A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #96
At the ANA Convention in August, which will be held in Philadelphia, Stack’s Bowers Galleries (SBG) will auction the only complete collection of Carson City, Nevada Mint, U.S. coins. The consignor wishes to remain anonymous and has named this set the “Battle Born Collection.” The 1876-CC Half Eagle ($5 gold coin) in the “Battle Born” set is the finest known of this date and is probably the finest known, surviving gold coin of the Carson City Mint.
There are one hundred and eleven different Carson City Mint coin issues and the “Battle Born Collection” contains representatives of all of them. The Carson City, Nevada Mint commenced operation in 1870 and finished in 1893. Dimes, quarters, half dollars, silver dollars, Half Eagles ($5 gold coins), Eagles ($10 coins) and Double Eagles ($20 gold coins) were produced there.
I. More than Two CC Sets?
Are the owner of the “Battle Born” set and the late Louis Eliasberg the only two collectors to ever own representatives of all one hundred and eleven Carson City dates? Could any of the previous owners of the unique 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ Liberty Seated Dime have collected representatives of the other one hundred and ten Carson City issues as well? Researcher Saul Teichman and I have been discussing this topic.
Teichman cites Waldo Newcomer and H. O. Granberg as possibilities. Given the information that is available about Granberg’s holdings and his collecting objectives, it seems that there is a good chance that Granberg had a set of all one hundred and eleven Carson City coins as an unplanned part of a much larger collection.
According to Teichman, H.O. Granberg consigned rare coins to several different sales between 1913 and 1919. “Many of Newcomer’s best coins came from Granberg but, to my knowledge, there is no [surviving] inventory” of Granberg’s collection, Saul reports.
On the Internet, I found an article by George Fuld, on the contents of Waldo Newcomer’s collection. It was published in Nov. 2008, apparently by the ANA in Colorado Springs. Fuld itemizes the U.S. coin issues that were missing from the Newcomer Collection, and no Carson City issues were mentioned as being missing. Fuld is a noted researcher who is aware of the Carson City issues.
Waldo Newcomer’s “U.S. gold series was complete except for a single Double Eagle and the 1822 Half Eagle. His U.S. copper and silver series were complete,” Fuld maintains Furthermore, Fuld explicitly states that Newcomer owned the unique 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ Liberty Seated Dime. Therefore, it seems that Fuld is strongly suggesting that Waldo Newcomer owned representatives of all one hundred and eleven Carson City issues. Newcomer consigned his U.S. coins to B. Max Mehl in 1931.
II. Eliasberg-Lang Pedigree
Since 1950, the owner of the “Battle Born” set and Louis Eliasberg are the only two collectors to own representatives of all one hundred and eleven Carson City dates. Eliasberg did not, however, focus upon Carson City dates. Like Waldo Newcomer before him, Louis Eliasberg sought representatives of all U.S. coin issues and he owned colonials, patterns, and gold coins of the world, as well. Most importantly, Eliasberg formed the all-time greatest collection of U.S. coins.
The “Battle Born” 1876-CC Half Eagle and, of course, the unique 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ Liberty Seated Dime were both in the Eliasberg Collection. I have written about this dime before and I will write about this dime again before it is auctioned in August.
Louis Eliasberg, Jr. inherited his father’s U.S. gold coins after Louis Eliasberg, Sr. died in 1976. He consigned them for public auction. The firm of Bowers & Ruddy sold Eliasberg’s U.S. gold coins in New York in October 1982.
This 1876-CC Half Eagle then bounced around among dealers during the 1980s and early 1990s, appearing in several auctions along the way. It was not unusual for gem quality U.S. coins, especially famous condition rarities, to be subject to frequent dealer speculation during this time period.
Shortly after the Eliasberg 1876-CC Half Eagle appeared in a May 1991 Superior Galleries auction, Bowers & Merena of New Hampshire sold this coin to Henry Lang, a collector. More than ten years later, in July 2002, Bowers & Merena auctioned the Henry Lang Collection in New York City.
Lang had many Half Eagles that are among the finest known for their respective dates. “It was a terrific set of coins,” declares Doug Winter.
At the Lang sale, Winter was the successful bidder for the Eliasberg 1876-CC Half Eagle, which then realized $138,000. “I bought it in a 65 holder in Lang, upgraded it to 66 and sold it to the current owner,” Doug reveals. So, this 1876-CC Half Eagle has been in the “Battle Born Collection” from 2002 to the present, and it has been PCGS graded MS-66 ever since.
At the FUN Convention in Orlando, I had the opportunity to carefully examine this 1876-CC Half Eagle. It is more than very attractive.
This coin’s color is excellent, especially its orange-gold hues and green tints. In addition, this coin is very much original. Furthermore, there are hairlines in the obverse (front) inner fields, and a few on Miss Liberty. These, along with some contact marks, are minor. Most business strike gold coins have numerous, very noticeable contact marks and/or very apparent scratches. Gold is a soft metal.
Relative to most 19th century Half Eagles, this coin has very few marks and hairlines. Plus, the coppery areas are charming and are testaments to this coin’s originality. This coin really has a wonderful overall look.
The reverse (back of the coin) is of higher quality than the obverse. Indeed, the reverse has even fewer imperfections and even better orange color. Perhaps the obverse grades 66.3 or 66.4 and the reverse grades 66.75, in my view.
This 1876-CC has a sticker of approval from the CAC, which means that experts at the CAC determined that its grade is in the middle or high end of the 66 range, probably the middle. There should be no doubt, though, about its 66 grade now. Grading standards were more stringent in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and it is unsurprising that it was not then graded MS-66.
John Albanese is very enthusiastic about this 1876-CC. John is the founder and president of the CAC.
Albanese refers to it as “a miracle coin. Gold coins were really banged up in the 1870s, especially Carson City coins. They were heavily used,” John continues.
“This coin has some marks. Its super eye appeal carried out, with great luster and glow. I like its originality,” Albanese adds.
IV. Condition Ranking, Rarity and Value
The Eliasberg 1876-CC Half Eagle “is the finest known by at least five points,” Winter exclaims. “Even AU-58 1876-CC Half Eagles are very tough to find,” Albanese says.
In Jan. 2010, Heritage auctioned an NGC graded MS-61 1876-CC. Although I do not have a clear recollection of this coin at this moment, I am not convinced it merits a 61 grade. It may be implied on the PCGS Coin Facts site that this coin would only receive a grade of AU-58 from the PCGS. I am not sure that 58 would be an appropriate grade either. My impression, partly from feedback from other experts, is that it is an uncirculated coin with problems. Perhaps the certified MS-61 1876-CC deserves a grade of MS-60 or no grade it all?
There does not seem to be another 1876-CC Half Eagle that is remotely close in quality to the Eliasberg-Lang-‘Battle Born’ 1876-CC. There are two that are PCGS graded AU-58.
A ‘scuffed-up’ NGC graded AU-58 was auctioned by B&M (California) in May 2006 for $23,000. It had previously been in Heritage’s Jan. 2006 FUN auction.
In Jan. 2007, Stack’s-ANR auctioned a PCGS graded AU-53 1876-CC for $17,825. It came from a collection of Branch Mint gold coins.
Over the last twelve years, the Goldbergs have auctioned substantial quantities of ‘better date’ U.S. gold coins. Yet, the Goldbergs have sold just three 1876-CC Half Eagles. All three are PCGS graded, a Very Fine-25 grade coin for $2415 in Feb. 2008, an EF-45 grade 1876-CC in June 2005 for $4830, and an AU-50 coin in Feb. 2006 for $10,063. I did see these.
All three leading coin auction firms, Heritage, SBG and the Goldbergs, have sold a small number of different 1876-CC Half Eagles. Supposedly, there are a substantial number of them that grade Very Fine or have the details of a Very Fine grade.
I contend that the data compiled by the PCGS and the NGC includes numerous multiple counts of some of the same 1876-CC Half Eagles. More than a few coins that were previously certified as grading AU-50 or AU-53 have found themselves later grading “AU-55” or “AU-58,” sometimes after numerous resubmissions. The certified grades of some others have moved from VF-30 to EF-40.
As the presently discussed Eliasberg-Lang-‘Battle Born’ 1876-CC is probably the only one that truly grades above MS-60, there has been much to gain by upgrading others to AU-55, AU-58 or MS-60. Several 1876-CC Half Eagles were dipped; some were doctored.
Despite a combined total of more than 150, I would be surprised if the PCGS and the NGC together have graded more than seventy DIFFERENT 1876-CC Half Eagles. Many of the same coins were re-submitted over and over again, and a few of these have repeatedly appeared at auction over the past two decades, sometimes after having been modified.
Perhaps there are a dozen in museums or ‘old time’ collections, which have never been submitted to the PCGS or the NGC. There are more than a dozen 1876-CC Half Eagles that the PCGS or the NGC have determined to be not gradable because of serious problems.
I estimate that there are one hundred and six 1876-CC Half Eagles in existence. This coin issue is thus almost extremely rare, in all states of preservation.
As for the value of the Eliasberg-Lang-‘Battle Born’ 1876-CC, Albanese states that “the PCGS price guide [value of] $175,000 is low. The market for this type of coin has gone up a lot since it sold for $138,000 in 2002. It is going to bring runaway money,” John predicts.
V. The Finest CC Gold Coin
The SBG press release bills this coin as the “Finest Carson City Mint Gold Coin of Any Date or Denomination.” John Albanese and Doug Winter agree that this claim is fair.
It is unusual to find pre-1890 Carson City gold coins in grades above MS-62. There are, however, a few Carson City Half Eagles from the 1890s that have been PCGS graded MS-65 or MS-66. Also, a coin that was graded MS-65 in the past may, possibly, upgrade to MS-66 in the future, especially if it was graded MS-65 before 1997.
Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded MS-66 1890-CC Half Eagle for $66,125 in Dec. 2004. It may realize much more if this same 1890-CC was to be auctioned in 2012. Moreover, 1876-CC Half Eagles are much rarer than 1890-CC Half Eagles. Indeed, 1890-CC Half Eagles are very scarce, yet might not be rare. There are probably more than 500 in existence.
“Carson City Half Eagles in the early 1890s were struck differently [from earlier Carson City Half Eagles]; they were struck with muted luster, and are sort of fuzzy. It is unlikely that any of the gems from the early 1890s are as nice as this 1876-CC,” Albanese concludes.
As for Double Eagles, “I rarely see Carson City twenties as high as MS-62. I doubt that there are any gems,” Albanese states. Generally, coins that grade 65 or higher are termed ‘gems.’
While there are Carson City Eagles ($10 gold coins) that are of gem quality or are close to being of gem quality, it seems unlikely that any of them equal the quality of the Eliasberg 1876-CC Half Eagle. In Sept. 2010, Heritage auctioned an NGC graded MS-65 1891-CC Eagle. I never heard anyone rave about it.
So, this Eliasberg-‘Battle Born’ 1876-CC holds the title of the finest known Carson City Mint gold coin. It will be interesting to see how it fares at auction in August. Over the next few months, I will write about many of the other coins in this complete set of Carson City Mint coins.
Copyright © 2012 Greg Reynolds