Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #259

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds ……….

Stack’s-Bowers conducted one of the official auctions of the New York International Convention at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Manhattan. The proceedings of this convention were held over the last eight days, including auctions by five entities, trading in bourse rooms, and educational events. The most exciting consignment to the Stack’s-Bowers auction was a terrific collection of large silver coins from German speaking societies, coins dating mostly from the 1600s to the 1800s. There was not a unified German ‘empire’ until 1871. There were dozens of attractive, naturally toned talers in this collection.

Indeed, this was, by far, the best collection of German talers that I have ever seen or heard about. Quite obviously, this collector and/or whoever advised him had a sophisticated understanding of the importance of originality and natural toning. “The Rockaway Collection” is fresh and had been stored in small envelopes for decades. These German talers were sold in the Stack’s-Bowers session on Friday, Jan. 9. (Clickable links are in blue.)

German Talers
German Talers

What is a Taler?

A ‘one taler’ silver coin is very similar to a United States silver dollar. Further, a taler (or ‘thaler’) was a standard monetary unit for an even longer period of time. In the mid to late 1400s, large deposits of silver were identified in central Europe and mining commenced on a large scale. Large silver coins were minted in quantities not long afterwards.

According to the late Richard Doty, a long-time curator at the Smithsonian Institution and earlier a curator at the ANS, “the owners of the productive Joachimsthal mine in Bohemia” (Czech Republic) were especially influential and were responsible for a large number of silver coins being struck in the 1520s and 1530s.

A name given by these mine owners, Joachimsthaler, “was soon used for other large silver coins of the day, and gradually it was was shortened to thaler”(The Macmillan Encyclopedic Dictionary of Numismatics: New York, 1982, p. 327). I note that eventually this word was further shortened to ‘taler.’

In the 1500s and 1600s, substantial quantities of silver were found and mined in Latin America under the control of the Spanish Empire. Talers, thalers, dalers, daalders, Dutch ‘lion dollars,’ British Crowns, and Spanish-Empire eight reales coins (‘pieces of eight’), were all, very similar, standard monetary units.

To a great extent, these constituted a world currency. Such coins typically weigh between four-fifths (0.8) of a Troy ounce (24.883 grams) and one Troy ounce (31.103 grams), though some are slightly heavier or slightly lighter. By the mid 19th century, the use worldwide of such silver coins had diminished and gradually faded out over the following decades. To a minor extent, Morgan and Peace dollars, essentially U.S. versions of such standard monetary units, circulated in the U.S. until the early 1960s. By the mid 1960s, however, in the U.S. and elsewhere, the era of silver coins being frequently spent by most people was over.

Silver coins are rarely 100% silver. Usually, they consist of from 5% to 25% copper. U.S. Liberty Seated, Morgan and Peace silver dollars are each specified to be 90% silver and 10% copper. Many German talers are five-sixths (83.33%) silver, though I have never researched the specifications relating to all the various issues of talers in dozens of different German speaking societies.

It seems, at this point, that talers constituted the core of “The Rockaway Collection.” Certainly, the vast majority of coins in this consignment that Stack’s-Bowers sold on Friday night are talers. Although only talers are being discussed here, there were some other coins from “The Rockaway Collection” in this auction session, including 20th century pieces and medals.

To a great extent, talers were minted in numerous German speaking societies from the mid 1500s to the mid 1800s. Related coins that were struck earlier and later require additional explanations.

Although I graded and otherwise analyzed most of these talers myself, I admit that my knowledge of the rarity and popularity of the various issues is limited. So, I consulted Ulrich Kunker, the managing director of the largest rare coin firm in Europe, and Achim Schramm, a legendary collector-dealer, who is regarded as one of the leading experts in German coinage. I also discussed this collection with a noted expert from Austria, who viewed the coins. This Austrian prefers that his name not be mentioned.

I first met Schramm at the ANR auction of the Eliasberg Collection of world gold coins in April 2005. Additionally, Achim was a participant in the auction of Newman’s world coins in Jan. 2014 and in the epic sale of The Millennia Collection in May 2008.

Quality

“The Rockaway Collection” distinguishes itself through the tremendous quality of the coins. Most of the coins in this consignment are not very rare. When major collections of talers are offered in Europe, such offerings tend to include more rarities. Moreover, in the past, many collections of talers were larger, in terms of quantity. Ulrich Kunker and Achim Schramm, however, both note that relevant collecting trends in Europe have been changing. Not as many people are each seeking hundreds of different talers and more European collectors are tending towards selecting talers of relatively high quality.

A large number of independent or semi-autonomous political entities issued a variety of talers over a period of around three centuries. By ‘German talers,’ I am referring to such large silver coins issued by societies of people who do or did speak German, not just societies that are part of the nation of Germany in the present. Many talers, for example, were issued by societies that are now part of Austria or the Czech Republic.

A collector could easily acquire five hundred different German talers. The “Rockaway” collector focused on quality, not quantity. Although I have not counted them, I recollect at least eighty talers from “The Rockaway Collection” being in the Friday night offering by Stack’s-Bowers.

By quality, I am not referring only to coins that grade from 65 to 67, though there were several of those in this collection. No one expects a large number of gem quality talers to survive. It would not be practical to assemble a substantial collection of only gem quality talers. For some design types of talers, a 62 grade coin might be the finest known.

I am referring to surface quality and originality. To a sophisticated collector, a so-called ‘Gem AU’ coin, which might be certified as grading anywhere from AU-53 to MS-62, is often much more desirable than a 64 or 65 grade coin that does not score high in the category of originality. A large percentage of the coins in the “Rockaway” consignment have attractive, natural toning that formed gradually over a period of decades.

It is relevant that the two otherwise identical AU-55 grade coins of the same date, mint location and design type might be different in the sense that one might have many more noticeable contact marks than the other. It is also true that large silver coins that legitimately grade as high as 64, by U.S. standards, may have quite a few noticeable contact marks (from hits with hard objects) and/or very apparent hairlines (from light to moderate cleanings).

A large percentage of the coins in “The Rockaway Collection” had an extremely small number of contact marks and/or hairlines. Indeed, many of the coins in this collection scored high in the technical category. It would not be unusual for an AU-58 grade taler in “The Rockaway Collection” to have much fewer noticeable contact marks and/or hairlines than a MS-63 or -64 grade taler of the same date and type found in another collection. In such cases, many collectors might favor a coin that is accurately graded AU-58 over one that is accurately graded MS-63, by widely accepted criteria in the U.S.

Many of the coins in “The Rockaway Collection” do not merit grades of 65 or higher because of a little wear or at least moderate friction from circulating briefly and/or sliding around inside coin cabinets of the kind that collectors often used in past eras. So, an old silver coin might have the surface quality and eye appeal that is associated with a MS-65 or MS-66 grade, yet have some wear. It would then be likely to grade 55, 58 or 62, by widely accepted criteria in the U.S., depending upon the extant and locations of the ‘friction.’

Many connoisseurs like 55 to 62 grade coins that have appealing natural toning, few contact marks or hairlines, and are very much original overall. There were many such coins in this “Rockaway” consignment.

Ulrich Kunker notes, “Recently, more European collectors are starting to care more about quality, though many still care more about rarity, history” and the depth of their collections. “Every [knowledgeable] collector has his own strategy,” Kunker emphasizes.

Kunker and Schramm have each seen many collections of German talers that contain hundreds more coins than the ‘Rockaway’ collection contained. Kunker notes that the “quality was much higher than usual for a collection of talers.”

The already mentioned expert from Austria, who prefers not to be named, put forth a nearly identical statement relating to the unusually high level of quality of the talers in the ‘Rockaway’ Collection. “Only in the U.S. do collectors” of talers “pay so much for quality,” this Austrian says.

Schramm agrees and maintains that there is a limit to the premiums that collectors should pay for quality. “There is a craziness in the U.S. where people may pay ten times as much for a MS-66 as they will for a MS-64 grade coin that is not much different.” Moreover, in Achim’s view, “The Rockaway Collection” did not contain any Great Rarities. “There was not one coin [issue] in this collection that could not have been found [in a public offering] during the last decade,” Schramm declares.

It is fair to point out that these talers, which date from the 1500s to the 1800s, are much less expensive than U.S. bust dollars or Liberty Seated dollars of similar quality and analogous rarity. Plus, talers are known for a wide variety of interesting designs.

Kunker emphasizes that the “city-view talers are very popular;” there is nothing else quite “like them from the rest of the world”!

Both Kunker and Schramm point towards a 1702 Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel Taler as being of one of the rarest pieces in the ‘Rockaway’ Collection. The interesting design refers to political conflicts in Brunswick. One of these “appears every two to three years at auction [and is not that rare], but it has a very attractive design,” Schramm notes.

This 1702 taler is NGC graded as “MS-61.” I am not commenting upon its grade. It brought $11,162.50 to a phone bidder, a moderate to strong price.

Superb 1757 Taler

The highest quality coin in the collection might have been a 1757 Taler from Eichstatt. It has an attractive design, certainly more appealing than the many European coins that show the bust of a monarch on the obverse (front) and simple symbols in the central reverse (back). This coin, though, will be remembered for its underlying original luster and very colorful natural toning.

GERMANY. Eichstatt. Taler, 1757-MF. NGC MS-67*.
GERMANY. Eichstatt. Taler, 1757-MF. NGC MS-67*.

Indeed, this is a coin of amazing quality. It is well struck and nearly flawless from a technical standpoint. In terms of eye appeal, the red, green and orange-russet colors on the obverse are terrific. While the reverse is not as colorful, the tones on the reverse are extremely well balanced. Moreover, much original luster is evident underneath the toning. This coin is more than very attractive overall. It is NGC graded MS-67 and most grading experts in the U.S. would agree with the 67 grade.

This 1757 taler brought $9,693.75. Kunker says, “this is a world record price, only for the condition. It is not a rare coin.” Kunker noted in his catalogue that “it is super”!

Schramm points out that this Eichstatt Taler “usually comes” in high grades. “A Very Fine Eichstatt would be rarer.” It is not hard to find a nice Eichstatt Taler of this type, Achim adds.

My guess that the leading bidders were mesmerized by this specific coin and/or they intensely demanded a true 67 grade taler. There could not be many large silver coins from the 1700s that truly grade 67, by U.S. standards, and this one does.

Plus, it scores very high in the category of originality. There is no readily apparent evidence of it ever having been dipped or significantly cleaned. Considering market prices for Draped Bust or Liberty Seated Silver Dollars that grade above MS-65, this coin would be a good value for a collector of 67 or 66 grade U.S. classic type coins who wishes to expand his horizons.

Prussian Talers

Although not the most beautiful coin in the collection in terms of color or design, a 1701 Prussian taler scores high in both the categories of rarity and quality. Kunker remarks that it is “very rare.” Schramm notes that “maybe it appears every ten years in condition [like] this” one in ‘The Rockaway Collection’

Prussia. Taler, 1701-CS. NGC MS-64
Prussia. Taler, 1701-CS. NGC MS-64

It is the highest quality Prussian taler that I have ever seen or heard about. The reverse, by itself, probably would merit a 66 grade! Although the obverse is not nearly as nice as the reverse, this is a great coin overall. It has just minor abrasions. The toning is stable and even. The green-gray tones in the inner fields do not entirely cover the underlying original luster, which is neat. This taler is NGC graded MS-64 and, if not for a touch of cabinet friction on the obverse, a higher grade would have been assigned.

The $9,987.50 result was strong for a German taler. If there was an exactly analogous U.S. coin, this would be a low amount to pay for it.

A second Prussian taler in this collection is rare and important as well. It is dated just six years later, 1707, and is of a different design type, which is rare overall. This 1707 taler is NGC graded MS-62, which is fair. If not for the presence of one noteworthy scratch in the right obverse inner field and maybe a little friction on the highpoints, this coin would grade 64 or higher. Indeed, this coin is incredibly original and it has excellent natural toning, green shades over underlying original luster. There is some orange-russet in the obverse outer fields. On the reverse, green, gray, orange-russet and tan-russet shades are neat. The price realized, $7,637.50, was very strong. Although this is a wonderfully original coin, the just mentioned 1701 was a better value.

Although “The Rockaway Collection” will be forever remembered for excellent natural toning and originality, even the greatest of collections usually contain a few not so great coins. A 1764 Prussian taler has been very apparently dipped and has naturally retoned in a somewhat awkward manner. Further, this coin has some annoying mint-caused imperfections. The NGC grade of MS-64 is a little liberal, though defensible. At $4,406.25, this was not one of the ‘best buys’ in the sale.

Rare 1696 Saxony Taler

A famous taler is a 1696 Saxony piece that was struck under the administration of Friedrich August I to the commemorate the birth of his son, Friedrich August II. Kunker notes that the city-view design of the reverse is especially “popular” with collectors. Although Ulrich did not comment on the NGC assigned grade of MS-64, Kunker declares that this coin is in “excellent condition, one of the ten finest known” of this issue.

GERMANY. Saxony. Albertine Line. Taler, 1696-IK. Friedrich August I (1694-1733)
GERMANY. Saxony. Albertine Line. Taler, 1696-IK. Friedrich August I (1694-1733)

Indisputably, the price realized of $16,450 is strong. Schramm finds this result to be “very high.”

Although the assigned 64 grade is generous, it is understandable. For a vintage silver coin from any era, this coin scores high in the category of originality. For a coin from 1696, it is amazingly original and certainly cool. The natural green-gray tones overall and the blue tints on the reverse, are especially likable. I grade a coin from 1696 the same way I grade a coin from 1796, however, and this coin’s grade is in the high end of the 62 range. There are better ones extant.

City-Views of Regensburg

A fascinating aspect of the just mentioned 1696 Saxony taler is the city-view, a sky-line of seemingly tall buildings near a river on a coin! Two Regensburg talers in this collection also feature city-views and are of exceptional quality. A 1633 coin is NGC graded as MS-64 and could fairly be graded MS-65. The originality and coolness of this coin are hard to explain. Nice shades of russet, tan and blue-gray developed naturally in a balanced manner on the city-view on the obverse. Plus, there is some blue toning literally in the sky!

GERMANY. Regensburg. Taler, 1633. NGC MS-64.
GERMANY. Regensburg. Taler, 1633. NGC MS-64.

There are some mint-caused defects on the reverse, which are not bothersome. More importantly, there is no readily apparent evidence of this coin ever having been dipped or cleaned. It just exudes originality and it is well struck. The $7,637.50 result was not surprising.

The next lot, #696, contained another Regensburg taler with a cool city-view. It was struck more than a century later, evidently between 1745 and 1750. This taler, too, has excellent natural toning and underlying original luster. The mellow brown and russet shades are definitely natural and are really neat. Some green hues may have blended in, too. This coin appears darker in publishes images than it does in actuality.

The city-view reverse is extremely well detailed. Experts at NGC graded this coin as MS-63, rather than a higher grade, probably because of a few contact marks underneath the toning on the obverse and a couple of gashes on the reverse. These are not irritating. This is a very attractive and very original coin, with an incredible reverse. The $4,406.25 result is slightly strong and very much understandable.

Gem 1671 Bradenburg Taler

In terms of quality and design, one of the greatest coins in the “The Rockaway Collection” is a 1671 Bradenburg-Bayreuth taler. Curiously, the obverse design bears some resemblance to coins of Central America that were minted from the 1820s to the 1840. I do not, though, understand the animal and human figure in the middle. In any case, the design is distinctive and entertaining.

The NGC grade of MS-65 is not surprising to those who have seen the coin. This coin scores very highly in the technical category. It is hard to find any contact marks. It is almost very attractive and, if it had even more eye appeal, then it would probably been graded MS-66 at NGC. This coin has nice brown-russet toning over underlying original luster, with various blue tints. This is a memorable coin. It went for $7,931.25 to a floor bidder from a German speaking society. In my view, this coin is worth this much or more. Generally, specialists in German talers probably found this price and the overall results for “The Rockaway Collection” to be strong.

©2015 Greg Reynolds

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