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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: Eliasberg 1795 Eagle, Gem Oak Tree Shilling and 1806 quarter of the rarest variety!

News and Analysis:  scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #16

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

Yes, there are more rarities, available in Boston this month, which should be discussed. In my columns over the last two to three months, I have covered many important rarities that sold or appeared in Boston, especially coins in the Heritage, B&M and Stack’s auctions. In my column just two weeks ago, I discussed rarities that were ‘on the floor’ at the ANA Convention in Boston, which was held from Aug. 10th to 15th. Even so, three additional coins are each extremely important in their own different and very distinctive ways.

Perhaps few collectors would be enthusiastic about all three of these, though I find all three to be intriguing. These are an Eliasberg 1795 Eagle ($10 gold coin), the gem quality Earle-Boyd-Manley Oak Tree Shilling (of colonial Massachusetts), and an 1806 quarter in Very Good condition that sold for $18,666! An expected retail price for a VG grade 1806 quarter would be in a range from $600 to $900.

I. Eliasberg 1795 $10 Gold Coin

To the best of my recollection at this moment, this Eliasberg 1795 Eagle is the second best 1795 Eagle that I have ever seen, and it has more eye appeal than the first best. Gold coins were first struck at the U.S. Mint in 1795. As the 1796 and 1797 dates, of the Bust – Small Eagle type, are much rarer, the 1795 Eagle is one of the most popular of all U.S. gold coin issues. Plus, the Eagle ($10 gold coin) was the largest denomination of all U.S. coins until 1850, and zero business strike Eagles were struck between 1804 and 1838. (Please see my columns of Aug. 18 and July 28th for comments on a Proof 1804 Eagle.) As 1795 Eagles were the first U.S. $10 coins and are of a scarce design type, collectors tend to be extremely enthusiastic about them.

Louis Eliasberg, Sr. formed the all-time greatest collection of U.S. coins. After his death, one of his sons consigned his U.S. gold coins to Bowers & Ruddy, which auctioned them in New York in Oct. 1982. This coin, which is thought to be the finest of Eliasberg’s 1795 Eagles, was later graded by the NGC as “MS-65.” At the ANA Convention in Boston, it was in Kevin Lipton’s display case. Kevin’s asking price is “$1 million”!

It was Kris Oyster who drew my attention to this 1795 Eagle. “It is just a magnificent coin, a lustrous gem,” Oyster says. “It is the best 1795 Eagle that I have ever seen. It has bold detail, frosty devices, and fantastic appeal. I [Oyster] was struck by it.” Oyster is the managing director of numismatics for DGSE, which operates stores in Texas and elsewhere. In 2007, DGSE acquired Superior Galleries, a name that is well known to coin collectors.

I (this writer) also like this 1795 Eagle, which has a terrific overall look. It is very brilliant, with strong cartwheel luster. Its soft grass green tint is particularly appealing. There are a significant number of contact marks and hairlines, most of which are not noticeable without a magnifying glass. My hunch is that it is the fourth or fifth finest known.

Originally, I had planned to compile a condition ranking for 1795 Eagles. This project, however, will have to be postponed. I wish to be contacted by those who have examined 1795 Eagles that grade MS-64 or higher. The two that the PCGS and the three that the NGC has graded MS-65 probably amount to just two to four different coins.

My guess is that the Garrett coin, the coin in the leading collection of pre-1840 gold, and the coin that is PCGS graded MS-66 are all the same 1795 Eagle. John Albanese reports that “Dave Akers submitted a beautiful 1795 Eagle” to the NGC “in the late 1980s.” I (this writer) suggest that it is the coin that the PCGS later graded MS-66. “It is just amazing,” Albanese exclaims. “We [at the NGC] were talking about for months afterwards.”

Saul Teichman attended the auctions of the Eliasberg and Garrett collections. He states that the “Garrett 1795 eagle was an awesome coin” that is (or was) similar in quality to a few superb pre-1840 Half Eagles in the Eliasberg collection, which Teichman found to be spectacular. “The Eliasberg 1795 Eagles did not strike me as being in that class. They were nice pieces but not like the Garrett coin,” Teichman relates.

More recently, the CAC approved a 1795 Eagle that is PCGS graded MS-65. Albanese states that this CAC approved coin “is the second finest 1795 Eagle that I [John] have ever seen.”

I (this writer) particularly like the 1795 Eagle that was in the “Gold Rush” collection, an extended type set, which Heritage auctioned in Fort Lauderdale Jan. 2005. The “Gold Rush” 1795 Eagle was PCGS graded MS-64 at the time, though there is a chance that the PCGS or the NGC has since graded it as MS-65. It sold for $460,000 in 2005, which was high at the time. Prices for early gold coins dramatically increased from Jan. 2005 to some point in 2008.

II. Massachusetts Oak Tree Shilling

Though I am not a connoisseur of colonial coins, there is one that recently grabbed me. It is an Oak Tree Shilling that Heritage auctioned on Platinum Night for $161,000. It is PCGS graded MS-66 and has a CAC sticker of approval. The absence of contact marks is noteworthy and the toning on this coin is stunning.

In 1652, colonists in Massachusetts began minting coins. Shillings and smaller denominations were produced. Twelve pence equaled one shilling.

For reasons relating to British politics, Oak Tree Shillings bear the date “1652,” though Oak Tree Shillings were minted in the 1660s. Earlier Willow Tree and NE Shillings are much rarer. Later, Pine Tree Shillings were minted and these are much more common than Oak Tree Shillings.

As type coins, Oak Tree Shillings are not rare. In August, Stack’s sold an Oak Tree Shilling that is PCGS graded Very Good-10 for $1783.65 and, in 2009, another with the same numerical grade by the same service, for $1782.50. In Sept. 2009, B&M sold one that is PCGS graded Very Fine-20 for a reported price of $3220. In March 2010, Stack’s auctioned an Oak Tree Shilling that is PCGS graded AU-55 for $12,650. Oak Tree Shillings in AU grades tend to sell for between $10,000 and $16,500. (Relatively rare varieties are worth more, sometimes much more, than the varieties that are typically seen.)

This same Earle-Boyd-Manley Oak Tree Shilling was auctioned by Stack’s in 2005. As many Oak Tree Shillings were earlier in the landmark collection of F. C. C. Boyd and in the collection of the dealer who somehow acquired Boyd’s collection of colonials, it is probably best to identify this coin as having been in the absolutely incredible, though often forgotten, collection of George Earle. The firm of Henry Chapman auctioned Earle’s collection in 1912. It is one of the ten best U.S. coin collections of all time. It contained some splendid colonial and other pre-Federal issues as well.

Some specialists in colonial coins are uncomfortable with the colorful toning on this Earle Oak Tree Shilling. Massachusetts silver coins tend to have a dirty gray appearance and/or brown-tan tones. Shades of russet are sometimes present. I would have to admit that, when I viewed pictures of it, I was concerned. Upon closely examining the coin, however, I came to believe that the toning is truly natural. At the ANA Convention, I asked two grading experts, who do not wish for their names to be mentioned. They both seemed very confident that this toning is natural.

Later, I asked John Albanese about this Earle-Manley Oak Tree Shilling. John is the founder of the NGC and, about twenty years later, the founder of the CAC. Albanese relates, “I was not suspicious at all. I think the toning is definitely [natural]. The color could be fifty or sixty years old. It is unusually beautiful for a colonial coin.” Albanese wonders if it could have been dipped in the middle of the 20th century and then placed in a coin album. I (this writer) find this notion to be very plausible.

This Earle-Manley Oak Tree realized $161,000. Albanese was surprised that “it did not bring more.” This same coin sold for $126,500 in the Oct. 2005 Stack’s auction.

Albanese states, “for certain, it is a high end six.” He adds that it is a coin that he will “remember forever.” I (this writer) will remember it as well. The colors are well balanced and exceptionally pleasant. I have viewed many Oak Tree Shillings and numerous other Massachusetts silver coins in the past. This is one of very few that had a strong impact on me.

III. Startling 1806 Quarter with Cud

Draped Bust Heraldic Eagle Quarters were minted from 1804 to 1807. The 1804 is the rarest date of the type; 1806 quarters are not rare. As I said above, an 1806 in Very Good grade would tend to be worth from $600 to $900, depending upon the characteristics of the individual coin. So, when I learned that Rich Uhrich had sold one for $18,666 at the ANA Convention in Boston, I was intrigued.

In Feb. 2008, B&M sold an 1806 that is PCGS graded AU-50 for $5405. In June 2010, Stack’s auctioned an 1806 quarter for $11,500 that is NGC graded MS-62.

Of course, many people collect bust quarters by die variety. Die varieties are not easy to explain. A die is usually, somewhat cylindrical in shape. For bust quarters, design elements were punched directly into the face of each die. An obverse (front) die and a reverse (tail) die are used in a mechanical press to impart designs on prepared, blank, round pieces of metal (planchets), which are then transformed into coins.

In the early years of the U.S. Mint, differences among dies were sometimes markedly noticeable. During the first half of the 19th century, as more advanced minting technologies were employed, differences among dies tended to become more subtle (for coins of the same type and date).

For each series of early U.S. coins, there are devoted groups of specialists who focus upon each die pairing and other minting issues. So, a collector Draped Bust quarters ‘by die variety’ is not content with one or two 1806 Draped Bust quarters. Typically, such a collector desires, at a minimum, one representative of each die pairing of 1806 Draped Bust Quarters.

The rarest die variety of all Draped Bust quarters is dated 1806 and it is known as Browning #8. In the 1920s, a collector named Browning wrote a book on quarters and identified die varieties.

Rich Uhrich explains, “the pick-up point for the 1806 B-8 quarter is that the ‘C’ of ’25 C[ents]’ appears to have the remnants of the base of an ‘A’ on the left side of the ‘C’. I [Rich] call this the kickstand.”

According to Rory Rea, there are “currently twenty known 1806 B-8 quarters, [and] possibly one more rumored.” Rea has “photographs of every example, including all three [featuring] Cuds.” In relation to coins, Rea is a collector, photographer and writer. He is the co-author of a forthcoming book on bust quarters.

Jim McGuigan is a veteran dealer who specializes in pre-1840 U.S. coins of all metals. McGuigan finds that die variety collectors tend to choose a favorite series. Jim points out that, “after a variety collector acquires one of each die variety, and then upgrades some to coins that he likes more, he [seeks] to find ways to keep his collecting [quest] interesting.” Collectors who have finished sets of die varieties, or made such sets as complete as “they are going to get,” will often “collect interesting die states or mint errors of the series that they like,” McGuigan explains.

So, a collector of Draped Bust quarters by die variety may not be satisfied with just one 1806 B-8 quarter. He may also desire one with a Cud. As dies wear down from repeated usage, dies often fracture. On occasion, a piece of a die, near an edge, will break off and yet the die will continue to be used to strike at least a few more coins. During subsequent strikings, metal from the hot planchet (prepared blank) will rise and fill the void left by the small part of the die that ‘broke off.’ Therefore, a Cud is a lump or patch of metal in a small area of a coin that came about because a small piece of the face of a die, near the edge, ‘broke off.’ Cuds are usually quite noticeable.

According to Uhrich and Rea, three of the twenty 1806 B-8 quarters have Cuds. Rea supplied photos of all three. According to Uhrich, “the last” 1806 B-8 with Cud to publicly trade “was sold” by a Massachusetts dealer in “the same way [Rich] sold this one, a sealed bid auction.” That one, which Uhrich grades “VG+,” reportedly realized a price above $15,000 in 2006 or 2007.

“The Cud does add value to an 1806 B-8,” Rich declares, “the increment is about $2,000 to $4,000 for a VG, probably $3,000 to $5,000 for a Fine.” So, Uhrich is suggesting that the coin he just sold in Boston would have been worth $14,666 to $16,666 or so if, hypothetically, it did not have a Cud. “The consignor just had this one bust quarter. If you’re going to have only one,” Uhrich says, “this was the one to have.” I (this writer) would rather have the Norweb 1796 quarter that just sold in the Heritage ANA auction. (Please see my column of Aug. 18.)

“The buyer has quite a few other bust quarters by variety and die state,” Uhrich reports. Was $18,666 a good deal? The PCGS price guide lists an 1806 in EF-40 grade at $3500 and one in MS-63 grade is valued at $19,000. I would rather have five EF-40 grade 1806s, of the least scarce varieties, or one MS-63 grade 1806, than an 1806 B-8 with a Cud. Then again, I just never had a passion for collecting die varieties. Certainly, I respect the knowledge and enthusiasm of die variety collectors. Furthermore, many such collectors have done a great deal of research that is very beneficial to the coin collecting community. Their tracking of pedigrees, for example, is extremely helpful for several reasons. Die variety collectors tend to be very dedicated.

©2010 Greg Reynolds

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