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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: Auctions in March

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #155 …..

March is typically a month when major coin auctions are held. This year, the Auctions  will include vast assortments of coins and related items, without Great Rarities or landmark collections. There will be many coins available for budget-minded collectors.

Although this discussion is mostly about U.S. coins, I devote passages to world coins, which collectors of U.S. coins may find to be interesting. Sometimes, it is enjoyable and intriguing to think about items outside of one’s own horizons.

I. Morton & Eden Auction

On Wed. March 6, in London, the firm of Morton & Eden, with the cooperation of Sotheby’s, will auction a mostly complete 1859 Proof Set of U.S. coins. It is missing a Three Dollar Gold piece and a Double Eagle ($20 gold coin).

In 1859, the Royal Mint in London received a gift of two Proof Sets, totaling twenty-four coins, from Professor John Alexander of Baltimore. Reportedly, a Proof 1859 Double Eagle was not included in either of the two sets donated. When Alexander died in 1867, he was in line to become the next director of the Philadelphia Mint.

Alexander devoted a great deal of time to a proposal to unify, or at least coordinate, the U.S. and British coinage systems, so that common standards were employed. A central idea was for the U.S. Half Eagle ($5 gold coin) and the British Gold Sovereign to be equal in weight and gold content. Another proposal was for the silver Florin and U.S. half dollar to be equal as well.

The current Royal Mint of Great Britain is headquartered in Wales, and the Royal Mint Museum is now located there, too. One of the two 1859 Proof sets donated by Alexander will remain in this museum. Essentially, duplicates were consigned to this auction. Both the retained set and the duplicates were somewhat recently submitted to the PCGS for grading and encapsulation.

As one of the two 1859 Three Dollar Gold coins in the original bequest is no longer in the Royal Mint Collection, the sole surviving 1859 Three is being retained and eleven Proof coins are being sold. The grades assigned by the PCGS are as follows, in parentheses. Copper-Nickel Indian Cent (65), Three Cent Silver (63), Liberty Seated Half Dime (64), Liberty Seated Dime (64), Liberty Seated Quarter (64), Liberty Seated Half Dollar (64), Liberty Seated Silver Dollar (64), One Dollar Gold piece (65 Cameo), Quarter Eagle – $2½ (65 Cameo), Half Eagle (65+ Cameo), Eagle – $10 (65 Cameo). Half Eagles and Eagles of 1859 are extremely rare in Proof format.

Cameo designations are not really grades; they indicate a contrast between light, frosted design elements and relatively darker, mirrored fields. Pictures suggest that the 1859 Proof silver coins, which do not have cameo designations, exhibit really pleasant natural toning that gradually formed. It would be tragic if someone dipped them (in acidic solutions) to prompt experts at the PCGS to assign “Cameo” designations or for other reasons.

This 1859 Proof Set will be auctioned in the early evening. During the day, Morton & Eden will sell Hispanic coins that were formerly in the famous collection of Archer Huntington, a legendary benefactor of the American Numismatic Society (ANS) and of the Hispanic Society of America. The Huntington collection of Hispanic Coins formerly belonged to the Hispanic Society and was loaned, literally for decades, to the American Numismatic Society.

Almost a year ago, on March 8, 2012, Sotheby’s of New York sold, by way of a “sealed bid sale,” the entire collection, as a unit, of Hispanic coins formed by Huntington. Rumors, which could be incorrect, suggest that a consortium of European dealers paid slightly more than $25 million for the Huntington Collection. I have not attempted to ascertain the exact sale price.

The collection included far more Hispanic coins than those being auctioned by Morton & Eden on March 6, and other items as well. There were more than thirty-seven thousand pieces.

Not long after the Sotheby’s sale of March, 8 2012, a patron of the ANS acquired more than nineteen thousand of these pieces and loaned them to the ANS. In 2013, it was announced that a different patron acquired more than seven thousand of the items from the Huntington Collection also for the purpose of a long-term loan to the ANS. So, more than twenty-six thousand of the almost thirty-eight thousand items that were in the Huntington collection of Hispanic numismatic items are or will be in the physical possession of the ANS, except items that the ANS sends to be exhibited at other locations. The names of these two patrons have not been publicly revealed.

Portuguese and Portuguese colonial coins, including Portuguese-Brazilian items, from this collection were auctioned by Morton & Eden on Nov. 13, 2012. Earlier in 2012, some of the more valuable items from this collection were sold by other firms.

I have had a long-time interest in Latin American coins, particularly those of the 19th century. I was hoping that this auction would contain a few Great Rarities and/or very high quality pieces minted in the Spanish speaking societies in South or Central America during the 1800s.

The Huntington coins and medals that will be sold on March 6th include some very appealing and important pieces. though this selection is not as extensive as hoped. Some of the 19th century patterns are noteworthy, and some of the regional issues relating to strife in 19th century Mexico will command much attention. Most of the coins being offered are not extremely rare or of choice mint state grades. My disappointment notwithstanding, there are some terrific coins for ‘type’ collectors and a vast assemblage that will delight  buyers who collect relevant categories of South American coins ‘by date.’

The runs of Colombian and Mexican gold coins dating from the 1700s and early 1800s are especially noteworthy. Also, the offering of coins of the Philippines, most of which date from before extensive U.S. involvement in the region, is interesting.

Oddly, this offering includes one, non-gradable Pine Tree Shilling of Massachusetts, dating from the 1600s. Would anyone refer to this piece as an Hispanic coin?

II. Künker Sale

From March 11 to 16, the German auction firm of Künker will sell a very large number and a stunning variety of scarce coins and medals. Although ancient coins, Islamic coins and Russian coins are important parts of these sales, I am not discussing them here. I am not an expert in ancients or in Islamic coins. Current markets for Russian coins are so incredible that this topic really requires a separate treatment, with much explanation.

Kunker sessions on March 11and 12 feature the marvelous collection of Eduardo Corti, a very sophisticated numismatist, who operated an auction firm in Italy. Regarding the collection consigned, Corti focused on Northern European and French coins from the 700s to the 1300s or so. Many of the British, Danish and French pieces in this collection are outstanding and the depth of his collection is extremely impressive.

Admittedly, I have not traveled to Germany to view these coins. I have, though, seen some of them years ago, and I have learned about some from my sources. It is noteworthy that this auction contains some coins that were formerly in the Millennia Collection, which the Goldbergs auctioned on May 26, 2008, in Los Angeles. I was there and I wrote a six part, analytical series about the Millennia Collection. (Clickable links are in blue.)

It is not practical to list high quality and/or historically important coins in this March Kunker event. I discuss two historically important, high grade English pieces that I have carefully examined.

The Terner-Millennia Noble of Edward III is in this Kunker sale, lot #2418. Edward III was King of England from 1327 to 1377 and his reign had a tremendous impact on the history of Great Britain. This specific coin was probably minted during the 1350s. A Gold Noble during this period weighs about five percent less than a U.S. Half Eagle of the 20th century.

While gold coins from the reign of Edward III are not especially rare in total, the quality of this particular Noble is extraordinary, almost unbelievable. When I saw it in 2008, I was captivated.

It is NGC graded MS-64 and I graded it as MS-65, for sure. It is very sharply struck on a select planchet and has almost zero contact marks. It has only been lightly dipped and never has been significantly cleaned.

This coin is mildly lustrous and is of a very pleasing, mellow orange color. In terms of color, the pictures in the physical catalog are a little more accurate than the images on the Goldbergs website, though neither pair does justice to the wondrous appearance of this coin. Overall, it is more than very attractive. Indeed, it is just an incredible type coin.

In 2008, this Gold Noble realized $7475, though it was not estimated to bring more than $4000. If my notes are legible and accurate, floor bidder #417 was successful. The Kunker firm is now estimating its value at 7500 Euros, which is currently about US$9800. It should be worth that much, or more, in my view.

The next coin in the Millennia sale is also the next coin in this Kunker sale. It is also an historically important gold coin from the “Fourth Coinage” of King Edward III.

It is a Quarter Noble and weighs somewhat more than a U.S. One Dollar Gold piece of the late 19th century. I was not nearly as thrilled about this coin as I was about the just mentioned full Noble. I was a little surprised that it realized $6900 in 2008, a very strong price. My notes indicate that the same bidder, #417, was successful.

I could not then agree with the MS-65 grade assigned by the NGC. Even so, this possibly generous NGC grade should not deflect attention from the fact that it is of tremendous quality for an English gold coin from the 1300s.

After all, it is a choice uncirculated coin that has few contact marks and is rare as such. If it were not in the shadow of the just mentioned full Noble, it would be a coin to say much about. The Kunker catalog lists an estimate of 3000 Euros ($3920), which is fair enough.

On March 12 and 13, Kunker will auction a wide variety of late medieval and post-1500 coins from a number of consignors, who are not named (as far as I can tell). I am not able to read all of the German text in the Kunker catalogs. Only parts, here and there, are in English.

Coins from around the world are featured. The offering of Danish Medieval pieces is particularly noteworthy. Furthermore, there are many pieces from German speaking societies, as there are in most Kunker auction events. The Kunker firm is located in the city of Osnabrück, in Saxony, Germany.

Essentially, Kunker is hosting an auction extravaganza from March 11 to 16. It is not feasible to even list here all of the categories of coins that will be offered.

The session devoted to Russian coins and medals will probably generate substantial revenues. From early 2002 to mid-2008, prices for Russian coins increased to a mind-boggling extent, much more so than the very considerable rise in prices for rare U.S. coins during the same time period. Demand for rare Russian material remains intense.

III. Stack’s-Bowers in Baltimore

Stack’s-Bowers is conducting the official auction of the Baltimore Coin & Currency Expo and will be selling thousands of items from March 13 to 15. On the first day, hundreds of American colonial coins, along with relevant medals, and other pre-1792 numismatic items will be offered. Post-1792 tokens are included the first session as well.

Extensive offerings of pre-federal American coins tend to include many coppers of Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Vermont. Additionally, particular English and French issues that circulated in North America or are believed to have been intended to circulate in North America are avidly collected by specialists in colonials and are represented in this auction as they often are in auction sessions of this sort.

I have always liked the silver coins that were privately minted in 1783 by John Chalmers in Maryland. In this auction there are four Chalmers pieces, all graded by the PCGS: a Threepence coin (AU-58), a Sixpence (Fine-12), a Shilling with a Short Worm design element (AU-50) and a Shilling with a Long Worm (VF-25).

The Nova Constellatio coppers of the mid 1780s are interesting. Little is known about them. Perhaps, they circulated in the U.S. as true coins in a few States. Gouverneur Morris and Robert Morris, who were unrelated, are important founding fathers and may have both been involved in the production of these items. There are several Nova Constellatio copper pieces in this auction.

The pre-1792 items in this sale are not major rarities or finest known specimens. They are moderately priced and are accessible to many collectors who are not super-rich, and who have an interest in this area of numismatics.

The second session is comprised of U.S. coins of denominations under one dollar. There is an offering of large cents, some curious Indian Cents, and many better date Lincolns. I am, though, concerned that a 1982-D cent is being offered in a major auction.

According to the PCGS price guide, PCGS certified 1982-D zinc cents are worth a little more than certified 1982-D copper cents. I wonder if superb gem 1982-D zinc cents are true condition rarities. The fact that only eighteen 1982-D zinc cents have been PCGS certified ‘MS-67 [full] Red’ can be taken out of context. The total mintage of 1982-D zinc cents is a little more than six billion (with a “b”). How many of these six billion 1982-D zinc cents have been submitted to the PCGS for grading?

This auction contains a run of Two Cent pieces, which may be excellent. Many are CAC approved. Clearly, there are some neat Barber coins. I cannot sensibly comment on the offerings of Liberty Seated coins without seeing more of them though I have seen a few of them, in the past.

Online images suggest that there are some colorful, gem quality Three Cent Silvers coming on ‘the auction block.’ Although Proof Three Cent Nickels are not rare in general, some are much scarcer than others. The offering in this auction is of interest to collectors who are assembling sets of Three Cent Nickels that are certified as Proof-65 or -66.

In this auction, there are more than a few Shield Nickels, Liberty Nickels and Buffalo Nickels that are certified as grading from 64 to 66 in the second session and a few more in the Rarities Night session. There are even more in the Heritage auction later in the month, which is loaded with nickels. In general, I strongly suggest consulting an expert before bidding on highly certified nickels. Grading nickels is more complicated than many buyers may believe, and graders at the PCGS and the NGC have considerable difficulty detecting artificial toning on nickels.

There are also highly certified Standing Liberty Quarters being offered in this Stack’s-Bowers auction, including better dates. There are some in the upcoming Heritage auction as well.

Among Capped Bust Dimes in this Stack’s-Bowers auction, I note the presence of an 1829 ‘Curl Base 2’ that is NGC graded ‘Good-06.’ This is an extremely rare variety. Almost all surviving 1829 dimes have a ‘flat base 2′ in the date (year) indicated.

There are a small number of circulated Capped Bust Quarters in this sale. There are a substantial number of Capped Bust Half Dollars in almost every major coin auction. Though most of these are not rare, Capped Bust Halves are very popular.

The March ‘Rarities Night’ event occurs on Thursday the fourteenth. Since before the first SBG Rarities Night event on Aug. 18, 2011, I have extensively covered Rarities Night events. Indeed, I sometimes envision past offerings when I am sleeping.

After the phenomenal consignment by the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation which sold on Jan. 24th in New York, it may not be possible for another collection of rarities to overshadow that sale so quickly. The applause from that event in January has not yet died down much, and many people are still talking about it. (Clickable links are in blue.)

Several of the pieces now being offered were in previous SBG Rarities Night events. Some, though, are great coins. Particularly, affluent collectors of 19th century silver coins may wish to browse the offerings in this Rarities Night event.

Also, Stack’s-Bowers has auctioned a large number of very colorful, gem quality commemorative half dollars over the past two years. There are a handful in this Rarities Night.

Though, at this moment, I do not specifically recollect seeing the Proof gold pieces in this auction, I tend to like “Matte Proof” gold coins that are CAC approved. Experts at the CAC strongly favor “Matte Proof” gold pieces that are very much original. There will be offered a 1913 Quarter Eagle that is PCGS certified ‘Proof-64’ and a 1912 Double Eagle that is PCGS certified ‘Proof-66.’

After the Rarities Night session, some patterns will be sold, particularly of one cent, three cent and five cent denominations. Following these, an entertaining group of U.S. Mint Errors comes ‘on the block.’ The listing of a 1919 Lincoln Cent struck “on an Argentina 10 centavo planchet” catches my attention. I have never seen a Lincoln Cent from the teens that struck on planchet that was planned to become a Latin American coin.

A 2008 John Quincy Adams “dollar” struck on a five cent nickel planchet reaches out for attention. It is PCGS graded MS-67 and is noteworthy.

In almost every major auction of U.S. coins, there are quantities of Morgan Silver Dollars and substantial offerings of 19th century gold coins. I suggest collecting pre-1880 gold coins as these tend to be scarcer and are more interesting than most post-1880 U.S. gold coins, in my view. Extremely Fine-40 to AU-50 grade, pre-1880 Quarter Eagles and Half Eagles are not expensive, in relation to prices for most gold coins that are demanded by collectors.

IV. Heritage Sale in Dallas

From March 22 to 24, Heritage is conducting a ‘live’ coin auction in Dallas. Some of the coins will be available for viewing in New York on March 7 and 8.

I notice a substantial offering of high grade, Draped Bust and Capped Bust Dimes. Although a 1796 that is PCGS graded Good-04 is not a high grade piece, consider the following dimes along with their respective certifications: 1796 NGC graded MS-63, 1798/7 NGC graded AU-53, 1800 NGC graded MS-60, 1805 PCGS graded MS-64, 1821 PCGS graded MS-64, 1832 PCGS graded MS-64+ with CAC approval, 1834 PCGS graded MS-65 with CAC, 1835 NGC graded MS-66 with CAC approval, 1836 NGC graded MS-63, and 1831 NGC certified ‘Proof-65 Cameo.’

In this auction, there are many Liberty Seated Dimes that are certified as gems . Both business strikes and Proofs are being offered, including a few Proofs that were previously in the epic collection of Phil Kaufman. In the past, I have taken notes on most of these and I will discuss them in detail in the future.

Collectors of Liberty Seated Dimes ‘by date’ may care that an NGC graded EF-40 1860-O is being offered. This is one of the toughest and most famous dates in the series.

In the just mentioned Stack’s-Bowers sale, and especially in this Heritage sale, there are some really neat, gem quality Barber Dimes. March 2013 may turn out to be a memorable month for this series.

Generally, from 1968 to the present, Proof dimes feature an ‘S’ mintmark, indicating that each such dime was struck at the San Francisco Mint. Those Proof dimes missing such a mintmark are extremely popular with collectors. In the March Stack’s-Bowers auction, there is an 1983 ‘No S’ that is PCGS certified ‘Proof-68 Deep Cameo’ and in this March Heritage auction, there is a 1983 ‘No S’ that is NGC certified ‘Proof-70 Deep Cameo.’ I am not commenting upon their respective grades. These U.S. Mint Errors are rare in all grades.

In this Heritage auction, there is a significant group of Twenty Cent pieces and a large number of uncirculated (MS grade) Liberty Seated coins in general. There are also a lot of Barber Half Dollars being offered, some of which are newsworthy.

The lowest quality Barber Half to be auctioned ‘live’ is an 1892 ‘Micro O’ that is PCGS graded Good-06. While the ‘Micro O’ is an unusual variety, this issue is the only major variety of Barber Halves that is collected in addition to the standard dates (and Mint locations). Although it is not a distinct date, the 1892 ‘Micro O’ is often collected ‘as if’ it is a date in addition the regular 1892-O. It is somewhat popular. Moreover, the 1892 ‘Micro O’ is very rare, perhaps extremely rare. There is much demand for one in Good-06 grade.

The 1900 half in this auction is NGC graded MS-66 and is CAC approved. It may be among the three or four finest known 1900 halves.

The circulated bust dollars in this auction may be impressive. I hope to have the time and opportunity to view them.

In this March Heritage auction and in the March Stack’s-Bowers auction, there probably are plenty of very appealing 19th century gold coins. I am not prepared to discuss the physical characteristics of any of them here.

Quarter Eagles of 1875 are very rare. One in this auction is PCGS graded VF-30 and is a relatively old PCGS holder with a green label. On average, though not always, coins in PCGS green label holders are more conservatively graded, and less likely to have been doctored, than coins with the same respective certifications in PCGS holders with standard blue labels.

People who collect Indian Head Half Eagles ‘by date’ may wish to take notice that there are a number of different dates in this auction, including three representatives of the key 1909-O. The 1929 is the other key to this series. The 1929 Half Eagle in this auction is PCGS graded MS-63 and is CAC approved.

In the March Heritage sale, there are many Liberty Head Double Eagles ($20 gold coins) in Almost Uncirculated (AU) grades. In general, some AU grade Liberty Head Double Eagles are more attractive than coins of the same respective dates (and Mint locations) that are certified as grading from MS-60 to MS-63.

In sum, for moderately priced, classic (pre-1934) U.S coins and American pre-federal items, plus vintage world coins, there are important offerings in auctions in the U.S. and Europe during the month of March. Those who cannot afford “moderately priced coins” may wish to read my series over the past two weeks on classic U.S. coins that cost less than $250 each or my earlier piece on advice for absolute beginners.

©2013 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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