The Greatest World Coin Auction (Part 2): European Coins
By Greg Reynolds for CoinLink
This is Part 2 of my review and analysis of the auction of the Millennia collection of world coins.
At the auction, coins minted before 1300 AD, including but not limited to ancients, seemed to be of interest to a very specialized group of bidders. Coins minted afterwards captured the interest of a large number of floor bidders, even those who know little about them.
I observed that collectors and dealers of U.S. coins were attracted to many of the high quality European and Latin American coins. More so than at any other sale that I have attended, coin buyers seemed happy to venture out of their usual coin domains and bid on coins that grabbed their attention.
Andy Lustig bought a Brazilian 1810 silver coin, lot #972, for his personal collection, even though he does not collect Brazilian coins and has no intention of doing so. This coin is now “the only Brazilian coin” in his collection. Its “very unusual die break” initially got his attention, and he “found this coin to be very intriguing” overall. Lustig felt that he “just had to have it.” Andy paid $7188.
An especially choice 1854 large gold Bolivian coin captured the attention of Dr. Robert Hesselgesser as he was browsing auction lots. It is NGC graded MS-63 and is certainly at least a mid range 63. It is very sharply struck. Further, it has reflective surfaces and a cool look overall. Hesselgesser does not, and is not planning to, collect Latin American gold coins; he admits that he “just could not resist” buying it.
At the sale, I did not notice any Russians venturing far from their coin domains. Indeed, they seemed very focused on Russian coins.
Of all the Russian coins in the Millennia collection, the 1757 Dassier ruble depicting Elizabeth generated the most attention among Russian bidders. Mikhail Diakov, a coin expert and author of several books, told me, through an interpreter, that there may be more than two hundred known of this one-year type, but a very large percentage of them have circulated. This coin is NGC graded MS-64, and was PCGS graded MS-63 when it was auctioned in the Goldbergs Spring 2005 sale of the Hesselgesser collection. It then brought $31,050.
While its grade is debatable, there is no doubt that this coin is truly uncirculated and is of much higher quality than most of the few surviving uncirculated Dassier Elizabeth Rubles. While there are significant mint-caused imperfections, there are not any readily apparent scratches or contact marks. Besides, many of, or all, the coins of this issue have noticeable mint-caused imperfections.
Robert Hesselgesser is an American who was a longtime collector of Russian coins. He concludes that this Dassier Elizabeth Ruble is “the first or second finest known.”
Bidding started at more than $50,000, and I saw four Russians among others bid on the coin. The level rocketed past $100,000 and then to about $148,000 in seconds.
At that point, bids were put forth somewhat slowly and the level crept to $195,500! I am not sure of the identity of the buyer, bidder #891. This result is likely to be an auction record for a ruble of Elizabeth.
Could it be an auction record for an 18th century Russian silver coin? Over the past three years, Russian coins may have appreciated more in value than any other coins in the world.
Russian coins were not widely used around the world. Generally, many of the coins in the Millennia collection were of types that functioned as world currencies, or were minted to the standards, approximately, of those coins that did. Consider that, the first U.S. silver dollar issue, in 1794, weighs 26.96 grams each, about the weight of a Crown (eight reales) of the Spanish Empire.
Some other coins in the Millennia collection are historically important in relation to international trade, even if not of a type that circulated very widely.
A 1645 Crown of the Dutch Asian colonies has, as Jim Elmen says, “great historical significance.” It is around 3.5% lighter than the eight reales Crowns (including ‘Pillar Dollars’) of the Spanish Empire.
The Goldbergs cataloguer implies that this 1645 Dutch Asian ‘dollar’ was struck in the city that is now known as Jakarta, Indonesia. It would thus be the first Crown minted in a large region of Asia.
Jim Elmen remarks that this 1645 Crown, Dutch Asian ‘dollar,’ is of “superb extremely fine” grade with “beautiful original color.” Elmen has been collecting and dealing in world coins for decades, and travels to coin shows and auctions in Europe.
On this 1865 Dutch Asian ‘dollar’ (Crown), I could not find any significant marks or scratches and it has even honest wear. It is graded EF-45 by the NGC. The cataloguer reports that just six of these are known to exist.
Bidding for this 1645 Dutch Asian ‘dollar’ started at around $95,000. At $126,500, the underbidder was a collector ‘on the floor’ who bought many of the coolest items in the Millennia collection. The buyer, for $132,250, was a telephone bidder.
Elmen emphatically states that the Millennia collection “had a wonderful run of Dutch material, in terms of both rarity and quality.” There were, of course, regular European Dutch (Netherlands) coins in addition to Dutch coins of the Americas and Asia.
Elmen was thrilled about the Dutch 1607 Zeeland ‘Double Dollar’ due to its extreme rarity, quality and numismatic importance. This coin weighs nearly two ounces.
I can certainly testify as to the quality of this 1607 ‘Double Dollar.’ It is an extremely choice Almost Uncirculated (AU) coin, with just a little honest wear, minimal imperfections, and pleasing natural toning. It is NGC graded AU-55. It is a lot nicer, though, than numerous other 17th century silver coins that are also NGC graded AU-55. It sold for $12,075, which is a substantial amount of money for a Dutch coin.
Elmen was even more ecstatic about a Dutch 1809 dollar depicting Napoleon. Elmen explains that “it is a wonderfully original, superb uncirculated, prooflike coin” and “less than twenty are known for the type.” It is NGC graded MS-65. It sold for $48,300 to bidder #589.
Though not in the same league as the Dutch (Netherlands) sections, the Danish component of the Millennia collection is noteworthy. A 1650 Crown depicting Frederick III is NGC graded AU-55. It has pleasant, even, balanced natural toning and no noticeable contact marks. It is has a soothing, original appearance, and its surfaces may well be completely original. Though the type is not extremely rare, this piece is special. Elmen exclaims that “it is breathtaking, a knockout, absolutely super.” Although $6325 is more than three times the high estimate, it is a price that makes sense to me. In terms of originality and technical merit, finding a nicer one may be very difficult or impossible.
A Danish Two Ducat (6.9 grams) gold coin dated 1773 may be conservatively graded MS-62 by the NGC. It has excellent detail and no serious detractions. It is choice and very rare, and probably played a special historical role rather than being minted solely for commerce. It sold for $23,000. Elmen says that “it is a wonderful coin.”
Over a long period of time, Greenland, which is not far from Canada, transformed from being a Danish colony to becoming a largely self-governing Danish province. Two Greenland rarities were featured along with coins of the Americas. These are both Greenland Crowns, in some sense ‘Pillar Dollars,’ and are among the most famous coins in the history of coin collecting. The Danes sought to circulate a ‘trade dollar’ that was competitive with the Spanish Empire’s Pillar Dollar, which was, in the 1700s, the leading silver monetary unit of international trade. While these Greenland coins resemble Spanish Empire Pillar Dollars, their design is markedly different and features the crowned arms of the Danish Kingdom.
Greenland dollars, sometimes called Piastres, were minted in three years with two dates. Those dated 1771 were struck in both 1771 and 1774 at the Copenhagen Mint. The 1777 dollars were struck at the Konigsberg Mint. For all three varieties, a total of fewer than fifty are known today. More than twenty of those are impounded in museums. So, there are less than thirty Greenland dollars available to collectors, and Larry Hanks suggests that there are fewer than twenty-three! The 1777 Greenland dollar sold for $39,100. It is NGC graded AU-55.
The 1771 (second variety) dollar was one of the most famous coins in the sale. Several of the bidders remembered when the collector-dealer Andy Lustig used to own it. In late 2005 or early 2006, Lustig sold it to the Goldbergs who placed it in the Millennia collection. Andy regrets doing so. At the auction, Lustig attempted to repurchase it and was not successful.
This 1771 Greenland ‘dollar’ is definitely uncirculated, is semi-prooflike, and is very likely to be the finest known of the entire type. It has excellent, even natural toning. The obverse is a medium gray with blue and russet tints. The reverse color is splendid and features gray-blue fields with orange-russet patches about the outer design elements and majestically above the crown. To the naked eye, this coin looks almost flawless. Under five-times magnification, light to moderate hairlines and small contact marks are visible. When it is tilted under a light, this coin looks really cool. It is more than very attractive, and its NGC grade of MS-66 is fair. It sold for $178,250 to Dr. Robert Hesselgesser. This result is probably dramatically higher the previous auction record for a Greenland Crown (‘dollar’).
In 1814, Norway was divorced from Denmark and became subject to Swedish rule. The one Norwegian coin in the Millennia collection is particularly important due to its quality. Although scarce, it is not very rare. Lustig remarks that this piece “is of unbelievable quality for the issue. It is the finest of the type” that Lustig “has ever seen.” Andy has “casually collected Scandinavian coins for about ten years” and has been traveling to coin shows for most of his life. This coin does have pleasant natural toning and no substantial contact marks. Its NGC grade is MS-66. It sold for $8913, to an advanced collector.
The French section was not one of the strongest parts of the Millennia collection. The German section was extremely extensive, and many of the pieces have natural toning and choice surfaces. Before the mid 19th century, there were numerous, autonomous German or German-speaking city-states and small nations, and most of them did not have much influence on international monetary trends or on overall world history. Many of these German societies, though, produced an interesting variety of coins, which have been avidly collected for centuries. In the context of the Millennia collection, German coins were not of paramount importance.
A gem quality coin from Liechtenstein grabbed my attention. I just glanced at it for a moment. It is not of an aesthetically pleasing design, but my tentative impression is that the quality of this coin is phenomenal. It is sharply struck. It has fantastic light blue toning over glittering reflective surfaces. There are no significant scratches or contact marks. It is NGC certified ‘MS-65 Prooflike,’ and possibly has a claim to a higher grade. It was previously in the collection of Irving Goodman, who is a legend among collectors of world coins. It sold for $5,060.
I forgot to view an interesting and historically important coin from the Italian city-state of Genoa. It is a silver “scudo stretto” that is dated 1679. It is NGC graded MS-64! Genoa was a major port during this era, and businesses in the city were influential well beyond the boundaries of the city. This coin brought $8338.
At the auction, there was intense bidding for an uncirculated, 1481 gold coin of Milan. Now a major city in the unified nation of Italy, Milan was then independent and was ruled by the noble House of Sforza. The reigning Duke, Giovanni Galeazzo Sforza, is pictured on the obverse (front).
This coin is NGC graded MS-64, and weighs 6.97 grams, almost a quarter of an ounce. For centuries, the Ducat (3.5 grams) was the base standard for gold coins of much of Europe. This coin would thus be equivalent to the Two Ducat denomination though its denomination has a local name. Bidding started at nearly $22,000. Floor and telephone bidders pushed it to $34,500.
In terms of international monetary standards, there are some significant Crowns of Italian States in the Millennia collection. Consider that the silver coin standard of Central-Western Europe was exemplified by the Maria Theresa Taler of Austria, which weighs a little more than 28 grams, almost an ounce, and is about 83.33% silver. It was first minted in 1741 and for a long time afterwards.
The eight reales Crown of the Spanish Empire weighs less than a Maria Theresa Taler, 27 grams (about 0.95 ounce) but is seven-eighths silver (87.5%). The net silver content of these two standard denominations is thus very close (about 23.4 grams for the Taler versus 23.6 for the eight reales). Besides, in reality, the weights and silver fineness of the respective coins tended to very. Merchants expected a range of deviation.
In many circumstances, Crowns of Central-Western Europe were interchangeable with Crowns of the Spanish Empire. Crowns of both standards circulated very widely, though the eight reales pieces played a greater role throughout the world. Eight reales coins, and corresponding smaller denominations, continued to circulate in the United States at least until the 1850s and possibly much later.
For centuries, various Italian independent states, at different times, minted Crowns that were consistent, to a great extent, with these two standards. An assortment of such coins was found in the Millennia collection, many of which weighed between 27 and 28 grams, between 0.95 and 0.99 ounce.
A 1782 Crown of the Italian State of Modena weighs 27.72 grams (0.978 ounce). It is NGC graded MS-61 and realized $6038. An 1808 Crown from the Kingdom of Naples, depicting Joseph Napoleon (a brother of the French Emperor), weighs 27.44 grams. It is NGC graded AU-58 and brought $4600.
Curiously, a Crown of the Italian State of Tuscany dated 1601, about 140 years before the introduction of the Maria Theresa Taler, weighs 28.64 grams, just slightly above the standard weight of 28.0668 grams of the Maria Theresa Taler. Over history, monetary standards mostly evolved, rather than being designed. This Tuscany Crown is colorfully toned, is NGC graded AU-55, and realized $2760. Market prices for historically interesting, relatively high quality, pleasing, Italian coins are reasonable in contrast to prices for U.S., Mexican, Dutch or Russian coins.
Another Tuscany Crown, with an interesting and important scene of the port of Medici, was minted in 1704 and weights 27.16 grams. It is NGC graded MS-63, a very high grade for this issue. For $4830, a buyer took home a quality Italian Crown with substantial historical significance.
A discussion of the European coins of the Millennia collection should include mention of a famous Greek rarity, the 100 Drachmai gold coin of 1876. Jim Elmen suggests that around seventy may exist. The Millennia collection had one that is NGC graded Proof-64 and is very attractive overall with beige-gold design elements and green fields. It exhibits a moderate cameo contrast. It sold for $218,500 to floor bidder #878. This is a surprisingly high price. My guess is that it is an auction record for a coin from the nation of Greece.
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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