The Greatest World Coin Auction of All Time (Part 3): Latin American Coins
by Greg Reynolds for CoinLink
This is Part 3 of my review and analysis of the auction of the Millennia collection of world coins.
British coins, Dutch coins and particularly the coins of the Spanish Empire are tremendously well represented in the Millennia collection largely because these were widely used in international trade or relate to world events in other ways. Though many of the European coins are of high quality and/or are historically important, the Millennia collection will probably be best remembered for its Latin American coins.
I will not list the Latin American coins in the Millennia collection that brought the highest prices nor will I list the rarest. I do mention the three most famous Latin American coins in part 1.
The purpose here it to review a selection of the Latin American coins in ways that are clear to a large number of readers, especially to those who are not collecting Latin American coins. My emphasis here is upon coins that are historically important, pertinent to collecting pursuits, and/or interesting to people who know little, if anything, about Latin American coins.
The coins in the Millennia collection tend to be of very high quality for their respective issues. Collectors should keep in mind, however, that lesser quality coins of the same issues tend to be much less costly, often less than one-tenth as much. Besides, even the poorest of collectors can enjoy reading about and studying coins that are aesthetically pleasing, are of historical significance, and/or are interesting in curious ways.
One of the more exciting Latin American gold coins in the Millennia collection is an 1824 eight escudos piece of the Central American Republic. This coin was minted in a region that is now known as Guatemala, though the short-lived Central American Republic included Costa Rica, Nicaragua, the Honduras, and more.
The eight escudos was the standard large gold denomination of the Spanish Empire and continued to be minted by independent nations that ‘sprang up’ in Latin America.
Each eight escudos coin weighs approximately 27 grams, about 0.95 ounce. An eight escudos coin is around 20% lighter than a U.S. $20 gold coin. Eight reales silver Crowns also weigh 27 grams, not coincidentally very close to the weight of a U.S silver dollar.
Both the design of the 1824 eight escudos issue and this specific coin are very attractive. This coin is NGC certified ‘MS-63 Prooflike.’ Its grade, in my view, is a high end 63 and it is ‘prooflike’ in an amazing way. Andy Lustig, a collector of Central American gold coins, notes that it has “beautiful flash.” Indeed, the reflective surfaces are dazzling.
Many collectors in the room were stunned when bidding opened at a level above $150,000. It quickly sold for $166,750, probably an auction record for a gold coin that was minted in Central America.
Lustig states that “the prices for Central American gold coins in the Millennia collection make the prices in the Eliasberg sale seem low.” Andy wishes he had “bought more Eliasberg gold coins” in 2005.
The five Ecuadorian coins are of startling quality, as, for most Ecuadorian types, coins that grade above Very Fine are very rare. Dr. Hesselgesser is enthralled by the 1839 eight escudos coin that the NGC has graded MS-65. It was minted in Quito. He declares that “it is the finest eight escudos from any mint that [he has] ever seen.” It has an enticing reddish-orange color. Hesselgesser captured it for $48,300, and he was willing to pay more, even though he does not collect Latin American gold coins.
The Bolivian section is mind-boggling in its range and depth. A Spanish-Bolivian, Potosi Mint, specially made Crown (eight reales) of 1650 is worth noting. While the NGC grade of MS-62 may be slightly generous, it is exceptional for a Potosi Mint product of the period. It is well struck and well detailed with pleasing toning and no major distractions. The cataloguer states that it is ‘extremely rare.’ It realized $36,800.
This 1650 Crown was one of nine, specially made “Royal” Spanish-Bolivian, Potosi Mint, Crowns struck from 1630 to 1727 that were in the Millennia collection. Many of the pre-1750 issues, though, are relatively difficult to analyze and explain. Plus, these are of interest primarily to specialists, many of whom devote substantial time to studying them.
A 1774 Spanish-Bolivian, Potosi Mint Crown drew the attention of a large number of collectors in attendance. It depicts King Carlos III, also known as Charles III. While not extremely rare, this coin’s physical characteristics are stunning. It is flashy, with dynamic luster. Lance Tchor remarks that “it is a very cool coin.” The fields glitter and the portrait of Carlos III is frosted as is most of the coat of arms on the reverse (back). There is no way that a catalogue image can fairly convey the characteristics of this coin. It is NGC graded MS-65, and it brought $9488. A MS-62 grade 1774 Potosi Mint Crown could probably be obtained for only a fraction of this amount.
Among large gold coins of the independent Republic of Bolivia, the Millennia collection contained three Great Rarities. An 1851 eight escudos featuring a plain head of Simon Bolivar is a representative of a one-year type. Lance Tchor estimates that “fifteen to twenty are known.” He contends that the NGC undergraded this coin as AU-55. I glanced at it very quickly. It brought $18,975. A U.S. $20 gold coin of similar rarity and quality, such as an 1856-O, would be worth between $300,000 and $600,000.
There are two types of 1852 eight escudos Bolivian gold coins, one with a laureate bust of Simon Bolivar ‘facing to the left’ and the other with the bust facing to the right. The 1852 ‘facing left’ is another one-year type. Tchor reveals that, “in more than thirty years,” he “saw just one other, an extremely fine” grade coin of this ‘laureate bust facing left’ type.
The Millennia collection 1852 ‘laureate bust facing left’ coin is NGC certified ‘MS-63 Prooflike.’ Lance Tchor maintains that “it is not really prooflike and is a high 62, possibly 63” grade coin. It certainly has some hairlines. It is not unusual, however, for MS-63 grade large gold coins to have plenty of hairlines. It went for $60,375.
An 1868 large Bolivian gold coin is a representative of another one-year type. Lance concludes that this coin is undergraded as MS-61 by the NGC. I agree that its surface quality corresponds to a 63 grade. My guess is that the NGC finalizer may have calculated its overall net grade as 61 largely due to a perception by the NGC graders of noticeable friction on the highpoints. Lance asserts that “what appears to be friction is not friction at all,” just the characteristics of a coin that is struck with considerable weakness in prominent design elements. Weak central details notwithstanding, both the design and this specific coin are really neat. It brought a record $69,000. Has a coin of the Republic of Bolivia ever sold for more?
There was an appealing Bolivian Crown that was ideal for a non-affluent collector who sought a piece of the Millennia collection. It is an 1855 Crown that is NGC graded AU-53. It is a fairly nice coin, and its surface quality is certainly higher than that of most such Crowns with an ‘AU’ level of sharpness. It realized $241.50.
In the Millennia collection, there are many other Bolivian coins, and a fascinating group of Peruvian items. The varied, large, and complex assortment of Mexican coins in the Millennia collection cannot be even touched upon in a few paragraphs.
The Millennia collection contained several premium uncirculated Portuguese-Brazilian coins from the 1700s, including an excellent 1732 12,800 Reis, large gold coin that is fairly NGC graded MS-64. It went for $18,400, more then three times the Goldbergs high estimate of $6000. The Brazilian section, on the whole, was not exceptional, probably because Brazilian coins do not fit well into the themes of the collection. The themes will be discussed in part 4.
The Chilean section of the Millennia collection is complex and intriguing. I hope to, eventually, write a separate article about it.
The Colombian section was not as overwhelming as the Bolivian, Chilean, or Argentine sections. It is true, though, that it is very difficult to find decent, attractive Colombian gold coins that grade above AU-53, and several silver types are rare in high grades as well.
I like the 1759 Spanish-Colombian Crown, struck at Nuevo Reino, of the ‘Pillar Dollar’ design. It is very fairly graded AU-55 by the NGC. It has even wear, pleasant blue-gray natural toning, and, amazingly, almost no contact marks. It brought $109,250.
The U.S. coin dealer Charles Browne was the successful bidder for an 1838 sixteen pesos gold coin (of the same weight as an eight escudos) of the Republic of Colombia. It was minted in Bogotá. It is lustrous, strictly uncirculated, and NGC graded MS-62. It brought $3105.
Though not the most numismatically or most historically important part of the Millennia collection, the Guatemalan section was fascinating. Jim Elmen bought an 1824 pattern Crown that is especially distinctive. Andy Lustig remarks that “it is very cool and very rare.” The design has considerable artistic merit and the level of design detail on this piece is intriguing. Elmen paid $33,350.
The Argentine section of the Millennia collection was fantastic. The most important coin in the history of Argentina is the eight escudos of 1813. Political forces vying for independence from Spain established the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata (which was the beginning of the Argentine Republic). Royalist forces battled this newly independent entity, which managed to produce coins in 1813 and 1815, and not again until the 1820s.
The coins of 1813 certainly symbolize the origins of the Republic of Argentina. The veteran collector Freeman Craig states that, “based upon historical setting and prestige,” the 1813 eight escudos is “probably the most important coin of the Republican era.” Craig has been attending coin auctions for decades and is a leading expert on the coins of the independent nations of South America.
The 1813 eight escudos is a Great Rarity, and is a one-year type. I have seen two. This piece is clearly finer than the Eliasberg 1813 that ANR auctioned in April 2005 in New York City. It is NGC graded EF-40 and is nice for the grade.
Lance Tchor has been a full time coin dealer, mostly in U.S. material, since 1976. He has been personally collecting gold coins of Latin America for nearly ten years. Like me, Tchor has seen only two 1813 eight escudos Argentine coins, the Eliasberg piece and the Millennia piece. Over the years, he has “heard of four or five others.” Freeman Craig has observed that an 1813 eight escudos coin “shows up every three to four years” and “about half” of those that “show up” are forgeries or “19th century counterfeits.”
Craig declares that the Millennia collection 1813 Argentine gold coin “is both genuine and choice!” As such, it is “king of the hill and unique on the grade census chart.”
This 1813 Argentine gold coin has been lightly dipped. The reverse (back) has been moderately cleaned and exhibits a few very noticeable scratches in one small area. On the whole, this coin has no wear and is strictly uncirculated. (Many coins that are acceptably graded MS-62, by current standards, are not strictly uncirculated.)
This 1813 gold coin is lustrous and very desirable. Amazingly, it has only miniscule contact marks. The obverse (front) is very attractive and seems to beam.
The Millennia 1813 eight escudos is NGC graded MS-62. My view is that the grade of the obverse (front) is MS-64, while the reverse grades just MS-60. An overall grade of MS-62 seems very fair to me. Traditionally, the obverse counts more than the reverse towards a coin’s grade. Andy Lustig agrees with the MS-62 grade, as does Lance Tchor, who states that it is “a fantastic coin.”
In April 2005, the Eliasberg 1813 eight escudos brought $55,200, and Lusting was then ‘in’ on the bidding at some point well after it opened at $11,500. Lustig also tried to buy the Millennia 1813. After the auction, he exclaimed that it “sold for an awful lot of money!” It realized $161,000, which may be an auction record for a coin from Argentina.
The Argentine 1813 Crown, eight reales, is nowhere near as rare as its gold brother. Even so, Freeman Craig points out that “many people down there must have kept them to commemorate their breakaway from Spain”! Craig adds that these 1813 Crowns were “illegal to own in that part of the world for much of the era from 1815 to 1823,” when Royalist forces attempted to crush independence movements. Craig asserts that the Millennia collection 1813 Crown “is Mint State and unflawed. Maybe five exist in Mint State.”
From a technical standpoint, this 1813 Argentine Crown (eight reales) in the Millennia collection is of amazingly high quality. It has no wear, no friction, and no significant contact marks. It does have a few minor hairlines on the reverse, though almost none on the obverse. Lance agrees that “it has no noticeable marks and is technically very strong” overall.
This 1813 Crown is NGC graded MS-65. Andy Lustig remarks that the obverse is “superb” while the reverse is not quite as nice, though is very appealing. Lustig states that “the obverse grades 65+ and the reverse grades 64.” Tchor places this coin’s grade near the border between MS-64 and MS-65.
Before I asked Andy and Lance for their opinions, I had assigned a low end 65 grade to this coin, though I am almost certain that I would have graded it as MS-65 even if it were not in a holder. My impression is that Andy, Lance and I were all thinking along the same lines in regard to the quality of this 1813 Crown. The $14,950 result was reasonable.
For collectors who could not afford the gem quality 1813, the 1815 Crown in the Millennia collection is a desirable, though very imperfect, substitute. It has a little honest wear, and is suitably NGC graded AU-58. It is truly of an extremely choice AU grade. This coin’s originality and very light, natural brownish-russet tone are really neat. It brought $2415. While it is not especially rare, it would be a challenge to find another 1815 Crown that is as nice as this one.
It is unfortunate that there is not space here to cover more of the Latin American coins in the Millennia collection. I aimed above to provide interesting and understandable discussions of a sampling of the post-1750 Latin American coins in the Millennia collection, with references to the rarity, quality, historical importance, and/or curious nature of many of these coins.
The Millennia collection of world coins Series of Articles
Part 1 – Overview and Famous Pieces
Part 2 – European Coins
Part 3 – Latin American coins
Part 4 – The structure of the Millennia collection
Part 5 - Gold Coins as World Currencies
Part 6 – The Event of the Millennia
©2008 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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