News and Analysis on scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #38
A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds….
In the 1990s, only four coins sold at auction for more than $1 million each. Over the last decade, many have done so. Now, the auctioning of a coin or other numismatic item for more than $2 million is ‘big news’! On Jan. 6, 2011, an NGC certified 1907 “Satin Proof-67 Rolled Edge” $10 gold piece was auctioned for a record $2,185,000!
It is the most valuable item that was sold in the Jan. 6th Platinum Night event, at the Winter FUN Convention in Tampa. The purpose here is to discuss the auction of this piece and to put forth a list of U.S. coins, and other American numismatic items, that have sold for more than $2 million each. Numismatics is the study of coins, medals, paper money, patterns of coins, and some items that were used as a medium of exchange though are neither coins nor paper money.
A few Russian numismatic items have each sold for sums greater than two million United States Dollars. Auction records for Russian items, however, are a very different topic and require a separate inquiry.
Next week, I will discuss the meaning and nature of this NGC certified “Satin [Finish] Proof-67 Rolled Edge” $10 gold piece, including its physical characteristics. It suffices to say here that it is widely believed that there are fewer than fifty 1907 “Rolled Edge” $10 gold pieces in existence and that this is one of only two that the NGC has certified as being a “Satin Proof.”
The Heritage cataloguer mentions another certified Proof 1907 “Rolled Edge” $10 piece that is said to have been in an auction in 2002, though that could be an earlier appearance of the other one or could have been mistakenly reported. No one has suggested to me that there exists a third 1907 $10 piece that is of the same nature as the two that have been NGC certified “Satin Proof-67 Rolled Edge” $10 gold pieces.
I. Auction Records
Is even $1 million a lot for a coin? In 1989, the Dexter-Dunham-Bareford 1804 silver dollar was auctioned for $990,000. In October 1993, Stack’s auctioned the Olsen-Hawn 1913 Liberty Nickel for $962,500. In May 1996, the $1 million barrier was finally broken when Jay Parrino bought the Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Nickel for $1.485 million. In April 1997, Greg Roberts was the successful bidder when B&M auctioned the Eliasberg 1804 silver dollar for $1.815 million, a record that lasted for more than two years.
On Aug. 30, 1999, B&M, then managed by QDB and Chris Karstedt, auctioned the Childs family 1804 silver dollar for $4.14 million. David Akers was the successful bidder, on behalf of a collector in the Southwest. Jay Parrino was the underbidder.
On July 30, 2002, Sotheby’s, in partnership with Stack’s, sold the Fenton 1933 Double Eagle ($20 gold coin) for $7,590,000. I touch upon the issue of 1933 Double Eagles in my column on the Ten Leading Topics of 2010. This $7.59 million result remains the auction record for a coin.
While 1933 Double Eagles have received more attention than any other coins, the sale of a medal for more than $5 million has been overlooked by some people. I wrote a history oriented preview and an auction review of the sale by Sotheby’s of a ‘Society of the Cincinnati’ Medal for $5,305,000, on Dec. 11, 2007. This medal had been awarded to George Washington and was later the property of the Marquis de Lafayette, who played an important role in the American Revolutionary War.
Heritage has auctioned two different coins for $3,737,500 each, the Mickley-Hawn-Queller 1804 silver dollar in April 2008 and the Olsen-Hawn 1913 Liberty Nickel during the Jan. 7, 2010 Platinum Night event. Heritage has also auctioned two different coins for $2.99 million each .
During the Jan. 12, 2005, FUN Platinum Night event, Steve Contursi was the successful bidder for the sole Brasher Doubloon with the ‘EB’ punch on the eagle’s chest. This is a 1787 gold piece that was made by a silversmith/assayer in New York city.
The same “Gold Rush” collection that included this Brasher Doubloon contained another. Indeed, one collector, a friend of Al Adams, had the ‘punch on breast’ Brasher Doubloon and one of the ‘punch on wing’ Brasher Doubloons. Six Brasher Doubloons are known that have the ‘EB’ punch on a wing. During this Jan. 12, 2005 Platinum Night, Don Kagin bought the “Gold Rush” collection ‘punch on wing’ Brasher Doubloon for $2.415 million.
In Nov. 2005, the Morse collection, Ultra High Relief 1907 Saint Gaudens $20 gold piece realized $2.99 million. A reliable source indicates to me that a different Ultra High Relief 1907 Saint sold privately for more than $2 million in 2008.
In April 2009, Heritage auctioned the Adams-Carter-French 1804 silver dollar.[Pictured at left] It was consigned by a collector who is known by the code name “Joseph Thomas.” For $2.3 million, John Albanese was the buyer, though he was not in attendance at the auction.
So, ten different American numismatic items have each realized more than $2 million at auction! Other American items have sold for more than $2 million in private transactions. I just mentioned an Ultra High Relief 1907 Saint.
In February 2008, Adam Crum, of Monaco Rare Coins, arranged for one of his clients to sell an 1861 Double Eagle ($20 gold) to another one of his clients, for $2.5 million. This piece is one of only two known 1861 Philadelphia Mint Double Eagles with the reverse (back) designed by Anthony Paquet.
In 2007, Laura Sperber sold the Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Nickel for $5 million. Before this transaction, the collector who refers to himself as ‘TradeDollarNut’ was the majority owner of this nickel. Ron Gillio represented a collector-buyer who wishes to remain anonymous.
In 2003, Steve Contursi acquired the Carter-Neil 1794 silver dollar from Jay Parrino, by way of a Philadelphia area dealer. This 1794 is PCGS certified ‘Specimen-66.’ In May 2010, Contursi sold it to the Cardinal Educational Foundation, which is directed by Martin Logies, for a reported “$7.85 million”!
On Nov. 1, 2005, Ira Goldberg and Larry Goldberg acted as agents for a collector when they sold the ‘King of Siam’ 1834 Proof Set to Contursi for $8.5 million. In addition to an 1804 dollar and several 1834 dated coins, the ‘King of Siam Set’ contains an 1804 Eagle ($10 gold coin). A different Proof 1804 Eagle has sold privately on three occasions for amounts greater than $2 million each time, most recently in July 2010. Please see my column of July 28th.
On Jan. 6, 2011, this Satin finish 1907 ‘Rolled Edge’ Eagle became the tenth American numismatic item to sell at auction for more than $2 million. There are five to seven U.S. coins that have sold privately for more than $2 million each, including imputed values of more than $2 million each for the the ‘King of Siam’ 1804 silver dollar and 1804 Eagle. All the coins in the ‘King of Siam’ Proof Set, including the 1804 silver dollar and the 1804 Eagle, were struck in 1834.
II. The Source of this Satin Finish 1907 $10 Piece
The Satin finish 1907 “Rolled Edge” $10 piece that Heritage just auctioned, on Jan. 6, 2011, was not previously known to the coin collecting community. It has been traced to Frank Leach, and was consigned by Col. George Monroe.
“Frank Leach served as head of the San Francisco Mint from 1897 through 1907 and again from 1912 [to] 1913,” states Dr. Thomas F. Fitzgerald, in the California Numismatist publication. On July 9, 1907, The New York Times reported that the Secretary of the Treasury recommended to the President that Leach be appointed the Director of the U.S. Mint. Soon afterward, Leach moved to Washington. Effectively, he started as Mint Director in Oct. 1907 and continued until some point in 1909.
In the Heritage auction catalogue, it is mentioned that Frank Leach’s son, Abraham, married Florence Plant in 1960. Evidently, Florence Plant inherited this piece and a few other gold pieces from Abraham. Florence’s nephew, Col. George Monroe, ‘ended up’ with this Satin finish “Rolled Edge” piece, three “Wire Edge” 1907 Eagles ($10 coins), and a High Relief ‘Flat Edge’ 1907 Double Eagle. All five of these 1907 dated gold pieces were consigned to Heritage’s Jan. 6, 2011 Platinum Night event, and, presumably, all five were obtained by Frank Leach when he was Director of the U.S. Mint.
When Col. Monroe was looking for an auction firm, he came across the Heritage website, in which he found that Mike Sadler is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. Being a graduate himself, Monroe felt a common bond with Sadler. So, Monroe contacted Sadler, and they arranged the consignment of these five gold pieces.
III. The Auction of this Satin Finish 1907 $10 piece
It is not unusual for million dollar coins to sell during FUN Platinum Night events. Regarding the Jan. 6, 2011 event, please click to read about the Business Strike Silver & Gold coins that were auctioned, and the Proof gold coins of the Henry Miller collection, which was the leading consignment. Offerings of gold coins also dominated last last year’s FUN Platinum Night event, though a 1913 Liberty Nickel then sold for $3,737,500. (As always, clickable links are in blue.)
For this Satin finish 1907 $10 piece, the bidding was very exciting. Before the auction, the general belief was that this coin was worth around $1 million, though a few dealers in attendance thought that it would realize $1.2 to $1.4 million.
As it turns out, there were at least five bidders willing to pay more than $1 million. As the level approached $1.5 million, the contest became a duel between two collectors, who were represented by Laura Sperber and Todd Imhof, respectively. Adam Crum later said that he would have re-entered the bidding at some point if Sperber and Imhof had stopped dueling before the level reached $2 million.
Sperber has been the Bob Simpson’s favored dealer and long term advisor. Simpson has the all-time best collection of U.S. Patterns. He also collects early 20th century gold series and many other types of coins. Simpson’s set of off-metal strikings of World War II era Lincoln Cents was on display at the PCGS table during the FUN Convention.
In the competition for this piece, Imhof was representing a collector who wishes to remain completely anonymous. This collector specializes in Indian Head Eagles and Saint Gaudens Double Eagles ($20 gold coins).
At the auction, Sperber and Imhof were each talking to their respective clients via cell phone. After Sperber bid $2,070,000 ($1.8 + 15%), Imhof and his client talked on the phone for a while, more than a few seconds though less than one minute, before deciding to put forth a ‘cut bid’ of $2,127,500 ($1.85 + 15%). Sperber shot back with a winning bid of $2,185,000 ($1.9 million + 15%). This is an auction record for any kind of $10 gold piece or pattern, and is more than any $1, $2½ or $5 gold coin has ever realized at auction.
Imhof reveals that “the same two collectors were competing for the Duckor 1920-S Eagle in Charlotte.” In March 2007, at a Heritage auction in Charlotte, North Carolina, Simpson edged Imhof’s client to win the PCGS graded MS-67 1920-S Indian Head Eagle that was consigned by Dr. Steven Duckor, one of the most sophisticated collectors of all time.
The Duckor-Simpson 1920-S Eagle is widely recognized as being the finest known representative of this very rare issue. In March 2010, when the PCGS SecurePlus program was introduced, Simpson’s business strike Indian Head Eagles were submitted for re-grading and the Duckor-Simpson 1920-S was graded “MS-67+”! In March 2007, it sold for the astounding price of $1,725,000. No other 1920-S Eagle has even sold at auction for as much as $500,000.
Should the Leach-Monroe-Simpson Satin finish 1907 “Rolled Edge” be worth more than the Duckor-Simpson 1920-S Eagle? There is not a clear answer to this question. It is not easy to interpret this Satin finish ‘Rolled Edge’ $10 piece. Next week, I will discuss the meaning and nature of this item. I will include discussions of 1907 ‘Wire Edge’ Eagles and the ‘regular’ 1907 ‘Rolled Edge’ issue. The term ‘Rolled Edge’ and the term ‘Rolled Rim’ refer to the same issue of $10 gold coins in 1907. In addition to rim issues, there are other differences between “Wire Edge” and “Rolled Edge” 1907 Eagles. These are among the most curious coins ever issued by the U.S. Mint.
©2011 Greg Reynolds