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Stack’s-Bowers Rarities Night Coin Auction at Baltimore Coin Expo

Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #192

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

On Thursday, Nov. 7, at the Baltimore Convention center, Stack’s-Bowers will conduct a Rarities Night coin auction event, which will be one session in this firm’s large and varied. official auction of the “Baltimore Fall Expo.” To this coin convention, the general public is welcome from Nov. 7 to Nov. 10.

gr_sb_balt13_thumbAlthough the Rarities Night session is devoted to relatively rare U.S. coins and patterns, absolute rarities and condition rarities, many less expensive U.S. coins, world coins and other numismatic items will be offered in other auction sessions. As it is not practical to cover the whole event, or even the whole Rarities Night session, I am concentrating here on an 1881 Proof Set, the JHF Collection of Shield Nickels, some 19th century dimes, and an excellent Carson City Mint Twenty Cent piece. These are among the highlights of this Rarities Night session.

Although I have personally examined all the coins mentioned herein, I am not now, before the coin auction, declaring my grades of the coins. I am reporting the numerical grades that have been assigned by the PCGS or the NGC. As always, I strongly recommend that each bidder, who is considering spending a significant sum, hire an expert to inspect coins to be auctioned and to provide advice, someone who is not connected to an auction firm.

I. Astounding 1881 Proof Set

The star attraction of this auction is a complete 1881 Proof set, in all metals: copper, nickel, silver and gold. It is not often that a collector assembles a 19th century Proof set in all metals and the offering of any such set is newsworthy. Plus, a few of the 1881 issues are truly rare.

This set contains fourteen coins and is mesmerizing. Indeed, after examining this set on Monday in New York, I feel compelled to see this set again, at a later time, when I view additional lots in this auction.

1881_50c_rev_sbAll fourteen coins are PCGS certified and this set has been entered in the PCGS set registry, under the name “Palmetto Galleries,” where it is said to have a “weighted” grade point average of “67.68.” The assigned numerical grades, however, do not shed much light upon the glorious natural toning and overall attractiveness of most of the coins in this set.

My favorite coin in the set is the quarter, which is PCGS certified “Proof-67 Cameo.” The pictures online and in the print catalogue do not come close to conveying the eye appeal and wondrous characteristics of this coin. It is more attractive than a few Proof Liberty Seated Quarters that have been graded “68” by the PCGS or the NGC. (This does not necessarily mean that it should be graded 68. I am not now commenting upon its grade.)

The blue, green-blue, magenta and russet colors on the reverse (back of the coin) are stunning and special, somewhat different from the toning on other Proof Liberty Seated Quarters, though definitely natural. The apricot tinted, soft white Liberty Seated device on the central obverse (front) contrasts well with evenly toned, multi-colored fields. Further, there are no significant imperfections. This is a coin that I could view for a half-hour without being bored.

My second favorite coin in the set is the Trade Dollar, which is PCGS certified “Proof-67+ Cameo.” The obverse is much lighter and livelier in actuality than it appears to be in published pictures. The white Miss Liberty and the nearby obverse inner fields have gradually tinted with bright lavender and light russet tones. Other areas are toned a mellow blue-gray or various shades of russet, including orange-russet.

Although definitely natural, the toning on this coin is particularly distinct. I have viewed more than two hundred different Proof Trade Dollars, and typical natural toning on these is darker and richer. The toning of Trade Dollars, indeed, is often dominated by tan-brown-gray, medium russet and/or deep blue tones. The toning on this coin, however, is refreshingly light and cheerful. In addition to having an unusual appearance in a positive sense, this is an exceptionally pretty Trade Dollar.

This 1881 Morgan Silver Dollar is PCGS certified “Proof-68 Cameo.” Though extremely attractive, I was not overwhelmed by this coin because I have seen so many certified “68“ grade Proof Morgans. A substantial quantity of Proof-67 or -68 grade Morgans survive. Nevertheless, a collector who has not previously seen a Superb Proof Morgan before may be astonished by this coin, which certainly is glossy, evenly toned, colorful and splendid.

The 1881 Double Eagle ($20 gold coin) is the rarest coin in this set. The total number of surviving 1881 Double Eagles, including Proofs and business strikes, is very likely to be below one hundred. All 1881 Double Eagles are thus extremely rare. The 1881 in this set is PCGS certified “Proof-65 Deep Cameo.”

There are more than a few Gold Dollars that are PCGS or NGC certified as “Proofs,” yet have weak or inadequate Proof characteristics. The Gold Dollar in this set is not one of them.

The 1881 Gold Dollar in this set is obviously a Proof, unquestionably so. In addition, it is stunning and cool. The bright orange toned design elements and caramel-green inner fields are stunning. Though certified “Proof-66 Deep Cameo,” it is more enticing than many Proof Gold Dollars that have been graded “67.” This Gold Dollar is an aesthetic treat.

The Quarter Eagles of 1881 are almost as rare as 1881 Double Eagles. It is probably true that the combined total of business strike and Proof 1881 Quarter Eagles is less than one hundred as well, surely fewer than one hundred and thirty. The one in this set is PCGS certified “Proof-66 Cameo.” This is another coin that is very attractive and very impressive.

Although the Indian Cent is PCGS certified ‘Proof-67’ with a PCGS designation that it exhibits full original ‘Mint Red’ color, it has a woodlike, subdued red appearance with pleasant overtones. It really is more interesting than many Proof Indian Cents that are truly full red in color. Even so, I could understand why a collector of ‘full red’ copper coins might not be thrilled about this 1881 cent. Nevertheless, it scores highly in the technical category. There are almost no imperfections and its overall appearance is really neat.

Perhaps collectors of gem quality, Indian Cents in general may wish to consider focusing on attractively toned coins, rather than on those that are certified as being ‘full red,’ which may have been doctored or may naturally fade in the near future. In the past, I discussed the topic of focusing upon certified ‘Red & Brown’ copper coins, in the context of Two-Cent pieces.

The PCGS graded “68” 1881 Three Cent Nickel in this set is virtually flawless and very soothing. It is also important in terms of the way in which it was made. It, though, merits a discussion that would be beside the thrust of this auction preview.

The natural toning on the dime in this set is especially attractive. The PCGS certified “Proof-67 Cameo” half is more than very attractive, too. In addition to being brilliant, this half dollar scores highly in the technical category; there are hardly any hairlines or other contact marks.

Though not stunning like some of the other coins, the Three Dollar Gold piece and Eagle ($10 gold coin) in this set are important and valuable. I like them, as I like mellow tan toning on gold coins. I need to view the Half Eagle again before commenting upon it, though it certainly would grab the attention of any veteran collector who sees it.

Although 1881 business strike Half Eagles are extremely common, Proof 1881 Half Eagles are extremely rare. I am puzzled as to how researchers at the PCGS figure that twenty to twenty-five are known. I cannot trace as many as a dozen different Proof 1881 Half Eagles. Could it be that just twelve to seventeen are known?

In this 1881 Proof Set, there are condition rarities, absolute rarities and terrific type coins. It is a Proof set, a year set, a type set of sorts, and could be the core of a credible coin collection by itself.

II. JHF Sets of Shield Nickels

The most newsworthy consignment to this auction is the ‘Just Having Fun’ (JHF) Collection of Shield Nickels. This same collector consigned his set of Liberty Nickels to the Stack’s-Bowers June 2012 auction in Baltimore and his set of Standing Liberty Quarters to the Rarities Night event of Aug. 9, 2012. I covered both events. (Clickable links are in blue.)

1866_5c_sbnov13This JHF collection or parts thereof has been competing in multiple categories of Shield Nickel sets in the PCGS registry. It is the number one “All-Time Finest” in two categories of Proof Shield Nickels, “Basic” and “with Major Varieties.” It is the second “All-Time Finest” in the category of “Shield Nickels Basic Set, [Business] Strikes and Proofs.” I mention just a few nickels now. It is not implied that the ones mentioned are more accurately graded or are more desirable than all the JHF Collection Shield Nickels that are not mentioned here. These few just caught my attention in positive ways during a relatively short session of auction lot viewing.

Although 1866 business strikes are extremely common, the one in the JHF Collection is the highest certified by the PCGS. Of the thirty three that are reported to be PCGS graded “MS-66,” twenty at most are different coins. This JHF Collection 1866 is the only one that is PCGS graded “MS-66+” and none have been assigned a higher grade by the PCGS.

The toning on this coin is much more attractive in actuality than it appears in published images. If the toning is natural and I believe it to be, this coin is more than very attractive and scores highly in the category of originality overall. Unlike some of the unnaturally bright, very apparently dipped Shield Nickels in the marketplace in general, this coin is naturally pleasing. I realize, of course, that some collectors of Shield Nickels prefer coins that are unnaturally bright through dipping.

The PCGS certified and CAC approved “Proof-66 Deep Cameo” 1867 ‘No Rays’ Shield Nickel is really special. Its cameo effect stems from a relatively original ‘black and white’ contrast, which is really cool! Indeed, the obverse ‘beams out’ at the viewer.

This exact same coin was recently auctioned by Heritage in June 2013. It then had the same CAC sticker that it does now. My impression is that the JHF Collection of Shield Nickels has not, as a unit, been submitted to the CAC. There are some JHF Collection nickels that do not have stickers that would be approved, if submitted to the CAC. There are also some coins in this set that have little or no chance of being CAC approved, while in their current holders.

Published images are very unfair to the 1876 business strike that is PCGS graded “MS-66.” In general, Shield Nickels do not tend to look great in photographs. This coin, however, appears unfairly dull in the catalogue and several contact marks are every much evident in pictures. In actuality, the contact marks, though present, are overwhelmed by nice luster, along with some pretty, subtle overtones. It is a dynamic coin that ‘makes the grade.’ According to the current PCGS population report, a higher PCGS grade has not been assigned to a business strike 1876 nickel.

The JHF Collection, PCGS certified ‘Proof-67 Cameo’ 1879/8 overdate Shield Nickels is one of the highest certified of this date. Though its grade is not high in the 67 range, it is a great coin. It is captivating and there are no significant imperfections. It is unlikely that any of the other 1879/8 nickels that are also PCGS certified ‘Proof-67 Cameo’ are much more attractive than this coin. The white frosted devices contrast well with the nicely toned fields.

In terms of texture and surface quality, many of the Shield Nickels in the JHF Collection have similar appearances, which are considerably different from most of the Liberty Nickels in a set that were assembled by the same collector and auctioned in 2012. Many of the Liberty Nickels had substantial toning. His Shield Nickels tend to be lighter and whiter. It would be interesting to analyze how the JHF Shield Nickels fare in this auction.

This Rarities Night event also features the “Badlands Collection,” which is the first ranked set of gold commemoratives in the NGC registry. Many of the commemoratives included are NGC graded “67” or higher.

III. Eliasberg 1805 Draped Bust Dime

An 1805 dime that was formerly in the Eliasberg Collection is PCGS graded “MS-65.” Louis Eliasberg formed the all-time greatest collection of U.S. coins. This dime was auctioned by the firm of Bowers & Merena during May 1996 in New York City.

Like many of the coins that were formerly in the Eliasberg Collection, this dime scores highly in the category of originality. The toning is stable and not dark, mostly a nice russet-tan-blend. There is a fair amount of underlying original luster in the obverse inner fields. Further, it has very few contact marks. This 1805 dime is satisfying.

IV. 1842-O Liberty Seated Dime

There are NGC graded MS-65, rare U.S. coins that the PCGS will not grade as MS-65 and the CAC will not approve at the MS-65 level. I am not saying that this 1842-O dime is one of them. I am certain, though, that it was PCGS graded MS-64 in the past. Regardless of whether it is graded MS-64 or MS-65, I very much like this 1842-O Liberty Seated Dime.

This coin scores extremely high in the category of originality. Many sophisticated collectors will appreciate it more than some of the graders at the leading services. It has stable, mostly light-brown-russet gray toning, which is very stable, with a few darker russet or green areas, plus some nice orange bands on the obverse. Moreover, this coin is characterized by a substantial amount of semi-vibrant, underlying original luster. Overall, this 1842-O dime is very attractive.

The fact that some of the areas that lack detail are a little darker may lead to an illusion that this coin has wear, in the eyes of some. It is strictly uncirculated and it has no friction on the highpoints. It is just weakly struck. The toning and originality of this coin are so pleasing that a few contact marks in the lower left obverse field are less noticeable than these would be on an apparently dipped coin. There are coins that appeal to sophisticated collectors that are not easily marketed to people who do not know much about rare coins and the culture of coin collecting in the U.S.

In all grades, 1842-O dimes are rare. They are extremely rare in grades above MS-63. This is one of the finest known. Yes, this specific 1842-O dime is rare, important and very desirable. There are qualities apart from numerical grade and certification.

V. Proof 1852 Liberty Seated Dime

Many collectors do not often think about the rarity of 1852 dimes in Proof format. The PCGS and the NGC together have probably certified no more than eleven different 1852 dimes as Proofs. Just three of these eleven or so have been CAC approved, including the one in this auction. At most, seventeen exist. The current piece is PCGS certified and CAC approved as ‘Proof-65 Cameo.’

1852_10c_sbIt is unlikely that any grading expert would have doubts about the assigned 65 grade. Although the cameo contrast is light to moderate, the cameo designation is not surprising, and probably for the best. It would be unfortunate if someone dipped this coin in an attempt to bring about, unnaturally, a sharper cameo contrast. Decades of natural toning, and much of the history of some coins, are often destroyed by seconds of dipping in acidic solutions.

Yes, this dime was moderately dipped long ago. Repeated dippings add to the harm done by an initial dipping. This 1852 dime has naturally retoned in a nice way, with light, champagne and yellow-green tones, plus some touches of light blue. There are minor hairlines amidst (U.S. Mint caused) die finishing lines in the obverse inner fields. The imperfections present are consistent with a 65 grade. This coin is very attractive overall.

VI. 1875-CC Twenty cent piece

Branch Mint, business strike Twenty Cent pieces were minted for just two years, 1875 and 1876. Given the extreme rarity of the 1876-CC issue, most collectors of Twenty Cent pieces, or of Carson City (Nevada) Mint coins in general, will never own an 1876-CC. The 1875-CC issue, however, is not rare. There is a really nice one in this sale. It is NGC graded MS-66 and has a sticker of approval from the CAC.

1875-cc_20c_sbNot usually brilliant, 1875 Carson City Mint Twenty Cent pieces tend to be mellow with naturally deep toning. This certainly one of the ten finest known 1875-CC Twenty cent pieces.

Though technically stronger, this one is not nearly as attractive as the 1875-CC Twenty Cent piece in the ‘Battle Born Collection,’ the complete set of Carson City Mint coins that Stack’s-Bowers auctioned on Aug. 9, 2012. That one was deeply toned as well.

The toning on this 1875-CC is definitely natural and attractive. Plus, the obverse scores very highly in the technical category and the contact marks on the reverse are very minor. This is a very likable coin that many sophisticated collectors would appreciate.

Eventually, I will comment on some quarters, halves, silver dollars and gold coins in this sale. Also, the 1876 Proof set being offered is noteworthy.

©2013 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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