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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: The Rarities Night auction, part 3, Gold Coins

News and Analysis on scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #67

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

This is my third column in a series on the ‘Rarities Night’ event that will be held on Thursday, Aug. 18, during the ANA Convention, in Rosemont, near Chicago.

In part 1, I provide an overview and discuss a few coins that will be offered. In part 2, I focus on dimes, quarters and half dollars.  Here in part 3, I focus U.S. gold coins that will be offered. The meaning of a ‘Rarities Night’ and the fact that this is the first one to be conducted by Stack’s-Bowers are discussed in part 1. It suffices to say here that coins offered during Rarities Night are rare, unusual, highly certified for their respective issues, and/or are especially valuable for other reasons.

I. $2½ Gold Coins

U.S. Quarter Eagles ($2½ gold coins) were minted from 1796 to 1929, though not in every year in between. There were two types in 1796 and both are represented in this auction.

There will be offered a 1796 ‘No Stars’ that is NGC graded MS-60 and two 1796 ‘With Stars’ Quarter Eagles, one of which is NGC certified “MS-63*.” I am somewhat accepting of the 63 grade. It is certainly one of the finest known 1796 ‘With Stars’ Quarter Eagles. It was formerly in the John Whitney Collection of 1796 dated coins, which Stack’s auctioned on May 4, 1999. I believe that it might have been dipped since that event, unfortunately. Even so, it is certainly high in the condition rankings for this issue.

The other ‘1796 With Stars’ in this auction is PCGS graded “AU-53.” I am not sure about it. As there are probably only around thirty legitimately gradable 1796 ‘With Stars’ Quarter Eagles in existence, and fewer than fifty-five overall, collectors of early Quarter Eagles should not hope to choose among pristine 1796 Quarter Eagles. A Quarter Eagle enthusiast would be lucky to own one in any grade.

From an aesthetic standpoint, the most appealing Bust Quarter Eagle in this auction is an 1806/5 overdate that is PCGS graded AU-55 and has a CAC sticker. Its mostly original surfaces are characterized by a little honest wear and cool coppery tones. It is truly a choice almost uncirculated Bust Quarter Eagle. Moreover, this coin is definitely extremely rare. “It is estimated that fewer than thirty-five” are known, says the cataloguer. This would be my estimate as well.

This is the only 1806/5 Quarter Eagle that has been approved by the CAC. The PCGS and the NGC together have probably graded eighteen different 1806/5 Quarter Eagles. I really like this coin. There is another in this same auction, an 1806/5 that is not gradable. The NGC indicates that it has the uncirculated level “details.”

The 1843-O Liberty Head Quarter Eagle in this sale is noteworthy. It is of the ‘Large Date’ variety, which is much scarcer than the 1843-O ‘Small Date’ variety. Collectors of Liberty Head Quarter Eagles ‘by date’ tend to demand one of each, an 1843-O Large Date and an 1843-O Small Date. The 1843-O ‘Large Date’ is very rare, in my view. Indeed, fewer than 150 exist, including the ungradable.

The 1843-O in this sale is PCGS graded MS-61 and has a CAC sticker. It is certainly attractive. The contrast between the devices (design elements) and the fields is pleasing. It has only been lightly dipped, which is not unusual. Overall, it is relatively more original than most other 1843-O Quarter Eagles. There is some light friction on the highpoints, which is generally expected on most coins that are certified as grading “61.” Indeed, a 61 grade coin that had no such friction would probably have some moderately to very serious problems, like deep gashes, long scratches, or a thorough moderate to heavy cleaning. This coin is especially nice looking for a MS-61 grade Branch Mint Quarter Eagle from the 1840s.

This 1843-O Quarter Eagle is from the “Raji” collection, which I refer to in part 1. Lot tags from auctions in 1977 and 1983 are included. It seems to be a very fresh coin.

A ‘Rarities Night’ would not be complete without a Great Rarity. This auction contains a few. One is an 1854-S Quarter Eagle, the rarest date in the whole series of U.S. Quarter Eagles. I have written about this exact same coin before, in my column of July 28, 2010. It is not gradable. This 1854-S, though, looks much better in actuality than it does in images. It may be sharply demanded by collectors who aim to complete a set of Quarter Eagles in the near future.

There is an appealing group of Proof Liberty Head Quarter Eagles in this auction, starting with an 1867, which is PCGS certified ‘Proof-65 Cameo’ and has a CAC sticker. This is an excellent coin. Although it is more than very attractive, a few hairlines and small scratches keep it from being awarded a higher grade. The minimum bid is $34,500. Experts at the PCGS estimate that there are “about twenty-five known.”

Proof 1897, 1898 and 1899 Quarter Eagles also grabbed my attention, a very pleasant trio. The natural toning and overall originality of the Raji Collection 1899 is wonderful. It is PCGS certified ‘Proof-66 Deep Cameo’ and it has been approved by the CAC. There is no reserve on this coin.

The ‘Raji’ Proof 1911 Indian Head Quarter Eagle is really neat, too. Such original surfaces are special and not seen often. Just examining this coin is an educational experience. It is NGC certified ‘Proof-66’ and has a CAC sticker.

Among business strikes, the 1911 Denver Mint issue is the key date in the series of Indian Head Quarter Eagles, though coins of this type are generally very common and 1911-D Quarter Eagles are not rare overall. Nevertheless, a set of Indian Head Quarter Eagles can be fully completed without much difficulty, and is less expensive than other complete sets of gold coins. This series is popular among collectors.

The 1911-D in this auction is PCGS graded “MS-64+” and is in a PCGS ‘Secure’ holder. Furthermore, it has an attribution from the PCGS that indicates the mintmark is ‘strong’ as opposed to faint, and is thus worth a premium. This 1911-D has pleasing mellow luster and just a few hairlines. A scratch below TE in UNITED is a concern, though not a big deal. I like this coin.

II. $5 Gold coins

The offering of Capped Head Half Eagles (1813-34) in this auction is much more impressive than the offering of Bust Half Eagles (1795-1812). In part 1, I mention the “Raji Collection” 1821 Half Eagle, which has been ‘off the market’ since 1983. It is NGC graded AU-55 and is ‘high end’ for the 55 grade and may qualify for a higher grade. Even a ‘low end’ certified 55 grade 1821 would, though, be extremely important.

I suggest that only sixteen to eighteen 1821 Half Eagles exist, including both die varieties. The sixteen certified by the PCGS and the NGC probably only amount to ten or eleven different coins.

There are two in the Smithsonian, a Proof and a business strike, and two in the Harry Bass Core Collection, likewise a Proof and a business strike, so I am told. Two or three others are around. Clearly, the 1821 Half Eagle is a Great Rarity.

Though not a Great Rarity, the 1823 Half Eagle is an extremely rare coin. Many of those listed as being graded by the PCGS or the NGC are resubmissions of some of the same coins. As a large proportion of 1823s grade from MS-61 to MS-64, there is a tremendous incentive to submit each of these repeatedly in hopes of receiving higher grades. There is also an incentive to crackout those that are certified as MS-64 and try for a 65! Moreover, there were not many people collecting rare date gold in the 1990s. Most of the auction appearances in the 1990s and early 2000s were of the same 1823 Half Eagles being consigned over and over again by wholesaling dealers or other speculators.

In the early 2000s, a boom in collecting rare date gold began. Tremendous interest in rare date gold continues.

The fifty three certified by the PCGS and the NGC probably represent forty different 1823 Half Eagles and there are surely ten to twenty others. So, fifty to sixty exist, I hypothesize. Note that my estimate is much lower than the estimates put forth by Ron Guth, one hundred, or JD, eighty to one hundred.

The 1823 in this auction is PCGS graded “MS-64.” It seems to just make the grade, maybe, ‘low end’ for a 64. This coin is hard to grade because the PCGS holder itself is scratched and scuffed. Even so, I find that this is an attractive coin.

For a pre-1840 gold coin, this 1823 Half Eagle scores somewhat high in the category of originality. Its light, pale-green yellow gold color is appealing. A retail price would be in the $75,000 to $95,000 range. The minimum bid is $69,000.

Other Capped Head Half Eagles in this auction include an 1813, a non-rare date, three 1818s, an 1830 and an 1832. Of all types of U.S. coins that lasted for more than two years, the series of Capped Head Half Eagles is the most difficult to even 80% complete.

As a result, more people collect Liberty Head Half Eagles and many of those collectors specialize in Branch Mint issues. The 1841 Charlotte Mint Half Eagle in this auction is worth noting. This is a very rare coin in all grades and an extremely small number have been certified as grading above MS-60.

This 1841-C is PCGS graded “MS-62+” and in a ‘Secure’ holder. (Please see my two part series on the PCGS SecurePlus program: part 1, part 2.) This exact same 1841-C was auctioned by Heritage in June 2010 for $23,000. The Heritage cataloguer provided an extensive pedigree and asserted that this “is the second finest known 1841-C Half Eagle behind the amazing Pittman Collection NGC MS-64 coin.” This conclusion makes sense to me. I find this coin to be strictly uncirculated and attractive. The ’62+’ grade is fair.

The 1843 New Orleans Mint Half Eagle in this auction is even more important than the 1841-C. It is probably the finest known of the ‘Small Letters’ variety, which tends to be collected as if it is as a distinct date. This issue is very rare to extremely rare in all grades. This is the only one graded MS-65 by the PCGS. There is only one graded MS-65 by the NGC, which may be this same coin, or may be inferior to this one. This exact same coin was auctioned for $69,000 by Heritage in April 2008.

I like this 1843-O. It is moderately brilliant. The pale orange head of Miss Liberty contrasts well with mellow greenish fields on the obverse. There are some hairlines and tics in the obverse fields, though these are not particularly distracting, and are allowable within the definition of a 65 grade. The reverse is technically stronger than the obverse. The overall grade seems to be in the middle of the 65 range. The minimum bid of $57,500 seems very reasonable.

The 1861 Dahlonega (Georgia) Mint Half Eagle in this auction is important. This exact same coin was auctioned by Heritage in Jan. 2004 for $74,750. It was then PCGS graded “MS-62.” It is now PCGS graded “MS-63”, and is one of only three so graded. It was previously in the King Farouk, Norweb family, and Harry Bass collections. In the past, it has been said that it is “tied” as being the third finest known 1861-D Half Eagle. I am not putting forth a condition ranking here. The minimum bid is $143,750 ($125k+15%).

This ‘Rarities Night’ event features a particularly extensive selection of Carson City (Nevada) coins from the early 1870s, several of which are very rare. Please see Saturday’s column (part 2) for a discussion of Dick Osburn’s terrific 1870-CC Liberty Seated Half Dollar. Furthermore, there are two 1870-CC quarters in this auction. Plus, an 1871-CC dime and an 1873-CC dime will be offered, both of which are key dates in the series of Liberty Seated Dimes.

Among Half Eagles, there is an 1871-CC, an 1872-CC and an 1873-CC. These are NGC graded: 58, 58 and 50, respectively. All three are “From the William Porter Collection” and are being sold without reserve.

The 1871-CC Half Eagle is a very rare coin. Certainly, fewer than 200 are known, including the ungradable, maybe just 160. The PCGS and the NGC together have only graded four as “Mint State,” and these four may not all be different coins. This 1871-CC, has been lightly dipped and lightly to moderately cleaned. I do not, however, see any true wear. It may merit an ‘MS’ grade.

The 1872-CC is even rarer than the 1871-CC. This exact same 1872-CC was in Heritage’s auction of August 2006 in Denver. I like Porter’s 1871-CC Half Eagle much more than his 1872-CC Half Eagle.

The Porter 1873-CC is very much acceptable for a certified 50 grade Carson City gold coin from the early 1870s. Collectors expect these to have many imperfections. The obverse has been moderately cleaned extensively, though not badly in any one place, and the reverse was not cleaned nearly as much. The coin is just a little lighter than it should be, because of the cleaning or possibly a very light dipping. It is not awkwardly light. Indeed, its color is mostly original.

The 1873-CC is rarer than the 1871-CC or 1872-CC Half Eagle issues. Probably only seventy to eighty DIFFERENT 1873-CC Half Eagles have been PCGS or NGC graded, and there must be more than eighty collectors who strongly desire them. The 1881-CC Half Eagle is also very rare and “William Porter” consigned the 1881-CC Half Eagle that is the highest certified by the NGC, “MS-63.”

The 1909-O Indian Half Eagle in this sale is a condition rarity, to say the least. It is one of only two that the NGC has certified as “MS-65.” The PCGS has certified one as “MS-65” and the Eliasberg-O’Neal 1909-O as “MS-66.” Curiously, there has been much debate among experts concerning the grades of all four of these, the only certified ‘Gem’ 1909-O Half Eagles. It is not practical to discuss condition rankings for 1909-O Half Eagles here. This particular 1909-O Half Eagle has been in several auctions over the last five years. It is a very attractive coin.

The Eliasberg-“Raji” Proof 1911 Indian Head Half Eagle is one of my favorite coins in this auction. It is PCGS certified ‘Proof-66’ and is CAC approved. I already mentioned it in my article about Eliasberg coins traveling to Chicago. It was thrilling to examine it. This Proof 1911 is just indescribably cool. As of Aug. 15th, the reserve has been met and the next bid will be $32,775. It is worth more.

III. $10 Gold Coins

This auction contains five 1795 Eagles ($10 gold coins.) The NGC graded “MS-64” is better than at least two of the five in total that have been NGC graded “MS-64.” I have seen four of the five NGC graded “MS-64” 1795 Eagles.

The 1795 Eagle with nine leaves, rather than the usual thirteen leaves, on the branch on the reverse (back) is extremely rare. The PCGS and NGC data includes multiple counts of same of the same coins. There are probably fifteen to eighteen in existence. Though it has multiple apparent imperfections, I like this one. I remember when it was auctioned by Stack’s in June 2008, as part of the “Husky” collection. It is NGC graded “AU-58.” Recently, I wrote about a better one, which was auctioned as part of the Magnolia Collection.

Overall, there is an extensive selection of Bust Eagles in this auction. I had intended to examine them again. There was just so much to see in this Rarities Night auction.

The consignor of the already mentioned early CC-Mint Half Eagles, “William Porter,” also consigned Carson City Eagles from the 1870s. The 1870-CC Eagle is extremely rare. Furthermore, neither the PCGS nor the NGC has assigned a grade of ‘MS-60’ or higher to one. The “William Porter” 1870-CC is NGC graded AU-50.

At a lot viewing session, two expert dealers were criticizing the 1870-CC Double Eagle in this sale for being dark and not particularly lustrous. I tried to explain that Carson City Mint coins from 1870 tend to be relatively dark and not lustrous. Usually, those that are lustrous are so because of artificial stimulation. While this 1870-CC Eagle has been moderately cleaned, it has quite a bit of original color. It looks much better than some other 1870-CC Eagles that I have seen. The NGC grade of “AU-50” is fair enough. This is a desirable and important coin.

The “William Porter” 1871-CC is NGC graded “AU-58.” This exact same coin was in a Heritage Internet-only auction in Sept. 2007, in which it realized $29,900. It may realize around the same amount during ‘Rarities Night.’

The Porter 1872-CC is NGC graded “AU-55.” The PCGS has graded two as “AU-58.” No other 1872-CC Eagles have been PCGS or NGC graded higher than 55. While no expert would argue that this coin grades ’55+,’ its 55 grade is probably acceptable to most dealers and collectors. I find the orange-russet toning in the outer fields to be appealing.

Though Doug Winter has estimated that sixty to seventy 1872-CC Eagles survive, my guess is that there are between eighty and ninety, including the ungradable. It will be interesting to see how much the William Porter 1872-CC realizes.

As I pointed out in part 1, the 1795-Nine Leaves, the 1875 and the 1933 are the three rarest issues of Eagles. Representatives of two of the three are in this ‘Rarities Night’ event. If just business strikes are considered, the 1875 is the rarest of the three. The highest PCGS certified 1875 business strike is in this auction.

This 1875 Eagle is PCGS graded “AU-53+.” This exact same coin was NGC graded “AU-53” when it was auctioned by Heritage in August 2001. It was then part of the “Genaitis Collection of 1875 Coinage.” The NGC has graded one as AU-55, the Richmond Collection 1875, which DLRC auctioned in July 2004. I covered that auction for Numismatic News weekly. I would have to ‘dig out’ my notes before comparing the Richmond 1875 to this one.

As for this one, Mark Feld has a positive impression of this 1875 and he agrees with its certified AU-53+ grade. I concur. I find it to be a fairly graded, attractive coin. The obverse is a little subdued. The reverse is crisper, with tan-golden highlights, and really comes alive when tilted under a light. Though it has been moderately cleaned, it has the sharpness of a 55 grade Liberty Eagle. To meet the reserve, a minimum bid of $345,000 is required.

IV. $20 Gold Coins

The offering of Double Eagles ($20 gold coins) in this auction is newsworthy. The selection of New Orleans Mint Double Eagles has much depth and the run of CC-Mint Double Eagles is extensive. The 1852-O is nice for an NGC graded “AU-58” coin from New Orleans during the 1850s. The PCGS graded “AU-53” 1855-O is okay.

As a Great Rarity, an 1856-O Double Eagle is desirable in any grade. This one is PCGS graded Very Fine-20 and is CAC approved. While I am not thrilled about it, Mark Feld declares that it is a “really nice, original looking and clean example.”

The 1866-S ‘No Motto’ that is NGC graded “MS-61” is the second highest certified by the NGC, of this date. To meet the reserve, a bid of $402,500 is needed. It is not an easy coin to grade.

I like the 1870-CC in this sale. It is NGC graded “AU-53.” Yes, it is not lustrous and it has numerous contact marks. I have devoted two articles to 1870-CC Double Eagles and I have seen many of them. These tend to be dark and to have a very large number of contact marks along with more than a few medium scratches. I suggest that collectors be very suspicious of 1870-CC Double Eagles that are bright or have relatively mark-free fields. I am almost certain that 1870-CC Double Eagles heavily banged against each other even before they departed the Carson City Mint. In 1870, no one was setting aside choice Double Eagles in Carson City, Nevada, a small city in a sparsely inhabited region that was not wealthy.

Of course, it is not practical to even attempt to review all of the rare coins to be offered in a major auction. I have selected coins that are rare, otherwise very important, or are interesting for other reasons. To some extent, I am biased in favor of coins that I like. In these three columns on this ‘Rarities Night’ auction, though, I have mentioned some coins that I am not enthusiastic about. I look forward to reporting the results of the first Stack’s-Bowers ‘Rarities Night,’ in part 4. I very much enjoyed viewing the contents of this auction.

©2011 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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