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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: The Henry Miller Collection

News and Analysis on scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #32

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

I. FUN Auctions

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Jim O’Neal’s set of Indian Head Half Eagles ($5 gold coins), which will be auctioned during the Jan. 6, 2011 FUN Platinum Night auction in Tampa. During the FUN Convention, Heritage will auction a wide variety of items, including the Henry Miller collection. Miller specialized in Proof gold coins and many of his coins will also be sold during this Platinum Night event. He also had business strikes. The topic here is the Henry Miller collection.

II. Henry Miller

Henry Miller collected coins for decades before passing in 2009. He lived and worked in New York City. Miller collected Proof Liberty Head Double Eagles ‘by date’ and gold coins from many other series mostly ‘by type.’ Though Miller had a few pre-1834 Half Eagles and some early 20th century gold coins, he generally focused on U.S. gold coins of the second half of the 19th century. Additionally, he had an accumulation of ‘not rare date’ Liberty Head and Saint Gaudens Double Eagles. Also, Miller had a complete 1887 Proof Set, copper, nickel, silver and gold, which Eric Streiner regards as “a fantastic set.”

Eric Streiner remembers Miller’s coins though he has not seen any of them for more than a dozen years. Streiner “knew the guy quite well. Miller really liked his coins. He spent a lot of time looking at his coins,” Streiner recounts. Eric emphasizes that Miller was an enthusiastic collector.

Eric reports that “Miller bought most of his coins in the 1970s from dealers in the New York area, many from Stack’s. He bought some at auction, but mostly he bought coins privately,” Streiner says. “He bought a few coins in the mid 1990s,” Eric adds.

Streiner relates that, “in the late 1980s or early 1990s,” Eric arranged for Miller’s coins to be submitted to the NGC for grading and encapsulation. Streiner remembers that Miller contacted him through Stack’s. At the time, Eric was a very young dealer who had a reputation as a grading wizard. I (this writer) heard many stories, some clearly verifiable, of Eric spotting coins that were undergraded, or not clearly graded, by other coin dealers.

John Albanese recollects that, “a long time ago, probably in the late 1980s, [he] had lunch at a seafood restaurant with Eric Streiner and Henry Miller, who was a really nice guy.” Albanese is glad to have had the opportunity to view Miller’s Proofs again. Recently, Heritage sent many of Miller’s Proof coins to the CAC.

John Albanese was the sole founder of the NGC in 1987. Mark Salzberg, the largest current shareholder in the NGC, joined Albanese as a partner in 1988. Ten years later, Albanese sold his shares in the NGC to Salzberg. In 2007, John founded the CAC, which evaluates the quality of coins that are already graded and encapsulated by the PCGS or the NGC. Submitted coins may be approved or rejected. Approved coins receive a CAC sticker.

Both Albanese and Streiner were very impressed by the quality of Miller’s coins. Streiner, “even around twenty years later,” recalls Miller’s coins “as great pieces, nice original stuff, mostly gem, definitely good eye appeal.” Indeed, John and Eric separately emphasized that Miller’s Proof gold coins tend to be “original,” meaning that these have never been dipped, substantially cleaned, or doctored.

Though Streiner “hates to say it,” Eric is concerned that “some of these coins might lose their original surfaces, after the auction”! Some dealers will dip or doctor them in efforts to get higher grades assigned.

I (this writer) suggest that collectors bid on many of Miller’s coins at the auction for several reasons, one of which would be to prevent dippers and coin doctors from buying them. Proof 19th century gold coins with natural toning and mostly to fully original surfaces are wonders to behold. In addition to Proof Double Eagles, the Miller collection contains a wide variety of gold type coins, some of which are not expensive.

III. 1823 $5 Gold Coin

An 1823 Half Eagle ($5 gold coin) is expensive and is the leading business strike in the Henry Miller collection. It is a prized type coin. Capped Head Half Eagles are the most difficult series of all U.S. coins to even 80% complete. Though the 1823 is one of the least rare dates of the whole type, there may be fewer than eighty known in all grades, including those that are ungradable.

It is my belief that there are fewer than forty true gems known for the whole Capped Head, Large size type, which was minted from 1813 to 1829. The data published by the PCGS and the NGC include some multiple counts of individual coins. The Miller 1823 may be the second finest known 1823 Half Eagle. It is the only 1823 Half Eagle that is NGC graded MS-65 and none have been assigned a higher grade by the PCGS or the NGC.

Miller’s 1823 has a CAC sticker of approval. Albanese remarks that “I [John] remember really liking the coin; it is mostly original and just beautiful. One of my favorite early gold coins seen over the last few years,” Albanese declares.

IV. Type Coins

While his 1823 Half Eagle is the most important, Miller had many gold type coins. The Miller collection, according to Heritage cataloguers, contains high grade business strikes of all three types of One Dollar Gold pieces, plus several Proof Gold Dollars of the third type. The most newsworthy of Miller’s One Dollar Gold pieces is his 1864, which is NGC certified Proof-64 Cameo and has a CAC sticker.  Albanese was very impressed with this 1864.

Quarter Eagles ($2½ gold coins) are not really well represented in the Miller collection. His one business strike is worth noting. It is an 1848 with the ‘Cal.’ imprint on the reverse (back). For one year only, and only on Quarter Eagles, the Philadelphia Mint identified a relatively small number of gold coins as having been made from gold that was mined in California. The ‘California Gold Rush’ had just begun. Miller’s 1848 is NGC graded MS-64 with a star for eye appeal

All of Miller’s Proof Quarter Eagles have CAC stickers. He had at least five Proof Liberty Head Quarter Eagles and one Proof Indian Head Quarter Eagle, a 1913 that is NGC certified Proof-65.

Miller’s 1875 is NGC certified ‘Proof-64 Cameo.’ In fact, the Heritage website suggests that the Miller collection contains two such 1875 Quarter Eagles, lot #5035 and #5036, though the ‘print’ catalogue indicates that only one of these two is from the Miller collection. Either way, there seem to be two Proof 1875 Quarter Eagles in the upcoming Platinum Night event.

Proof 1875 Quarter Eagles are particularly important, as these are not only extremely rare in their own right, corresponding business strikes are very rare. As fewer than fifty business strikes survive with hardly any in choice condition, collectors of high quality business strike Quarter Eagles often demand Proofs.

A ’64’ grade business strike 1875 would be much more difficult to obtain, if one could be obtained at all. Miller’s Proof 1864 Quarter Eagle is even more important than a Proof 1875.

Business strike 1864 Quarter Eagles are even rarer than business strike 1875 Quarter Eagles. While Proof 1864s are not quite as rare as Proof 1875s, the combined business strike and Proof total of 1864s is less than the respective combined total of 1875 Quarter Eagles. Most collectors are not aware of the extreme rarity of 1864 Quarter Eagles. The number known of Proofs and business strikes combined is less than forty-six, maybe substantially less.

Generally, Albanese has a high regard for Proof 1864 Quarter Eagles, which, he says, “come really nice. They were made very well, as good as any current Proof Gold coin that you will see. Collectors very much like them, they come with amazing contrast. They are similar to Proof 1896 and 1897 Quarter Eagles,” John explains. “For a Proof Liberty Head Quarter Eagle for a type set,” a collector may wish for an 1864, an 1896 or an 1897. Albanese emphasizes that Proofs of these dates tend to be special, with “great contrast and a lot of cool frost.” Also, Albanese mentions that 1864 Quarter Eagles are “popular as a Civil War date.”

Albanese finds that the Miller Proof 1864 Quarter Eagle is exceptional for its NGC assigned grade of “65.” It received a coveted CAC ‘Gold’ sticker. Typically, CAC stickers are green.

Miller made considerable progress towards a set of Proof Three Dollar Gold pieces, though I am not sure that he ever planned to complete such a set. As already noted, he had a complete 1887 Proof set. It may be true that Miller, at one time, planned to build gold Proof sets of certain dates, like 1861, 1863, 1864 and 1873. He has Proofs of multiple denominations of some of these dates.

In any event, Three Dollar Gold coins were minted from 1854 to 1889. The Miller collection contains Proofs of the following dates: 1858, 1861, 1863, 1864, 1868, 1870, 1876, 1881 and 1887.

As for Proof Half Eagles, Miller may have obtained his 1873 to serve as a type coin. I hypothesize that Miller’s Proof 1881 Half Eagle was part of an 1881 Proof gold set, though this set is not mentioned as such in the Heritage catalogue. Miller had a Proof 1881 One Dollar Gold piece, a Proof 1881 Quarter Eagle, a Proof 1881 Three Dollar gold coin, a Proof 1881 Half Eagle, a Proof 1881 Eagle and a Proof 1881 Double Eagle. Clearly, he had a set.

As for Eagles ($10 gold coins), Miller had four Proof Liberty Head Eagles and one Proof Indian Head Eagle, a 1914. His 1887 Eagle, NGC PF-65 Cameo with a CAC sticker, is part of his 1887 Proof set. As just mentioned, his 1881, NGC PF-65 with a CAC sticker, is part of an 1881 Proof gold set.

His Proof 1861 Eagle is PCGS graded Proof-65 and also has a CAC sticker. It is extremely rare as a Proof, though business strike 1861 Eagles are not rare. As best as I can tell, Miller has just one business strike Eagle, a 1908.

Most of the coins in the Miller consignment are Double Eagles. He had numerous business strikes from the 1850s, including some important New Orleans Mint issues. His two 1852-O Double Eagles have received much attention, as has his 1857-O, which is NGC graded MS-62 and has a CAC sticker.

The Miller collection contains numerous Liberty Head and Saint Gaudens Double Eagles of common dates and slightly better dates, mostly in grades from MS-61 to MS-64. These do not seem to fit into Miller’s collecting strategies, and may have been impulse purchases. Streiner insists that Miller was not collecting such coins and may have bought them “on whim” or “for bullion” related purposes.

The most important Philadelphia Mint business strike Double Eagle in the Miller collection is an 1881 that is NGC graded AU-55 and has a CAC sticker of approval. Tentatively, I suggest that there are less than fifteen 1881 Proofs and fewer than eighty-five business strikes, for a total of less than one hundred 1881 Double Eagles in existence.

V. Proof $20 Gold Coins

The Henry Miller collection will be best remembered for its awesome run of Proof Liberty Head Double Eagles. “A lot of Proof coins in the Miller collection have their original skin,” Albanese found. John remarks that the Miller Proof Double Eagles from the “1860s were fantastic.”

The following is a list of Proof Liberty Head Double Eagles in the Miller collection that are NGC graded and have CAC stickers: 1860 (64), 1863 (64), 1864 (65), 1865 (64), 1867 (65+), 1870 (64), 1874 (64), 1880 (63), 1881 (65), 1882 (64), 1885 (66), 1886 (64), 1888 (64), 1892 (65).

I am here omitting designations of ‘Cameo’ as many of these were certified before NGC introduced the ‘Ultra Cameo’ designation and because I strongly maintain that a Proof with a cameo designation is not necessarily superior to a Proof of the same grade without such a designation. Buyers are placing too much weight on Cameo and Ultra Cameo designations. When evaluating or just appreciating a Proof coin, there are several other factors to consider besides the extent of the contrast between the devices and the fields. A coin WITHOUT a strong cameo contrast may be more attractive and/or of higher quality than a coin of the same date, type and certified grade, with a cameo designation.

Miller’s 1887 is NGC certified “Proof-67+*” and does not have a CAC sticker. Most of Miller’s Proof Double Eagles are in holders that are more than fifteen years old. This 1887 Double Eagle is in a holder that was issued within the last few months. It has been upgraded by the NGC. It is an important coin because 1887 Double Eagles are a Proof-only date and are extremely rare. There are no business strike 1887 Double Eagles. So, a collector who wishes to own an 1887 Double Eagle must buy a coin that was struck as a Proof.

Henry Miller seems to have had the best collection of Proof Liberty Head Double Eagles that has ‘come to light’ in a long time. The upcoming Platinum Night event 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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