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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: O’Neal Collection of Indian Head $5 Gold Coins

News and Analysis on scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #30

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds….

I. FUN Auctions

During the Jan. 2011 FUN Platinum Night auction in Tampa, Heritage will offer Jim O’Neal’s set of Indian Head Half Eagles ($5 gold coins). This set is the “All-Time Finest” in the PCGS Registry and contains many individual coins that are at or near the top of the condition rankings for their respective dates. Many other rare U.S. coins, including some Great Rarities, will be auctioned during the Platinum Night event and I will cover those soon.

Since 2005, the Heritage FUN Convention auction has been the leading auction of the year for U.S. coins. Indeed, four of the last six January FUN auctions have been phenomenal.

A few days before the start of the FUN Convention at the Tampa Convention Center, B&M will conduct a pre-FUN auction at a nearby hotel. The Malibu collection will be included. Traditionally, pre-FUN auctions have featured especially choice and rare coins as well.

While the winter Florida United Numismatists (FUN) Convention is typically in Orlando, it was in Fort Lauderdale in 2005 and will be in Tampa in January 2011. The Fort Lauderdale area is a more sensible location, as Southern Florida is densely populated. Fort Lauderdale is close to especially affluent areas in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. Plus, there are many snowbirds in Southern Florida, people who otherwise live in the Northeastern States.

When the Jim O’Neal collection of Indian Head (or Saint Gaudens) Eagles ($10 coins) was the opening feature of the Jan. 8, 2009 Platinum Night event, the room was packed. Afterwards, a few experts in attendance indicated to me that prices were higher than expected. Prices were much higher than I expected, as I was not overwhelmed by O’Neal’s Eagles. My preliminary impression is that I will be much more enthusiastic about O’Neal’s Indian Head Half Eagles ($5 pieces), which will be sold during the Jan. 6, 2011, Platinum Night event.

II. O’Neal’s Half Eagles

It now seems that Jim O’Neal’s set of business strike Indian Head Half Eagles is the most famous collection that will be auctioned at the Jan. 2011 FUN Convention. For years, this has been the “finest” such set in both the PCGS and NGC registries. Although the PCGS ranks it ahead of the Dr. Thaine Price and Dr. Duckor sets of Indian Head Half Eagles, my belief is that the Duckor collection was finer. I have yet, however, to see most of the coins in the O’Neal set. The Duckor set of Indian Half Eagles was auctioned by the firm of David Akers as part of the Auction ’90 event, in the Chicago area.

Dr. Thaine Price’s collection was also auctioned by Akers’ firm. All of the Price collection was sold on the evening of May 19, 1998, and it was overshadowed by the epic Pittman II event that was held the same week at the same location. In most other situations, the offering of the Thaine Price collection would have been considered an amazing event of epic proportions. Dr. Duckor admits that he takes his Thaine Price catalogue with him on vacations to Hawaii, “probably fifteen times” so far. “Akers did a great job.”

The sets of Thaine Price and Steven Duckor were assembled during an era when grading standards were tougher than standards were in the late 1990s and in the early part of the 2000s. Even so, there is no doubt that this O’Neal set contains some of the greatest and most important Indian Head Half Eagles.

Upon my request, Dr. Duckor agreed to rank the all-time finest sets of business strike Indian Head Half Eagles. “I [Duckor] rate the best O’Neal, 2nd mine, 3rd Price, 4th Simpson and 5th Kutasi.” John Kutasi’s set was featured in a Jan. 2007 Platinum Night event.

Dr. Duckor counted the Eliasberg 1909-O heavily, along with O’Neal’s 1911-D and 1912-S, in his determination that O’Neal’s set is better than his ever was. “To me,” Duckor says, “the second toughest coin of the set is the 1911-D in PCGS 65 or better!”

Duckor points out, interestingly, that “quite a few of O’Neal’s coins came from [Duckor’s] set and Dr. Price’s set.” A few are pedigreed to Dr. Price in the online catalogue, but which ones were in Duckor’s set?

All of O’Neal’s Indian Head Half Eagles are PCGS certified and, according to the PCGS Registry, the set has a ‘weighted grade point average’ of “65.72.” This is a phenomenal GPA for Indian Head Half Eagles, which are excellent examples of condition rarities.

The series of Indian Head Half Eagles began in 1908 and seemed to end in 1916, though there was one more issue, in 1929. A complete set of business strikes consists of twenty-four coins, including those minted at Philadelphia, Denver, New Orleans and San Francisco. Except for the 1908 Philadelphia issue, every date is extremely rare in MS-65 and higher grades.

The PCGS has not graded a 1915-S Half Eagle in MS-65 or a higher grade. The NGC has graded one 1915-S Half Eagle as “MS-65.” The Duckor 1915-S may be the finest known. The O’Neal 1915-S is PCGS graded MS-64 and has a sticker of approval from the CAC.

Most dates in the series are very easy to find in grades of 62 or lower, and a few dates are plentiful in MS-63 grade. The 1909-O and the 1929 are the key dates in the series, and these have considerable value, even in circulated grades. The 1929 is the most expensive Indian Half Eagle in circulated grades and the 1909-O is the most expensive in ‘mint state’ (uncirculated) grades. The 1911-D is relatively scarce in all grades and is rare in grades of 63 and higher.

For the 1913-S, only one has been graded “MS-66” by the PCGS and none have been graded higher. In 1998, Akers regarded the Dr. Steven Duckor coin as the finest known and the Price-O’Neal 1913-S as the “second finest”! The PCGS price guide values the Price-O’Neal 1913-S at $200,000, which seems low to me. This same coin sold for $110,000 at the Thaine Price sale. If it is the same 1913-S that B&M auctioned in Jan. 1999, it then brought $156,500, when prices in coin markets in general were nowhere near current levels.

The 1913-S Half Eagle that B&M auctioned in Jan. 1999 is (or was) PCGS graded MS-66, as the Price-O’Neal 1913-S is now. The PCGS registry, however, indicates that the Duckor 1913-S is (or was) PCGS graded MS-66, or that it would be if submitted? There is just one 1913-S Half Eagle that is currently PCGS graded MS-66. Dr. Duckor reports that his former “1913-S is in an NGC 66 holder now, and was in a PCGS 65 holder in 1989.” In August 1990, Jay Parrino bought the Duckor 1913-S for $99,000. It was then not encapsulated.

The 1911-D is another of the powerful condition rarities in the series. O’Neal’s 1911-D is the highest graded by the PCGS, “65+,” and it has a sticker of approval from the CAC, which indicates that CAC experts determined it to grade in the middle OR high end of the 65 grade range. The plus grade reveals that this coin was graded by the PCGS in 2010. Unfortunately, it is NOT, though, in a PCGS ‘Secure’ holder. It really should be mandatory that, when a coin of this importance is submitted to the PCGS, the submission be under the SecurePlus program.

While the Eliasberg-Price-O’Neal 1909-O is Todd Imhof’s “favorite” in O’Neal’s set, Todd asserts that “Jim’s 1911-D, 1913-S and 1912-S are incredible coins and truly rare issues as well.” Imhof is a recognized expert in early 20th-century U.S. gold coins. Todd “can’t imagine finer examples of any of these [four] dates in existence.”

This same 1911-D Half Eagle realized $166,750 in the official auction of the Summer 2004 ANA Convention. It should realize substantially more in Jan. 2011.

III. Clapp-Eliasberg 1909-O $5 Gold Piece

It is widely believed that the most valuable Indian Head Half Eagle, of any date or variety, is the Clapp-Eliasberg 1909-O. This is the only 1909-O that is PCGS graded MS-66 and none are graded higher.

According to Imhof, the Eliasberg-Price-O’Neal “1909-O defines the term ‘classic rarity.’ It is a coin that was identified decades ago as being the finest known example of the issue and has stood out ever since,” Imhof declares. “In terms of its appeal, [Todd] put it right up alongside the famous Duckor 1920-S $10 Indian Eagle.” The Duckor 1920-S Eagle ($10 gold coin) was auctioned for $1,725,000 in 2007.

Louis Eliasberg, Sr. assembled the all-time best collection of U.S. coins. Many of the highest quality coins in the Eliasberg collection were earlier in the Clapp collection, which Eliasberg acquired intact, via Stack’s, in 1942.

The Clapp family collection contained many 19th century and early 20th century coins that were later to grade from 66 to 69 by the PCGS or the NGC. Moreover, Clapp coins are often known for their original surfaces and natural toning. It is credibly believed that John Clapp’s source obtained this 1909-O directly from the New Orleans Mint in the Spring of 1909. The Clapps were connoisseurs.

The Clapp-Eliasberg 1909-O Half Eagle was auctioned by the firm of Bowers & Ruddy, along with the rest of Eliasberg’s U.S. gold coins, in Oct. 1982, in New York. David Hall reports that he and Gordon Wrubel, both PCGS founders, jointly purchased this coin for $30,800 and sold it soon afterwards. According to David Akers in 1998, this 1909-O “was subsequently sold in Auction ’83 to a famous Texas collector and then was resold in Auction ’89 to Dr. [Thaine] Price.”

I am under the impression that it realized $71,500 in Auction ’89. For more than ten years, a group of four auction firms joined together each summer to conduct a blockbuster event that was replete with rarities. These events were known as the ‘apostrophe auctions.’

At the auction of the Thaine Price collection, bidding for the Clapp-Eliasberg 1909-O started at under $70,000 and rose rapidly. Several bidders participated. Indeed, the bidding required at least a couple of minutes, which was unusual even in that era. Jay Parrino was the eventual buyer, for a record price of $373,000.

Todd Imhof, now Executive Vice President of Heritage, states that he “was the single largest buyer of $10’s [Eagles] and $20’s [Double Eagles] out of Akers’ Thaine Price auction but I recall wishing I had bid more aggressively on the $5 Indians, especially the 1909-O. I [Todd] just wasn’t working closely with any collectors in this series at the time.”

It seems that experts have long regarded the Eliasberg-Price-O’Neal 1909-O as being of much greater importance than the Duckor-Kruthoffer 1909-O Half Eagle. The Duckor 1909-O realized just $82,250 at Auction ’90, when market prices for high grade Indian Head Half Eagles were probably higher than prices were in May 1998. The Duckor-Kruthoffer 1909-O was graded by Akers as “65” when it appeared, uncertified, in Auction ’90. Earlier, in Dec. 1989, it had been graded MS-64 by the PCGS, and, later, it was PCGS graded MS-65.

In August 1990, Jay Parrino was the successful bidder for the Duckor 1909-O, too. Later, the Duckor 1909-O Half Eagle was handled by the firm of David Hall. Therefore, Parrino and Hall have separately owned both the Clapp-Eliasberg-Price-O’Neal and Duckor-Kruthoffer 1909-O Half Eagles. The landmark Robert Kruthoffer collection of early 20th century gold coins was auctioned in 1981.

Personally, I do not find that either the Clapp-Eliasberg or Duckor-Kruthoffer ’09-O Half Eagles to be particularly ‘high end’ for their respective MS-66 and MS-65 certified grades. I admit, though, that I have never seen a 1909-O Half Eagle that really stunned me. Generally, uncirculated 1909-O Half Eagles tend to be found with uninspiring surfaces. It is very difficult to find even a pleasing MS-64 grade 1909-O.

The PCGS price guide values the Clapp-Eliasberg-Price-O’Neal 1909-O at an even one million dollars, and the Duckor-Kruthoffer coin at $400,000. The James A. Stack 1909-O was auctioned by Stack’s for $99,000 in 1994 and was later graded MS-65 by the NGC. In Nov. 1998, it was auctioned for $178,500 by B&M (New Hampshire).

At this point, I will not itemize more of O’Neal’s Half Eagles, as I have not seen most of them and my sources have not seen them recently. As there are many collectors building sets of Indian Head Half Eagles, and O’Neal’s set has so many wonderful prizes, the selling of this set will probably be very exciting.

©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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