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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: The Sept. Goldbergs Coin Auction in Southern California

News and Analysis on scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin community #18

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

For decades, the Long Beach (CA) Coin, Stamp and Collectible Expo has been a major event for coin collectors. The third Long Beach Expo of 2010 will start on Sept. 23 and end on Sep. 25. As usual, Heritage will conduct the official auction. Earlier, in Los Angles County, the firms of Bonhams and of the Goldbergs will also conduct auctions. The Goldbergs will offer a very wide variety of coins on Sept. 19th, 20th and 21st at the Beverly Hills Crowne Plaza.

I. Eliasberg 1893-S $5 Gold Coin

At the ANA Convention in Boston, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to closely examine some of the coins in the upcoming Goldbergs auction. One of my favorites is an 1893-S Half Eagle ($5 gold coin) that was formerly in the Louis Eliasberg collection, which is the greatest collection of U.S. coins that was ever formed.

Many gold coins with an Eliasberg pedigree are of tremendous quality, and this 1893-S is one of them. It is PCGS graded MS-66, and was certified at some point in the mid 1990s. I grade it as 66+. Furthermore, it has a sticker of approval from the CAC, which indicates that experts at the CAC determined that its grade is at least in the middle of the 66 range.

This 1893-S Half Eagle has great luster and an excellent strike. It is wonderfully brilliant. This coin has almost no contact marks or hairlines. The inner fields exhibit some pleasant, natural light green toning.

The 1893-S Half Eagle is somewhat common in grades up to MS-62, in which range it is valued only slightly higher than the most common Liberty Head ‘With Motto’ Half Eagles. In MS-63 and MS-64 grades, an 1893-S Half Eagle commands a substantial premium. In MS-65 and higher grades, it is an extreme condition rarity. At most, one half dozen true gems exist, and probably not even that many. This Eliasberg 1893-S is the only 1893-S that is graded MS-66 by the PCGS or the NGC, and none have been certified as grading higher than MS-66. There is certainly a good chance that it is the finest known.

In MS-66 grade, the PCGS price guide values this 1893-S at $22,500 and very common dates at $7500. A rival price guide at values a MS-66 grade 1893-S, which must be this one, at $20,150. An old green PCGS label, an Eliasberg pedigree, and a CAC sticker all have the potential to bring about a price that is higher than would otherwise be realized. This coin, though, speaks for itself. It is exceptionally attractive and a delight to view.

II. Carter 1797 ‘small eagle’ $10 Gold Coin

In the upcoming Goldbergs auction, the re-appearance of the NGC graded MS-63 1797 ‘Small Eagle’ Eagle is newsworthy. Gold coins were first struck at the U.S. Mint in 1795. The major varieties of the first type of Eagles that are collected as if they were distinct dates are: the 1795 with thirteen leaves on the branch, the 1795 with nine leaves on the branch, the 1796, and the 1797 ‘small eagle’. This first type has a bust of Miss Liberty on the obverse (front) and a relatively small eagle on the reverse (back). The second type of Eagles, which date from 1797 to 1804, have the same general obverse (front) design along with a much different reverse (back) design. The new reverse features a large or heraldic eagle. It is not just the size of the eagle that is different; the style of the eagle and other reverse design devices are also different.

There are fewer than twenty-five known of the 1795 ‘Nine Leaves’ variety. The 1797 ‘small eagle’ issue is extremely rare as well. I believe the estimate in the BD book that there exist fifty-five to sixty-five coins of this issue is incorrect. I theorize that fewer than fifty 1797 ‘small eagle’ Eagles are known.

In May 2007, I wrote about the 1797 ‘small eagle’ Eagle issue and I discussed this exact same coin. (Please click here to see that article.) Through research, I then identified it as the very same 1797 ‘small eagle’ Eagle that was in the famous Amon Carter collection, which Stack’s auctioned in Jan. 1984.

Both Amon Carter, Sr. and his son, also named Amon, were dedicated collectors. The Carter collection contained an excellent array of U.S. gold coins, especially early issues, and one of the all-time best assemblages of U.S. silver dollars and Trade Dollars. The 1794 silver dollar that is PCGS certified Specimen-66 was part of the Amon Carter collection and was sold in the Jan. 1984 auction event.

The Carter 1797 ‘small eagle’ Eagle in the upcoming Goldbergs auction is the highest graded coin of this issue. The NGC has graded three as MS-62 and two of these are definitely different coins, the coin that ANR auctioned in August 2006 and the 1797 ‘small eagle’ Eagle that Heritage auctioned in January 2004. In 1996, Superior auctioned an NGC graded MS-62 1797 ‘small eagle’ Eagle. I have not viewed a copy of that catalogue. I wonder if the 1797 Eagle that Superior auctioned in 1996 and the NGC graded MS-62 coin that Heritage sold in 2004 are the same.

One of two Bass 1797 ‘small eagle’ Eagles has had three different certified grades in each of its three recent auction appearances. In 1999, it was PCGS graded “AU-58,” in 2003, NGC graded MS-61. Before ANR auctioned it in Aug. 2006, the NGC upgraded it to MS-62! The other Bass 1797 ‘small eagle’ Eagle is not certified and remains in the Harry Bass Core Collection. It is believed that it would grade MS-61 or MS-62, if it was submitted to the PCGS or the NGC. I have never seen it.

Though its grade is not in the upper reach of the 63 range, this Carter 1797 ‘small eagle’ makes the MS-63 grade, in my view. The lines on the obverse are adjustment marks that were made at the U.S. Mint before striking. Blanks that were overweight were filed down. It is common for early gold and silver coins, especially those dating before 1807, to have adjustment marks. These do not bother me much. Even if a grader found the adjustment marks to be very bothersome, this coin would still merit a grade of at least a high end MS-62, assuming that it has not changed since I examined it in 2007. Given all the imperfections that pre-1800 coins tend to have, this coin’s relative lack of problems is particularly important.

Many early Eagles appear washed-out, have many noticeable contact marks, and/or are characterized by numerous hairlines. This coin does not have such negative characteristics. Indeed, as I remember, there are just a few minor contact marks and no significant scratches. It has decent color. This 1797 ‘small eagle’ Eagle is an appealing coin.

III. Davy Collection of Half Cent Errors

The Goldbergs auction events will be highlighted by the “Davy” collection of half cent errors and the Dan Holmes collection of large cent errors. Please read my discussion of the Dan Holmes collection of early date large cents, which were auctioned about a year ago, and click here to read my June 9th column that covered some of Holmes’ Middle Date large cents.  As I have written so much about large cents over the last three years, I will focus upon half cent errors here.

A collector in the Midwest, who prefers to remain anonymous, formed the “Davy” collection of half cent errors. My strong impression is that it is the best collection of half cent errors to ever be publicly sold. Plus, I am not aware of a finer collection ever having been sold privately.

Half cents and large cents were minted from 1793 to 1857, though not in every year in between. Large cents (pennies) are similar in size to quarters, and half cents are a little greater in diameter than five cent nickel coins are now. (Five cent nickels were first minted in 1866; Three Cent Nickels were first minted a year earlier.)

The Davy and Holmes collections each contain literally hundreds of errors. There are several kinds of errors. Often, coins were struck off-center. Sometimes, when a coin was struck off-center, it was struck again, or even a third time, to ‘correct’ the initial error. There are numerous coins that were each struck multiple times. In other cases, the edge lettering is blundered. Coins that are too light in weight, or too heavy, are also errors. Coins that were struck on planchets (prepared blanks) that had various kinds of sharply noticeable imperfections, too, fall into the category of errors.

I find brockages to be most significant of early error coins. These are more interesting, in my view, than the coins that are struck off-center, or even struck off-center two or three times. For an explanation of a brockage, please see the appendix below. In some ways, a brockage has two obverses or two reverses. Usually on a brockage, one side is a regular obverse (front) or reverse (back) and the other is an incuse (sunken) backwards image of an obverse or a reverse design.

“Brockages have always been fascinating to most all collectors of early U.S. coins,” remarks Greg Hannigan. “They are a lot rarer than some of the other categories of errors.”

An 1803 half cent error, which will be sold as lot #125, is an obverse brockage and it is struck five per cent off-center. So, this piece is characterized by two major kinds of errors. The cataloguers grade it as Fine-15. “Sharpness VF-20.” they say, “and the eye appeal is excellent, but there are a few dull contact marks on the incuse [sunken devices] brockage side.” It was formerly in the collection of Richard Picker and it is estimated, by the cataloguers, to bring at least $4000, maybe much more. There are many items in the “Davy” collection that have low estimates below $500, though it is plausible that some items will bring multiples of their low estimates.

An obverse brockage of an 1804 half cent will be sold as lot #145. It is of the famous spiked chin obverse variety. An 1806 half cent reverse brockage, which has no visible date, will be sold as lot #213. I find this piece to be entertaining. Seeing reverse designs on both sides of the same early U.S. Mint item, including one with sunken devices, is curiously cool.

U.S. Mint personnel often thought of brockages of early copper coins as failed strikes and sent them through the system again, as if they were bare planchets (prepared blanks). So, a coin, with a proper obverse and reverse, may be ‘struck over’ a brockage. These are sometimes particularly noteworthy.

A 1795 half cent ‘struck over’ a reverse brockage large cent, lot #31, caught my attention. It is estimated to bring $300 or more. A similar error will be sold as lot #114. It is an 1802/0 half cent that was “struck over a cut-down spoiled large cent with an obverse brockage,” explains the cataloguer. “The obverse of the half cent is struck over the incuse off-center brockage side of the large cent. Incuse [sunken] letters from the undertype cent show along the throat and jaw.” It is said to be one of the most valuable half cent errors in this collection.

Jim McGuigan finds ‘struck over’ brockages to be among the most desirable of all early copper errors. McGuigan is a specialist in pre-1840 U.S. coins of all metals. Jim personally collects half cents and much of his collection is listed in the PCGS registry. He reveals that he “started collecting half cents in 1957.”

McGuigan declares that the “Davy collection is the best ever of half cent errors, both in quality and quantity.” Greg Hannigan “would agree that it is best collection of all time of half cent errors.” Hannigan is a leading dealer in large cents, and handles several other types of early U.S. coins. Hannigan particularly likes “double struck and triple struck errors.” Interestingly, Hannigan finds that “early copper errors did not get any respect until the last twenty years.”

The consignor is not named “Davy.” He has been collecting errors, and many other coins, for decades. McGuigan “is not aware of anyone else ever having more than a hundred half cent errors.” The “Davy” collection contains more than three hundred.

IV. Appendix: What is a Brockage?

Many coin enthusiasts, including myself, find brockages to be among the coolest kinds of errors. For a brockage to come about, first, a coin must be, for one reason or another, not ejected or otherwise removed from a mechanical coining press. Accidentally, it remains on one of the dies. (Please see my column of Sept. 1 for a definition of a die.) Secondly, when the next planchet (prepared blank) is fed into the coining press, it will, during striking, become sandwiched between an already struck coin and one of the two dies. Third, if the design devices on one side of the already struck coin become imparted onto one side of a fed planchet (prepared blank) and the other side of this planchet is struck by a die (as it should be), then a brockage comes into existence.

Yes, this process may sound confusing and it would be even more confusing to explain the variations of brockages. For simplicity, I will explain only the type of brockage that is most often seen, an obverse (Front) brockage that comes about after a struck coin is left in the press on top of the bottom die that is the reverse (tail) die. When the next planchet (prepared blank) is fed into this press, it falls on top of the coin that was not ejected, and then the ‘hammer’ die comes smashing down on top of this planchet (prepared blank), which is thus sandwiched between a coin and an obverse die. So, the obverse die imparts (as it should) an obverse design to the obverse of the planchet. The leftover coin, however, is ‘in between’ the reverse die and the obverse die. So, a reverse design is not imparted. Instead, the obverse of the leftover coin is impressed into the underside (reverse) of the planchet. Therefore, an incuse (sunken) and ‘backwards’ transformation of the obverse design is imparted into the underside (‘reverse’) and the newly created error has a normal obverse and an incuse and backwards version of the obverse design as its ‘reverse’!

Yes, in some cases, the hammer die is the reverse die, but this is beside the point. I am using the most typical scenario of the making of a brockage to illustrate the concept. In other situations, a brockage, which features reverse designs, may come about when a planchet is sandwiched in between the bottom (anvil) die and a struck coin that clings to the hammer die, sometimes by forming a ‘cup’ shape. It not necessary to understand all the variations in order to understand how most brockages are created.

©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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