By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek….
On June 25, 2015, Legend Rare Coin Auctions will offer the first half of the PCGS Set Registry Current #1 Morgan dollar set, the Coronet Collection.
As a hand-selected group of Morgan dollars, the collection has few peers in the history of the hobby. In terms of All-time finest sets, PCGS rates Coronet 1/100th of a point behind Jack Lee’s famous set. However, this ranking is partly biased by PCGS’s new algorithm, which rewards collectors’ sets when they contain “Top Pop”, pop 1 coins. In that sense, while Lee’s set might have been notionally better numerically, Coronet has a definite edge when you consider the new metric, claiming 21 “best knowns” to Lee’s 11.
New formula or not, assembling a set like the Coronet collection wouldn’t have been possible without collectors like Jack Lee and Wayne Miller. These collectors saw the value of PQ Morgans early on, well before third-party grading quantified the differences between Mint State coins with today’s 11-point plus half-step numerical grading standard.
Amassed over the course of the past 15 to 20 years, the Coronet Collection contains one monster coin after another. The set is comprised of both eye-popping connoisseur-quality conditional rarities and condition-census key-date issues, like the spectacular and historic Vermuele/Lee 1893-S (which is offered for sale by Private Treaty) or the 1879-CC in MS65+.
Breaking down Coronet into smaller, more digestible subsets of coins, one is struck by the quality of Coronet’s Carson City dollars.
As a CC-dollar set, Coronet reveals much. It is the finest CC set yet built, but it is not the finest possible. That a set of this quality can be built and still have room to improve is exciting and presents tomorrow’s caretakers of these remarkable coins a goal worth shooting for.
But comparing what is to what could have been is a conversation for another day. For now, we wanted to take a quick look at the finest ever assembled collection of Morgan CCs from the Coronet Collection and give you a few of our gut reactions to the coins themselves.
In this first installment, we’ll look at the CC dollars of 1878 through 1882. On Saturday, we’ll finish up with a discussion of the Coronet CCs from 1883 through 1893.
Lot 4 – 1878-CC PCGS MS66+ CAC
In December 2013, Heritage sold one CAC-approved PCGS MS66+ example for $19,975. At the time, the coin was one of six reported with the grade 66+. A year later, Heritage sold another CAC-approved example for $22,325. Legend’s pre-sale estimate has the Coronet coin bringing $12,500+. We expect a strong showing for the coin and a hammer that will be, perhaps, twice estimate. Pre-sale bidding is already $9,000.
Lot 7 – 1879-CC PCGS MS65+ CAC
Gem Mint State 1879-CCs are among the most difficult coins in the entire Morgan dollar series to acquire. It goes without saying that the coin’s Carson City lineage is part of the issue’s appeal. Who doesn’t long for numismatic mementos from the Old West? But it’s the issue’s low mintage and low survival rate that make this a perennial favorite.
PCGS and NGC each register two MS66 1879-CC Morgan dollars in their population data. In MS65+, PCGS claims six coins, five of which have Tru-View imaging. You can see them yourself by clicking here (subscription required). The Coronet Specimen is CAC-approved, has blazing cartwheels, and a touch of golden toning. It’s strike and surfaces are markedly superior. This example is of the non-capped die variety.
Legend Pre-Sale Estimate: $37,500.00.
Lot 8 – 1879-CC PCGS MS-65 Capped Die – VAM-3 CAC
A popular variety, made even more so due to its Carson City pedigree and its scarcity in gem grades. To date, PCGS has registered 12 examples in MS65. The typical Mint State piece submitted to the service graded between 63 and 64.
It’s amazing to think that the variety once traded for less than its “clean CC” counterpart. Wayne Miller, in his An Analysis of Morgan and Peace Dollars, estimated a 20-30% discount when his book was published in 1976. The Redfield Hoard is alleged to have contained a few hundred 1879-CC capped dies. Assuming that was indeed the case, can you imagine the scarcity of this variety had that hoard not turned up?
The Coronet example is described by Legend as having “borderline prooflike qualities” and “light die polishing”. It has a soft gold hue and handsomely-frosted devices. Legend Rare Coin Auctions is bullish on the coin, estimating that it will bring $40,000+. Recorded auction prices for the issue in this grade from the past few years show the coin bringing between $36 and $40k. At the time of writing, pre-sale bidding was already up to $37,000.
Lot 12 – 1880-CC PCGS MS67PL CAC
The GSA Hoard Sales of CC Dollars had the opposite effect on the series than many numismatists of the period had expected. Instead of collapsing the market for CC dollars, they greatly expanded it by bringing tens of thousands of new collectors into the hobby.
It’s hard to imagine that the General Services Administration would have been capable of mounting a marketing campaign that still resonates 40 years later, but the collecting public’s association of the CC mintmark with the Old West is as strong today as it was when the GSA first offered the coins on October 31, 1972–108 years to the day that Nevada was admitted as the 36th State in the Union.
By the numbers, the 1880-CC should be a scarce coin (it has a mintage of 591,000). But from that number, nearly 25% (131,529 coins) remained in Treasury vaults until the 1970s. Today, as you can imagine, the coins are plentiful – but not in grades above MS65.
The Coronet example is graded MS67PL and is CAC certified. Its Prooflike fields display incredible clarity and reflectivity. Frosted devices give the coin great contrast, adding to the coin’s plus plus eye appeal.
Legend’s presale estimate was $40,000+ for this top pop, pop 1 coin. Early bidding has already sailed past that number, sitting at $52,500 at press time.
Lot 13 – 1880/79-CC Rev of ’78 PCGS MS66 CAC
The 1880-CC saw a number of overdate varieties. This example features the Reverse of ’78 and is graded MS66 by PCGS (CAC-approved). Brilliant, original surfaces are further supported by a full strike.
Legend Estimate – $6,500.00
Lot 17 – 1881-CC PCGS MS68 CAC
296,000 1881-CC Morgan dollars were struck. A hair less than half of that mintage sat in Treasury vaults until the GSA sales of the 1970s and early ’80s. And while the ’81-CC will never be as scarce as its mintage might suggest, it’s long been a collector favorite.
We’ve always found the ’81-CC to be one of the most attractive issues from the Morgan dollar’s Carson City run. Most examples are fully or nearly fully struck and have nice luster. The Coronet example, however, is nothing like most examples. This piece, graded MS68 by PCGS and approved by CAC, is satiny, with swirling cartwheels, lightly frosted surfaces, and a virtually mark-free surface.
PCGS has recorded four grading events for this issue at MS68 with none finer.
The last public sale of this example took place in 2007, when Heritage Auction’s offered the then #8 PCGS Set Registry Morgan Dollar Set, the Jackson Hole Collection. That set was built by Dr. James Balliro of Wyoming. In 2007, the coin brought $48,875. Legend Rare Coin Auctions’ estimate of $40,000+ has already been matched by pre-sale bidding.
Lot 21 – 1882-CC PCGS MS67 CAC
While the 1881-CC saw half of its mintage distributed with the GSA Sales, the issue’s low mintage of 296,000 meant that it was easily absorbed into the market.
The Carson City issues from 1882 through 1884 were a different matter. In 1882, the Carson City Mint produced 1,133,000 Morgan dollars. 605,029 of these – 53.4% of the total mintage – were never circulated and held in store by the Treasury.
Interest in the “dollar coins that Jesse James never got” has supported common grade examples of the issue to the tune of $200 to $300. A typical gem runs about $450 to $500.
Condition rarities in MS67 and above can bring 10 to 20 times that number. PCGS reports 71 grading events in 67, two in 67+, and one in 68. It’s been more than a decade since the sole PCGS MS68 was offered by ANR, and it’s unclear whether either 67+ has been offered for public sale.
The Coronet example is fairly graded at MS67. Light scattered marks in the hair and cap are barely noticeable. A tick on the chin, a thin mark high on the cheek and light contact marks on the eyebrow and in the fields of the reverse are the coin’s only grade limiting features. Strike, luster, and eye appeal are all there.
Bidding activity has already surpassed Legend’s rather conservative pre-sale estimate of $7,500.
Update: Parenthetical information regarding the Private Treaty Sale offering of the Vermeule/Lee 1893-S was added to the article after initial publication.