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Platinum Night was Golden; Bellwether Sale Sparks Markets for U.S. Coin Rarities

By Greg Reynolds for CoinLink

I. Introduction & Overview

In 2010, the annual FUN Platinum Night event was held on Thursday, Jan. 7. It is just one session in Heritage’s annual auction extravaganza, which is conducted in association with the Florida United Numismatists (FUN) Convention in Orlando. During this one night, however, an incredible selection of U.S. gold coins was offered. The total prices realized for Platinum Night alone was more than $25 million. The most famous coin in the sale is the Olsen-Hawn 1913 Liberty Nickel, which realized about $3.74 million.

olsen_1913_liberty_nickelAlthough Heritage conducts two to four Platinum Night events per year, the January FUN Platinum Night event is usually the most newsworthy. On, Jan. 7, three different items sold for more than one million dollars each, and there was an excellent offering of Brilliant Proof gold coins.

One of the most interesting coins in the sale is a Proof 1839 Half Eagle ($5 gold coin). It is NGC certified as Proof-61. This coin is, indisputably, a Proof. Many pre-1840 coins that are regarded as, or even certified as, Proofs, are questionable. Matt Kleinsteuber agrees, “it is definitely 100% Proof, other coins of the era are ambiguous” in regard to Proof status. Moreover, it is one of only two known Proof Half Eagles of this date. It was formerly in the collection of King Farouk. It brought $181,000.

Several past Platinum Night events have featured dazzling collections of U.S. silver coins and/or individual silver coins of tremendous importance. The Jan. 2010 event will be remembered primarily for business strike Saint Gaudens Double Eagles ($20 gold coins), Brilliant Proof gold coins, a Bickford $10 gold pattern, a few exceptional gold type coins, a neat run of 19th century quarters, some popular Mint Errors, and a 1913 Liberty Nickel. Please click here to read the article that I devoted to this 1913 Liberty Nickel. Therein, I cover the coin, its importance, and the auction action, in detail.

Since then, David Hall has told me that he “thought the 1913 Liberty nickel brought a good price. [$3,737,500] wasn’t a moon price, but it’s a $3 million dollar coin so an extra 25% is a lot of money.” Hall is the primary founder of the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), and remains a force behind the PCGS and its parent company.

Adam Crum of Monaco Rare Coins agrees that the $3.74 million result is “a really strong price” for this nickel. Moreover, Crum remarks that, “for weeks, buyers of expensive gold coins were sitting on their hands waiting for the Platinum sale. The success of Platinum Night ignited a fire. On Friday, there was a mad rush nationwide for rare gold coins.”

Paul Nugget observes that “collectors and dealers walked out of the auction room with a renewed confidence in the market for gold rarities. Since the summer, a lot of gold rarities had been shelved for generic gold.” Nugget adds that “the quality” of the coins offered at the Platinum Night event “was great. Rare gold coins that collectors want brought high numbers; the auction as a whole went very, very strong. We bid on almost every coin in the auction. Prices were indicative of a new and stronger market.” Nugget has been a leading expert in U.S. gold coins for decades, and has been an active bidder at major auctions since the 1970s.

Bob Green, president of Park Avenue Numismatics, concludes that “it was clear that low population, high grade rarities had the attention of the buyers. Prices for very rare, gold coins were strong at Platinum Night, clearly stronger than they were in [the] Jan. 2009 “Platinum Night event. Green goes on to say that “condition census gold rarities did really well in this auction, at a minimum 10% to 15% more than expected.” By ‘condition census,’ Green refers to a concept that is close to that which I call the ‘condition ranking,’ the ten to twelve highest quality representatives of each specific coin issue.

Matt Kleinsteuber reveals that “on the FUN bourse floor, [Matt] bought a few Proof gold coins of equal quality to many in the auction for much less than the prices realized at the auction, [including] $2.5 Libs, a $5 Lib, and a $3 gold piece. The prices for Proof Gold in the Platinum Night sale went absolutely crazy,” Kleinsteuber concludes. “The coins were fantastic, one of the nicest offerings of Proof Gold in an auction in more than five years. ” Kleinsteuber is the lead grader and a trader for NFC coins.

II. Silver & Copper Coins

The emphasis herein will be upon gold coins. There were not impressive collections of silver, copper, or nickel coins consigned to this event, though some important individual pieces were included. One year earlier, during the Jan. 2009 Platinum Night event, Dale Friend’s Barber Halves and Scott Rudolph’s quarters generated a great deal of interest and spurred bidding for other silver coins that were offered during the same night. Only a few of the silver or copper coins in this year’s event, including some of the errors, sparked the atmosphere.

Jim McGuigan, a leading specialist in half cents, paid a near-record price of $54,625 for a rare half cent variety, for his own personal collection. It is an 1805 that is NGC graded VF-30, lot #2401. It is one of the three or four finest known of a particular variety of 1805 half cents.

As Mint errors require considerable explanations, these cannot easily be covered here. This Platinum Night event, though, is a landmark sale for small cent errors. The most famous of them is a PCGS graded AU-58 1943 cent, struck in copper rather than zinc-coated steel, which sold for $218,500.

1860_25c_fun20010Two of my favorite silver coins in the auction were 1860 and 1868 Liberty Seated Quarters. Both are PCGS graded MS-66, and both are approved by the CAC. This 1860 quarter has never been cleaned, probably never been dipped, and has terrific natural toning. It is very attractive plus. While $15,525 is an astonishing price for an 1860 quarter, in my view, it is worth it.

The 1868 quarter in this sale is even more attractive than the 1860. It realized a mind boggling $69,000. I believe that the exact same coin sold in April 2008 for $40,250, when market levels for 19th century silver coins were much higher than they are now.

Likewise, the 1869 quarter in this sale also sold in April 2008. It brought $57,500 then and a startling $80,500 now. It is not worth it. Kleinsteuber exclaims, “wow, these are some prices for these two quarters. [Matt] thought they brought strong prices in April 2008.”

Among silver coins that sold on Platinum Night, the best value was $37,375 for an 1815 quarter that is PCGS graded MS-66. Jim McGuigan agrees with my conclusion that the toning is natural and he states that it is “pretty attractive.” Likewise, David Schweitz likes the coin a lot, and is “impressed” by the toning. Indeed, the multi-colored toning is really neat on the obverse (front) and phenomenal on the reverse (back). This coin is much better than at least one of the two other 1815 quarters that are PCGS graded MS-66, and it was formerly NGC graded MS-67. In my view, its grade is in the middle of the 66 range and this coin is enticing overall. Inferior coins of the same Capped Bust Quarter, with large diameter, type have sold for much more. Since coin markets slid downward from mid to late 2008 to the second quarter of 2009, scarce or rare 19th century gold coins have recovered more so than 19th century silver coins.

III. Bickford $10 Gold Pattern

Although the price for this 1913 nickel was more than I expected, I was not shocked by the result. I was nearly shocked and certainly stunned, however, by the $1,265,000 price for a Bickford $10 pattern. Yes, Bickford tens are widely acknowledged as beautiful patterns (though I believe other designs are better looking), and I know that there are just two known that were struck in gold. The Bickford design is entirely different from the long-reigning Liberty Head Eagle ($10) design. The same obverse design was employed from some point in 1839 until early 1907. Bickford patterns were struck only in 1874, and nothing like it was ever used for regular U.S. coinage. Gold denomination patterns that were actually struck in gold are extremely rare. Several Bickford tens exist in copper, and they also were struck in aluminum and in nickel. The other gold striking is in the SIM collection, the greatest current collection of patterns. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to view both of the Bickfords in gold. This one is of higher quality; it is awestriking.judd_1373_bickford_gold_10

Matt Kleinsteuber declares that this Bickford $10 pattern “is truly a dreamy gold piece, with all things going for it, [including] great cameo contrast and watery surfaces. Some light lines on the reverse may have held it back from even a higher grade. It is a beautiful original piece with great character. It definitely can be the cornerstone of a world class collection.”

I was expecting it to realize between $650,000 and $800,000. This exact same piece had sold for $276,000 at a Stack’s auction in 2003, when it was part of the Rothschild collection.

David Hall was the underbidder, at a level of $1,207,500. Hall found that “it hurts to finish in second place on a coin like that. We may never get a chance to buy one in our lifetimes. But, we’re dealers, so there’s a financial limit to our love. We didn’t have a customer.” Hall and his partner, Van Simmons, were planning to buy this Bickford $10 pattern for inventory.

Other than Ultra High Relief MCMVII $20 gold coins, which constitute a different category, a gold pattern has never before realized more than $1 million AT AUCTION. An 1879 $20 gold pattern, Quintuple Stella, realized $862,500, during a Jan. 2007 FUN Platinum Night event.

Laura Sperber, of Legend Numismatics, declares that “the price realized for the Bickford $10 was terrific. It is worth every penny.”

IV. Business Strike Gold Type Coins

A type coin is often the most regular of regular issues. Usually, the least rare dates in each series become type coins. Collectors building traditional type sets seek only one or two representatives of each design type and tend to be more concerned about quality than rarity.

The two most famous type coins in this auction are the Eliasberg 1899-S Half Eagle ($5 gold coin) and Eagle ($10). Each has been graded “MS-69” by the NGC.

1899S_5_ngc69_fun2010The 1899-S Half Eagle is not a rare issue. Heritage has auctioned PCGS graded MS-65 1899-S Half Eagles for around $8000 each. A MS-60 or MS-61 grade ’99-S could probably be purchased for less than $700. A MS-66 grade coin may be worth around $20,000, and a 67 grade 1899-S would be valued around $40,000. The Eliasberg 1899-S Half Eagle sold for $103,500! David Hall was the successful bidder.

Matt Kleinsteuber declares that “of all $5 Libs, it has the most perfect color and fabulous surfaces. The price was strong, but the quality was undeniable.”

Beyond the grade, I (this writer) found this 1899-S Half Eagle to be interesting. It is not uniform in color. It exudes originality with substantial toning and a neat coppery area near the head. Fortunately, no one has ever tampered with it. Indeed, there is an appealing, entirely natural shiny area about the head from some extra polishing of the corresponding area on the obverse die. Further, the cloudy tan shades and green sheenlike areas are really cool. Plus, there are pleasing, light russet overtones in some areas.

The Eliasberg 1899-S Eagle is also NGC graded MS-69. Bidding opened at $75,000 ($86,250 with the 15% fee). A representative of Park Avenue Numismatics bid $140,000 ($161,000). There was then a rivalry between floor bidder #407, who I did not recognize, and David Hall, who was eventually victorious with a startling bid of $170,000 ($195,500).

Bob Green, of Park Avenue Numismatics, very much wanted these two 1899-S coins, partly because he currently owns the ‘Dallas Bank-Browning’ 1899-S Double Eagle ($20 gold coin), which is NGC certified MS-68. Green would have “liked to put together an 1899-S gold set.” For each, Green’s firm “stretched for two or three extra bids. The prices were unbelievable,” Green sighs.

Adam Crum was “surprised that the [Eliasberg] 1899-S ten sold for that much money.” He thought that “$125,000 was as far as it would go.”

Matt Kleinsteuber exclaims that “it is the best $10 Lib that [Matt has] ever seen. It is just amazing. It looks better in person than it does in photos. The price, though, was very aggressive.”

I (this writer) was also overwhelmed by this 1899-S. The luster on the obverse is stunning; it glistens and dances in an astounding pattern. The reverse is extremely attractive, though not quite as exciting as the obverse. Yet, the reverse is closer to being flawless.

While both of these coins are extremely attractive, wonderfully original, and have minimal imperfections. They were not attractive enough for a 69 grade, and each has noticeable abrasions. When I see a 19th century gold coin that has the combination of originality, technical perfection, and eye appeal that I maintain a MS-69 grade would require, I will write about it.

Hall is proud to be the successful bidder. “Van and I[Hall] were especially pleased that we were able to purchase these two Eliasberg-Clapp coins, the 1899-S $5 and the 1899-S $10. They are PCGS MS68s and will be crossed, but they are so far and away the finest specimens known that what grade you put on the holder seems secondary. The 1899-S $10 will go into my personal set of $10 Liberties. The 1899-S $5 we bought” for inventory, we “just had to have it. And the other bidders sure made us pay up to get those two coins,” Hall relates.

Type 2 Gold Dollars are important type coins, which are much scarcer than Liberty Head ‘With Motto’ Eagles. There are no common dates in this short-lived type, which was minted just from 1854 to 1856. In contrast,Type 3 Gold Dollars were minted from 1856 to 1889 and many dates therein are considerably common. It is easy to find a Type 3 Gold Dollar that is PCGS or NGC certified in almost any grade from EF-40 to MS-68. In MS-63 and higher grades,Type 2 Gold Dollars are truly rare.

A Type 2 1854 that is PCGS graded MS-66, with a CAC sticker of approval, may be among the twenty-five finest of the whole type. Matt states that “it is beautiful, with a few light marks, all there for a 66, certainly a mid range 66 grade coin.” It went for $60,375.

Mintmarked Type 2 Gold Dollars have a special significance. Southern gold is a popular specialty. Super-type sets of gold coins, with all applicable Branch Mints represented, are popular as well. For Type 2 Gold Dollars, there are only two Philadelphia issues, and just one Dahlonega, Georgia issue. An NGC graded AU-58 1855-Dahlonega Gold Dollar in this auction sold for $23,000.

Likewise, the only San Francisco Mint Type 2 Gold Dollar is the 1856-S. It is very rare in mint state grades, and there was a PCGS graded MS-63 1856-S in this auction. Kleinsteuber asserts that it is a “cool coin, special for what it is, very nice for a 56-S. It was nice to see a real mid grade unc., really well struck for an 1856-S, with a very interesting re-punched S mintmark.”

Somewhat similarly, Type 2 Double Eagles (1866-76) are very rare in MS-63 and higher grades. During Platinum Night, an 1969-S and an 1876 were sold. I very much like the 1869-S, as does Matt, who says, “definitely nice, very solid and very cool.” I (this writer) found that it had never been cleaned, has probably never been dipped, has much original luster, and is characterized by pleasing natural toning. It is PCGS graded MS-64 and has a CAC sticker of approval. It brought $63,250, a healthy price, but not startling.

As for the PCGS graded MS-65 1876-S, it realized a mind-opening amount, $207,000.Kleinsteuber exclaims that it is “very cool, definitely a gem, one of the better type 2 twenties [Matt has] ever seen, if not the best. It has a great look, with nice color-spots. Its old holder added to the mystique.”

Nugget declares that “the quality was astronomical. It is one of the three best Type 2 twenties in existence. The auction price exceeded existing market indications by thirty percent.” I (this writer) note that the momentum of, and excitement at, a major auction sometimes propels prices upward.

V. Rare-Date Gold Coins

The most famous Type 2 Double Eagle is the 1870-CC. I have labeled it as The Queen of Carson City Gold, and written about this issue in the past. There were two in this auction. An NGC graded EF-40 coin brought $184,009.20 and a PCGS graded EF-45 1870-CC sold for $230,000. The latter has no technical problems, which is especially significant as 1870-CC Double Eagles frequently have serious problems. The NGC EF-40 1870-CC is better than average for 1870-CC Double Eagles. Indeed, Kleinsteuber asserts that “they were both amazingly problem-free for 70-CC twenties” and that he “was expecting them to be a litter nicer for their grades.”

My impression is that both these coins were overgraded, and the prices realized correspond somewhat to their actual grades, in the opinions of many experts, rather than their certified grades. It seems that the bidders were aiming to ‘buy the coin, not the holder,’ which is a common expression in the coin collecting community.

brahin_121809_reynoldsWhen rare date Saints came on the block, many bidders were definitely focused on the coins, rather than the holders. There were three collector-consignments of rare date Saints, Ralph Muller’s set, the “Five Point collection,” and Jay Brahin’s “Syrup.” (Please click here to read my preview article on Brahin’s Saints.) Also, the Saints with CAC stickers tended to fare much better than those that did not, though this was not always the case.

In my view, even the Saints that were ‘low end’ for their respective grades realized prices that were higher than market levels for such ‘low end’ coins. Consider the Muller 1926-S, which is PCGS graded MS-66. It garnered $69,000. Another PCGS graded MS-66 1926-S Saint, the Morse collection coin, sold for $86,250 in Nov. 2005. Dr. Duckor remarks that “the Morse coin is PQ [premium quality] for the grade and Muller 1926-S was a low 66 or a PQ 65. If it was a PQ 66, it would have gone from $80,000 to $95,000.”

Though the grade of the Muller 1927-D is well in the lower third of the 66 range, it is an exceptionally pleasing coin with wonderful original services. I really like it. The $1,495,000 price is strong. Markets for Saints, while increasing recently, are not nearly as high as they were when the McDougal 1927-D sold for $1,322,500 in Jan. 2006. The McDougal piece was graded MS-65 and upgraded to MS-66 later in 2006. The only higher auction price for a 1927-D is the $1,897,500 result for the finest known Charlotte-Parrino-Morse coin that sold in Nov. 2005. Adam Crum suggests that “even $1.3 million would have been a strong price” for the Muller 1927-D.

The Muller 1920-S and the Brahin 1920-S are both PCGS graded MS-64, though there is a significant difference in quality. The Muller 1920-S sold for $133,975, which I take to be a strong price. Another 1920-S, different from these two, was auctioned by Heritage during the Pre-ANA Platinum Night event on July 31, 2009; it brought $138,000, and its grade is in the middle of the 64 range. In terms of certified 64 grades, the Muller 1920-S is ‘low end’ and the Brahin 1920-S is ‘high end.’ The Brahin coin was formerly in the epic collection of John Kutasi. It sold for $161,000 during the January 2010 Platinum Night and for $138,000 on Jan. 4, 2007. The market for Saints was dramatically stronger in 2007 than in 2010, and this is a point that further demonstrates that $161,000 for this coin is a very strong result now. The fact that it has a CAC sticker is a factor as well.

Brahin’s 1927-S is also from the Kutasi collection, though this point is not mentioned in the Heritage catalogue. It sold for $172,500 then, and for $276,000 now, to a collector in the auction room. Matt Kleinsteuber regards it as “superb.”

I really like the Muller 1930-S, which is PCGS certified MS-65 with a CAC sticker. Dr. Steven Duckor found it to be a “solid 65, with undipped original skin, full breast feathers. It had pizazz.” Duckor currently has one of the all-time highest quality collections of Saints, and, earlier, he completed a set. Listings of both may be viewed in the PCGS registry. Additionally, about the Muller 1930-S, Paul Nugget says, “nice, choice 65 grade coin, premium quality.” Before the auction, I (this writer) would have guessed a result in the $175,000 to $190,000 range. The $207,000 result is a little high, though it is a really appealing coin.

As there were so many rare-date Saints in this auction, and some were high end while others were low end, there is no way to summarize the offering. There were multiple bidders for many lots, and a considerable amount of bidding from people who were present. Collectors were very actively involved, either directly or via agents. This portion of the auction was very exciting, though impossible to explain without discussing most of the Saints, at length.

VI. Brilliant Proof Gold Coins

It is difficult to demonstrate how well Proof Gold fared during Platinum Night. Price guides tended not to fully reflect the declines in prices for these coins over the last two years. From early August 2008 to early August 2009, prices for Proof gold coins fell by 15% to 40%, probably around 25% on average. Demand fell even more, as some of the fall in demand was offset by a decline in supply, as many collectors wisely decided not to sell their Proof gold coins during 2009.

It is of tremendous importance that, during Platinum Night, a large number of Brilliant Proof Gold coins sold for prices well above the market levels of 2009. Indeed, Adam Crum finds that “Proof Type gold coins were soft in 2009, and they brought much higher prices than [Crum] expected in this auction, 10 to 20% more.” This is my impression as well.

Here are some prices realized for Half Eagles: 1889 Proof-64 Cameo NGC CAC $16,100, 1891 Pr-64 DC PCGS CAC $19,550, 1896 Pr-64 UC NGC $17,250, and 1900 Pr-66 Cameo NGC CAC $69,000. For this 1900 Half Eagle, Matt bid $50,000, and he declares the coin to be “spectacularly awesome”! I am also very fond of it.

I was particularly impressed by the Liberty Head Eagles. I was thrilled about the 1864, as was Matt, who says, “I[Matt] love this coin. It is superbly black and white; it stands out, it is absolutely gorgeous.” It is NGC certified Pr-65 Cameo, and has a CAC sticker of approval. The price of $161,000 took me by surprise.

A few Proofs did not sell, mostly because the reserves were unrealistic. Market levels for Proof gold coins were substantially higher from 2006 to mid-2008, and sometimes reserves reflect the levels that prevailed when pertinent markets were peaking, or exceptionally strong.

1895_10_PR_cacgold_fun2010An 1890 Eagle, NGC certified Pr-66* Cameo, garnered an impressive $52,388.25. As for the 1895 Eagle, PCGS certified Proof-65 with a CAC gold sticker, I like it a great deal, not because it is undergraded, though that is obvious. It has fascinating natural clouds, with tan and russet tones, and a very distinctive overall appearance. It is an exceptionally cool coin. The $54,625 price is reasonable.

An 1897, Pr-64 UC NGC CAC, brought a high price of $21,850. A 1906 Eagle, Pr-64 Cameo NGC brought a strong price of $16,675, as it was not quite as impressive a coin as many other Proofs in this auction.

Crum was very disappointed that he missed a 1905 Double Eagle that is NGC certified as Pr-63. Crum views the price realized of $27,600, for this 1905, as “very strong.”

To soundly analyze prices realized for most rare coins, it is necessary to take the quality for each coin’s certified grade into consideration and often other physical characteristics play a role as well, such as toning patterns. Choice and rare coins are amazing three-dimensional objects that look different from various angles, and impact buyers in ways that can never be completely described. I hope that, in this and in other articles, I am furthering knowledge about specific important coins, the greatness of rare coins in general, the factors that experts weigh heavily, and some of the realities regarding coins and coin markets that are not publicly discussed elsewhere. I also wish to convey the excitement that surrounds many events and my own enthusiasm for coins.

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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  1. Bob Green | Jan 23, 2010 | Reply

    As always Greg Reynold’s has given an excellent review of the overall market and the highlights of the FUN show with great insight.

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