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Greatest All-Time Collection of Middle Date Large Cents (Part 4): Review of the Naftzger 2 Auction — Cents of the 1820s

By Greg Reynolds for CoinLink

In Part 1 of my series on the auction of the Naftzger Middle Dates, please find an overview of this collection, general remarks regarding die varieties, my probably not original view on defining types of Middle Date cents, and and a discussion of Naftzger’s cents from the year 1839. In Part 2, I talk about scarce dates and I list some of the high quality type coins in the Naftzger Middle Date collection. In Part 3, there is a broad interpretation of the results of the auction, and a discussion of the 1817 cent, with fifteen stars. In Part 4, there is an analysis of the prices realized of scarce dates from the 1820s. In Part 5, prices realized for Naftzger’s cents from the 1830s are discussed.

Naftzger Middle DatesMost of the scarcest Middle Dates are in the 1820s. As large quantities of large cents dating from 1816 to 1820 were discovered long ago, these tend to be relatively common and are certainly not rare in 60 and higher grades. The only dates, as dates are defined by most collectors, in the Middle Date series that are probably truly rare, in all grades, are the 1823, the 1823/2 and the 1839/6. The 1823 is slightly rarer than her non-identical twin, the 1823/2 overdate. Naftzger had an excellent Proof 1823/2 cent that was sold privately, along with most of his Early Dates, during the Winter of 1992. Naftzger’s 1839/6 overdate cents are discussed in Part 2 and in Part 5.

Naftzger had the two finest known 1823s. One is PCGS certified 65BN and the other, 66BN. The grading services distinguish BN (Brown color) from RB (Mint Red & Brown) and RD (nearly full original Mint Red). M&G grade both these 1823s as 65. Greg Hannigan also “graded them both as 65,” and Hannigan maintains that the one that is PCGS certified 66BN is “just a tad better than the other one. There should not have been a big difference in price between the two.”

Chris McCawley reveals that “these are the only two truly uncirculated 1823s to have sold in [his] lifetime. The Gene Reale-Andy Hain 1823 is not quite Mint State, though it has nice luster.”

Overall, the 1823 is probably rare, as there are likely to be fewer than 500 currently in existence, in all grades. McCawley finds my estimate of a maximum of 500 to be sound and he adds that “less than 10% of the 1823s survive in Fine-12 or better”!

Before the auction the PCGS price guide valued the lone 66 graded 1823 at “$75,000” and then the value was raised to “$300,000” after this Naftzger piece sold for $299,000. Jim McGuigan reveals that “$125,000 to $150,000” was his idea of an “expected retail price range for this 1823; $299,000 is pretty high”!

At the moment, I do not have a recollection of any Middle Date cent ever before having been auctioned for as much as $85,000. Personally, I find it startling that this, PCGS certified 66BN 1823 sold for $299,000. It is rare, but not very rare, as a date and it is certainly not highly demanded as a type coin.

I am not surprised that particular, relatively high quality 1793 Chain Cents, 1796 quarters,1796-97 half dollars, and 1795-98 Small Eagle $5 gold coins, sell for more than $299,000 each, as these are scarce dates that are also highly demanded as type coins. They are representatives of short-lived, scarce types. In contrast, there are a large number of gem quality large cents dating from 1816 to 1835 that could each represent the Matron Head series in a type set. It would be very unusual for anyone to choose an 1823 cent for a type set. The most common dates in the Matron Head series are most likely to serve as type coins. A few high quality type coins are discussed in Part 5.

The Naftzger 1823 that is PCGS certified 65-Brown was previously in the epic collections of Joseph Mickley and William Atwater, both of whom, decades apart, owned large cents that are of tremendous quality and importance. Mickley’s collection was auctioned in 1867 and Atwater’s collection was sold in 1946.

Jim McGuigan remarks that both of the Naftzger 1823s are “very nice coins.” If McGuigan “was still collecting Middle Dates,” he “would have been happy buying the Mickley-Atwater 1823 for $126,500.” Greg Hannigan also very much likes this coin. He was still bidding as the level surpassed $90,000. Hannigan “was only willing to spend about $95,000 on the coin,” though he “guessed beforehand that it would sell for more than that.”

It is worth noting that the PCGS certified 66BN, Naftzger 1823 realized considerably more than twice as much as the Naftzger-Mickley-Atwater 1823 that is PCGS certified 65BN. McGuigan emphasizes, though, that a large cent collector “might not get another chance in his lifetime to buy a Choice Mint State 1823” large cent.

McGuigan is one of the toughest graders of early copper. Frequently, coins that are graded by others as 65 or higher, including by most large cent experts, are graded as 60+ or 63 by McGuigan. Jim started collecting large cents in the 1950s and attended his first major auction in 1969. McGuigan has been a very active dealer in early U.S. coins for decades. He no longer collects large cents, though he does collect half cents. His collection of half cents is the “all-time finest” in three of four half cent categories in the PCGS registry.

McGuigan was surprised by the $20,700 price realized for this first of Naftzger’s 1824/2 cents, sold as lot #149. It is graded AU-58 by M&G and 62 by the PCGS. Price guides generally value an 1824/2, in grades of 60 to 62, in a range from $3500 to $8000. Moreover, in McGuigan’s view, this 1824/2 “has a little wear.” If this same coin were “in a display case” on the bourse floor of “a major show,” McGuigan suggests that it would be priced at “around six or seven thousand dollars.”

Although the PCGS has not assigned a higher grade to an 1824/2 cent, there exist a few that are of higher quality than this 1824/2. McGuigan points out that it is widely known that “a recently deceased Long Island collector had at least two 1824/2’s that there are reportedly better than Ted Naftzger’s 1824/2 cents.” Chris McCawley declares that “there are at least three that are better than this one, but these might not be available anytime soon.”

This $20,700 1824/2 is not one of the many Naftzger scarce dates in this sale that set an auction record. The Walsh 1824/2, which is PCGS graded 63, sold for $34,500 in Heritage’s Summer 2008 ANA auction. As far as I know, no other 1824/2 cents have sold at auction for more than $7000! This $20,700 result is very strong for an 1824/2 that is, at best, the fourth finest known and might be the sixth finest.

The second Naftzger 1824/2 is uncertified, though is graded “AU-55” by M&G and other prominent large cent experts. This 1824/2 sold, as lot #150, for $6325. “This was a pretty nice coin,” states McCawley. “It was probably a bargain.”

The third Naftzger 1824/2 is M&G graded Very Fine-20 and is of a rare die variety, which most collectors would not notice. Yes, there is more than one variety of 1824/2 cents, though these are only subtly different. This piece, lot #154, brought $1782.50.

Both the 1824 and the 1824/2 are probably scarcer than the 1817, with fifteen stars, and not rare in the sense that the 1823 and 1823/2 are rare. The 1824/2, however, is especially rare in grades above 50. The 1824 and 1824/2 are among the six scarcest dates in the Matron Head large cent series.

In high grades, the 1824 Normal Date is not nearly as rare as the 1824/2. It is, though, relatively scarce in grades of 61 and higher. ANR auctioned an 1824 that is PCGS certified 65BN in March 2005 for $25,300. In July 2008, Heritage auctioned an 1824, which is PCGS graded 64, for $16,100.

The Starr-Newcomb 1824 Normal date is probably the finest known. Although Naftzger had the all-time best collection of Middle Dates, the Floyd Starr collection is certainly among the five best. Starr bought some (or all) of Newcomb’s Middle Dates at an auction in 1945.

The Starr-Newcomb 1824 realized $25,300 in ANR’s Sept. 2006 auction. It is PCGS certified 64RB. The designation ‘RB’ indicates that it exhibits original red and brown colors. This same cent appeared in Superior’s Sept. 2008 auction, where it realized $56,300. In that same Superior Galleries auction, an 1821, PCGS certified 63RB, realized $58,650. These might have been the two highest auction prices for business strike Middle Date large cents, prior to this auction of Naftzger’s Middle Dates.

The two gem Naftzger 1824s may have been among the best buys in this auction. While McGuigan grades both as “63” and states that they brought “expected prices,” it seems that most large cent experts grade these as 65 or higher. The first, sold as lot #152, is PCGS certified 65RB and M&G graded 65. McGuigan states that it is characterized by about “20% original Mint Red.” It garnered $29,900. “It is a beautiful coin,” states McCawley. “This is a strong price for it.”

The second gem 1824 was sold as lot #153. It is graded 66 by both the PCGS and M&G. The PCGS designated it as featuring original Mint Red along with brown color (“RB”). McGuigan observes that it is “40% red.” It realized $36,800. I wonder if the Newcomb-Starr 1824 has more original Mint Red than either of these? If so, it might explain, in part, why that one brought $56,300 in September 2008 and these two did not realize nearly as much. As McCawley reminds everyone, “there is no substitute for actually seeing the coins.” I wish I had seen more of them.

While the 1823/2 and the 1824/2 are readily apparent overdates that clearly should have the status of separate dates in published guides, the “1826/5” also tends to have such status even though the so called ‘overdate’ is barely noticeable. The “1826/5 overdate,” if indeed it is an overdate, requires a strong magnifying glass to be comprehended. In my view, the “1826/5” should be regarded as a minor die variety, not a major variety that is collected as a separate date. It should not be, though it is, listed in leading price guides. In any event, the fact that is so listed reflects, and contributes to, its importance. Both date-collectors and die variety collectors demand an “1826/5” cent. It is scarce. Perhaps fewer than nine hundred exist in all grades. Not as many as eleven “1826/5” cents, and maybe just four to six, plausibly grade above 62.

The finer of Naftzger’s two “1826/5” cents was formerly in the Starr and Newcomb collections. It is PCGS graded 66 with a ‘brown’ color designation. The catalogue images suggest that it might have significant original Mint Red color, and this point is raised by the cataloguers. M&G grade this coin as 64. A PCGS certified 62BN “1826/5” realized $15,625 in Superior’s Sept. 2008 sale, which was probably the previous auction record for an 1826/5. One that grades somewhere from 55 to 61 could certainly be acquired for less than $5000, maybe even for around $2500. This Newcomb-Starr-Naftzger coin realized $39,100, more than double the previous auction record for an “1826/5” cent.

In some price guides, the 1828 ‘Small Date’ is listed as if it is a separate date and, in other price guides, no distinction is made between the 1828 ‘Small Date’ and the 1828 ‘Large Date.’ In Dec. 2003, two different 1828 ‘Small Date’ cents sold in the same ANR auction, a PCGS certified 64-Brown 1828 ‘Small Date’ realized $4370 and a PCGS certified 64RB (Red & Brown color) sold for $5865. The previous auction record for an 1828 ‘Small Date’ was set when the Eliasberg piece was auctioned by Superior Galleries in Sept. 2008. That cent is PCGS certified 63RB and realized $11,787.

The Naftzger 1828 ‘Small Date’ is PCGS certified 64-Brown. Perhaps it was expected to sell for $14,000 to $17,000. After all, the difference between the so-called ‘Small Date’ and the so-called ‘Large Date’ is not tremendous. Most collectors would not even notice the difference. Besides, in all grades, there are thousands of 1828 ‘Small Date’ cents in existence. It is not close to being a rarity.

This Naftzger 1828 ‘Small Date’, sold as lot #214, realized $27,600, a price that startled me. It is not clear to me how it ranks among other 1828 ‘Small Date’ cents. The PCGS has certified another one as 64BN, one as 63RB and one as 64RB. M&G grade this one as “63” and Hannigan grades it as “62 plus,” though he “loved the color.” This coin brought more than twice as much” as Hannigan “thought that it would but” he emphasizes that “there were other coins in the sale that were extremely good deals like some of the 1820s and 1822s.”

There was a Naftzger 1829 that brought more than three times as much as I expected. The 1829, including all varieties, is a better date in low grades and is relatively very scarce in grades above 50. The Naftzger 1829 that is on my mind was formerly in the Allison Jackman and Walter Dudgeon collections. Jackman’s famous and fabulous collection was auctioned in 1918.

This 1829 was sold as lot #229, and is not of a rare variety. It is PCGS certified 66BN. M&G grade it as 65, as does Hannigan, who “very much likes the surfaces of this coin.” Hannigan was “taken away by the price realized.” Never before has a business strike 1829 large cent realized a price anywhere near the price of this one, $50,600.

Chris McCawley remembers that McCawley & Grellman (M&G) auctioned this exact same coin for “$8910” in 1994. Chris remarks that the March Wells collection 1829, of this same variety, sold for “$4370 in 2000 and the Wes Rasmussen coin,” which is NGC graded 65 and is listed as the finest known in a major reference, sold “for only $3737.50 in 2005.” Another Rasmussen 1829, of a different variety, sold for $6900 in Jan. 2005. The Walsh collection 1829, which is PCGS certified 64BN, was auctioned for $5462.50 in Jan. 2006.

By the time of the sale, ” McCawley “might have thought that this Naftzger 1829, lot #229, would bring $10,000 or maybe $15,000,” which would be a “very aggressive amount given that a similar coin had brought only $3737 four years earlier. $50,600 for this very nice coin was an astonishing result.”

Of course, it is true that date-collectors were intensely competing for Naftzger’s scarce dates from the 1820s. Yet, it is hard to explain the astronomical prices for many of these. The Naftzger pedigree and previous pedigrees, the publicity surrounding this event, the excellent catalogue, new collectors of large cents, and the energized atmosphere of this auction altogether propelled prices for scarce Middle Dates to new and higher levels.

©2009 Greg Reynolds

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