Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, markets, and coin collecting #363
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds …..
Two newsworthy 1924 Philadelphia Mint Standing Liberty Quarters (SLQs) will be offered in the Heritage auction at the FUN Convention in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in January. Although bidders for these two coins are likely to be affluent and experienced collectors or dealers, this discussion is primarily aimed at beginners and intermediate-level collectors, who wish to learn about gem quality Standing Liberty quarters overall, especially SLQs for type sets.
As it is tiresome to write or read the exact same term, ‘Standing Liberty quarters’, over and over again, Standing Liberty quarters are abbreviated here as SLQs. The epic ‘Just Having Fun’ Collection is also abbreviated, ‘JHF.’
The JHF 1924 SLQ in the upcoming FUN auction is PCGS-graded as “MS-68+” and has been CAC-approved. A James Swan Collection 1924 quarter is PCGS-graded as “MS-68” and also has a CAC sticker.
The JHF 1924 is certainly one of the highest quality SLQs of any date in existence; it is colorful and nearly perfect from a technical standpoint. Information regarding the highest PCGS-, NGC- and CAC-graded SLQs is provided later in this discussion.
There is no need to consider pursuing either the JHF or Swan 1924 quarters to learn about gem-quality SLQs in general and these two in particular. Many other gems are available for much lower prices.
A PCGS- or NGC-graded “MS-65” SLQ, with a ‘Full Head’ designation and a CAC sticker, could be purchased for an amount between $500 and $800, perhaps closer to $500. For example, less than two months ago, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-certified ‘MS-65 FH’ 1930 quarter, with a CAC sticker, for $587.50.
A gem without a ‘Full Head’ designation, which could very well have much head detail, may be found for less than $500. There are some gem quality SLQs, including a few better dates, in the upcoming FUN auction that might realize less than $1,000 each.
Types of Standing Liberty Quarters
SLQs were minted from 1916 to 1930. There is much background information regarding SLQs in my article on collecting these for less than $500 each. There are readily apparent differences between the SLQs of 1916-17 and the changed design that was adopted at some point during the year 1917. On the obverse of SLQs of the first type, Miss Liberty’s chest is very much exposed.
This exposure might seem odd or inappropriate in the present, especially since U.S. citizens have become accustomed to regulations regarding television programs and admittance to public showings of R-rated movies. In past centuries, however, partial or even full nudity was very common in forms on sculptures, medals and coins.
The format of Miss Liberty was modified in 1917, such that a thick metal garment, some kind of armor, covers Miss Liberty’s chest. This armor is likely to have a military connotation. The U.S. entered World War I in 1917. On coins, medals and paintings, the wearing of armor by allegorical figures often relates to contemporary military or foreign policy concepts.
Regarding the reverse designs of SLQs, the main difference between the two types is the placement of the stars. In the reverse designs of the first type, there are seven stars on the left of the eagle, six at the right, and zero below. On SLQs of the second (1917-30) type, three stars were placed under the eagle and there are five stars at each side.
On many U.S. coins, 13 stars appear, in honor of the original 13 States. There are also 13 stars on the obverse of SLQs.
In 1925, the obverse design was modified such that the numerals of the date were placed in much lower relief. On SLQs dating from 1918 to 1924, the numerals had been wearing down rapidly while coins were used in commerce.
One concern was that the authenticity of worn ‘dateless’ quarters would be questioned by merchants, as some SLQs appear to have been poorly made (apparently by amateurs rather than by a U.S. Mint). After numerals were placed ‘lower’ in the structure of SLQs starting in 1925, the numerals did not wear down nearly as fast while SLQs circulated.
Some standard guides refer to SLQs dating from 1925 to 1930 with such lower numerals as a distinct design type, a third design type of SLQs. There really is not a significant artistic difference, however, between the design of quarters from 1917 through 1924 and of those dating from 1925 to 1930. The quarters of the last period represent a subtype, if they merit a separate category at all. There really are just two design types of SLQs.
Seeking Full Heads?
Both PCGS and NGC designate some SLQs as exhibiting a ‘Full Head’ of Miss Liberty. There has never been wide-scale agreement regarding the definition of a ‘Full Head.’ A ‘Mint State’ SLQ of the second type is generally worth much more with a ‘Full Head’ designation than the exact same coin would be worth without a ‘Full Head’ designation. A quarter that now has a ‘Full Head’ designation may very well have not received such a designation when submitted earlier to a grading service.
Importantly, some SLQs have weird, very flat heads, while many others have considerable head detail–yet not enough to qualify for a ‘Full Head’ designation. The grading services do not distinguish between quarters with 30% of a head, 60% of a head or 80% head detail. A coin that did not receive a ‘Full Head’ designation, yet has more than two-thirds of the maximum head detail that a SLQ is likely to have, is often a good deal for collectors.
One reason for premiums paid for ‘Full Head’ designations, even if ambiguous, relates to PCGS and NGC set registries. For the “Standing Liberty FH Quarters Basic Set” in the PCGS set registry, coins with a ‘Full Head’ designation receive bonus points, as if they are of higher grades than coins with the same respective numerical grades that lack ‘Full Head’ designations.
The same is true in the PCGS registry set category of “FH Quarters with Major Varieties”; coins without ‘Full Head’ designations are admissible, but ‘Full Head’ designations bring about “bonus points.” In this category, James Swan has the third “All-Time Finest” set, with “89.4%” of Swan’s entries having a ‘FH’ designation. Swan’s set has been consigned to the January 2017 FUN auction, and one of his 1924 quarters is ‘in the news’.
The leading 1924 quarter in the FUN auction was previously in the “Just Having Fun” (JHF) set of SLQs, which is the top-ranked in multiple PCGS registry set categories. This entire set was offered, one coin at a time, by Stack’s-Bowers as part of the August 2012 ANA auction in Philadelphia. Coins that did not then sell, usually due to supra-optimal reserves, were offered by Stack’s-Bowers in later auctions.
Curiously, between the JHF (#1) and Swan (#3) sets, the second “All-Time Finest” set in the “FH Quarters with Major Varieties” PCGS category was owned by Pat McInally, who is currently ‘in the news’ nationwide.
At the end of this month, he will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, the 18th player from Harvard University to be so honored. McInally’s career with the Cincinnati Bengals pro team was discussed in one of my previous articles.
In my conversations with Gregg Bingham in the past, Bingham related that he and McInally sometimes discussed coins after football games. Bingham had a long career with the Houston Oilers and is now a famous connoisseur of commemorative half dollars.
The Highest Certified SLQs
In addition to the JHF 1924, there are two other SLQs that have also been graded by PCGS as “MS-68+” and SLQs of this type have been graded “MS-69” by NGC.
Coins are graded on a scale from 01 to 70, and ‘mint state’ coins are graded from 60 to 70. Classic U.S. coins that are certified as grading 68 command attention.
There are many people who have assembled almost-complete sets of SLQs with certified grades in the gem range, MS-65 to MS-69. A large number of collectors seek gem-quality, 20th-century coins for type sets.
For all SLQs, PCGS has graded just 14 coins as “MS-68” or “MS-68+,” a total that maybe amounts to 10 different coins. The April 2007 PCGS population reports lists just seven as grading “MS-68,” four of which had ‘Full Head’ designations. PCGS did not assign any plus grades until March 2010. It would be unsurprising if the sole 1924 quarter that was listed in April 2007 as grading “MS-68,” is the ‘Just Having Fun’ Collection coin.
NGC has graded more than 35 as “MS-68” or higher. The three SLQs that are NGC-graded as “MS-69” are all of the same date, 1919, and this total of three may not represent three different coins. PCGS and NGC have certified many of the same coins, some of which have been re-submitted a large number of times.
Since the merger that created Stack’s-Bowers in January 2011, the JHF 1919 is the only NGC-graded “MS-69” SLQ that this firm has auctioned. Further, this same JHF 1919, with the same NGC serial number, is the the only NGC-graded “MS-69” SLQ that is listed in the Heritage auction archives, which date back more than 20 years.
CAC has approved two “MS-68” SLQs of the first (1916-17) type and six of the second (1917-30) type. Neither PCGS nor CAC has certified a SLQ at the MS-69 level.
This total of eight at CAC probably represents fewer than eight different coins. It would not be unusual for a grading-wholesaler to ‘crack out’ a coin that is graded as “MS-68,” with a CAC sticker, with the idea of maybe receiving a “MS-68+” grade assignment. Whether it receives a plus or not, the re-certified coin would be likely to be re-submitted to CAC, with a new PCGS or NGC serial number. Indeed, the same coin could undergo this process on multiple occasions.
It is important to keep in mind that graders at CAC ignore the plus aspects of plus grades assigned by PCGS or NGC. Experts at CAC will not reveal whether they place the grade of a coin in the middle or the high end of the grade range associated with a given numerical grade. If a PCGS-graded “MS-68+” coin receives a sticker from CAC, it should not be assumed that anyone at CAC viewed its grade as being in the high end of the 68 range. Curiously, it follows that a coin that is CAC-approved at the MS-68 level will also be CAC-approved if it is later graded as “MS-68+,” as experts at CAC are ignoring the plus aspect of grades assigned by PCGS or NGC. It should also be remembered, though, that CAC does not attach any guarantee to stickered coins that are removed from their respective holders.
When thinking about 67-and-higher grades assigned to SLQs, it is important to keep in mind that SLQs have not toned as well as Barber quarters, Liberty Seated quarters or Capped Bust quarters. Explanations for this phenomenon involve opinions. It is fact that gem SLQs with considerable toning, on average, are much less colorful than, and not as splendid as, gem quarters from earlier eras, which have been assigned the same respective numerical grades.
“Standing Liberty quarters are like Peace dollars as it is extremely rare for any to have beautiful natural color,” Richard Burdick asserts. “My favorite quarter in the Just Having Fun Collection was the 1930-S. My second favorite was the 1924 that is being auctioned again in January 2017. They both have great color,” Burdick remarks, in response to my inquiry.
The JHF-Kaselitz 1930-S realized $11,500 in August 2012. Stack’s-Bowers auctioned it again in July 2015, as part of the offering of the Doug Kaselitz Collection. It then realized $17,625.
The JHF-Kaselitz 1930-S is PCGS-certified as “MS-67FH” and has a CAC sticker. If not for some noticeable contact marks on the eagle, it would have graded MS-68, in my estimation. The presently discussed JHF 1924 is clearly superior from a technical standpoint. The JHF 1924 is virtually flawless.
The green, orange-russet and amber tones on the JHF 1924 are exceptional, as is the underlying mint luster. Although the head is not full, it is not flat either. The head of Miss Liberty on this coin exhibits considerable detail. The JHF could fairly be placed among the four finest-known SLQs of the second (1917-30) type, perhaps number two.
I do not recollect another SLQ that is clearly superior to the JHF 1924, and I have been viewing gem SLQs for more than a quarter century. Of course, there are differences of opinion regarding the aesthetic aspects of gem grades and the overall eye appeal of specific coins.
When offered as part of the JHF set in August 2012, this 1924 did not sell because the consignor or his agent placed an illogical reserve. The same was true in a later offering. The JHF 1924 did sell at auction in June 2013 for $16,450, and again, in January 2015, for $20,562.50.
Had this 1924 quarter been offered unreserved in August 2012, it probably would then have realized more than $21,000. The JHF 1924 was then fresh and was a publicized leader of the offering of quite possibly the all-time-best set of SLQs.
The James Swan 1924 has not toned as much as the JHF 1924. The Swan 1924 is PCGS-graded “MS-68” and CAC-approved. I probably have never seen it.
On October 18, 2012, the Swan 1924 realized $6,462.50. This quarter seems to have then been in the exact same PCGS holder in which it currently resides.
To understand market values of SLQs, there is a need to think beyond the certified grades and ‘Full Head’ designations. The degree of head, shield and eagle detail varies to a tremendous extent. More so than on Barber coins, toning, luster and technical characteristics vary on SLQs.
There is more agreement among collectors regarding the respective eye appeal of 19th-century silver coins. The tastes and preferences of collectors of gem SLQs are very inconsistent, a major reason why market values of individual coins are relatively difficult to estimate. In contrast, the market values of gem Walking Liberty half dollars are relatively easy to figure.
© 2016 Greg Reynolds
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