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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: Proof 1804 Eagle, Kellogg $50 gold coin, Half Unions, and an 1854-S Quarter Eagle

News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, markets, and the collecting community #11

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

After discussing the Proof 1804 Eagle that has repeatedly sold privately for startling sums, I will discuss a few famous rarities that will be offered in Boston. Indeed, I have discussed other coins in these auctions in a few past columns. There are, though, a startling array of rarities in the upcoming auctions, and I have not yet covered the offerings of a “Proof-60” Kellogg $50 gold coin, two gold-plated Half Unions, and the worst known (though still attractive) 1854-S Quarter Eagle.

I. Proof 1804 $10 Gold Coin

As I have been writing extensively about famous rarities for years, I could hardly resist writing about the Proof 1804 Eagle ($10 gold coin) that was just sold by Laura Sperber to Bob Simpson, who is the leading collector of patterns and has landmark collections in other areas as well. Although the sale price has not been disclosed, it may be fair to assume that the price is between $2.5 million and $7.5 million.

There probably exist four Proof 1804 Eagles, and this one is NGC certified ‘Proof-65 Ultra Cameo.’ Further, this coin has been approved by the CAC. John Albanese, the founder of the CAC, and earlier of the NGC, was involved in enabling Simpson to acquire this coin. In 2007, a coin firm in upstate New York arranged for one of their clients to sell this coin to another one of their clients, for a reported price of “$5 million.” Coincidentally, the owner of this firm is also named Albanese, though he is not related to John.

This same upstate New York Albanese coin firm sold this same exact Proof 1804 Eagle earlier, in 2005, for a price that they reported to be “$2,274,000.” A famous collector, who refers to himself as “TradeDollarNut,” has publicly stated that he was offered this same coin, in 2001, for “$587,500.”

The value of many gold rarities has multiplied since 2001; a five to ten times increase in value is not unprecedented. Consider, as examples, the post-2005 values of many gold rarities that were included in the auctions, in 1999 and 2000, of the Harry Bass collection. It is not unusual for a Bass rarity to be worth multiples now of the price it then realized.

It is also true that this same 1804 Eagle was NGC certified ‘Proof-64 Cameo’ in 2001, or earlier, and remained so certified in 2003 and maybe later than 2003. At some point, it was PCGS graded “Proof-64.” Certainly by 2007, the NGC upgraded it to “Proof-65” with an “Ultra Cameo” designation.

How rare are Proof 1804 Eagles? It seems that there exist four, though it has been argued that there are only three. The Bass-Dannreuther book (Whitman, 2006) states “3 known,” but also indicates that the issue is “R-7+,” which means an estimate of four to six in existence. The “3” may have been a typographical error. The tenth edition of the Judd book (Whitman, 2009), which is the leading text on patterns and related pieces, lists this issue as Rarity-“8,” which means two or three or thought to exist. This same section, however, lists an auction result for a Proof 1804 Eagle that is incorrect. Oddly, the Judd book values a gold Proof 1804 Eagle at “$1,500,000.”

If there are just three, it would have impossible, in 2009 or 2010, for someone to purchase one for $1,500,000. The Eliasberg-Bass Proof 1804 Eagle is impounded in the Harry Bass Core Collection, for at least a long time, maybe forever. The ‘King of Siam’ 1804 Eagle remains in the ‘King of Siam’ Set, as far as I know. If the current owner were to dismantle the set, then the current owner would ask millions for the ‘King of Siam’ Proof 1804 Eagle.

As I just became aware of Legend’s sale of a Proof 1804 Eagle on Tuesday morning, I have not had time to research this issue before this column was posted. I am almost certain, however, that the Baldenhofer Proof 1804 Eagle exists and is different from the Eliasberg-Bass coin.

The Farish Baldenhofer collection of U.S. coins was auctioned by Stack’s in Nov. 1955. This is certainly one of the fifty greatest U.S. coin collections of all time. It could be plausibly argued that the Baldenhofer collection is one of the top twenty, ever.

The Baldenhofer Proof 1804 Eagle realized $2500 in 1955, a higher price than the result for his 1884 Trade Dollar, yet not close to the $4000 that Baldenhofer’s 1885 Trade Dollar brought. The cataloguer then remarked that the Baldenhofer Proof 1804 Eagle was earlier in the Colonel E.H.R. Green collection, but he wrongly states that it is the only existing Proof 1804 Eagle.

Jeff Garrett & Ron Guth, in their gold coin encyclopedia, list the Baldenhofer and Col. Green Proof 1804 Eagles as being separate coins. Though Garrett & Guth (2006) state that the Virgil Brand and Col. Green coins are the same, Breen (1988) maintains that the Brand and Col. Green 1804 Eagles are not the same. In contrast, Breen refers to the Baldenhofer and Col. Green coins as being the same and indicates that the Virgil Brand Proof 1804 Eagle was later handled by dealer Charles Green. Col. Green and Charles Green were not related, as far as I know. The 1982 Eliasberg catalogue listing of pedigrees for this issue is nearly identical to that of Breen. Who is primarily responsible for this list of pedigrees?

It is fair to guess that the Col. Green and Virgil Brand Proof 1804 Eagles are likely to be different coins. They each were actively collecting during the same time period, more or less. Evidence suggests that there exist four different Proof 1804 Eagles. One possibility is that one is, and has been for years, in the same collection that houses the Childs 1804 silver dollar.

Why were Proof 1804 Eagles not worth millions of dollars a long time ago? The Eliasberg 1804 silver dollar sold for $1,815,000 in April 1997 and the Childs 1804 dollar realized $4,414,000 in 1999.

It was not until the late 1980s that most collectors considered sets of business strikes and sets of Proofs to be completely different undertakings. Before, Proofs and business strikes were often mixed into the same sets. Indeed, adding a few Proofs to a set of business strikes was not considered to be a breaking of the rules. On the contrary, those who could afford to do so frequently did include Proofs in sets that consisted mostly of business strikes, of all denominations.

So, during the 20th century, a complete set of Eagles did not require a Proof 1804 Eagle. An 1804 business strike was sufficient. In the 20th century, though, most collectors would only have considered a set of silver dollars truly complete if it included an 1804 dollar, a Proof-only issue that was not minted in 1804. Note that I am here NOT referring to sets of Proof silver dollars; I am referring to how collectors then regarded a general set of silver dollars, of the entire denomination from 1794 to 1935. The only Proofs that were needed for completion are Proof-only dates; 1804 and 1895 dollars come to mind. So, during most of the 20th century, Proof 1804 Eagles were not needed for sets, other than the ‘King of Siam’ set, and Proof (or impaired Proof) 1804 silver dollars were needed for sets. Many collectors who could not afford one desired an 1804 dollar for this purpose.

As for whether the old tradition of mixing Proofs and business strikes in the same sets or the relatively new tradition of segregation makes more sense, there will never be a clear answer. While I wholeheartedly acknowledge that Proofs are of a different species than business strikes, there are a significant number of coins that seem to fall somewhere between the two categories, and other coins that will always be controversial as to whether they are Proofs or business strikes. Borderline cases raise important issues. Moreover, putting together sets of Proofs, for many 19th century types, is prohibitively expensive or not feasible. I favor mixing Proofs and business strikes into the same sets. In this regard, however, I admit that my viewpoint is in the minority. I am certain, though, that this change in tradition, or new paradigm of segregating Proofs and business strikes into different sets, is partly responsible for the substantial increase in value of Proof 1804 Eagles.

Perhaps a deeper question relates to whether 1804 silver dollars or Proof 1804 Eagles are really needed for bust or entire sets of these respective denominations. I know that David Queller thought of his silver dollar set as being much more “complete” after he acquired an 1804 dollar. In my view, though, someone who collects bust silver dollars should not need an 1804 silver dollar for a complete set. The 1804 silver dollar is in a different category, not solely because all 1804 dollars were probably struck as Proofs. They were struck in later time periods for different purposes. I am not suggesting here that the purposes were more or less important, just different.

Likewise, a set of Bust Eagles could be completed without a Proof 1804. Again, not because the Proof 1804 is a Proof, but rather because Proof 1804 Eagles were struck in 1834 or 1835 to be parts of Proof Sets that were to be gifts for foreign monarchs. If, hypothetically, Proof 1804 Eagles had been struck and sold to collectors circa 1804, then Proof 1804 Eagles would have had a different status and meaning than they do have.

It is true that the Proof 1804 Eagles have a “Plain” numeral four and the 1804 business strikes feature a “Crosslet” four. This, though, was always true and was always readily apparent. For most of the 20th century, most collectors and dealers determined that a set of Bust Eagles required just business strikes to be complete. This is still true, for a different reason. It was true because an 1804 business strike ‘filled the hole for the date’ and a Proof was thus not needed, though, in theory, could have been included in a set of business strike Eagles. It is now true because most collectors now segregate Proofs and business strikes and would not allow a Proof in a set of business strikes. Similarly, most PCGS Registry Set categories prohibit the mixing of Proofs and business strikes in one set.

Yes, Eliasberg had both a business strike and a Proof. It is very plausible that Virgil Brand and Col. Green also each had both Proof and business strike 1804 Eagles. As far as I know, Joseph Lilly never owned a Proof 1804 Eagle. The Smithsonian Institution does not have one.

How important are Proof 1804 Eagles? These will never be as famous as 1804 silver dollars, yet there are just three or four of them, while there exist fifteen 1804 dollars. Will the trend of valuing Proof 1804 Eagles as being in the same category as 1804 dollars, in terms of importance and value, become a tradition?

Either way, 1804 silver dollars will continue to be revered and worth millions. I agree with John Albanese in that even the worse known 1804 silver dollar is worth one million dollars or more. Most 1804 dollars are worth several million dollars each. In May 2008, Heritage auctioned the Queller 1804, a ‘Class I’ representative which was minted in 1834 or 1835. It realized $3,737,500. In April 2009, Heritage auctioned a ‘Class III’ 1804 silver dollar, which was minted at some point between the late 1850s and the mid-1870s. John Albanese was the successful bidder for $2.3 million. How much would a Proof 1804 Eagle realize, if offered unreserved at auction?

II. Kellogg $50 Gold Coin

In my column of June 30th, I discussed three Great Rarities that will be offered at auction in Boston. I was then unaware of two coins that have been since been catalogued and posted by Heritage, an 1854-S Quarter Eagle and an 1855 Kellogg $50 gold coin. As the Kellogg coin is a private issue, rather than a U.S. coin, it is debatable as to whether it is a Great Rarity in the sense that several U.S. coins are Great Rarities. It is certainly a very famous rarity.

In 2007, I wrote about Kellogg $50 pieces. I analyzed Mark Borckardt’s list of thirteen, made a couple of corrections, and attempted a condition ranking, which Borckardt did not seem to have done. I have personally examined eight of the privately owned eleven or twelve. As for the two in the Smithsonian, Jeff Garrett grades each of them as “Proof-62.”

In August, Heritage is auctioning a Kellogg fifty that is PCGS certified “Proof-60” and does not seem to have a recognized pedigree. Unless it is the coin that Superior (Goldbergs) auctioned in 1987, this is a Kellogg fifty that is not on the list of thirteen that Borckardt compiled in 2007 in order to catalogue the Kellogg fifty that Heritage offered in Jan. 2008.

I am certain that this is not one of the two that Stack’s auctioned in March 2005. I am almost certain that it is not an ‘upgrade’ of the PCGS certified Proof-53 Kellogg fifty that sold in Superior’s (Goldbergs’) session of Auction ’90. Except the probably never certified Eliasberg coin, all the other privately owned Kellogg $50 gold pieces on Borckardt’s 2007 list have been PCGS or NGC graded 62 or higher. Therefore, it appears that this one is a newly emergent Kellogg fifty or a rediscovery of one that had been forgotten about or had been erroneously incorporated into the pedigree chains of one of the others. Either way, it is exciting. I believe that the Kellogg fifties are the only classic, Proof $50 gold coins that are available to collectors.

III. Pattern $50 Pieces

Patterns struck in copper of $50 gold piece are available to collectors; all are dated 1877. Fifty dollar denomination patterns of 1877 are termed ‘Half Unions.’ Only two struck in gold survive and both of these are in the Smithsonian. Quite a few copper and gold-plated copper patterns are owned by collectors. There are two in the upcoming B&M Boston auction.

There are two design varieties of 1877 Half Unions. One has a relatively larger head of Miss Liberty. Both of the Half Unions to be offered are gold-plated copper pieces. Furthermore, both are NGC certified with a CAC sticker of approval. The ‘Large Head’ variety is NGC graded 63 and the ‘Small Head’ variety 1877 Half Union is NGC certified “Proof-64+ Cameo.”

As this relatively ‘Small Head’ Half Union has received a plus grade, it must have been submitted to the NGC over the past two months or so. It was formerly in the Simpson collection. Simpson has a higher quality representative of this variety and does not desire a duplicate. As the only patterns of U.S. $50 coins, the Half Unions of 1877 are much more popular than many other patterns of the same era.

IV. 1854-S $2½ Gold Coin

A Great Rarity that is not mentioned in my June 30th column is an 1854-S Quarter Eagle in the Heritage ANA sale. There is no doubt about the fact that this is a Great Rarity.

I have seen several 1854-S Quarter Eagles and I am very much attracted to the issue. I have not yet, though, devoted an article to 1854-S Quarter Eagles. I will do so.

I wish to thank Adam Crum for showing me this very same 1854-S Quarter Eagle on two previous occasions. During those times, it was in an NCS holder, if it is the same coin. Assuming that it is so, the current notations of “scratched” and “cleaned” on the NGC insert are misleading. This coin is not severely scratched and it has more serious problems than having been cleaned, as the term is generally employed in the field of coin collecting. In the images, it almost looks like it is decaying. In actuality, however, it is much more attractive than it appears in pictures. It has a neat look. Of course, an expert would never regard it as a high quality coin. Even so, there are around a dozen 1854-S Quarter Eagles known. This one is pleasing enough and will be dramatically less expensive than the ones that are high in the condition rankings.

This 1854-S Quarter Eagle is especially significant in the history of coin collecting because it was formerly in the Atwater collection. As I pointed out in last week’s column, in relation to a 1797 half dollar, William Cutler Atwater built one of the twenty greatest U.S. coin collections of all time.

The NGC will place the above-mentioned Proof 1804 Eagle on display at the ANA Summer Convention in Boston. The many famous and otherwise interesting coins in the auctions will greatly contribute to a week of exciting coin events in Boston in August.

©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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