By Jim Bisognani – Numismatic Guaranty Corporation …..
Commemorating An Innocent Call; Rev. Dr. James G. K. McClure Collection, A Great Opportunity For Fresh Coins
This is a busy and exciting time of the year! What a welcome change in season. Sunshine, lush greenery, flowers blooming and to take liberty with that Nat King Cole tune of years past, we will soon be enjoying “Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days.” On the cusp of summer 2016, as I write this edition, I am listening to and watching lots sell “live” via the Internet at the Pre-Long Beach Goldberg’s sale. A diverse high-grade offering of the ever-popular Morgan dollar series are currently crossing the auction block in Los Angeles as I pull data and view upcoming lots in my home office on the other coast in New Hampshire! Jason Villarreal, the Goldberg’s great and personable lead auctioneer, is giving a yeoman’s effort. Right now there is a break in the action, scheduled to resume at 5 p.m. Eastern Time.
It is still amazing to me that we have come so far with technology that I can have a “live” seat at virtually any auction anywhere in the country or the world. When I was a young collector the mail order catalogs and monthly newsletters were basically it. All highly anticipated correspondence mind you, delivered by the US Postal Service. Back then, prior to the Internet, everyone wanted to have first dibs on a coin or set. The phone was the only “live” communication then and for many young collectors the scepter of running up costly toll charges to New York or California was virtually out of the question.
I recall one seemingly innocent call to Omaha, Nebraska to check on some Oregon Trail commems that Aubrey Bebee had just listed for sale. I wanted to know which coins were in stock, which coins were bright white and the best-looking Gem BU coins, etc. The answer from Mr. Bebee was the 1926-S (not a surprise there) and Aubrey said that he also had a few gorgeous 1934-D Oregons as well. He also mentioned a nice fresh offering of Texas Centennial commems. I was 14 and I had enough to buy one Oregon as the 1926-S was priced at $20. This was back in the summer of 1971. However, that seven-minute long distance conversation ended up costing me nearly $12 and a slap on the behind from my dad. I had to perform some extra chores to make up for about half the cost of that unsanctioned call.
I remember after I had completed my duties dad asking me what was so important anyways. Since dad wasn’t a collector I explained to him about the US commems and how the Oregon and Texas issues were favorites of mine and many collectors for that matter and the mintages were all quite low, especially when you considered how many collectors were out there. I went on about the beautiful designs–the Oregon Trail with the Conestoga wagon and the Indian chief and the Texas Centennial with the Alamo and that beautiful eagle.
My dad said, “Like how many of this Oregon you talked about?” I said that the 1934-D had a mintage of just 7,006 coins. With that tidbit my dad’s facial expression and a furrowed brow indicated interest. After a brief moment to digest he said, “Maybe there are some possibilities. Maybe an investment for the future.”
I was excited at the prospect too. I really couldn’t believe where this was going. Dad then asked how much they cost. I told him most of the coins from both series were priced retail at around $20 each. To my amazement my dad said, “I am going to get you a $200 money order to pay this bird in Nebraska for 10 coins.” I was shocked, surprised and thrilled!
I ran upstairs to my room and pulled out my “Bebee Booster” order form and checked off six Oregon Trail commems and four Texas Centennials. Dad got the money order to me the next day and the stamped envelope, order form and payment were in the mail. Talk about excitement!
Prior to this I had only been able to order mixed world coin sets from Bebee, like the 1950 Somalia “animal set” and 1959 Norway “animal set” (both of which I still have today). In fact I think that the Capital plastic holders that I purchased for both cost nearly as much as those two sets.
Anyways about 10 days later the registered parcel from Bebee’s arrived! I waited for dad to come home from work before I opened the package. That night at the dining room table I inspected the coins. All were flashy white and with my magnifying glass they looked perfect to my 14-year-old eyes. The 1926-S Oregons were fantastic, semi-proof-like, and the 1934-Ds were creamy, satiny white. The Texas coins–I can’t recall all the dates (two were 1934) were all bright white original coins and certainly worthy of Gem BU status, or a minimum of MS 65 today.
Dad took a look at them and said, “They are in great looking shape for their age, they look like new.” He then asked for my opinion, “Are they good and are they worth the money?” I said yes to both. He said, “Great, maybe I will have you get some others later on. We will see how this works out.” As it turned out it worked out fine. That first order was the beginning of future purchases on my dad’s behalf. I didn’t realize it then but I was his coin agent! He trusted my judgment way back when I was barely a teenager. We ended up traveling to a few local and regional shows. Dad would front the money and would say, “Get what looks good to you.” I picked up coins that I felt comfortable in grading like US Commems and a smattering of other series, a few US gold coins, mostly $5 Libs and $10 Libs, the most affordable at that time in what was described as BU costing around $35 and $45 respectively!!
About seven years later when the metals markets were booming and the coin market was hot dad asked me to sell a few coins to get some cash. We went to a Boston show and I sold one of the 1934-D Oregons which cost $20 from Bebee for $1,500! The same buyer bought one of the Texas commems which also cost $20 for $550! I went out to meet dad in the lobby and gave him $2,050. His first reaction was, “What all did you sell?”
I am sure that based on his aggravated reddening expression that he assumed I had sold almost everything. When I said I sold two commems that he had paid $40 for from Bebee he was actually shocked. “Two coins $40 and you got over $2,000, that’s my boy!”
Dad gave me $50 and said go get something for you! That was exciting and a great learning experience. Today I still have the other 1934-D Oregon. I just took a look and it looks great; probably MS 66!
Today according to the NGC US Coin Price Guide the 1926-S Oregon is worth $325 in MS 65 and $250 for the 1934 Texas. Still a good return on $20 from 45 summers ago.
Now it’s back to live action in 2016 as the Goldberg’s Pre-Long Beach sale has resumed.
I note that the finest known example of the 1921 Morgan Dollar Zerbe NGC PF 67 roared to $58,750, which is a record price paid for this unofficial and controversial proof striking. Named after the famed numismatist and promoter extraordinaire Farran Zerbe.
Mr. Zerbe had numismatic connections at high levels in government as well as at the Philadelphia Mint. Since the new Peace Dollar, which he was championing, had not yet come to fruition, Zerbe had several hundred special “Proofs” of the retooled 1921 Morgan design struck in the summer months of 1921. While not on par with the earlier Morgan proofs in overall quality, these 1921 dollars along with the Chapman Proof version are sought out by serious collectors and Morgan specialists the world over. I congratulate the owner of the finest!
Another finest known Morgan Dollar claimed a record price as the 1891 Morgan Dollar graded NGC MS 66 DPL raced to $29,375. One of the keys to the ever popular Walking Liberty half series witnessed the 1921-D graded NGC MS 64 race to $23,500 which is a record for the assigned grade.
The modern silver dollars, otherwise known as Silver Eagles, found a complete set from 1986-2013 all NGC graded MS 70 sell for $31,725.
A great grouping of mid-grade New Orleans quarter eagles from the 1840s met the hammer at quite attractive levels for collectors, too.
Jim Bisognani is an NGC Price Guide Analyst having previously served for many years as an analyst and writer for another major price guide. He has written extensively on US coin market trends and values.
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