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New Weekly Column: Coin Rarities & Related Topics

Coin Rarities & Related Topics #1News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community

A New Weekly Column By Greg Reynolds

I. Today’s Theme

I maintain that the demand for rarities, while not readily apparent or provable, is very strong, and that reports of minimal supply in 2010 have been overstated. There have been considerably more transactions of rarities, so far in 2010, than even most dealers realize.

Specimen-63 1856-O Double Eagle CACYes, it is true that there are far fewer rarities in auctions during the first six months of 2010 then there were during the first six months of any other year since 2004 or earlier.

The diminishing supply of rarities consigned to major auctions is at the forefront of the ‘news.’Consider that Heritage’s ‘Central States’ convention Platinum Night, on April 29, 2010, contained only a shadow of the offerings in Heritage’s CSNS Platinum Nights in 2009, when the “Joseph Thomas” collection was featured, and 2008, when David Queller’s complete set of silver dollars was offered, including an 1804 that realized $3,737,500! All coin auction firms have experienced declines in consignments of rarities, not just Heritage.

Widely published reports of a dearth of available rarities are not entirely true, at least not in every respect. There is considerable volume in private trading of rarities, more so during the last three months than during the period from Feb. to mid-May 2009. Discussion and examples follow.

II. Introduction to My New Column

Before discussing private sales of rarities, I wish to welcome readers to this inaugural installment of my new column. While my articles tend to focus on SPECIFIC coins, coin issues, collections or auctions, each weekly ‘Rarities & Related Topics’ column will include discussions of several items that may only be loosely connected. This first column will be longer than most subsequent columns. Much has occurred in coin markets since my reports relating to events in Orlando in January. (Click to see Platinum Night review, 1913 Liberty Nickel, or Proof Denver Mint Double Eagle articles.)

I have already written about the coin that has received the most attention since the FUN Convention, the PCGS graded MS-68+ 1901-S quarter. In this column, I become the only analyst reporting on private transactions of rarities so far this year, including Great Rarities.

In present and future columns, I will refer to both condition rarities and absolute (physical) rarities, among U.S. coins, dating from before 1934.w I will include some coverage of world coins as well. Generally, my focus is on classic U.S. rarities, rather than colonials, Mint Errors, mid 20th century coins, or modern issues, though I will mention coins in these categories from time to time.

When collectors choose to spend money on not so rare coins, markets for rarities are affected by such decisions. Indeed, it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to buy single examples of all U.S. Mint products over the last five years. Many collectors devote large budgets to very recently minted coins.

I realize, of course, that most collectors cannot afford to buy Great Rarities or gem quality, 19th century, moderately rare coins. For those with relatively limited budgets in this regard, I recommend circulated 19th century coins, with natural toning. I believe that circulated Capped Bust Quarters, Draped Bust halves, Liberty Seated coins of almost all types, and Liberty Head Half Eagles, among many others, represent excellent values for collectors, provided that these have honest wear, are reasonably problem-free for their respective grades, and, importantly, exhibit appealing natural toning. Unfortunately, however, it is just not logical or feasible for me to report on the sales of most such circulated coins.

As much as I like Barber Dimes in Very Fine grade, the sale of one is not newsworthy. While Barber Halves in Good condition may frequently amount to wonderful coins for collectors on tight budgets, such Barber half dollars are relatively common and trade each week in transactions all over the United States. Barber Half Dollars in ‘Gem’MS-65 or higher grades, though, are startling condition rarities.

III. Duckor’s Barber Halves to be Auctioned in Jan. 2011

Many of the greatest of condition rarities in the series of Barber Half Dollars will be auctioned by Heritage in Tampa, as part of the January 2011 Platinum Night event, during the annual Winter FUN Convention. Indisputably, Dr. Steven Duckor has assembled the all-time best collection of business strike Barber Halves. He started this set nearly two decades ago, at the suggestion of David Akers. It has been #1 in the PCGS Registry since 2002.

The others on the list of the all-time greatest collections of business strike Barber halves are the Emery-Nichols (1984), Norweb family (1988), Eliasberg (1997), Thaine Price (1998), and Hugon (2005) collections. The years in parentheses indicate when the Barber Half portions of these respective collections were auctioned.

Under the new PCGS SecurePlus service, Dr. Duckor submitted his entire set for consideration of plus grades. After all, he diligently selected many premium quality Barber halves. Duckor was not disappointed. Twenty-seven Barber halves in his set qualified for plus grades and one received a whole point upgrade. Many of Duckor’s Barber Halves are likely to be the finest known of their respective dates; almost all of them are in the top ten.

Last week, Dr. Duckor’s Barber halves were being examined by the CAC. This collection is being sent to Heritage, which will place them on exhibit at major coin conventions in 2010. Later this year, I will write more about this astonishing set. Other rarities have recently generated news by being sold.

IV. Specimen-63 1856-O Double Eagle

In early March, Adam Crum of Monaco Rare Coins, sold the finest known 1856-O Double Eagle ($20 gold coin) for $1.8 million. It is PCGS certified Specimen-63 and has a CAC sticker of approval. Collectors who are generally interested in 1856-O Double Eagles may click to see a previous article, in which I maintain that 1856-O Double Eagles are Great Rarities. That article was written prior to the re-emergence of this coin, which I believe is truly a very special striking and a dazzling coin. At Heritage’s Long Beach (CA) June 2009 auction, it sold for $1,437,500, just as coin markets were beginning to rebound.

Crum’s client is not randomly purchasing Great Rarities. He is a serious collector. Crum’s client is assembling a set of Liberty Head Double Eagles. He already has an 1854-O. He has yet to find an 1870-CC that he likes. Further, he owns some rare Eagles (U.S. $10 gold coins). He was not born in the United States. This collector has learned about American culture and history by way of collecting coins and other historical items. Curiously, he also has an NGC graded MS-65, 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece, which was earlier in the Roswell collection. This is one of the most famous of all Great Rarities in silver.

V. Fresh 1876-CC 20c Piece

A fresh 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece sold in March 2010. The deal was negotiated in Baltimore and then finalized at the ANA Convention in Fort Worth. Anthony Swiatek, a former president of the ANA, represented the seller, and a Carson City coin dealer represented the buyer, who contacted me on his own initiative. (I wish more collectors would do so.) Swiatek reports a six figure price.

This 1876-CC was owned by a Midwestern collector named Wagner. According to Swiatek, Wagner acquired it from Art “Kagin in 1956.” It has been authenticated and encapsulated by the NGC with a ‘details’grade of ‘Extremely Fine.’It is noted on the insert that the obverse is “scratched.” It seems to have additional technical problems, though I admit that I have never seen it.

The buyer has only “been collecting coins for a couple of years.” He views the 1876-CC Twenty Cent issue as a “very exciting coin, and something [incredibly] rare; most collectors have never seen one in person.” I agree. In 2009, I authored a two part series on this 1876-CC issue (Part 1, Part 2).

The buyer of this Twenty Cent piece lives in Carson City, Nevada, which he declares to be “the most wonderful city on the planet. It’s got a lot of history.” Nevada, he says, “is a nice, low tech state” that is especially noted for “individual liberty.” Further, he maintains that the Carson City vicinity is “one of the most beautiful areas” in the West. He also recently acquired a “Very Fine 30 [grade] 1870-CC Double Eagle. (Click here to see my article about this issue, the “Queen of Carson City Gold.”)

VI. Stellar Collection 1901 Morgan and 1924-S Saint

Yes, I know that the 1901 silver dollar issue is not rare in absolute terms. Surprisingly, though, the PCGS has certified only three as MS-65 and none in a higher grade. As there are quite a few people who collect Morgans in MS-65 and higher grades, there is tremendous competition for these three. Besides, 1901 Morgans tend to be weakly struck and dull overall. A sharp, attractive one draws attention.

At the Winter-Spring ANA convention in Fort Worth, Laura Sperber of Legend Numismatics acquired a PCGS graded MS-65 1901 for one of her customers. It “went into a #1 dollar set we are building, not for Simpson, someone else,” Laura explains. This 1901 is “going into the same collection as the Vermuele 93-S.” (Please click to see my article on the sale of the Vermuele 1893-S Morgan for more than a million dollars.) According to Sperber, this 1901 “sold for more than $500,000” and it “came from the Stellar type set.”

A Southern connoisseur fairly refers to his collection as ‘Stellar.’He prefers to remain anonymous. Among other items, he owns the second or third finest 1794 silver dollar, which was, for decades, in the Lelan Rogers collection. Through his agent, Sperber also negotiated for the Stellar 1924-S Double Eagle, which is now in the Simpson collection. It is the only 1924-S Saint that the PCGS has certified as grading MS-67.

The Stellar-Simpson 1924-S was formerly in the Thaine Price collection, which the firm of David Akers auctioned in May 1998. It realized $187,000 at that time. This Southern connoisseur acquired it then, or shortly afterwards.

While Sperber will not reveal the precise price in 2010, my guess is that it was well above $500,000. Fortunately, I have seen this 1924-S Saint. It is more than very attractive, has almost no contact marks, and exudes originality. The coppery areas are pleasing and its green toning is cool. In 2010, gold coins have received the most attention and Double Eagles remain the most popular of U.S. gold coins.

VII. More Highly Certified Double Eagles

Though the 1854-O is not as rare as the 1856-O Double Eagle, it is extremely rare. In 2007, I wrote an article about a specific 1854-O, in which I discussed the overall rarity of this issue.

At the Central States Numismatic Society Convention, which was held in Milwaukee in April, Bob Green, of Park Avenue Numismatics, acquired one of the highest graded 1854-O Double Eagles. It is NGC certified “AU-55.” He bought it “for inventory.”

A too quick reflection upon my past research suggests that this 1854-O $20 gold coin does not appear to be any of the ones that Heritage or B&M auctioned from 2000 to 2007. In addition, it is not the Richmond, Pittman, or Atwater-Eliasberg 1854-O Double Eagles. So far, I have not been able to match it to a coin in a somewhat recent Stack’s or Goldbergs auction.

At this same CSNS convention, Green sold two “six figure” Saint Gaudens Double Eagles to clients, a satin finish 1909 that is NGC certified “Proof-67” and a 1931 that is graded “MS-66” by the same service. Philadelphia Mint 1931 Saints are very rare to extremely rare in absolute terms. The 2006 estimate by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth of “200 to 300 surviving pieces,” is, I contend, much too high. I doubt that even 150 1931 Saints are currently known.

Green provided numerous examples of gold rarities that he has bought and sold in 2010 and he indicates that markets for these are very active. He does not believe reports about rarities not being available. Green has sold many late 19th century and early 20th century Proof gold coins. Similarly, Matt Kleinsteuber also finds that that “Proof gold coins are hot” and he has “easily sold many” this year.

VIII. The Supply of Rarities

Matt Kleinsteuber is the lead grader and trader for NFC coins. He is also a grading instructor at ANA Summer Seminars. Over the last two months, Matt has bought and/or sold a large number of rarities that were priced in “the $10,000 to $100,000” range, substantially more than in the same period “last year.” According to him, these “are easy to sell.”

Some pieces immediately come to Kleinsteuber’s mind, which curiously are all gold. These are an NGC graded VF-25 1870-CC Eagle that he sold for “more than $20,000,” an “1885 [NGC certified] Proof-65 Ultra Cameo $5 gold for about $30,000,” a “$50 slug [1851 California territorial, PCGS graded] Fine-15 [with] CAC [approval] for around $20,000,” and a “1900-S ten, NGC [graded] MS-64 for $13,000.” Matt notes that the 1900-S Eagle is a largely unrecognized condition rarity.

John Albanese finds that dealers, including retail operations, which buy from the CAC, are primarily interested in a list of choice gold coins that “has been becoming shorter over time.” Albanese founded the CAC in 2007 and has controlling interest. He is a co-founder of the PCGS and was the sole founder of the NGC in 1987. The CAC verifies (or rejects) the PCGS or NGC assigned grades of submitted coins that are already certified and encapsulated. The CAC does or will make serious ‘sight unseen’bids for CAC verified coins.

As the last decade progressed, Albanese was devoting more resources to gold coins and relatively less to coins in other metals. “Coin markets became gold oriented. People are demanding choice high end, Eagles and Double Eagles. The rarest coin in a gold type set is a type 2 one dollar gold coin; the values for these have basically fallen by half over the last decade. Buyers bitten by the gold bug want large coins,” John explains.

“There is a craze of Eagles and Double Eagles,” Albanese declares. “Gold [bullion] has tripled in a decade, and some rare smaller gold coins have dropped in value.” The demand is for condition rarities of large gold coins, “common dates in MS-65 and higher, scarce dates maybe in 62 or 63 and higher.” For many 19th century rare dates, like some Carson City Mint Eagles, demand is strong for coins in EF-40 or higher grade,” Albanese reveals.

Most types of relatively, high grade, pre-1840 gold and silver coinage are also on John’s buy list, “as are half cents and large cents of 1793.” Other than gem quality Liberty Seated silver dollars and Trade dollars, there are few post civil war silver coins that are sufficiently demanded for the CAC to actively search to buy quantities of them. Albanese is “surprised” and concerned by “the directions that the coin market has gone” over the past few years. There is “unfulfilled demand” for certain categories of gold coins and most other pre-1934 U.S. coins “are moving slowly” in the marketplace. Albanese suggests that many nickel and silver issues, even real ‘high end’high quality representatives, “have been trending downward.”

In contrast to Albanese’s emphasis on the demand for Eagles and Double Eagles, I perceive a healthy demand for most mid range to ‘high end’pre-1892 silver coins and for choice, pre-1934 Quarter Eagles and Half Eagles. In my view, over the last decade, collectors of mid range to high end pre-1917 silver coins were buying mostly from auctions, often via agents, rather than from the dealers to whom Albanese has been wholesaling.

Yes, in terms of demand, rare silver coins lagged significantly behind rare gold coins during the last ten years. Even so, during this period there have been a substantial number of people seriously collecting silver rarities.

Laura Sperber actively seeks pre-1934, “both silver and gold” condition rarities “In many series, if a coin [has a certified population] of three or less, chances are we know where all three are,” she publicly stated in her May 8th market report.

From Sperber’s perspective, there is a shortage of rarities. “The market is currently hurting [in terms of] trading volume because of a lack of [mid range to high end] condition census coins,” Sperber declares. She is assisting in the building of “many” substantial “collections of great coins.” One of her clients has a collection that is worth “more than $100 million.”

Over the last year or so, much fewer mid-range to ‘high end,’pre-1917 rarities have been apparent on the bourse floor than the number and magnitude of such coins at any corresponding conventions in 2007 and 2008. Even so, I do not believe that the decline in supply of choice silver and gold rarities is as severe as Sperber suggests. Then again, I may be including more coins in my scope than is she.

Unlike Sperber, Kleinsteuber deals in an astonishing variety of U.S. coins in all metals and time periods, in certified grades of Poor-01 all the way to “MS-70.” Matt “easily” finds coins in many categories. Sperber is more specialized.

Why discuss supply issues and the availability of rarities? Since February, I have repeatedly heard dealers declare that rare coin market volume has markedly dropped and that markets (in truly rare coins, not generics) have slowed to a crawl. My conclusion is that these rumors are not true.

IX. Conclusion

My belief is that there are almost enough mid-range to high end and/or physically rare pre-1934 coins available to satisfy a majority of serious and active, affluent coin collectors. This is a major reason why prices are not currently rising much, if at all, for most rare coins. If there were truly a severe shortage of rarities, prices would be dramatically rising, as relatively strong demand for rarities continues.

John Feigenbaum, the president of DLRC, states “that the bloodletting of the economy has largely passed but price levels remain lower, so” many potential sellers of rarities are “reluctant to part with them, in the belief that the market is on the rise or will [significantly] rise over the next two or three years.” Feigenbaum’s point leads me to wonder if many collectors feel comfortable selling a few rarities privately, at their asking prices or in response to substantial offers, yet were unwilling to place whole sets or entire collections into auctions this Spring.

The research that I have done has convinced me that the recent, oft-heard rumors that markets in rare U.S. coins are very slow, and generally lack trades of exciting items, are just not true. Volume in rarities has been significant. Feigenbaum privately sold a NGC graded “MS-65” 1893-S Morgan just “last week.” It is true that this year’s Spring auction offerings, in total, pale in contrast to those in the Springs of 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 or 2009.

The dearth of auction consignments has contributed to a little panic among dealers and some collectors regarding the supply of rarities. A thesis here is that coin markets as a whole are faring much better than the coin auction business as a whole.

I conclude that coin markets are reasonably healthy. Hopefully, the coin auction business will ‘pick-up’in the second half of 2010 through more consignments of fresh material.

Next week, I will be writing about auctions of the near past and near future. There are important coins and collections to consider, including some really cool or otherwise appealing, rare items.

©2010 Greg Reynolds for CoinLink

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.

RSS Feed for This Post2 Comment(s)

  1. Jim Williams | May 23, 2010 | Reply

    I am very pleased that Greg Reynolds will submit articles weekly, as I enjoy his articles the most on It is obvious that he has an extraordinary knowledge of nuismatics, and also writes very well. His artics educate me; are informative regarding current happenings; and help me in my decision-making.

  2. Mark Woods | May 26, 2010 | Reply

    Great article. Interesting and informative very well written. I’ll be back to see more.

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