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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: 1796 quarter, San Francisco Liberty Seated Dimes, 1931 Denver Mint $20 gold coin

News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #21

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

Last week’s column was devoted to cents and half cents. This week, I am writing about a few silver coins and a 1931-D Saint Gaudens Double Eagle ($20 gold coin). Though 1931-D Saints may be extremely rare or almost so, the 1796 quarter and San Francisco Mint Liberty Seated dimes that I mention below are condition rarities rather than being extremely rare in absolute terms.

Recently, I have written about coins that are extremely rare in all grades, thus in absolute terms. In my column of Sept. 22, I wrote about the NGC graded “EF-45+” 1856-O Double Eagle that Heritage sold in September. It realized $345,000, which is a very strong price. Last week, I wrote about the 1795 Reeded Edge cent that the Goldberg’s auctioned for $322,000, even though it does not merit a numerical grade and is in a PCGS genuine holder. Early in the summer, in my column of June 30th, I wrote about Great Rarities that were then to be auctioned in Boston. I followed up with ‘news’ regarding these same Great Rarities in later columns, including my column of Aug. 11. As few collectors may own extremely rare coins, condition rarities, especially of coins that are scarce in absolute terms, should receive a great deal of attention and news coverage.

I. Choice 1796 Quarter

I really liked the 1796 quarter in the most recent Stack’s auction, which was conducted a few days ago in Philadelphia. I would admit that I was more enthusiastic about the Norweb 1796 in the Heritage ANA Auction in Boston. This one, though, is livelier. (As always, clickable links are in blue.)

This 1796 quarter was formerly in the official auction of the Summer 1976 ANA Convention in New York, a convention that reportedly drew more than 25,000 people. At a later time, it was PCGS graded MS-63. I thought that it was undergraded. Yes, there are some very small, though of medium depth, contact marks in the field to the viewer’s right on the obverse (front of the coin). Further, there is a significant small scratch near the last star. Additionally, there are minor hairlines on the eagle on the reverse (tail of the coin). These, though, are imperfections that can be consistent with a 64 grade, especially for a coin that has a lot of eye appeal and other positive characteristics.

This 1796 quarter is very attractive and even more so when it is tilted under a light. It has full, naturally reflective surfaces. At some angles, this coin nearly dazzles. While it is not unusual for a 1796 quarter to be semi-prooflike and some are very prooflike, this one has more personality than most other uncirculated 1796 quarters.

Some experts wondered about the naturalness of the pinkish-russet, blue and green shades. I maintain that the toning is natural. This coin may have lived in several envelopes, cabinets and/or albums, since 1796. It may possibly have been dipped at some point in the middle of the 20th century.

While almost all quarters from the pair of dies that were used to strike this 1796 lack detail in a few areas, particularly on the head of the eagle, this 1796 quarter is fairly well struck and features some crisp devices. It is this coin’s natural color and flash, though, that attract attention. It is not easy to describe. Like many coins, it needs to be seen in actuality to be appreciated.

This PCGS graded MS-63 1796 quarter realized a price of $172,500. The PCGS price guide value for a MS-64 grade 1796 quarter is $160,000 and this value is higher than the respective values in other guides for a MS-64 grade 1796 quarter. Perhaps this coin’s personality commanded a premium. Remember, it is (or was) PCGS graded MS-63.

II. 1931-D $20 Gold Coin

The 1931-D Saint Gaudens Double Eagle in the Stack’s auction is PCGS graded MS-65 and is in a SecureShield holder, which is my term for coins that have been certified under the PCGS SecurePlus™ program. Even before the PCGS started awarding plus grades to some coins that were not submitted under the SecurePlus program, I have been maintaining that my ‘SecureShield’ term makes more sense, as the emphasis is (or at least should be) on additional screening and technologies that provide more security for collector-buyers. (In regards to the SecurePlus program and PCGS efforts to counter coin doctoring, please see my second column, my third and my column of Sept. 8th.)

Double Eagles ($20 gold coins) of this date are rare, in all grades. Certainly, there are fewer than one hundred and thirty 1931-D Saints known to exist and it may be true that there are less than one hundred! Grading data from the PCGS and the NGC include multiple counts of some individual coins. The vast majority of 1931-D Saints grade from MS-62 to MS-65, and, in this range, values rise to a tremendous extent. So, dealers have (or did have) a strong incentive to ‘crack’ some 1931-D Saints out of their respective PCGS or NGC holders and re-submit them in hopes of receiving higher grades.

As with all late-date Saints, there is always the possibility that more will be discovered in Europe or Latin America, as many have been found over the past fifty years. It is unlikely, though, that many more, if any, 1931-D Saints will be found. Moreover, as Europeans are now aware of the values of Saints, and U.S. coin dealers have made innumerable buying trips to Europe, it is questionable as to whether there are a significant number of never certified rare-date Saints still in Europe.

My guess is that this 1931-D is one of the twenty finest known. Yes, I know it has some contact marks and Miss Liberty’s face on this coin is far from perfect. There are some marks in the fields near her head and there is a gash on the eagle on the reverse. Double Eagles, however, are very large coins and business strikes tend to be characterized by contact marks, many of which came about before each respective coin left the U.S. Mint that manufactured it.

This 1931-D is moderately to very brilliant, has wonderful cartwheel luster, and exhibits great orange and green overtones. It has a terrific look overall.

Its grade may not fall into the high end of the MS-65 range. In my view, though, the 65 grade is accurate.

The price realized of $109,250 is not stunning, though it is fair in the current market environment. Besides, Saints that are part of named collections, especially a significant named collection of Saints, will realize higher prices at auction, on average, than anonymous consignments. This Saint seems to be an anonymous consignment that is not part of a significant collection. Was it consigned by a dealer?

It is my impression that the market for rare date Saints has weakened a little in recent months. Most rare date Saints never regained the values that they attained during the period from late 2005 to early 2008. Markets for rare date Saints boomed, and I mean really boomed, from early 2003 to the end of 2006. Since Jan. 2007, auction results have been mixed; some pieces, especially truly ‘high end’ rare-date Saints have brought phenomenal prices over the last three years, in relation to their respective values in 2005 and 2006. Others have brought only slightly more than corresponding values for the same coins in 2005 or 2006. (Please see my article on Jay Brahin’s Saints for some comments regarding the concept of ‘high end’ Saints, and my article on the ‘Widening Gap‘ for definitions of ‘high end’ and ‘low end.’)

III. S-Mint Liberty Seated Dimes

While condition rarities and overall rarities in the series of Saints are widely recognized, most coin enthusiasts are not aware that there are several San Francisco Mint Liberty Seated Dimes that are condition rarities in grades above EF-40, and a few of these are not easy to find in Very Fine condition either. It is widely known that the Carson City (CC) Mint dimes dating from 1871 to 1874 are rare, and these receive much attention, especially from collectors who specialize in Carson City Mint coins. Some San Francisco Mint dimes are overlooked, or at least not talked about very often.

In September, at the Long Beach Expo, Heritage auctioned the Simpson collection of business strike Liberty Seated dimes. Bob Simpson had exceptional examples of some elusive S-Mint dates. Simpson decided to sell his business strike Liberty Seated dimes because he was never enthusiastic about them. He is keeping his wonderful collection of Proof Liberty Seated Dimes.

Simpson has incredible collections of Proof 19th century silver coins, of U.S. patterns of all kinds, of both business strikes and Proofs of early 20th century gold series, and of several other U.S. coin types. Some of his sets are listed in the PCGS registry and selections of his patterns are listed in the NGC registry in the “Custom Set” category. Laura Sperber, principal of Legend Numismatics, has been Simpson’s agent and advisor for many years.

The Simpson 1859-S dime is PCGS graded MS-62 and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. The PCGS and the NGC together have certified fewer than fifty DIFFERENT 1859-S dimes. Undoubtedly, there are more than one hundred circulated 1859-S dimes that collectors prefer to keep in raw format and/or would not qualify for numerical grades from the PCGS or the NGC. In grades of AU-50 or higher, 1859-S dimes are extreme condition rarities. Though I have not seen it, my research suggests that the Simpson 1859-S is one of the six finest known 1859-S dimes. The Simpson 1859-S sold for $25,300, a healthy price, which is somewhat reasonable, considering the scarcity of this issue and the fact that there are a substantial number of collectors of Liberty Seated dimes.

The 1860-S issue is not nearly as scarce as the 1859-S dime, yet it is rare in grades above Very Fine and is an important condition rarity in grades of AU-55 or higher. I suggest that the PCGS and the NGC have certified less than sixty distinct 1860-S dimes. The differences between the grades of 58, 61 and 62 are often subtle and it is (or was) common for certified 55, 58 or 61 grade Liberty Seated coins to be ‘cracked-out’ and resubmitted.

The Simpson 1860-S is PCGS graded MS-65 in a SecureShield holder and has a CAC sticker of approval. It is one of only three 1860-S dimes that the PCGS has graded MS-65, and these may not be three different coins. The NGC has graded one as MS-66, which B&M auctioned in Jan. 2005 for $21,850 and was auctioned again for a lesser amount in April 2009 when coin markets bottomed.

Dealer Jim McGuigan viewed the Simpson 1860-S dime, on behalf of a client. McGuigan states that it has appealing “luster with attractive medium gold toning.” Additionally, Jim finds that it has “pretty nice surfaces.” On the whole, McGuigan was very impressed by this coin.

The Simpson 1860-S realized $40,250, which is an extraordinarily successful result. The Numismedia retail guide values an MS-65 1860-S dime at around $13,500 and a MS-66 1860-S at slightly more than $17,000. Further, this auction result is almost twice the amount that the NGC graded MS-66 1860-S realized in Jan. 2005, which may be the previous auction record for an 1860-S dime. I repeat, though, that it is necessary to examine the particular characteristics of individual coins before comparing prices. While a coin’s date, type and certified grade are central to identifying it, there is often much more to learn about a coin.

The 1872-S dime is a condition rarity, especially in MS-63 and higher grades. The PCGS and the NGC have only certified twenty-two 1872-S dimes in MS-60 and higher grades, of these maybe fifteen are different coins. Perhaps only around forty are certified, in all grades, though I believe that there are well above two hundred circulated 1872-S dimes in existence. It is unlikely that a Good-04 grade 1872-S dime would be submitted to the PCGS or the NGC because the submission fee would amount to a high percentage of the value of the coin.

In April 1997, B&M (NH) auctioned the Eliasberg 1872-S and it was auctioned again by Heritage in 2001, at which time it was PCGS graded MS-65. Evidently, the PCGS and NGC data for this issue was about the same in 2001 as this data is now, with one exception being that the NGC had then yet to grade one as “MS-66.” While both are PCGS graded MS-65, the Simpson and Eliasberg 1872-S dimes appear to be different coins.

The Eliasberg 1872-S went for $8912.50 in 2001. The Simpson 1872-S realized $34,500 about two weeks ago. While this is a startling price, the coin seems to be incredible.

Jim McGuigan very much likes the Simpson 1872-S dime. He declares that it is “probably completely original,” meaning that it has never been cleaned or dipped, and has its “first toning.” McGuigan emphasizes that it may be “impossible” to be certain that this 1872-S dime is “completely original with its first toning” but this is likely. Determining the naturalness of toning and whether a coin has ever been dipped or cleaned are among Jim’s specialties. Over all the years that I have been discussing coins with McGuigan, including many that we both carefully examined, I have discovered that he has an uncanny ability to detect traces or other evidence of a dipping from decades earlier.

Of course, there were many other excellent dimes in Simpson’s set. I focused here on three San Francisco Mint issues that have not received the attention that these deserve, though the prices realized certainly suggest that at least a few collectors very strongly demand them.

From my perspective, the overall results, in the September Heritage, Goldbergs and Stack’s auctions, reinforce a point put forth in my column about the ANA Convention in Boston, which was formulated with the assistance of John Albanese; coins that are really special are being intensely demanded, while low end coins and/or coins that are not rare in any way have not fared well, recently.

©2010 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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