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Dr. Duckor’s Barber Quarter Coin Collection to be Auctioned

by Greg Reynolds for CoinLink

The coin collecting community was surprised to learn that Dr. Steven Duckor’s Barber Quarters will soon be auctioned. After all, it is not yet complete, and two key dates are missing. The coins are of amazing quality and have been very carefully selected by Dr. Duckor who is an exceptionally dedicated connoisseur of Barber coinage. This auction may be a very favorable event for those collecting high quality, Barber Quarters ‘by date’ (including Mints) and for collectors who seek one Barber Quarter or more for their respective type sets.

Barber Quarters are 90% silver quarter dollars. These were produced from 1892 to 1916, at four U.S. Mints, Philadelphia (with no mintmark), Denver (D-mintmark), New Orleans (O), and San Francisco (S). All of Duckor’s quarters are certified and encapsulated by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS).

Dr. Duckor’s quarters will be sold by Heritage on July 31 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel in L.A., a few days before the ANA Convention begins at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Heritage will also auction a variety of U.S. coins, including at least two Great Rarities, an 1854-S Quarter Eagle ($2½ gold coin) and an 1856-O Double Eagle ($20 coin).

As no Barber Quarters are rare, in absolute terms, this collection is very important largely because of the quality of the coins included, though the great pedigrees of several of the coins are of special significance. I have not seen some of Duckor’s quarters, and most of those I did see I have not examined in a long time. Further, I have not yet had time to match many of Dr. Duckor’s coins to Barber Quarters in past auctions, especially to those that I have carefully viewed.

While I look forward to pedigree and condition census research, there are other approaches to analyzing a collection. Herein, I address the quality of these quarters with discussions of the PCGS registry, CAC verification, and Dr. Duckor’s refined taste for coins.

Dr. Duckor is certainly among the most famous living collectors, and has been seriously collecting since the 1970s. He acquired coins, for example, at the epic auction of Eliasberg’s gold coins in 1982. Many collectors can learn from his wisdom, connoisseurship, and experience. I know that I have.

“When [Duckor] gave the collection to Heritage to be auctioned,” he “asked them to submit the entire collection to CAC.” John Albanese is the primary grader and the CEO of the CAC. When the CAC places a green sticker on a PCGS or NGC holder, the CAC is approving the grade that the PCGS or the NGC assigned to the coin inside, and is opining that this grade is in the middle or upper end of the respective grade range.

Fifty-five of Duckor’s fifty-nine Barber Quarters now have stickers of approval from the CAC. “This might be the first major collection to go up that is 95% approved by the CAC,” Duckor pointedly states. Dale Friend’s Barber Halves were auctioned in January 2009 and are about “65% CAC” approved, adds Duckor. “It will be interesting see how much a difference CAC stickers make.”

All of the four quarters that are not CAC approved are PCGS graded 66. Three of these four are not among the great treasures of this collection, a 1908, a 1912 and a duplicate 1911-S. Duckor’s primary 1911-S is graded 67 and does have a CAC sticker. The 1900-O, however, is a semi-key date and surely collectors will wonder as to why Duckor’s 1900-O does not have a CAC sticker. I have, though, seen terrific coins that did not receive CAC approval and, on occasion, a very disappointing coin that does have a sticker. Grading is very difficult and no one, not even John Albanese, can ‘bat close to one thousand.’ Indeed, no one can apply a set of grading criteria with anywhere close to 100% accuracy, and even one of the best of graders cannot be nearly 100% consistent with himself.

Even though there will be always be both objective and subjective factors in the grading of coins, certified grades are extremely important and are often very valuable. All activities in life are risky, even driving a car or walking to a nearby store. Buying a PCGS or NGC certified coin involves much less risk than buying a non-certified coin. In my view, the presence of a CAC sticker indicates that it is very unlikely (though still possible) that the PCGS or the NGC made a serious mistake when the coin inside the respective holder was graded.

In regard to these quarters, the successful bidders will benefit from the fact that Dr. Duckor himself is an expert and is widely acknowledged as a connoisseur with excellent taste in coins. While the CAC will sometimes ‘approve’ silver coins that have been markedly dipped and are artificially bright, Dr. Duckor would not include such coins in his collection.

Dr. Duckor declares that “all of [his] Barber Quarters have their original skin. None have been dipped and all have original toning. Leave the coins be,” Duckor says. He “does not like dipped coins.”

The specific characteristics of Duckor’s coins are more interesting than the certified grades. Nevertheless, it is newsworthy that the Duckor collection of business strike Barber Quarters is the second “Current Finest” and the fifth “All-Time Finest” in the PCGS registry. Actually, it has the highest grade point average (GPA) of any of the registered sets of Barber Quarters, an astonishing 66.15!

The current “finest” Barber Quarter set in the PCGS registry has a GPA of 59.10. Why is the Duckor collection not the “finest” in the PCGS registry? Duckor has only fifty eight different dates and the PCGS registry requires seventy-four different dates. (Over most of the past century, collectors have referred to the “date” as a combination of the year on a coin and the location of the Mint that made it.) Indeed, the key 1896-S and 1901-S dates are missing. He had planned to “leave the three keys until the end,” but an opportunity to obtain a superb 1913-S presented itself somewhat recently.

Dr. Duckor “bought his 1913-S just six months ago” through Todd Imhof. Duckor “grabbed it because it is a crusty, original toned 1913-S and has a great pedigree. Most 1913-S quarters are untoned and are from an original roll that was thought to have been dispersed in the twenties and thirties. [He] wanted one with significant toning. [His] ’13-S is clearly not from that roll!”

Dr. Duckor believes that he “is very fortunate to have been collecting Barber Quarters over the last few years.” I agree that a startling number of better-date, gem quality Barber quarters have become available. In other circumstances, it might have taken more than a decade to build this same collection.

Duckor reveals that “Dale Friend was kind enough to offer Sunnywood and [Duckor] the opportunity to obtain coins when Dale decided to sell his Barber quarters. [Duckor] bought several of Dale’s quarters in Milwaukee at the 2007 ANA convention. We were lucky that Dale decided to sell his set and allow us first pick. A good thing about the PCGS Registry is that collectors can get to know each other and help each other to enhance their sets,” relates Dr. Duckor.

Sunnywood is the code name of another leading collector. Sunnywood’s PCGS Registry set of Morgan dollars was on display at the Winter FUN Convention in Orlando in January 2009. Dale Friend’s Barber halves were sold in the auction at this same FUN Convention.

Duckor “decided to sell because another opportunity just rose.” His quarters constitute “only a small part” of his overall coin collection.

In addition to the “obvious” 1913-S quarter, Duckor’s “four favorites are [his] 1898-O, ’01-O, ’03-S and ’09-O.” As for his 1898-O, Duckor asserts that the “toning and strike are incredible!” I note that it is much more colorful than the Eliasberg-Hugon and Krueger collection 1898-O quarters, both of which are (or were) also PCGS graded MS-66.

According to Duckor, the “1909-O is the most underrated date in the series in PCGS certified MS-65 and higher grade.” Moreover, he maintains that “there are many pre-1906 barber coins that are hard to find with attractive, original toning, in MS-66 and -67 grade.” Such coins really have to be seen to be fully appreciated.

Several of Duckor’s quarters were earlier in the Eliasberg collection. The Heritage cataloguer notes the 1896-O, 1897-S, 1907-D, 1914-S and 1916. Louis Eliasberg formed the greatest U.S. coin collection of all time, including one of the all-time finest collections of Barber Quarters. Eliasberg obtained many of his Barber Quarters when he privately purchased the Clapp family collection in 1942. John M. Clapp, in turn, obtained many coins, including Barber Quarters, directly from the U.S. Mints during the years in which these were made.

Other Duckor quarters have legendary pedigrees, including Hugon and Norweb. His 1913-S was formerly in the Emery-Nichols collection, which Bowers & Merena auctioned in 1984. The Norweb family collection was auctioned in 1987 & ’88. Both Emery-Nichols and Norweb were multi-generational collections that contained some superb quality, U.S. silver coins that had not traded since before 1920.

Heritage auctioned the Hugon collection of Barber coins in Jan. 2005, in Fort Lauderdale. Hugon’s sets were assembled, for the most part, during the decade or so before these were auctioned.

Like Hugon, collectors in the current era can assemble gem quality sets of Barber Quarters. For those who can afford to do so, it is a rational and realistic quest. In contrast, even a 90% complete set of Capped Head Half Eagles ($5 gold coins), in any grade, is probably not a goal that can be fulfilled in a decade by a fabulously wealthy new collector. Further, a gem quality set of Liberty Seated Quarters is not possible. Moreover, a rich collector may need to search for years to obtain just one, truly MS-65 or higher grade, Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Quarter, of any date, with considerable natural toning. In contrast, a whole set of MS-65 or higher grade Barber Quarters could certainly be completed in less than a decade, maybe in just a few years. Finding 66-grade coins with natural toning and original luster is much more difficult. The offering of Dr. Duckor’s collection presents a distinctive and wonderful opportunity for those starting or already building a gem quality set of Barber Quarters.

©2009 Greg Reynolds

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