By Chris Bulfinch for CoinWeek …..
Heritage Auctions will be selling Bob R. Simpson’s extensive collection of coins beginning on September 17, 2020, in “Important Selections from the Bob R. Simpson Collection, Part I” (Simpson Part I). The first part of the collection going to the auction block, assembled over decades by the fossil fuel magnate, contains remarkable rarities with a particular focus on U.S. patterns.
Simpson, a co-founder of XTO Energy, a natural gas firm acquired by ExxonMobile in 2010, is described by Heritage in a press release announcing the auction “as legendary in numismatic circles as the coins he collects.” He purchased several large pattern collections over a period of years, spending more than $36 million on a single pattern collection in 2007. Numismatics entered Simpson’s life early, according to a Coin World interview published in Coin World’s January 3, 2011, issue. He began collecting as a teenager. Intrigued by what he thought was a bronze 1943 Lincoln cent, he began collecting coins more seriously after finding work as an accountant.
In 2017, Simpson’s collection of 85 Standard Silver patterns was auctioned by Legend Numismatics at the Regency Auction XX in Las Vegas. 2016 saw Simpson’s “Quintuple Stella” 1879 $20 gold pattern sell for $1.88 million. Before the 2017 auction, Simpson’s collection was estimated to contain 1,800 of the 2,000 U.S. patterns listed in J. Hewitt Judd’s reference volume.
Laura Sperber, a Partner at Legend Auctions who assembled Simpson’s collection since 2002, reflected that, while she was “heartbroken” to see the coins go up for auction, she “[does] not think our 18-year journey is over yet.” Simpson’s collecting interests emphasized eye appeal and exceptionally high grades, with the “two loves of his numismatic life” being $10 Indian Head gold eagles and Proof gold patterns.
“Eye appeal is critical to him. He likes really wild colors,” Sperber said.
She went on to describe the upcoming first part of the sale as “a good representation of what to expect overall.”
The upcoming sale is part of a winnowing process – which, Sperber stressed, was no indication of Simpson’s continued activity in the market. Patterns are not the focus of the first part of the sale, however. Gold rarities stand out, as do several subsidiary rarities like the finest-known 1894-S Barber dime, a legendary coin, one of nine known examples of the original mintage of 24. Many notable patterns are featured in this sale as well.
“The man likes his patterns,” says Sperber.
The pieces that Simpson is parting with will be sold in six more sales after August’s Part I, between November 2020 and August 2021.
Selections from the Simpson Collection, Part I
1861-D Gold Dollar
After Confederate forces seized the Dahlonega Mint in April 1861, they set about using the bullion stores and minting equipment to produce coins to finance the war. The result was the 1861-D gold dollar, “the best known and most famous” issue from the Dahlonega Mint, owing to its notorious origin (Winter, 74-75). Between 500 and 1000+ of the coins were struck by the Confederates, some of whom might have taken the gold coins as souvenirs.
Dies from the previous year were used to strike the coins which, coupled with the Confederates’ “lack of minting expertise”, made for poor-quality coins. Simpson’s example features the issue’s characteristic weak strike on the obverse. Mint personnel may have tried to remove clash marks that appear on the left side of the obverse (Winter, 74-75).
Certified MS-64+ with a Gold Shield by PCGS, Simpson’s example (lot #11188) is the finest known, though according to Heritage’s listing, more than a dozen likely exist in Uncirculated grades. In fact, coins in About Uncirculated and above are more common than heavily-worn examples. The relative prevalence of high-grade examples dovetails well with Simpson’s desire for eye-catching quality.
1862 Indian Head Cent Die Cap
Another notable coin in the auction from the outset of the Civil War, an eye-catching die cap error will be up for auction on September 17. Ranked at #3 in The 100 Greatest U.S. Error Coins, the 1862 Indian Head Cent die cap featured as lot #11338 in Important Selections, Part I is “one of the most stunning and spectacular errors we have seen or handled,” according to Heritage. Billed as “a remarkable illustration of what can go wrong during coining operations,” Simpson’s 1862 die cap sports a PCGS Gold Shield MS-67 holder.
Created by a planchet stuck in the dies and struck multiple times, Liberty’s profile is very sharp within the eight individual tabs fanned out around her. The uniface error shows no real hint of the reverse design, obliterated during the unusual striking process.
1851 Humbert Octagonal $50 Gold
The inspiration for the octagonal 1915 commemorative $50 gold coin issued at the Panama-Pacific Exposition, Humbert octagonal slugs occupy a rarefied place in the American numismatic imagination. Simpson Part I features several of the Humbert octagonal slugs, dated 1851 and 1852.
Struck to fill a void of circulating coinage, and to create a medium for paying customs duties according to the Heritage listing, the slugs were struck in 1851 and 1852 by Moffat & Co., which served as the United States Assay Office in San Francisco. Since only federally issued money could be used to pay taxes and duties, Moffat & Co.’s pieces took on an important role in commerce.
Mint State examples of the octagonal slugs are rare. According to Heritage’s listing (lot #11226), most pieces grade between Very Fine and About Uncirculated. Simpson’s example has a Lettered Edge that reads “AUGUSTUS HUMBERT UNITED STATES ASSAYER OF GOLD, CALIFORNIA, 1851” and “880” inscribed in the eagle’s banner.
1854 Kellogg & Co.
Another famous firm operating in California in the late 1840s and early-to-mid 1850s, Kellogg & Co. issued gold coins with the precious metal flowing from the goldfields. After arriving in San Francisco in October 1849, John Grover Kellogg worked for Moffat & Co. After the firm closed down in December of 1853, Kellog and another assayer started their own firm, with the blessing of their previous employers. They struck $6 million worth of $20 gold coins as the San Francisco Mint sputtered in its first year of operation. Their $20 gold coins are uncommon, though Mint State examples are “decidedly rare”, according to Heritage.
Simpson’s coin has a long auction history, dating back to 1924 when it sold in a Chapman auction for $77 to B. Max Mehl. The 1924 auction listing describes the coin as “a gem and extremely rare in this preservation.” A 1982 auction listing described it as “truly exceptional in all respects” and “worthy of a bid commensurate with its quality.” Heritage’s listing lauds the coin as “deserving of the many superlatives earlier catalogers have lavished on it.”
Lot #11177 is the finest known example of its type, in a PCGS MS-65 holder with a CAC sticker.
1872 Aamzonian Quarter Pattern
Charles Barber’s Amazonian motif, described by J. Hewitt Judd as “among [Charles Barber’s] finest [productions] from the standpoint of art and classicism (Judd, 170),” appears with stunning toning on this 1872 pattern quarter. Liberty pats an eagle’s head with her right hand, her left arm draped over a Union Shield and a sword stylized to resemble a cross, while another eagle clutches another shield on the reverse.
Certified Proof 65 with a Gold Shield and a CAC sticker, lot #11313 is one of at least seven known in silver. This particular type is identified as Judd-1195 and Pollock-1335. The pattern sports a proof finish with deep orange-red toning that deepens around the periphery, though the obverse’s toning is deeper than the reverse’s.
1879 Washlady Dollar Pattern
A supernatural power seems to hold Liberty’s hair on the obverse of this 1879 pattern dollar set to appear in Simpson Part I. Barber’s “Washlady” motif, lauded as among the most beautiful objects created by the United States Mint, is executed in copper, with dark toning around the date and denomination. The pattern’s edges are reeded.
The Heritage listing quotes an amusing 1891 auction listing that serves as an origin story for the “Washlady” name: “profile L, with enormous head of hair, held together by nothing visible…”
The Washlady design is popular and regarded as another of Barber’s best designs, and among the most beautiful US Mint products. This example (lot #11139) is the finest known, certified PR66RD Cameo by PCGS. Heritage claims that they have only sold one other Red example certified by PCGS.
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Though best known for his pattern collection, the first “Important Selections from the Bob R. Simpson Collection” displays the broad range of Simpson’s collection, from California gold to significant errors. Patterns accentuate the selections in the sale. A number of the finest known examples of coins renowned for their beauty, rarity, or historical value reside in Simpson’s collection and will be crossing the auction block in September.
As Sperber puts it, “I think it will be a big boost for the hobby if we get some new players and have many records set… the numismatic world certainly will never see an offering of pattern coins anywhere near as close.”
“I have never seen any collection with the crazy quality that is being offered do poorly.”
Judd, J. Hewitt. The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Pattern Coins. Whitman (2008)
Winter, Douglas. Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint: 1838-1861. (2013)