Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #304
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds ……..
The fourth and final auction of Gene Gardner’s collection of U.S. coins was conducted by Heritage on Wednesday, October 28, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. It is extremely unlikely that anyone will ever build a collection of Liberty Seated coins that surpasses that of Gene Gardner. His accomplishment in this regard was nearly impossible and truly incredible.
The Gardner IV sale realized $5.88 million; the total for all four Gardner auctions is around $53 million. Had these four auction events been held in 2007 and early 2008, when demand for Liberty Seated coins overall was of a much greater magnitude, the grand total would have been much larger.
Gardner has been a presence at many major auctions, including epic events, since 1997 or so, and had attended a large number of coin conventions. The final auction marks the end of an era.
The towering presence of Gene Gardner and his collection will become a memory, rather than a current reality. In addition to being extremely enthusiastic and personable, Gene devoted more time and effort to seeking high quality, Liberty Seated coins of all types than anyone in the history of coin collecting. He seriously collected classic U.S. coins of many other series, too.
As this is the seventh in a series on the Gene Gardner Collection, interested people may refer to previous parts to learn more about the themes of the collection, details about the auctions, and about many specific coins that were already sold. In part 1, the scope of the Gardner Collection was discussed and dimes were previewed. In part 2, the topic was especially famous coins in the first auction on June 23, 2014. In part 3, various classic silver coins were selectively analyzed. In part 4, the second auction was reviewed. In part 5, the focus was upon ‘No Motto’ Liberty Seated half dollars. In part 6, there was coverage of the third auction on May 12, 2015, with emphasis on half dollars. (By clicking on words in blue, previous articles may be accessed.)
Rather than discuss the most valuable coins in the Gardner IV sale, which are not necessarily the most desirable or the most interesting, it is more appropriate to reflect upon the scope and meaning of the Gardner Collection. Eight points are central to understanding this collection.
First, Gardner formed the all-time greatest set of Barber quarters of which I am aware. Certainly, his set of Barber quarters is the best to be publicly auctioned during the last thirty years.
Second, Gene Gardner had one of the five all-time greatest sets of Three Cent Silvers, many of which are stunning.
Third, Gardner had excellent sets of Indian cents, Two Cent pieces, Three Cent Nickels, Shield Nickels and Liberty Head nickels.
Fourth, Gardner had extraordinary runs of bust silver coins, not the all-time greatest, yet incredible nonetheless. Both original and restrike 1827 quarters in the Gardner Collection are memorable, as is the only known Proof 1823/2 quarter.
Impressive, choice uncirculated 1796 and 1797 halves should not be forgotten. Relatively high grade or at least highly certified representatives of all Flowing Hair, Draped Bust and Capped Bust half dollars ‘by date’ were in the Gardner Collection.
The Hayes-Whitney-Gardner 1796 dime, which is PCGS graded as MS-67, realized $881,250 on June 23, 2014. On that same day, a price of $31,725 was paid for the really neat, Pittman-Gardner 1809 dime, which is a key date. It was PCGS graded as MS-64 and CAC approved. Gardner’s amazing Proof 1822 dime is one of the greatest bust silver coins.
Fifth, Gardner certainly had one of the top ten, all-time sets of Barber dimes and a highly ranked set of business strike Barber halves. Such an amazing collection of Barber coins overall, business strikes and Proofs, had not been publicly seen since the auction of Hugon’s Barber coins on January 12, 2005.
Sixth, Gardner’s sets of Standing Liberty quarters and Walking Liberty half dollars were probably very impressive. I do not now recollect these in their entirety. In Gene’s collection, there were many ‘better date’ Standing Liberty quarters and Walkers that were certified as grading from MS-65 to MS-67. Both his 1921-D and 1921-S Walkers were PCGS graded as MS-65 and CAC approved.
Seventh, Gardner had some great large cents and half cents, including numerous Proofs. He had representatives of more than twenty different issues of Proof half cents. Though not entirely complete, Gene had an exceptional set of business strike large cents ‘by date’ that has been largely ignored. His Proof large cents merit attention as well.
Eighth and most important, there is no doubt that Gene Gardner formed the all-time greatest collection of Liberty Seated coins. There cannot be an plausible argument to the contrary.
He had almost every single, Philadelphia Mint, Proof Liberty Seated coin, including 1838 and 1839 ‘No Drapery’ quarters. Branch Mint Proofs of the 19th century constitute a complex topic, which Gardner seems to have ignored. Most of the great collectors of the past did not know about Branch Mint Proof Liberty Seated coins either, or ignored them as well.
Branch Mint Proofs are generally thought of as being outside of the realm of ‘regular’ U.S. coins, are often controversial, and tend to require additional explanation. Even so, I maintain that there is a true Proof 1855-S quarter, at least one definite Proof 1876-CC dime, and 1891-O quarters that barely qualify as Proofs.
If a Proof 1853 half dime exists, Gardner was missing one. I have never seen an 1853 half dime that is certainly a Proof, and I am not convinced that one exists. A relevant 1853 half dime that was auctioned by Stack’s-Bowers in October 2014 has been too heavily modified to properly evaluate.
It is noteworthy that Gardner has a Proof 1841 ‘No Drapery’ dime, the superb Newman coin. This is an astonishing rarity. Gene’s group of extremely rare Proof silver coins or other Special Strikings from the early 1850s is especially important as well.
To the best of my recollection at the moment, Gardner was missing just three or four business strikes, regarding all four denominations of Liberty Seated coins. Two of these are each unique. He told me that he regrets not competitively bidding on the 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ dime at the sale of the Battle Born Collection on Aug. 9, 2012.
Gardner was missing an 1853-O ‘No Arrows’ half. It does not exist in a grade above Very Fine. Gene sought high quality coins.
Gardner had gem quality representatives of a very large number of Liberty Seated coins of all denominations, including numerous that are the finest or second finest known of their respective dates. He also had a large number of duplicates and quite a few triplicates. In the event that the highest certified of a date in Gene’s collection was judged to be accidentally over-graded or disappointing for other reasons, there is a good chance that there was another in Gene’s collection that was very impressive. If a coin expert found one of Gardner’s seven 1796 dimes to be distasteful, he would have been likely to be enthusiastic about at least three of the other six.
The depth of Gardner’s collection could easily overwhelm even the most dissecting of critics.
Metaphorically, his collection was a team characterized by a large number of all-stars, an impressive second string with more than a few all-stars, and a third string, which would amount to a significant collection by itself.
There were thousands of coins in Gene’s collection. More than one thousand coins from the Gardner Collection were sold on Oct. 28th in a ‘live’ auction and in a later Internet-only session. These included coins from most series of copper, nickel or silver, classic U.S. coins, a few tokens, and a set of Indian Head quarter eagles, which were among the very few gold coins that he ever obtained. There is no practical way to fairly review the entire Gardner IV event.
The most expensive coins in the Gardner IV event are not representative of the contents of this specific sale or of the Gardner Collection as a whole. Great Rarities in the collection were offered in earlier auctions, as were a very large number of amazing super-grade coins. It is really the completeness and depth of this collection that characterized it. There were hundreds of relatively high grade representatives, with pleasant natural toning, of common dates, better dates, semi-keys and keys.
A list of the coins that brought the strongest prices in the Gardner IV sale would be misleading. Many of these were purchased or propelled to higher bidding levels by risk-taking ‘crackout artists,’ wholesalers who seek to re-submit the respective coins to PCGS or NGC with the idea of receiving higher grades than were previously assigned to the same coins.
To learn about specific coins and criteria for understanding collections, it is important to think beyond the assigned grades on plastic holders and think about the completeness, relative originality, quality and cultural aspects of a collection.
From Eliasberg to Gardner
The second all-time greatest collection of Liberty Seated coins was that of Louis Eliasberg, who formed the all-time greatest collection of classic U.S. coins overall. The Liberty Seated coins in the Gardner IV event that were previously in the Eliasberg Collection are not necessarily the best or the most desirable coins in the Eliasberg or Gardner collections. To a significant extent, however, Eliasberg-Gardner coins represent the flavor and depth of the Gardner Collection.
Eliasberg’s half dimes and dimes, among other items, were auctioned by Bowers & Merena (of New Hampshire) in New York during May 1996. Quarters, half dollars and silver dollars were sold in April 1997 at the same location, the St. Moritz Hotel at 50 Central Park South, which was later transformed into a different entity.
The Liberty Seated coins that were in both collections establish a connection between Eliasberg and Gardner, and intertwine the collections and auctions, and are of paramount importance to those interested in Liberty Seated coins. Here, some coins that were in both the Gardner IV sale and the Eliasberg Collection are discussed for educational and cultural purposes. It is interesting that some coins realized less in 2015 than they brought in 1996 or 1997.
The Eliasberg-Gardner, PCGS graded MS-65 1851-O half dime brought $4465, which is now a solid retail price. In May 1996, this same coin realized $3960.
On this 1851-O, the orange-russet and green tones in the outer fields are pleasing. The green reverse inner fields are neat. There are light to medium shades of gray here and there. If this coin was ever dipped, the aftermath of a dipping is not evident from a careful inspection under five-times magnification. Moreover, there is much underlying original luster. Undoubtedly, this 1851-O scores very high in the category of originality and is an excellent coin overall.
The Clapp-Eliasberg-Gardner 1856 half dime is PCGS certified as Proof-64 and CAC approved. It is listed as “Proof-65” in the Eliasberg ’96 catalogue. It then sold for $5940 and it realized less, $4230, last month. This coin scores very high in the category of originality. Furthermore, it has gray and russet tones, mostly gray, that are often seen on coins from the Eliasberg Collection. This is one of four Proof 1856 half dimes that Gene Gardner owned.
The Eliasberg-Gardner 1859 half dime is PCGS graded as MS-67 and CAC approved. It was also graded as MS-67 (by who?) when offered in the Eliasberg ’96 sale. None of Eliasberg’s U.S. coins were certified while owned by Eliasberg or his beneficiaries. In another words, the Eliasberg auctions in 1982, 1996 and 1997 were of non-certified (‘raw’) coins. This half dime brought $3960 in 1996 and less in 2015, $3290.
The Eliasberg-Gardner 1859-O is PCGS graded MS-64 and CAC approved. It was graded as “MS-66” by a cataloguer in 1996 and it then brought $1870. On Oct. 28, 2015, this 1859-O half dime went for $881.25, less than half as much.
The Eliasberg-Gardner 1869 half dime is PCGS certified as ‘Proof-66 Cameo’ and is CAC approved. The word ‘excellent’ is especially applicable to this coin. It brought $2585 in 2015, a moderate price, and $3300 in 1996, probably an extremely strong price at the time. It was, though, listed as “Proof-67” in the Eliasberg ’96 catalogue.
I then found that the obverse grades 65 and the reverse grades 67. In 1996, I figured an overall grade of 65+; “too dull for a 67,” I noted.
Although I did not see it in 2015, I have no reason to doubt that the assigned 66 grade is likely to be accurate in the present, given current standards and criteria. The current PCGS price guide value is $3100, which I find to be a fair retail estimate.
There were Eliasberg dimes in earlier Gardner sales that were more interesting to analyze. Even so, the 1882 and 1884 dimes in the Gardner IV event are mentionable. This 1882 is PCGS certified as ‘Proof-66 Cameo’ and is CAC approved.
This Proof 1882 exhibits various shades of russet and tan, with brown tints and patches. The outer fields are largely covered by light to medium blue tones that are often found on 19th century Proof silver coins. On both the obverse and reverse, there are patches of orange-russet about the periphery and elsewhere. On the whole, this is a very original and very neat coin.
This 1882 dime brought $1320 in May 1996 and $1410 in October 2015. The Eliasberg-Gardner Proof 1884 dime, in contrast, brought more in May 1996, $1210, than it did in October 2015, $1116.25. Both the Eliasberg-Gardner 1882 dime and the 1884 are in PCGS holders that date from the 2002 to 2004 time period. The 1884 is PCGS certified as ‘Proof-65 Cameo’ and is also CAC approved. The just mentioned 1882 is more comforting. On this 1884, there are some imperfections in the right obverse field, which are bothersome.
Given that the 1882 brought a modest premium over the 1884, the 1882 was a much better value in the Gardner IV sale. Also, it is important not to assume that these coins now appear exactly as they did more than nineteen years ago.
The Eliasberg-Gardner 1850-O is PCGS graded as MS-64 and CAC approved. It was graded as “MS-62” by a cataloguer in 1997.
Charlie Browne then graded it as “MS-64.” The Eliasberg 1850-O brought $4400 in 1997 and $9400 in 2015, more than twice as much.
The Eliasberg-Gardner 1854-O seems to be the finest known 1854-O quarter. This is a popular issue as a New Orleans Mint representative of a two-year type or subtype: Liberty Seated quarters, ‘No Motto,’ With Rays (though no arrows).
Before being in the Clapp family and Eliasberg Collections, this 1854-O was owned by Matthew Stickney, who certainly formed one of the dozen all-time greatest collections of classic U.S. coins. The Stickney Collection was auctioned by the firm of Henry Chapman in 1907.
At the Eliasberg ’97 sale, this 1854-O quarter brought $34,100, which was then an extremely strong price. In May 1999, Bowers & Merena auctioned it for $28,750. It was then NGC graded as MS-67.
The Eliasberg-Gardner 1854-O is currently PCGS graded as MS-66 and probably was so graded at some point from 1999 to 2001. In 1997, Charlie Browne graded it as MS-66, before the Eliasberg ’97 auction.
Gene Gardner purchased this Eliasberg 1854-O privately from Stewart Blay, a sharp grader and one of the more sophisticated collectors overall. Blay typically hones in on coins that have never been cleaned and are unlikely to have ever been dipped. This coin has neat toning and much underlying original luster. I place its grade in the middle of the 66 range, and I am puzzled as to why it does not have a CAC sticker.
The Eliasberg-Gardner 1858-S was a highlight of a recent discussion that was devoted to 1858-S quarters, rarities that have been largely forgotten. This NGC graded AU-58 coin sold for $8812 on Oct. 28, 2015 and for $3300 on April 6, 1997.
The Eliasberg-Gardner 1878 quarter is PCGS certified as Proof-64 and was listed as Proof-64 in the Eliasberg ’97 catalogue. This coin realized $935 in 1997 and $910.63 last month.
The Eliasberg-Gardner 1846-O ‘Medium Date’ half dollar was in the rather famous collection of half dollars that was formed by Douglas Noblet. It was PCGS graded as MS-64 between April 1997 and December 1998. More recently, a CAC sticker was affixed.
At the Eliasberg ’97 event, it was catalogued as grading MS-63 and realized $4400. At the sale of the Douglas Noblet Collection in January 1999 by Bowers & Merena, it brought substantially less, $2990. During the era from 1998 to 2002, it was not unusual for silver coins from the Eliasberg Collection to sell for amounts that were substantially lower than the respective prices realized in 1996 or 1997. On Oct. 28, 2015, the Eliasberg-Noblet-Gardner 1846-O realized $6,462.50, much more than it brought in 1997.
The Eliasberg-Gardner Proof 1849 half dollar in this sale has been overshadowed by the Pittman-Byers-Gardner 1849 half that was auctioned one year earlier, on Oct. 27, 2014. That one is generously certified as Proof-66 by NGC, though is certainly a gem and indisputably a Proof. The Pittman-Byers-Gardner 1849 is superior to the Eliasberg-Gardner 1849 half, which is a great coin in its own right and should not be ignored.
I witnessed Gene Gardner bid on this half dollar on April 7, 1997. A West Coast dealer was then the underbidder.
The Pittman-Byers-Gardner 1849 brought $38,187.50 more than a year ago, a result commensurate with the reality that it should have been certified as Proof-65, not 66. Also, from 2010 to the present, market levels for pre-1860 Proof silver coins have been much lower than levels that prevailed from 2005 to the middle of 2008. Stack’s (NY) auctioned the George Byers Collection on October 17, 2006, and the Pittman 1849 then sold for $56,350.
As for the Eliasberg-Gardner 1849, it is PCGS certified as Proof-63 and has a CAC sticker. It could fairly be certified as Proof-64, though I am not implying that any certification service will necessarily upgrade it in the future. The $18,800 result was a weak price, one of the better deals in the sale. This same coin brought $22,000 in April 1997, at which time it was accurately graded as 64.
Excitement at Eliasberg Auctions
There is a need to be careful in interpreting the reality that some Eliasberg-Gardner, Liberty Seated coins brought more in 1996 or 1997 than the same coins did in 2014 or 2015, respectively. In 1996 and 1997, auction results at the Eliasberg sales were determined to be very strong to extremely strong or even higher, including some really ‘off the wall’ prices! There were hundreds of people in the auction room in April 1997 and there was much maniacal bidding.
There would have been more energized bidding at the Gardner sales if the Gardner Collection had remained ‘off the market’ for a few years before being sold at auction. Indeed, many of the coins were acquired from 2011 to 2013! An aura of mystery and awe develops when specific coins and the framework of an epic collection have been ‘out of the limelight’ for more than five years before being auctioned.
© 2015 Greg Reynolds