A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding US coins, coin markets, and coin auctions #180 …..
On Thursday, Aug. 15th Stack’s-Bowers will conduct a Rarities Night session as part of the official coin auction of the summer ANA convention. The purpose here is not to list all of the six hundred or so coins that will be offered that night, nor is it to highlight the most expensive lots. Instead, coins are selected that are special, unusually interesting, famous, especially newsworthy, particularly rare, fresh or command attention for other reasons. I have personally examined most of the items that I mention herein.
I. Early Copper, Patterns & Related Items
An undated Washington token, reportedly from 1795, is characterized by excellent color for an early copper piece. It is PCGS certified ‘MS-66 Brown’ and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. The mellow red-tan-brown color is very pleasing. This piece certainly scores highly in the category of originality. Though not coins, such tokens are often acquired by people who collect early copper coins, like New Jersey Coppers or U.S. Large Cents. There could not be many that are of higher quality than this one.
There are three different Washington Funeral Medals in this event, of three different alloys. It is probably a good idea for interested bidders to consult an expert in early American medals before bidding on these. These are not usually understood by coin experts. Washington Funeral Medals, though, have been very popular with collectors for more than 150 years.
A circulated 1793 half cent in this sale is appealing. It is PCGS graded Very Fine-25. This is the first year that half cents were produced by the U.S. Mint and the first design type lasted for just one year. If a few minor rim bumps are ignored, this coin scores highly in terms of technical factors. There is no significant contact marks. The surface quality is above average in general and is excellent for a Very Fine grade, 18th century coin. This 1793 half cent is being sold without a reserve.
The 1796 ‘No Pole’ Half Cent in this sale is not quite as healthy as the just mentioned 1793, though it is very appealing for a coin that is non-gradable. Indeed, it is much better than most would expect, after reading that it has “environmental damage,” as noted on the PCGS holder and in the auction catalog. Experts at the PCGS determined that it has the details of a Very Fine grade coin.
Besides a few light hairline scratches on the highpoints of the obverse (front), this coin has very few hairlines or other contact marks. Miss Liberty is a pleasing reddish-brown color. The obverse fields are a somewhat attractive, green-blue tinted brown color. The reverse, back of the coin, is mostly a bluish brown color, which is pleasing.
Yes, this coin has problems. Yes, the surfaces are rough, though not terribly so. It would fit reasonably well into a collection of gradable, circulated half cents. Of course, this coin is not as nice as the Ray Rouse 1796 ‘No Pole’ Half Cent that I wrote about in 2008. The Rouse coin, however, realized $345,000. This one may be a better value for a collector who is unable or unwilling to spend more than $300,000 on a half cent. If I was assembling a set of half cents, I would very seriously consider this coin.
“Fewer than twenty are known to exist,” I said in 2008. In retrospect, I figure that there could be as many as twenty-two. Jim McGuigan, a leading expert on half cents, asserts that this coin “is definitely one of the top ten known, maybe the seventh or eighth finest”!
The 1796 ‘No Pole’ is extremely rare and extremely famous. The absence of the pole on the obverse is not subtle. It is clearly an issue that is different from the 1796 ‘With Pole’! After all, the pole is not small, is a significant part of the obverse design, and is readily noticeable without a magnifying glass.
The 1796 ‘No Pole’ Half Cent and the 1792 cent pattern in this sale are both non-gradable and are both strongly desired by thousands of collectors. All 1792 patterns are historically important, as preparations were being made for the beginning of U.S. coinage in 1793. The concept for a U.S. Mint was then controversial and faced considerable opposition. In the first part of my two part series on 1792 half dismes (which are pronounced ‘half deems’) in January, I focus upon historical circumstances. (Clickable links are in blue.)
The catalog title for this 1792 cent pattern is a little misleading. It is not a Silver Center Copper Cent pattern without a silver center. (Please see my article on a true 1792 Silver Center Copper Cent pattern, J-1, that was auctioned in 2012.) Although there exists a 1792 Silver Center Copper Cent pattern that is lacking a silver center, this is not it.
The 1792 cent pattern in this sale is of a different issue, one that is presumably of an alloy that is predominantly copper with some silver. Billon is mostly copper and partly silver. Those interested may wish to read my discussion, in 2008, which includes input from pertinent experts, of a PCGS graded VF-30 1792 cent pattern of this issue (J-2) was auctioned.
This 1792 pattern is clearly non-gradable and has corroded extensively. The just mentioned 1796 ‘No Pole’ Half Cent is of much higher quality than this pattern, which has really suffered. Even so, most of the design and the digits ‘92’ are discernible. It is suitable for a collection of patterns, a collection of pre-1793 American items in general or a collection of large cents. Indeed, it is not unusual for a collector of large cents ‘by date’ to wish to complement his or her set with a 1792 cent pattern.
The 1792 half disme (half dime pattern) in this sale is extremely famous. It was previously owned by Dr. J. H. Judd, who was the driving force behind and co-author of the first edition of the standard guide to U.S. Pattern, Experimental and Trial Pieces. Furthermore, this exact pattern was once in the collection of former U.S. Congressman Jimmy Hayes, a celebrity in Louisiana and a legendary coin collector.
Hayes’ silver items were auctioned by Stack’s (New York) in 1985 and these have been discussed often ever since, especially his gem quality type coins. This 1792 pattern had not been publicly seen in a very long time until it was consigned to this sale.
This half disme is in a PCGS holder from the 1980s! In my view, the Judd-Hayes 1792 half disme is of higher quality than the Pittman 1792 half disme, which is PCGS graded “MS-67,” according to the PCGS CoinFacts site. The Judd-Hayes piece is the third finest known, behind the Knoxville-Cardinal and Floyd Starr 1792 half dimes, which I discuss in a report of the offerings of the Knoxville-Cardinal and Starr pieces in January.
It is curious that the three finest, currently known 1792 half dismes were all consigned to auctions in 2013. Alan Weinberg’s 1792 half disme has probably never been certified and I have not seen it. At the moment, it falls into the category of the unknown, though it may be a gem quality piece.
The Naftzger-Parrino-Cardinal 1793 Wreath Cent is PCGS graded “MS-69.” This coin is discussed in my review of the Stack’s-Bowers auction of the Cardinal Collection of large cents in January. (Hopefully, many people keep in mind that clickable links are in blue.)
An 1850 Braided Hair Large Cent from the Naftzger Collection merits mention. The late Ted Naftzger assembled the all-time best collection of large cents.
This 1850 is PCGS certified ‘MS-66 [Full] Red’ and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. The ‘red’ color is entirely natural. Plus, this coin exhibits excellent cartwheel luster.
On Sept. 7, 2009, the Goldbergs auctioned Naftzger’s Braided Hair Large Cents. The cataloguers then, Chris McCawley and Bob Grellman, assert that their grade for this same coin is “MS-67.” They add that a widely recognized researcher of large cents, Bill Noyes, lists this specific 1850 cent as grading “MS-68”!
Martin Logies reports that he “purchased that coin directly from the Naftzger sale in September 2009,” on behalf of the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation. On January 24, 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned the Cardinal Collection of large cents. This same coin realized $19,975.
A copper striking of a Liberty Seated Half Dollar pattern is not as popular as a gem quality, full red large cent. Even so, William Barber’s proposed design is distinctive and noteworthy. It has an important place in the history of the U.S. Mint.
Richard Jewell owns an example of a William Barber half dollar pattern and it is being offered along with his set of regular issue, Liberty Seated Half Dollars in this Rarities Night event. This pattern (Judd-930) is one of several varieties of William Barber designs that are similar. It is NGC certified ‘Proof-64 Red & Brown [with] Cameo’ contrast. I am here drawing attention to the importance of such a pattern and attractiveness of the design, rather than to the certification of this piece.
William Barber designed many patterns that attract attention and are very distinctive, yet his proposals were never adopted for regular issue coinage. Most coin collectors are not aware that he ever lived. William’s son, Charles, however, is very well known as Charles designed Barber Dimes, Barber Quarters, Barber Half Dollars, and Liberty ‘Vee’ Nickels! Copper strikings of patterns designed by William Barber are not among the most expensive patterns and are sometimes acquired to complement collections of related, regular issue silver coins of the mid 19th century.
II. Silver Coins
One of the highlights of this coin auction is an excellent group of Draped Bust Dimes that grade Extremely Fine or AU, evidently from the collection of Jim Matthews. These dimes tend to be relatively well struck, have natural toning, and have minimal contact marks.
In regard to circulated coins in general, assigned grades are primarily indicative of the extent of wear on a coin and usually do not indicate much in terms of surface quality, originality and eye appeal. Though pre-1808 silver coins with high certified numerical grades are often available, finding really appealing, circulated Draped Bust coins is not easy.
Jim McGuigan has specialized in pre-1840 U.S. coins for decades and McGuigan notes that many of his long-time customers are “willing to pay large premiums for coins that are original [and/or] have strong eye appeal. Sophisticated collectors tend to care about surface quality and may pay more for a [particular] Very Fine coin than [for] an Extremely Fine” coin of the same type, date and variety, McGuigan adds.
Jim Matthews deserves credit for putting together a very pleasing group. For Draped Bust Dimes, most of them score highly in the categories of eye appeal and/or surface quality.
As die varieties require much additional explanation, I just mention dates here. Most coin buyers collect ‘by date’ or assemble various kinds of type sets. Only a small percentage of coin buyers collect a series ‘by die variety.’
The following Matthews dimes will appeal to large number of potential buyers: 1796 PCGS graded EF-45 and CAC approved, 1797 PCGS graded Fine-15, 1798/7 PCGS-45 CAC, 1803 PCGS-40 CAC, and 1803 PCGS-53 CAC.
One of Matthews’ 1803 dimes is not excellent, in terms of surface quality or originality. It is understandably not excellent, however, because it is the finest of just four known dimes that were struck from a specific pair of dies, referenced as JR-5 by researchers. For a non-gradable, early U.S. coin, it is not bad. In general, it is much more attractive than most non-gradable coins from 1803! Specialists in die varieties will seriously compete for this piece. A similar looking, ‘EF details’ non-gradable 1803 of another variety would be much less expensive.
Among uncirculated dimes, an 1834 Capped Bust Dime that is NGC graded “MS-68” and an 1874 Liberty Seated ‘With Arrows’ type coin command attention. I am a little surprised that the cataloger did not refer to the pedigree of this 1874 dime.
This 1874 was, in the past, in the Knoxville Collection, the finest type set of U.S. silver coins and related items ever assembled. Jay Parrino bought and sold the Knoxville Collection in 2003, after having earlier assisted the collector who assembled it in the late 1980s and early 1990s. James Lull acquired this 1874 dime later in 2003, along with some other coins that were formerly in the Knoxville Collection.
In the Jan. 2005 Spectrum-B&M coin auction, Lull’s type set, including this same 1874 dime. It was then NGC graded “MS-69.” It is now PCGS graded “MS-68+” and has a sticker of approval from the CAC, though it is important to point out that experts at the CAC ignore the plus aspect of a plus grade assigned by the PCGS or the NGC. Put differently, even if experts at the PCGS had graded this coin as “68” rather than “68+,” it would still qualify for a sticker from the CAC. Experts at the CAC are not revealing whether they place the grade of this coin in the middle or in the high end of the 68 range.
Green-blue toning covers much of the head of Miss Liberty and portion of the obverse outer fields at the top and bottom. There is more such green-blue toning on the reverse, which is characterized by concentric toning. Bands of russet encompass a relatively light central area.
On the obverse, the central portion of the coin including the central outer fields is curiously bright. There are just a few microscopic contact marks.
The neatest quarter in this sale is an 1818 Capped Bust Quarter that is PCGS graded MS-66 and has a CAC sticker. This exact same coin was NGC graded MS-66 when Heritage sold it it in Aug. 2007 coin auction.
The soft, multi-colored, natural tones are extraordinarily pleasing. Furthermore, this coin scores extremely high in the category of originality. Besides a few light hairlines in the obverse inner fields, there is no evidence of any kind of cleaning. In addition, there is no evidence that this coin has ever been dipped.
The reverse is very attractive, particularly due to the green hues, and the obverse is more than very attractive. In a technical sense, the reverse is nearly flawless. It is unlikely that a relevant and serious expert would challenge the 66 grade of this coin.
The grade of the next quarter might not be quite as widely accepted, though it is an extremely important coin. It is one of the highest certified 1840-O quarters, which are the sole New Orleans Mint issue of the brief ‘No Drapery’ design type.
This 1840-O is PCGS graded “MS-64.” Patches of orange-russet toning survived a substantial dipping, which may have occurred more than thirty years ago. Scuff or other stuff covers a few light hairlines in the obverse fields. It is not unusual for a MS-64 grade coin to have some hairlines. This coin has no severe problems and has a pleasing look at a glance.
This coin is certainly superior to the vast majority of 1840-O quarters, which are extremely rare in grades above MS-63. This is probably among the five finest known. It is interesting to note that the CAC has not approved an 1840-O quarter in a grade above MS-62 and only eight in any grade. The CAC was founded in Oct. 2007. Even a MS-63 grade 1840-O is a prize.
There are several other ‘better date’ quarters in this coin auction. It is not practical to analyze them here. Interested collectors should hire an expert to interpret them before bidding.
There are far too many, important half dollars in this sale to list here. Indeed, there are six 1795 half dollars. A PCGS graded “Fine-12“ 1796 should be mentioned.
As a PCGS graded MS-63 1803 has appeared in three previous Stack’s-Bowers auctions, many collectors have already seen it or heard about it. The reserve now calls for a commitment to pay more than $85,000. The PCGS price guide value is “$55,000.” It is true, though, that this coin has been approved by the CAC and that coins of this issue are extraordinarily rare in uncirculated (‘MS’) grades. It is not easy to estimate its value.
In a cultural sense, the most important consignment to this auction is Richard Jewell’s set of Liberty Seated Half Dollars, which were minted from 1839 to 1891. These cannot be explained here.
Among silver dollars, the PCGS graded “MS-68” Eliasberg 1889-CC is, indisputably, the finest known. It is one of six 1889-CC Morgans in this sale, which is a key date in the series. The lowest graded of the six may turn out to be a good value. It is PCGS graded AU-58 and has a CAC sticker.
Gold coins in this sale will be covered. Hopefully, I will have a chance to analyze the Jewell Collection of Liberty Seated Halves. Also, there were many excellent coins in this sale that were excluded from this preview for various reasons, some relating to time and space.
©2013 Greg Reynolds