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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: European Gold Shines in World Coin Auction

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #146 …..

On Jan. 6th and 7th, Heritage conducted one of the official auctions of the New York International Numismatic Convention, which includes multiple coin related events that occur every January at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Manhattan. Although this Heritage auction extravaganza featured thousand of items from around the world, dating from ancient times to the 20th century, European gold coins received the most attention. I am also discussing an epic collection of Costa Rican gold coins, which were subject to intense bidding at the event and brought amazing prices.

Auctions by several firms, educational programs and a coin bourse are all part of this convention, which is devoted to coins, medals and paper money of the world, with almost no attention paid to U.S. coins. In contrast, U.S. coins are very much the focus at most coin conventions and other coin shows that take place in the U.S. This annual convention in New York and one that is held every year in Chicago are exceptions to the rule and tend to attract many offerings of especially rare European, Latin American and Asian coins.

It is just not practical for any one writer, no matter how knowledgeable, to review, summarize, or draw conclusions about an entire auction event such as this one. Literally, thousands of coins were sold, including, though not limited to, ancient Greek and Roman coins, Islamic coins, medieval European coins, Chinese coins from many time periods, and post-1500 coins from all major nations and empires. For example, more than one hundred Russian coins were sold, dating from the 1600s to the 1900s. Moreover, there were quite a few coins from Australia and nations located near Australia. African coins were also included. The total prices realized for this Heritage auction is about $11.6 million

So, I am limiting my coverage to just a few of the coins that Heritage auctioned on Jan. 6th and 7th. I admit that I am not an expert in ancient coins and I have minimal knowledge about Islamic coins. Generally, my discussions of world coins are limited to those minted after the year 1000, with emphasis on coins produced from the 1500s to the 1800s. In September, I devoted a piece to an English Gold Sovereign of King Henry VIII, and, in December, I analyzed a similar large gold coin minted in 1553, early in the reign of Queen Mary I, first daughter of Henry VIII. (Clickable links are in blue.) I included discussions of history in those two articles.

Herein, I discuss a few famous European gold coins as these were some of the stars of this auction. The coins that I mention appeal to a large audience or have the potential to do so. Brazilian gold ingots and British gold coins were stars of this auction, too. Within a week, I will devote an article to the British coins in this Heritage auction and in the Stack’s-Bowers auction that will be held later this week.

In the 19th century, Brazilian gold ingots were usable as currency and played an important role in the payment of taxes. According to Cristiano Bierrenbach, less than “150” such Brazilian gold ingots survive, in total. Cris points out that ingots from some regions of Brazil “are much rarer” than others.

There were two ingots in this auction. An 1821 ingot from Goias weighs 55.435 grams (1.782 troy ounces). It sold for $99,875. An 1832 bar from Serro Frio (in Minas Gerais) weighs 39.74 grams (1.278 troy ounces) and realized $188,000. These were purchased by different collectors.

Additionally, in terms of the ‘energy’ in the auction room during the first session on Jan. 6th, the most exciting part of this auction was the offering of Costa Rican coins, most of which came from the epic collection of Cecil Webster. A bidding war erupted on the auction floor and at least two spirited Internet bidders fought in the battles. The room was electrified when Costa Rican coins were sold.

I. Large Coin of Emperor Ferdinand III

One of the rarest and most famous coins in this auction was a very large gold coin dated 1629. This coin was struck at the Glatz Mint, the location of which is now part of the nation of Poland.

Ferdinand III was the oldest son of Emperor Ferdinand II of Hapsburg. This son became King of Hungary in 1625, King of Bohemia in 1627, and the Holy Roman Emperor in 1637. The geographical region that was formerly the Kingdom of Bohemia overlaps considerably with that of the current Czech Republic. As Ferdinand was a member of the Austrian branch of the royal family known as the Hapsburgs (which is sometimes spelled Habsburgs), and attained tremendous power by way of his family lineage, this coin is usually classified as Austrian.

It is of a very large denomination, twelve ducats. For centuries, the standard unit for gold denominations in Europe was a ducat, which signified a specific amount of gold. A ducat amounted to both a coin denomination and a unit of measurement of gold. The traditional specification for a ducat was to weigh 3.5 grams (0.1125 troy ounce) and to consist of about 98.6% gold. (Please see my article on coins as world currencies for a discussion of ducats.) If all other factors are equal, a twelve ducat piece weighs twelve times as much as a one ducat gold piece.

The eighth edition (2009) of the Friedberg reference indicates that coins of this same Ferdinand III design type were struck in one, two, five, eight, nine, ten and twelve ducat denominations, at times from 1627 to 1636. The Friedberg reference does not provide much information about the rarity of individual issues. The terms “rare” and “very rare” are vaguely employed.

H. D. Rauch, a leading dealer of coins from central Europe, estimates that “six or seven twelve ducats” coins of this design type survive, and maybe “two or three” of these are privately owned. He emphasizes that there are more ten ducat coins of this same design type than twelve ducat coins. Several of the ten ducat coins are “in museums” and “ten or fewer” are privately owned, Rauch suggests.

This twelve ducat gold piece is PCGS graded “MS-62” and its surface quality is superior to that of most gold coins from the 1600s. Furthermore, this coin was well struck, with well detailed dies, on a very carefully prepared blank (planchet). Indeed, the blank was probably buffed a little and this coin is somewhat prooflike.

As I frequently view high quality, 19th century U.S. coins that were carefully saved by collectors, I am a little bothered by a past chemical cleaning of this coin. By widely accepted standards, however, it is a coin of noteworthy quality. If not for noticeable wear on a few highpoints, experts at the PCGS probably would have assigned a 64 or 65 grade to it. For a large coin from the 1600s, it is extremely impressive.

This twelve ducat coin sold for $129,250. The successful bidder was in attendance and is European. I never met him, though I have heard of him. Typically, I will not reveal the name of a bidder without his explicit permission. In my view, this result is a strong price.

In this auction, there was also a large silver coin from the Kingdom of Bohemia that was struck in 1604 in Prague. It is NGC graded MS-62 and brought $3818.75.

II. 8 Ducat Coin of Salzburg, 1594

This eight ducat piece is the coolest, vintage ‘Austrian’ coin that I have ever seen. Referring to it as an eight ducat coin dated 1594 issued in the name of the Archbishop of Salzburg does not convey its nature. The design has much visual impact. Additionally, the design elements are struck in considerable relief.

The neat beige-gold design elements contrast wonderfully with the bright light-gold fields. This coin was struck exceptionally well on a selected planchet. It is very attractive in more than one way.

The NGC grade of MS-63 is conservative and no numerical grade would communicate the coolness of this coin. Besides, if not for a few medium scratches in the right obverse (front) inner fields, this coin would have received a higher grade, for sure.

The reverse (back) by itself easily grades MS-65. Plus, there are some cool die finishing lines in the reverse fields along with just a few hairlines. While the obverse design is more attractive, the reverse is just amazing from the standpoints of coin production techniques, device detail, and surface quality, for a coin from 1594!

The standard Friedberg reference on world gold coins indicates that, during the administration of Archbishop von Raitenau from 1587 to 1612, numerous varieties of large gold coins were minted by the government of Salzburg. The Friedberg reference states that, in 1590 or 1594, coins of this same design type was struck in the following denominations: eight, nine, ten, twelve, fourteen, eighteen, twenty and twenty-five ducats, including ‘square’ twelve ducat pieces. According to this reference, the twenty-five ducat piece is “unique.”

The large denominations of this design type are exceptions, as the vast majority of gold coins struck during this archbishop’s administration are of lower denominations, ranging from one-fourth a ducat to five ducats. Of other design types, some one or two ducat issues are not particularly rare and could be obtained by collectors without too much difficulty.

H. D. Rauch points out that “eight ducats is an unusual denomination” for large gold coins from the 1500s and 1600s. Just “three to five” eight ducat coins of this design type survive. He notes that there are “ten or more ten ducat coins” of this type, “most in museums.” Plus, Rauch adds that “two or three” twenty-ducat pieces of this type exist. A twenty ducat coin would weight about 2.25 troy ounces when minted.

This eight ducat coin sold for $73,437.50. Many of the collectors and dealers who read prices realized at the Heritage website probably figure that this is a strong price. Some of us who examined this coin in actuality regard it as a modest price, at best. This is just an incredible coin. In terms of its combination of quality, artistry and rarity, it really stands above almost all of the other gold coins of central Europe, dating from the 1500s or 1600s.

There was another gold coin of Salzburg in this auction, which is somewhat relevant. It is five ducat piece of 1668, with a relatively standard design for a Salzburg gold coin. It is NGC graded Extremely Fine-45. I viewed it briefly and I tentatively found it to be an especially desirable coin of this type. It went for $8,518.75 to a “Heritage Live” bidder.

III. Napoleon Gold Pattern of 1862

This is a pattern that grabs the attention of those who view it. The obverse features an imposing portrait of Napoleon III. The reverse mentions the “French Empire” and the one hundred francs denomination, along with the ‘date.’ 1862. This pattern is NGC certified ‘Proof-65 Cameo.’

Other than the unusual design, it has a typical ‘look’ of a 19th century Proof-66 gold piece. Frosted devices contrast well with fully mirrored fields. It was struck more than once. I partly agree with the cataloguers’s point that it is undergraded. “Basically flawless,” he says, and he mentions grades of “67 or 68”!

I saw many light hairlines. In my view, it is very attractive and could be fairly re certified as Proof-66. I would not be surprised if the PCGS or the NGC awarded it a ‘Deep Cameo’ or ‘Ultra Cameo’ designation, though I regard the current ‘Cameo’ designation as applicable. Interestingly, the fields exhibit characteristics that are a little similar to the ‘orange peel effect’ that often characterizes Proof U.S. gold coins of the 19th century. This pattern sold for $49,937.50.

IV. Five Ducat Coins of Bavaria

In this auction, there were two uncirculated five ducat coins of Bavaria, dated 1640. The Heritage cataloguer indicates that these each have a Krause-Mishler catalogue number of “269.: If the pictures in the fourth edition of Krause catalogue of 17th century coins, which was published in 2008, are accurate, these two coins are of KM #268, not #269. The four numerals of the date, 1640, are all at 12:00 in the reverse (back).

The reverse design is just magnificent. It features a “city view” of Munich with symbols in the sky. The obverse design is important, in terms of political symbolism and is more appealing, in my opinion, than the bust of a monarch, which is often seen on European coins.

In any event, both five ducat issues of 1640 are rare, especially in uncirculated grades. It is newsworthy that two were in this auction. The NGC graded MS-63 Bavarian 5 Ducat coin was formerly in the Louis Eliasberg Collection. In Jan. 2013, it sold for $21,737.50, and, in April 2005, $9200, which was considered a strong price at the time.

This Eliasberg coin is moderately brilliant and is characterized by a nice, aged orange-gold color. Overall, this coin is mostly original. The obverse does not quite qualify for a 63 grade, though the reverse is of gem quality and is wonderful. Even considering the added value of the Eliasberg pedigree, the $21,737.50 result is very strong.

The PCGS graded MS-64 coin of the same issue sold for $23,500, which was a better value. Yes, it has been lightly to moderately cleaned and lightly dipped, which are minor issues for a coin from 1640. Moreover, this coin is very brilliant and more than very attractive. While the Eliasberg piece has some light friction from a very poorly reasoned cleaning of one small area, this piece seems to have no significant friction. Plus, it is glossy from being struck from polished dies.

At a glance, the Eliasberg coin has a more original ‘look.’ The PCGS graded MS-64 piece really shines, though, and grabs the attention of viewers. Even so, if the Eliasberg piece had not been cleaned or nicked, it would be a much better coin, just not as flashy.

V. Czechoslovakia

The two 20th century gold coins from Czechoslovakia in this sale are especially interesting. A combination of quality, rarity and the artistry of the designs, amounts to exceptional coins.

The NGC graded “MS-64” 1932 ten ducat piece sold for $7,637.50. The relevant Krause-Mishler reference reports a mintage of around one thousand for this issue, and a total mintage of less than ten thousand for all ten ducat pieces (“10 Dukatu”) of this design type. Many were probably melted by officials of subsequent Czechoslovakian regimes, partly for political reasons.

The NGC graded “MS-63” 1934 commemorative, another large gold piece, brought $18,800.00. The artistic design of this second piece is fascinating. Furthermore, this issue is extremely rare. Another reason for the strong price is that this specific coin is dynamic and cool.

To be honest, I did not take the time to grade these two. I just found myself interested in the artistry of the designs and the overall glow of the coins. If there was a recognized hall of fame of European coinage, a few of the Czechoslovakian issues of the 1930s would deserve to be admitted.

VI. Costa Rican Gold

The Central American Republic (CAR) was a loose federation, rather than a true republic. It was generally known, to English speaking people, as the Federal Republic of Central America. Whether this political entity became viable in 1821 or 1823 and whether it ended in 1838 or 1840 depends upon how pertinent historical events are interpreted.

For some time, all of Central America between Panama and Mexico was part of this federation, including the regions that now constitute the nations of Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and the Honduras. Briefly, the CAR included a sixth state, Los Altos, which was later partly annexed by Guatemala and partly annexed by Mexico.

A substantial percentage of CAR coins were minted in Costa Rica and those CAR coins that were minted in Costa Rica are often collected as Costa Rican coins. CAR coins are known for their very distinctive and unusually attractive design, with the sun overlooking mountains on the obverse and a memorable tree on the reverse. Many post-1840 Costa Rican coins continued to feature the designs of the CAR coins, as if the federation still existed.

The CAR and Costa Rican coins in this auction mostly came from the collection of Cecil Webster, which was excellent. I am mentioning some of the CAR-Costa Rica coins in the Webster Collection, all of which were minted in San Jose.

A New Jersey Collector and a Costa Rican Collector both attended this auction ‘in person.’ They both collect Costa Rican coins ‘by date’ and fervently fought each other for many of the coins in this auction. In addition, there were at least two very serious buyers of Costa Rican gold coins participating on the “Heritage Live” system via the Internet.

The 1844 one escudo gold coin is a Costa Rican coin of the same CAR one escudo design type that was adopted in the 1820s. This date is very rare. It is unlikely that more than three hundred of these survive, many of which have been holed for use in jewelry.

CAR-Costa Rica one escudo gold coins are each smaller than U.S. five cent nickels. While most U.S. gold coins are 90% gold, CAR and most later Costa Rican gold coins are just 87.5% gold. As a consequence of additional copper content, CAR and Costa Rican gold coins tend to be more of an orange color than most U.S. gold coins.

The Webster 1844 one escudo coin is NGC graded MS-64. The obverse by itself could certainly be fairly graded as MS-65. It has almost zero contact marks and it really beams. A grade of 65 for the whole coin is imaginable. It was one of the prizes in this auction.

After bidding opened at around $3500, the two collectors on the bourse floor battled each other. Eventually, the Costa Rican won with a bid of $8812.50.

This same bidder won the next coin, the 1845, as well. He paid $7,637.50, a seemingly very strong price. Though a circulated coin, this 1845 one escudo scores extremely high in the category of originality. It is one of the most original one escudo coins of any date that I have ever seen. The NGC graded it as AU-55 and it would be fair, in my view, to call it “AU-55+.” It is something special. In most cases, I would rather own a very original AU-55 grade coin than a ‘not so natural’ MS-63 grade coin of the same issue.

A CAR two escudos coin weighs a little more than a fifth of a troy ounce. The 1828 CAR two escudos coins are extremely rare in high grades. The Webster piece, which is fairly graded AU-55 by the NGC, is certainly one of the three or four finest known. Even so, the price of $9,693.75 was extremely strong.

There were two 1828 four escudos pieces in this auction. The Webster piece had formerly been lightly polished for use in jewelry. The New Jersey collector bought it so that it could be used in jewelry again, in a pendant for his wife. He paid $2,820.00.

He bought the other 1828 for his coin collection. It is an uncirculated coin that was graded AU-58 by the PCGS probably because of small area near the trunk of the tree that was heavily cleaned. It is otherwise an attractive, well struck coin, one of the three finest known of this very rare date. The New Jersey collector paid $23,500. Evidently, this was not from the Webster Collection and, as the cataloguer notes, an 1828 four escudos coin was missing from the Frederick Mayer Collection. I wrote about the Mayer Collection in 2008.

I very much like the next CAR coin, which the New Jersey collector bought as well. Though not as rare as the 1828, the 1835 four escudos issue probably is truly rare and the Webster piece must be one of the finest known, if not the first finest. It is perhaps undergraded as AU-58 by the NGC. It brought a very strong price, $25,850, though a very understandable price. In my opinion, it is worth this much.

Each CAR eight escudos coin was specified to contain a little more than three-quarters a troy ounce of gold when minted. Each could be thought of as a coin that was then worth more than fifteen United States Dollars.

The 1828 eight escudos was one of few Webster coins that I found to be very disappointing. I am very concerned about the extant of the cleaning, on the reverse, in the lower right field. Further, this coin has other negative characteristics that are causes for concern. It is barely gradable, if it is truly gradable. I am not completely comfortable with the NGC assigned AU-53 grade, though it may be fair enough.

After bidding started at around $13,000, the Costa Rican collector on the floor battled an unseen competitor until a “Heritage Live” bidder captured this coin for $18,800. Though there were some great values in this auction, this was not one of them.

The Webster 1833 eight escudos has a more pleasing overall appearance. I generally examine coins myself before I read the catalogue descriptions. I note now that the Heritage cataloguer (Freeman Craig??) questioned the NGC assessment that this coin is not gradable because of edge filings. I did not see any evidence of edge filing either. It was probably a combination of (San Jose Mint caused) planchet defects and a mild chemical cleaning that spooked the graders at the NGC. Nonetheless, this coin looks dramatically better than most other relevant coins that have been denied numerical grades. It may be gradable, in the views of most experts. It brought the same price, $18,800, as the Webster 1828 and it could be a much better value. The CAR 1833 eight escudos issue could very well be significantly rarer than the 1828, especially in high grades.

The New Jersey Collector bought the Webster 1833. He and the Costa Rican Collector each have fantastic sets of CAR-Costa Rica and Costa Rican Republic coins.

Although the Webster Collection was excellent, the Frederick Mayer Collection was much better. It was the best collection of Costa Rican coins that has ever been publicly auctioned. I hope to have a chance to write more about the coins in both these collections.

©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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