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HomeAuctionsCoin Rarities & Related Topics: Astonishing Three Cent Silvers in Rarities Night

Coin Rarities & Related Topics: Astonishing Three Cent Silvers in Rarities Night

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #139 …..

On Thursday, Nov. 15, during a ‘Rarities Night’ event at the Baltimore Convention Center, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned one of the most exceptional groups of Three Cent Silver coins that I have ever seen. While no Three Cent Silver coin is a Great Rarity, most issues are scarce. Moreover, those Three Cent Silvers that truly grade 67 or 68 (on a 01 to 70 scale) are important condition rarities. The quality of many of these in this auction is astounding.

U.S. Three Cent Silver coins date from 1851 to 1873. These are smaller than dimes and are sometimes called trimes. Last week, I wrote about the most valuable trime, the special Eliasberg 1851, which was in this same auction, though did not sell on Nov. 15. (Clickable links are in blue.) The Eliasberg 1851 coin should not overshadow all the gem quality Three Cent Silvers in this same auction. The prices realized mentioned herein are preliminary and may be subject to revision by the auction firm.

A few remarks about types of Three Cent Silvers may be found in last week’s column. Those who are not at all familiar with Three Cent Silvers may wish to read the article that I wrote about them about a year ago, which is directed at beginning and intermediate level collectors, on Assembling Sets of Three Cent Silvers.

Many people who buy trimes do not seek to complete a set of all dates. Collectors often acquire just three, one of each design type of Three Cent Silvers. Type collectors are usually particularly concerned about quality, while ‘date’ collectors tend to be more focused on completing (or nearly completing) sets of all dates in a series.

I. 1851-O

Only one issue of Three Cent Silvers was not minted in Philadelphia. The 1851-O was produced at the U.S. Branch Mint in New Orleans. These are the only Three Cent Silvers with mintmarks. A readily apparent ‘O’ appears on the reverse (back) of each.

Some people add an an 1851-O to a typical type set of three Philadelphia Mint Three Cent Silvers, and other collectors focus on New Orleans Mint coins. Indeed, a type set, of silver and/or gold types, that contains only New Orleans Mint issues would be very interesting. So, the 1851-O trime is a noteworthy issue, which attracts more attention than other dates in the series.

The 1851-O in this auction is NGC graded MS-67. Supposedly, the NGC has graded a total of three as “MS-67,” though I wonder if this total of three really amounts to three different coins. There is a good chance that there are just two so certified, this one and another. The NGC has not assigned a higher grade to an 1851-O Three Cent Silver.

The PCGS does not list an 1851-O trime as grading MS-67 or higher. The PCGS has graded fifteen as “MS-66” and just one as “MS-66+,” the Simpson Collection 1851-O.

The PCGS and the NGC are the two leading grading services. When coins that are already PCGS or NGC certified are submitted to the CAC, experts at the CAC approve or reject the already assigned grades, according to their own criteria.

As for the NGC graded MS-67 1851-O in this auction, it has terrific natural toning. Admittedly, the toning on this coin will not be liked by all knowledgeable coin enthusiasts who see it.

This toning is extremely mottled. A large number of spots, streaks and patches, of various colors, cover a large percentage of the surfaces of this 1851-O. This toning is not at all even. From my perspective, the colors are really cool and this coin is very appealing.

The orange-russet, apricot, magenta and yellow shades on the obverse (front) are exceptional. The various gray hues, some of which are dark, and green-black spots are not bothersome. The reverse (back) is not quite as neat as the obverse. The mottled brown spots and streaks, along with dark green patches, are not as pleasing as the colors in the center of the obverse. There are, though, neat shades of apricot, magenta and orange on the reverse, too.

There may be a few imperfections beneath the toning, though none of tremendous consequence. Images of the PCGS graded “MS-66+” 1851-O provide circumstantial evidence that it has more imperfections than could plausibly be underneath the toning on this NGC graded MS-67 1851-O.

Although I believe that I understand why graders at the NGC assigned a MS-67 grade to this 1851-O, some may not be completely comfortable with this 67 grade. On a toned Three Cent Silver, a 67 grade is usually assigned to coins with even toning that is very attractive and/or extremely cool, without many spots or really dark colors. Indeed, quite a few Three Cent Silvers have naturally toned such that they have concentric circles of russet, blue and green colors.

The impression may be that the toning on this coin is a little too ‘messy’ for most experts to grade it as 67. The reverse, in particular, just does not exhibit patterns of toning that most trime specialists would associate with a 67 grade.

Others might prefer a grade of “66+” for this coin. It is, though, the finest known 1851-O trime that I ever remember seeing. I really enjoyed examining it.

This 1851-O sold for $8625, which is a strong price, though it is a very much understandable price. In Sept. 1998, Heritage auctioned the André Dawson 1851-O for $6900. It is not relevant that Dawson was finally and justifiably elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010.

In 1998, the Dawson coin was the only 1851-O trime graded MS-67 by experts at the NGC. So, little would be gained by comparing values of different coins in different eras, especially now that there may be additional highly certified 1851-O trimes. It seems, though, that current market prices for 1851-O trimes are reasonable, from both logical and traditional perspectives.

II. Proof 1858

Each Proof 1858 is particularly important as a Proof Three Cent Silver of the second type. The grand total of all surviving Proof Three Cent Silvers of the second type, dating from 1854 to 1858, is certainly less than five hundred.

There is no doubt about the fact that the 1858 trime in this auction is a Proof. It was struck at least twice, probably three times. Plus, it has full mirrors, a cameo contrast, and many squared design elements.

This 1858 is PCGS certified ‘Proof-66 Cameo’ and is CAC approved. There are probably around sixty or seventy Proof 1858 Three Cent Silvers in existence and this is among the better ones. Although it has been lightly to moderately dipped at some point during the last twenty years, it is more than very attractive. It definitely grabbed my attention.

I was not the only one who noticed it. The price realized of $27,600 is, I believe, the second highest auction result for an 1858 Three Cent Silver.

This exact same coin was auctioned by ANR in May 2005 for $11,500, which was considered a strong price at the time. Then and now, this coin remains the only 1858 that is PCGS certified ‘Proof-66 Cameo.’

In Aug. 2007, Heritage auctioned a different 1858 that is NGC certified ‘Proof-65 Cameo’ for $10,500. Other than the Eliasberg 1851 selling for $61,600 in May 1996 and for more over the last few days, the auction record for a Three Cent Silver is the $57,500 price that an NGC certified ‘Proof-68’ 1858 realized in the Heritage FUN auction of Jan. 2008.

III. 1861 Three Cent Silver

The 1861 trime in this auction is NGC graded MS-68. It has cool, even toning.

Although some consider this coin as overgraded, I like it a lot. The toning is natural, concentric, and even. Shades of russet, blue, green, brown and gray formed, by chance, in neat patterns on the obverse (front). The center is lighter and very pleasing. The toning on the reverse (back) is subdued and not quite as nice, and brings the overall grade down.

This 1861 seems to have almost zero contact marks and to be technically impressive overall. While it was moderately dipped very long ago, it has naturally retoned. Plus, it is more than very attractive. There is no doubt that this 1861 merits a grade solidly in the 67 range. others just cannot bring themselves to grade it as 68. It is just too subdued, and the reverse is not exciting at all. Usually, a 68 grade Three Cent Silver needs to have some pizzazz! If this coin was submitted to the CAC,  it might not receive a sticker of approval.

In Nov. 2005, Heritage auctioned a different 1861 trime, which is NGC graded MS-68 with a star for eye appeal, for $17,250. This, though, was a very strong price. That trime is likely to have been the James Lull Collection 1861, which Spectrum-B&M auctioned for $7475 during Jan. 2005, in Fort Lauderdale.

Returning to the present NGC graded MS-68 1861, the $8050 result is somewhat strong. It is unfortunate, in my view, that some bidders focus heavily on the certifications and do not appreciate the coins themselves.

IV. Grade-Inflation & Condition Rarities

While it is probably true that no relevant expert agrees with all the grades assigned to these, the offering of Three Cent Silvers in this auction was astonishing. Superb quality Three Cent Silvers are important condition rarities.

If I was assembling a set of superb Three Cent Silvers and I really liked a coin that was overgraded, I would still consider buying it. Sometimes, it is important to seize the opportunity to acquire a great coin when it is available. A better or equivalent piece, of the same type and date, may not become available for a long time.

The numbers of 67 and -68 grade pieces listed in the data published by the PCGS and the NGC are misleading as many such coins have been re-submitted in hopes of still higher grades and/or favorable designations. The wholesalers, who ‘crack out’ Three Cent Silvers from their respective holders, probably assume that no one will take the time to track and pedigree Three Cent Silvers, anyway. They probably often did not bother to return the labels (paper inserts) from the holders that they shattered. Condition rarities in the series of Three Cent Silvers have not been extensively researched, as far as I know.

Thorough research would probably demonstrate that some of the same individual coins have been each PCGS and/or NGC certified as grading 66, 67 and 68. Certainly, some of the coins that grade 68 in the present were certified as grading 67 in the past. There are not nearly as many 66 to 68 grade Three Cent Silvers in existence as the reports published by the PCGS and the NGC suggest.

V. “MS-68” 1864 Trimes

There were two 1864 Three Cent Silvers in this auction that are each graded “MS-68,” one by the PCGS and the other by the NGC. In my view, the PCGS certified “MS-68” 1864 is clearly an excellent coin. The mellow brownish-russet colors on the obverse are appealing and the rich russet shades on the reverse are really cool. The obverse also has subtle blue overtones in the fields, which are really pleasing. This coin is very attractive overall. Some might argue the grade is not far from the 68 range, though is not quite there.

I repeat, many believe that, for a Three Cent Silver to  grade 68, it needs to have pizzazz or at least be vibrant. This PCGS graded MS-68 1864 is not lively. The obverse is not brilliant and the toning pattern is a little blotchy.

Indeed, one could argue that for a Three Cent Silver to grade 68, being very attractive is not enough. It must be more than very attractive. Some 19th century silver coins really exhibit spellbinding colors along with rich underlying luster.

Natural blue, russet and/or red toning is often found on Three Cent Silvers. Further, natural shades of green and apricot are not unusual, on these. Also, 68 grade coins are almost always virtually flawless in a technical sense, in terms of contact marks and scratches. This coin does score extraordinarily high in the technical category.

The price of $16,450 is moderate. Heritage auctioned a different PCGS graded MS-68 1864 trime on Aug. 11, 2010, for $18,400.

As for the NGC graded MS-68 1864 in this sale, it is a lively and very exciting coin with orange-russet, tan, red-russet, green and much blue colors. Imperfections are minimal; there are no significant contact marks.

This NGC graded MS-68 1864 realized $9200,  a great deal for the buyer.

VI. Proof 1867

The Proof 1867 in this auction is fairly certified by the PCGS, Proof-67 Cameo, and is CAC approved. I very much like this coin. The toning is natural and great, especially the rich shades of russet. When this coin is tilted below a lamp, a variety of colors shine, including blue and magenta hues.

The PCGS guide value of $11,500 is a little low, however I was not expecting this coin to sell for more than $17,500. It brought at least $29,900, an auction record for a Proof 1867! John Albanese remarks that “this is an extremely strong price.”

VII. 1871 Trimes

In this Rarities Night event, there were two 1871 Three Cent Silvers, a Proof and a business strike; neither sold. The Proof is PCGS certified ‘Proof-66 Deep Cameo.’ It is the exact same coin that was previously in an NGC holder with a certification of ‘Proof-67 Ultra Cameo.’ Heritage auctioned this same coin in May 2005 for $9200. Between May 2004 and July 2008, a large percentage of choice and rare U.S. coins more than doubled in value.

The reserve called for a commitment to pay at least $13,800 for this Proof on Nov. 15, 2012. I wonder if some ‘scuff’ or something else in the right reverse field discouraged bidders. Other than this matter on the reverse, I could not find a reason to question the ‘Proof-66 Deep Cameo’ certification. I would really need to see this coin again, however, to draw a firm conclusion.

It may be true that the ‘Deep Cameo’ designation is not worth as much, in regards to this coin, as some market participants might have expected. Logically and traditionally, over the history of coin collecting, there is not a reason to conclude that a Proof with a cameo contrast is necessarily more desirable than a Proof of the same numerical grade without such a contrast.

In PCGS and NGC registry sets, additional points are awarded to coins with cameo designations. I disagree with such policies.

While this Proof 1871 has been moderately dipped rather than heavily dipped, it has been obviously dipped and does not have an original look. I ask collectors to think carefully about paying premiums for Proof silver coins with cameo or ‘Deep Cameo’ contrasts. In any event, for those who want them, finding a 66 or higher grade, Proof 1871 Three Cent Silver with a truly strong cameo contrast is extremely difficult. It is curious that this coin did not sell in this auction.

As for the NGC graded MS-68 business strike 1871 in this auction, a commitment of at least $8337.50 would have been needed to buy it, a reserve level which was just too high, given the quality of this coin. The assigned 68 grade could be debatable.

VIII. Amazing 1872

The 1872 in this auction is one of the most awestriking Three Cent Silvers of any date that I have ever seen, certainly the best that I can remember at the moment. It is PCGS certified ‘Proof-68’ and is CAC approved.

In addition to meriting a true 68 grade, this 1872 is extremely attractive and too cool to adequately describe. The center of the shield is red and is surrounded by stunning blue and green colors. The reverse is even neater, with a very bright tan and russet center surrounded by wonderful deep blue and red rings, with soothing mellow green tones at the periphery.

At a lot viewing session, I discussed this coin with two sophisticated collectors. We were all in agreement that the eye appeal of this coin is phenomenal, above and beyond that of true Proof-67 Three Cent Silver coins. No one had a doubt about this coin meriting a 68 grade.

This 1872 sold for $25,300! Although this appears to be an extremely strong price and is one of the dozen or so highest prices ever paid for a Three Cent Silver, I find this price to be sensible. This coin is tremendous.

IX. Returning to the Eliasberg 1851

My column last week was devoted to the Eliasberg 1851, which is PCGS certified “Pr-66” and is CAC approved. This coin did not sell at the auction. A commitment of at least $189,750 would have been required to buy it during Rarities Night. Afterwards, negotiations occurred ‘behind the scenes.’ By Nov. 20th, the Stack’s-Bowers website reported a price of “$172,000.”

If such a post-auction sale is considered an auction price and if the post-auction transaction was conducted through Stack’s-Bowers, then this “$172,500” could qualify as the new auction record for a Three Cent Silver. The longstanding record was set when this exact same coin sold for $61,600 in May 1996, at the Bowers & Merena (New Hampshire) auction, in New York, of the late Louis Eliasberg’s U.S. copper coins, nickels, trimes, half dimes and dimes. Eliasberg’s quarters, halves and silver dollars were auctioned in New York in April 1997.

Overall, my preliminary research, subject to revision, indicates that three or four of the top dozen auction results for Three Cent Silvers occurred during this Rarities Night event of Nov. 15th. I repeat that the PCGS certified, Proof-68 1872 brought $25,300; the ‘Proof-66 Deep Cameo’ 1858 went for $27,600; and the ‘Proof-67 Cameo’ 1867 sold for a startling price of $29,900 or more.

As I already mentioned, Heritage sold an NGC certified Proof-68 1858 for $57,500 in Jan. 2008. At least two Proof Three Cent Silvers sold for more than $25,000 each in the Stack’s auction of Floyd Starr’s silver and gold coins during Oct. 1992. Indeed, I believe that the Floyd Starr 1854 trime realized $30,800.

Although two to four collections that were auctioned in the 1990s contained better offerings of Three Cent Silvers, the run of Three Cent Silvers that was offered last Thursday night is certainly of great importance. More research regarding condition rarities in this series may be very beneficial to collectors of Three Cent Silvers, helpful to collectors of 19th century type coins, and interesting to other coin enthusiasts.

©2012 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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