O’Neal’s $5 gold coins to Come on the Block
by Greg Reynolds for CoinLink
During the evening of Friday, Sept. 28, Heritage will auction Jim O’Neal’s set of Indian Half Eagles ($5 gold coins). These were minted from 1908 to 1916, and again in 1929. O’Neal’s set is the “Current Finest” and the fourth “All-Time Finest” such set in the registry of the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). The offering of O’Neal’s collection is one part of the official auction of the Long Beach (CA) Coin, Stamp and Collectible Expo.
The present purpose is to highlight O’Neal’s more newsworthy Indian Head Half Eagles, plus to provide an idea of the meaning and significance of his set. The rules governing the PCGS registry require that only PCGS graded coins may be registered. This O’Neal set is of business strikes, coins made by ordinary means. Business strikes that lack visible wear are said to be uncirculated. The modern concept of ‘Mint State’ roughly approximates the traditional definition of uncirculated. To grade ‘Mint State (or Proof) coins, all eleven points on a scale from 60 to 70 are employed.
O’Neal’s Half Eagles that have attracted a good deal of attention, or are most likely to ‘make news,’ are the ones that are high in the condition rankings for their respective dates. Undoubtedly, there are other Half Eagles in O’Neal’s set that are attractive and desirable, but it is not feasible to discuss them here.
Although the 1909 New Orleans issue (1909-O) is the scarcest date in the Indian Head Half Eagle series, O’Neal’s 1908-Denver, 1914-D and 1914-San Francisco Half Eagles are perhaps the most important coins in his set. His 1910 and 1912 Philadelphia Half Eagles are also newsworthy. For each of these dates, O’Neal’s Half Eagle is likely to be among the finest known, possibly even the finest.
While Indian Head Half Eagles are not very rare coins, collectors are willing to pay tremendous premiums for high quality pieces, especially for coins that are among the five or ten finest for their respective dates. Consider that a 1914-S Half Eagle has a retail value of around $1500 in MS-60 grade and may be worth anywhere from $35,000 to $65,000 in MS-64 grade.
O’Neal’s 1908-D Half Eagle is one of only eight the PCGS has graded MS-65. Not all of those eight are different coins. Invariably, some were resubmitted in hopes of receiving an MS-66 grade. None ever received an MS-66 grade. Also, some collectors remove their coins from holders and throw the printed informational inserts away. Later, subsequent owners resubmit such coins to grading services, often without knowing that such coins were ever certified before.
So, O’Neal has one of very few PCGS graded MS-65 1908-D Half Eagles and the PCGS has not assigned an MS-66 or higher grade to a 1908-D Half Eagle. An MS-60 grade 1908-D may be worth between $500 and $700. At Heritage’s Spring 2006 auction in Long Beach, another PCGS graded MS-65 1908-D realized $74,750.
As I have not seen either coin, I will not comment as to how that 1908-D compares to O’Neal’s 1908-D. O’Neal’s MS-65 grade 1908-D could be worth anywhere from $35,000 to $85,000. It will be fun to contemplate the outcome.
The precise auction result for each coin in O’Neal’s set depends upon several factors. These include the specific characteristics of O’Neal’s coin, and the characteristics and availability of others of the same date and grade. Additional factors are the number and bidding activities of collectors who are seriously aiming to build high quality sets of this series and the whimsical demands of collectors who like to buy important ‘cool’ coins even if such coins are not intended to be parts of sets.
I am most curious about O’Neal’s 1914-D. In general, MS-65 grade Indian Half Eagles are scarce, and MS-66 grade ones are rare. While there are thousands of 1914-D Half Eagles in existence, fewer than twenty-five grade MS-65 or higher. Just two have been graded MS-66 by PCGS and none have been graded higher than 66. O’Neal has one of the two. It has been about eight years since a certified MS-66 grade 1914-D has been sold at auction.
I have not yet discovered a pedigree pertaining to the O’Neal 1914-D. It does not seem to be the Thaine Price 1914-D.
The PCGS ranks the Dr. Thaine Price collection has “The Number One Finest of All Time” in the category of business strike Indian Half Eagles. The firm of David Akers auctioned that collection in May 1998.
The Thaine 1914-D was not certified when it was auctioned. It is “estimated” by PCGS officials to grade “MS-65” by PCGS standards. At $19,800, a Massachusetts dealer was the successful bidder. I was not thrilled about the Thaine 1914-D, though I acknowledged that it is of much higher quality than thousands of other 1914-D Half Eagles. I thought of its grade as a low MS-65.
The second finest Indian Half Eagle set of “All-Time” is the Dr. Steven Duckor set that Akers’ firm auctioned in 1990. The Duckor 1914-D did not attract much bidding in 1990. While it is a stunning coin, I do not think that any experts would grade it as MS-66, then or now. It merits a strong 64 grade or a weak 65 grade. So, the O’Neal 1914-D could well be vastly superior to the Duckor and Thaine pieces of the same date.
After the 1909-O, the 1911-D is the scarcest date overall in the Indian Head Half Eagle series. In Mint State grades, especially MS-64 and higher grades, there seem to be several dates that are about as scarce as or truly scarcer than the 1911-D. Nonetheless, in MS-64 and higher grades, accepted guides generally value the 1911-D at much higher levels than all other dates, except the 1909-O. While O’Neal has just an MS-63 grade 1909-O, he has an MS-64 grade 1911-D, which is one of the most sought after Half Eagles in his set.
O’Neal is becoming a widely recognized numismatist. His collection of paper money was auctioned by Heritage in 2005. Previously, he was chairman of Collectors Universe, the parent company of PCGS. More recently, he was a very active bidder in the FUN 2007 second Platinum Night, an epic auction event. At the time, he pleasantly cooperated with me, and expressed no objection to the use of his name, when I was covering the FUN ’07 auction extravaganza for a leading coin newspaper.
The values of O’Neal’s Indian Half Eagles have been enhanced as a consequence of being in his great collection. Coins that are part of named, great collections will tend to, all other factors being equal, command higher prices than coins that are sold quietly or anonymously.
©2007 Greg Reynolds
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