Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #294
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
Eagles are U.S. $10 gold coins. Eagles were minted for use in commerce from 1795 to 1933, though were not struck during many years along the way. There will be two, astonishing 1795 eagles in the Pogue II sale, which will be conducted by Stack’s-Bowers on Sept. 30 at the Sotheby’s headquarters in New York. The Garrett-Pogue 1795-‘13 leaves’ $10 coin is already justifiably famous. The Pogue 1795-‘9 leaves’ coin is surprisingly enticing.
Although the amazing, gem quality 1795, with 13 leaves, will realize a higher price and deservedly receives more attention, the 1795 with 9 leaves on the reverse (back) is rarer and is especially noteworthy. For decades, two 1795 $10 gold coins have been sought by collectors who are assembling sets ‘by date,’ one with ‘9 leaves’ on the branch on the reverse and one with ‘13 leaves.’ The respective branches on most 1795 eagles have 13 leaves.
It is already widely known that the Pogue Collection contains the 1795-‘13 leaves’ that is very likely to be the finest known of all 1795 eagles, regardless of variety. It was PCGS certified as MS-66 many years ago and was regraded last year as “MS-66+.” There is no doubt that it merits CAC approval.
The Garrett-Pogue 1795-‘13 leaves’ coin was a star of the epic Garrett Collection. Saul Teichman, Richard Burdick, Jim McGuigan, David Akers, and John Albanese all raved about this coin years before any of us knew that the Pogue Family Collection would be publicly auctioned. Furthermore, advanced collectors I know who visited the Pogue Collection exhibition at Sotheby’s in January 2015 were amazed by the Garrett-Pogue 1795. The point that this coin has never been dipped or significantly cleaned is often expressed.
The Garrett-Pogue 1795-‘13 leaves’ $10 gold coin (eagle) is already a legend. The Pogue 1795-‘9 leaves’ is the focus here. The Pogue Collection 1795-‘9 leaves’ could be the finest of a small number that survive. It is certainly among the top three.
The Pogue 1795-‘9 leaves’ $10 gold coin is PCGS graded as “MS-63+,” which I find to be fair. It probably barely qualifies for CAC approval, though collectors should not assume that a coin is or will be CAC approved unless there is a CAC sticker on the holder, the serial number is checked on the CAC site or John Albanese is consulted about the specific coin.
In my view, the Pogue 1795-‘9 leaves’ eagle is a very exciting coin and possibly more dynamic than any other Bust $10 coin that has been graded below MS-65. This coin has a few hairlines and contact marks that are consistent with a 63 or higher grade. Some muted gashes between Miss Liberty’s face and star #11 in addition to a few scrapes about contact marks in the reverse inner fields probably kept this coin from being awarded a higher grade.
Almost all MS-63 grade gold coins have imperfections in the fields and these are beside the point that this coin is lustrous, dynamic and cool. The natural russet tones here and there contribute to its score in the category of originality. Moreover, it is semi-prooflike and seems to glow. The overall appearance is so exciting that the imperfections are largely forgotten. Indeed, the dazzling nature of this coin was a pleasant surprise and was inspiring.
Varieties or Dates?
Five die pairings of 1795 $10 gold coins are known. Four of the five have ‘13 Leaves’ reverses and one of the five has the ‘9 Leaves’ reverse. Most collectors ignore the details of the die pairings, which are of interest primarily to specialists in die varieties and those of us who engage in pedigree research.
Most surviving 1795 eagles have 13 leaves on the branch on the reverse (back of the coin). An eagle is perched on the branch. This reverse design with a representation of a bald eagle, the national bird of the United States, is called a ‘Small Eagle,’ though the portrait of an eagle is not really small. This reverse design is so labeled because it was replaced by the ‘Heraldic Eagle’ reverse design at some point during 1797. In last week’s article on the 1798 ‘Small Eagle’ $5 coin, there is considerable discussion of ‘Small Eagle’ and ‘Heraldic Eagle’ design types. (Relevant references may be accessed by clicking on words in blue.)
The ‘9 leaves’ variety is held to constitute a separate date partly because the difference in the leaves is readily apparent, even to someone who is not searching for a difference. A magnifying glass is not needed to distinguish a ‘9 leaves’ reverse from a ‘13 leaves’ reverse. The whole placement pattern of the leaves is obviously different. It is not necessary to count the leaves. It could be fairly argued in opposition, however, that these two are die varieties not separate dates or subtypes.
The Richmond Collection, which was auctioned by DLRC in 2004 and 2005, contained a complete set of business strike eagles from 1795 to 1933 ‘by date’ except for a 1795-‘9 Leaves’ coin, although this collector could easily have obtained one. The “Richmond” collector did not follow tradition.
By tradition, 1795-‘13 Leaves’ and 1795-‘9 Leaves’ eagles have been accepted as each having the status of a distinct date. For collectors who follow this tradition, there are thus four ‘dates’ in the series of Bust – ‘Small Eagle’ $10 gold coins, which are the first type of eagles: 1795-‘13 Leaves’, 1795-‘9 Leaves,’ 1796, and 1797 ‘Small Eagle.’ There are also 1797 ‘Heraldic Eagle’ $10 coins, which are part of the second design type. Bust – Heraldic Eagle $10 gold coins were minted from 1797 to 1804.
Many collectors seeking to complete ‘date’ sets have been willing to pay much more for a 1795-‘9 leaves’ $10 gold coin than for a similar 1795-‘13 leaves’ coin, partly because the 1795-‘9 leaves’ $10 gold coin is extremely rare. Not all buyers of 1795 eagles, however, are seeking to complete sets ‘by date’ or sets at all. Some buy rarities as trophies or for speculative purposes.
Since the early 2000s, there has been a boom in the building of type sets. The James Swan, Oliver Jung, Haig Koshkarian, Walser, Waccabuc, and Madison type sets come to mind. Many others are still being assembled or enhanced, most notably “The High Desert” type set.
The growth of type collecting and the gobbling of gold type coins by speculating non-collectors could have diminished relative demand for 1795-‘9 leaves’ $10 gold coins, which are generally not selected for type sets. It is unlikely that someone assembling a type set would pay a 50% to 150% premium for a 1795-‘9 leaves’ coin over a 1795-‘13 leaves’ coin of very similar quality.
The mystique of the 1795-‘9 leaves’ is largely responsible for the ongoing, intense demand for these and the large premiums. The appeal of 1795-‘9 leaves’ eagles is a part of the culture of coin collecting that is not entirely explainable. They are as popular as ever.
The ‘Small Eagle’ $10 gold coins of 1796 and 1797 have eleven leaves. The original plan to place thirteen leaves is understandable, as the original thirteen colonies that became States in the newly independent nation are connected to thirteen being a magic number in the early years of the United States. Many coins, flags, and other items were produced with thirteen stars, thirteen rings, thirteen rays, or thirteen bands. Fugio coppers of 1787 are examples.
Why would one reverse die in 1795 have nine leaves? Why would the ‘Small Eagle’ reverse dies used for eagles of 1796 and 1797 have eleven leaves? Maybe no one now knows? The 1795-‘9 Leaves’ issue does not seem to require a known meaning in order for collectors to pursue the coins.
According to Numismedia.com, in VF-20 to EF-40 grades, the 1795-’9 Leaves’ is worth around 50% more than corresponding 1795-‘13 Leaves’ eagles. In higher grades, the premium is more than 100%.
In the PCGS price guide, the premium in EF-40 grade is a little more than 70%, and is more than 110% in AU grades. The premium is estimated to be exactly 100% in MS-61 grade, $130,000 to $260,000, although the PCGS guide value for a PCGS graded MS-61 1795-‘9 Leaves’ is likely to be wrong. A true retail value would be at least $320,000. This guide indicates a premium of exactly 50% for PCGS graded MS-63+ representatives of both issues, which is convenient. Would such a true market premium really be exactly 50%?
This is not a criticism of the PCGS guide; an immediate point is that the 1795-‘9 Leaves’ is intensely demanded. It is important to keep in mind that there is tremendous demand for the 1795-‘13 Leaves.’ It is not just needed for a set ‘by date’; a 1795-’13 Leaves’ is almost always selected to represent the Bust ‘Small Eagle’ design in type sets. The 1796 is much rarer than the 1795-‘13 Leaves’ and the 1797 ‘Small Eagle’ is extremely rare. In most cases, someone assembling a relevant type set will not consider a 1795-‘9 Leaves,’ a 1796 or a 1797 ‘Small Eagle’; he or she will seek a 1795-‘13 Leaves’ $10 coin!
So, the fact that a 1795-‘9 Leaves’ eagle is worth so much more than a 1795-‘13 Leaves’ eagle of similar quality is especially significant because of the tremendous demand for 1795 eagles regardless of variety. More than ten times as many people collect early gold coins ‘by type’ as collect them ‘by date.’ There are many rarer die pairings of pre-1834 U.S. gold coins that are not worth as much as 1795-‘9 Leaves’ $10 coins of approximately the same respective quality.
A 1799 eagle of the first die pairing, which is referenced as BD-1 or Taraszka-13, is much rarer than a 1795-‘9 Leaves’ eagle; five to ten exist. There is not a need to explain the distinguishing characteristics of the 1799 T-13 die pairing to make the point that it is much rarer than a 1795-‘9 Leaves’ $10 coin and is not worth nearly as much. For example, a PCGS graded AU-50 1799 of this die T-13 pairing was auctioned by Heritage for $40,250 in December 2009. In contrast, back in January 2005, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded AU-50 1795-‘9 Leaves’ for $161,000.
In addition to being mysteriously more famous than other varieties, the rarity of 1795-‘9 Leaves’ is a mystery, too. Published estimates tend to vary from fifteen to fifty.
It is wide held that 1795-‘9 Leaves’ eagles are in the same category of rarity as 1797 quarter eagles ($2½ gold coins). It seems likely that 18 to 35 of each exist. A set of Bust Right, ‘with stars’ quarter eagles ‘by date’ certainly requires a 1797 to be complete, yet 1795-‘9 Leaves’ eagles are worth much more than corresponding 1797 quarter eagles, which are clearly ‘dates’ rather than second die pairings of the same year and could be rarer than 1795-‘9 Leaves’ $10 coins. The 1795-‘9 Leaves’ eagle is worth considerably more than 1797 quarter eagles and 1799-BD1 (T-13) eagles of similar quality because of its mystique and traditional importance.
Rarity & Auction Appearances
A tentative estimate is that 205 to 255, 1795-‘13 Leaves’ eagles survive. For this issue more so than most others, data published by PCGS and NGC includes multiple counts of many of the same coins. I know wholesalers who have repeatedly submitted a substantial number of these. Although other researchers have put forth much higher estimates, reason and logic support the estimate of 205 to 255, which will be defended in a future discussion.
Certainly, auction data are consistent with my estimate. During most years, only a small number of 1795-‘13 Leaves’eagles are auctioned, three so far this year. If there were really 400 to 600, as some erroneously claim, an average of more than twenty would appear each year.
As for 1795-‘9 Leaves’ eagles, a book by Anthony Taraszka, which was published in 1999, estimated that 15 survive. “Approximately 18 examples are currently known,” it is said on the web site of the Harry Bass Foundation.
While other estimates have been as low as ten and as high as fifty, most estimates range from twenty to thirty. Although a numismatist at Stanford University has recently made terrific progress, research so far regarding this issue has been inadequate. It may not even be practical to formulate condition rankings.
The Pogue piece is the best that I have ever encountered. Admittedly I have not seen the coin in the “core collection” of the late Harry Bass, which probably has never been submitted to PCGS or NGC. The Harry Bass Foundation web site indicates, without mentioning Brownlee’s name, that the Bass 1795-‘9 Leaves’ was purchased from Mike Brownlee during December 1971 and that it might have been auctioned by Superior (Goldbergs) in 1970.
PCGS has graded ten and NGC reports fifteen, though this total of twenty-five may only amount to eleven to seventeen different coins. At least several are in ‘genuine’ or ‘details’ NGC or PCGS holders. The Heritage auction archives list more than five different that have been determined at PCGS or at NGC to be non-gradable. It seems very likely that at least eighteen survive.
The NGC authenticated Bently Collection 1795-‘9 Leaves’ eagle has been auctioned at least twice by Heritage. Images and descriptions suggest that it might have a few serious problems, including harmful effects relating to a “mount” that has been removed. The Bently coin is said to have the ‘details’ of an Extremely Fine grade coin. As part of the Donald Bently Collection, it brought $47,000 in January 2014. In December 2009, the exact same coin went for $29,900.
The most recent auction sale of a 1795-‘9 Leaves’ eagle is the NGC graded EF-45 coin that was in the “Dr. James A. Ferrendelli Collection,” which Stack’s-Bowers auctioned in August 2014. Jim McGuigan remarks that it has the sharpness of a 45, “but a net grade of 35 due to handling marks.” Jim and I both found that the contact marks in the inner fields were a little more extensive than average for early eagles in the same grade range. This coin does not have any serious problems, however, and was one of the more desirable pieces in the Ferrendelli Collection. An EF-40 grade may be preferable to the assigned EF-45 grade, which is certainly defensible. The Ferrendelli coin realized $146,875 in August 2014.
Earlier, in August 1997, Heritage auctioned this same Ferrendelli coin, with the same grade assigned by NGC, for $34,500. Curiously, it was one of three 1795-‘9 Leaves’ eagles that were consigned by the Diocese of Buffalo. Each of the other two was PCGS graded AU-50. A cataloguer for Heritage then figured that just ten to thirteen 1795-‘9 Leaves’ eagles survived. More information has become available since 1997.
Were any 1795-‘9 Leaves’ eagles sold in 2013? In August 2012, Heritage auctioned a NGC graded MS-61 coin for $282,000. It is the “Ohringer” collection coin that the Goldbergs sold in September 2008 for $224,250. I saw it in 2008 and in 2012. Despite the reality that this coin would never receive a CAC sticker while residing in its current holder, and probably would not ‘cross’ into a PCGS holder at the 61 level, I like the coin. It is strictly uncirculated and is attractive. It is important to have realistic expectations about gold coins from 1795 and this coin is better than most.
While the Ohringer 1795-‘9 Leaves’ has only been lightly dipped, there are hairlines everywhere from a typical moderate wiping. Further, a liquid cleaning in the past had a little bit of an effect on the color and texture. The magnitude of the adjustment marks is less than usual on a large coin from 1794 or 1795. Some contact marks in the obverse inner fields are noteworthy, though not severe, and are partly covered by stuff that maybe should not be there. This is too attractive an uncirculated coin, however, to be graded just 60.
Despite all the byproducts of wiping and cleaning, the Ohringer 1795-‘9 Leaves’ is lustrous and neat; the assigned 61 grade is fair enough. Though strong, the $282,000 result was unsurprising. I remember only three 1795-‘9 Leaves’ eagles that are superior to the Ohringer coin. A real estate developer on the West Coast used “Ohringer” as a code name.
The Magnolia Collection coin that Spink-Smythe auctioned in 2011 is superior to the “Ohringer” coin. The Magnolia coin is or was PCGS graded as MS-61. It scores a little higher in the category of originality than the Ohringer piece. Indeed, Miss Liberty and the portrait of an eagle exhibit a wonderful natural mint frost. Further, the texture of the fields is appealing. There is, though, some light friction on the highpoints, and there are many hairlines from a light to moderate cleaning.
My understanding is that this PCGS graded MS-61, Magnolia 1795-‘9 Leaves’ eagle was stolen, shortly after the auction, while in transit to the buyer in the Midwest. As far as I know, it has not been recovered. Hopefully, it has not been melted or modified to prevent easy identification.
The $379,600 result on May 3, 2011 remains an auction record for a 1795-‘9 Leaves,’ though it is extremely likely that the Pogue piece will realize a higher amount on Sept. 30. Although the Magnolia coin was amazingly attractive for a certified MS-61 early gold coin, Andy Lustig was more enthusiastic about the Magnolia coin overall than I was.
Lustig raved about its “original color” and the fact that others of the same ‘9 Leaves’ issue “look like they were struck through rocks”! I note that there is a PCGS graded AU-55 1795-‘9 Leaves’ eagle that could fairly be described in such a manner. It brought $149,500 in 2007.
In August 2011, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an NGC graded AU-58 1795-‘9 Leaves’ for $218,500. Stack’s (NY) auctioned the same coin in June 2008 for $207,000. Market levels for such coins were certainly much higher in June 2008 than in August 2011. The result in 2011 was clearly strong. It is unlikely that this coin would qualify for a CAC sticker in its current holder. It is gradable, in my view, and similar to other early eagles that are NGC graded from AU-55 to MS-61. Although a liquid cleaning long ago has caused this coin to appear off-color, it has been naturally retoning and does not have any severe problems.
Collectors who have examined other 1795-‘9 Leaves’ eagles and have an opportunity to close inspect the Pogue coin will conclude that Pogue coin stands out as a prize that is really cool. Of all the gold coins in the Pogue Collection that I have seen so far, it was the most pleasantly surprising. I already knew that the Garrett-Pogue 1795-‘13 Leaves’ ten is an amazing coin.
© 2015 Greg Reynolds