Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #264

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds

This is the first in a series on the Pogue Family Collection, probably the greatest set of pre-1840 U.S. coins ever assembled. This collection will be offered by Stack’s-Bowers (in partnership with Sotheby’s), in a series of seven auctions. Marvelous is the right word to describe this collection; the attractiveness and originality of most of the coins is most noteworthy, and many are truly ‘marvels to behold.’ The Rogers-Foxfire-Pogue 1797 Draped Bust Small Eagle half dollar is the finest known of an entire design type, and is terrific.

Though referred to in the media as the “D. Brent Pogue Collection,” this collection was actually formed by Brent and his father, with the close involvement of outside experts not associated with auction firms. Sources suggest that this collection is not owned by an individual.

Long ago, Brent’s father became extremely interested in early U.S. silver dollars and then early U.S. gold coins. Sets of other series were started later. The Pogue family collection of early U.S. coins came to include all pre-1840 denominations: half cents, large cents, half dimes, dimes, quarters, half dollars, silver dollars, quarter eagles ($2½ gold coins), half eagles ($5 coins) and eagles ($10 coins).

Brent has a separate collection that includes coins from later eras. This, as far as I know, is not being offered, at least not in the near future.

The first Pogue sale is scheduled to occur on May 19, at Sotheby’s headquarters in New York. All Flowing Hair and Draped Bust half dollars in the Pogue Collection will be offered. In this same sale, there will be all the Pogue half dimes, Draped Bust dimes (1796-1807), perhaps all the Pogue bust quarters, and bust quarter eagles ($2½ gold coins).

The coins in the first sale, along with some that will appear in future sales, were on exhibit at Sotheby’s headquarters in New York from Jan. 17th to 24th. I mentioned the famous Garrett-Pogue (S3) Chain cent in a recent piece.

I will focus upon many, individual Pogue Collection coins in the future. There is no doubt, though, that the Roger-Foxfire-Pogue 1797 should be the main attraction of an analytical discussion. This half dollar is one of the greatest treasures in the field of classic U.S. coins. I was astonished and mesmerized when I first saw this 1997 half in November 1995. Before viewing this piece, I really didn’t believe that a coin of this design type existed in such a pristine state of preservation.

Excitement of 1796-97 Halves

This 1797 is the best of the rarest type of U.S. silver coins, which feature a draped bust design on the obverse (front) and a ‘small eagle’ design on the reverse (back of the coin). The representation of an eagle on the reverse isn’t really ‘small’; it’s referred to as such to distinguish it from the heraldic or ‘large’ eagle design that came next, in which the portrait of an eagle occupies a large portion of the back of the coin.

Before Draped Bust halves, there were Flowing Hair halves, which were also minted for just two years, 1794 and 1795. The Pogue Collection 1794 and 1795 halves are extremely important and will be covered after I am able to closely examine them.

Flowing Hair half dollars (1794-95) are not nearly as scarce as Draped Bust, Small Eagle halves (1796-97). There are more than two thousand 1795 halves and there exist a few thousand Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle half dollars, which date from 1801 to 1807. In contrast, there probably exist under three hundred 1796 and 1797 halves in total, including coins of all grades and those that are ‘not gradable’ because of serious problems.

The three major varieties of Draped Bust, Small Eagle half dollars are often thought of as three distinct ‘dates,’ 1796 with 15 stars on the obverse (front), 1796 with 16 stars, and 1797. All 1797 halves have 15 stars in the design.

Most interested collectors are satisfied with just one 1796 half, regardless of whether it has 15 or 16 stars. Indeed, relatively high quality early coins are often collected ‘by type,’ rather than ‘by date.’ Just one 1796 or 1797 half is needed for a type set.

Here then is a tentative roster of the finest survivors of this type. I invite additional information and constructive criticism.

1) Rogers-Foxfire-Pogue 1797

foxfire1797

In November 1995, some type coins from the collection of Lelan Rogers were auctioned in the Stack’s session of the Numisma ’95 event. Ed Milas’ Rarcoa and the firm of David Akers also offered coins in that auction. The three coins that captured the hearts and minds of the coin enthusiasts in attendance were all consigned by Rogers: the finest known 1796 ‘No Stars’ quarter eagle, his 1796 half and this 1797 half.

Rogers’ two Draped Bust, Small Eagle half dollars had not been publicly auctioned in more than fifty years, if ever. Before they were owned by Abraham Hepner their history is a little murky. Evidently, Rogers purchased them privately from Hepner’s family in 1968.

The legendary collector John Pittman told Richard Burdick that Pittman “was deeply disappointed that Lelan went down to buy these two half dollars from Hepner’s daughters, because Pittman was waiting to get them for a lower price.” Burdick reveals that he “knew both Pittman and Rogers well.”

Lelan Rogers was heavily involved in coin clubs and other coin related organizations. He often exhibited his coins at events or showed them privately to fellow collectors. Rogers, Burdick and Pittman, separately, placed exhibits at many of the same coin conventions during the 1970s.

Rogers was a dairy farmer in upstate New York who moved to Florida late in life while suffering from serious health problems. He was physically unable to attend the auction of his best type coins in 1995.

At that auction, Dr. Davis was the successful bidder for this 1797. During the 1990s, Dr. Davis had wished to remain anonymous. In 2010, he granted permission to Heritage to prominently mention his name and his collecting pursuits in an auction catalogue. His name is now mentioned on the Stack’s-Bowers web site as well.

Richard Burdick advised Dr. Davis for years, assisting him in the building of the Foxfire type set that sold privately circa 2003. Dr. Davis continued to collect classic U.S. type coins, though generally not of the same quality as those in the Foxfire type set.

The Foxfire collection was one of the all-time greatest type sets of classic copper, nickel and silver coins. It didn’t contain 18th or 19th century gold coins. The Garrett-Pogue S-3 Chain cent was also in this set.

Although the Rogers 1796 (16 stars) half is exceptional and also part of the Pogue Collection now, it was this 1797 half that stunned coin enthusiasts in 1995. For a coin of this type, the Rogers-Foxfire-Pogue 1797 is just incredible.

The indisputably natural toning is even and enchanting, Various shades of russet, orange, and blue glimmer, with green tints, when this coin is tilted under a lamp. Moreover, its originality is amazing. This coin seemed to have its original skin, never having been dipped, doctored or substantially cleaned. Furthermore, it is technically strong and very attractive. I graded it as 66.3 or 66.4 then, and I just glanced at it in a display case in New York last month. I have no reason to believe that I would assign a lower grade to it now.

2) Norweb 1797

norweb1797John Albanese asserts that  the Rogers-Foxfire-Pogue 1797 “is glorious and just a hair finer than the 65+ 1797.” The Norweb 1797 was NGC-graded MS-66 before it was downgraded by PCGS to “65+” during the summer of 2010, as I then reported.

In my view, the assigned 66 grade was fair. I certainly understand John’s remark about the Rogers-Pogue 1797 being “just a hair finer,” as I grade the Norweb piece around 66.1 or 66.2. It is also one of my favorite silver coins. A discussion was devoted to the Norweb 1797 during the summer, before Heritage auctioned it at the ANA Convention near Chicago. (Please click to read that discussion.)

3) Rogers-Whitney-Pogue 1796

The Knoxville 1796 and the Rogers-Whitney-Pogue 1796 halves are very different, yet merit the same grade, more or less, in the low end of the 65 range. Both the Rogers-Foxfire-Pogue 1797 and the Rogers-Whitney-Pogue 1796 were NGC graded MS-66 in the 1990s. Coin experts then were astonished that these two received the same numerical grade, as the Roger 1797 really is of substantially higher quality than the Rogers 1796. At different times, during later eras, PCGS ‘crossed’ both coins at their NGC-assigned grades.

Like her sister the Rogers 1797, the Rogers 1796 is incredibly original. She, though, doesn’t have quite the eye appeal or the technical strength of her beautiful sister.

1796At the Numisma auction in November 1995, one expert from the Middle-Atlantic States, whom I know well, was advising a leading bidder (not the Foxfire collector). That expert graded the Rogers 1797 as “66“ and the Rogers 1796 as “64.” Later, he was in shock when I told him that the Rogers 1796 had been certified as grading MS-66. I understand though how the sharp strike, lack of contact marks, and originality could have overwhelmed the graders at NGC, especially if it’d been more than two years since they’d seen the Rogers 1797.

John Whitney Walter was the buyer of the Rogers 1796 on November 29, 1995. To coin collectors, he referred to himself as “Whitney,” and was known to have a hostile attitude towards independent grading and encapsulation. I doubt that he rushed to have the Rogers 1796 certified in 1995. Dr. Davis, in contrast, very much wished for all of his rare coins to be independently graded and encapsulated.

In 1995 and in 1999, I graded the Rogers 1796 as 65.2 or so. Maybe I would grade it a little higher now? I am not sure. I have not held it since 1999. I look forward to closely examining it in May. I continue to be most impressed by its originality.

4) Knoxville 1796

An interesting question is whether the Rogers 1796 (16 stars)  is the third finest known of the design type. The Knoxville 1796 (15 stars) was PCGS-graded MS-64 before 1990. Later, it was NGC-certified Specimen-64 and then, during the 2000s I believe, NGC-certified SP-65? I am not sure.

In any event, in 2009, NGC listed one 1796 (15 stars) as having been certified as ‘SP-66.’ If not the Knoxville coin, I cannot imagine which coin this could be. Has the certification level of the Knoxville 1796 (15 stars) half jumped from PCGS MS-64 to NGC SP-66? There could have been clerical errors relating to published data.

Although I disagree with the Specimen certification, I admit that I seriously considered that it might be a Special Striking. The Knoxville 1796 is prooflike with somewhat of a cameo contrast. Its fabric and finish are unusual. Overall, it is an amazingly cool coin.

The Knoxville piece has been slightly mishandled, though, and the Rogers-Whitney-Pogue 1796 is relatively more original. Although the grade of each is maybe in the low end of the 65 range, there is more than one route to the same destination. In addition to being more original, the Rogers-Whitney-Pogue 1796 scores higher in the technical category. The Knoxville piece has plenty of contact marks and stuff in the fields. The Knoxville 1796, however, has more contrast and pizazz. It is lively and enticing.

The Knoxville Collection was a type set of classic U.S. silver coins, enhanced by some rare dates and patterns. Jay Parrino sold the coins in this set to the collector who referred to himself as “Knoxville” during the late 1980s and early ’90s. In 2003, Parrino bought the entire Knoxville set from this collector and sold the coins privately.

5) Eliasberg 1796 (15 Stars)

The Eliasberg 1796 (15 stars) has been PCGS-graded MS-63 since the 1990s and is still in an old PCGS holder with a green label. Yes, I know that it lacks a CAC sticker and not all coin experts like this coin nearly as much as I do. I also realize that there are some contact marks that are covered by stuff that accumulated over the years, probably naturally. The toning is not entirely balanced and the coin is not especially lustrous. Even so, it is very attractive and neat. I really believe it merits a grade in the low end or middle of the 64 range, and I have maintained my grade of 64 for it, ever since I first saw it just prior to the Eliasberg ’97 sale. Before April 1997, it had never been certified. None of the coins in the landmark auctions of Eliasberg’s U.S. coins were certified.

I viewed this coin again in Jan. 2009 and later in Jan. 2014, when Stack’s-Bowers auctioned it in New York. A prominent collector of pre-1840 silver coins then bought it.

The Eliasberg 1796 (15 stars) half has no bothersome distractions. This coin was probably stored in an envelope in the 19th century, and it is not surprising that some areas are now of different colors than other areas of the coin. This is an excellent 1796 half, with appealing natural, multi-colored toning. It has to be held to be appreciated.

6) Jung-Gardner 1797

Although many collectors remember that several of Oliver Jung’s type coins were auctioned at the ANA Convention in Aug. 2014, not as many are aware that Jung earlier assembled one of the all-time greatest type sets of classic U.S. coins. That set was auctioned by ANR in New York on July 23, 2004, a sale I covered for Numismatic News newspaper.

1797jungEvidently, Jung started another type set and then abandoned his quest. The unfinished second type set included the Norweb 1797 half and the earlier, finished type set featured the Jung-Gardner 1797 half, which I have always liked. I have seen the Jung-Gardner 1797 in at least three different auctions and I have never tired of it. I remember when it was PCGS-graded MS-62 and I then thought it was very much undergraded. Later, it became PCGS-graded MS-63. Nevertheless, I place its grade at least in the high end of the 63 range, probably in the low end of the 64 range.

The Jung-Gardner 1797 has suffered from rumors that are unfair and incorrect. In the 1970s, it was called ‘AU’ or a slider by people who do or did not then know how to grade 1796-97 halves. These tend to be both weakly and unevenly struck. Detail was missing in various parts when the coins left the dies. This coin is uncirculated and very choice.

The toning has become thicker and more greenish, over the years, apparently in a natural manner. There is still much underlying original luster. There are hardly any contact marks or hairlines.The green tones are pleasing and seem stable. Overall, this coin is relatively original, technically strong, and more than attractive.

7) Norman-Whitney 1796

In 1990, Norman Stack consigned his personal type set to Eric Streiner to sell privately. Norman’s 1796 half was NGC-graded as MS-64 and sold to Jay Parrino. Later, it was consigned to the Superior (Goldbergs) pre-ANA auction in August 1991. It was acquired by John Whitney Walter and became part of Whitney’s collection of 1796 coins that Stack’s (New York) auctioned on May 4, 1999.

I remember attractive, medium to deep blue and gray toning. There was no evidence of this coin ever having been dipped. There are some hairlines underneath the toning though I take these to be consistent with a high end 63 or low end 64 grade. Overall, this is a very attractive coin, or so I then thought. I wish I remembered more about it now. I would like to see it again.

8) Eric Newman 1796 (16 stars)

newman17961In Nov. 2013, most of Newman’s pre-1840 U.S. silver coins and an  assortment of other items from his collection were auctioned in New York. Two 1796 halves were included. The one with 16 stars is NGC-graded MS-63 and CAC approved. I figure its grade to be around 63.8 or 63.9.

Yes, I know that it doesn’t score as high in the category of originality as some of the already-mentioned 1796 and 1797 halves, and it has a few light gashes. Even so, this coin has terrific eye appeal. For example, some stars are reddish. Others are orange, gray or green. On the letters of LIBERTY, there are red, orange-russet, and yellow tones, about shades of green. Indeed, there are neat green hues in various parts of this coin, on both sides. The reverse exhibits creamy gray-blue fields, with patches of russet here and there.

The obverse is somewhat prooflike and the reverse is very prooflike. This Newman 1796 has a wonderful overall appearance and probably qualifies as one of the top ten survivors of the design type.

Are others in the same league?

Although I realize that Byron Reed 1797 is PCGS-graded MS-64, my grade for it in 1996 was in the low to middle of the 63 range. I then found it to be disappointing.

The Haig Koshkarian 1796 has been omitted from my roster, as I have never seen it. It has been graded “64” by both PCGS and NGC. ANR auctioned Koshkarian’s collection in March 2004. That 1796 half was later offered by the Goldbergs in 2006 and in 2011. I have been informed that it is part of Gene Gardner’s collection and will be auctioned this year.

The Norweb-Green 1796 is NGC-graded MS-63. As far as I know, it was last auctioned by Spectrum-B&M in Baltimore in November 2010. This same Norweb-Green 1796 was NGC-graded MS-62 when ANR sold it on November 30 or December 1, 2004, in Baltimore. I have examined it, and the Norweb-Green 1796 is not superior or even equal to any of the eight that I itemized.

The Norweb-Green coin is probably superior to the “Allison Park” 1796 with 15 stars, which is also NGC-graded MS-63. The “Allison Park” coin has more technical imperfections than the Norweb-Green or Newman 1796 halves, if I remember correctly.

It’s possible that the appearances of some of these coins may have changed naturally or deliberately been modified since I last saw them. Admittedly, I have changed my own grades for some of these pieces over time. For example, the Norweb 1797 further toned since the time that I first examined it.

Indeed, the grade of the Norweb 1797 legitimately increased as it became more naturally attractive. It does not, though, have the magical allure of the Rogers-Foxfire-Pogue 1797. Will an auction record for a half dollar be set on May 19?

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