Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #271
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
Early American, pre-1793 rarities tended to bring moderate to strong prices overall in the auction of the Kendall Collection in Baltimore on March 26th. The Kendall Foundation consignment alone realized more than $9.5 million. Stack’s-Bowers also offered a large assortment of U.S. coins and other items from many consignors.
Considering the startling and incredible increase in the supply of pre-1793 rarities available to collectors from 2012 to 2015, prices were healthy. There was much evidence of intense demand for colonials and other pre-federal pieces.
Indeed, demand for these has not faltered over the last five years. Increases in supply by way of the selling of long-intact collections have brought about lower market levels.
The Ted Craige, Eric Newman, Donald Partrick and “Kendall” assemblages of these were vast. I am here referring to pre-1793 coins and patterns that were made in and/or made to circulate in at least one of the original thirteen States of the USA and/or British colonies that later became these States.
Collections of Early American Pieces
Starting with the offering of the Ted Craige Collection, by Stack’s-Bowers, in November 2012 and March 2013, the just mentioned, four epic collections of colonial coins and other pre-1793 items have been sold or have begun to be auctioned. Heritage has been offering the Eric Newman Collection in a series of sales and Newman is probably the most famous collector of of pre-1793 American items. Last year, there were two major auctions that emphasized Newman’s pre-1793 coins and patterns, in May and in November.
In regard to pre-1793 items, the Donald Partrick Collection is in the same league as that of Newman. A large portion of Partrick’s collection, including dozens of major rarities, was auctioned in January at the FUN Convention in Orlando.
The Kendall Collection, which Stack’s-Bowers just sold on March 26th in Baltimore, contained perhaps the all-time greatest set of Massachusetts Silver and an extremely impressive array of other pre-1793 items. New York Coppers in the Kendall Collection were discussed last week.
Among many other items, the Kendall Collection featured type sets of the Lord Baltimore and John Chalmers silver coins of Maryland, Sommer Island (Bermuda) coins of 1615-16, and Elephant tokens. There were dozens of colonial and other pre-federal coppers, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Vermont Coppers.
Collections of pre-1793 items, including the Kendall Collection, tend to also include Fugio Coppers of 1787 and Washington related pieces from around 1791. It is not practical to cover a wide range of pre-1793 items here. The current focus is on major rarities, especially famous ones, that were in the Kendall Collection.
Birch Cent Pattern
The Kendall Collection, 1792 Birch Cent pattern sold for $1.175 million. It is PCGS graded AU-58 and CAC approved. All Birch Cent patterns are dated 1792 and feature a distinctive obverse (front) design, which is unlike any obverse design that was adopted for regular U.S. coinage. The wreath reverse foreshadows the reverse (back) design of U.S. large cents that was adopted after the Chain Cent was discontinued early in 1793.
Is $1.175 million a startling result? It is true that 1792 Silver Center Copper Cent patterns have sold for more than $1.175 million. Those that have, however, are certified as grading well above AU-58, and the Silver Center Copper Center patterns are historically documented to a greater extent than other early patterns. They have been directly linked to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, as I have noted. The history of Birch Cents is not clear and the identity of “Birch” is not definitely known. Plus, the silver center pieces have sort of a magical allure, as they embody a novel idea, three-fourths of a cent worth of silver in the middle of an otherwise copper one cent piece!
The design of Birch Cents is appealing and specialists in patterns have always thought highly of them. The $2.585 million result for the NGC certified and CAC approved, ‘MS-65-RB’ Partrick piece in January and the $1.175 million result for the PCGS graded AU-58 and CAC approved Kendall piece on March 26th are both strong prices, startling sums for esoteric items that are a little mysterious.
As far as I know, the differences among the three varieties of copper Birch Cent patterns (J3, J4 and J5) relate to the edges. As it would be extremely unusual for anyone to collect them by edge variety, and most interested collectors would be thrilled to own just one, I am proceeding under the assumption that the edge varieties are inconsequential from the perspectives of most coin enthusiasts. I have been interested in patterns during most of my life and I have met just three people who have collected patterns by variety, including edge varieties.
There survive a total of eleven Birch Cent patterns in copper of all varieties. One is in the Smithsonian and another is in the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. According to Saul Teichman, a single Birch piece exists in “white metal” and is in a private collection. Saul’s rosters suggest that there probably are ten collectible Birch Cent patterns, nine in copper and one in “white metal.”
The Partrick-Garrett Birch Cent that sold in January for $2.585 million is, by far, the finest known. It is likely that this Bushnell-Jenks-Kendall piece is the second finest. While the Appleton-Park Birch Cent is also PCGS certified as ‘AU-58-Brown,’ the Bushnell-Kendall piece seems to be of higher quality. During the19th century, Charles Bushnell was a pioneering and extremely famous collector of pre-1793 patterns and coins.
The Norweb-Partrick Birch Cent is NGC graded as ‘MS-61,’ though it has about the same level of wear as the Bushnell-Kendall piece. Further, the Norweb-Partrick piece has serious scratches in the right obverse field and significant corrosion on the reverse. Such corrosion is often found on pre-1800 copper pieces. The Bushnell-Kendall piece, however, has much less corrosion than most, early copper pieces, of any issue, that are PCGS or NGC certified as AU-58-Brown.
This Bushnell-Kendall 1792 Birch Cent pattern was lightly to moderately cleaned long ago and has naturally retoned in a pleasing manner. A few small gashes and light hairlines are not upsetting. This pattern is mostly original and the medium brown color is really nice. The planchet was smooth and especially choice overall. Many copper blanks during the era had multiple imperfections that collectors now find to be annoying.
For a pre-1793 copper piece, this Birch pattern is exceptionally attractive. No one was surprised that it sold for more than $750,000. I am fascinated that at least two people were willing and able to pay more than one million dollars for a mysterious and unusual pattern that is not really needed for a set, and is not in ‘mint state.’
1792 Silver Center Copper Cent
In my discussion of the auction at the FUN Convention in January, I noted that, while demand for 1792 Silver Center Copper Cent patterns has remained at high levels, market values for these have fallen because a substantial percentage of the survivors have entered coin markets since August 2011. It is startling that the Garrett, Morris, Bushnell-Earle, Norweb, Newman, Partrick, and Kendall Silver Center Copper Cent patterns have all traded since, eight of the thirteen or fourteen known. An additional Partrick piece from the same dies, though without a silver center, was also auctioned in January.
The Partrick, NGC graded and CAC approved, ‘EF-45+’ Silver Center Copper Cent pattern sold for $470,000 on January 8th. The PCGS graded and CAC approved, ‘AU-53’ Kendall Collection piece sold for $499,375 on March 26th. Yes, these certified grades may be acceptable in the framework of widely held standards. Nonetheless, in terms of surface quality and originality, the Partrick piece might be superior. I am not surprised that the Kendall piece brought just slightly more at auction. Both results are moderate and fair.
Clinton Copper Pattern
As I emphasized last week, at least four Clinton Coppers have emerged over the last two and a half years. Before 2012, it had been decades since one had sold in a widely publicized auction. Even when demand remains the same, an increase in supply will tend to lead to lower price levels.
The leading bidders for the Roper-Royse piece in November 2012 probably did not know that three more Clinton Coppers would became available during the next two and a half years. So, the $218,500 result for the Roper-Royse, PCGS graded Fine-15 Clinton Copper pattern in 2012 should be referenced with a particular explanation.
Although the Kendall piece is not of the quality of the excellent, NGC graded MS-63 Newman piece, which realized $499,375 in May 2014, the Kendall piece is certainly appealing for a certified EF-40 grade early copper. It is not surprising that it is CAC approved. The hairlines are microscopic. For the most part, the Kendall Collection Clinton Copper is characterized by honest wear and healthy medium brown color. It is very original and technically impressive overall. Given the increase in supply of these, the $235,000 result was strong, though logical.
Higley Copper Coin
Long before the 1787 Clinton Copper patterns were struck, Higley Coppers were minted in Connecticut, probably starting in 1737. Not long ago, I devoted an article to historical aspects of Higley Coppers and another article to auction records.
Higley Coppers tend to be unevenly struck, heavily worn, substantially corroded, and otherwise problematic. The one in the Kendall Collection is much better than the typical Higley and is of the type that I reference as X-Please-ND: broad axe, ‘Value Me as You Please’ as a legend, no date.
For a circulated Higley Copper, this coin is excellent, really pleasing for a well worn early copper. The Kendall piece has suffered from much less corrosion than most Higleys. Although there is a medium scratch in the middle of the reverse, it is not very distracting and is one of the few substantial imperfections. Also, the russet-brown color is natural and pleasing.
For a PCGS graded Good-04 Higley, there is much detail. Many words, including “VALUE ME AS YOU,” are clearly readable. Moreover, seventy percent of the deer is discernible. Usually, just traces of a deer are found on Good to VG grade Higleys. Additionally, more than sixty percent of the axe is clear, which is tremendous for a Higley of this type. In some cases, it is had to tell whether the axe was ever there. The $49,937.50 result was strong, though sensible.
Over the last three years, a large number of Higley Coppers have emerged and demand has increased as well. These are more popular than ever before.
During the 1660s, Lord Baltimore silver coins circulated in the colony of Maryland. I review some of the historical points in my article on the Ted Craige Collection. There are three denominations: groat (four pence), sixpence (half-shilling) and shilling (twelve pence).
The Lord Baltimore Groat that was in the Kendall Collection is PCGS graded AU-55 and CAC approved. Some of the lord’s hair and his face are weakly struck and partly covered by stuff, which may be natural.
The $49,927.50 result was perhaps strong. The NGC graded AU-53 Lord Baltimore Groat that realized $111,625 in January 2015 is a different matter, as it is the only available piece with a notably smaller head, an incredibly rare subtype.
The Lord Baltimore sixpence in the Kendall collection is PCGS graded AU-53 and does not have a CAC sticker. Its grade is not in the high end of the 53 range, or even in the middle. The Lord Baltimore pieces were not among the best parts of the Kendall Collection, though are better than Lord Baltimore pieces found in many other collections. The $23,500 result for this sixpence was strong, certainly a retail price.
The Lord Baltimore shilling is PCGS graded AU-55. For this issue, a couple of popular price guides clearly over-estimate market values. The $35,250 result for this coin was moderate to strong.
More than a century after the Lord Baltimore coins emerged, John Chalmers privately struck silver coins in the State of Maryland in 1783. “Chalmers was a community leader, having served as a captain in the Continental Army [during the American Revolutionary War], a member of the common council of Annapolis in 1783 and later as sheriff of Baltimore,” states Louis Jordan, who has extensively studied the historical circumstances of pre-1793 coin issues.
The Chalmers threepence in the Kendall Collection is PCGS graded as MS-62. Although this is an excellent coin, the certified grade is surprising. I hypothesize that experts at CAC would figure a grade of AU-55, maybe AU-58, for this coin. In my view, there is readily apparent wear. Moreover, the $35,250 result is more consistent with market values for an AU-55 to -58 grade Chalmers threepence than with the value range of one with a ‘mint state’ grade. If this coin really graded MS-62 in the eyes of pertinent bidders, it probably would have realized more than $50,000 in this auction.
Issues about the assigned grade notwithstanding, this Chalmers threepence has excellent attributes. Some light hairlines, which are hard to see, are covered by pleasant green-gray natural toning. There are very few contact marks. Overall surface quality is exceptional. This a very attractive, AU-55+ grade coin, in my view, and $35,250 is a slightly strong price for such a coin in the current market environment.
Although the Kendall Collection, Chalmers sixpence is clearly non-gradable, coins of the sixpence denomination are rare. Of all varieties of Chalmers sixpence coins, fewer than one hundred in total survive and thousands of collectors demand them. Although the Kendall piece has multiple problems, it has much detail. The $11,750 result was strong. As an aside, I note that the Ted Craige piece of the same variety, which is PCGS graded Fine-12, was auctioned by Stack’s-Bowers for $15,275 in March 2013.
The Chalmers ‘Short Worm’ Shilling in the Kendall Collection is PCGS graded VF-30 and CAC approved. The $7,637.50 result was strong. A few better pieces have sold for lesser sums over the past seven years.
The Chalmers ‘Long Worm’ Shilling in the Kendall Collection is PCGS graded AU-53 and CAC approved. Collectors like to have representatives of both worms. The $22,325 result was strong, though understandable.
The coppery and gray tones, with russet tints, are very appealing. The slight hairlines and microscopic contact marks are hardly noticeable. This coin scores high in the technical category. It has only slight wear and could surely merit a grade of AU-55. It is especially attractive for a Chalmers coin and exceptional overall, one of the more desirable coins in the Kendall Collection.
Early Massachusetts Silver
As the Kendall Collection contained the best set of Massachusetts Silver coins, in terms of varieties, to ever appear at public auction, there is no practical way to review the results. There were more than four hundred pieces of Massachusetts Silver, including representatives many extremely rare varieties. So, I mention the NE and Willow Tree coins, as these are truly rare, are very famous, are very much historically significant, and appeal to a large number of collectors.
In June 2014, I estimated that fifty-five NE shillings exist and mentioned that at least twenty of these are in museums or other institutional holdings. Admittedly, I was not aware that the Kendall Collection had so many NE shillings, six different die varieties, including three that had not been auctioned in a very long time, if ever. I have also become aware of another in the interim. I now revise my estimate to fifty-nine. It seems thus that more than ten percent of all existing NE shillings were in this one auction!
Six NE shillings in the Partrick Collection were sold in January 2015. The Newman piece was auctioned in May 2014 for $352,500 and again in December for $285,525, after ‘crossing’ into a PCGS holder with the same “AU-55” grade.
When I wrote about NE shillings in June 2014, I found that only eight had been auctioned since 2005! Therefore, the increase in the number of available NE shillings has been tremendous, practically an avalanche of them. It is thus unsurprising that market levels for these have fallen.
Although Partrick, Boyd and the collector now known as “Kendall” collected these by die variety, I am almost certain that most interested collectors seek just one, regardless of variety. So, I will not focus upon the relative rarity of specific varieties.
Die varieties are listed in accordance with Christopher Salmon’s reference, which replaces the Noe system. Numbers refer to obverse dies and letters to reverse dies. There is not a need to know about die varieties to know that a 1B and a 2B of the same issue were struck with different obverse dies. People who are not interested in collecting die varieties often use references to die varieties to help identify specific coins.
The Kendall Collection, Salmon 1A NE shilling is PCGS graded VF-30, and CAC approved. It sold for $152,750, as did the Salmon 1B, which is PCGS graded EF-45 and also CAC approved. The 1B is not quite as rare.
Though lightly cleaned, with some noticeable hairlines, the Salmon 2B in this collection has naturally retoned in a colorful manner and is enticing. It is PCGS graded AU-53 and CAC approved. Superior eye appeal probably propelled its price above the level reached by the first two, to $211,500.
The Kendall Collection, Salmon 3B NE shilling was struck on a planchet (prepared blank) that has many, readily apparent imperfections. It has nicely toned, however, and is technically impressive. It is PCGS graded Extremely Fine-40. The $105,750 result was weak. Was this was one the best buys in the auction?
The Salmon-3D NE shilling in the Kendall Collection is PCGS graded EF-45 and CAC approved. It does, though, exhibit noticeable hairlines and gashes. The natural toning is pleasing, though, with much gray-green and neat russet areas about the periphery. In terms of the numbers owned by collectors, this is one of the least rare varieties. The $164,500 result was moderate.
Undoubtedly, the Garrett-Kendall NE Sixpence will continue to be compared to the Newman piece, which is of considerably higher quality. This Garrett-Kendall piece is PCGS graded EF-40 and CAC approved. The Newman piece, in addition to being of a higher numerical grade, is more appealing overall. The $411,250 result for this piece is in line with the $646,250 price for the Newman coin in May 2014. Both results are strong. The NE Sixpence has never been nearly as popular as the NE shilling.
For background on Willow Tree shillings, please read my article that was published two weeks ago. I said then that there are probably forty Willow Tree shillings in existence.
Five obverse dies and five reverse dies have been identified. Examples of six die pairings are known. The Kendall Collection had representatives of five of these six (1A, 2B, 3C, 3D, 3E). It was missing the 2A, of which only two are known.
If just forty survive, then one-eighth of all the survivors were in this one auction! So, this was clearly an increase in supply of Willow Tree shillings.
It must be true that most interested collectors, who can afford these, are seeking just one Willow Tree shilling and not collecting by die variety. The Stickney-Stearns-Kendall piece is PCGS graded MS-62 and CAC approved. Amazingly, it really is uncirculated. Mint-caused imperfections keep it from being assigned a higher grade. It is technically impressive, very original, and has nice tones of brown and blue.
Although $164,500 is a fair market price now, this coin would have sold for more than $300,000, maybe more than $400,000, had it been offered five years ago. In November 2013, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS graded VF-35 Willow Tree shilling of the same 1A variety for $282,000.
The Roper-Kendall Willow Tree 1B brought $61,687.50. As the Eliasberg-Partrick, non-gradable NE shilling brought $70,500 in January, this is not a startlingly low price for a non-gradable Willow Tree. This result was weak to moderate.
The MHS-Kendall Willow Tree 3C is PCGS graded AU-55 and CAC approved. It is one of the greatest of all surviving Willow Tree shillings, perhaps the most appealing. For one of these, it exhibits much detail. The cloudy blue and brown-russet areas are pleasing. This coin is very original and very attractive.
In my view, this coin is much more desirable than the PCGS graded AU-58, Wurzbach-Clarke-Wiseman Willow Tree that Heritage sold in January 2007 for $230,000, which probably then set an auction record for a Willow Tree shilling. The $381,875 result for the Kendall piece on March 26th is very strong and very much understandable. This coin would be suitable as a centerpiece of an excellent collection of colonials.
Although the tree is typically faint on the Salmon 3D variety, the PCGS graded VF-20, Kendall piece went for a surprisingly weak price, $44,062.50. Are there additional imperfections that I missed? The toning is natural and the surface quality is well above average for a piece of early Massachusetts Silver.
The PCGS graded VF-35, Kendall Collection 3E Willow Tree shilling, without a clear pedigree, brought $96,937.50, which was not the best deal in this auction. Some hairlines and the mint-caused imperfections are distracting. The just mentioned Salmon 3D, for $44,062.50, was a much better value for a collector seeking one or two Willow Tree shillings.
The $282,000 result for the Kendall Collection, Willow Tree sixpence is a new auction record for this issue. When I mentioned this coin two weeks ago, I had not yet seen it. I have since, and it is a splendid coin, much better than I expected it to be. In terms of a combination of sharpness and surface quality, it is one of the best of all surviving Willow Tree coins.
Although the assigned AU-58 grade is debatable, as wear is readily apparent, the wonderful toning and surface quality of this coin are indisputable. Indeed, it scores high in the technical category. It has been amazingly well stored since it was struck, probably in the middle of the 1650s. There are hardly any contact marks or hairlines, and no readily apparent corrosion. The green-brown toning is pleasant and stable. It is well struck and very original. I could understand why collectors may have been willing to splurge for this coin.
The previous auction record of $270,250 was set when Stack’s-Bowers auctioned the Sundman piece, which is PCGS graded AU-53, in November 2013. At that time, market levels for Massachusetts Silver were clearly higher. If auctioned then, the Kendall Collection Willow Tree sixpence would probably have realized more than $400,000.
The Willow Tree threepence is much rarer than the sixpence, as just three are known. The Wurzbach-Clarke-Boyd-Ford-Kendall piece is a star in the field of Massachusetts Silver.
Although sloppily made on a crude planchet, this coin has fared amazingly well. Over the centuries, it has suffered from few scratches and contact marks. Indeed, five-times magnification is required to see some notable contact marks on the obverse, after time has been spent searching. There is one significant gash on the reverse, which is not critical for a circulated coin. Moreover, the creamy russet-tan-gray toning blend, with much underlying original luster, is excellent. This coin is much more impressive in actuality than it appear to be in published images.
Although the current price of $587,500 did not equal the auction result for the exact same coin, $632,500, in October 2005, it is difficult to place a value on this coin and the result in 2005 was considered very strong at the time. After considering the groups of great Massachusetts Silver coins that could have been acquired for a total of less than $587,500 in this auction, the $587,500 result for this one coin seems especially noteworthy.
There are hundreds of other items in the Kendall Collection that merit coverage, including rarities and wonderful type coins. One purpose here was to cover major rarities that a large number of collectors would like, I hope, to read about. Another purpose was to provide evidence that the prices realized for rarities were solid and that demand for pre-1793 items is about the same or is increasing overall.
©2015 Greg Reynolds
Addendum (on April 4): Responses to Alan Weinberg and Saul Teichman
1) Saul says, <<Dr. Judd’s plain edge [Birch Cent pattern] was described as finer than the Kendall sale [Birch Cent pattern] when both were offered in the 1890 Parmelee sale and there is little dispute when looking at the Judd book plate as to the quality of that piece. It has been off the market for some 50 years.>>
When were the pertinent photos for that book taken and how were the images prepared prior to publication? Pictures do not accurately reflect all pertinent characteristics of coins or patterns. A book by Abe Kosoff, which featured many coins and patterns from Dr. Judd’s collection, was published in 1962. To discuss the quality of that Birch Cent pattern, without seeing it, we would, at a minimum, need to know about its storage and treatment during a period of more than a half a century. Coins cannot be fairly graded by way of pictures anyway, especially not with pictures that are more than 50 years old.
Copper is a particularly active metal. Copper numismatic items tend to corrode, some much more so than others. A copper coin or pattern that is improperly stored may corrode to a large extent during 50 years! Moreover, copper coins and patterns are frequently modified. During the past 175 years, more so than any other group of dedicated specialists, collectors of copper coins have tended to ‘conserve’ or tamper with their coins or with consigned coins. In my view, most so called ‘conservation’ practices are harmful. It is not known that the Judd Birch Cent is gradable now.
Yes, it is theoretically possible that Judd Birch Cent pattern is the second finest, but it is not currently known to be a high quality pattern. Its quality is unknown.
2) Alan declares, <<I have long estimated the total population of NE shillings as 80.>>
There is no concensus among researchers. Other estimates are as low as 40. Although I was unaware of Christopher Salmon’s research when I started analyzing and commenting upon the rarity of NE Shillings, I have since found that my numbers are considerably consistent with the estimates of Dr. Salmon, who has recently authored a fantastic reference book regarding Massachusetts Silver. Chris seems to imply that there are fewer than 55. Salmon continues to actively research the series.
3) Alan snaps, <<The author undoubtedly is unaware of the 8 (eight) different NE shillings in longtime [deleted] collection, the auction floor buyer of the Kendall Noe 15 “pattern” OT sixpence and the immed[iate] underbidder on the Willow Tree threepence and a longtime friend.>>
I am aware. This collector is furious that Alan mentions his name publicly. Furthermore, he does not wish for his collecting pursuits be mentioned at all by Alan or by anyone else. Moreover, this collector estimates the total population of NE shillings at 45 to 50. Besides, most of his NE shillings come from name collections that have been auctioned over the past 25 years and are factored into my calculations, which are admittedly works in progress.
4) Alan claims, <<Pre -auction, the general estimates were that the brown choice AU Kendall Birch cent would reach at least $1.3M hammer; it was very modest at $1M hammer to a collector with Kagin’s for stock the immed[iate] underbidder.>>
Does Alan know for sure that Kagin’s would have bought it “for stock,” without a collector-client in mind? As for “general estimates,” this assertion is questionable, and, even if true, was probably a function of the Garrett-Partrick Birch Cent pattern selling for $2,585,000 in January.
The unique 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ dime sold at auction for less than $2 million in 2012. An 1894-S dime, which is much more famous and about equally rare as Birch Cent patterns, has never sold for as much $2.25 million! In August 2014, the Garrett 1804 dollar was auctioned for less than $2 million. There are many famous coins, which thousands of collectors demand, that have not sold for as much as $1 million each. Birch Cent patterns are esoteric items and are mysterious.
4) In any event, I continue to be impressed by Alan’s knowledge, sincerity and enthusiasm. I enjoy reading Alan’s comments even when I disagree with him.
Certainly, no one knows more about the pedigrees of patterns than Saul Teichman. He has researched Great Rarities, too. Indeed, Saul’s knowledge of the history of coin collecting is phenomenal. His interest in my articles is very much appreciated.
©2015 Greg Reynolds