News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #25
A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds
I. The CoinFest
The fourth annual CoinFest was held in Stamford (CT) from Oct. 28th to Oct. 30th. For the first time, Heritage conducted the official CoinFest auction and this auction was very successful. Below, I discuss specific coins that were sold in the auction. Also, the exhibit of Gerry Fortin‘s collection of Liberty Seated dimes added luster to the CoinFest. Listings of Fortin’s dimes may be seen in the PCGS and NGC registries.
In my view, bourse floor displays and trading activity were much more impressive at the second and third CoinFest events, in 2008 and 2009. This is partly because the scheduling of the show was then better. This year’s event was just too close to the better established Baltimore Expo and related auction events. Lot viewing in Baltimore for a Stack’s auction started less than forty-eight hours after CoinFest closed. More importantly, this year’s security policies at CoinFest were just too aggressive.
A lot of collectors who attend coin shows do not know that a particular show’s owners are nice people, and, whether a show’s owners are nice or not, collectors often do not wish to be placed on mailing lists or on any other kind of list. Over the last ten years, it has become common for marketing firms and other firms to keep relatively secret databases regarding consumers and to trade such information. Adults certainly should not have to reveal their home addresses or their ages. A list owned by nice people may be sold to nasty people in the future, or stolen by computer hackers.
Indeed, collectors should be able to anonymously attend coin shows. They should have the right not to be bothered and the right not to have their personal information scrutinized. Like identity theft, an individual’s privacy can be invaded without him knowing about it.
Collectors who attend coin shows know that they are likely to be video recorded, which is a sufficient deterrent for wrongdoing, and video recording should be the limit to privacy invasions. The very rare attendee who causes trouble because of severe psychiatric problems is not going to be deterred by aggressive security policies. Moreover, a criminal who is planning to follow dealers from the show is certainly not going to attend the show and be video recorded. Such a criminal will wait outside or use binoculars from a distance.
Aggressive security policies do more harm than good, and when collectors tell their collecting friends about such policies, coin show attendance drops. Besides, I strongly recommend that a collector who attends a coin show keep his driver’s license in his car or in a hotel safe (as people often do with passports in Europe). If a collector is robbed after walking from a coin show, he would not wish for the thief to get his driver’s license, too, which could lead to problems more serious than a loss of a few coins.
Coin show personnel, security or otherwise, should not be asking collectors for ID or pressuring people to reveal their home addresses. Before a few years ago, this was never done at a coin show, for good reason.
II. Washlady Silver Dollar
The Washlady Dollar is one of the most famous of all U.S. pattern issues. In 1879, there were also minted Washlady dimes, quarters and half dollars. These designs were considered and never adopted for regular U.S. coinage. Though the Washlady patterns are of silver denominations, these were struck in copper as well. Copper is much less expensive than silver. On Oct. 29, Heritage auctioned one of the finest known Washlady Dollars in silver.
According to Saul Teichman, this Washlady Dollar “is probably the third finest behind the Bass Foundation and Parrino coins, the latter is illustrated on the uspatterns.com website. Many have been cleaned over the years.”
This Washlady dollar is NGC certified as “Proof-66+,” which means that it was graded (or regraded) by the NGC over the last six months. While I (this writer) am not convinced that it merited a plus grade, personally I agree that it deserves a 66 grade and I really like the piece.
The toning is completely natural and the colors are entertaining. Shades of blue, brownish-russet, orange-russet and gray, among others, caught my attention. At a glance, this Washlady seems a little subdued and is attractive to very attractive. When tilted under a lamp at particular angles, however, this pattern comes very much alive. The reverse (back of the coin) then exhibits spectacular mirrored surfaces with fluorescent blue peripheral toning, purple outer fields, and orange-russet inner fields.
I have had the good fortune of being able to examine at least four Washlady Dollars in silver. I certainly liked the ‘Jones Beach’ coin when I saw it in 2007. It has a very pleasing creamy-gray color, with other natural tones. I remember thinking that there was no doubt that it deserved its grade of 65 by the NGC. The ‘Jones Beach’ piece sold for $40,250 to bidder #468 in Jan. 2007. Andy Lustig bid well over $30,000. The ‘Jones Beach’ collection contained a great group of Washlady patterns, among other treasures.
The Queller collection of patterns, which Heritage auctioned in Jan. 2009, was dramatically more extensive than the ‘Jones Beach’ collection of patterns, which was sold two years earlier, also at a FUN Convention in Orlando. The ‘Jones Beach’ collection, though, has been overlooked. It contained many terrific patterns and some really cool ones. Also, it contained more gold patterns that were actually struck in gold than did the Queller collection.
The Rothschild collection of patterns, which Stack’s auctioned in 2003, has also been overlooked. It featured Washlady pieces and other famous patterns, plus some gold patterns struck in gold. It did not have the depth, though, of the Jones Beach or Queller collections.
I am puzzled by Saul Teichman’s conclusion that “the Washlady patterns in both silver and copper [each] have a survival rate of over one dozen for all denominations.” The PCGS and the NGC together have certified only six Washlady Dollars in silver, and this total may amount to just three to five different coins. After considering the ones that I have seen and auction records of those that I probably have not seen, I cannot currently imagine a total of even eight. I suppose that there may be two that have never been auctioned. Could there really be as many as eleven Washlady dollars in silver?
Also, Teichman wonders if he knows “who owned the Washlady and the other dollar patterns and probably the 1877 half. These have been off the market for some thirty-five years or so.” Teichman is the foremost researcher in the field of U.S. patterns.
In addition to this Washlady Dollar, which was designed by Charles Barber, Teichman is referring to two dollar-size patterns and a half dollar pattern, in this same auction, which were designed by George Morgan, who designed the regular issue Morgan silver dollar. I (this writer) am not comfortable with either of these two dollar-size patterns. I am, however, very impressed by the 1877 Morgan half dollar pattern in this auction.
I am referring to the quality of this half dollar pattern, rather than the design, though the design is noteworthy. The obverse (front) is very similar to the standard Morgan silver dollar, except that there is a ring of beads that, more or less, separates the Morgan head of Miss Liberty from ‘E PLURIBUS UNUM’ [From Many Arose One] and the numerals of 1877. The reverse is a little unusual, and features an eagle that is unlike any eagle on a 19th century, regular U.S. coin issue. This half dollar pattern is fairly or perhaps conservatively graded 65 by the NGC. It has never been dipped or substantially cleaned. Indeed, it has very pleasing natural toning. A pattern enthusiast could examine this coin for a long time without becoming bored. It realized $23,000.
Returning to the Washlady Dollar, Laura Sperber, who was present, competed against ‘Heritage Live’ and telephone bidders to capture the piece for $161,000! This result is certainly, far and away, an auction record for a Washlady Dollar. I was surprised.
The Rothschild-Queller Shield Earring Quarter, which is of commensurable rarity, sold for $126,500 in Jan. 2009. (See Queller’s patterns, part 3.) Famous dollar-size patterns are usually (though not always) worth considerably more than corresponding or analogous patterns of dimes, halves, or quarters, which I personally like more. The $161,000 price for a Washlady Dollar is not absurdly high, though it is extremely strong. Sperber reports that this piece will now become part of the Simpson collection, which already contains a Washlady dollar. Bob Simpson has the all-time best collection of U.S. patterns.
III. 1861-O Double Eagle
In this same Heritage auction at CoinFest, there was an 1861-O Double Eagle that is PCGS graded AU-53 and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. A collecting boom regarding Liberty Head Double Eagles, especially those of the first type dating from 1850 to 1866, has been going on for years. When coin markets started sliding in August 2008, demand for scarce or rare Liberty Head Double Eagles certainly held up better than demand for most other series of U.S. coins. This specific coin is not just another New Orleans Mint Liberty Head Double Eagle. I believe that it is special.
Coins of this date in particular and Type One New Orleans Mint Double Eagles in general tend to be ‘a mess,’ full of contact marks and scratches, with surfaces that have been impaired by cleaning and/or dipping, or worse modifications. Many are dull or have been very much artificially brightened. A pristine, original coin in this category would be an amazing find.
This 1861-O is much better than most Type One New Orleans Mint Double Eagles. Its color is mostly original. Indeed, it is a pleasing blonde with natural light green overtones. This coin has been extensively lightly cleaned, but it has been cleaned to a much lesser extant than more than eighty-five percent of surviving New Orleans Mint Liberty Head Double Eagles.
This 1861-O is almost very attractive overall and very attractive plus for an AU-53 Type One Double Eagle. It is moderately to very brilliant, and is lustrous. Indeed, the reverse (tail) has really neat cartwheel luster. The missing detail is from honest wear, rather than from a very weak strike or from a byproduct of a cleaning or other deliberate treatment. This coin does not have any serious problems.
Is 53 a high grade for an 1861-O Double Eagle? Consider that the 1861-O Double Eagle is a case where there are many certified representatives of a coin issue between EF-45 and MS-61 (inclusive) and there are none graded higher. Pre-1880 Branch Mint gold coins in this grade range are difficult to grade, anyway. Contact marks of varying severity, the effects of cleanings, and other issues must be balanced with an interpretation of the actual degree of wear, which itself can be masked by weak strikes and the cleaning (or mishandling) of the highpoints of a coin. For a coin issue where choice mint state representatives may not exist, there is often a strong incentive to keep re-submitting coins, sometimes after artificial brightenings, to the two leading grading services, in hopes of receiving higher grades.
The slightly more than two hundred 1861-O Double Eagles that have been certified by the PCGS and the NGC amount to less than one hundred different coins. Certainly there are at least another thirty that would not qualify for numerical grades from the PCGS or the NGC, though both services are lenient in regards to assigning numbers to low-grade New Orleans Mint Type One Double Eagles. Furthermore, there could be ten to twenty that merit numerical grades, yet have never been submitted to the PCGS or the NGC. In sum, I strongly doubt that there are as many as one hundred and seventy 1861-O Double Eagles, in all states of preservation.
As any coin issue for which fewer than two hundred and fifty survive is very rare, 1861-O Double Eagles are certainly very rare. Plus, these are very popular. The U.S. Civil War started in 1861. Though most were likely to have been struck by the Federal Government, some 1861-O Double Eagles were struck by an independent State of Louisiana and a few were probably stuck by the CSA.
This 1861-O realized $54,625 on Oct. 29th. This result beats both the PCGS price guide and Numismedia.com retail value estimates. It is true that 1861-O Double Eagles that have been certified as grading “AU-55” or “AU-58” have realized more than $54,625, but I find this AU-53 1861-O to be more appealing than some of those that have been graded as “AU-55” or “58”! This coin has minimal problems, nice color and a really neat look. It is exceptional for a certified AU-53 1861-O Double Eagle.
IV. Connecticut Coppers
This auction will be best remembered for the Philip Keller collection of colonials, which included, in addition to many other items, two hundred and seventy different varieties of Connecticut copper coins and eighty three New Jersey coppers. As I have minimal knowledge of the die varieties of colonial copper coins, I asked Greg Hannigan to comment. He actively deals in such items. Also, he has personal roots in Connecticut.
As “for the auction on Thursday night, it was very busy with phone, internet and floor bidders and went very strong,” Hannigan concludes. “The floor not packed at all, mostly just the usual suspects. However, [there were] also five or six serious collectors bidding strong. The tougher variety colonial coins [in this auction] were the key varieties of Connecticuts, Fugios and New Jerseys, which brought much higher prices then we have seen in the past. Of course, there were a few exceptions,” Hannigan explains. The “key varieties” tend to be those for which there are five to twenty pieces known to exist.
Some are even rarer. A 1785 Connecticut Copper with an “African Head,” lot #3179, is one of just three known. It is NGC graded Very Fine-30. I will not attempt to explain the pair of dies that were used to strike this coin. Hannigan’s “guess was it was going to sell for $80,000 or so, which [would have been] strong. It could have sold for $45,000. But, it opened at about $55,000 and sold for $115,000,” Hannigan observed.
Hannigan mentions three specific Connecticut coppers for which four to twelve are known to exist. “All three [are] very rare and went very strong,” Hannigan asserts. One, lot #3188, is a 1787 Connecticut Copper with a small head that is facing to the right and has a particular variation of the standard lettering on the reverse (back of the coin). The NGC determined that it does not merit a numerical grade and has ‘Good’ level “details.” Heritage cataloguer Mark Borckardt grades it as Good-04, in accordance with the standards of early copper specialists, and Hannigan agrees with this Good-04 grade. It is not a coin of tremendous quality. Hannigan was surprised that it “sold for almost $10,000”!
The next Connecticut Copper that Hannigan cites, sold as lot #3197, is said to be corroded and is certified by the NGC as having the details of a Good grade coin. Borckardt grades it as Almost Good-03. It realized $4600, many multiples of the price of a similar coin of a relatively common variety.
The third Connecticut Copper, which Hannigan mentions in the context of varieties for which four to twelve are known, is particularly important because the obverse (front) die used to strike it was later extensively modified and used to strike coins that look very different. Note that it has “environmental damage” and has ‘Very Good’ level details, according to the NGC. It was earlier in a January 1972 Bowers & Ruddy auction. It sold, as lot 3200, for $6325. “All three of these non-pictured [in the print catalogue], damaged and details coins,” Hannigan exclaims, went for more than double of what I [Hannigan] thought they would bring!”
The Keller collection is just too extensive to discuss in just a few paragraphs. I am glad that Greg Hannigan provided a few examples of rare and interesting Connecticut Coppers that realized surprisingly high prices. Also, there were a wide variety of colonial and U.S. coins in this auction. It was my intention here to discuss a few that are unusually interesting.
©2010 Greg Reynolds