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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: The B&M Auction of the Malibu Collection of Standing Liberty Quarters

News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #27

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

I. The Malibu Collection

In Baltimore, on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010, B&M auctioned the ‘Malibu’ collections of Standing Liberty Quarters (SLQs), Liberty Seated Halves and Liberty Seated Dollars. Though I have a strong affinity for Liberty Seated coins, I will focus here on this collector’s Standing Liberty Quarters (SLQs), as his set of SLQs is phenomenal.

Since the collector who formed the Malibu collection wishes to remain anonymous, Malibu will be employed here as the code name of this collector and of his collections of specific series. All the Malibu collections auctioned in November were of business strikes. In January, B&M will auction the Malibu collections of Proof Liberty Seated Quarters and Liberty Seated Halves, in Tampa, just prior to the winter FUN Convention.

II. Malibu SLQ Registry Set

Among the collections that Malibu has formed so far, the Malibu set of Standing Liberty Quarters (SLQs) is the most famous. In the category of “Basic” sets of Standing Liberty Quarters with Full Heads on Miss Liberty, the Malibu collection is the second “All-Time Finest” in the PCGS registry.

All of the quarters in Malibu’s set have a ‘Full Head’ designation from the PCGS, and the FH indicator is best referred to as part of the grade, though it is technically a designation that is considered separately from the numerical grade. An MS65FH SLQ is generally considered to be ‘of a higher grade’, so to speak, then an MS-65 grade SLQ of the same date with a weakly struck head, which is typical for most dates of SLQs. For some SLQ issues, only a very small percentage of those struck have a full head (FH).

In the PCGS registry, the Malibu Collection of Standing Liberty Quarters (SLQs) has a weighted grade point average of “67.92.” Relatively scarce SLQs are weighed more than relatively less scarce dates. The rules of the PCGS registry provide for “bonus points” that are awarded to SLQs with FH designations.

The sixth “All-Time Finest” Basic SLQ set in the PCGS registry was formed by Pat McInally, who was the lead punter for the Cincinnati Bengals during the football seasons from 1976 to 1985. In 1977, 1978 and 1980, he caught a significant number of passes. In the NFL, it is very unusual for a punter to also be a regular receiver. McInally’s SLQ set had a “Weighted GPA” of “67.59.” While “67.59” not nearly as high as the “Weighted GPA” of the Malibu SLQ set, “67.92,” it is impressive. Also, Malibu’s set is the #2 SLQ set in the NGC registry as well, though Malibu did not fully update his listing in the NGC registry and some SLQs that were just auctioned are not listed.

Both the PCGS and the NGC registries provide the most weight to the scarcest dates. Generally, the 1916, the 1918/7-S and the 1927-S are the queens of the SLQ series, closely followed by the 1923-S and then the 1921. The 1919-D and the 1919-S are very rare with a FH, but not rare without. The 1920-S SLQ issue is also relatively rare with a FH.

In the PCGS registry, the “Basic” SLQ sets do not include the 1918/7-S overdate, though the ‘variety’ SLQ sets do. It seems that, according to the PCGS, the 1918/7-S is the only ‘major variety’ in the SLQ series. In my view, the 1918/7-S is an overdate that has the status of a distinct date; it should not be referred to as a ‘major variety.’

In any event, Malibu’s set is ‘100% FH’ in accordance with the rules for ‘Basic’ sets of SLQs in the PCGS registry. The #1 SLQ set is ‘91.89% Full Head’ because three SLQs in the set, including a 1927-S, lack a FH. The Malibu SLQ set is thus the “All-Time Finest” in the PCGS registry that is ‘100% FH.’ Indeed, on the PCGS ‘all-time’ list of Basic sets of SLQs, the Malibu set is one of only five sets that are both ‘100% Complete’ and ‘100% FH’!

III. Type One Standing Liberty Quarters

The most famous date in the series of SLQs is the 1916. In addition to being the first year of issue, it is the first issue of a two-year type. A breast of Miss Liberty is exposed on the first type of SLQs, which were minted in 1916 and 1917. Evidently, people were offended. She is well covered on the SLQs of the second type, which were minted from 1917 to 1930. A subtype that was minted from 1925 to 1930 is sometimes referred to as a third distinct type, but it really involved just minor modifications of the design.

The Malibu 1916 is PCGS graded MS-67FH and it has a sticker of approval from the CAC. All of the Malibu SLQs are PCGS graded and all have a ‘FH’ (Full Head) designation from the PCGS. Many of these quarters have a sticker of approval from the CAC.

The PCGS has certified only two 1916 SLQs as MS-67FH. Only one 1916 SLQ has received a higher grade from the PCGS, one that is graded MS-67+ FH, which, curiously, was sold in this same auction, though it was not part of the Malibu collection.

The Malibu 1916 SLQ (“MS-67 FH” with CAC) sold for $115,000 and, less than an hour later, the Brandon Smith, PCGS graded MS-67+ FH 1916 SLQ sold for $195,500. Dr. Brandon Smith consigned this 1916 SLQ to the Heritage ANA Auction in Boston in Aug. 2010. It was then graded 67, not 67+.

The Brandon Smith 1916 also has a sticker of approval from the CAC. Jeff Ambio regards it as “awesome.” I find it interesting that, at the Jan. 2000 FUN Convention, this same Brandon Smith 1916, then in the collection of an anonymous “East Coast collector,” was auctioned by Heritage for $89,125.

This Brandon Smith 1916 quarter had a CAC sticker when it was graded 67FH and it had one after it was upgraded to 67+ FH. If a PCGS graded 67 coin has been approved by the CAC, this means that experts at the CAC have determined that, in their view, the coin’s grade is in the middle OR ‘high end’ of the 67 grade range. The CAC will not approve (or reject) plus grades from the PCGS or the NGC. In another words, if a coin that is PCGS graded 67+ has a CAC sticker of approval, then PCGS graders determined that this coin’s grade is in ‘high end’ of the 67 grade range, while CAC experts are only asserting, via a sticker, that its grade is in the middle OR ‘high end’ of the 67 range. Put differently, CAC experts may approve a 67+ grade coin even if they conclude that its grade is just a mid range 67 and does not merit a 67+ grade. Moreover, the PCGS started using plus grades in 2010 and a coin that was PCGS graded 67 at an earlier time may have then been determined to merit a grade in the low end, mid range or high end (+) of the 67 range. Here, the grade 67 is used as an example to illustrate points that apply to many numerical grades.

While 1916 SLQs are scarce in all grades, Type One 1917s are common. Indeed, the Malibu 1917 Philadelphia Mint Type One quarter is one of the least scarce coins in the Malibu collection. It is important, though, as a type coin. Dozens have been graded MS-67FH by the PCGS. The Malibu Type One 1917 realized $3795.

There is widescale demand for 1917 Type One SLQs. In addition to collectors seeking to complete sets of SLQs, tens of thousands of collectors seek to assemble type sets that include one Type One SLQ and one Type Two SLQ.

IV. 1917 Type Two SLQ

The 1917 Philadelphia Mint Type Two quarter is much more of a condition rarity and is much less significant as a type coin than its Type One counterpart. The Malibu Type Two 1917 is one of just seven graded ’67FH’ by the PCGS and the PCGS has not assigned a higher grade to a 1917 Type Two quarter. Further, it has a sticker of approval from the CAC. It sold for $19,550. In contrast, a 65FH grade 1917 Type Two SLQ would be worth, at most, $1000.

The PCGS price guide value was $17,000 before it was increased to $19,500 after this coin sold at auction. This exact same Malibu 1917 Type Two SLQ was auctioned by Heritage for $18,400 in Jan. 2007, though it was not then owned by Malibu. By late 2006, just five had been PCGS graded 67FH. Now, there are seven. In my view, the market for this coin was a little stronger in Jan. 2007 than it is now. Interestingly, a different Type Two 1917, with the same certification, was auctioned by Heritage for $17,250 in Nov. 2005. Markets for MS-66 and higher grade SLQs probably peaked a few years ago. In my view, $19,550 is a strong price for this coin, in Nov. 2010.

Mark Feld “would have guessed” that this Malibu 1917 would realize $18,400 now. I asked him, however, before I knew that the exact same coin sold for $18,400 in 2007, and he may not be aware of this point. Additionally, Feld maintains that this coin is “nice for the grade” and he recommended it to one of his collector-clients. Also, as the CAC did not formally begin operations until Oct. 2007, it could not have had a CAC sticker in Jan. 2007.

Feld was employed as a full-time grader for the NGC from 1991 to 1998. Earlier, he was a buyer for David Hall’s firm, a cataloguer and auctioneer for Heritage, and a salesman for Steve Ivy Rare Coins. Since 2004, Mark has been his own boss. Feld viewed the Malibu collection of SLQs and made recommendations to his clients.

V. Key SLQs in the Malibu Collection

In high grades with a ‘Full Head,’ one of the most elusive dates in the SLQ series is the 1919-Denver Mint issue. The PCGS has graded four as 66FH, just one, the Malibu coin, as 66+ FH, and none at a higher level. This coin is thus of tremendous importance to a collector who is forming a set that is, or will be, entered into the PCGS Registry.

Jeff Ambio, the cataloguer, is aware of “no other 1919-D that even comes close to this coin.” Ambio has catalogued several gem quality sets of SLQs, including the James Lull set that B&M auctioned in August 2006. The Malibu 1919-D and the Lull 1919-D are the same coin. It realized $80,500 in 2006, when it was graded 66, not 66+. The PCGS did not introduce plus grades until March 2010.

Feld likes this 1919-D, too. He “would have guessed $97,750 on this one.” The $109,250 result is certainly a noteworthy price for a 1919-D quarter.

The Malibu 1923-San Francisco Mint quarter (67FH) brought a little less, $20,700, than Feld expected, $23,000. In contrast, Ambio concludes that the result is “extremely strong.” Feld “thought it was extremely attractive, but just short of a FH.” The online images are certainly appealing.

The James Lull 1923-S, which is NGC certified 67FH with a star for eye appeal, sold for $20,700 in 2006. It is clearly a different coin.

I have always thought of the 1926-Denver Mint issue as being one of the most difficult of all SLQs to find in high grade, especially with a full head (FH). In an encyclopedia that was published in 1988, researcher Walter Breen asserted that the 1926-D SLQ with a FH is rarer than the 1926-S with a FH.

The Malibu 1926-D (66FH) was auctioned for $31,625 on Nov. 4, 2010, $31,050 in Aug. 2004, and $27,025 in Sept. 1998, which must have been an astonishing price in 1998! I wonder if the number of 1926-D quarters that have been PCGS graded 66FH increased substantially over the last dozen years. An increase in the supply of a good will have a downward effect on price, though prices may still rise if the demand increases enough to more than offset the effects of an increase in supply. Also, my sources suggest that there are at least three 1926-D quarters that are of distinctively higher quality than the Malibu 1926-D SLQ.

The Malibu 1926-S brought almost as much, $28,750, as the 1926-D, $31,625. The Malibu 1926-S (66FH with CAC) is also formerly in the ‘Chicagoland’ collection of SLQs. Like the Chicagoland-Malibu 1926-D, Heritage auctioned the Chicagoland-Malibu 1926-S in Aug. 2004. It then realized $32,200. Curiously, a different PCGS graded 66FH 1926-D SLQ was sold by Heritage for even more, $34,500, in Jan. 2000, when coin markets overall were very weak.

In Jan. 2000, only six 1926-S SLQs had been certified by the PCGS as 66FH. By July 2004, nine had been. Now there are ten, an increase of only one sine July 2004. So, there may not have been any grade-inflation in regard to 66FH 1926-S SLQs since 2004, as the one addition could have been a never before certified 1926-S or one that was earlier graded by the NGC.

As for the Malibu 1926-S, Jeff Ambio remarks that “the strike is so-so, but better than average for a ’26-S. The surfaces are [naturally] smooth, and the luster on this coin is quite nice.” Overall, Ambio was not thrilled about this coin and did not think of it as one of the prizes in the Malibu collection

I (this writer) suspect that buyers of superb SLQs have become more sophisticated than they were a few years ago, or have hired expert advisors. So, some of the coins that seem to bring not so strong prices may not be that great.

The James Lull 1926-S (also 66FH) realized $40,250 in the B&M Denver ANA auction in 2006. Is it of higher quality than the Malibu 1926-S SLQ?

Though the 1926-D and the ’26-S are rare in 65 and higher grades with a FH, the 1927-S is both rare with a FH and scarce overall, in any grade. Indeed, the 1927-S is the scarcest SLQ minted after 1918. Even an Extremely Fine grade 1927-S (EF-40) may retail for more than a thousand dollars. The Lull 1927-S, which is PCGS graded 65FH, sold for $126,500 in 2006.

It is interesting that in 2006, in the present, and, presumably, during the interim, there has been a PCGS population of just two 1927-S SLQs in 66FH and none have received a higher grade from the PCGS. There are also just two that are PCGS certified 65FH.

The Malibu 1927-S is the only one to have received a 65+ FH grade. It was thus graded or upgraded in 2010. Also, the PCGS has graded four 1927-S quarters as 67 and twenty-nine as 66, without a FH designation. Many 1927-S quarters have flat heads.

The Malibu 1927-S (65+ FH) sold for $149,500. “This coin, I really like,” Ambio declares, “especially for s ’27-S. [Jeff] cannot imagine a nicer 65 FH ’27-S out there. It has magic white surfaces, there are hardly any marks, and the luster is booming. Nice FH strike as well,” according to Ambio.

Though the 1928-D is nowhere near as scarce as the 1927-S overall, Full Head 1928-D quarters that grade over 63 are truly rare. Feld recommended the Malibu 1928-D to a collector-bidder. “This one had a great overall look to it,” Feld says. It brought $17,825, though Mark “would have guessed $17,250, but it was a really tough one to figure,” Feld relates.

Jeff Ambio finds that “this is a very strong coin, and price, for the 1928-D issue. I [Jeff] really like this piece. The only soft striking detail [Ambio] can see is on the innermost shield rivets.” The online images suggest to me (this writer) that the obverse (front) of this coin has appealing multi-colored toning.

The Malibu ’28-D is graded 66+ FH and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. The PCGS has graded two 1928-D quarters as 67 FH. On of these two, the ‘Chicagoland’ collection coin, was auctioned by Heritage for $27,600 in Jan. 2003. The other 67FH ’28-D was also sold by Heritage, shortly afterwards in Feb. 2003 for $24,150. It was in the “Hans Poetsch Collection.”

The Lull ’28-D, PCGS graded 65 FH, is sharply struck as well, though not to the same extent as the Malibu ’28-D quarter. The Lull coin sold for $4370 in 2006.

Feld and Ambio indicate that the Malibu 1928-D is especially choice for a 66 grade SLQ. So, the $17,825 price may be both strong and fair. One of the 67FH graded coins would probably have cost more than twice as much, if it were in a major coin auction over the last few months.

Mark Feld states that the Malibu 1930 (67FH with CAC) is a “great looking toned coin that appears not to have been dipped.” Feld is “partial to toned pieces and biased against color-free ones, especially those that have been dipped. [Mark] would have guessed $5175 on this one.” It went for $6325. It is a common date and it is one of probably twenty different coins that is graded 67FH by the PCGS.

The Malibu collection contained an astonishing nineteen different dates of SLQs that are each PCGS graded 67 or higher. Moreover, this Malibu set had very highly ranked representatives of the better dates. As 1921 is a key date, I should mention the Malibu 1921, which is graded 66+ FH and has a CAC sticker. It sold for $10,925. Even an AU-55 grade 1921 SLQ is worth more than a thousand dollars!

Though the Malibu set of SLQs is extremely important and will be remembered for a long time, it would have made sense for this collector to acquire a 1918/7-S and make the inclusion of a 1918/7-S clear in the PCGS Registry and/or elsewhere. The presence of a 1918/7-S would have given this set a higher place in the minds of SLQ enthusiasts and researchers.

©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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