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Top Registry Set of $10 Gold Coins: The Jim O’Neal Collection of Indian Head Eagles (Part 2)

by Greg Reynolds for CoinLink

Jim O’Neal’s collection of Indian Head Eagles was the opening feature of Heritage’s Platinum Night on Jan. 8, and his set of thirty two $10 gold coins totaled $3.25 million. U.S. coins amounting to more than $20 million were auctioned that night. In part 1, please find an introduction, an overview of the event and a discussion of the Philadelphia Mint Eagles in O’Neal’s set. Here in part 2, O’Neal’s San Francisco Mint Eagles are analyzed. For some of these, O’Neal’s set will be forever remembered.

1913-S While the 1913-San Francisco Mint Indian Head Eagle is nowhere near as rare overall as the 1933 Philadelphia Mint Eagle, it is dramatically rarer in 65 and higher grades. The Kutasi-O’Neal 1913-S is one of the most important Indian Head Eagles in existence. Further, it is a very attractive coin with cool toning. It is the only 1913-S that is PCGS graded 66, and the PCGS has never assigned a 67 or higher grade to a 1913-S Eagle.

The NGC census does not currently list a 1913-S Eagle as grading 66, but does list two as grading 67. The Kutasi-O’Neal 1913-S, which is currently in a PCGS holder with a 66 grade, is one of the two that the NGC lists as grading 67. In 2005, when it was still in a NGC holder, Kutasi reportedly acquired it for “$200,000.” Later, the PCGS graded it as 66. O’Neal bought this 1913-S Eagle at the auction of Kutasi’s coins for $287,500, which was an astonishing price in Jan. 2007.

Todd Imhof, an expert in early 20th century U.S. gold, points out that the O’Neal-Kutasi 1913-S and the Michaels 1913-S are different coins. “The only 1913-S,” Imhof suggests, that “would compare favorably to the O’Neal specimen is the Michaels coin. But, it has been many years since [Imhof] last saw it.” The Michaels 1913-S Eagle was NGC graded MS-67 prior to Jan. 2004, at which time it realized $143,750 at auction!

Dr. Steven Duckor, a leading collector, states that the Kutasi-O’Neal 1913-S is “accurately graded as 66” and has “original surfaces.” Chris Napolitano, a leading dealer in high quality U.S. coins, states that he “has a lot of respect for this date in 66 grade. This 1913-S is certainly one of the best.” Dr. Duckor remarks that “the NGC 67” 1913-S which is still “out there is not as nice!” In his view, the Kutasi-O’Neal 1913-S “is the finest known.”

Dr. Duckor “expected” the Kutasi-O’Neal 1913-S Eagle to bring between $275,000 and $300,000. As it turns out, it realized $299,000. Laura Sperber was the successful bidder, on behalf of a collector who is assembling an amazing set of Indian Head Eagles that will probably not be entered into the PCGS registry.

Todd Imhof emphasizes that the 1913-S is such a scarce issue in grades of 63 and higher that “it really wouldn’t surprise” Imhof if a 65 grade 1913-S Eagle “sells for close to $200,000” in the current market environment.”Even though they certainly were not cheap, pound for pound,” Imhof finds that “the 1913-S and 1920-S were the best buys from” the O’Neal set of Indian Head Eagles.

Imhof maintains that the O’Neal 1915-S sold for a relatively strong price. I completely agree. It is one of only two 1915-S Eagles that are PCGS graded 66, and the PCGS has never graded one higher. The NGC currently reports a single 1915-S Eagle as having been NGC graded 66 and one as 67.

In Dr. Duckor’s view, the 1915-S was one of “the best” coins in O’Neal’s set, and Duckor states that the cool, colorful toning is “original.” Somehow, I have a fonder recollection of the Price-Michaels-Kutasi 1915-S, which is (or was) PCGS graded 65. It sold for $74,750 in the Jan. 2007 Kutasi sale.

The $126,500 realization for the O’Neal 1915-S was much higher than I expected. Perhaps this result is another instance of the momentum of this spectacular auction pushing market prices higher.

Imhof’s view that the 1916-S realized a strong price makes sense to me. The O’Neal 1916-S is one of two that are PCGS graded 67. I believe that the O’Neal coin is the Belle Glade collection 1916-S Eagle that realized $115,000 at the Summer 2007 ANA Platinum Night event. Before the latest boom in coin markets, a PCGS graded 67 1916-S, either this one or the other, sold for $32,200 in the Summer 2002 ANA auction in New York.

Even taking into consideration the heated market at the Summer 2007 ANA Convention, the $115,000 result was probably considered ‘high’ or extremely strong at the time. I did not expect the O’Neal-‘Belle Glade’ 1916-S to break the $100,000 barrier on Jan. 8, 2009.

The O’Neal 1916-S is an excellent coin. It has almost zero contact marks. The surfaces and color are completely original with pleasing natural toning. Perhaps its originality counted heavily in the computations by PCGS graders of the 67 grade. Even so, in my view, it just barely qualifies for a 67 grade. The lack of a full strike and some faint imperfections concerned me. Moreover, while it is very attractive, it lacks pizzazz. In my view, a 67 grade Indian Head Eagle should be awestriking.

I am not sure as to whether there exists a finer 1916-S Eagle. There are, though, more convincing 67 grade San Francisco Mint Indian Head Eagles of other dates. The auction price of $103,500 for the O’Neal 1916-S was strong, though perhaps a ‘good deal’ for someone who aims to enter his (or her) set in the PCGS registry. Who knows when the other PCGS graded 67 1916-S will become available?

The 1915-S and the 1916-S are overshadowed by the rarer San Francisco Mint Indian Head Eagles. Indeed, the 1913-S is much scarcer. The 1920-S and the 1930-S are truly rare.

As the Morse-O’Neal 1933 Eagle is one of several that the PCGS has graded 65, it is not much more famous than other 1933 Eagles. In the O’Neal set of Indian Head Eagles, the 1920-S, the 1930-S, and the above-mentioned 1913-S, are extremely famous as individuals. Indeed, these three specific coins are among the most famous of all Indian Head Eagles.

The Duckor-O’Neal 1930-S is the only 1930-S that is PCGS graded “67” and none has been graded 68. The Heritage cataloguer points out that it has not been publicly auctioned since 1973, long before the PCGS was founded in 1986. Bidders eagerly awaited the offering of this coin, and there was some uncertainty as to how to value it. The recent auction record for the date was set when a PCGS graded 65 1930-S was sold by the Goldbergs in Sept. 2006. The price was $71,300, at a time when coin markets were much hotter than they were in Jan. 2009. Imhof acted on behalf of a successful telephone bidder. The final price of $299,000 startled me.

1920-SThe most anticipated coin in the auction of this O’Neal set was his 1920-S. There are fewer than 150 1920-S Eagles in existence. There could possibly be fewer than 100. PCGS and NGC reports include multiple counts of some coins that were resubmitted two to ten times. Moreover there are an extremely small number of 1920-S Eagles that grade 65 or higher. The PCGS has graded two as 65, just the Kutasi-O’Neal 1920-S as 66 and only the Duckor 1920-S as 67.

I have always liked the Kutasi-O’Neal 1920-S. I believe the rose, russet-orange and green tones are natural. Moreover, the toning is quite appealing in an unusual manner. Overall, this coin is more than very attractive and is truly cool.

Chris Napolitano remarks that this 1920-S “is pretty nice. It is the second best [he has] ever seen. The best, of course, is the Duckor coin.” In Napolitano’s view, the grade of the “O’Neal 20-S is a mid range 66.” Dr. Duckor grades the Kutasi-O’Neal 1920-S as “66-Minus.” I agree with Napolitano that its grade is in the middle of the 66 range, though I understand how someone could think otherwise. The most telling point in Napolitano’s statement is that this is “the second best” that he has seen in his decades of involvement in coins, which includes attendance at innumerable coin conventions and major auctions.

In regard to the Duckor 1920-S Eagle, David Akers served as a guest contributor to the March 2007 Heritage catalogue. Akers lists two others that might also qualify for 66 grades. “Uncertified, but certainly MS-66 at least,” said Akers about the R. L. Miles 1920-S, which was, at one time, owned by the late Harry Bass. It was not auctioned by B&M in any of the four Bass sales in New York during 1999 and 2000. My understanding is that it is not part of the Bass display at the ANA museum. Where is it now? Also, Akers refers to another 1920-S Eagle that is “uncertified” and might “possibly” grade 66.

Unfortunately, I have never seen the Duckor ’20-S. There seems to be no question, however, that it deserves its PCGS grade of 67, and is definitely the finest known 1920-S. In March 2007, it realized $1.725 million, which was a shocking result. Before this auction, there had been considerable discussion of the possibility that it would sell for more than $1 million. As far as I know, no one predicted a price of more than $1.3 million. The 1933 Eagle, as a date, is clearly rarer than the 1920-S Eagle. Yet, a 1933 Eagle not realized as much as $750,000 at auction.

In Jan. 2007, O’Neal bought the Kutasi-Michaels 1920-S for $402,500. It brought $241,500 in Jan. 2004, and I expected a price in the $360,000 range in Jan. 2007. I was very unsure as to what to expect in 2009. The O’Neal-Kutasi-Michaels 1920-S sold to a floor bidder, whom I never saw before, for $431,250, 7% more than its 2007 price.

Imhof remarks that the O’Neal 1920-S “seems like a solid acquisition” for the buyer. Imhof “really thought” the O’Neal 1920-S “might” sell “for something around $690,000.” He points out that 64 grade 1920-S Eagles “are worth $150,000 plus” and that the Duckor 1920-S brought $1.725 million “after” this 1920-S realized $402,500 in the Kutasi sale.

It is curious that this 1920-S and many of the other highly-ranked, better-date Indian Head Eagles have been offered at auction more than once over a five year period. It seems that Kutasi and O’Neal, and maybe Michaels as well, assembled and then consigned to auction their respective sets in very short periods of time. In contrast, Dr. Duckor held his 1920-S Eagle for more than seventeen years. Eliasberg’s copper and silver U.S. coins were auctioned more than forty years after his whole U.S. coin collection was completed, and around twenty years after his death. Eliasberg’s set of U.S. gold coins was completed by 1950 and auctioned in 1982. In the history of U.S. coin collecting, it has been very unusual for an advanced collection to be sold less than five years after it is started, though such quick-selling has occurred in numerous instances during this decade.

One of the byproducts of the concept of a registry set is that a collector may complete a set, have it registered for the foreseeable future, sell it, and then use the proceeds for other endeavors, including new sets. Sets that are no longer intact may continue to be listed among the “All-Time Finest” of their respective categories in the PCGS set registry.

Several registry set collectors have used the funds from the sale of one set to complete another, often in a very different area. ANR auctioned Richard J’s registry set of $3 gold coins in March 2005, and RJ then assembled a stellar set of commemoratives. The collector known as “Law” has started many registry sets and has sold some of them along the way, as has Bruce Scher. Also, Jim O’Neal has other sets.

After the collector known as Lord Baltimore sold his PCGS registry set of Saints in 2005 to Bob Green’s Park Avenue Numismatics, Lord Baltimore assembled a registry set of Morgan Dollars and sold it to Green in July 2008. Lord Baltimore is now working on a third set, which will be registered. Though the idea of a collector selling one set and starting another is not new, the rise of an online registry enhances the appeal of this practice. Each completed set, even after it is disbursed, may continue to be publicly documented; past sets are then referenced by collectors and researchers in the future.

Although certified grades are incorrectly treated as absolutes and are taken a little too literally in the registries, the PCGS registry is very exciting. Further, registries have greatly contributed to research of pedigrees. I have always wondered, though, why collectors do not have their own websites which could provide extensive information regarding their collecting endeavors. In addition to a grade, there is much that can and should be said about each important coin. Aesthetics, striking characteristics, pedigrees, and/or stories about coins could all be featured in websites or articles about specific collections. It would be great if more collectors shared information about their coins and collecting quests.

ã2009 Greg Reynolds

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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