Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, column #182
A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds
On Thursday, Aug. 15, at a convention center near Chicago, Stack’s-Bowers conducted a Rarities Night session as part of the official auction of the summer ANA convention. The Rarities Night event was one of many sessions in an auction extravaganza that included thousands of other U.S. coins, an epic collection of British gold coins, a variety of world coins, major collections of American tokens and medals, and a wide assortment of numismatic paper items. Before the auction, I covered some of the copper and silver coins that were offered. The purpose here is to discuss a selection of important U.S. gold coins that are newsworthy and have particular significance in the culture of coin collecting.
I. 1861 $20 Gold Coin
The PCGS graded MS-67 1861 Double Eagle ($20 gold coin) is a legend. According to the PCGS CoinFacts site, it was in the Eliot Landau Collection, which was sold at auction in Dec. 1958. Landau himself is almost a legend, for he avidly collected superb quality, 19th century type coins, including some incredible pieces, during the 1950s when relatively few collectors and even fewer dealers had an understanding of such coins. Regarding classic U.S. coins, there were more sophisticated collectors active in the late 19th century, in the early 20th century, and in the late 20th century, than there were in the middle of the 20th century.
On Aug. 15, 2013, this Double Eagle brought $352,500, a price that was both strong and understandable. Yes, a PCGS graded MS-65 1861 would probably realize less than $80,000 and an AU-55 grade 1861 would retail for around $3500, if that much. This MS-67 grade 1861, however, is generally regarded as the finest known Type One Double Eagle and as one of the finest of all 19th century Double Eagles.
John Albanese “bought and loved this 1861 Double Eagle.” He is especially attracted by its “beautiful original luster.” Albanese is the president and founder of the CAC.
For Type One Double Eagles, at the MS-67 level, the CAC has approved this coin and four 1857-S Double Eagles. For Type Two Double Eagles, the CAC has approved just one coin that has been PCGS or NGC graded MS-67, an 1875-S. Even more interesting, the CAC has approved just one Type Three Double Eagle as grading MS-67, an 1892. Type Three Double Eagles are much more plentiful than Type Two or Type One Double Eagles.
The other eleven Type One Double Eagles that are PCGS graded MS-67 are all dated 1857-S and were probably all found in the wreck of the S.S. Central America. These shipwreck 1857-S Double Eagles have a conserved or rehabilitated appearance. While they are cool looking coins and are very popular, they do not tend to score highly in the category of originality. Is this 1861 Double Eagle of higher quality than any of the Double Eagles that were recovered from S.S. Central America?
Jason Carter suggests that it is so. Jason raved about this 1861. I asked him about the orange glaze toning. Carter declared that this color “is natural.”
“This is the highest quality Type One Double Eagle that I have ever seen,” Jason states. Carter has been leading trader in rarities since the mid 1990s and attends almost all major coin conventions. He has seen most of the 1857-S Double Eagles that have been PCGS or NGC graded MS-67.
II. Proof 1865 $10 Coin
There are three design types of Liberty Head Eagles ($10 gold coins): 1) ‘Head of 1838’ (1838-39); 2) ‘No Motto’ (1839-1866); 3) With Motto (1866-1907). People who collect Proof coins ‘by type’ usually ignore the ‘Head of 1838’ (1838-39) type of Liberty Head Eagles, as just a very small number of Proofs of this first type are known.
‘No Motto’ Proofs are much scarcer than ‘With Motto’ Proofs. There was an excellent ‘No Motto’ Proof in this sale. Indeed, it is a stunning coin.
This Proof 1865 is PCGS certified “Proof-66+ Deep Cameo” and it has a green sticker of approval from the CAC. This coin is more than very attractive. The fields reflect light in a dynamic manner. Indeed, rays of light seem to dance about when this coin is tilted just a little.
This Proof 1865 Eagle is a prize for someone who collects Proof Eagles ‘by date’ or, more practically, ‘by type.’ There are certainly fewer than twenty Proof 1865 Eagles in existence. I tentatively suggest that there are fewer than ten. It is extremely likely that this is one of three best, maybe the finest. Further, true gem ‘No Motto’ Proofs are rare overall. Albanese remarks that this Proof is “a real stunner” that almost grades 67.
The price realized is extremely newsworthy, $528,750! To the best of my recollection at the moment, this result is an auction record for a Proof Eagle of this type, ‘No Motto’ (1839-66). As already indicated, the ‘Head of 1838’ Eagles are of a different design type.
There are other Proof ‘No Motto’ Eagles that would probably sell for more more than $528,750, if offered at auction without reserve in the near future. The Proof 1844-O Eagle almost certainly would realize more than $1 million. The only known Proof 1857 Eagle may be worth more than $528,750, as may a few Proof Eagles from the mid-1840s. These other Proof Eagles are notable for their extreme rarity. Given that there are at least six Proof 1865 Eagles in existence, the $528,750 price is a landmark auction result.
I am not aware of any recent auction records for a Proof 1865 Eagle, of any grade. It may be relevant that, on Aug. 12, 2011, Heritage auctioned a PCGS certified “Proof-65 Deep Cameo” 1863 Eagle, with a CAC sticker, for $299,000.
The CAC population report lists two 1865 Proof “Deep Cameo” Eagles at the 66 level. (Experts at the CAC ignore the plus aspects of the plus grades assigned by the PCGS or the NGC.) There is a fair chance, however, that both such CAC stickers were applied to this same coin. I am certain that this same Proof 1865 Eagle was formerly in an NGC holder. Somebody ‘crossed it’ by submitting it to the PCGS, or ‘cracked it out’ and then submitted it to the PCGS. Afterwards, it was probably submitted to the CAC for a second time, not necessarily by the same owner.
If so, this 1865 and an 1863 are the only two Proof ‘No Motto’ Eagles at the 66 level to be CAC approved. It seems that the CAC approved Proof-66 1863 is an NGC graded coin. Proof 1863 Eagles are almost as rare as Proof 1865 Eagles. The CAC has not approved any ‘No Motto’ Proof Eagle at a grade above 66. Therefore, the 1865 in this auction seems to have been the best Proof of the ‘No Motto’ (1839-66) type that has been auctioned in a very long time.
III. 1797 $5 coin
Two design types of Half Eagles ($5 gold coins) were minted during the 1790s. Coins of the Capped Bust Right, Small Eagle type date from 1795 to 1798. Half Eagles of the Capped Bust Right, Heraldic Eagle type date from 1795 to 1807. The ‘Small Eagle’ is not really small; it covers less of the surface area of the reverse than the relatively larger eagle, with a sizeable shield, that is featured in the Heraldic Eagle reverse design.
Of the ‘Small Eagle’ type, there are two major varieties of 1797 Half Eagles, those with fifteen stars on the obverse (front) and those with sixteen stars on the obverse (front). The total number of survivors, in all grades, for both varieties must be less than sixty. For 1797 ‘Small Eagle’ Half Eagles with sixteen stars, it estimated that twenty-five survive on the PCGS CoinFacts site and that just two of these grade “MS-60 or better.”
Before the auction, the PCGS price guide value for this coin was “$300,000” and the Numismedia.com value was “$260,000.” In 2006, the Goldbergs auctioned this same coin for $299,000. On Aug. 15, 2013, it brought $411,250, a strong price.The one in this auction is PCGS graded “MS-61.” It looks better in images than it does in actuality. Many of the scratches and contact marks are obscured by scuff and other matter on the coin. Experts, however, expect a certified “MS-61” grade coin from the 1790s to have many imperfections. In terms of detail, this coin is sharp and it is relatively well struck. There is just light wear on the highpoints. While I doubt that it would qualify for approval by the CAC, it is of higher quality than some other early U.S. gold coins that have been graded “MS-61” by the NGC or the PCGS.
Richard Burdick remarks that this result is “probably not a bad deal. I did not see the coin. But, it is extremely rare. Any 1797 Half Eagle close to a 61 grade is important. A collector might wait the rest of his life and not find a better one,” Burdick declares.
IV. Bentley Shores Collection
During this Rarities Night event, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a complete set of Indian Head Eagles ($10 gold coins), which were minted from 1907 to 1933. This series is often categorized, with some peculiar logic, as comprising of four design types: 1) 1907 ‘Rolled Edge’; 2) 1907 ‘Wire Edge’; 3) 1907-08 ‘No Motto’; 4) 1908-33 ‘With Motto.’ (Please click here to read an explanation of the different Indian Head Eagle issues in 1907.) In my view, the 1907 ‘Rolled Edge,’ if a regular issue, should just be considered part of the ‘No Motto’ type and the 1907 ‘Wire Edge’ is a pattern, not a coin issue.
The “Bentley Shores Collection” featured a complete set of business strikes along with duplicates of several issues. “Several of the Indian Head Eagles in the Bentley Shores Collection had deliberately added matter on the coins. Other coins in the set were lovely. Indeed, there were some marvelous coins in there,” Charlie Browne declares.
Browne was a grader for the PCGS for more than eight years in total, during several stints from 1986 to 2013. As an employee of dealers, he has graded and sometimes traded a large number of major rarities. Plus, Charlie has only missed six ANA summer conventions since 1978.
The “Bentley Shores” 1907 ‘Rolled Edge’ is PCGS graded “MS-67” and was earlier in the epic collection of John Kutasi. In 2007, it sold for $402,500. This time, it went for $470,000, a very strong price.
I am almost certain that this “MS-67” Rolled Edge 1907 would not be approved if submitted to the CAC and I wonder if it would be CAC approved if, imaginatively, it was PCGS or NGC graded MS-66. When this coin is viewed ‘straight on,’ not many hairline scratches and other contact marks are noticeable. When it is tilted at certain angles under a light, significant hairlines below Y in LIBERTY and some on the upper part of the headdress are detectable, beneath matter on the coin. There are also quite a few small contact marks on the eagle on the reverse, too many for a MS-67 grade Indian Head Eagle.
A certified “MS-67” Rolled Edge 1907 that is ‘solid’ for its certified grade would have a retail value well above $500,000. A second ‘Rolled Edge’ 1907 in this same collection is PCGS graded “MS-66+” and clearly should not have been so graded. The $329,000 auction result was not a good value.
There was a very important regular, ‘No Periods’ 1907 Eagle in this sale. It is of the ‘No Motto’ type. This issue is not rare overall. This specific coin, however, is PCGS graded “MS-68” and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. It is “beautiful and virtually flawless,” Charlie Browne exclaims.
Andy Lustig “thought that it was accurately graded. Even though it has a few minor marks, the ‘fresh as the day it was made’ luster carries it solidly to the 68 level.”
This 1907 was in Jim O’Neal’s set of Indian Head Eagles, which was auctioned by Heritage at the FUN Convention in Jan. 2009. This same “MS-68” grade coin then brought $149,500. Markets for rare coins have risen since Jan. 2009. This time, it brought $176,250, a moderate price. It is the only coin of this issue that is PCGS graded MS-68 and only seven 1907 ‘No Motto’ regular Eagles have been PCGS graded MS-67. Also, it is the only ‘No Motto’ Indian Head Eagle that is CAC approved as grading “MS-68.”
The 1915-S Indian Head Eagle in the Bentley Shores Collection merits mention. It is PCGS graded MS-66.
The 1915-S is a scarce coin in all grades and an important condition rarity in grades of MS-65 and higher. The 1915-S in this auction is one of just two that are each PCGS graded MS-66. Just one is PCGS graded “MS-67.”
I wonder if this coin probably would not receive a CAC sticker because the reverse grades just MS-65? Even if so, I still maintain that the “Bentley Shores” 1915-S merits a MS-66 grade. My view, which is consistent with that of many experts, is that the obverse counts for two-thirds of a coin’s grade, and the reverse one-third. The obverse of the “Bentley Shores” 1915-S grades in the middle to high end of the 66 range. The overall grade is at least in the ‘low end’ of the 66 range.
The “Bentley Shores Collection” 1915-S Eagle sold for $99,875, a weak price. This was one of the ‘better buys’ in this auction.
The first “Bentley Shores Collection” 1916-S is PCGS graded “MS-67” and has an illustrious pedigree, most notably it was formerly in the Norweb family collection. This same coin was auctioned by Heritage in Aug. 2007 for $115,000 and later for $103,500 in Jan. 2009, when it was in O’Neal’s set. This time, it brought $111,625, an unsurprising price. Most experts would probably grade this coin as a high end 66.
The second “Bentley Shores Collection” 1916-S is PCGS graded “MS-66.” It was previously in the Kutasi Collection and was auctioned by Heritage for $46,000 in Jan. 2007. This time, it brought $41,125, which is still a strong price. The 1916-S is not as scarce as a coin as the 1915-S and this 1916-S just barely qualifies for a 66 grade, if it does.
The 1920-S Eagle is a very rare coin in all grades, incredibly so in grades above MS-64. After the 1933, it is the rarest date of the ‘No Motto’ Indian Head Eagle type.
The“Bentley Shores Collection” 1920-S is NGC graded “MS-65.” It brought $199,750. On Aug. 15, 2013, if Stack’s-Bowers had auctioned a 1920-S that most relevant experts really graded “MS-65,” it probably would have brought above $235,000, maybe even more than $300,000.
After all, a true MS-65 grade, gem 1920-S Eagle would be an incredible condition rarity of an issue that is rare in all grades.The fact that this exact same NGC graded “MS-65” 1920-S was auctioned for $201,250, back in 2005, probably relates to the concept that rare coin buyers now are less likely to blindly accept the certified grades on holders and are more likely to seek additional opinions about each expensive coin.
While the 1920-S is rarer in true MS-65 and higher grades, the 1933 is rarer overall. Of the ‘With Motto’ Indian Head Eagle type, the 1933 is, indisputably, the key. There are certainly fewer than fifty in existence, possibly fewer than twenty-five.
The“Bentley Shores Collection” 1933 is PCGS graded “MS-64.” It was earlier in the collection of W. Thomas Michaels, which Stack‘s (New York) auctioned in Jan. 2004.
For some reason, almost all known 1933 Eagles have gashes on the Indian’s face, particularly on her jaw. They also tend to have gashes on or very close to the eagle on the reverse (back of the coin).
Browne agrees. “Most of the 1933s that I have seen have big slices on them. This coin is certainly wholesome and definitely is a 64 grade coin,” Charlie states.
The gashes on this 1933 are consistent with the gashes on at least three other 1933 Eagles that have been certified as grading MS-64. It is apparent that graders at the PCGS and the NGC are more forgiving of contact marks on 1933 Eagles than on other dates in the series. Also, while it may have been very lightly dipped at one time, this 1933 is very original, more so than most other, certified “MS-64” grade Indian Head Eagles in general.
In Jan. 2012, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded “MS-64+” 1933 for $402,500. That coin, however, is clearly of higher quality than the ‘Bentley Shores-Michaels’ 1933. probably at least a half-increment higher. The grade of that one is in the high end of the 64 range; the grade of the ‘Bentley Shores-Michaels’ 1933 is in the low end of the 64 range. The “Bentley Shores” 1933, though, is certainly attractive. The price realized of $367,188 was neither strong nor weak; it is ‘right on target’!
I wish that it was practical to discuss all of the Indian Head Eagles in the “Bentley Shores Collection.” Even some of the coins that most experts would regard as being overgraded were very attractive. I am delighted that I had the opportunity to carefully examine the set. Also, the consignor of the “Bentley Shores Collection” should be very happy with the auction results.
©2013 Greg Reynolds