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Rare US Coins: Gem Quality, Norweb Family 1833 Dime

Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #215

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

Over a period of two afternoons, I spent a few hours viewing the U.S. coins that will be offered tomorrow in a Stack’s-Bowers Rarities Night event in Baltimore. The whole Stack’s-Bowers auction extravaganza includes far more than U.S. coins. The offering of the Charles Wharton Collection of medals is a landmark event, and important medals from other consignors are being sold as well. This extravaganza will also be remembered for tokens and paper money. In regard to U.S. coins, this is not an epic sale. One coin that stood above the others is my favorite coin in the Rarities Night event, the Norweb Collection 1833 Capped Bust Dime.

This 1833 dime is PCGS graded “MS-65+” and it has a sticker of approval from the CAC. Although it came from an unnamed consignor in 2014, it was previously owned by the Norweb family. They had one of the all-time greatest collections of coins. The Norweb family’s U.S. coins were auctioned in New York by Bowers & Merena of New Hampshire during 1987 and 1988.

1833_10c_sbThere are two major varieties of 1833 dimes, those with normal numerals in the ‘date,’ meaning the year on the coin in this context, and those dimes with the second ‘3’ placed notably higher on the obverse die than the first numeral ‘3.’ The coin in this auction is of this “Last 3 High” variety, which is sometimes collected as a distinct ‘date’ by people who are assembling sets of Capped Bust Dimes ‘by date.’ Regardless of whether this variety is regarded as a distinct ‘date’ or as just a minor variation of an 1833 dime, the coin in this auction is among the finest known 1833 dimes of any variety, has exceptional natural toning, and is a coin that sophisticated collectors would be likely to appreciate as it scores very high in the category of originality.

Herein, after some introductory material on Capped Bust Dimes, this Norweb 1833 dime is discussed in great detail and choice to gem unicrculated (‘MS’) 1833 dimes are covered in broad terms. Beginners may wish to read an earlier article on Collecting Dimes in general and my piece on classic dimes that cost less than $500 each. (Clickable links are in blue.)

I have also devoted a discussion to ‘Dimes of 1822.’ The 1822 is the key date in the Capped Bust Dime series and is a famous issue of the first half of the 19th century. The 1833 is not rare and 1833 dimes are available to many collectors, including those who have very limited budgets.

A non-certified 1833 dime in Good-04 grade may retail for around $30. A Good-04 grade with ‘Last 3 High’ might sell for $5 or $10 more, unless it is of an extremely rare die variety. A non-certified 1833, with or without a ‘High 3,’ that grades Fine-12 would tend to retail for an amount ranging from $45 to $70.

I. What are Capped Bust Dimes?

Capped Bust Dimes were minted from 1809 to 1837. The 1822 is the only date that is truly rare. A readily apparent, major variety of an 1829, with a numeral ‘2’ that has a ‘curl bottom,’ is even rarer than the 1822. A coin is rare if less than five hundred are known, including all varieties.

During the same part of the first half of the 19th century, Capped Bust Half Dimes, Capped Bust Quarters and Capped Bust Half Dollars were minted. These all have similar designs, though there are very noticeable differences, in an artistic sense.

Starting at some point in 1828, a second type of Capped Bust Dimes was introduced. While sometimes referred to as ‘small size,’ this name is not suitable for Capped Bust Dimes of the second type as these are only slighter smaller, on average, in diameter. In addition to the introduction of different border devices, there are several subtle differences. Also, generally, more advanced technology was employed to manufacture this second type of Capped Bust Dimes than was used to manufacture those of the first type.

A type set of business strike silver dimes requires just thirteen coins, at most. It could be fairly argued that some of these are subtypes rather than truly distinctive design types.

1) Draped Bust, Small Eagle 1796-97; 2) Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle 1798-1807; 3) Capped Bust, ‘Large’ 1809-28; 4) Capped Bust, ‘Small’ 1828-37; 5) Liberty Seated, No Stars on Obverse (front) 1837-38; 6) Liberty Seated with Stars and No Drapery on Obverse 1838-40; 7) Liberty Seated with Stars and Drapery on Obverse 1840-1853, 1856-60; 8) Liberty Seated — Arrows & Stars on Obverse 1853-55; 9) Liberty Seated – Legend on Obverse 1860-73, 1875-91; 10) Liberty Seated – Arrows & Legend on Obverse 1873-74; 11) Barber 1892-1916; 12) Mercury 1916-45; 13) Roosevelt 1946-64.

The current discussion relates to business strike 1833 dimes. Business strikes are coins made by ordinary or routine methods. Proofs were specially made and have particular kinds of physical characteristics. While 19th century Proofs have especially reflective surfaces and were struck with specially prepared dies, there are many coins with mirror surfaced that are not Proofs.

The main difference between a Proof and a business strike relates to the relationship between the devices (raised elements) and respective adjacent fields (relatively flat areas). I discuss the criteria for a Proof in other articles, especially in my article on the Newman Collection Proof 1818 Quarter, in my analysis of the $10 million Carter-Cardinal 1794 dollar, and a feature on the only known 1855-S quarter. It is not practical to discuss Proof 1833 dimes here.

II. This Norweb 1833

Generally, any coin that received a  ‘plus grade’ from the PCGS (65+ in this case) and is not in a  PCGS ‘Secure’ holder must have been graded after May 2010. The characteristics of the holder suggest that this 1833 dime was certified, or just reholdered, by the PCGS after 2011.

The fact that the second numeral ‘3’ is placed above, as well as being to the right of, the first numeral ‘3,’ is noted on the label (‘insert’) inside the holder, as is the “Norweb” pedigree. A green CAC sticker, which was applied by officials at the CAC in New Jersey, is plainly evident as well.

If experts at the CAC had figured that its grade is in the ‘low end’ of the 65 range, it would not have received a sticker. Experts at the CAC, however, ignore the ‘plus’ grades assigned by graders at the PCGS and the NGC. In another words, experts at the CAC are not revealing whether they graded this coin as being in the ‘high end’ or in the middle of the 65 grade range.

In my view, the grade of the obverse (front of the coin) just makes it into the ‘high end’ of the 65 range. The reverse (back of the coin) is of higher quality, easily meriting a grade in the middle of the 66 range.

1833_10c_thumb1My interpretation of the history of coin collecting in the U.S., especially over the last quarter-century, indicates that the obverse of a coin counts for around two-thirds of a coin’s overall grade and the reverse about one-third. At least one expert at the CAC, however, disagrees with my conclusion about the role of the quality of the reverse in the determination of a coin’s overall grade.

The overall grade of this 1833 dime is very close to the 66 range. The primary reasons why this coin has not already been graded as “MS-66” are a shallow gash and some hairlines on Miss Liberty’s face. There are also some light abrasions in the obverse inner fields that are, for the most part, covered by natural toning. While the Norweb 1833 dime does not score that high in the category of technical factors, this coin has the eye appeal that experts would associate with a 66 grade.

The toning on this 1833 dime is definitely natural and is very pleasant. Moreover, this coin has never been cleaned, in the sense that the ‘term’ cleaned is understood in the history of coin collecting. If it was ever dipped, such an event occurred a long time ago. While I am not assuming or even suggesting that this dime is perfectly or ‘totally’ original, it scores very highly in the category of originality. It may be impossible to determine such a score with absolute precision. It is far more original than most surviving, ‘mint state’ (“MS”) grade silver coins from the 1830s.

The fact that it is so original makes it especially appealing to sophisticated collectors, as they (usually) prefer rare coins that are very much original. This is a point that I have discussed at length in other contexts, including a recent article on building great collections and in a series on the basis for preferring naturally toned coins in 2009.

The Norweb pedigree further distinguishes this coin. Indisputably, the Norweb family assembled one of the dozen all-time greatest collections of U.S. coins. Mrs. Emily May Holden Norweb was the primary builder of this collection. In many ways, the collection was hers. She, though, inherited some coins from her father, who, in turn, had earlier inherited a few coins from his father, Emily’s grandfather.

Many rare U.S. coins in the Norweb collection were purchased, directly or indirectly, by her father from major coin auctions during the early years of the 20th century. After Emily May’s death, her son, R. Henry Norweb, Jr., inherited the collection or at least inherited control of it, I believe.

My impression is that R. Henry Norweb, Jr. chose the firm of Bowers & Merena to auction the Norweb family’s U.S. coins. In 2010, I referred to a few Barber Half Dollars that were earlier in the Norweb Collection when I wrote about Dr. Duckor’s set, the greatest collection of Barber Halves that was ever assembled.

The U.S. dimes in the Norweb Collection were sold in Oct. 1987. One of the greatest and most important aspects of the Norweb Collection was that many of the 19th century U.S. coins scored very highly in the category of originality. Generalizations, though, should not be made about all of the coins in a large, epic collection.

In all of the great collections of classic U.S. coins of multiple denominations and series, there were at least a few coins that had serious problems and/or very annoying imperfections. Indeed, although Louis Eliasberg formed the all time best collection of U.S. coins, not every coin in the Eliasberg Collection was great.

There were many terrific, 19th century U.S. silver coins in the Norweb Collection. These were the most impressive parts of the collection.

This Norweb 1833 dime is more than very attractive. The toning is extensive, though is not dark. There is much blue and green in the obverse (front) outer fields. There is also some underlying luster, which is appealing.

Most of the toning on this coin is not revealed in published pictures. The online images, though, do demonstrate that this coin was sharply struck, especially on the reverse. I note the detail in the eagle’s wings and claws. The russet toning spots in the online images are not distracting in actuality, as patches of colorful toning tend to deflect attention from these spots.

The portrait of Miss Liberty is a light to medium russet-steel color. The left inner field, near her face, is toned a pleasing blend of colors that is hard to describe, perhaps this blend could be called steel-russet-brown-tan. When this coin is tilted under a lamp at various angles, however, the colors vary. At some angles, much pale-green color comes alive.

The toning on the reverse (back of the coin) is even more attractive. On the whole, the reverse is characterized by neat blue shades with green hues in several areas. In some parts, blue and green colors have blended. There are rich red patches about the eagle’s head and the banner, ‘E PLURIBUS UNUM.’ This is a wonderful coin.

III. Uncirculated 1833 Dimes

In ‘mint state’ (MS) grades, 1833 with ‘Last 3 High’ dimes tend to be worth significantly more than 1833 dimes with normal numerals. A PCGS or NGC certified “MS-63” 1833 dime would probably retail for at least $1950. If all other factors are somewhat equal, an “MS-63” grade 1833 with ‘Last 3 High’ would be worth at least a $300 premium over an 1833 with normal numerals.

1833_10c_thumb2In Aug. 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS graded “MS-63” 1833, with normal numerals, for $2990 and, in Nov. 2012, this same firm auctioned a PCGS graded “MS-64” 1833, with normal numerals, for $1,966.50. Both coins are of the same die variety (JR-10) and neither had a CAC sticker.

So, why would a PCGS graded “MS-63” coin sell for more than 50% more than a PCGS graded “MS-64” coin? As I did not see either coin, I cannot answer this question now. My hunch is that there is something seriously wrong with the PCGS graded “MS-64” coin or there is a data entry error in the Stack’s-Bowers system. It is also possible that leading bidders thought that this PCGS graded “MS-63” coin was undergraded and/or special in some way.

Generally, a certified MS-64 grade 1833 dime has a retail value of around $3000. It is true that Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded “MS-64” 1833 in July 2012 for $3450. That coin had a CAC sticker and may have easily been worth a 15% premium. Online images suggests that it might have attractive, natural toning.

It is hard to figure a retail level for a MS-65 grade 1833. These are rare and trade infrequently. Furthermore, there seem to be very different levels for PCGS, NGC and CAC graded “MS-65” 1833 dimes. Although the PCGS reports that thirteen 1833 dimes have been PCGS graded as “MS-65,” I hypothesize that this total represents just five or six different coins that are currently in PCGS holders with “MS-65” grades.

The PCGS population report lists zero 1833 dimes, with normal numerals, as grading “MS-65+” and four as grading “MS-66.” I find the total of four to be hard to believe, though it is plausible. The lone PCGS graded “MS-66” 1833 with normal numerals that is pictured on the PCGS CoinFacts site seems frightening. The images give the impression that it has been recently and heavily dipped, and is characterized by an artificial, very bright white color. Clearly, the Norweb 1833 with ‘Last 3 High’ scores much higher in the category of originality, and, in my view, is much more desirable.

A PCGS graded “MS-63” 1833 with ‘Last 3 High’ may retail for at least $2350. A PCGS graded “MS-64” 1833 with ‘Last 3 High’ would probably retail for around $4350.

The PCGS graded “MS-64” 1833 with ‘Last 3 High’ that Heritage auctioned in Aug. 2013 may not be properly accounted for in the PCGS population report as the label (insert) then incorrectly identified it as an 1833 with normal numerals rather than as an 1833 with ‘Last 3 High.’ In any case, this coin does not score highly in the category of originality. It is artificially bright from at least one moderate to heavy dipping not that long ago.

That PCGS graded “MS-64” 1833 with ‘Last 3 High’ sold for $3818.75 in Aug. 2013. In Jan. 2014, Heritage auctioned this same dime again. It was still incorrectly classified by the PCGS as an 1833 with normal numerals, though it had since been upgraded from “64” to “64+.” It did not sell for a dramatically greater amount, $4,112.50, in 2014.

In MS-65 and higher grades,1833 with ‘Last 3 High’ dimes are incredibly rare. These should retail for at least $8000.

In Aug. 2010, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded “MS-65” coin for just $6325. This coin, though, had been blatantly dipped not long ago. In Nov. 2011, Heritage auctioned the same coin, again, though it had been upgraded by the PCGS to “MS-66” in the interim. There are noticeable scratches on the face and on the neck. In 2011, it brought $11,212.50. Am I the only one who figures that continual upgrades of coins is a serious problem for collector-buyers? If this coin really graded “MS-66” in the views of most relevant experts, it probably would have sold for more than $15,000 in Nov. 2011.

In Nov. 2013, Heritage auctioned the NGC graded “MS-65” Newman Collection 1833 with ‘Last 3 High’ for $6,462.50.  Although I examined a great many silver coins in the Newman Collection, I seem to have overlooked this one. If it is true that most relevant experts would really grade it as “MS-65,” the price realized is certainly reasonable.

In Jan. 2009 and again in April 2013, Heritage auctioned the O’Neal 1833, which is PCGS graded “MS-66” and is CAC approved. It brought $16,100 in 2009 and $17,625 in 2013. These are fair prices.

In April 2009 and in Aug. 2012, Heritage auctioned the 1833 with ‘Last 3 High’ that is NGC graded as “MS-68”! It is not mentioned in the corresponding catalogues that Heritage auctioned this exact same coin on Jan. 12, 2005, when it was NGC graded as “MS-67,” and even that grade was debatable. I saw it in 2012.

Most relevant experts would grade it as being in the ‘low end’ of the MS-67 range, maybe in the middle. Even so, it is a very attractive coin and the toning on the obverse is really nice. The reverse is unnaturally frosty from having been dipped in the past. The Norweb piece scores higher in the category originality, though the NGC graded “MS-68” coin scores much higher in the technical category. The reverse is almost flawless and the obverse has just very minor imperfections.

The the NGC graded “MS-68” coin realized $34,900 in April 2009 and, less, $32,900 in Aug. 2012. Buyers of quality classic U.S. coins, on average, became more sophisticated after the 2008-09 recession and became more likely to think critically about the grades assigned by the PCGS or the NGC.

As an NGC graded “MS-67” coin, this later certified “MS-68” 1833 realized $21,850 on Jan. 12, 2005. That result is consistent with my view that this coin’s grade is just barely in the MS-67 range. The presently discussed Norweb piece, even if it brings a very strong price, may be a better value than that one, from a cultural perspective.

©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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