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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: The Malibu Collection of Proof Liberty Seated Quarters, with information for beginning and intermediate collectors

News and Analysis of scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #31

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

I. The Malibu Collection

In Tampa, on Tuesday, Jan. 4, B&M will auction the second part of the Malibu Collection, among other consignments. The focus here is on Malibu’s collection of Proof Liberty Seated Quarters dating from 1863 to 1891.

This sale will occur almost exactly two months after B&M auctioned the first part of the Malibu Collection, in Baltimore. In my column of Nov. 17, I reviewed the sale of the Malibu set of Standing Liberty Quarters. On Nov. 4, B&M also auctioned Malibu’s business strike Liberty Seated Half Dollars and silver dollars. On Jan. 4, B&M will auction Malibu’s sets of Proof Liberty Seated Quarters, Proof Liberty Seated Half Dollars and Proof Liberty Seated Dollars, plus a few other coins from the Malibu collection, as well as a wide variety of items from other consignors.

This Jan. 4 auction will be conducted just prior to the FUN Convention. Please see last week’s column for a discussion of FUN Convention auctions and a review of the O’Neal Collection of Indian Head Half Eagles that Heritage will offer. (As always, clickable links are in blue.)

Since the collector who formed the Malibu collection has not granted permission for his name to be mentioned, the code name Malibu is employed for his overall collection, sets of specific series, and the collector himself. Other coins from the Malibu Collection may be auctioned in Baltimore in March. Most of the coins in the Malibu collection are, or were, included in set listings in the PCGS and NGC Registries.

Besides Malibu’s set of Standing Liberty Quarters, which was complete and excellent, each of his sets seems to be a ‘work in progress’ with some missing dates that are not difficult to find. It is sad that his sets of Proof Liberty Seated coins were not completed as he seems to have had both the budget and the dedication to ‘complete’ sets of ‘later date’ Liberty Seated Proof Quarters, half dollars and silver dollars, those dating from 1858 onwards.

Starting in 1858, Proof Sets were publicly offered by the U.S. Mint each year. Before then, Proof coins were released quietly to collectors and dealers who had contacts at the Philadelphia Mint or elsewhere in the U.S. Treasury Dept. While Proof sets were not available to collectors every year prior to 1858, my impression is that these were often available to collectors who took the initiative to seek Proof coins.

Generally, it is customary to define a set of each series of Proof Liberty Seated silver coins, or of Proof Liberty Head gold coins, as a collection of one of each issue from 1858 onwards. Pre-1858 Proofs tend to be much rarer, and a set of all Proof Liberty Seated coins would not be feasible.

Clearly, the Malibu collector was in the process of assembling sets of Proof quarters and halves dating from 1858 to 1891, and of Proof Liberty Seated Dollars dating from 1858 to 1873, which was the last year of Liberty Seated Dollars. The Malibu 1858 to 1891 set of Proof Liberty Seated Halves contains twenty seven Proofs of different dates, and a second Proof 1887 Half Dollar. This half set is missing eight dates.

A set of Proof Liberty Seated Dollars consists of sixteen dates and the Malibu set has eleven plus a duplicate Proof 1873 dollar. The PCGS and the NGC Registries ignore the 1866 ‘No Motto’ Proofs of quarters, halves and silver dollars, as these are mysterious strikings about which little is known, and were not available to the public. While the Malibu sets of halves and silver dollars are important, and will receive much attention when auctioned on Jan. 4th, the topic here is his set of Proof Liberty Seated Quarters.

II. Proof Liberty Seated Quarters

I have always found Proof Liberty Seated Quarters to be among the most appealing of all U.S. coins. The Liberty Seated motif on the quarter, to my eyes, looks better than similar obverse central images on the Liberty Seated Half Dollar and silver dollar. Besides, completing such a set of Proof Liberty Seated Quarters is not difficult and is much less costly than corresponding sets of halves and silver dollars.

For one of the least rare dates of the ‘With Motto’ type in Proof-65, a quarter might cost around $2000, a half around $4000, and a dollar around $15,000. These are ballpark figures and should not be narrowly interpreted. Also, Proof ‘With Motto’ Liberty Seated Quarters that grade less than ’65’ will cost less than $2000, sometimes much less, and Proofs that truly grade above 65 will cost much more.

As for the Malibu Set of Proof Liberty Seated Quarters, twenty four different dates in the set have been consigned to this Jan. 4th auction. The quarters consigned seem to be consistent with the set as it is itemized in the PCGS set registry, except for the Malibu 1870 quarter, which is in an NGC holder. The Malibu 1870 is NGC certified as Proof-67 and is CAC approved.

The CAC, which was founded by John Albanese in 2007, is not affiliated with the PCGS or the NGC. The CAC approves or rejects coins that are already graded and encapsulated by the PCGS or the NGC. Several quarters in the Malibu set are CAC approved.

The Malibu set listing of Proof Liberty Seated Quarters in the NGC registry lists three Proof Liberty Seated Quarters that were not consigned to this auction. Two of these are PCGS certified and are not listed as parts of the Malibu Set in the PCGS registry, an 1861 that is PCGS certified Proof-64 and an 1862 that is PCGS certified Proof-65. Both are said to have been added to this Malibu set on March 4, 2009. Additionally, an 1859 quarter that is NGC certified Proof-66 is also indicated as being part of the Malibu Set of Proof Liberty Seated Quarters. Maybe these three coins will be in a future B&M auction, though it would have made sense for them to have been part of this set in the Jan. 4th auction.

Oddly, while this Malibu set in the NGC Registry includes two PCGS graded quarters that are not in the corresponding listing in the PCGS Registry, the listing in the NGC registry omits some of the quarters that are in the PCGS Registry. Evidently, the NGC listing was not fully updated or errors were made. As listed, the Malibu set of 1858 to 1891 Proof Liberty Seated Quarters ranks fourth in the NGC Registry.

Though I have not seen most of the coins included, my ‘gut’ impression and information from my sources suggest that the Malibu Set of Proof Liberty Seated Quarters is very impressive and desirable overall. In the PCGS Registry, the Malibu set is the seventh “All-Time Finest” in its category, and the fourth “All-Time Finest” of sets that were actually registered by their respective owners. Keep in mind that it is only about two-thirds complete. (NGC certified coins are not permitted in the PCGS Registry, though PCGS certified coins are allowed in the NGC Registry.)

Certainly, the Malibu collector could have made this set 100% complete, and it would rank higher, in both registries, had he done so. His spending on coins in general and the fact that other more difficult Malibu sets were more complete suggests that the Malibu collector could easily afford to finish a set of Proof Liberty Seated Quarters dating from 1858 to 1891. In November, his set of Standing Liberty Quarters realized megabucks, including six figure individual coins. (See my column of Nov. 17th.)

In the PCGS Registry, the Malibu set has a weighted grade point average of “66.41.” Malibu has just two Proof Liberty Seated Quarters that have a PCGS designation of ‘Deep Cameo.’ Unfortunately, in my view, the PCGS grants two bonus points to a Proof Liberty Seated coin’s respective grade if it has a ‘Deep Cameo’ designation and one point for a not as deep ‘Cameo’ designation.

Such bonus points are typical of formulas that determine scores in PCGS Registry Set competitions. For most of the history of coin collecting, there was not a belief that a Proof coin with a deep cameo contrast is more desirable than a Proof with neat blue and russet toning and no such contrast. A recent emphasis on such contrasts has encouraged dealers to immerse Proof coins in acidic solutions, standard dipping, in hopes of bringing about a sharper contrast by burning and stripping the surfaces. (Please see my three part series on naturally toned coins, part 1part 2part 3, and my column of Sept. 8, to gain an understanding of dipping.)

Beautiful toning on silver coins is sometimes stripped away with the aim of getting a ‘Deep Cameo’ designation from the PCGS or an ‘Ultra Cameo’ designation from the NGC. This is a tragedy; such toning often developed gradually in the holdings of great collections over a period of decades and may be destroyed in seconds. The PCGS should deduct points from registry listings of Proof silver coins that have been artificially brightened.

Unlike many 19th century Proof silver coins that have received a ‘Deep Cameo’ designation, Malibu’s two quarters with this designation do NOT appear, via online images, to have been artificially brightened. Indeed, I doubt that either was dipped in recent years. Among most sophisticated collectors, coins with both substantial natural toning and a ‘Deep Cameo’ contrast are more highly regarded than dipped white coins with a ‘Deep Cameo’ contrast.

The Malibu 1875 is PCGS certified ‘PR-65 Deep Cameo’ and is CAC approved. It features neat shades of russet toning. The Malibu 1882 quarter is PCGS certified ‘PR-64+ Deep Cameo.’ Thick and rich toning on the obverse (front) suggests that this coin has not been dipped in decades and maybe never was dipped. It is a cool coin.

Overall, the respective scores of the Malibu Set of Proof Liberty Seated Quarters in the PCGS and NGC registries do not accurately reflect the quality of the coins in this set. Of course, it is fair for a set registry to incorporate rarity, certified grades, special designations and completeness in a total score, not just quality. Nevertheless, consider that many of Malibu’s quarters are naturally and wonderfully toned. Competing sets with many artificially brightened coins may score higher or nearly as high in a set registry. Also, the Malibu Set is missing some coins that are not difficult to find and a ‘complete’ set of mostly less appealing coins may thus have a higher total score. So, as Malibu did not complete this set, it is impossible to draw a firm conclusion as to how great it could have been.

III. ‘No Motto’ Liberty Seated Quarters

One of the more important quarters in this set is the 1863. It is PCGS certified Proof-66 and is in a PCGS ‘Secure’ holder. (Please read my two part series on the PCGS SecurePlus program to attain an understanding of the meaning and significance of a ‘Secure’ holder: part 1, part 2.) A large number of coins in the Malibu collection are in PCGS ‘Secure’ holders.

The Malibu 1863 quarter has a distinctive pedigree as it was earlier part of the Benson collection. The Benson collection was ‘off the market’ for decades before it was auctioned by the Goldbergs in 2001 and 2002. Generally, advanced ‘coin doctors’ (unethical surgeons) did not have the opportunity to tamper with coins that were ‘off the market’ since the 1940s. Moreover, a large percentage of the coins in the Benson collection had never been substantially cleaned and showed no signs of having been dipped. Many had (and hopefully still possess) pleasant natural toning. The “Benson” collector purchased a set of Proof quarters, dating from 1858 to 1916, intact from a widely known coin dealer in 1944.

This Malibu-Benson 1863 is one of a very small number, probably five to seven, of different Proof 1863 quarters that the PCGS has graded 66. Furthermore, the PCGS has not assigned a grade higher than 66 to a Proof 1863 quarter. The images suggest that this coin’s toning is both natural and impressive, though I would have to examine this coin in actuality to form my own opinion regarding its quality and eye appeal. The PCGS price guide values a Proof-66 1863 quarter at $11,500.

The Malibu 1864 Liberty Seated Quarter is PCGS certified ‘PR-64+ Cameo’ and is in a ‘Secure’ holder. It is CAC approved. When the CAC approves a coin that is certified as grading “64+,” such approval does not necessarily mean that CAC experts agree with the ‘+’ grade. In this case, it means that CAC experts regard the grade of this coin as being either in the middle OR the high end (+ area) of the 64 grade range.

This 1864 quarter may turn out to be an excellent value for a collector who wishes an attractive, naturally toned ‘No Motto’ Proof Liberty Seated Quarter, but does not wish to spend the amount required for a 65 grade coin. The PCGS price guide values this coin at $3500, though I would not be shocked if it sold for more than $3500. A ’65’ grade representative of this issue would be worth somewhere between $4750 and $8000, depending upon its individual characteristics.

Other than the one mysterious, unique 1866 ‘No Motto’ quarter, which I have seen, the last issue of the ‘No Motto’ quarter type was dated 1865. The Malibu 1865 quarter is PCGS certified ‘Proof-65 Cameo’ and is in a ‘Secure’ holder. In addition, it has a sticker of approval from the CAC, which means that experts at the CAC have determined that its grade is in the middle or high end of the 65 range. The Malibu 1865 is probably one of the ten finest known Proof 1865 quarters. Jeff Ambio tells me that “it is beautiful, a fully original Gem.” Jeff emphasized the term ‘gem’ in this context. The online images of this coin are certainly appealing.

IV. Types of Liberty Seated Quarters

Except the 1853 ‘Arrows & Rays’ issue, which is a distinct one-year type, Proof quarters minted from 1840 to 1865 are of the ‘No Motto’ type, as the motto, “In God We Trust,” was added to the reverse (back of the coin) in 1866. ‘No Motto’ Proof quarters are rarer than ‘With Motto’ Proof quarters. Collectors assembling relevant type sets typically demand one ‘No Motto’ Liberty Seated Quarter and one ‘With Motto’ Liberty Seated Quarter. Type collectors often demand additional types of Liberty Seated Quarters as well, representatives of the ‘No Drapery’ (1838-40), 1853 Arrows & Rays, and 1873-74 ‘Arrows’ issues. Proofs of the ‘No Drapery’ and 1853 issues are so rare, however, that these are almost unobtainable. Business strikes of these two types are not hard to locate.

So, the pre-1866 Proofs in the Malibu set of Liberty Seated Quarters are generally scarcer and more valuable than the ‘With Motto’ Proofs. The Malibu Proof 1874 ‘With Arrows’ Quarter, however, is of a distinct subtype and is probably the most valuable quarter in this Malibu set.

For coins of the same quality, more or less, AND with the same certified grade, each Proof ‘No Motto’ issue of the 1860s tend to be roughly equal in value. Such rough equality in value is also largely true of ‘With Motto’ Proof Liberty Seated Quarters that date from 1866 to 1873 and from 1875 to 1891. At some point in 1873, arrows were added to the obverse (front) design of Liberty Seated Quarters. In 1873 and 1874, Proofs (and business strikes) of this ‘With Arrows’ subtype were struck and these command a strong premium over the typical ‘No Motto’ Proof issues. These 1873 and 1874 ‘With Arrows’ issues are often included in type sets.

The Malibu Collection contains a Proof 1874 ‘With Arrows’ Quarter, but not an 1873. The Malibu 1874 is PCGS certified ‘Proof-65+ Cameo’ and is in a ‘Secure’ holder. The PCGS price guide values this coin at $10,500. The B&M cataloguer states that “the toning is simply outstanding, both sides awash in a target-like distribution of sea-green, cobalt-blue, reddish-lavender and golden-apricot colors.”

Someone who does not wish to collect Proof Liberty Seated Quarters ‘by date’ could assemble a post-1860 type set of just three quarters, or a type set of all Liberty Seated coins. Collecting ‘by type’ is less expensive and less time consuming than collecting ‘by date.’ Until a collector feels sure that he wishes to focus upon particular series, collecting ‘by type’ may be fun and educational.

It is a good idea to learn about the coins of coins that interest the respective collector before spending megabucks on very rare dates. Additionally, it is not unusual to mix business strikes and Proofs in type sets. So, a type collector may easily control his budget and may learn about a variety of coins while building a type set of one denomination or one time period, in one or more metals.

©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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