Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #326
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
On Thursday, March 31, at the Baltimore Convention center, Stack’s-Bowers conducted a “Rarities Night” event, as one session in a large auction of a wide variety of items. The results were consistent with a prevailing view that, while market levels are still dropping slightly, there is healthy demand and substantial bidding activity for ‘rarities’ in major auctions, including a high degree of collector-participation. In this Rarities Night event, many coins went for retail prices.
An assortment of coins are mentioned herein, not just the most expensive coins in the sale. Indeed, popular coins like an 1877 Indian cent and a 1909-S VDB Lincoln ‘made the news,’ as did a pleasing three cent silver, Barber dimes, a 1904-S half dollar, a 1921 Walker and bust silver dollars.
Rare $10 Gold Coins (Eagles)
The most newsworthy coin in this Rarities Night event was an especially lustrous 1799 eagle (U.S. $10 gold coin). It was PCGS graded as MS-66 in the 1990s. It is technically impressive and has creamy luster.
This 1799 ten realized $493,500. “CAC bought it for inventory,” John Albanese reveals. “It could be the finest of the whole Bust – Heraldic Eagle design type.” Albanese is the founder and president of CAC.
The Hall-Simpson 1892-CC eagle was the topic of last week’s discussion. When I decided to write about it, I was unaware of the initial reserve, which would have required a bid of more than $16,000 to buy it.
This same coin sold in a Legend auction in September 2015 for $10,281.25. The Stack’s-Bowers web site now reports that it somehow “sold” for “$12,000.” This price is strong, though logical, given the importance, originality and eye appeal of this specific coin.
Rarities Night Selections
Markets for Classic (pre-1934) U.S. coins, rare and common, tend to be markedly cyclical. The price stability for rarities that characterized the period from 2010 to 2014 was an odd exception. Since August 2015, prices for rarities have been sliding downward, though the slide has become less pronounced over the last month.
Prices for some rarities are not falling at all. Markets for classic U.S. coins remain very active and healthy. Some areas were in need of corrections.
Although I have personally examined all the coins mentioned herein, I am not only selecting coins that I personally prefer. Indeed, I am including mentions of some coins about which I am concerned. I am reporting upon a selection of the coins in the Rarities Night event, to illustrate market realities and the success of the auction.
Coin auctions generally bring about moderate prices, for the most part, prices around the respective borders between wholesale and retail ranges. The success of any one auction is not a direct function of how well markets overall are faring. An auction may be successful when coin markets are crashing. Conversely, an auction may be a failure when coin markets are booming.
An auction is successful if a substantial percentage of lots bring strong prices, at clear retail levels, because retail buyers are participating directly and/or because coin professionals are acting as agents for collectors. If all the coins in an auction were purchased by dealers who were buying for their respective inventories, then the auction would not be very successful, though might not be a failure either, as dealer-bidders tend to push each other to pay significantly more than they would pay for the same respective coins in other settings.
In the Rarities Night session, enough coins brought retail prices to demonstrate that the auction was certainly successful. In the other sessions in the Stack’s-Bowers auction, which was large, There were common classic U.S. coins, modern coins, tokens, medals, paper money, and other items. It would not be practical to analyze all auction sessions. I cover Classic U.S. coins that are rare, very scarce, or are condition rarities of coins that are at least somewhat scarce.
The 1853 cent, which was discussed in an earlier article, brought $12,925. Although this same coin sold for more in July 2015, $14,100, the price then was puzzling. It is not of a rare die variety and other PCGS certified ‘MS-66-Red’ cents from the mid 1850s are around. The $12,925 price this time is “extremely strong, definitely retail,” Charlie Browne asserts.
Charlie served four stints as a PCGS grader, the first starting in the mid 1980s and the fourth ending in 2012. During the course of his career, Browne also worked as a grader for multiple coin firms that each spent millions of dollars on rarities.
As for the PCGS certified “MS-64+ RB” 1877 cent, I graded it as 64, rather than as 64+. Charlie Browne said as much without being prompted by me. Browne found the $9400 result to be “good money, strong price; a PCGS graded 65RB 1877 cent sold for $10,500 at the Baltimore show,” Charlie notes.
I though6 that the $9400 result was just slightly strong. PCGS certified ‘MS-64RB’ 1877 cents have sold for similar prices at auction not long ago and this one has a CAC sticker. Since August 2015, these do not seem to have fallen in value as much as most other Classic U.S. coins.
The $12,337.50 price for the 1909-S VDB Lincoln is a slightly strong price, given the quality of the coin. Some of the others that have sold recently for less have been artificially colored. This is an honest, ‘MS-66-Red’ 1909-S VDB. While gems are not condition rarities, these are among the most popular of all coins and the price realized is commensurate with the quality of this specific coin, which really has to be seen to be appreciated.
The price realized for the 1914-D, $17,625, was strangely high. Charlie and I are in agreement that the red color is not entirely natural. We believe that the “MS-65+ RD” certification is a mistake, though others may have contrary opinions.
The 1926-S is a semi-key in the series of Buffalo nickels. The NGC graded “MS-65+” 1926-S nickel in this auction brought an astonishing price of $64,625. “Worth 64-money around $15,000, a coin with issues, not a good value,” Browne asserts. I doubt that it would qualify for a CAC sticker if it was downgraded to MS-64.
1852 Three Cent Silver
As for the 1852 three cent silver in this sale, it is too stale. While a neat coin, it was just auctioned by Heritage in January for $17,625. It should have been apparent, then and now, that it is unlikely to be graded as MS-68 at PCGS and unlikely to receive a CAC sticker while in a holder with a MS-68 assignment. The current $15,275 result is more than fair, somewhat strong, well above any estimate of the value of a PCGS graded “MS-67+” 1852 three cent silver.
While I agree that it is very original, Charlie is much more enthusiastic about this three cent silver than I am. He says, “7+, not 8, I like this coin a great deal, very pretty, probably would not cross [at PCGS], looks completely original. Natural coin that somehow managed to survive, I like that aspect of it a lot. Also, it is nicely struck and well centered. It brought good money, a strong price, but I could understand why sophisticated collectors would want it,” Browne concludes.
For the NGC certified ‘Proof-67 Cameo’ 1859 dime in this sale, the $5875 result was very strong, given the conserved, chalk-white appearance of this dime. “A lot for what it is, no personality all it, just bright, awkward, unnatural,” Charlie declares.
While a more original coin would be worth more, this $5875 price is much more than was expected for this coin in the current market environment, where collectors may be very selective. Indeed, this would have been a moderate price for this coin before rare coin markets overall fell by 20% on average.
The Fossil Creek Collection 1894-O dime brought a strong price, $19,975, which was very much understandable. In the current environment, a moderate price probably would have been around $15,000. This coin, though, really captures the emotions of the viewer. The colors are awe-striking. “Very pretty, I loved the coin,” Browne says.
Last November and also last month, I wrote about the PCGS graded MS-67+, ‘Lily Nicole’ 1905-O dime. It is PCGS graded MS-67+ and CAC approved. In March 2008, while graded MS-67 and without a sticker, it brought $9200. In April 2015, as part of the Lily Nicole Collection, it sold for $8812.50. Last week, it brought $7050, exactly 80% as much as it brought in April 2015.
Although auction results for one coin do not prove a broad point, past results for the Nicole 1905-O dime are consistent with my oft-stated theorem that market levels for rarities, including condition rarities of scarce coins, fell by 20% from August 2015 to early 2016. This coin brought exactly 20% less. The fact that it was part of a landmark set is offset by the fact this single coin has received considerable attention over the last six months. It is a wonderful coin.
“I love the looks of the Nicole 1905-O and Simpson 1907-D dimes, not too dark, not too light, quintessential looks for Barber coins,” Charlie declares. “I appreciate the fact that these have not been messed with at any point in time,” Browne adds.
When the Simpson 1907-D brought $11,750 in December 2014, market levels were, of course, higher than they are now. Effectively and oddly, though, $11,750 was the reserve for this coin in the auction last week. A moderate price now would have been $9800 or so.
The result in October was not strong. The lower price now could be weak because it is no longer fresh or could be indicative of a further decline in market value for this coin. It is clear that prices for Liberty Seated coins have fallen a little more than prices in some other areas.
The 1825 half in this sale is a good example of a MS-65 grade coin that has been unfortunately certified as grading MS-66. If leading bidders really thought it graded MS-66, it would have sold for an amount between $14,500 and $21,500. The $9400 price that it brought is consistent with its true grade, in my view, and was a moderate to strong price.
A PCGS graded MS-64+, and CAC approved, 1904-S half realized $28,200, a strong to very strong result. In the current environment, this was clearly a retail price. Though not spectacular, this coin has neatly toned and is very original, an appealing representative of the key to the series of Barber half dollars.
The 1921 Walker is a key, too, The PCGS graded MS-63 1921 in this sale is much more original than most, as uncirculated Walkers tend to have been dipped repeatedly. This has gradually formed, cool, mottled toning. The $6462.50 result is neither strong nor weak, moderate to be sure, and fair to all.
I was a little surprised that the PCGS graded MS-63+ 1795 Draped Bust dollar met its reserve and sold for $117,500. I wish to thank a collector on the West Coast for drawing my attention to the fact that this exact same coin, while in a PCGS “Secure Holder” with a MS-63 not 63+ grade, was auctioned by Heritage in June 2015 for $76,375.
The deep gash on the chest, some lines, slight discoloration from a past liquid cleaning all lead to a 63-minus grade, not a 63+ grade, in my view. It is true, though, that Greysheet bid for a MS-63 1795 bust dollar is $122,000 and most price guides value a “MS-63“ grade 1795 bust dollar in the range from $125,000 to $145,000. This specific coin seems to have been discounted by prospective buyers.
All 1801 silver dollars are scarce. The NGC graded AU-55 1801 in this sale is appealing. After a mild liquid cleaning very long ago, it naturally retoned in an attractive manner. Underneath brown-russet and tan tones, with green patches and orange speckles, there is much luster. For $7931.25, it was one of the best values in the sale.
A PCGS certified Proof-66 1898 Morgan brought $27,025, well exceeding its reserve of $7,000. It has a CAC sticker and is an old holder. The obverse obviously has a ‘Deep Cameo’ contrast. The reverse has toned some and does not exhibit such a contrast. “On the surface, this seems a very strong price, but maybe crackout guys bought it to dip and try for a 67+ or 68 grade,” John Albanese suggests.
Charlotte Mint $1 Gold Coin
An unnoticed rarity in this sale was an 1851 Charlotte Mint One Dollar Gold piece. There really may be less than five hundred of these in existence in all grades and this is an excellent one. This 1851-D One Dollar piece is PCGS graded MS-64 and CAC approved. It scores particularly well in the categories of eye appeal and originality.
Albanese remarks that the $15,275 result “is a strong price.” John, though, is not quite as enthusiastic about the this coin as I am. Somehow, the result seemed low to me. There are not many that are certified higher, and a few of those have a cleaned or dipped appearance. Also, I would not be surprised if this coin was someday regraded as MS-65.
Quarter Eagles (U.S. $2½ Gold coins)
The second rarest of all design types is the Bust Left quarter eagle, which was minted just in 1808. The PCGS graded MS-61 1808 in this sale sold for $223,250. To the best of my recollection at the moment, this is, far and away, the highest auction result for an 1808 quarter eagle that is certified as grading below 63! “A very strong price,” John Albanese states.
The 1834 Classic Head quarter eagle in this sale is charming. It is PCGS graded MS-63 and CAC approved. The $9400 result is “a little strong,” Albanese relates.
The Proof Indian Head quarter eagles in this sale are newsworthy. The 1910 is PCGS graded 66 and CAC approved. For $45,825, “it went strong ,” John finds. In my view, this is not a good value. I am aware of a few better pieces selling for less in recent years.
The 1913 in this sale has the same PCGS and CAC certifications, though is a much more impressive coin. It is very original with great mustard color and a cool orange tint. This is one of only six Proof 1913 quarter eagles that are CAC approved at the 66-level, and this total of six may not amount to six different coins. Just fourteen Proof 1913 quarter eagles have been CAC approved in all grades, including a single entry at the 67-level. Nonetheless, the $35,250 result for this coin is strong.
The 1915 in this sale is PCGS certified as “Proof-67.” The $50,525 result is strong to very strong. The $35,250 price for the just mentioned 1913 was a much better value. It is a good sign that so many coins in this auction brought retail prices.
Markets for rarities and condition rarities are healthy. Slightly falling prices in many areas are indicative of normal market activities in coin markets. Prices cannot rise endlessly. Indeed, up and down periods are typical of markets for Classic U.S. coins.
©2016 Greg Reynolds