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The Missouri Half Cent Coin Collection, Part III: Astonishing $18.26 Million for Tettenhorst Set!

Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #207

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds ………..

The Tettenhorst-Missouri set of just half cents totaled more than $18 million in just one day, for 228 half cents! The Goldbergs auctioned this collection on Sunday, Jan. 26, at The Luxe Hotel, on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.

While a few excellent half cents have emerged, over the years, in the contexts of  various auctions, the Tettenhorst-Missouri set was best the collection of half cents to ever be publicly auctioned and perhaps the most incredible collection of half cents that can be realistically imagined. I can only think of a few fabulous, early half cents that it did not contain, and most of those were mentioned in part 1 or part 2 of this series, or herein. (Clickable links are in blue.) There are are also a handful of fabulous, early half cents in Jim McGuigan’s collection, most of the contents of which are listed in the PCGS set registry.

Although a few very special coins sold for more than $700,000 each, the relatively less scarce business strike half cents and the Proofs brought the strongest prices and propelled the whole sale to an incredible height. My analysis indicates that the pre-1800 half cents tended to realize moderate prices, some of which were weak, while a large number of post-1800 half cents brought very strong to extremely strong prices.

miss_thumb“This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire the finest, unmolested gem half cents known,” asserts Richard Burdick. Coins that grade 65 or higher (on a scale of 01 to 70) are typically termed gems and there were an incredible number of gem half cents in this auction, of all types and most all dates. “I consider being involved in the acquisition of many gems from the all-time greatest collection of half cents to be one of the highpoints of my multi-decade career as a coin professional,” Burdick declares.

John Albanese, the founder and president of the CAC, concludes that this “sale was a spectacular success; $18 million is a lot of money for half cents. The prices for the greatest coins were not that strong, a few were very reasonable. The prices for most of the Tettenhorst half cents, especially for some common dates, were very strong. I just can’t understand the high prices paid for some of the half cents from the 1820s and 1830s.”

Jim McGuigan suggests that “most of the Proofs brought very strong prices, sometimes more than twice as much as I expected.” McGuigan is a distinguished expert in the half cent series and a leading collector of them.

I. Unbelievable Prices for 19th century half cents

A PCGS and CAC graded Very Fine-30 1804 sold for $120,750. Even for a rare die variety, this result was more than twice the value that most experts figured this coin to be worth.

miss_1809McGuigan declares that the “1809s went crazy.” Results for these illustrate my point that post-1800 half cents tended to bring very strong to extremely strong prices in this auction.

McGuigan directs attention to the two PCGS certified and CAC approved ‘MS-66-Brown’ 1809 half cents. The first one went for $63,250. McGuigan was expecting a price in the range of “$15,000 to $20,000.” The second one brought $89,125!

An 1809 of a different, though also common variety, is PCGS certified ‘MS-65+ Brown’ and is CAC approved at the MS-65 level. McGuigan expected it to sell for around $15,000 and it sold for $80,500. Jim reveals that “I paid $3,000 for mine, a PCGS 65-Red-Brown of the same variety.”

McGuigan also draws attention to an 1810 that is PCGS certified ‘MS-66+ Brown’ and CAC approved at the MS-66 level. Jim valued it between $30,000 and $40,000. It brought $109,250.

I, not Jim, refer to an 1834 Classic Head Half Cent that is PCGS certified and CAC approved as ‘MS-65RB.’ It is a common date. A PCGS certified ‘MS-63-RB’ 1834 would be worth less than $1,000. Before this auction, editors of the PCGS CoinFacts guide valued a PCGS certified ‘MS-65RB’ of this date at “$4,250.” This Tettenhorst piece sold for $26,450. Such a result was not a fluke. I emphasize that there were many extremely strong prices for non-rare half cents in this auction.

II. Finest Known 1794

The PCGS certified and CAC approved, ‘MS-67-Red & Brown’ 1794, which I focused upon in part 2, was the highest priced half cent in this collection. I had declared that it may break the million dollar barrier and it did, $1.15 million! Although a record, this was a moderate to slightly strong price, not a very strong price.

miss_1794John Albanese remarks that “it is one of the most visually appealing early U.S. coins that I have ever seen. The quality is just amazing.” Richard Burdick states that it “was one of the coolest early U.S. coins that I have ever had in my hand. It has a look that defies verbal description. It is just so original and beautiful. It is difficult to put down.” This 1794 was purchased by the Pogue family, a major buyer in this auction.

Burdick reports that he and “Larry Hanks represented the Pogue family. We are ecstatically happy with the results. We virtually completed the Pogue family collection of half cents, acquired pieces needed and upgraded some pieces.”

Burdick adds that the Pogue family “bought the EF-45 1802 half cent, which was one of the most important coins in the whole auction. It is a sleeper. It is the best 1802 known of any variety.” McGuigan agrees that “it is certainly the finest known.”

That 1802 (which is an 1802/0 overdate, as are all 1802 half cents) is PCGS and CAC graded Extremely Fine-45. It brought $138,000.  Has an 1802/0 ever before sold for one-tenth as much, $13,800, at auction?

III. $1.21 Million for an 1811

miss_1811 The results for three of the five price leaders were not surprisingly high. The $1.21 million amount, however, for an 1811 half cent was mind boggling, in my view. Before this sale, had an 1811 half cent ever sold at auction for more than $50,000?

Jim McGuigan was not surprised that a PCGS certified and CAC approved ‘MS-66RB’ 1811 sold for $1.21 million.  It is true, however, that McGuigan personally owns a PCGS certified ‘MS-62-Brown’ 1811, which is certainly in the condition ranking for this date. This $1.21 million  result, Jim says, “in the range, what was expected, it was one of five potential million dollar coins in this sale.”

 Martin Logies reasons that, “of some rare dates or varieties, the finest known may be a rather low grade, such as the Holmes-Mervis 1795 Reeded Edge Large Cent, the finest known at VG-10, or the Holmes-Mervis 1793 Strawberry Leaf Large Cents graded Fair-02 and Good-04. Here, however, this 1811 half cent stood out as not only the finest known of its date, but also one of the most visually impressive of all Classic Head Half Cents. Even if you disregarded the date entirely, this coin would command attention,” Martin declares. Logies is the curator of the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation, the former owner of a landmark set of large cents.

Albanese did “not figure” the PCGS certified and CAC approved ‘MS-66RB’ 1811 at more than a million dollars. “I expected $600,000 to $800,000,” John reveals. Albanese points out, though, this sale might have been “the sole opportunity to acquire a gem 1811 half cent” in the current era. Before this collection surfaced, none had been certified as grading above 62.

Even so, hundreds of circulated 1811 half cents survive, maybe even more than five hundred. I had figured this “MS-66RB” 1811 to have a market value of around $400,000. I did not talk to McGuigan about this coin before the auction. I am not aware of anyone indicating that it was ‘expected’ to bring a price that was anywhere near a million dollars.

This $1.21 million price is one of the strongest auction results that I have ever reported. I have been analyzing coin auctions for more than twenty years.

A high grade 1811 is just not the kind of coin that many collectors dream about. There are many famous rarities in copper and true Great Rarities in silver that can be acquired for less than one million dollars each, even in 65 grade in some cases. The Eliasberg pedigree 1838-O half dollar recently sold for less than $800,000. Further, a Proof-65 1884 Trade Dollar brought slightly less than one million earlier this month and its price then was very strong. This 1811 half cent is a condition rarity, not a Great Rarity.

The highest graded 1811 that Heritage has auctioned over the last twenty years is certified as “AU-55.” Another 1811, which was in the Jules Reiver Collection, is said to have been “improperly cleaned” and to have the ‘details’ of an uncirculated coin. It was auctioned for $43,125 in Jan. 2006. In Nov. 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS graded “AU-53” 1811 for $11,750.

The next lot (#103) after the $1.21 million 1811, was a PCGS graded and CAC approved “AU-58+” 1811, which sold for $25,300. This seems to be a reasonable price. Such a price for such a coin would have been expected in a routine auction with nameless consignments.

The following lot (#104) featured another landmark 1811 half cent. This piece is PCGS graded “MS-65+” and is CAC approved at the MS-65 level. This “MS-65+” 1811 brought $299,000, which would have been considered an extremely strong price in any auction last year. McGuigan remarks that “it is a nice coin and a relative bargain.” Albanese acknowledges the significance of this price “being one-fourth as much” as the $1.21 million price for the already mentioned “66RB” 1811, though John states “that $299,000 is still a lot of money and a strong price” for this coin.

 IV. Other Price Leaders

I really thought of just three Tettenhorst-Missouri half cents as being million dollar items. In addition to the already mentioned PCGS and CAC certified, ‘MS-67-RB’ 1794, I figured that two 1796 half cents would probably bring around $1 million each. Although I would not have been surprised if the PCGS graded ‘MS-66-Brown’ 1793 had reached the million dollar level,  I had figured its auction level value at around $800,000. The $920,000 result for that 1793 was slightly strong.

The greatest shock, in my view, was that fifteen different half cents sold for more than $250,000 each. Before this event on Jan. 26, only two or three half cents had sold for more than $250,000 each at auction, as far as I know. In May 1996, the Eliasberg 1796 ‘No Pole Half Cent sold for $506,000. On Jan. 22, 2013, an agent for NFC was the successful bidder when the firm of Wooley & Wallis auctioned a 1796 half cent for £185,000 ($293,540) in Salisbury, England. That 1796 ‘With Pole’ half cent was later certified as ‘MS-66-Brown’ by the NGC.

miss_1796 In part 1, the 1796 ‘No Pole’ Half Cent was analyzed, which is the rarest date in the series. (Clickable links are in blue.) I then explained the meaning of the ‘pole’ and the significance of its absence. I also discussed the rarity of these two issues, respectively.

A Tettenhorst-Missouri 1796 ‘No Pole’ is PCGS and CAC graded MS-65. It sold for $891,250, a slightly weak price. Even if someone ought to grade this coin as ‘MS-64,’ it would still be, indisputably, the second finest known 1796 ‘No Pole,’ the rarest of all half cents that are sought by people who collect “by date.” Yes, half cent collectors often categorize the 1796 ‘No Pole’ and the 1796 ‘With Pole’ as two distinct dates. Clearly, they are more than just “major varieties.” Besides, the total number known, in all grades, of all 1796 half cents is certainly less than 170.

It was generally expected that this coin would break the million dollar barrier.  Back in 2008, I covered the Goldbergs sale of the well worn Rouse piece for $345,000. It is true, however, that the Eliasberg 1796 ‘No Pole’ exhibits a substantial amount of original mint red color, which is lacking on the Tettenhorst-Missouri 1796 ‘No Pole.’ Albanese regards the $891,250 result as “a wholesale price” and this coin as “one of the best deals in the auction.”

The 1796 ‘With Pole, while not nearly as rare as the ‘No Pole,’ is extremely rare. The Tettenhorst-Missouri 1796 ‘With Pole’ is PCGS certified ‘MS-65+ Red & Brown’ and is CAC approved at the ‘MS-65’ level. In the catalogue, Grellman refers to “faded mint red covering about 15% of ” this coin. In my view, there is rather bright mint red on the coin on and about the design elements. The color on the obverse is much more impressive than Grellman’s words might suggest. The $718,750 result was one of the weaker prices in an auction that was characterized by very strong prices.

McGuigan theorizes that this 1796 ‘No Pole’ is “probably the sixth finest known or so, out of eight to ten AU to unc. coins.” Jim adds that one hundred of the surviving 1796 ‘With Pole’ half cents “grade less than VG-10”! So, someone seeking an excellent ‘mint state’ 1796 half cent does not have many choices. With substantial mint red, and a neat overall look, this 1796 was one of the best buys in this auction.

V. The first half cents

Although 1794 half cents have also become recognized as one-year type coins, 1793 half cents remain the most famous and highly desired of all half cents. After all, U.S. coinage began in 1793 and 1793 half cents do look very different from 1794 or 1795-97 half cents. It is indisputable that 1793 half cents constitute a one-year design type.

The Tettenhorst-Missouri Collection contained six 1793 half cents, representing four different die pairings. I was not surprised that the PCGS certified ‘MS-65-Brown’ 1793, which sold as lot #1, did not have a sticker from the CAC. The fact that it might be the finest known of the first die variety is curious, though most bidders or potential bidders for this coin do not collect by die variety. The PCGS price guide value is $300,000 and I was not expecting bidding for this coin to even reach that level. The $379,500 result is very strong and not a good value.

Jim McGuigan and Richard Burdick disagree. They find this $379,500 result to be a good value. Indeed, Jim says that it is “a bargain.”

The second 1793, sold as lot #2, is a PCGS graded “VF-35” representative of the same first variety (C1) and was disappointing as well, in terms of quality. Jim McGuigan recollects selling this specific coin to Tettenhorst, who bought it “for the very late die state.” It was one of the last group struck with a particular pair of dies.

miss_1793I find the $13,800 result to be a strong price, for a ‘VF’ details 1793 that is non-gradable. McGuigan explains that experts at the grading services are more lenient in assigning numerical grades to 1793 half cents than they are in assigning numerical grades to 19th century half cents.

The PCGS certified ‘MS-62-Brown’ 1793 (C2) is a very likable coin. “This piece offers excellent eye appeal with just a hint of friction on the highest points of the design,” states Bob Grellman in the catalogue. Although the experts at the CAC may have graded this coin as AU-58, I am comfortable enough with the assigned 62 grade. The reverse by itself grades MS-63. Even as a 58+ or 61 grade 1793, the $63,250 result is fair, given the attractiveness and superior surface quality of this coin. While it is inferior to other 1793 half cents in this auction, it would be a star of many other serious collections.

The PCGS certified and CAC approved ‘MS-65-Brown’ 1793 (C3) is an excellent coin. The obverse, by itself, grades MS-66, in my view. Certainly, the overall coin merits a grade in the middle to high end of the 65 range. The $718,500 result is unquestionably strong, though is very much understandable. This is the most exciting 1793 half cent that I have ever seen and I have been viewing coins in major auctions for more than twenty years.

Richard Burdick was the successful bidder, on behalf of the Pogue family. “This PCGS certified ‘MS65-Brown’ half cent that sold as lot #4 is the only high quality 1793 half cent that I have ever seen that has significant mint red on both sides. It is really neat that the liberty cap design was silhouetted with original mint red, and the reverse had even more original mint red,” Richard exclaims. The 1793 half cents that sold as lot #1 and as lot #4 “were both in PCGS 65-Brown holders, but there is a huge difference in quality. It made sense for lot #4 to bring almost twice as much as lot #1,” Burdick asserts.

While not as great as the certified ‘65-Brown’ 1793 (C3) that sold as lot #4, the  PCGS certified ‘64+ Brown’ 1793 (C3) that sold as lot #5 is an excellent coin. McGuigan remarks that it is “great”!

Almost zero contact marks are noticeable under five-times magnification and this coin is very attractive overall. The mint-caused imperfections are not very bothersome. Indeed, it could fairly be graded as MS-65. I am not surprised that it brought $345,000, almost as much as lot #1 brought, $379,500. It could be fairly argued that it is superior in quality to the certified “65-Brown” 1793 that sold as lot #1.

A PCGS certified and CAC approved ‘MS-66-Brown’ 1793 sold as lot #6. The $920,000 price is considered weak by many experts, including McGuigan. Jim owns the other PCGS graded “MS-66” 1793 half cent. However some viewed this price as not weak.

While this coin grades 66 in accordance with PCGS and CAC standards, one might ask why  this coin brought only slightly less than $225,000 more than lot #4, despite being PCGS and CAC graded a whole point higher?

McGuigan points out that a 65 or 66 grade 1793 half cent “has not traded in such a long time that it is hard to know what these are worth.” Given the popularity of 1793 half cents, the few survivors that grade above 63, the importance of the year 1793, and the fact that a 1793 half cent is needed for many type sets, these are good values, from a logical perspective.

Burdick says, “I strongly prefer the MS-65 1793 [that sold as lot #4] to the MS-66-Brown 1793 in this auction. We are not only interested in numerical grades; we are looking for originality and a certain kind of aesthetics.”  Even so, these are both wonderful coins.

The extremely strong prices, however, for many common or barely scarce 19th century half cents in this auction remain incomprehensible, and  the  results will be discussed and debated for years to come.

©2014 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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  1. Great article Greg. I attended the sale and bought a large number of coins on behalf of my client, including several that you mention in this article (like the 1796 no pole and 1811 in MS65 BN; I was the underbidder on the 1811 MS66 RB). We also loved this collection and it will forever be a great memory for me to have even had a chance to view it in its entirety. I was not the buyer of any of the 1793 half cents, however, I would like to add the I personally thought that lot #6 was the best of an unforgettable run of this rare issue. #4 was nice but my notes suggest that I felt #6 “is a solid point, or two finer than lot #4,” which also happens to coincide with PCGS.

    Overall the collection was amazing and the bidders came prepared to battle — and the results show this. What a great group of coins. The efforts of Goldberg/Grellman/McCawley should also be recognized because they did a fantastic job in every aspect of this sale.

    • John:
      We heard that you were very active at the sale . Congratulations!

      Your comments on the 1793’s are interesting and well taken as we have received some similar feedback about Richard Burdick’s comments on Lot #4 (which he purchased), vs Lot #6. Seems others agree with your assesment that Lot #6 was clearly a finer coin, and that although it did not have as much “red” as #4, it’s “originality” was never in question. Several people added that the purchase of #6 was a good deal, but we are sure the new owner already knows that.

      We also agree with you that this sale will be one that is remembered for some time to come, and that the Goldbergs/Grellman/McCawley did an excellent job once again.


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