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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: 1794 Silver Dollar sells for $1,207,500, and More Auction News

News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #13

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

Herein, I comment upon the prices realized for three rarities in the August 2010 B&M auction that I discussed in recent columns. Also, I mention that, in September, the Goldbergs will be offering a 1795 Reeded Edge cent in a PCGS “Genuine” holder, and it is not yet clear whether this is a new discovery a re-appearance of one of the six and a half that I have discussed in three writings over the past year, mostly recently in my column of June 23rd.

Yes, the Heritage Platinum Event is being held tonight and I have already covered, in many recent columns, coins that will be offered. Moreover, I recently wrote a two-part series on Dr. Steven Duckor’s Barber Halves. (Please click to read part 1 and part 2. As usual, clickable links are in blue.) Duckor’s set is the greatest set of business strike Barber Halves that has ever been assembled. It is the main attraction of tonight’s auction, though many other terrific coins are included. The collection of Dr. and Mrs. Claude Davis is particularly noteworthy, and was covered in my column of July 21st. Also, one-year type coins in the Heritage auction that belong to Davis and other consignors are analyzed in my column of July 7th.

I. Boyd-Cardinal 1794 Silver Dollar

It has already been widely reported that the Boyd-Cardinal 1794 sold, on Saturday, Aug. 7, for $1,207,500, at a hotel in Boston. Please click to see my discussion of this coin in my column of June 23rd. Since I wrote about the consignor, the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation, and its curator, Martin Logies, in my June 23rd column, and will do so again, my remarks today will be limited to the price, especially since I have not learned anything about the buyer.

Although the B&M auction went really well, and other coins brought very strong prices, I was not impressed by the result for this 1794 silver dollar. Firstly, in May, the finest known 1794 dollar sold for a reported price of “$7.85 million” and this point was very widely published in a large number of news forums throughout the nation and even in various parts of the world. Secondly, this very same 1794 dollar was auctioned by ANR for $1,150,000 on June 30, 2005. Although rare coin price levels are not near the peaks reached in the first seven or eight months of 2008, current rare coin prices, in most areas, are substantially higher than those that prevailed in the middle of 2005.

Third, in his cataloguing of this coin for Bowers & Merena, Jeff Ambio studiously reveals that the 1794 dollars that are of higher quality than this one are unlikely to be available in the near future. I am not sure that Ambio should have employed the term “impounded” to refer to each of these. The Stellar-Rogers 1794 is probably the second finest known 1794 dollar, and other coins from the Stellar Type Set have been sold recently. Please see my inaugural column. Even so, I agree with Jeff’s point that it is unlikely that the Stellar-Rogers 1794 dollar will be sold soon. Furthermore, Ambio is being fair in asserting that the Jimmy Hayes 1794, which is likely to be the third finest known, will probably not be sold for a very long time. Ambio’s remarks regarding the Oswald-Norweb 1794 were revealing to me. While I guessed that it is the 1794 dollar that is PCGS graded MS-64, I was not certain. I had no idea that the owner of the Oswald-Norweb 1794 almost sold it recently and then decided to keep it in his family for the foreseeable future.

Although it has been years since I saw the Oswald-Norweb 1794, I suggest that there is a good chance that it is of higher quality than the Boyd-Cardinal 1794. A leading collector, who refers to himself as “TradeDollarNut”, has publicly asserted that the Oswald-Norweb 1794 is a full grade-increment above the Boyd-Cardinal 1794. My hunch is that the difference is more on the level of a third or a half a grade. It is true that the Oswald-Norweb piece has mint caused imperfections on the obverse (front) that are quite noticeable and a little bothersome. I remember being very impressed with the originality of the Oswald-Norweb 1794. I hope that it remains as original as it was when I examined it. A high degree of originality is not a priority, however, for many silver dollar collectors, and I am certain that a large number of silver dollar collectors would prefer the Boyd-Cardinal 1794 to the Oswald-Norweb 1794, which might not be available for a long time, anyway. The Boyd-Cardinal 1794 reflects light in livelier manner, as I remember.

The next finest known French Family 1794 dollar has (or had) wonderful toning and some terrific attributes. It also has technical issues. It is not really a choice mint state coin. The Carter-Contursi, Stellar-Rogers, Jimmy Hayes, Oswald-Norweb and Boyd-Cardinal coins are perhaps the only choice or gem mint state 1794 silver dollars.

In the January 2010 FUN auction, someone paid more, $1,265,000, for a gold pattern Bickford Eagle, which is not widely known to most collectors. It is not even one of the more famous patterns. Bickfords, though, will become more famous as consequence of being exhibited at the Boston ANA Convention, which is currently in progress.

The silver dollars of 1794 are among the most famous and highly demanded of all U.S. coins. A 1792 half dime (disme) has been auctioned for $1,322,500 and this is a far less popular issue. Indeed, it is debatable as to whether 1792 half dimes were coins or patterns. Furthermore, I wrote about an 1893-S dollar that sold for more than $1 million in a private transaction. Though there are between 125 and 175 1794 dollars known to exist, there are far larger number of 1893-S dollars. Probably, more than 50,000 people collect silver dollars. The price realized for this coin is a good deal for the buyer.

II. Richmond 1870-S realizes $632,500

I my column of June 30th, I discuss this coin and 1870-S dollars in general. In 2007, I devoted a whole article to 1870-S dollars. The $632,500 result is more than 25% above the price that the exact same 1870-S realized in April 2009, about when coin markets bottomed out. It is true that B&M sold an 1870-S that is inferior to this one, the Farouk coin, in Feb. 2008 for almost $706,000. Even so, coin markets peaked in the first six to eight months of 2008. Prices then fell considerably. Besides, the Feb. 2008 price for the Farouk 1870-S was considered rather high at the time, even in the context of the market conditions that prevailed in Feb. 2008. The Farouk coin had previously been auctioned, not long before Feb. 2008, for $552,000.

I find the $632,500 result to be a moderately strong price in August 2010. This amount is higher than the price that I expected this coin to bring.

As I have said before, I very much like this Richmond-Lee-Thomas 1870-S dollar. I do not find its scratches to be very bothersome. The toning is really nice. It has more detail than most Liberty Seated Dollars that are PCGS graded Extremely Fine-40. It is a pleasing coin.

III. 1854-O Double Eagle Garners $488,750

According to the PCGS, the $488,750 result for this PCGS graded AU-55 1854-O is the third highest auction price of all time for an 1854-O. Another PCGS graded AU-55 1854-O was sold by Heritage for $603,750 in Oct. 2008. Curiously, markets for Type One Double Eagles remained strong as most sectors of coin markets were sliding heavily downward in the Fall of 2008, especially in October.

Moreover, though I have not seen either coin, my sources and my own intuition suggest that the 1854-O that was auctioned in Oct. 2008 is of significantly higher quality than the 1854-O that was just auctioned on Aug. 7, 2010. Grading services are not perfect, and should not have ever been expected to be. For the coin in question, $488,750 is a strong auction price.

Besides, the second highest auction result for an 1854-O is for the same coin, I believe, as the one that realized the highest price. The PCGS graded AU-55 1854-O that B&M auctioned three years ago, for $494,500 is the same coin that Heritage sold in Oct. 2008 for $603,750, though this point is not noted in the Heritage catalogue. So, really only one 1854-O Double Eagle has brought a higher price at auction than the $488,750 realized a few days ago. For these two coins, it might not make sense to draw conclusions from the differences in prices without also investigating the differences in the characteristics these two 1854-O Double Eagles.

It is true that other 1854-O Double Eagles have sold for more than $488,750 in private transactions. I have never seen the 1854-O that was found in the shipwreck of the S.S. Republic, which I believe is NGC graded AU-58. John Albanese, the founder of the NGC and the CEO of the CAC, has spoken in glowing terms about the S.S. Republic 1854-O. Monaco Rare Coins sold it a few years ago. The Harry Bass 1854-O may well be the finest known, and would probably bring far more than $488,750, if offered at auction in 2010.

IV. Mysterious 1795 Reeded Edge Cent

In my sixth weekly column of June 23rd, I reported that the NGC recently authenticated and encapsulated a 1795 Reeded Edge cent that has not been publicly seen, as far as I know, since 1977. I focused then upon the extreme rarity of 1795 Reeded Edge large cents and I analyzed reasons as to why these were produced.

During the summer, I heard rumors of another that is in a PCGS genuine holder, mostly from one expert dealer who refused to provide details and was unwilling to be quoted. Another large cent expert was then traveling in a faraway nation and was thus unavailable to comment when I was very recently researching 1795 Reeded Edge Cents. Most other large cent experts had, just a few weeks ago, never heard of one being in a PCGS Genuine holder. They were curious, as am I, as to whether it is one on the list of 6½ 1795 Reeded Edge (S-79) cents known for sure to exist. Whether it is the re-surfacing of a known one, or a new discovery, its appearance will certainly draw a lot of attention. It will be offered by the Goldbergs in their auction to be conducted in September.

©2010 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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