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Half Dollars Fare Well in Baltimore Coin Auction; Markets for Silver Rarities Are Stable

Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #287

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds ……..

Recent sharp declines in gold and silver bullion levels have caused many collectors and dealers to become concerned about market levels for rare or at least scarce coins. An analysis of auction results for silver and copper rarities in the summer Stack’s-Bowers coin auction in Baltimore indicates that market levels for such rarities and scarcities are stable. There have not been recent declines in general. Because it is not practical to review a major coin auction in its entirety, the focus here is limited to scarce half dollars.

“Prices in this Baltimore auction were stronger than I expected them to be; overall, the auction was very successful. For almost all the rarities in this sale, there were no signs of prices going down,” Richard Burdick concludes.

gr_072215_groupOf course, all half dollars in this coin auction are not being analyzed. The focus here is on classic U.S. half dollars that are truly rare, very scarce, or condition rarities of coins that are not extremely common. Market levels for rarities or scarcities are distinct from prices for common coins.

Recent declines in bullion levels are not the only reasons to reflect upon market levels.

Collectors who bid on rarities in auctions should be and usually are more interested in the coins themselves than in market trends. The collecting of scarce or rare coins is about history, cultural pursuits, fulfilling collecting objectives and the characteristics of the coins themselves, not about directions of markets. Even so, people who spend large sums on coins are concerned about market levels. After all, except for billionaires, there are limits to the respective amounts that individual collectors are able to spend on coins.

Collectors who have already spent most of their lifetime collecting budgets and currently possess collections of expensive coins often, though not always, prefer that prices rise.

In contrast, collectors who plan to spend much of their lifetime-collecting budgets, perhaps including large sums, in the future tend to prefer that market levels fall or remain about the same. Regarding such matters, I am neutral, and am attempting to analyze coin auction results from an impartial perspective.

Already Covered Coins

gr_072215_1831-25Although half dollars are the focus here, much pre-auction discussion of the Kaselitz 1831 quarter and the Garrett-Kaselitz 1838-O dime was put forth this month. (Clickable links are in blue.) So, these are mentioned. Although all price guides place the value of an Extremely Fine-45 grade 1838-O dime under $1000, this PCGS certified and CAC approved, EF-45 grade coin realized $3290! The colorful natural toning and Garrett pedigree notwithstanding, the $3290 result is extremely strong. It is understandable, however, that a sophisticated collector may be willing to pay a substantial premium for thus wonderful and historically important 1838-O dime.

The $38,187 result for the Kaselitz 1831 quarter was moderate. Though PCGS graded MS-65, the CAC gold sticker was obviously warranted. This coin really seems to scream that she was undergraded and unhappy in her current plastic outfit. This coin is equal or superior to the Sydlak-Burdick-Albanese-Pogue 1831 that brought $55,812.50 on May 19, 2015 and the Gardner 1831 that brought $47,000 in June 2014. The supply factor weighed heavily in the determination of this $38,187 result, which would certainly have been much higher if a startling number of gem quality 1831 quarters had not been offered over the last two years.

1806/5 Half Dollar

The highest certified 1806/5 overdate was in the Kaselitz Collection. The 1806/5 overdate is readily apparent and is typically sought, along with the 1806 ‘Normal Numerals’ and the 1806-‘Knob 6’ major varieties, by those who collect Draped Bust half dollars ‘by date.’

The Kaselitz 1806/5 is PCGS graded as “MS-66.” This is one of the highest certified of any date in the whole Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle design type of half dollars. “Doug told me many times that this was his favorite coin in his whole collection,” Burdick reveals. Richard knew Doug Kaselitz for around forty years.

Richard reveals that Doug Kaselitz attended the Stack’s sale of Reed Hawn’s half dollars in 1973 and bid on this coin while there. This 1806/5 then realized $6000.

Although CAC will not reveal the identities of coins that have been rejected, some have hypothesized that it failed to receive a CAC sticker, and the assigned MS-66 grade is a little controversial. Charlie Browne disagrees, however, with such an interpretation of this coin. “I loved it, Holy Cow! This is a great coin, the best 1806/5 I remember ever seeing,” Browne declares.

Browne served four non-consecutive stints, in different time periods, as a grader for PCGS, starting in 1986 and ending within the last few years. Additionally, Charlie has worked as a grader for highly-financed dealers of expensive rarities during his career. Browne is an instructor of advanced grading courses at ANA seminars.

This 1806/5 half brought $193,875, a result which Charlie regards as “reasonable” and I maintain is strong. Although 1806/5 is a ‘better date,’ in the gem quality range, an 1806/5 takes on the value of a type coin.

No one can collect gem quality representatives of all dates in the series of Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle halves. In MS-65 and higher grades, most demand for these comes from buyers who are not focusing on the dates and are seeking type coins. A retail value for a true MS-66 coin of this type is around $155,000 and a retail value for a MS-65 grade Draped Bust half would be under $110,000.

Capped Bust Half Dollars

Although the Kaselitz 1806/5 was previously in the William Cutler Atwater and Reed Hawn Collections, the most famous half dollar in the Kaselitz Collection is an 1807 Capped Bust coin, which was earlier in the collection of James Pryor. 1807 Bust HalfIt is PCGS graded as “MS-65+” and has a CAC sticker. In some cases, collectors of Capped Bust half dollars ‘by date’ will seek two 1807 halves, coins with ‘Small Stars’ and ‘Large Stars.’ Collectors of type coins may not care about the size of the stars. The Pryor-Kaselitz 1807 has ‘Small Stars.’

This coin has the aesthetic appeal of a MS-66 grade coin and technical characteristics that would be associated with a ‘64+’ grade coin. The overall grade is at least in the middle of the MS-65 range. The natural green, russet and especially blue tones are exceptional. It is among the three finest 1807 Capped Bust halves of all varieties.

Among ‘Small Stars’ 1807 Capped Bust half dollars, the highest graded to sell in recent years was the Newman piece for $23,500, which was NGC graded as MS-63. In September 2014, Heritage auctioned a different NGC graded MS-63 1807 ‘Small Stars’ Capped Bust half for $14,100.

The Pogue 1807 Capped Bust half, with ‘Large Stars,’ was PCGS graded MS-65, and CAC approved, when Heritage sold it for $149,500 in 2010. This Pogue 1807 has since been upgraded to MS-66 by PCGS. In November 2013, the NGC graded and CAC approved MS-65, Newman-Green 1807 ‘Large Stars’ 1807 sold for $152,500. Part of that result may be attributed to the bidding hysteria that characterized the evening session of that Newman auction event. The $129,250 result last week for the Kaselitz coin last week is moderate, a price that lies around the border of wholesale and retail price ranges. This $129,250 result is certainly not an indicator of a decline in market levels.

1825 Bust HalfPCGS graded AU-58 1825 half in this sale has been frequently discussed because of its distinctive colorful toning. It is CAC approved. It was moderately dipped years ago and has naturally retoned since, probably in an album. Charlie is not thrilled about the toning. I tend to figure that the colors are natural. Charlie and I agree that toning after a dipping will often be dramatically different from the toning that would have occurred on the same coin had it never been dipped.

David Sunshine is enthusiastic about this 1825 half, “nicest AU-58 bust half seen in five years”! Sunshine is a young dealer who has become a regular on the auction circuit. He spends countless hours viewing auction lots and has developed noteworthy grading skills.

Dave figured that this coin would bring thousands, despite the reality that PCGS graded AU-58 1825 halves tend to sell for less than $1000 each at auction. Even PCGS graded MS-62 pieces sometimes sell for less than $2000. This coin brought $3290, a result that is reminiscent of the premiums that are often paid for bag-toned Morgans.

A PCGS graded MS-66 1826 half was not a highlight of the sale. “It should not have been graded six,” in Charlie’s view. The $23,500 result is “a strong price, if you look at the coin,” Browne adds. Indeed, this price is certainly not weak.

There has been a growing trend since 2009 for more and more coin buyers to think beyond the assigned certified grades and focus on the coins themselves. Those who are not expert graders often consult experts. The sale of the PCGS graded MS-63 1828 half last week provides an example of this trend.

For years, PCGS graded MS-63 halves of this date and of dates of equivalent scarcity have been bringing from $2000 to $2700 at auction, usually at least $2300. It is unlikely that this coin sold for just $1880 because of a decline in demand. It probably sold for a MS-62 level price because pertinent bidders graded it as MS-62 at best. Capped Bust halves are among the most popular of all classic U.S. coins, and there is plenty of demand for them.

This PCGS graded MS-63 1828 half is not a coin that would have been ignored or overlooked at a major auction in Baltimore. If any of dozens of interested bidders really graded it as MS-63, it would have brought at least a wholesale price that is commensurate with a MS-63 grade.

Gobrecht Half Dollars

‘Reeded Edge’ halves of 1836 to 1839 should properly be called ‘Gobrecht Halves,’ after their designer, Christian Gobrecht of silver dollar fame. As Reich ‘Lettered Edge’ (1807-36) and Gobrecht ‘Reeded Edge’ halves feature markedly different designs, it does not make sense to emphasize the difference in edge devices. It is logical to name these two types of Capped Bust halves after their respective designers.

1837 "gobrcht" HalfThe Kaselitz 1837 half is PCGS graded MS-66 and CAC approved. Charlie and I agree that its grade is in the lower part of the 66 range. Although it is very original, technically impressive and desirable, it does not have the eye appeal that many experts would associate with a mid range 66 grade.

It was not drop-dead beautiful, but it was definitely an unmolested, original coin, Richard Burdick declares. “It is better than others that have been graded 66.

This PCGS graded MS-66, Kaselitz 1837 went for $38,187.50. “Pretty strong price for that coin with that look, lot of money,” Charlie remarks. Indeed, this result was very strong. Other PCGS graded MS-66 coins of this date have been bringing less than $30,000 each at auction. Richard, in contrast, does not find the result “to be that strong.”

There were two additional 1837 halves in this auction session. A check of recent auction records reveals that PCGS graded MS-64 1837 halves in Stack’s-Bowers and Heritage auctions have been selling for amounts ranging from $4700 to around $7600, more or less. This PCGS graded MS-64 1837 brought just $3818.75, though not because demand has fallen. This is a coin that should not have been graded MS-64 or even MS-63. If relevant expert bidders had really graded it as MS-64, it would certainly have realized more than $4000 last week.

Gobrecht ‘Reeded Edge’ halves are just as popular now as they were earlier this year and last year. The price realized for the following lot relates to such popularity.

1837 Half DollarThe third 1837 half in this session is PCGS graded MS-63, one increment less than the just mentioned 1837 half dollar. Further, the PCGS graded MS-63 1837 is CAC approved. It brought $5,594.18.

Over the last two years, auction prices for PCGS graded MS-63 1837 halves have tended to be in the range of $2000 to $3500, the lone exception being the coin that the Goldbergs sold for $4230 in June 2014. A few bidders for this coin last week might have been figuring that it will upgrade to MS-64 or higher, though a determination of this coin’s grade is not being presented here.

An immediate point is that the prices realized suggest that the just mentioned PCGS graded MS-64 1837 is overgraded and this PCGS graded MS-63 1837 is not overgraded. In some cases, however, overgraded coins bring strong prices at auction. It is important to examine the coins and to take multiple factors into consideration while analyzing auction results.

The Kaselitz 1839-O Gobrecht ‘Reeded Edge’ half is PCGS graded MS-65. The $52,875 result was a strong to very strong price, indisputably well into the retail range.

Liberty Seated Half Dollars

As the only year with both arrows and rays, 1853 Liberty Seated halves are extremely important type coins. The Kaselitz coin is PCGS graded as “MS-66+” and CAC approved. It is important to keep in mind that experts at CAC ignore the plus aspect of plus grades that have been assigned by PCGS or NGC and that it is not being revealed whether they grade this coin in the high end or the middle of the 66 range. Browne’s grade is in the middle of the 66 range.

1853 Seated Liberty Half DollarRichard Burdick finds that “it is the best 1853 half that I have ever seen, for the type. It is a coin that just never toned that much. It has never been dipped or molested in any way.” The bright white texture, though, does suggest it has been lightly dipped, perhaps more than a century ago? I would like to examine this coin again.

Another PCGS graded ‘MS-66+’ 1853 half was auctioned by Heritage in September 2013 for $76,375. Supposedly, there is a third PCGS graded MS-66+ 1853 half, though the accounting record of a third might very well be a re-submission of one of the other two. In January 2005, Spectrum-B&M sold a PCGS graded MS-67 1853 for $78,200, which may have been the incredible blue and russet piece that I recollect, though I am not sure at the moment.

On July 17, 2015, the Kaselitz coin sold for $94,000, a very strong price. The PCGS price guide value of “$82,000” would have been a strong price for this coin on July 17.

The 1855-O is of a two year type with arrows, though no rays, and, of course, ‘no motto.’ The Kaselitz coin is PCGS graded MS-66 and CAC approved. Charlie and I both found this to be an impressive coin. “It brought good money, $24,000 plus the juice [$28,200], a collector price,” Browne maintains.

1874 Seated Liberty Half DollarThe 1874 is also of a two year type, with arrows on the obverse and the motto on the reverse. The 1874 ‘with arrows’ half from the Kaselitz Collection is PCGS graded MS-65 and CAC approved. Charlie notes that this coin was “dipped white and naturally retoned.” Richard Burdick agrees, “it has recovered nicely, but it is not totally original.”

It is technically more impressive than some Liberty Seated half dollars that have been PCGS or NGC graded MS-66. The $11,162.50 result is a little weak.

The PCGS graded MS-66 1877-S probably would not have received a CAC sticker if it was graded MS-65. It has just too many lines and other imperfections. The $4112.50 result suggests that it is likely that expert bidders did not grade the coin as MS-66, as PCGS graded MS-66 1877-S halves have sold for substantially more on multiple occasions. The PCGS retail price guide value for a MS-65 (not MS-66) grade 1877-S is “$4000” and a PCGS graded “MS-65+” 1877-S, with a CAC sticker, was auctioned for $4112.50 in January 2014. A conclusion is that this auction result is moderate for a 65+ or 65 grade 1877-S in a holder with a label that says “MS-66.”

As for the Kaselitz 1885 half, it is unlikely that any relevant expert would argue that it is overgraded. The toning is unquestionably natural. It is PCGS graded MS-65 and CAC approved. It is clearly uncirculated, is very attractive and has minimal contact marks. “This 1885 is a very pretty coin,” Burdick remarks.

The Kaselitz 1885 half went for $6,462.50, a price that is strong and understandable. This is a great coin.

In April 2013, a PCGS graded MS-65 1885, which is not nearly as appealing as the Kaselitz coin, was auctioned for $3525. In March 2011, Heritage sold an NGC graded MS-65 1885 for $4025. Some bidders may have figured that the Kaselitz 1885 was undergraded or maybe a couple of sophisticated collectors enthusiastically competed for it.

Barbers and Walkers

1900 Barber Half DollarA 1900 Barber half dollar is PCGS graded MS-65 and has colorfully toned, mildly. Though not noted in the Stack’s-Bowers catalogue, this exact coin in the exact same holder was auctioned by Heritage in August 2007, when markets for such items were at higher levels.

This 1900 half brought $3737.50 in 2007 and $4,406.25 last week, another bit of evidence that prices for condition rarities have not been falling. Although no one piece of evidence proves such a point, during 2015, I have provided a wealth of evidence that indicates that market levels for rarities have remained the same, more or less, over the last few years.

A 1915-S Barber half is PCGS graded MS-66 and CAC approved. It brought $6,462.50, which is certainly a retail level price. This coin is not a candidate for an upgrade and is not characterized by particularly impressive eye appeal.

A PCGS graded ‘MS-65+’ 1917 Walking Liberty half dollar, with a CAC sticker, sold for $1175, a moderate price, right at the market level that has prevailed for some time. A PCGS certified Proof-64 1936 Walker sold for $1997.50, likewise a price that was ‘right on the money,’ neither strong nor weak.

In addition to the stated point that all the scarce, classic U.S. coins in the auction cannot be considered here, not even all the classic halves can be feasibly listed. An analysis of auction results overall, however, for very scarce and/or conditionally rare half dollars sold during the night of Friday, July 17, indicates that market prices have remained about the same, on average, as they have been for years.

My general impression is that recent declines in gold and silver bullion prices did not have a negative effect on auction results for very scarce and/or conditionally rare, copper, nickel or silver coins. It is best to wait for the ANA auctions before drawing conclusions about current market levels for very scarce and/or conditionally rare, classic U.S. gold coins.

©2015 Greg Reynolds

Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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