington. Imagine Washington Nickels! A few of them sold for $3220 or less. An 1868 One Cent Nickel pattern, in the style of the adopted Three Cent Nickel (1865-89), went for $1840. Would it be fun to own a One Cent Nickel?
Collectors who are just getting started with patterns may wish to consider the so called “Standard Silver” patterns of 1870, for dimes, quarters and halves. These have attractive designs that are quite different from any regular issues. In the Queller collection, there were several Standard Silver patterns that sold for less than $2000, and a fair number that brought less than $5000.
Also, Queller’s 1880 Goloid Dollar pattern, which is NGC graded PF-64, is not worth a fortune. It is a very interesting issue, relating to a gold and silver alloy. It garnered $4312.50
My favorite items in the Queller collection are not the most expensive, not the rarest, and not the pieces with the most historical significance. I have already mentioned some, not all, of favorites. I have always had a fondness for Amazonian quarters, and the Queller Amazonian quarter is very appealing. The one Queller piece that most enticed me is a pattern that I have seen before, and it is not one of the rarest patterns. It is the Queller 1882 Shield Earring quarter.
I examined this quarter pattern before it was submitted to the NGC. I remember then telling Saul that it should probably grade 68. He was unconvinced.
When I saw this Shield Earring Quarter again in January, I noticed a couple of imperfections between the arrows and the eagle’s chest. As the NGC holder, where it resides, has a few scratches, it was particularly hard to grade this coin again. It has never been cleaned or dipped. Its grade is at least in the high end of the 67 range. The NGC has justly awarded it a star for eye appeal.
There is no doubt that this Shield Earring Quarter has wonderful eye appeal. The toning is even and well balanced. Indeed, the toning is fully natural and spectacular. The orange-russet inner fields blend nicely into the orange, red and blue outer fields. The hues on Miss Liberty herself are not easily explainable. When this piece is tilted under a light, the full, colorful mirrors are awestriking. On the whole, this quarter pattern is extremely attractive and unforgettable.
Teichman reports that “there are around ten Shield Earring Quarters in silver,” and “three or four of these” are gems. It is true that the R. M. Fred collection Shield Earring Quarter is also incredible. The Fred piece is mesmerizing in a different way, however, and it is not as technically strong as the Queller piece.
I have examined the Champa-’Jones Beach’ Shield Earring Quarter, which is also NGC graded Proof-67. It was auctioned by Heritage in Jan. 2007 for $43,125, which was considered a fair price at a time when market prices for truly rare coins were clearly rising. While I like that one, too, the Queller and R. M. Fred Shield Earring quarters are clearly superior to the ‘Jones Beach’ one.
Saul expected Queller’s Shield Earring Quarter to “go for around 50, or maybe 60 grand”! If it had been auctioned in May or August, I would have expected $75,000, or slightly more. I was not sure how it would fare in the current environment. It brought the astounding amount of $126,500. My impression is that it is now in a private collection in the Southwest, which is not focused upon patterns. It is hard for a connoisseur of silver coins to resist this Shield Earring Quarter pattern.
Numerous collectors could not resist bidding on patterns in this sale. An entire evening was devoted to Queller’s patterns, and, not including Heritage employees, there were, at times, more than eighty people in the room. Moreover, many collectors were represented by dealers. Others participated via the Internet. During the considerable time that I was in the room, most of Queller’s patterns went to floor bidders.
Matt Kleinsteuber, of NFC coins, said that “markets for expensive patterns show no real signs of weakness.” Queller’s “early patterns,” especially those of the 1790s, were “really nice” and “brought strong prices.” The whole sale “went a lot better” than Matt “expected.” Kleinsteuber imagines that “pattern collectors are very happy” about this “great sale.”
The influential collector-dealer from New Jersey, who was cited in Part 1, emphasizes that “patterns are still cheap when compared to rare coins.” In his opinion, “prices for some 20th century coins are insane.” Are patterns logically undervalued in relation to rare U.S. coins of the same respective denominations and time periods? This is a topic for a future inquiry.
©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.
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