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Brahin’s Syrup to be Auctioned at FUN: Select Group of Saint Gaudens $20 Gold Coins

by Greg Reynolds for CoinLink

On Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010, Heritage’s long awaited Platinum Night event at the FUN Convention in Orlando will include a marvelous array of choice and rare U.S. coins. It is part of a larger auction extravaganza that is held in conjunction with one of the two most important coin conventions of the year, that of the Florida United Numismatists (FUN) organization.

brahin_121809_reynoldsThe famous collector Jay Brahin has consigned a select group of Saint Gaudens Double Eagles ($20 gold coins) to be sold on Platinum Night. The most valuable piece from the Brahin collection is a 1927-S Saint that is graded MS-66 by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS).

Brahin’s consignment is of just seven coins, yet these are particularly significant. These seven constitute his entire current collection of Double Eagles and were very carefully selected by him. Jay reveals that he had “no intention of selling is coins, but I [Jay] am selling for personal reasons that are completely unrelated to coins or coin markets. I would have liked to have held these coins for a decade or more. Coins are art to me, and I am proud to have obtained these coins. I love the thrill of the hunt. Finding the coin is more gratifying than selling it.”

Brahin started “collecting coins as a kid.” He “filled coin albums with cents, nickels, dimes and quarters. During vacations, I [Jay] would work $20 in change several times over in one day, by going back and forth to the bank. Over the period of a summer day, I would go to a bank eight or nine times. It was fun. I loved it. I fell off the collecting wagon, but I never lost my love of coins.”

As a teenager, Brahin had other interests. Later in life, in 2002, Jay returned to coin collecting. He “always wanted to own a Saint when [he] was a kid.” So, he “turned to Saints.” Jay saw “Dr. Duckor’s Saint set on the PCGS registry, which was then blocked from view, but his e-mail address was briefly posted. I wrote to him and said I was an admirer of his Barber Half set; I inquired about his Saints. Later, we talked about the philosophy of collecting.”

Brahin found that Dr. Steven Duckor was (and still is) one of the leading collectors of Saints and one of the most knowledgeable collectors of early 20th century gold and Barber coins. Duckor became Brahin’s “mentor.” Later, “through Duckor,” Brahin “met David Akers, who was Duckor’s mentor.” Akers is perhaps the all-time leading expert in U.S. gold coins.

At first, Brahin attempted to complete a set of all business strike Saint Gaudens Double Eagles. This set is listed in the PCGS registry. It was “retired” in July 2006. Essentially, Brahin found that he did not have sufficient funds to complete a set of Saints that met his exacting standards for quality.

Though Jay enjoyed building a set of Saints that was missing only five coins, he found that he wanted coins that were “better” than the ones that he had and “more exciting.” Of course, “if [he] had the money,” Brahin “would have tried to complete a whole spectacular set of Saints,” with “all coins being original and high end for [their respective] grades.” Since that goal could not be fulfilled, he decided to sell almost all of his set.

Brahin focused on collecting a small group of really “exciting” Saints that are “condition rarities” and high end for their respective grades. He and Dr. Duckor named this new collection, “The Syrup of Saints,” as it was distilled from his previous set and all the Saints that were available to him.” As Jay “makes quick decisions and pays lightning fast,” Brahin guesses that “dealers often offered their best Saints to me first.” Brahin asserts that “some of my coins are tremendous condition rarities, and opportunities.”

Collectors who have been very interested in Saints may recognize three of the coins that were part of John Kutasi‘s collection that was auctioned as part of a FUN Platinum Night event on Jan. 4, 2007. I covered the Kutasi sale for a leading coin newspaper.

I was very impressed by Kutasi’s 1920-S, which is now the Brahin 1920-S. It is graded MS-64 by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). All of Brahin’s coins are PCGS graded. In order for coins to be entered into the PCGS registry, they must be authenticated, graded and encapsulated by the PCGS. Additionally, all of Brahin’s Saints have stickers of approval from the CAC.

The CAC was founded in late 2007 by John Albanese, who is the primary founder of the NGC in 1987 and was one of the group that founded the PCGS in 1986. A coin receives a CAC sticker if the CAC finds that its grade is at least in the middle of the respective grade range. Further, Albanese and his associates will not approve coins that they find to be artificially toned or surgically altered. For more information on this topic, please see my three part series on natural toning, dipping and coin doctoring (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3).

In my view, coins with CAC stickers will be of significantly higher quality, ON AVERAGE, than very similar PCGS or NGC certified coins without CAC stickers. All coin experts make mistakes and there will always be legitimate differences of opinion among experts regarding the grades of many coins. Honest differences may relate to the application of accepted criteria or to philosophy regarding the definition of grading criteria.

The CAC, with Albanese at the helm, will pay “competitive prices” for coins in PCGS or NGC holders with CAC stickers. Albanese points out that the CAC “makes markets in the most actively traded coins and in some coins that are not that actively traded.” As for coins for which the CAC is not ‘making a market,’ the CAC “will make a [serious] bid for almost any CAC stickered coin” that is directly offered to the CAC.

In my opinion, the most compelling reason to buy gold coins that are CAC approved is to avoid buying coins that have been artificially toned or doctored. In many cases, when graders at the PCGS or the NGC fail to notice added putties or gels, Albanese finds such artificial substances on certified coins.

Dr. Steven Duckor declares that “I love CAC. It really helps coins and coin markets. CAC stickered coins will bring 10% to 15% more at auction, maybe 20% for Saints.”

(Click here to read about Dr. Duckor’s collection of Barber Quarters that was recently auctioned.)

Brahin reveals that “I didn’t buy a single coin with a CAC sticker. I owned the coins before they received stickers.” This is partly because the CAC was not founded until late 2007 and partly because Jay is an expert grader in his own right. Indeed, Brahin’s knowledge of Saints is respected by expert dealers. Furthermore, Brahin has extensively counseled more than five collectors who seriously worked on PCGS registry sets of Saints. It is my (this writer’s) strong belief that most knowledgeable collectors of gold coins will like and appreciate Brahin’s taste in coins.

brahin_1920-S Returning to the Kutasi-Brahin 1920-S, I (this writer) stated in my Kutasi sale catalogue that it is very brilliant and very attractive, plus is very sharply struck for the 1920-S issue. It has a small number of contact marks; it is marked to a lesser extent than most certified 64 grade Saints. Honestly, I then noted “why only 64?” Maybe slight, barely noticeable contact on highpoints of the design elements keep this coin from grading 65? Nonetheless, I expected some dealer to buy it, crack it out, and re-submit it in hopes of an MS-65 grade. The PCGS has graded only three to five different 1920-S Saints higher than MS-64.

John Kutasi reports that, “at one time, I owned four 1920-S Saints in four. This was definitely the best one.” Brahin and Kutasi managed to locate most of the certified MS-64 1920-S Saints in existence. Brahin strongly maintains that the PCGS has certified only seven or eight different 1920-S Saints as grading MS-64.

Dr. Duckor observes that “it’s the nicest 64 [grade] 1920-S that I have ever seen. It is not a five. It is extremely sharply struck. This is one of the top two ’20-S Saints that PCGS has graded MS-64.”

“The 1920-S and the 1921 are comparable,” states Brahin. “The 1920-S and the 1921 are leading crackout coins. They have been cracked out as much as any Saints.”

The crack-out process involves removing a coin from a holder and re-submitting it in hopes of receiving a higher grade from the PCGS or the NGC. It is not unusual for the same coin to be resubmitted many times. The 1921 is considered a key date in the Saint series. Brahin suggests that the 1921 and the 1920-S are of commensurable condition rarity in grades of 64 and higher.

brahin_1925-SKutasi formerly owned the Brahin 1925-S, though it is not the 1925-S Saint that was in the Jan. 2007 auction of his collection. Kutasi replaced a Morse collection 1925-S with a 1925-S that was formerly owned by a Midwest physician who has a renowned collection of coins.

Pedigrees regarding Saints can be confusing, especially because Duckor, Morse, Kutasi and Brahin all individually owned more than one representative of many dates. Often, a collector will upgrade by acquiring a better piece and then seek to sell the coin that is being replaced. Philip Morse and John Kutasi, however, seemed to like owning numerous representatives of the same date at the same time. Morse had at least three 1921 Saints, including the finest known. The Morse collection was auctioned in Dallas in November and December 2005.

Brahin purchased the Morse-Kutasi 1925-S privately at the 2007 ANA Convention in Milwaukee. Dr. Steven Duckor exclaims that the Morse-Kutasi-Brahin 1925-S is “spectacular.” Duckor adds, “Jay’s 1926-D is definitely one of the top three to four known of this date.” Duckor has been seriously collecting Saints since the 1970s.

brahin_1926-DBrahin asserts that the toning on one of the other PCGS graded MS-65 1926-D Saints is “of highly questionable color and it has re-appeared on the market many times over the past decade.” Brahin points out that it has failed to sell at auction more than once, by more than one auction firm. I (this writer) have seen it, and I agree that its color is probably not natural.

The 1926-D issue is extremely rare in grades of MS-65 and above. Many of those 1926-D Saints that are certified as grading MS-64 or higher are ‘low end.’

Before CAC was founded, I wrote that the grade of the Kutasi-Brahin 1926-D is in the middle of the MS-65 range. Plus, it is very sharply struck. John Kutasi remarks that this 1926-D is “gorgeous” and he reports that he “bought it privately from Heritage through Todd” Imhof.

Interestingly, Brahin has identified it as the 1926-D Saint from the Charlotte Collection of Saints that was auctioned in New York in March 1991. This same collection and this same auction yielded the finest known 1927-D for which Jay Parrino was the successful bidder. This 1927-D was later in the Philip Morse collection.

brahin_1927-SBrahin’s 1927-S is also from the Kutasi collection. It is certainly of tremendous importance to anyone assembling or considering a PCGS Registry set of Saints. It is one of only two that are PCGS graded MS-66 and one 1927-S Saint is PCGS graded MS-67, the Duckor-Morse coin. Also, there is an East Coast collection that is likely to have a 1927-S that grades in the 65 to 67 range, possibly one that has never been certified.

Dr. Duckor remarks that “I like [the Kutasi-Brahin] 1927-S very much. I already had one in MS-67 grade, the one from the Morse sale, pop one. If I didn’t have that one, I would have bought the Kutasi 1927-S in 2007.”

Duckor also states that the Brahin 1929 is “very high end” for its MS-65 grade. The PCGS reports that twenty two 1929 Saints have been graded MS-64, which might amount to more than a dozen different coins, though maybe only ten or so. Five are reported to have been PCGS graded above MS-65. Bidders who do not wish to spend the amount required to buy a PCGS graded MS-65 Saint may find this one to be satisfying.

brahin_1929Brahin discovered that his 1929 Saint was previously in the Dallas Bank-Browning collection, which was auctioned in New York in October 2001. Brahin found it “on the Legend website in 2006 or 2007.” Jay remembers that Laura Sperber was startled by his call and she retorted that “the coin has only been up” on the Legend site “for fifteen minutes.” Jay was quick to secure the Saints that he desired for his collection, or at least to identify ones that he might be enthusiastic about.

Doug Winter, who has authored many articles and books on gold coins, asserts that “Jay Brahin’s 1931-D is a really wonderful example of a really rare issue.” Indeed, in this writer’s view, there may be fewer than one hundred different 1931-D Saints known to the coin collecting community, in all grades, certainly not more than one hundred and twenty-five.

Just eight 1931-D Saints have CAC stickers, two of which are graded MS-65 and two graded MS-66. As for where the Brahin 1931-D fits into the condition rankings, it is hard to tell. Duckor exclaims that Brahin’s 1931-D “is a full strike, original coin that has never been dipped or doctored.”

brahin_1931-DDuckor concludes that “it is in the upper three coins of the PCGS 65 graded 1931-D Saints.” Four are PCGS graded MS-66. Duckor is thus asserting that Brahin’s 1931-D is among the top seven PCGS graded coins. Therefore, even if as many as three others are better, it could still be in the top ten overall.

Should someone who already has a certified MS-65 grade 1931-D consider purchasing Brahin’s 1931-D Saint? Brahin thinks so. Jay declares that “I am a believer in upgrading. I [Jay] don’t think that anyone should consider a coin in their collection to be static, if a better one comes along.”

Indeed, a central tenet in Brahin’s collecting philosophy is that of “lateral upgrading. It is usually worth a small premium to get a better coin within a grade. I [Jay] did not feel that I had to get the next grade up. Or, if the same date in a higher grade might not be available, then I wanted the best example for each coin in each grade that I could have. A lateral upgrade is almost always worth it. There will always be interest in coins that are strong for the grade. Collectors should not have coins that are questionable for their certified grades. I am always turned off by coins that are low end for their [respective] grades. Each time I look at a low end coin, I get irritated by the reasons why it is low end. If I owned a low end coin, I would get increasingly irritated every time I looked at it.”

Please see this writer’s article on the ‘Widening Gap‘ for a definition of ‘low end,’ with which Brahin “definitely agrees.”! In that article, I discuss the differences between ‘high end’ and ‘low end’ coins and the reasons for price discrepancies. Importantly, there is no need for a collector to become a grading expert in order to buy appealing coins that are ‘high end.’ Reading and asking questions of experts are central to the process of each collector’s education. Plus, learning about, viewing, and collecting coins should be a great deal of fun.

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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