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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: Great Coins at the ANA Convention in Boston

News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #14

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

When people talk about an ANA Convention, they tend to emphasize the coins that they bought or sold, rather than about the overall impact of the event. At any first or second tier coin show, collectors with modest budgets can find appealing coins. Collectors can also socialize with other collectors at a wide variety of coin related events. The Winter FUN Convention, the Summer ANA Convention, and very few other first tier events, are special for other reasons. Of course, educational programs and the meetings of specialty clubs are among these reasons. Multiple mammoth auctions, during a six to ten day period, in the same neighborhood, offer material of a tremendous variety and of startling depth in particular areas. While I will put forth some remarks regarding bourse and auction activity, I focus here, however, on the great coins that were present at this year’s ANA Convention and in the accompanying auctions in Boston.

Yes, readers of this column are aware that, for weeks, I have been writing about rarities that were offered in Boston at the B&M, Stack’s and Heritage auctions. In last week’s column, I covered some of the prices realized for famous rarities in the B&M auction. As I will discuss below, the Boyd-Cardinal 1794 dollar traded again.

In my column of July 28, I wrote about the Simpson Proof 1804 Eagle, a Kellogg $50 gold coin, the two Half Unions in the B&M sale, and an 1854-S Quarter Eagle in the Heritage auction. In my column of July 21, I covered the Platinum Night offerings of the collections of Dr. Claude Davis and Dr. Brandon Smith. In earlier columns, I analyzed the offerings in these Boston auctions of one-year type coins and Great Rarities. Before I provide further coinage of coins in auctions, I wish to emphasize that there was an impressive assortment of important rarities on the floor of the ANA Convention, many of which could have been easily viewed by all those who attended.

I. Rarities in Boston for Everyone to See

There is a need for collectors to understand and appreciate coins that they cannot afford. To comprehend the coins that a collector owns, he (or she) has to have some understanding, often subconsciously, of the values and traditions of coin collecting in the United States. Furthermore, to fully enjoy coin collecting, there is a need to learn about Great Rarities, famous coins in general, supergrade representatives of non-rare issues, and/or beautiful classic coins. These are central to the culture of coin collecting. Would it make sense for an art enthusiast to only view paintings that he (or she) can afford to buy?

Many (though not all) dealers in sophisticated material are delighted to show rarities to collectors who cannot afford to buy them. I realize that there are non-affluent collectors who feel too embarrassed to ask dealers to show expensive coins.

There were many great coins for all to see at this ANA Convention in Boston. The Smithsonian Institution had the incomparable 1849 Double Eagle and other rarities on display. Further, a collector allowed for the public display of the finest of two known 1861 Philadelphia Mint Double Eagles with the distinctive reverse (back) that was designed by Anthony Paquet. Additionally, the NGC had the Simpson collection Proof 1804 Eagle ($10 gold coin) on display, along with an 1804 Eagle ‘pattern’ that was struck in silver! (Please see my column of July 28.)

At the PCGS tables, there was a simply astounding display of the Peter Miller collection of Proof Half Cents and Proof Large Cents. I spent some time viewing Miller’s early Proof Large Cents. Though I am very tempted to write about them here, the characteristics of these are just too complicated to discuss in a weekly column. Someday, I will write a series on Proof Large Cents. All collectors, however, may see images of Miller’s copper coins in the PCGS registry, which is available online. Before actually purchasing such coins, however, I would strongly recommend consulting an expert in 19th century Proof coins, rather than an expert in die varieties of half cents and large cents, though I would not rule out the possibility that someone could be an expert in both areas.

The ‘Ship of Gold’ exhibit contained numerous historical items relating to the shipwreck of the S.S. Central America. The largest known gold bar from the era of the California gold rush was featured. Years ago, Adam Crum sold it for a reported price of “$8,000,000.” Other than the private sale of the ‘King of Siam’ Proof set in 2005, a numismatic item has not sold for more than $8,000,000.

To anyone who expressed an interest, the staff at Legacy Rare Coins was delighted to show Prooflike 1857-S Double Eagles ($20 gold coins) that were recovered from the wreck of the S.S. Central America. For more information about the shipwreck and these coins, please see my recent article on Prooflike 1857-S Double Eagles. I admit that I was very curious about these Prooflike San Francisco Mint Double Eagles, which I had never thoroughly examined before, and that Legacy Rare Coins supported my research in this area.

For years, I have been researching 19th Century Proofs, Prooflike coins, and Specimen Strikings, especially including unusual cases. In regard to pre-1917 glossy Proofs, please see some of my previous articles: Proof 1876-CC Dime, Turtle Rock Dimes, Proof 1907-D Double Eagle, Early 20th Century Gold, etc.)

At the ANA Convention, someone who wishes to remain anonymous allowed me to closely examine an 1849 Gold Dollar that is NGC certified as Proof-62. It is the only Type One Gold Dollar, which I have ever seen, that I believe is definitely a Proof. I have not seen the other 1849 that is designated by the NGC to be a Proof. I have seen an 1850 Gold Dollar that some experts believe to be a Proof, though I find its Proof status to be very questionable.

There were quite a few pre-1860 Proofs at the ANA Convention. The firm of David Albanese, who is not related to John Albanese, openly displayed a Proof 1838 Eagle ($10 gold coin) that was formerly in the epic collection of John Pittman. It was set-up in such a way so that someone who just peered into the display case could easily see much of the detail on the obverse (front of the coin). It is an exceptional coin, in terms of rarity, aesthetics and importance in the culture of coin collecting. I wish to thank Bonnie Sabel and David Albanese for enabling me to spend a few minutes examining it.

II. Boyd 1794 Dollar Trades Again

Yes, I have already written a great deal about the Boyd-Cardinal 1794 silver dollar, much recently. (Please see last week’s column and my column of June 23rd.) B&M auctioned it for $1,207,500 on Aug. 7.

Last week, I was not aware that Kevin Lipton was the successful bidder and Laura Sperber was the underbidder at the B&M Boston auction. Lipton was one of a trio that bought the coin, none of whom were present at the auction. Lipton bid by telephone. Shortly afterwards, Sperber contacted the trio and expressed an interest in acquiring the coin, on behalf of a famous collector who refers to himself as ‘TradeDollarNut.’ In addition to being a customer of Sperber’s, he has a financial interest in Legend Numismatics. TradeDollarNut is assembling a type set.

The 1794 is no longer in an NGC holder. During the ANA Convention, it became PCGS graded MS-63+. “The grade does not matter that much on this coin,” concludes Matt Kleinsteuber. “It could grade 3+ or 4. It is a 1794 dollar with a world famous pedigree. It is undeniably uncirculated and beautiful.” Matt is the chief grader and a trader for NFCcoins, and he has been an instructor at several ANA Grading Seminars.

This week, the Boyd-Cardinal 1794 received a sticker of approval from the CAC. I discussed this coin with John Albanese, the founder and CEO of the CAC. In 1987, John was the sole founder of the NGC. Albanese was impressed by this coin’s “frost” and he emphasizes that it has “great luster.” When I told him that I thought that the obverse central device, Miss Liberty, is very sharp, John strongly agreed and declared that “it is very well struck.”

Without any prompting, Albanese remarked, “I [John] wish it had not been dipped.” After I told him that my research suggests that it was dipped in the late 1990s, probably by a dealer in Florida, he was unsurprised and said that it “looked’ somewhat recently dipped. As of the early 1990s, this coin was PCGS graded MS-63 and had steel-gray medium toning. It was then widely believed that it was superior to the Norweb 1794 dollar. Whoever dipped it moved this coin from number four to number five in the condition rankings of 1794 silver dollars. Even so, I very much like the coin.

For a leading coin newspaper, I covered the auction of the Cardinal Collection of silver dollars by ANR in 2005. When Laura Sperber showed this coin to me at the ANA Convention, I told her that it has naturally retoned to some extent since 2005. She did not strongly agree. My impression is that it looks a little better now than it did in 2005.

Through Legend, TradeDollarNut acquired both this 1794 silver dollar and the famous Norweb 1797 half dollar. “Both coins were sold for around $1.3 million” each, Sperber reveals.

As I would like to soon revise my analysis and condition rankings of Draped Bust, Small Eagle Half Dollars, I will postpone a discussion of the Norweb 1797 half. It was PCGS graded MS-65+ during the ANA Convention, and has also received a CAC sticker of approval. Note that the CAC does not approve (or reject) plus grades; the CAC renders a decision as to whether the grade of each coin submitted is in the middle to high end of the range of the whole unit grade that has already been assigned by the PCGS or the NGC.

III. 1817/4 Half Dollar

The 1817/4 half is a Great Rarity. I mention the rarity and importance of this issue in my column of June 30th. Other than the finest known Eliasberg 1817/4, these tend to have marked imperfections. Indeed, the two others that were recently offered at auction are severely problematic.

The Eliasberg 1817/4 was last auctioned in July 2009, in Los Angeles, when it realized $356,500 in a Stack’s sale. This amount is an auction record for a business strike Capped Bust Half Dollar. The Eliasberg 1817/4 is PCGS graded AU-50. Though I grade it as EF-45, the AU-50 grade is fair, in my view.

I very much looked forward to examining the PCGS graded VF-20 1817/4 that sold during Heritage’s Platinum Night event. I must admit to being a little disappointed. While the toning is attractive, and the coin does not have any severe scratches or digs, a past cleaning of the coin is bothersome and problematic. Much of the wear on Miss Liberty’s hair is actually due to a cleaning rather than from circulation.

As there are thousands of people who collect Capped Bust halves ‘by date,’ any 1817/4 is highly demanded and it is plausible that a better one will not be available for a while. As bidding climbed above the $135,000 level, a duel between a specialist in Capped Bust half die varieties and Joe O’Connor began. O’Connor is a specialist in superb gem coins. I was a little surprised to see him bidding on this coin. Joe, though, was the successful bidder.

Later, O’Connor informed me that he was acting on behalf of a collector who has been building “date and major variety set” of Capped Bust halves “for a long time.” In my (this writer’s) view, the price realized of $184,000 is fair. This amount is neither low nor high, and is in the $165,000 to $200,000 range that I expected. An inferior 1817/4 half was auctioned by Heritage for more than $250,000 in Jan. 2006, though that same 1817/4 half did not realize even $110,000 in April 2009, about when coin markets bottomed out. I wonder how much time will pass before another 1817/4 half is offered at auction.

I am grateful to Joe for permitting me to closely view, and take notes about, some of the amazing treasures that he had at his ANA table. When O’Connor has a table at major conventions, connoisseurs of U.S. silver coinage should take notice.

IV. Specially Struck 1853-O $10 Gold Coin

I wrote, at length, about the NGC certified Specimen-61 1853-O Eagle in my column of Aug. 4th, two weeks ago. It would not make sense to repeat that discussion here. It suffices to say that I find this coin to be fascinating. I was a bit startled, however, by the price realized. It was auctioned by Stack’s, in Boston, on Aug. 8, for $316,250.

While this 1853-O Eagle is clearly a special striking, it is not a Proof and it is not of high quality. This is a very strong price. I would have guessed that it would realize somewhere between $135,000 and $195,000. Nonetheless, it is a very important coin. Special strikings of Branch Mint U.S. gold coins are of the utmost rarity. Plus, I have never seen another gold coin quite like it.

V. Norweb 1796 Quarter

Ever since I was a kid, I have had a strong affinity for 1796 quarters. This is the first issue of quarter dollars and it is a one-year type. Quarters were not minted again until 1800. As two reales coins of the Spanish Empire circulated widely in the United States during the early years of the nation, there was then little need for the U.S. Mint to produce quarters. Furthermore, I find that the Draped Bust design is exceptionally appealing on quarters. Besides, the whole issue is rare or nearly so. As the Norweb I auction in 1987 and the Norweb II event in early 1988 were before my time, for years, I have hoped to see this quarter. I was not disappointed.

The Norweb 1796 quarter is virtually flawless and has neat natural toning. The strike on the obverse (front) is tremendous. The planchet (prepared blank that was transformed into this coin) was nearly perfect. Plus, the blend of orange-russet and blue toning on the reverse (back) is very appealing.

I remember only two other 1796 quarters that I would regard as being of higher quality, the Knoxville and ‘LA Type Set’ coins. This coin is certainly worth the price realized of $322,000. I believe that this result is an auction record for a 1796 quarter, though the Knoxville 1796 has sold for more in private sales. In July 2004, ANR auctioned the Oliver Jung 1796 quarter for $230,000. I saw it. It is also PCGS graded MS-65 and it was formerly in the epic collections of Reed Hawn and James A. Stack, Sr. (See Part 2 of my series on Dr. Duckor’s halves for some discussion of the importance of the James A. Stack, Sr. collection.) While the Jung-Hawn-Stack coin is more brilliant via a dipping, I strongly believe that the Norweb 1796 is of much higher quality. In my view, it is one of the most important coins that sold in Boston this month.

VI. Eliasberg 1851 Octagonal $50 gold coin

Other than the astounding prices for some of Dr. Duckor’s halves and the mind boggling six figure result for a 1944 half dollar, the most surprisingly high price during Platinum Night was $546,250 for an 1851 Humbert Octagonal, California gold rush era $50 gold coin, which was previously in the Eliasberg collection.

While this coin has attention-grabbing color, and is perhaps worthy of the PCGS assigned grade of MS-63, this price is unreasonably high. In Sept. 2008, an NGC graded MS-65 Octagonal fifty realized $460,000 in a B&M auction. Through an agent, Adam Crum was then the successful bidder.

In that I am not absolutely thrilled about this coin, I may be expressing a minority viewpoint. Others seem enthralled.

Laura Sperber was the successful bidder. “My customer has several slugs and loves them,” Sperber informs. Octagonal $50 gold coins of the 1850s are often referred to as ‘slugs.’

The PCGS price guide values this coin at $300,000. I expected an auction result between $300,000 and $375,000.

The consignor of the $546,250 slug is a client of Monaco Rare Coins. This auction record may last for a while.

Another Aug. 11th Platinum Night record that will have longevity is $109,250 for a 1944 half dollar. It is PCGS graded MS-68. suggests that the retail price for a 1944 half in MS-68 grade is around $8000! In March, Heritage auctioned an NGC graded MS-68 for $6900. Probably more than ten thousand different 1944 halves have been certified by the PCGS and/or the NGC. Certainly, more than thirty thousand 1944 halves exist.

Matt Kleinsteuber was not as startled by this six figure price as I was. I admit, though, that I did not view this 1944 half. In addition, Matt states that it is “all there” as an “eight” though not close to a MS-69 grade. It has “light rainbow toning and [is] gorgeous,” Kleinsteuber exclaims.

VII. Closing Remarks

On the whole, my impression is that the ANA Convention was very successful. While I expected more collectors to be in attendance, there were a large number. For physically rare coins, condition rarities, unusually interesting coins, and other items that attract sophisticated collectors, a first tier convention is the best venue, and ‘ANA Week’ was characterized by many such coins. Of course, more routine items were auctioned and traded as well. These, however, are available at small and medium size coin shows. It is unrealistic to expect intense trading in ‘not so rare coins’ at a Summer ANA Convention. So, when Matt Kleinsteuber, Greg Hannigan, Doug Winter, John Albanese, and others, indicated that exceptional items were trading in Boston, while not-rare coins and ‘low end’ coins were moving slowly, I was not surprised.

Matt Kleinsteuber found that business at the ANA Convention was “incredible. [NFC] had strong dealer-to-dealer sales. We sold around $1.5 million on the bourse floor. Sales to collectors ware not as strong as [Matt] had hoped, given the city that we were in, but we sold a lot of coins to collectors.”

Matt adds that “purchasing was very strong by the major players.” Further, low end coins “are very out of vogue, very cheap,” Kleinsteuber exclaims. Moreover, “pop top coins went crazy in the auctions, probably [realizing] more than twenty percent [above the levels that Matt] expected.” These are coins that are the highest certified, or among the highest certified, for their respective types and dates (or even for whole design types). Collectors were bidding at the auctions, Kleinsteuber observes, “and the coins were being placed. Collectors have nothing to worry about when the quality is all there.”

Kleinsteuber’s message, in this context, is exemplified by the Joshua collection of Mercury dimes, which is the ‘all-time finest’ set of business strike Full Bands Mercury Dimes in the PCGS registry. It was auctioned by Heritage at the ANA Convention.

Matt points out that markets for Mercury Dimes, in general, are “weak,” yet “the Joshua collection brought a lot more than [Matt] expected. Super quality coins, high end coins, top-pop coins bring all the money plus. Collectors are fighting over these coins. Low end coins keep bringing the same levels or less in every recent sale,” Kleinsteuber explains.

John Albanese concludes that “special coins did well in the Boston auctions and on the ANA Convention Bourse floor, while most coins are not doing so well in the marketplace in general.” Sophisticated buyers were active in Boston.

My impression is that buyers for ‘top pop’ coins are absentee bidders who are building registry sets. Many such buyers do not learn much about coins. Even so, as long as they understand their respective quests, and enjoy building such sets, I respect their collecting objectives.

I really believe that most of the collectors who actually attend ANA Conventions, or have advanced dealer-agents seek coins for them, are interested in the physical and aesthetic characteristics of coins and are not relying entirely on PCGS or NGC certifications, or even on CAC stickers. While an extremely small number of collectors are advanced grading experts, most sophisticated collectors know enough about grading to ask constructive questions of experts and to understand explanations from experts. Sophisticated collectors, and intermediate level collectors who seek to eventually become sophisticated collectors, were very influential on the ANA Convention bourse floor and at the auctions, either ‘in person’ or through agents.

Albanese, Kleinsteuber, and I are all in agreement that, as the overall economy slid in 2008, many of the buyers of ‘low end’ coins (except generic gold, which is a different topic) faded away. Relatively dedicated collectors remained and continue to spend substantial sums on coins. Markets for special coins are very healthy.

©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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