News and Analysis on scarce coins,  markets, and the coin collecting community #77

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

The topic this week is several important dimes and quarters that were auctioned by Heritage at the first Fall ANA Convention, on the evening of Oct. 13th, in Pittsburgh. In recent columns, I discussed some gold coins in this same auction event, an 1856-O Double Eagle ($20 coin), the Eliasberg 1796/5 Half Eagle ($5 coin), and the Norweb 1854-S Quarter Eagle.  This auction also included copper and nickel coins, plus other numismatic items. The total of the prices realized was more than fifteen million.

The gold coins in this auction were relatively more important and famous. These tended to bring stronger prices than the silver coins. Plus, a collector consignment of a set of Liberty Head Quarter Eagles ($2½ gold coins) drew a lot of attention.

There is just not time or space to cover all the significant items in a major coin auction, nor is it practical to discuss herein all the significant dimes and quarters. So, each of my selections is based upon one or more of the following factors: (1) coins that I have personally examined, (2) coins that are rare or are condition rarities, (3) coins that are particularly appealing because of their high degree of originality, (4) coins that have important pedigrees, (5) coins that are traditionally popular with collectors, and/or (6) coins that realized strong prices in this auction event.

I. Expensive or Inexpensive?

Although this is not one of them, many of my columns and articles are directed towards beginners and/or people who cannot afford to spend a lot of money on coins. There is no need to spend a lot of money to collect coins that are considered significant in the traditions of coin collecting in the U.S.

About a year ago, with contributions from a few carefully thinking dealers, I presented advice for beginning and intermediate collectors of U.S. coins. In February, with input from John Albanese and Kris Oyster, I devoted a column to Basics for Beginners. Furthermore, during the spring, I wrote introductory pieces, which are appropriate for beginners and are intended to be useful to non-rich collectors. These include introductions to collecting Two Cent Pieces, Three Cent Nickels and Dimes. It takes just a small amount of money to get started in such quests.

When covering major coin auctions, it makes sense to discuss expensive coins. It is true that most collectors cannot afford the individual coins that tend to be very newsworthy or lend themselves to extended discussions for other reasons. This generally does not, and should not, discourage collectors from reading about expensive coins.

To understand 19th century art, there is a need to read about paintings that only a few people can afford. To understand scarce and rare U.S. coins in general, there is a need to learn about coins that are very expensive.

II. 1796 Dimes

There were three 1796 Draped Bust Dimes in this auction. These are important for several reasons, not the least of which is that U.S. Dimes in general were first minted in 1796.

One of the three is NGC graded “MS-62” and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. It was part of the “Milly Chaykin Collection.” In Jan. 2005, this same dime was auctioned by Heritage as part of the Richard Chouinard Collection. He was one of the few collectors who actually acquired a very large number of scarce or rare coins by attending auctions in person. During the 1990s, Chouinard was present at innumerable coin auctions. He collected coins from the 1940s to around 2003 or 2004.

In Jan. 2005, this NGC graded “MS-62” 1796 dime sold for $16,100. It was then, or soon afterwards, acquired by the late Jack Lee, a famous collector and part-time dealer from Mississippi. According to Heritage, Lee consigned this dime to a November 2005 auction, in which it sold for $14,950.

On Oct. 13, 2011, it brought $21,850, not a very strong price. Current market levels for such a coin are markedly higher than they were in 2005.

This dime seems to have a lot of friction for a “MS-62” grade coin. A certified “MS-62” 1796 dime that is more clearly uncirculated might have brought much more in this auction.

Yes, I know that 1796 dimes tend to be characterized by weakly struck design details. The most famous of the three 1796 dimes in this auction has a particularly weakly struck eagle on the reverse (back of the coin). The NGC graded “MS-64” 1796 in this auction was previously in the Ed Price Collection, which featured incredibly comprehensive sets of Draped Bust Dimes and Bust Right Quarter Eagles.

Ed Price had representatives of all die pairings of 1796 dimes, and this is one of six varieties of 1796 dimes. Heritage auctioned the Ed Price collection on July 31, 2008, just as markets for rare coins in general peaked. This dime then brought $34,500.

Earlier, Heritage auctioned this same 1796 dime in Nov. 2004 in West Palm Beach for $23,000. It was then PCGS graded MS-63. In October 2011, it sold for $54,625, a very strong price.

This Ed Price 1796 dime has naturally toned nicely, mostly brownish-russet, with a lot of blue. There are exceptionally few contact marks on this coin. The weakly struck reverse is unsurprising. Overall, it is a very attractive coin.

A third 1796 dime in this sale is certified by a service other than the PCGS or the NGC, which is unusual. Expensive pre-1934 U.S. coins in major coin auctions are typically PCGS or NGC graded, unless they are judged by the PCGS or the NGC to be ungradable. In any event, I was not impressed by this coin. Jim McGuigan suggests that it has been artificially toned. This circulated 1796 sold for $7475, a strong price and not a good deal.

III. 1832 Capped Bust Dimes

There were two certified “MS-65” 1832 Capped Bust Dimes in this auction. The first is NGC certified and brought $4614.95, not a high price. The second is PCGS certified and CAC approved. I did not see either of them.

Mark Feld regards this second 1832 as “a nice accurately graded coin, though not especially attractive or lustrous.” Feld was a full-time grader for the NGC for more than seven years, in the 1990s. This second 1832 dime went for $8625, a very strong price

IV. “MS-69” 1874 Dime

Only a very small number of business strike Liberty Seated Dimes have been certified as grading “MS-69.” The Eliasberg 1845-O dime is PCGS graded “MS-69.” The Knoxville-Lull 1853 ‘Arrows’ Dime is NGC certified “MS-69” with a star for eye appeal. The 1874 dime in this auction was also formerly in the James Lull type set. The Knoxville-Lull 1853 ‘Arrows’ is, in my view, clearly superior to this Lull 1874. B&M-Spectrum auctioned James Lull’s type set in Fort Lauderdale, on Jan. 9, 2005.

Later, this James Lull 1874 dime was in the “Joseph Thomas” Collection, most of which Heritage auctioned in April 2009. This dime then realized $51,750, the exact same price that it realized on Oct. 13, 2011.

Indisputably, this is a cool coin, with appealing natural toning. In my opinion, its grade is not close to the MS-69 level. If many leading experts determined that it really does merit a grade of “69,” then it would have sold for substantially more than $51,750.

V. 1805 Quarter

An 1805 quarter in this auction is a pleasing representative of a Very Fine grade Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle quarter. This 1805 quarter is PCGS graded VF-20 and has a sticker from the CAC.

The 1805 quarter issue is not a rarity. Quarters of the Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle type are somewhat scarce overall. Also, many circulated Draped Bust quarters are ungradable.

This 1805 quarter has pleasant natural toning and very few contact marks. It was well struck on a relatively high quality planchet (prepared blank). While it is not the most attractive Draped Bust Quarter that I have ever seen, it is very appealing in its own way.

The $1495 result for this 1805 quarter is strong, about in the retail price range. This result is, though, a little less than I expected. It was part of the consignment of a collection. If a collector bought it, he or she obtained an especially desirable coin at a very fair price.

VI. 1807 Quarter

An 1807 quarter in this auction is newsworthy because it is one of only four 1807 quarters that have been certified as grading “MS-66” or “MS-67” by the PCGS or the NGC.

The Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle type comprises of only five dates, and a very small number have been certified as grading “MS-66.” The Eliasberg 1807 is the only coin of this type that I have ever seen that merits a MS-67 grade. I wonder if the PCGS and NGC listings, respectively, of one “MS-67” 1807 both refer to the same Eliasberg 1807.

This 1807 is NGC graded “MS-66” and it brought $115,000 in this auction, a strong price. Yes, I know that the PCGS price guide retail value is “$225,000.” This value is a little high in general and my guess is that the PCGS would not grade this coin as “MS-66.” It is relevant that the PCGS price guide value for a “MS-65” 1807 is “$120,000.”

I am not comfortable with this coin. Jim McGuigan and I compared our respective notes regarding this specific coin, and our views are mostly consistent. For decades, Jim has been a recognized expert in pre-1840 U.S. coins. This coin does not have enough eye appeal to merit a 66 grade and does not score very high in the category of originality.

Jim and I both noted a substantially imperfect, sizeable area near the first and second stars on the obverse (front of the coin). It is hard to tell whether the strange texture in this area can be largely explained by U.S. Mint caused imperfections that were later lightly cleaned over by a non-knowledgeable collector or whether the imperfections in this area are indicative of serious problems that came about after this coin left the Philadelphia Mint. If such problems are minor, then this coin grades “64 or 65,” in Jim’s view.

I also asked a leading grading expert of gem quality coins about this 1807. While he declined to be named in this context, he stated that he does “not think” that the grade of this coin is close to the MS-66 range. He also suggested that its grade should be a high end “64 or a 65.”

McGuigan points out that “it is pretty well struck” for a Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle quarter. Yes, the reverse has tremendous detail and Miss Liberty is well struck, too. It is also fair to point out that it has hardly any contact marks. Jim and I are in agreement that, if it has serious problem and it may have, it should not have received a numerical grade. It otherwise grades at least 64, in accordance with prevailing grading standards. The $115,000 result is really more than I expected this coin to bring. The price realized was strong.

VII. 1853 ‘No Arrows’ Quarter

My favorite silver coin in this auction is an 1853 ‘No Arrows’ Liberty Seated Quarter. Because the 1853 ‘Arrows & Rays’ Liberty Seated Quarter is a famous one-year type coin, collectors sometimes forget that the 1853 ‘No Arrows’ Quarter is very scarce, or perhaps rare, in all grades. In contrast, thousands of 1853 ‘Arrows & Rays’ Quarters exist, though these will always be more valuable because they are needed for many type sets. Even so, Mark Feld emphasizes that the 1853 ‘No Arrows’ quarter is “a really tough” date to find in gem grades.

This 1853 quarter is NGC graded MS-67 and has a sticker from the CAC. The NGC holder is of an early vintage as it lacks a hologram on the back. On average, though not nearly always, coins in early PCGS or NGC holders tend to be worth more than equivalently certified coins in later holders.

The catalogue indicates that this coin is from “The George Marin Collection.” It is certainly much more appealing than the Richmond Collection 1853 ‘No Arrows’ Quarter, which DLRC auctioned on March 7, 2005 for $11,212.50 and Heritage auctioned in Jan. 2007 for $13,800. The Richmond coin is also NGC graded “MS-67.”

This Marin 1853 ‘No Arrows’ Quarter is a wonderful coin. It features exceptional natural toning, with soft blue centers and orange-russet outer fields. Other shades of blue and russet are present, as well as some violet hues. In addition, there are almost zero noticeable contact marks. Furthermore, it is sharply struck. It is very attractive to extremely attractive overall. The Marin 1853 ‘No Arrows’ Quarter almost has the eye appeal that would be associated with a MS-68 grade Liberty Seated Quarter.

Mark Feld states that “it looks original and solid for the assigned grade.” I graded this 1853 ‘No Arrows’ Quarter as 67.7 the first time I saw it and as 67.6 the second time. Later, I found that my interpretation of this coin is extremely consistent with that of Matt Kleinsteuber. This is a “very nice coin, solid 67, maybe 67 plus,” Matt declares. Kleinsteuber is the lead trader and grader for NFC coins.

The Marin MS-67 1853 ‘No Arrows’ Liberty Seated Quarter sold for $21,850. In my view, this is a very fair price, less than I expected.

VIII. 1878 Carson City Quarter

The 1878-CC Liberty Seated Quarter in this sale was also “From the George Marin Collection,” according to the catalogue. Mr. Marin had some excellent coins. Furthermore, Carson City, Nevada Mint coins tend to have a special allure and a devoted following. (Please see my report about a set of CC Half Eagles that was sold privately in 2010.) Some people collect only Carson City Mint coins and others integrate Carson City Mint coins into extended type sets, especially sets that include representatives of each Branch Mint.

The Marin 1878-CC quarter is PCGS graded “MS-66” and has a CAC sticker. “A coin with a highly pleasing appearance, particularly on the obverse,” says Mark Feld about this 1878-CC. Mark “wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see it in a 67 holder one day.”

Like several of the other coins in this collection, this 1878-CC quarter is in an old holder. This one is from the 1980s. Unless such an old holder is badly scratched or damaged, it is usually a good idea for the old holder to be maintained. Coins in old PCGS or NGC holders often realize premiums in auctions.

I very much like this coin. There is no doubt that its grade is at least in the middle of the MS-66 range. Moreover, it has terrific cartwheel luster. The obverse has much appealing natural toning. The reverse is mostly white and brilliant. The Marin 1878-CC is more than very attractive. This quarter deservedly brought an extremely strong price, $12,650.

IX. Two 1901-S Quarters

The leading key date in the series of Barber Quarters is the 1901-S. Indeed, this is one of the most valuable of all 20th century coin issues. Even in Good-04 condition, a 1901-S Barber Quarter may retail for more than $4000! Tens of thousands of collectors fervently demand 1901-S Quarters. In this auction, there were two ‘Mint State’ 1901-S Quarters.

The more highly certified of the two is NGC graded “MS-66” with an NGC awarded star for eye appeal. Although no pedigree is mentioned in the catalogue, I note that Heritage auctioned this exact same 1901-S quarter in April 2009 for $80,500, when coin markets in general bottomed out. It was then part of the “Joseph Thomas” Collection. Moreover, I believe that I have identified it as being the Richmond Collection 1901-S, which DLRC auctioned on March 7, 2005 in Baltimore. I was not thrilled about it when I saw it then either. I covered the DLRC sales of the Richmond Collection for Numismatic News newspaper. If my pedigree research is correct, this same 1901-S quarter sold for $66,125 in 2005.

Matt Kleinsteuber recollects that this coin reminded him of “Mint State 1913-S quarters because most of them are semi-prooflike like this 1901-S.” Matt says that his coin is “okay for a 6 star” and he “likes it.”

I did not grade it as “MS-66.” I acknowledge, however, that it is flashy and cool in an unusual way. It is entertaining.

The Richmond-Thomas 1901-S just sold for $86,250 on Oct. 13th. While other certified MS-66 1901-S quarters are or should be worth more, this amount is a strong price for this specific coin.

I am more enthusiastic about the NGC graded MS-64 1901-S Barber Quarter in this auction. It has a CAC sticker. Kleinsteuber remarks that it is a “very nice coin, [with] wonderful blue and red original toning, a true gem, [should] really grade 65.”

Although the catalogue does not indicate that is from “the George Marin Collection,” it is in a very ‘old’ holder like many of the coins from the Marin collection. I recommend that the buyer keep this coin in its present ‘old’ holder rather than ‘crack it out’ to seek a “MS-64+” or “MS-65” grade. Great coins in old holders really impress experts and excite collector-buyers. Besides, it may not upgrade.

This 1901-S is exceptionally original overall and has terrific multi-colored natural toning. Viewing it was very pleasurable.

©2011 Greg Reynolds