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Coin Rarities and Related Topics: First Part of Greensboro Collection Sells in Dallas

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #135 …..

For only the second year so far, the ANA has held a convention in the fall. Last year, this convention was in Pittsburgh. Last week, it was in Dallas. Again, Heritage conducted the official auction, the prices realized for which totaled more than $22 million. As it is not practical to review the entire auction, I focus here on the first part of the “Greensboro Collection,” which features an uncirculated Wreath Cent, an incredible 1794 half dime, a 1792 dime pattern, a landmark set of Proof Liberty Seated Dimes and a superb set of Proof Barber Quarters.

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this event. I did view some of the coins at the Heritage bourse table during the ANA Summer Convention in Philadelphia. Additionally, I have seen a sizeable number of of them on previous occasions.

In this auction event, just the first part of the ‘Greensboro Collection’ was sold. A larger part of the Greensboro Collection will be auctioned at the FUN Convention in January, in Orlando.

In recent columns, I have already written about the PCGS certified “Proof-64” 1802 silver dollar and the NGC certified Specimen-65 1839-O Liberty Seated Dime in this first part of the Greensboro Collection. (Clickable links are in blue.)

As I said, this 1839-O dime is a true Specimen or Special Striking, in my view. The $52,875 result is not strong, though it is not as weak as it might seem. The relatively weak price for a Specimen 1876-CC Liberty Seated Dime in the Aug. 9, 2012, Stack’s-Bowers Rarities Night event may be relevant.

In 2012, there are fewer people collecting ‘high end’ Proof, ‘Mint State,’ or Specimen Liberty Seated Dimes than there were collecting them during the period from late 2006 to early 2008. Also, within the last few weeks, I was informed by John Albanese that he found demand for Proof Liberty Seated Dimes to be a little lower in the present than such demand was in 2010 or 2011.

I. Liberty Seated Dimes

One reason why I am not extensively analyzing the prices realized for the Proof Liberty Seated Dimes in the Greensboro Collection is that, as demand for Proof Liberty Seated Dimes in general has fallen, it hard to gauge how the Greensboro Liberty Seated Dimes, in particular, fared in this auction. It is also true that the collector, who is employing the code name ‘Greensboro,’ paid above-market prices for some of these dimes in 2007 and 2008.

A strong case could be made that he paid above-market prices for coins of many types. I am certain that he did so for some Proof Liberty Seated Dimes.

In fairness, to build a phenomenal set of Proof Liberty Seated Dimes in just a few years, it was probably necessary to pay above-market prices for some coins. This was one of the all-time best sets of Proof Liberty Seated Dimes, possibly the best. Pittman and Kaufman each devoted much more time than did the ‘Greensboro’ collector to building their respective sets of Proof Liberty Seated Dimes.

John Pittman spent more than a decade pursuing 19th century Proof coins during an era when few others were seriously interested pre-1860 Proof coins. P. Kaufman was fortunate to have the opportunity to be a serious buyer when Eliasberg’s silver coins were auctioned in 1996 and 1997, and when Pittman’s U.S. coins were auctioned in 1997 and 1998.

In regard to assembling a set of Proof Liberty Seated Dimes, Greensboro’s quest was far more difficult. There was a tremendous boom in coin collecting from 1998 to 2008. He acquired many of his coins during the latter part of the boom, when there were many other serious, extremely wealthy collectors competing for Proof U.S. silver coins of the 19th century.

In January, the scope of Greensboro’s achievements will become far more apparent. Indeed, the coin collecting community may be stunned.

To give an impression of the completeness, quality and value of the Greensboro set of Proof Liberty Seated Dimes, I am listing his pre-1860 dates and prices realized, with NGC grades in parentheses. I am here ignoring so called ‘cameo’ designations. Furthermore, he had all dates from 1860 to 1891 as well. I am not listing those here because the later dates are not very rare in Proof format and are not as newsworthy.

For many pre-1854 Proof dime issues, only two to seven are known. Many of these are already in advanced collections. It is just absolutely incredible that Greensboro was able to rapidly assemble a nearly complete collection of Proof Liberty Seated dimes, all certified as grading 65 or higher.

For pre-1860 types and subtypes, the Greensboro Collection of Proof Liberty Seated Dimes consisted of: 1837 (66) $38,187.50, 1838 (67) $164,500, 1839 (66) $35,250, 1840-No Drapery (65) $22,325, 1841 (63) $47,000, 1842 (65) $35,250, 1843 (66) $21,737.50, 1844 (66) $64,625, 1845 (66) $30,550, 1846 (65) $32,900, 1847 (66) $36,718.75, 1848 (66*) $25,850, 1849 (66) $41,125, 1850 (67*) $55,812.50, 1852 (67) $26,437.50, 1853-Arrows (66) $70,500, 1854 (66) $25,850, 1855 (67*) $38,187.50, 1856 (67) $19,975, 1857 (67) $14,100, 1858 (66, CAC approved) $5581.25, 1859 (68) $22,325, and an 1859-‘Transitional Pattern’ (67*) $35,250.

The 1859 transitional issue is not a coin, though it is fascinating. It has the pre-1860 obverse (front) design with stars and the post-1859 reverse (back) design, with just a wreath and the denomination, ONE DIME, spelled out. Therefore, the name of our nation, United States of America, is not mentioned on this piece, nor even abbreviated.

Regarding the “NGC Proof-66 Cameo 1837 No Stars dime, it looks like a real Proof to me and if so, the price realized seems low, ” Mark Feld comments. On the 1853 Arrows, Feld says, “nice, original looking coin.”

The physical characteristics of the Greensboro dimes vary. The set as a whole was amazingly complete and very impressive. Indeed, it was really cool.

II. 1794 Half Dime

The Greensboro 1794 half dime is PCGS certified ‘SP-67.’ Although the ‘Specimen’ or ‘Special Striking’ designation for this coin is extremely controversial, it may be the finest known 1794 half dime.

Curiously, there were half dimes before there were dimes, which were not struck until 1796. Half dimes weigh half as much as corresponding silver dimes. Half dimes were last struck in 1873.

In August 2010, Spectrum-B&M sold the Cardinal Collection 1794 half dime. It is NGC graded “MS-67” and it realized $132,250. I do not have a recollection of having seen it.

The Cardinal 1794 may possibly have earlier been in the Foxfire Type Set. Richard Burdick is not sure.

The PCGS currently lists one 1794 half dime as grading “MS-66.” I do not know the history of it. Burdick indicates that it is not the coin that was previously in the Foxfire Type Set, which was assembled by a collector in Indiana with the assistance of Richard Burdick. The Foxfire Type Set was sold privately, prior to 2005.

In March 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a 1794 that was NGC graded MS-66, for $71,875. It is now PCGS graded ‘MS-65+’ and is in the High Desert Registry Set. Scott Travers selects coins for the owner of the ‘High Desert Collection.’ Not long ago, I wrote about a display of the ‘High Desert’ Set of Walking Liberty Half Dollars.

In March 2006, ANR sold a PCGS graded MS-64 1794 half dime for a staggering $83,375! The consignor had purchased it from an auction in 1970.

In April 2005, ANR auctioned an NGC graded MS-65 1794 half dime for $73,600. Earlier, in Jan. 2004, ANR had sold the exact same coin for $39,100.

In June 2004, Spectrum-B&M auctioned the PCGS graded MS-65, Eliasberg 1794 half dime for $67,850. Earlier, Bowers & Merena (New Hampshire) sold the same coin in May 1996, in New York.

On Oct. 18, 2012, the Greensboro 1794 sold for $367,775, far and away an auction record for a 1794 half dime. A question to consider is whether this piece towers above the other 1794 half dimes. Researcher Breen referred to more than one 1794 half dime as a “presentation piece.”

Mark Feld remarks that “it did not look specially made to me.” Feld was a grader at the NGC for most of the 1990s and has worked as a grader for a few leading dealers.

Richard Burdick asserts that the Greensboro 1794 half dime “is an excellent value, totally original, pristine gem unc., with prooflike surface. The only one I would compare it with was the one in the Foxfire Collection, which is [or was] NGC MS-67. It has a slightly crisper strike. The only problem with the Foxfire 1794 is that it has been [apparently] dipped. This one is more original; the originality means more to me than a perfect strike. This is the finest 1794 half dime I have ever seen,” Richard concludes.

Jim McGuigan states that the Greensboro 1794 half dime has a “pretty impressive strike, about as good as I have seen from that era, maybe a Specimen.” For decades, McGuigan has been a collector and dealer of pre-1840 U.S. coins. Jim also declares that this is “the best 1794 half dime that I have ever seen”!

McGuigan did find the price realized to be more than he expected. In contrast, John Albanese remarks that the $367,775 result is “about what I expected.” In my view, this price is strong.

III. 1792 Pattern Dime in Copper

In 1792, patterns of silver dimes were struck in silver and copper. It was understood that ten cent coins would consist mostly of silver. Patterns of silver denominations were struck in copper for more than one reason. As copper was (and still is) much less costly than silver, it was less expensive to test, experiment and/or make samples in copper.

Yes, I am aware that dime is spelled ‘DISME’ on the reverse (back) of each 1792 dime pattern. Coin collectors and dealers often pronounce ‘disme’ as ‘dizz-mee,’ and Breen believed that ‘disme’ was pronounced in the same way as the word ‘deem,’ which rhymes with team. According to R. W. Julian, however, ‘disme,’ in 1792 and during all times since then, was and is “pronounced exactly the same way dime is pronounced”; the ‘s’ is silent. Additionally, Julian found a poem, from 1803, indicating that ‘disme’ rhymes with ‘clime,’ which presumably rhymes with dime and time.

The Greensboro 1792 pattern dime (J-10) was formerly in the collection of Ed Price, which Heritage auctioned on July 31, 2008. It was then and is now NGC certified “Proof-62.” In my view, it is not a Proof. The ‘Proof’ designation, however, may not be consequential. It is a high quality representative of a famous and historically important pattern. I find the 1792 Silver Center Copper Cent to be more historically important.

In 1988, researcher Breen estimated “about 14 known” of the reeded edge variety and two or three of the plain edge variety. Not many 1792 copper dimes, however, have appeared at auction over the last two decades.

In March 2004, ANR auctioned an NGC graded EF-40 piece for $102,925, which was earlier in the Allen Lovejoy Collection. I vaguely remember ANR auctioning a Very Fine grade 1792 copper dime at another time.

The Garrett piece was auctioned. in 1979 or 1980. It was later NGC certified ‘Specimen-65.’ There is a credible rumor that one owner, at some point over the last fifteen years, removed this piece from its NGC holder an did not resubmit it. In any event, it is likely that the Garrett piece is of significantly higher quality than the Price-Greensboro piece.

After being auctioned in 1988 and again in 1990, the Norweb 1792 copper dime re-appeared in a Stack’s auction in Oct. 2008, at which time it did not sell. It did sell in the inaugural Stack’s-Bowers Rarities Night of Aug. 18, 2011, for $362,250.

The Norweb 1792 dime pattern in copper is PCGS graded AU-55. I really like it, an especially attractive piece.

The Price-Greensboro piece sold for $690,000 on July 31, 2008, when coin markets were peaking. At the time, this result was, surprisingly, an auction record for a copper numismatic item of any kind. On Oct. 18, 2012, this same pattern brought $587,500.

Richard Burdick believes that 1792 dime patterns are “good values for that kind of money. I would much rather have one of those than a 1943-D or -S copper penny.” (Reportedly, a 1943-S copper cent recently traded for $1 million.)

I, too, would rather have a 1792 pattern than a 1943-S copper cent. Even so, I was just not that impressed with the Price-Greensboro 1792 dime pattern. I do not agree with the “Proof-62” certification. I do not perceive it as being substantially superior to the PCGS graded AU-55 Norweb piece. Also, Jim McGuigan was not enthusiastic about its certification.

In my view, the $587,500 result is strong. The previous $690,000 result relates to the aggressive behavior that traditionally prevails when coin markets peak and to the atmosphere of that particular auction. Some hysteria characterized the July 31, 2008 Platinum Night event, during which exorbitant prices were realized for many rare U.S. coins.

IV. Proof 1802 Dollar

As the Lee-Greensboro 1802 dollar was the focus of a recent article, I will not discuss it at length here, other than to point out that it is unlikely (though certainly possible) that it is the Norweb 1802. (Please click to read my recent article on this coin.) The fact that it is unlikely to be the Norweb 1802 is probably not relevant to the $411,250 auction result, which is not very strong.

This exact same coin sold for $316,250 in Nov. 2005, when it was part of the epic collection of Jack Lee. While prices for 19th century rarities in general are now significantly higher than corresponding prices in late 2005, most (not all) coin buyers are now more quality conscious in the sense that they are less likely to blindly accept the grades and designations on PCGS or NGC holders. (Please see my article earlier this year on grading issues for examples.) Jim McGuigan remarks that this coin grades “63, has hairlines” in the fields from being “lightly cleaned” and is on its “second toning.”

In my view, the $411,250 result is moderate, given this coin’s characteristics. This price is neither strong nor weak.

V. Uncirculated Wreath Cent

The Greensboro 1793 Wreath Cent is NGC certified ‘Specimen-66 Brown.’ I am reminded of a Wreath Cent (of a different die variety) that was in the Dan Holmes Collection. That Holmes cent was formerly NGC certified “Specimen-65” before being PCGS certified ‘MS-65 Brown.’ The two coins are similar. The strikes are sharp and the fields are somewhat reflective.

In my opinion, it does not make sense to refer to either this Holmes Wreath Cent or the Greensboro Wreath Cent as a special striking or as a Specimen. The Holmes piece is relatively more original. In McGuigan’s view, the Greensboro piece was “cleaned and recolored in the past, maybe coated.” Jim found the $329,000 result to be ”very strong.”

“The $329,000 price is fair for what it is,” Richard Burdick exclaims. “A real Specimen-66 Brown Wreath Cent [would be] a million dollar coin. I cannot agree with the certification. I passed over it. There are some amazing Wreath Cents out there,” says Richard.

The Holmes piece sold for $264,500 in Sept. 2009, when the Goldbergs, in cooperation with McCawley & Grellman, auctioned Dan Holmes’ early dates. In my view, this Holmes Wreath Cent is a much better value than the Greensboro Wreath Cent.

I accept the MS-65 grade for that Holmes piece. According to widely accepted grading criteria, most experts would probably grade the Greensboro Wreath Cent as MS-64, though I am not certain that it really should receive a numerical grade. The Heritage cataloguer, perhaps Mark Borckardt, asserts that the coin grades “MS-62” in accordance with the criteria employed by specialists in early copper coins. A 62 grade, though, would not make sense, in terms of mainstream grading criteria. This coin grades 63, 64 or it does not merit a numerical grade. I just do not understand the assigned 66 grade.

If it was polished or coated, it should be in a ‘genuine’ or ‘details’ holder, rather than in a holder with a numerical grade. Many early large cents have been recolored and most of these are considered by experts at the PCGS and the NGC to be gradable.

A true MS-66 grade Wreath Cent would be worth much more than $329,000, even without an ‘SP’ designation. Published price guides, conservatively in my view, value an MS-66 grade Wreath cent in the range from $300,000 to $400,000. This $329,000 result is strong, as this coin grades MS-64 at best, and may not merit a grade.

A fair retail price for a MS-64 Wreath Cent would be between $150,000 and $200,000. The “SP-66” certification indicated on the holder, however controversial, adds some market value.

VI. Proof Barber Quarters

Greensboro consigned a complete set of Proof Barber Quarters, 1892 to 1915. This is not a difficult set to complete.

Clearly, Greensboro planned to acquire Proof Barber Quarters that are certified as grading from 67 to 69, and he succeeded. In my view, these brought strong prices at the auction. Indeed, many sold for above-market prices.

©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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  1. Mr. Reynolds, you write the most informative, best researched articles on numismatics … hands down! With that said, I would like to request that you devote a few more columns to the world coin market. A few years ago you wrote a six-piece series on the Millennia collection that was extraordinary and really sparked my interest in world coins. You also wrote a series on the Frederick Mayer collection (although that series was never finished). However, since then you seem to have focused exclusively on U.S. coins despite the sale of such landmark collections as the Quartermaster ($8 million), Norman Jacobs ($7 million), and Wa She Wong ($10 million) collections.

    I understand that most of your readers are Americans who are primarily interested in U.S. coins. Nevertheless, I would really like to see you dedicate a few columns to world coins. Baldwin’s will hold its final auction of the Bentley collection in early-2013 … perhaps we could get a recap with some historical context, much like you did for the Millennia sale.

    Regardless, I really appreciate your weekly column and ask you to keep up the hard work.

    Kind regards,


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