Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #263
A Weekly Coinweek Column by Greg Reynolds….
The stunning 1900-O Barber Quarter in Stephen Winthrop’s collection is almost irresistible. This coin is PCGS graded MS-66 and CAC approved. It is more attractive than 97% of the Barber quarters that are PCGS or NGC graded as MS-66, which I have seen, and I have seen most of the Barber quarters so certified. It is relevant that 1900-O quarters, in all grades, are scarcer than most interested collectors realize and these are significant condition rarities in grades above 62 (on a scale from 01 to 70), choice and gem grades.
On Friday, Feb. 6, in New York, Stack’s-Bowers will offer Stephen Winthrop’s type set of classic U.S. coins, as part of an annual “Americana Auction” that includes a wide variety of coins, medals, tokens and related items. In addition to Winthrop’s type set, this auction will certainly be remembered for American Indian peace medals and for sutler material. Sutlers were special merchants who sold goods to union soldiers during the U.S. Civil War, and many of them issued their own tokens, coupons and paper money alternatives.
Although Winthrop may have been aiming for a complete type set of all classic U.S. series, his set is not nearly complete and is not, in terms of quality or depth, in the same category as the Oliver Jung, Foxfire, ‘L.A.’ or Madison sets. The Winthrop set is, though, a wonderful group of U.S. coins, with many pieces that are especially attractive, of high quality in absolute terms, and/or ‘high end’ for their respective certified grades. In regards to coin series dating from after the Civil War until the 1930s, Winthrop’s type set is commendable and impressive. Besides, there are fair reasons as to why it was not more complete.
Also, as there is some duplication and some items that are outside of a quest for a type set, narrowly defined, his collection is a little more difficult to interpret than a more straightforward type set. His life, too, has been a little ‘out of the ordinary.’
Stephen Winthrop, a descendant of a founder and early governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was a devoted coin collector for much of his life. Winthrop’s personality and enthusiasm add dimensions to this type set. Yes, there will be some educational value in gauging the overall importance of Winthrop’s type set and analyzing the prices realized, after the sale. This 1900-O quarter, though, is on my mind at the moment.
Of the coins in his set that I have examined so far, several are especially attractive. This 1900-O quarter is captivating. I could hardly put it down.
It seems that Winthrop purchased the vast majority of the coins in this ‘type set’ from 1981 to 1986, from 1990 to 1996, and then again from 2001 to 2005. Why was he adding to this set during these periods? I note that, for the most part, he seems to have avoided buying coins during the coin market hyper-booms of early 1988 to March 1990 and 2006 to early August 2008. Winthrop did, though, buy a few of these coins in 1989 and a few during the ‘hot’ coin market periods in 2004 and 2005.
The period from 1996 to to some point in 1999 was characterized by much activity and record prices as well. None of the coins in Winthrop’s consignment to this auction are listed as having been acquired by him from 1997 to 1999. In general, the timing of his acquisitions is noteworthy, as he seems to have usually avoided buying when coin markets were around peak levels, while he has been buying coins for decades.
Indeed, Winthrop has been enthusiastic about coins since he was a kid and seriously collected while a teenager. My impression is that, if not for sad issues in his personal life, Winthrop would have eventually completed a type set of 19th century and early 20th century U.S. coins, or come close to doing so. Certainly, he has been a dedicated collector.
Many wealthy coin collectors are avid capitalists, often partners in family businesses or founders of dynamic businesses. As best as I can tell, Winthrop’s career is considerably different from those of many wealthy coin collectors. He has devoted much of his life to charities and other non-profit entities. Certainly, Winthrop has been committed to helping others. The net proceeds from his consignment to this sale will be donated to fund medical research.
A Type Set
In the traditions of coin collecting in the U.S., the two primary methods of assembling sets involve collecting ‘by type’ or collecting ‘by date’ (and mint location). Only a small percentage of collectors seek to assemble sets of coins of different die pairings or die states, though collectors of die varieties tend to be extremely committed and socially active in the coin community.
For more than 125 years, collecting ‘by date’ has been the most popular activity in regard to classic U.S. coins. In the 19th century, collecting ‘by date’ usually involved seeking to obtain one coin of each year in a series. In the 20th century, ‘collecting by date’ came to mean collecting by stated year and mint location. When I was a kid, a 1900-O quarter and a 1900-S quarter were considered different dates, and I have never met a coin collector who seeks ‘one of each year’ of a series, while ignoring mintmarks.
Collecting ‘by type’ did not become very popular until the 1980s, though it was done in earlier eras. Generally, collecting ‘by type’ is less expensive and requires less time than collecting ‘by date,’ though this is more likely to be true in regard to type sets that are limited by metal, denomination, or time period. A comprehensive type set from the 1790s to the 1930s requires both time and considerable funds to even nearly complete.
Also, type sets are often enhanced with rare dates, additional coins of the same type from multiple mints and/or representatives of subtle subtypes. It seems that Winthrop enhanced his type set in particular ways. A 1900-O quarter is a ‘better date’ and a gem 1900-O is surely an important condition rarity.
Only one Barber quarter is needed for a type set. Barber Quarters were minted from 1892 to 1916. These were preceded by Liberty Seated quarters and followed by Standing Liberty quarters.
Those who have no idea about such matters may wish to read an earlier column on Basics for Beginners. General collecting advice is provided therein and in another relevant column, advice for beginning and intermediate collectors of U.S. coins.
The 1900-O has an ‘O’ mintmark on the reverse (back of the coin) because it was minted in New Orleans. Most classic U.S. coins were minted in Philadelphia and, before 1942, Philadelphia Mint coins did not have mintmarks.
The 1900-O is a ‘better date’; it is not one of the most common dates in the series of Barber quarters, though it is not rare. It could be mildly scarce, maybe fewer than 5000 survive in all grades, certainly fewer than 10,000. A 1900-O in Good-04 grade might retail for around $15. Importantly, it is truly rare in grades above Very Fine-35, and there are almost certainly fewer than seventy-five different 1900-O quarters that should grade above 62.
In grades of 65 or higher, PCGS reports twenty-one and NGC lists fourteen 1900-O quarters. These thirty-five probably amount to twenty-five different coins, at most, and maybe twenty of these truly merit gem grades in the views of most relevant experts. An even smaller number deserve a grade of 66 or higher.
Curiously, there are more than a few 1900-O quarters that have toned wonderfully, an unusually high percentage of the number of survivors. In the middle of the 20th century, collectors often placed silver coins in Wayte Raymond “National” coin holders, which greatly contributed to the development of blue, green, yellow and sometimes red tones. This phenomena is discussed in one my articles on the Eric Newman Collection.
Quite a few naturally and very attractively toned Barber coins survive, though hardly any of them are as stunning as this 1900-O quarter. Besides, it is puzzling that gem quality 1900-O quarters tend to be more attractive than relevant others, like 1897-O, 1902-O or 1903-O quarters. I have seen several really pretty, naturally toned 1900-O quarters. Maybe someone placed a group of 1900-O quarters in a Raymond ‘National’ holder and stored the holder in a conducive environment in terms of temperature, humidity and sulphur content in the air.
One of the most attractive of all Barber Quarters is the Blay-Morelan 1900-O, which is PCGS graded MS-68+ and has simply an incredible appearance, with bright natural colors. During the summer of 2011, Bruce Morelan sold it along with much of his type set that was then ‘in progress.’ In addition, the PCGS graded MS-66 1900-O that was formerly in the Sunnywood set of Barber Quarters is naturally colorful, too. If I remember correctly, one of Eugene Gardner’s 1900-O quarters has great eye appeal, too, and it will be auctioned this year.
The existence of other appealing 1900-O quarters does not affect the obvious reality that the presently discussed Winthrop 1900-O is exceptionally attractive. This coin is much more attractive in actuality than it appears to be in catalogue pictures, which usually do not accurately represent coins. Even pictures taken by the best of coin photographers lack important elements.
Coins are three-dimensional objects, with special properties relating to minting techniques. Coins need to be tilted at angles under a lamp to be understood and appreciated.
In reality, the blue, orange-russet and green hues are richer and more vivid. Indeed, the various shades of russet, blue and green on the reverse blend together in a beautiful manner.
The grade of the Winthrop 1900-O
As this coin is so enticing, it is fair to ask why it is not graded MS-67 or MS-68? Coins that are awarded MS-68 or MS-67 grades are often so rated largely because of eye appeal. It is also true that this coin was graded MS-66 by PCGS in the 1980s and many (though not nearly all) high quality coins that were graded by PCGS or NGC in the 1980s have since been assigned higher grades.
It is certainly plausible that this coin would receive a MS-67 grade from PCGS or NGC, if submitted in 2015. Even so, I would not count on it. If this coin is upgraded, it would be largely because the grade of the reverse brings the overall grade into the 67 range. Generally, in my interpretation of the history of coin collecting, the grade of the obverse counts for two-thirds of a coin’s overall grade and thus the grade of the reverse about one-third. The edge is a grading factor in unusual cases.
The contact marks on the eagle’s left wing are minor. The reverse has the aesthetics of a 68+ grade coin and maybe the technical characteristics of a high end 66 grade coin, at least. The net grade of the reverse, by itself, is well into the 67 range.
The obverse is another matter. Though more than very attractive, the obverse is not quite as attractive as the reverse, which is spellbinding. Moreover, there are noticeable contact marks and other imperfections on Miss Liberty’s neck and cheek. In particular, a series of horizontal contact marks, however small, on her neck are a little irritating.
This coin’s grade is around the border of the 66 and 67 ranges, perhaps barely in the 67 range? Undoubtedly, some relevant experts will or would grade it as MS-67, though certainly not every one. I am not here drawing a conclusion regarding the grade of this coin. There are many collectors, of course, who would rather have a really pretty coin that has a few noticeable imperfections than a nearly flawless coin that is not nearly as attractive.
Although it may be true that several collectors are assembling sets of Barber Quarters that grade 66 or higher, I wonder if more than three are engaged in such a pursuit. One of them might not be currently active.
So, this 1900-O is more likely to be purchased by a collector assembling a type set rather than collecting ‘by date’ (and mint location). It is a terrific type coin and better dates enhance type sets. After all, acquiring a MS-66 grade, common date Barber Quarter would be an easy task. Besides, it may not be easy to to find a PCGS or NGC graded MS-66 Barber quarter of any date that is as attractive as this coin!
©2015 Greg Reynolds