By Charles Morgan for CoinWeek …..
On September 2, 2021, Legend Rare Coin Auctions’ (LRCA) Regency Auction 47 will be held at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. The sale contains 395 hand-selected lots of certified US coins in all denominations, including multiple condition-census and CAC-certified examples. With lot pre-sale estimate values ranging from a few hundred dollars to $200,000 or more, there are ample collection building opportunities for collectors of all budgets.
A highlight, and by no means the only highlight of the sale, comes in the form of Howard Sharfman’s incredible Chicago Collection of half dollars, which is arguably the finest complete Red Book variety collection to ever appear at auction.
On the evening of August 6, Legend exhibited the collection at an intimate reception at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Rosemont, Illinois. I had the opportunity to review the pieces and talk to the consignor about some of the coins in his set and how he came to create such an impressive collection.
Charles Morgan: As you assembled this collection, did you have a defined goal? what you were going for when you started? Or, did you just stumble into a collection after buying a few pieces?
Howard Sharfman: The goal changed over time, my first collection was an everyman’s collection, 1794 – 1839. I built that and was fortunate enough to sell that collection through Sheridan Downey and others, but we sold the entire collection through him and duplicates through somewhere else. But as we did that we were creating this Red Book collection and it was a long search for a lot of different coins. I’ve been collecting Bust half dollars since I was 13 years old and I’m 57 now.
One of the first coins in Sharfman’s set that really stood out to me was his 1806 Draped Bust half dollar, O-106 variety, in AU53. It is by no means one of the more expensive examples in the collection, but it is an attractive condition census piece that boasts attractive cobalt blue, russet, and purple toning.
The finest 1806 half dollar of the O-106 variety known is the Queller-Gardner specimen, graded PCGS MS63 CAC. That example, like the Friend-Sharfman example pictured above, features a mushy strike with weakness on the right side of the clouds on the coin’s reverse. This is a feature characteristic of this popular Red Book variety. The variety is best known for its two naked-eye visible features: the knob 6 and small obverse stars.
1806 half dollars featured two styles of the number 6.
The Knob 6 style terminates at the top of the numeral with a ball, or knob, whereas the Pointed 6 extends slightly higher towards the bust, thins towards the tip, and terminates with a point. The size of the stars on the Small Stars variety is roughly the same size as LIBERTY, whereas the large stars are noticeably larger than the text.
The Condition Census #1 Queller example last sold at auction in 2012, bringing $52,875. This example is just a few spots down the leaderboard, has terrific eye appeal, and will likely sell between $3,500 and $4,000. A very good value for a great coin!
CM: When you were building the Chicago Collection, what characteristics were you looking for in a coin before you decided to pursue it for your set?
HS: I just like beautiful coins. Beautiful coins that when you walk by you say “wow, that’s a beautiful coin.” Some of them can be more white, some can be more toned, but just the beautiful luster that comes out there.
As I was looking over the three cases of coins, Howard asked me which one I liked most. It took quite a bit of thought as I had just had enough time to look at each piece in the collection for about 10 or 15 seconds before moving on to allow the others to also admire the accomplishment.
But one coin that stood out among all of them was the shimmering blue and aqua-marine toned 1806 half dollar. Howard bought this coin at the sale of the Dale Friend Collection. It upgraded his set from the dark MS61 that he had before. The coin is of the Rarity-3 die marriage, which uses obverse die 9 (recut TY in LIBERTY) and a reverse that features extensive die cracks throughout.
This is the fourth-highest-graded example of the die variety, according to the latest update of Stephen Herrman’s AMBPR. That statement short shrifts the piece, however. In-person, whether in-hand or not, this coin sings.
Current bid is $13,500 against an estimate of $22,000 to $26,000.
CM: We’ve seen several major, important, historic collections come to market in recent years. I mean, that must have had an impact on your ability to accumulate such a collection.
HS: I think most of these coins have been purchased in the last 12 years, and it was because so many wonderful collections came to market and I was able to acquire the coins. And that’s one of the reasons that I believe the coins need new homes. The 1817/4 needs a different home. I’ve had the pleasure of owning that, I’ve had the pleasure of looking at it and having it in my collection. There aren’t many of them, so someone else needs to have that pleasure. There are so many special coins that people will never be able to find and now they have an opportunity to do that through a public auction.
Anyone who owns an Overton book knows this coin. It is the cover coin, the key to the Overton series, the rarest of 453 listed varieties, and a coin that up until the past decade or so never traded at auction. Howard acquired the coin from his close friend Dr. Chuck Link, another serious collector of early halves. Link felt that Howard’s collection was deserving of the piece and offered it to him… not at a discount Howard tells me. “He could have offered the coin to any number of other collectors, had he wanted to.” For Link, this impossibly rare coin was no longer needed as he had found one nicer. For Howard, acquiring this special coin was a highlight of the journey.
This example, notes Howard and the Legend catalogers, is the most “original” of the known examples. It is deeply toned, problem-free, and boasts honest wear on both sides. This coin’s pedigree is traced back to the mid-1970s when it was discovered by Milton Silverman. Silverman sold the coin to collector Leonard Elton Dosier a decade later. Dealer Sheridan Downey featured the coin in his October 1988 Mail Bid sale, which is how it landed in the John Crowley Collection. Downey would see this “old friend” two more times in the succeeding decades before selling the coin to dealer Anthony Terranova in 2004. Terranova sold the coin to Link and Link sold the coin to Howard in 2015.
This will be the first major auction appearance for the coin since its discovery. Legend estimates the coin will sell for between $175,000 and $200,000. After eight bids, the coin sits at 135,000 in pre-auction bidding.
CM: So what did you take from the collecting personalities of Eliasberg, Green, Friend, and some of these other collectors whose pedigrees are on your coins?
HS: Each has a different look, obviously. The Newman coins have a very different look than the Eliasberg coins and you can love all of them. The Link coins have a different look than the Friend coins, as well. But Dale, I believe, bought coins that he thought were beautiful and that’s what we’ve done here. Different people could disagree on a point here or a plus here, but at the end of the day, beautiful coins, beautiful coins.
CM: What are the three or four coins you’re going to miss the most when you sell them?
HS: The 1801, which is an Eliasberg coin, is just one of my favorite coins that I’ve ever owned. It’s really a special coin. Ever since I was 13 years old and learned about Bust half dollars, the ’17/4, especially the Dosier example, which is the most original coin of all of the ’17/4s… the ’39-O just pops out of the case. It’s a wonderful coin. And then the ‘96 in 58+, the coin can be graded anything, it’s such a beautiful coin and I was so fortunate to own it.
The final coin on our list is the 1801 Draped Bust half. This is one of a dozen coins that Sharman purchased from the D. Brent Pogue Collection and is one of his favorite coins in the set.
Graded AU58 by CAC, the coin exhibits the faintest hint of wear on the cheek but features full shimmering luster. Neither the photograph above nor the one used by Stack’s Bowers during the Pogue sale truly do the coin justice.
The Pogue sale was truly a turning point for the personality of Howard’s set, he admits. Not one to upgrade his coins when an example a point better came to the market, the dozen Pogue coins that he secured were clear upgrades, most carried historic pedigrees beyond their most recent owner.
The 1801 is the coin Howard says he would most like to keep, of all of the fantastic halves in his collection, he tells me. The coin has that classic “Eliasberg” look to it and traces its provenance back to Matthew A. Stickney. Some collectors collect coins; others collect collectors. With this coin, you can collect both. Henry Chapman described the Stickney coin as “one of the finest” he had ever seen in a 1907 catalog.
Astonishingly, Pogue owned two condition census 1801s. The “finer” of the two was graded PCGS MS63 and sold for $129,250. Howard purchased this example minutes later for $58,750. Legend estimates the coin will sell for between $50,000 and $60,000. Current bid is 42,500.
My conversation with Howard drew to a close and I made my way through the room to say my goodbyes to Julie Abrams, the Legend Rare Coin Auctions team, and some collector friends. Before I left, I turned my attention back to the three cases of coins and saw Howard surrounded by friends and fellow collectors taking in and enjoying his coins one more time.
As is the case for collections, the pursuit is where the fun is and the endings are always bittersweet.
On September 2, these coins begin the next leg in their journey. What kinds of collections will they help build? I wonder.