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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: Rarities Night, part 5; Post-Auction Analysis of Silver Coins

News and Analysis on scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #69

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

The first Stack’s-Bowers ‘Rarities Night’ event, which was held on Aug. 18th, is now history. As Heritage has been conducting ‘Platinum Night’ events for more than six years, it is curious that this is the first effort by a competitor to organize a similar event. It was successful. I have certainly thought a lot about it. There were an ample number of important coins consigned by collectors, especially from the Richard Jewell, William Porter and “Raji” collections. There was also a significant amount of fresh material from unnamed sources. Besides, some of the stale coins included are rare and extremely desirable; I liked seeing these again.

I provided an overview of this ‘Rarities Night’ event in part 1. Before the auction, I covered silver coins in part 2 and gold coins in part 3. After the auction, I analyzed results for many items, including several of the most valuable and/or rarest in part 4.  Now, in part 5, I interpret auction results for selected pre-1865 U.S. silver coins, not all of which cost a fortune.

As I reflect more upon Dick Osburn’s collection of Liberty Seated Half Dollars, I develop a greater appreciation of the extent of Osburn’s achievement. Although some of Osburn’s halves are not thrilling, it is difficult to find decent, high grade representatives of many dates in this series. Osburn had numerous halves that are highly ranked for their respective dates. Also, it is interesting that Osburn included some Proofs and a few pertinent patterns to his set of mostly business strikes.

Among the especially valuable U.S. coins that I discussed in part 4, I forgot to include the Osburn 1878-S half. It is terrific overall, with neat natural toning and minimal imperfections. The Osburn 1878-S is PCGS graded “MS-63” and is CAC approved. It deservedly brought a very strong price of $184,000.

I. Osburn 1846-O Tall Date

From the perspective of collectors of Liberty Seated Halves, Osburn’s 1846-O ‘Tall Date’ was one of the most important coins in Osburn’s collection. The ‘Tall Date’ 1846-O tends to be collected ‘as if’ it is a distinct date in the series.

I employ the term date, as it was used when I was a kid, to refer to a coin’s design type, the year on the coin, and the location of the Mint that made it. An 1838 Capped Bust Quarter and an 1838 Liberty Seated Quarter are different dates. An 1846 half and an 1846-O half are different dates. A debatable issue is the extent to which variations in the characteristics of the numerals in the year signify distinct dates, such as Small Date, Large Date, Tall Date, Wide Date and Medium Date.

Those who collect Liberty Seated Halves ‘by date’ tend to demand both an 1846-O ‘Normal Date’ and an 1846-O ‘Tall Date’ for their respective sets. Presumably, the numerals in the year on a ‘Tall Date’ are substantially higher, though I admit that I never measured them.

The 1846-O ‘Tall Date’ is rare in all grades and is an extreme condition rarity in AU-50 and higher grades. The Osburn 1846-O ‘Tall Date’ is PCGS graded MS-62, and is CAC approved. It just barely qualifies for a MS-62 grade, in my view. I am not convinced that it is tied for the finest known, though it may be. It is moderately brilliant, mostly from a medium dipping long ago. It has naturally retoned to some extent. Some minor contact marks are noticeable. It is almost attractive overall.

It is one of only two that the PCGS has graded “MS-62” and these two are the only “Mint State” 1846-O ‘Tall Date’ halves that are reported in PCGS data, which indicates just three in total in all AU grades. So, someone who is putting together a set probably figured that he or she should seriously bid on this coin. The PCGS price guide values it at $13,500. It sold for $21,850, a very strong price.

II. Pittman-Osburn 1847 Proof

The Pittman-Kaufman-Osburn Proof 1847 half is noteworthy. John J. Pittman formed an epic collection, which included perhaps the second all-time greatest assortment, after Eliasberg, of pre-1860 Proof coins. Kaufman collected Liberty Seated Proof coins ‘by date’ and assembled an incredible collection, the cream of which was auctioned in 2007 and 2008.

The Pittman-Kaufman-Osburn 1847 half is NGC certified “Proof-64” and sold for $16,675. This coin is, indisputably a Proof. It is, unfortunately, very ‘low end’ for its certified grade, and I believe that is why it did not realize as much as most interested participants would expect a “Proof-64” half from the 1840s to bring at a major auction.

It is true that this exact same coin realized significantly more on July 31, 2008, about when coin markets peaked. As I explained in a series of market reports in August 2009, after coin markets peaked during the summer of 2008, the buyers that remained are, on average, more sophisticated and less likely to purchase rare coins that are ‘low end’ for their respective certified grades.

III. Pryor-Osburn 1847/6 Overdate

The 1847/6 overdate is collected as a ‘date’ and is thus demanded for sets of Liberty Seated Halves. Yes, I know that this variety is more complicated and perhaps should not be referred to as just an 1847/6. By tradition, however, this variety is known as an 1847/6 overdate. The use of different syntax here would be confusing and counter-productive. No matter how this variety is named, the Osburn piece is one of the finest known.

The Pryor-Osburn 1847/6 is NGC graded “MS-62.” James Bennett Pryor formed one of the all-time greatest collections of early and Liberty Seated Half Dollars, which was auctioned by B&M in 1996.

From my perspective, the Pryor-Osburn 1847/6 is just too artificially bright from a moderate to heavy dipping. Further, it has some noticeable contact marks and hairlines. I grade it as a 61. Its grade may legitimately increase if it nicely and naturally retones. I doubt that it is the finest known, though it is almost certainly in the top five. The $43,125 result is very strong, though not extremely surprising. It may be hard to find another in the 55+ to 62 grade range.

IV. Pryor-Osburn 1855-S

The famous Pryor-Osburn 1855-S is NGC graded “MS-67.” Though I understand why others like it a lot, it is not my kind of coin, even if it is the only “choice” uncirculated 1855-S. The Pryor-Osburn 1855-S has been awkwardly dipped, it is overgraded, and it has other issues.

The Pryor-Osburn 1855-S realized $115,000, a little more than I expected it to bring. It is true that Heritage auctioned this exact same coin in Jan. 2004, during the first Platinum Night event (?), for $92,000. Market conditions and collecting trends have changed.

Numismedia.com lists a retail value of $123,500 for a “MS-67” 1855-S, presumably this coin, and a wholesale price of $95,000. The PCGS price guide retail value of $125,000 for a “MS-66” is perhaps referring to this coin as well; PCGS data does not report an 1855-S being PCGS graded above AU-58. It is true that the Pryor-Osburn 1855-S is very brilliant and is flashy when tilted under a light.

The most desirable 1855-S Liberty Seated Half Dollar is the special striking that Heritage, coincidentally, auctioned on Aug. 12th. This special striking, which is NGC certified “Proof-65,” realized $276,000. IF the Pryor-Osburn 1855-S is worth an amount near $115,000 to several knowledgeable collectors, then that 1855-S is easily worth $276,000, from a logical perspective.

V. More Osburn Halves

For a collector who desires an attractive, relatively high grade Liberty Seated Half Dollar from the 1840s and does not have a fortune to spend, the Osburn 1849 (lot #7033) would have been a good buy. It is NGC graded MS-62 and realized a reasonable price of $874.

I expressed my appreciation for the Osburn 1851 in part 1 of this series. The Osburn 1851 is NGC graded MS-65 and sold for $8912.50. This is a fair price, which is almost weak.

Liberty Seated Half Dollars, and also Liberty Seated Quarters, of 1853 are one-year type coins. Only in 1853 did these have arrows near the numerals on the obverse (front of the coin) and rays on the reverse (back). These are thus sharply demanded by type collectors in addition to being demanded by those assembling sets ‘by date.’

The Osburn 1853 half is notable. It is PCGS graded MS-64 and is CAC approved. This half has been lightly to moderately dipped, and is characterized by some natural retoning. It is very lustrous. Furthermore, the Osburn 1853 has very few hairlines and contact marks. It is attractive. Indeed, to those who like apparently dipped coins, it would be very attractive. The Osburn 1853 sold for $4485, a moderately strong price.

I like the Osburn 1860-O that is PCGS graded MS-63. It is not as important as some of the other halves in his set. Though scarce, the 1860-O is not a rare date. Nonetheless, it has pleasant, stable, attractive, natural toning. This 1860-O brought a strong price of $1265, well within the retail range.

I like the first Osburn 1861-O even more than the Osburn 1860-O to which I just referred. As Osburn included many varieties in his set, he had more than one representative of several ‘dates.’

This first 1861-O is one of the most appealing coins in his set. It is PCGS graded MS-64+ and has a CAC sticker. This coin is more than very attractive. It has cartwheel luster and pretty natural toning. The orange-russet inner fields and blue outer fields are enticing. Other colors are present as well. The $3162.50 result is very strong, though would be a very good deal for a connoisseur who fully appreciates this coin.

The third Osburn 1861-O attracted more attention and higher bids because it was struck by the Confederate States of America, ‘The South’ in the U.S. Civil War. It is PCGS graded AU-55, has pleasant natural toning and is generally nice for the grade. The price realized of $8050 is very strong for this variety, which does not appeal to everyone.

In any event, a book could be written about the Osburn collection. Here, I must cover other coins as well, especially other denominations.

VI. Quarters

As 1804 quarters are rare and very popular, the one in this auction should be mentioned, even though I really do not like it. This 1804 is PCGS graded “MS-63” and it brought an extremely strong price, $184,000.

As for the 1818/5 that is NGC graded “MS-65,” the reserve of $23,650 was a little too steep for a starting point. Though it is a neat coin, with appealing natural toning, its grade is not in the high end of the 65 range.

An extremely rare and very popular 1823/2 Capped Bust Quarter is a highlight of this auction. It is PCGS graded ‘Good-06’ and is nice for this grade. The $43,125 result is strong and would be a fair retail price.

As for the 1825/2 ‘Wide Date’ that is NGC graded “AU-58,” I am somewhat surprised that it did not sell. The 1825/2 is a rare and popular issue, and this specific coin is impressive. It has pleasant, brownish-russet natural toning. The required minimum bid of $12,650 was a little aggressive, though well within the realm of reason.

In regards to the 1831 “Small Letters” quarter that is NGC certified “MS-65*,” in part 2, I hinted that I am concerned about it. Actually, it fared well in a business sense, with a top bid of $18,400. I was expecting a price in the $16,000 to $17,250 range.

The 1838 ‘No Drapery’ Liberty Seated Quarter in this auction is appropriate for a collector who likes moderately to heavily dipped coins. Its NGC grade of “MS-65” is unsurprising and is consistent with the way that the NGC grades similar coins. Indeed, another 1838 that is NGC graded “MS-65,” which is also very apparently dipped, realized the same price as this one, $14,950, in the Jan. 2010 FUN auction. This $14,950 result was not strong then and is not strong now. An MS-65 grade 1838 ‘No Drapery’ quarter with some pleasant natural toning would, usually though not always, realize more.

The two great Barber Quarters that I discussed in part 2 brought splendid prices. The Duckor 1898-O sold for $25,875 and the “Chicago” 1909-O, $37,375!

VII. Draped Bust Dimes

A 1798 ‘Large 8’ Draped Bust Dime that is NGC graded “MS-64” brought $28,750, a little more than I expected this particular coin to bring. The 1798 ‘Large 8’ from the Eliasberg collection brought a lot more. This coin is mentioned in my column of Aug. 3rd. It is PCGS graded MS-63 and sold for $40,250. Though I regard this $40,250 result as very strong, Jim McGuigan finds it to be fair and “not that high.” Jim points out that this “Eliasberg dime is accurately graded, has a lot of eye appeal and is famous.”

There were two 1805 dimes, of the same die variety, in this auction that are certified as grading “MS-66.” The first is PCGS certified and CAC approved. It went for $86,250, more than twice its reserve. The other, which is NGC graded and does not have a CAC sticker, sold for $34,500. Of course, this is not a broad criticism of the NGC. Coins really should be evaluated as individuals. In this series on the Rarities Night auction, I have mentioned many NGC certified coins that I like.

As I said, before the auction, in part 2, the CAC approved 1805 dime is really an excellent coin. The second 1805 has some U.S. Mint caused imperfections that have a negative impact on some collectors. Generally, it does not have excellent eye appeal for a certified “MS-66” dime.

A third 1805 dime, of this same variety, is PCGS graded MS-64 and sold for $16,100. While price guides may give the impression that this is not a strong price, this coin’s grade is not in the high end or even in the middle of the MS-64 range. Experts who have examined this coin in actuality would probably agree that $16,100 is a strong price for this specific coin.

Although it is tempting to begin a discussion of the very interesting group of Proof Capped Bust Dimes in this auction, it would not be a good idea to do so now. The physical characteristics of these and the markets for them are complicated and are best treated separately at another time.

VIII. Liberty Seated Dimes

The 1839-O ‘No Drapery’ Liberty Seated Dime is a great coin. It is PCGS graded MS-66 and is CAC approved. This dime has only the most miniscule of marks. The toning is definitely natural and is appealing. The shades of russet on the obverse are pleasing and the reverse has even more enticing colors, including green, orange-russet, red and yellow. This 1839-O has never been cleaned. If it has ever been dipped, it was done lightly and/or decades ago.

This coin is very scarce in all grades and this is one of the finest known 1839-O dimes. The $17,250 result is very strong, though sensible.

I have always been tremendously fond of Proof silver and gold U.S. coins from the 1840s. These tend to have more pronounced Proof characteristics than their counterparts of the 1850s. While these are rare, Proofs from the 1840s appear in auctions fairly often. They are accessible.

The Proof 1843 Liberty Seated Dime in this auction merits coverage. It is PCGS graded 64 and is CAC approved. This 1843 exhibits soothing brownish-russet toning with patches of blue and orange-russet. The price realized, $19,550, is hard to interpret. It seems very strong. The PCGS price guide values for this issue are over-estimates, which are way too high.

The Proof 1848 is another one of my favorite coins in this auction. It is similar in rarity and is superior to the 1843 that I just mentioned. It is PCGS certified “Proof-65.” I could write a whole article about this one coin. It suffices to say, at the moment, that the price realized of $25,875 is a good deal.

The 1858-S is a key and a famous rarity in the series of Liberty Seated Dimes. Indeed, 1858-S dimes are rare in all grades. This one is likely to be one of the five finest known.

It is PCGS graded MS-62 and is CAC approved. My hunch is that most grading experts would be in agreement that this coin grades a solid 62, in the middle of the range. The $16,100 result is very strong, though perhaps it should be worth that amount to a collector who is seeking to assemble a set of high grade Liberty Seated Dimes ‘by date.’

The Simpson 1858-S, which is NGC graded “MS-63,” was auctioned for $14,950 in Sept. 2010. I have not seen it.

As for the 1859-O that is NGC graded “MS-68,” it has terrific natural toning. I like the fact that I could not find any evidence of this coin ever having been dipped. In my view, however, it has too many contact marks and other imperfections to truly grade 68. The bidders may have agreed with me. The $12,650 result is in the range of a fair retail price for a MS-67 grade 1859-O.

IX. 1863/2 Three Cent Silver

A Proof 1863/2 overdate Three Cent Silver sold for $48,875, an incredible price! Indeed, this result must be one of the five all-time highest auction prices for a Three Cent Silver, of any date. At the moment, only two higher prices come to my mind.

An 1851 Three Cent Silver that was previously in the Eliasberg collection, which has been PCGS certified ‘Proof-66’, brought more than $60,000 in the Eliasberg ’96 auction. In the Jan. 2008 FUN Platinum Night event, Heritage auctioned an NGC certified “Proof-68” 1858 Three Cent Silver for $57,500. I remember this coin; it is cool.

Gem Proof 1855 Three Cent Silvers could be worth more than $40,000 each. I really did not believe that a Proof 1863/2 could be, in 2011.

Perhaps 1863/2 Three Cent Silvers are rarer than auction records plus PCGS and NGC data may suggest. There could be an unusually high count of repeat submissions and consignments of the same coins. I asked the cataloguer of this coin, Jeff Ambio, about it. Ambio states that “this is really the only 1863/2 that I can ever remember crossing my desk in twelve plus years of cataloging major auctions for multiple companies.”

This 1863/2 is PCGS certified ‘Proof-66 Cameo’ and it is CAC approved. The PCGS price guide value for this coin is $9,500. In Aug. 2010, an NGC certified ‘Proof-66’ 1863/2 realized $8943.55 and, in Nov. 2006, an NGC certified “Proof-67 Cameo” 1863/2 Three Cent Silver was auctioned for $13,225. The $48,875 result for one is the strongest result in this whole Rarities Night event.

It certainly has been a pleasure to view and analyze the coins and other numismatic items in this sale. I am sure that I will be referring to many of them in future writings.

X. What are Strong Prices?

For a post-auction analysis to be meaningful, it is necessary for the analyst to distinguish, at least in his own mind, strong prices, fair prices and weak prices. While a full definition of ‘strong’ in the context of auction prices really requires a separate article, I hope to illuminate the concept here.

For the third time this year, I state the factors that typically (though certainly not always) result in a coin selling for a strong price. I am now referring to the difference between strong prices and weak prices in the same auction. The success of an auction firm in promoting an auction is a different topic, though my impression is that the team at Stack’s-Bowers did a good job of promoting this first Rarities Night event.

Typically, each coin that realizes a strong price in a major auction meets ONE OR MORE of the following criteria: (1) was fresh, (2) was from a non-dealer consignment, (3) was from a named excellent collection when consigned or was notably in a great collection farther in the past, (4) is CAC approved, (5) has natural toning and/or mostly to fully original surfaces, (6) is ‘high end’ for its stated grade or is undergraded in the views of expert graders who were involved in serious bidding. I am referring here to scarce or rare U.S. coins, though some of these factors relate to auctions of other items as well.

Note that a statement that a coin realized a strong price at auction does not indicate or imply that overall market prices for such a coin are rising or have risen. For example, for a certified Proof-66 Barber Half Dollar to realize a strong price at auction, the price realized must be in the upper reach or above the general market price range for certified Proof-66 Barber Halves. A very strong price at auction is a solidly retail price in a situation where a wholesale price would expected and/or a well ‘above-market’ price, regardless of whether market prices are rising or falling. For more explanation as to why auction prices are often not market prices, please read my column on ‘What Are Auction Prices?

©2011 Greg Reynolds

Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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