News and Analysis on scarce coins, markets, and the coin collecting community #46
A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds
It has already been reported that the PCGS certified ‘Specimen-65’ Naftzger-Parrino 1793 Chain Cent, with AMERI. on the reverse (back), was acquired by Bruce Morelan, who is a leading collector and a minority shareholder in Legend Numismatics. This large cent, though, was just one part of an accumulation of gem quality type coins. A Nevada investor acquired twenty-eight gems from Jay Parrino between 1992 and 1997. “Earlier this month,” Morelan reveals, he “bought them and sold the balance to Legend a few days later.” Of the twenty-eight, Bruce “kept” four coins for himself.
The seller of these twenty-eight coins just happened to meet Morelan in Las Vegas in a social setting. Their initial conversations were unrelated to coins. For a while, neither knew that the other owned high quality, rare U.S. coins. While Bruce is a very enthusiastic and exceptionally knowledgeable coin collector, the seller was an investor in coins.
Curiously, this Nevada investor is a collector of art. According to Morelan, he “collects Asian Ivory.” He owns ivory items featuring “dramatic and pastoral scenes.”
For the Nevada investor’s group of twenty-eight coins, Morelan paid an amount “between $5 million and $6 million.” The PCGS certified ‘Specimen-65’ Chain Cent was the only copper coin in the group. There was, though, an 1856 Flying Eagle Cent, which is 88% copper and 12% nickel. The group did NOT include any two cent pieces, three cent coins, five cent nickels, silver half dimes, dimes, or quarters. A substantial number of the coins were Proof Morgan Dollars. There were also a number of U.S. gold coins, primarily superb Proofs dating from the 1880s through 1912. Overall, the youngest coin in the group was minted in 1912.
The focus here is upon the coins that Morelan chose to keep for his personal collection, as Bruce’s type set is newsworthy and may have a very significant place in the history of coin collecting. Though Morelan has assembled several epic collections, each of which merits a lengthy analysis, these four coins relate to Morelan’s current project. “The emphasis is definitely pre-Civil War,” Bruce says. This type set, though, is not limited to coins minted prior to 1861. “It’s more about collecting great coins that speak to me,” Morelan declares.
Some late 19th century and early 20th century coins have really grabbed Bruce’s attention. “I have the finest Barber Quarter because it spoke to me,” Morelan relates. This quarter is a 1900-O that the PCGS has graded ‘MS-68+.‘
Though Morelan’s tentative, original plan did not include copper coins, he could not resist the ‘Specimen-65’ Chain Cent in this Nevada investor’s accumulation. The four coins that Morelan chose to keep for his own personal type set are this 1793 Chain Cent, an 1853 Liberty Seated Half Dollar, a 1799/8 Draped Bust Dollar, and an 1836 Gobrecht Dollar.
I. ‘Specimen-65’ 1793 Chain Cent
Chain Cents are among the most important of all U.S. type coins. These were the first one cent coins produced at the U.S. Mint. Chain Cents are much rarer than Wreath Cents overall, and the design of the Chain Cent, particularly on the reverse (back), is more distinctive. There are five varieties of Chain Cents, which have been labeled Sheldon numbers one through four and NC-1. The Naftzger-Parrino-Morelan piece is perhaps the most famous of all the survivors of the first variety, which is easy to recognize as ‘America’ is abbreviated as ‘AMERI.’ on the reverse (back). For simplicity, Chain Cents of this first variety are often referred to as ‘AMERI. Cents’ with the ‘I’ being pronounced as if it was ‘ee.’
The PCGS designation of this specific AMERI. Chain Cent as a ‘Specimen’ striking reflects an accepted view that it was specially struck for aesthetic and presentation purposes. This viewpoint holds that it is much sharper, in terms of design detail, than corresponding business strikes and that it has very strong reflective surfaces. It is maintained that the dies were specially prepared.
Though I have seen this coin, briefly long ago, I will refrain from putting forth my own opinion unless I can find my notes and/or have a chance to examine this coin again. As Bruce just bought it, his opinion of it is newsworthy.
This Chain Cent “blew me away,” Morelan declares. “From the images … I didn’t think it would be all that nice.” Morelan continues, “But, when I saw it in person, I couldn’t put it down, I kept going back to it and looking at it again. That’s when I knew I needed to own it. It kept speaking to me,” Bruce exclaims.
John Albanese is also very enthusiastic about this coin. It has a “needle sharp strike,” and a “fully prooflike, different surface,” John says. “It certainly does not look ordinary.” Indeed, it is one of the “top ten coins that I have ever seen,” Albanese asserts. John was the founder of the NGC in 1987 and he started the CAC in 2007.
Albanese told Morelan that this Chain Cent is the “coolest coin that you have ever owned.” Although I was already aware that Bruce formerly owned the Eliasberg 1885 Trade Dollar, at least two different 1884 Trade Dollars, the highest certified 1870-S silver dollar, and an 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece, among other coins, Bruce now reveals that he “owned two 1913 Liberty Nickels individually. They were my coins. I also have owned the Norweb 1838-O Half,” Morelan recalls.
Only one variety of Chain Cents features the AMERI. reverse. The other four varieties have the same AMERICA reverse design format. The AMERI. cents were the first U.S. cents struck. The others were struck a short time later. The PCGS distinguishes the AMERI. variety as having the status of a distinct date, and lumps the other four varieties into the same “AMERICA” listing. So, from the perspective of the PCGS, a collector of early large cents would need two Chain Cents to complete a set of “major” varieties, an AMERI. Chain Cent and an AMERICA Chain Cent. Very few people seriously attempt to collect all the varieties.
John Albanese declares, “an AMERI. Cent should be worth a multiple of any other Chain Cent of the same grade. Demand is much higher than supply for the AMERI. Cents,” John adds. Moreover, as the first large cents, Albanese regards the AMERI. cents as being inherently more important, “sort of like comparing 1794 silver dollars to 1795 [Flowing Hair] Dollars. To a certain degree, the [Naftzger-Morelan] AMERI. cent parallels the Carter 1794 silver dollar that is PCGS [certified] Specimen-66. It is really important” in terms of the history of U.S. coinage, Albanese concludes.
II. Proof-66 1836 Gobrecht Dollar
The silver dollars with the so called Gobrecht design are dated 1836, 1838 or 1839. There has been an ongoing debate among researchers regarding the time periods in which the various varieties were actually struck, and about their respective roles in the history of U.S. coinage. Scholarly debates notwithstanding, type coin collectors tend to choose just one Gobrecht Dollar for their sets. As these are expensive coins, collectors are usually happy to own one Gobrecht Dollar without worrying about exactly when it was struck.
As part of the twenty-eight coin Nevada deal, Morelan acquired one of the finest known Gobrecht Dollars of any date. It recently became PCGS certified Proof-66 and it was earlier NGC certified Proof-66. John Albanese closely inspected this piece. “It has completely natural, medium toning,” John reports, with “lavender and pink” colors. It is a “great original coin,” says Albanese.
Morelan states that the Nevada investor’s Gobrecht Dollar “amazed me because I’d in the past completed the finest short set of Gobrechts and this coin blew away anything in my old set.” This is a coin that I, this writer, would very much like to examine. I find the design and typical textures of Gobrecht Dollars to be unusually appealing.
III. Eliasberg 1799/8 Silver Dollar
Louis Eliasberg formed the all-time best collection of U.S. coins. The Eliasberg 1799/8 and the Nevada-Morelan 1799/8 are the same coin. It was recently PCGS graded MS-65. In 1997, it was NGC graded MS-66.
The 1799/8 means that this issue is an overdate and a nine was struck over a numeral eight. The obverse (front) die was probably, originally intended to be used for 1798 dollars and was later modified to be used to strike silver dollars dated 1799. This coin was auctioned by Bowers & Merena in New York in April 1997, as lot #2186.
Although there are a few varieties of 1799/8 silver dollars, the Eliasberg 1799/8 is often thought of as the finest known 1799/8 of any variety. Its natural toning is neat. It has probably never been dipped, at least not in the last sixty years.
IV. Proof 1853 Half Dollar
As for the Nevada-Morelan Proof 1853 Half Dollar, it would not make sense to say much until I have a chance to further research this coin. I am not drawing a conclusion about it. It is PCGS certified “Proof-65.” The PCGS and the NGC have certified fewer than eight different 1853 halves as Proofs. Only in 1853, half dollars featured arrows on the obverse (front) and rays on the reverse (back). These are generally determined to be one-year type coins, or at least need to be regarded as a one-year subtype of Liberty Seated Half Dollars. Arrows & Rays Half Dollars are thus highly demanded by collectors who are assembling type sets.
V. Proof Morgan Dollars
It seems that this Nevada accumulation had more than a few Proof Morgan silver dollars. In the mid 1990s, Parrino purchased a “California collection of Proof Morgan Dollars” that included many “finest known coins,” Jay relates. Also, Parrino acquired several Proof Morgans in the April 1997 auction of a large part of the Eliasberg collection.
The Nevada accumulation contained numerous Proof Morgans that are PCGS or NGC graded from 67 to 69. At least two were from the Eliasberg collection, an 1899 and an 1895, which is the key date of Proof Morgans. Albanese remembers the Eliasberg 1895 as having “lilac, pinkish and purple tones. It is a beautiful, never dipped coin.” It is NGC certified Proof-68 and it qualified for a CAC sticker of approval.
Perhaps the most interesting Morgan in the group is a 1921, one of the special Zerbe strikings. These used to be universally termed “Proofs.” Now, the PCGS calls these ‘Specimen’ strikings. The Nevada 1921 Zerbe Morgan Dollar was very recently PCGS certified ‘SP-65+.’ Albanese said that this coin is “very nice.”
Additionally, there were many Gem Proof U.S. gold coins in the Nevada accumulation. As far as I know, not one of these is an extremely rare date. In my view, the mostly to fully original surfaces of almost all of these are extremely important. Over the last fifteen years, coin doctors have tampered with many Proof gold coins, sometimes by adding films. My impression, from my sources, is that the Proof gold coins in the Nevada accumulation tend to exceptionally original and particularly attractive.
VI. The Morelan Silver Type Set
With acquisitions from the Nevada accumulation, Bruce Morelan’s type set has become even more impressive. A type set does not have to be complete to be phenomenal.
One overlooked coin that somewhat recently became part of Bruce’s set, and has always been a favorite of mine, is the Eliasberg-Blay 1807 quarter. Is it the finest known of the whole type of Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Quarters?
As I reported in my column of Aug. 18th, in 2010, Morelan acquired the Boyd 1794 silver dollar and the Norweb 1797 half for his type set. I discussed the Boyd 1794 in two previous columns, of June 23rd and of Aug 11th. Indeed, I said a great deal about that coin. I will write again about the terrific Norweb 1797 half, in the future.
In 2010, I was under the impression that Bruce did not wish for his name to be mentioned, as there was a time when he was a semi-anonymous coin collector. For many years, he has referred to himself as ‘TradeDollarNut,’ and his silver type set in the PCGS registry is so named. It will be interesting to see how his type set develops in the future.
©2011 Greg Reynolds
I really enjoyed this article. I had the pleasure of seeing a PCGS MS65 Chain cent a few years ago that Legend had in their display case at a show. I’d love to inspect this coin