Ghosts of the Numismatic Past

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek …..
 

At about 11 pm it was all over – the end of a journey.

A journey that, for the Pogue family, lasted 35 years, and for collector D. Brent Pogue, spanned the entirety of his adult life.

The collection, which now stands as the most valuable coin collection ever assembled, was built the old-fashioned way: with study, professional representation and attendance at many of the great auctions of this era.

Texas real estate tycoon Mack Pogue and his son Brent were the duo behind the collection. They burst onto the scene after a stunning debut at Bowers & Ruddy’s sale of the Garrett Collection, when a teenaged Brent laid down $250,000 for two coins. He was all smiles in Jim Lowney’s photo of him holding one of his prized coins in the December 1980 issue of CoinAge.

Melissa Karstedt calls the action at the Pogue V Session

This proved to be one of only a few times that the family sought the numismatic limelight. Outside of a namedrop in an NGC ad circa 1993-‘94, a handful of recent news articles and references we made in our column Market Whimsy, the Pogue Collection – as it was being put together – is scarcely mentioned in the ANA’s house organ, The Numismatist.

Of course, the father and son Pogues were a known quantity in high-end collecting circles and amongst the industry’s leading figures. Self-promoters they did not feel the need to be.

Their determined focus to build a collection the likes of which the hobby had never seen was readily apparent in 1982 when the Pogues acquired two essentially singular pieces: the only privately-held 1822 and 1854-S half eagles. With the help of some of the hobby’s most respected coin dealers, the Pogue collection grew in size and scope, even as the billionaire Pogues faced stiff competition from other major collectors of similar means.

For Brent, whose passion was coins, the journey was one of intense study and commitment. While reluctant to give interviews or stand in the limelight, he was always willing to spend hours on the phone talking to his close advisors and friends about numismatics, the coin market and buying strategies. Richard Burdick, who was one of a small group of dealers known as “Team Pogue”, once told us that the two would meticulously study upcoming offerings and develop a strategy as to what coins were needed to fill holes or upgrade the set and that the two would then set a budget and carry out their plan of attack.

Key highlight coins from Pogue V Sale, Stack's BowersUsually, the Pogues got what they wanted, but not always.

“Despite what people think, we had a budget. It was a big budget, but the money was not unlimited, so we had to be smart,” Burdick told us after Pogue IV.

It may be difficult for some to imagine a collection of this quality being constrained by anything at all, yet the Pogues operated in the real world, not in some monopolistic abstraction where money, coupled with perfect knowledge, gets you anything you want.

But, oh! What a collection it was.

* * *

A look back at CoinWeek’s award-winning coverage of the Pogue Collection sales:

Charles Morgan “Pogue, Part 1: Postmortem, Dealer Take-Aways, and the Sale as an “Event”

A light round of applause met the $2,000,000 hammer price that lot 1128–a rare 1808 quarter eagle–brought at Stack’s Bowers and Sotheby’s joint offering of the D. Brent Pogue Family Collection.

The coin, once part of Congressman Jimmy Hayes well-regarded type set, closed the door on the first of seven scheduled Pogue sales. It was one of three million-dollar-plus coins offered in an evening of remarkable early federal issues. Pogue’s 1796 Draped Bust quarter dollar (lot 1051 – a rare, high-grade first-year piece), brought $1,300,000 before the 17.5% buyer’s premium, and lot 1103–a 1797 Draped Bust half dollar, graded MS66 by PCGS–pulled in the same amount.

Read More

CoinWeek Video: “1796 Quarter Dollar Coin Sells for $1.53 Million at Pogue Sale”

Click to watch the action…

Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker “Pogue II: Rare Coin Market Roars; a Look at the Numbers”

But let’s not characterize the price of the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar as weak. It certainly wasn’t, and the $6,250 under Stacks’ Bowers high pre-sale estimate of $5 million is statistically trivial, especially when you consider that, at $4,993,750, the Lord St. Oswald 1794 dollar brought the third-highest amount ever realized at auction for a U.S. coin. Expect this position to change as the sales progress.

Bidding on the floor started at $2,600,000.

Laura Sperber, a phone to her ear awaiting instruction, was the first to raise her paddle, at $2,800,000. Kevin Lipton, in the front row, took the coin to $3 million. An absentee bid of $3,250,000 came in immediately after that and Lipton tried to cut the bid to $3,375,000 but was cut off by Laura Sperber, who called out “Three Five.”

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CoinWeek Podcast #18: Lawrence Stack Talks Pogue, the Market, and a Life of Fun in the Coin Industry

Click to Listen

Greg Reynolds “The Marvelous Pogue Family Coin Collection, part 14: Successful Third Auction Given Uncertain Market Conditions”

One of the most intriguing and exciting half cents in this sale was a 1795 Plain Edge that was overstruck on a Talbot, Allum and Lee “cent,” a famous private issue of the era. It is PCGS certified as ‘MS-66-Brown’ and CAC approved. This coin is fascinating, truly uncirculated, and apparently nearly flawless. It even has traces of original mint red. The underlying Talbot piece gives this coin a distinct and unusual texture, with additional odd elements. By far, this is the finest known to me of the 1795 Plain Edge, No Pole major variety.

Before this sale, I told a collector that a weak price would be $150,000, a moderate price would be $200,000, and a strong price would be $250,000. In my view, the $235,000 result is moderate to strong, a retail price.

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CoinWeek Video: “Pogue Sale III Auction Recap and Analysis”

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Greg Reynolds “Importance of 4th Sale to Collectors who Cannot Afford the Coins”

Without collectors, rare coins would not be worth much, certainly nowhere near their current values. The market values of coins in the present, and the reasons why some rare coins are more highly demanded than other classic U.S. coins stem in large part from the culture and history of coin collecting in the U.S.

The reasons why people like 1909-S VDB and 1955/1955 Doubled die cents relate to a culture of coin collecting. They are not obviously valuable to people outside of the culture.

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CoinWeek Video: “The D. Brent Pogue Family Coin Collection – Session IV”

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Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker “Pogue IV Auction Analysis: Why Did You Expect It To Be Easy?”

Bowers approached the podium again, this time he got closer and said just loud enough for Melissa to hear, “Melissa, you are already at the World’s Record… say that!”

With this level of enthusiasm, it’s hard to imagine that he didn’t anticipate the final sale of the coin.

Melissa did not betray the knowledge that there was still a ways to go.

“What do you think? Should I start taking bids from all these cell phones in the air?”

Eight point seven on the phone.

Eight point eight at the table.

Then nine million. No coin in the history of numismatics has ever received a nine million dollar bid.

But that night it wasn’t enough.

“I have nine million two hundred thousand bid. Going once, nine million two hundred thousand going twice, are you sure? You’re sure? Alright nine million two hundred thousand… pass.”

Click to read

* * *

Epilogue

As the crowd shuffled out of the carriage house and out into the Maryland Spring evening, most eager to catch the ever-patient shuttle bus, it dawned on us that more than just a marathon auction session was over.

Coin auctions may be emotional events for consignors, but professional buyers have no room for sentimentality… at least not at the moment when calculated decisions have to be made and the simple hoisting of a plastic paddle in the air could mean winning or losing tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But after the fact, it’s a different story. For a few short hours Kevin Lipton and John Albanese owned the 1804 Dexter dollar before selling it to Bruce Morelan. Burdick, who helped build the collection, could close the book on an exciting and important stage of his career; he might also remember his standoff with Anthony Terranova over a large cent error as the humorous moment of the night. Being that we generally like to keep our site rated PG, we’ll leave it to your imagination what Terranova called Burdick from across the aisle as the two ran up the price of the coin.

Over the course of three years and five sales conducted by Stack’s Bowers in limited partnership with Sotheby’s, collectors and coin dealers carved up the Pogue Collection with surgical precision. At the same time, the company’s every move was analyzed, every decision scrutinized, and every success fleeting.

When closing out the final lot of session five, auctioneer Melissa Karstedt tapped the podium for the final time and exclaimed, “That’s it. Thank you very much…”

One hundred years from now, collectors will look back to the five sessions of the Pogue Sale as events that still mean something. Researchers will take account of who was there, who bought what, and how much they paid.

Except this time, future scholars and numismatists will have digital video to watch, computer archived written accounts to read and a much better grasp on what this was all about than we have of the major sales a hundred years before us.

Before Brent left the carriage house, Charles managed to grab him for a brief conversation.

“Forget the money,” Charles said. “I don’t care about that… what you did was historic and this hobby will remember you long after we are all gone.”

Maybe he didn’t want to hear it. Or maybe he was just being humble. But all Brent said was “I don’t know about that.”

Well, we do. The Pogue Collection mattered, and last we looked it wasn’t totally broken up yet. There’s still the matter of a finest-known 1804 dollar and the only 1822 half eagle outside of the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian.

When you go home to that, just those two coins, you still have one hell of a collection. Better than 99.9% of the rest of us.
 

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