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Tales from the Bourse: Gobrecht in a Bottle

This New Edition of Tales from the Bourse is published courtesy of David Lawrence Rare Coins….

A look back: Gobrecht in a Bottle


It’s always difficult when someone comes in with a collection or family heirlooms to sell, when we have to tell them, “sorry, these aren’t as valuable as you think they are.” Often, it’s just a few common-date Morgan dollars in circulated condition or some well-worn Mercury dimes. They’ve seen key-date gem examples on our website and they think that what they have is of the same caliber. 
On the other hand, it’s always a great feeling to see something walk through the door that you’ve never actually seen before.  Being a dealer is a unique experience and when we have to be the bearer of bad news, we try to let people down gently.
I saw the Gobrecht in the bottle that my dad describes first hand. It was very cool and I’d wager a guess that the bottle was much more rare than the dollar. But we’re David Lawrence Rare Coins, not David Lawrence Rare Bottles…
As for the dealer that purchased the coin? Sorry, I can’t remember. But I’m sure he’ll remind me when we’re up that way again.
– John Feigenbaum


Tales from the Bourse: Chapter 1: Gobrecht in a Bottle

Shortly after I opened my full-time office in 1988, I got a call from a fellow who thought he might have a rare variety of Gobrecht dollar. These silver-dollar patterns, made from 1836 to 1839, were named after their designer.

“Bring it in,” I said, “and we’ll take a look.”

We set up an appointment for the following day. In the early afternoon a well-dressed gentleman came in holding an old vase with a narrow neck. The coin was inside, lying face up at the bottom.

He introduced himself and said the coin was part of an estate. His mother had just died and four children were involved. He was the executor. His brother, living in upstate New York, was to receive the coin collection because he had an interest in it. However, the Gobrecht dollar was not considered part of the collection. Mom had always told the family it was there for a rainy day.

Pointing to a page in the latest Red Book, he said, “I think it could be worth $20,000 or more.”

“Well, we’ll just have to break the vase and find out,” I said. “How did it get in there anyway?”

The vase had little chips on the top and was not in good condition. It clearly wasn’t worth trying to save.

“It’s been in the family as long as I can remember,” he said. “I guess the glass was blown around the coin.”

He agreed that we should break it. We brought the bottle to a back office and placed it on the floor. Using a towel to keep glass from flying about, I gently hit it with a rubber mallet. It broke easily.

I noticed immediately that the obverse was pristine, clearly in a very high-grade uncirculated condition. My heart began to race. Any Gobrecht dollar, even the most common in circulated grade, was worth thousands. This one looked like a gem! I lifted it by its edges and began to turn it over in the air. Fortunately, no pieces of glass had stuck to it.

Alas, the reverse was completely pockmarked. Placing the coin down in a safe place, I knelt to examine the fragments on the floor. I lifted the bottom of the vase, which was intact, and showed the man it was not smooth inside. Evidently, the bottle had been moved many times over the years, and each time the coin received another hit.

The Gobrecht turned out to be the most common variety. I had no idea what it was worth, or even if it was worth anything at all. The obverse was MS-64 and the reverse was damaged.

I explained this to him and told him that, in my opinion, it might be worth as much as $4,000, if we got lucky. I suggested he leave it with me and I would try to find out.

“No, if it’s only worth that much, then we’ll let my brother have it,” he said. “He really wants it, and now I see it’s not worth arguing about.”

I was disappointed, for I was looking forward to showing the coin around. We shook hands and he left.

A few months later, after I had forgotten all about it, his brother called. “I have the Gobrecht dollar you looked at a while back. The one with all the marks on the reverse. After seeing all the damage, I don’t want to put it in my collection. My brother says you can get me $4,000 for it.”

I chuckled. “Wait a minute. I said we might be able to, but I can’t be sure until I try. You’ll have to send it to me and give me a little time.”

He agreed, and went on to tell me that no coin dealer in his area had offered him more than $2,500.

The dollar arrived a few days later. Since I had a show the following weekend, I put a sell message on the coin network: “Mint state Gobrecht dollar, with damaged reverse, for sale. Must be seen to be appreciated. Will bring to St. Louis show this weekend.”

A much more valuable Gobrecht specimen.

My phone rang immediately. “How much is the Gobrecht?” It was a Maryland dealer I had a nodding acquaintance with from shows.

“$4,500,” I replied. “How did you find out about it? I only just put it on the system.”

“I’m online all the time and I saw it as soon as it was posted. Put it aside for me — don’t sell it to anyone else.”

“OK, I’ll hold it for you. I set up on Thursday morning and I’ll hold it until noon. After that, anyone can buy it.”

At the show my table was crowded. Apparently this coin was in demand, despite its damage. One fellow in particular wouldn’t go away. He had come as soon as I arrived and very much wanted the Gobrecht. I told him I had promised “first shot” to someone else.

“How much is it?” he asked.

I told him.

“I’ll pay more.”

About 10:30, the dealer from Maryland came. He looked at the coin and asked, “What’s your best price?”

“You’re looking at it. I’ve even had better offers.” As I said this, I looked directly at the other dealer, who had been listening.

“I’ll take it,” said the Maryland dealer. And that was that.

I heard later that the coin remained in his inventory a long time. Evidently collectors wouldn’t accept all those marks on the back.

John Feigenbaum
John Feigenbaum
The President, CEO, and managing partner at CDN Publishing, John Feigenbaum, has been a professional numismatist since 1979. Formerly president of David Lawrence Rare Coins, John has taken on publishing and executive responsibilities for CDN Publishing. John has written for numerous trade publications, and published "The Complete Guide to Washington Quarters" in 1991. In 2014, John received the PNG Abe Kosoff Founders Award for his "steadfast dedication to the entire numismatic community". Contact John at [email protected].

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