By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com ……
CoinWeek Content Partner ……
Editor’s Note: Over the years, Doug Winter has written extensively about many of the greatest coin collections of the 20th century. In this piece, we draw from the archives, Doug’s writing on eight key collections.
1. The Ed Milas Collection of No Motto Half Eagles
One of the most ambitious collecting projects ever undertaken was the No Motto half eagle set assembled by Chicago dealer Ed Milas.
Not only did Mr. Milas attempt to assemble a complete set of these rare coins (struck between 1839 and 1866) but he did it, for the most part, in the highest grade possible. After working on this set for the better part of two decades, Milas sold his coins at auction through Stack’s in May 1995.
The Milas set included 98 coins and was lacking only the 1842-C Small Date, 1854-S, 1863, and 1864-S to be totally complete. The coins ranged in grade from mid-AU to MS66 and included a host of individual pieces that were either Finest Known or high in the Condition Census for that specific issue. I would still rate this as one of the single greatest specialized U.S gold collections ever formed and it was one of the most interesting auctions that I ever attended.
I had seen a number of Ed’s coins on a piecemeal basis and had even sold him a few high-end Charlotte and Dahlonega coins indirectly. But it was with real excitement that I went to New York to view a collection that had attained true cult status among rare gold coin collectors and dealers alike.
I remember being very surprised to see that the Milas Collection had been sent to NGC to be graded. Stack’s, in the mid-1990s, seemed to sell far fewer encapsulated coins than their competitors and my initial reaction on viewing the coins in their holders was that NGC had gotten a little bit carried away in grading them. Of course today, these same coins in the same 1995 holders would seem almost quaintly undergraded.
What I remember most about this collection, nearly a decade and a half after the fact, was the wonderful quality of the coins. They were the sort of No Motto mint half eagles that you almost never see today. Most had wonderful original color, blazing luster and had never been enhanced. A number traced their origin to famous collections that had been sold in the 1980s and early ’90s including Eliasberg, James Stack, Jimmy Hayes, Bareford, and Garrett.
From the standpoint of appearance and overall grade, the Philadelphia half eagles were the highlight of the collection.
Coin after coin graded MS63, MS64 or even MS65 and I remember a number of the ex: Eliasberg coins having absolutely sensational fiery orange-gold coloration.
Two coins that I really loved were the 1850 (graded MS65 by NGC) that was so amazingly fresh and crisp in appearance it looked like it had been made last week and the MS66 1852 that, to this day, rates as one of the single finest No Motto half eagles of any date that I have seen. As I recall, many of these Philadelphia pieces were purchased by dealer Steve Contursi.
The Charlotte and Dahlonega half eagles in the Milas collection included some of the most famous (and most mind-blowing) high-grade pieces known.
It’s hard for me to pick a favorite as there were so many fantastic single coins. I remember the amazing MS65 1841-D that Ed Milas had bought a year earlier out of the James Stack collection for a record $88,000. In the Stack’s sale, a year later, it went for a relatively low $68,750.
The Dahlonega half eagle in the sale that I liked the best was an 1853-D in MS64. While this date is relatively common in Uncirculated, this particular example (ex: Auction ’84 and Bareford) had absolutely superb color and surfaces. It brought $55,000 – which I remember being a TON of money at the time.
Most of the Dahlonega coins in the sale (as well as a majority of the Charlotte pieces) were purchased by dealer Winthrop Carner. Ironically, Carner ran into financial problems soon after the sale and many of the Milas coins were re-offered at the Numisma ‘95 auction where they brought considerably less than what Carner had paid for them earlier in the year.
The one Charlotte coin that everyone wanted to see in the sale was Milas’ 1859-C, which NGC had graded MS66. Formerly from the Eliasberg collection, this coin remains the only Charlotte half eagle ever graded above MS65. I remember being a bit underwhelmed by the coin when I first saw it in 1995 (I saw it again a few years ago and was blown away by it…) and thought it had been the beneficiary of a push by NGC. It sold for $104,500 and it became the first Charlotte gold coin to eclipse the six-figure mark at auction.
What really excited me in this collection, though, were the New Orleans half eagles. They were amazing; probably the finest set ever assembled.
The one coin that I really, really wanted to buy was the 1842-O graded MS63 by NGC. It is the finest known of three examples in Uncirculated and it has a fantastic pedigree (ex: Eliasberg and Earle collections). This was a rare instance where I liked a coin so much that I wanted to buy it to stash it away. In the end, I was the underbidder and it brought $31,900, which seems very, very reasonable today. I was able to purchase a number of the other New Orleans half eagles in the sale and I’ve handled a few of these two, three or even four times since the Milas auction in 1995!
If someone wanted to replicate this collection today, I’m certain it could not be done. Many of the Milas coins have, in the ensuing years, been processed and no longer show the superb, original look they had back in 1995.
The number of very high-grade, totally original Charlotte and Dahlonega half eagles has greatly diminished since 1995 and I’m not certain that many of the high-quality Philadelphia and San Francisco half eagles in the Milas collection could be replicated today either.
I hate to sound like Grandpa Winter but they just don’t have sales today as they did with the Milas collection back in 1995…
2. The ELIASBERG Collection
Louis Eliasberg was a financier from Baltimore who began collecting coins in the 1940s. In 1942, he was able to purchase the Clapp Collection. This was a collection formed by a father and son from Pittsburgh between the 1890s and the 1930s. It contained superb coins from famous auctions held from 1895 to 1915 as well as pieces that had been purchased directly from the United States mints at their time of issue. The Clapp Collection was very advanced for its era as it contained not only very high-quality coins but also significant die varieties and types as well.
Eliasberg continued to add to the collection and by the last addition in the 1950s it was regarded as the most complete and highest-quality collection of United States coins ever formed.
After Eliasberg dies, his collection was divided among his two children. One received his gold coins and this collection was sold by Bowers and Ruddy in October 1982 as the “United States Gold Coin Collection.”
The Eliasberg gold sale consisted of 1,074 lots and the final price realized was $12.4 million. The highlights of the sale were the unique 1870-S Three Dollar gold piece and the excessively rare 1822 half eagle, both of which realized $687,500. Other areas of strength in this sale included long runs of early coins, many rare Proofs and spectacular pieces obtained directly from the Philadelphia, San Francisco, New Orleans and Denver Mints from the 1890s and 1900s.
The remainder of the Eliasberg collection was sold by Bowers and Merena (the successor firm to Bowers and Ruddy) in two sales. The first of these was held in May 1996 and it contained colonials, patterns, copper coinage, nickel coinage and silver coinage from half dimes through dimes. The sale consisted of 1,348 lots and realized $11,598,000. Highlights included a Gem Proof 1913 Liberty nickel that sold for a record $1,485,000 and the unique 1873-CC No Arrows dime that brought $550,000.
The final Eliasberg sale was held by Bowers and Merena in April 1997. It contained silver coinage from twenty-cent pieces through silver dollars and miscellaneous items from the collection. The sale consisted of nearly 2,000 lots and it realized $20.9 million. Highlights included a Proof 1804 dollar that brought a record $1,815,000 and a Gem Proof 1885 Trade dollar that sold for $907,500.
The Eliasberg collection is the finest group of United States coins ever sold at auction. This is considered the most desirable pedigree for any coin to have, as it is a virtual guarantee that a coin is choice, original and appealing.
3. The NORWEB Collection
As with many of the great collections, the Norweb Collection was formed through a number of generations.
The collection was begun by Liberty Emery Holden, the owner of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, in the 1890s. His son, Albert Holden, was an ardent numismatist who added a number of important coins to the collection between the late 1890s and his death in 1913. His daughter Emery May Holden Norweb (or “Mrs. Norweb” as she became known to the collecting fraternity) and her husband R. Henry Norweb Sr. were well-known collectors who were very active from the 1930s to the early ’70s; he died in 1983 and his wife passed away in 1984. Their son R. Henry Norweb Jr. and his wife are still collectors although they decided to sell the bulk of their family’s collection in 1987 and ’88.
The firm of Bowers and Merena was chosen to sell the United States coins from the Norweb Collection. The first of three sales was held in October 1987. It contained half cents, Indian and Lincoln cents, two-cent and three-cent pieces, half dimes, dimes, twenty-cent pieces, three dollar gold pieces, California fractional gold, and Colonials. There were a total of 1,413 lots and highlights included a Gem Proof 1829 Small Planchet half eagle that sold for $352,000 and a Gem Uncirculated 1864-S half eagle that realized $110,000.
Part II of the Norweb Collection was conducted in March 1988. This sale contained nickels, quarters, Trade dollars, gold dollars, quarter eagles, eagles and Colonials. There were 1,269 lots in this sale and highlights included a Proof 1885 Trade dollar that sold for $121,000 and a superb gem 1911-D eagle that realized $132,000.
The final Norweb sale was held in November 1988. This 1,451-lot sale included large cents, half dollars, patterns, Colonials, silver dollars, and double eagles. Highlights were a gem 1797 half dollar that brought $220,000, a Proof 1838-O half dollar that sold for $93,500, a 1792 Silver Center cent that realized $143,000, an Uncirculated 1794 silver dollar that sold for $242,000, a gem 1893-S dollar that broke all records at $357,500 and the extremely rare 1861 Paquet reverse double eagle that sold for $660,000.
Overall, this 4,000+ lot sale realized more than $10 million dollars. Many price records were set in all series.
The Norweb collection will long be remembered for its broad scope and superb quality. Over 95% of all United States regular issue coins were present and there were many finest known or Condition Census pieces in all series. The strongest areas included pre-1834 gold coins, early copper and silver Proofs and mintmarked 19th-century gold.
As with the Eliasberg collection, many of the Norweb coins were from famous auctions conducted in the early part of the 20th century. Thus, by owning a Norweb coin, it is often possible to trace its pedigree back another 50 to 75 years.
4. The GARRETT Collection
The Garrett Collection is another collection that was the result of the efforts of several generations of one family. In this case, the collection was begun by T. Harrison Garrett, an owner of the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad, in the 1870s. The collection grew considerably in the 1880s, until Garrett died in 1888. The collection was continued by his son Robert, who loaned it to Princeton University for nearly two decades at the beginning of the 20th century. The collection was acquired by Robert’s brother John in exchange for his art collection. It was added to until the death of John Work Garrett in 1939, after which it was donated to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
The first Garrett sale was conducted by the New York auction firm of Stack’s in March 1976. This sale featured long runs of original 19th-century Proof sets and one of the finest selections of Proof gold coins ever offered.
The bulk of the Garrett Collection was auctioned by Bowers and Merena from 1979 through 1981. The first sale was held in November 1979 and it contained 622 lots that realized a bit over $7 million. The unquestionable star of this sale was an example of the celebrated Brasher Doubloon that sold for a record $725,000. As this sale was held during a numismatic bull market (as were the next two parts), many price records were set.
The second Garrett sale was held during the incredibly strong market of March 1980. Consisting of just 572 lots, the prices realized for Part Two was an impressive $7.05 million. The two highest prices realized were $400,000 for an 1804 silver dollar and $500,000 for a Proof 1851 Humbert octagonal $50 “slug”.
The third Garrett sale was held in October 1980 in a market that was still extremely strong. A total of 496 lots sold for over $4 million dollars and numerous new price records were established. The highest individual prices realized for this sale included $130,000 for an Uncirculated 1795 $10 and $120,000 for a choice 1798/7 eagle.
The final Garrett sale was held in the more tranquil market of March 1981. Nonetheless, the prices realized for the 661 lots totaled over $4 million, bringing the gross prices realized for the four Bowers and Ruddy sales of this collection to over $25 million. This is the second-highest price realized at auction for a single collection, exceeded only by the Eliasberg Collection (which brought over $40 million).
The Garrett collection was one of the first great sets of American coins and included many extreme rarities with pedigrees back to the 1870s and the ’80s. This was clearly one of the greatest collections of all time and one which probably could not be duplicated today.
5. The ELROD Collection
For most of the first part of the 20th century, branch mint coins were overlooked by all but a small number of collectors. Assembling specialized sets of coins from Charlotte and the other branch mints really did not begin in earnest until the late 1950s/early ’60s. One of the first collectors to specialize in high-grade examples of Charlotte coins was Stanley Elrod from Matthews, North Carolina. Elrod began collecting coins from his “local mint” in the 1960s and would go on to assemble at least three complete sets.
The last of these was clearly the finest set of Charlotte coins ever assembled. It included a number of finest known and Condition Census pieces. It was first offered for sale as a complete set in the mid-1980s but serious negotiations regarding its sale did not begin until the end of that decade. It was eventually sold to a consortium of dealers who later sold it intact to California dealer/collector/investor Hugh Sconyers.
For the next few years, Sconyers added to the collection. He was able to include a number of coins that were significantly finer than the original Elrod coins but which, at the same time, were of similar quality and appearance to the Elrod coins that were retained. In the middle part of the 1990s, Sconyers decided to sell the collection and it was purchased by Winthrop Carner, a New York dealer who specialized in rare gold coins.
Carner proceeded to break up the collection and began selling coins to an eager audience of new collectors. The majority of the coins went to two collectors: William Miller from Michigan and Paul Dingler from North Carolina.
Carner later sold the remainder of the Elrod collection back to Sconyers who then quietly brokered the coins to other collectors through a small number of dealers.
In February 1999, some of the Elrod coins were offered for sale as part of the Miller collection in the Heritage Long Beach auction. The pieces in the Dingler Collection remain off the market and the other Elrod coins are owned by a number of collectors and investors.
The Elrod collection was unquestionably the finest set of Charlotte coins ever formed. Elrod was fortunate to begin collecting these coins at a time when he had little competition and nice, original Charlotte coins could still be found from time to time.
The Elrod pedigree carries a great deal of weight among Charlotte collectors as it is an assurance that a coin is not only among the finest known examples of its respective issue but that it is choice and original as well.
6. The REED Collection
Byron Reed was born in upstate New York in 1829. He moved to Omaha, Nebraska in 1856 and by the early 1860s he had become an important figure in this new settlement. After the end of the Civil War, Omaha became an important gateway to the West and its economy boomed. Reed, who was one of the major landowners in this city, became rich and assumed a prominent position in the business and political affairs of both the city and the state.
Byron Reed began to collect coins (as well as art, manuscripts and other objects) in the mid-1870s and continued his purchases until he died in 1891. After his death, the collection was willed to the City of Omaha and the Omaha Public Library. It was later placed in the Western Heritage Museum where part of it is now on display.
A portion of the collection was sold by Spink’s/Christie’s in October 1996 in order to raise funds for the renovation, expansion, and endowment of the Western Heritage Museum. As with all museum collections, the announcement of this sale was met with controversy. A decision was made to replace the coins that were sold with similarly dated but lower-value examples.
The Byron Reed sale contained 407 lots of coins and it realized over $5 million. The strengths of the sale included Proof gold coins and superb pre-1834 gold issues.
Highlights of the Reed sale included an Uncirculated 1796 With Stars quarter eagle that brought $232,000, a Gem Uncirculated 1864 quarter eagle at $132,000, a Gem 1828/7 half eagle that realized $159,500, a Gem 1829 Small Planchet half eagle at $374,000, a Gem 1832 Twelve Stars half eagle at $297,000 and a three-coin partial Proof set of 1875 gold issues that sold for $352,000.
Unlike some of the other great “name” collections that have been sold in recent years, the Reed sale represented just a small part of his holdings. There are many other great coins in this collection that are now on public display in Omaha and the estimated value of the entire coin collection is a conservative $25 million+.
The coins from the Reed collection are noteworthy for their originality. The silver coins from this collection were poorly stored and, unfortunately, they are so deeply toned that they have no eye appeal. The gold coins luckily avoided this fate and were characterized by nice color and good eye appeal.
7. The PITTMAN Collection
John Jay Pittman was different from the other collectors in this group. He did not come from great wealth nor did he have unlimited funds to buy coins with. His forte was an uncanny ability to spot good value and the ability to determine underpriced areas in the market before they became “fashionable” or fully priced.
Pittman was born in 1913 and went to work for Kodak in Rochester, New York in 1936. He began collecting in the early 1940s and became very active towards the middle part of that decade. Pittman’s single most brilliant decision as a collector was to attend the sale of the famous King Farouk Collection that was held on behalf of the Egyptian government in Cairo in 1954. At this sale, Pittman spent a considerable amount of money and actually wound up taking a second mortgage on his home to finance his purchases. When one considers what these coins sold for some 45 years later, it is clear that this great financial risk was amply rewarded.
David Akers Numismatic Auctions was chosen to sell the collection. The first Pittman sale was held in October 1997 and it featured 1,264 lots of coins including half cents, large cents, small cents, minor coins, nickels, half dimes, dimes, gold dollars, half eagles, double eagles, territorial gold coins and proof sets. The total price realized for this sale was $11.8 million. Some of the highlights included a complete 1843 Proof set that sold for $412,500, an 1844 Proof set that realized $440,000, and an 1859 Proof set that brought $426,250. Other notable coins included a Proof 1833 half eagle that brought $467,500 (Pittman paid $635 for this coin at the Farouk sale in 1954), a Gem Proof 1835 half eagle at $308,000 (this piece cost $140 in the Memorable sale of 1948) and a Gem Proof 1836 half eagle that realized $198,000 (Pittman purchased this as part of a large group of coins for $483 in the Farouk sale.
The second Pittman sale was held in May 1998. It consisted of 869 lots and the total price realized was $12.2 million. Included in this memorable offering were quarter and half dollars, silver dollars, quarter eagles, three dollar gold pieces, half eagles, eagles, Proof sets, and miscellany. Some of the highlights included a Gem Proof 1852 quarter at $176,000 (it cost Pittman $50 in 1953), a Proof 1839 With Drapery half dollar for $132,000 (Pittman paid $725 for this in 1961), a complete 1845 Proof set that brought $756,250, an 1846 Proof set that sold for $522,500 and a Gem Proof 1838 eagle that brought $550,000 (Pittman bought this coin as part of a four-coin lot at the Farouk sale in 1954 for $590).
Coins from the Pittman sale are notable for their originality and superb coloration. These coins are very highly prized by collectors and a Pittman pedigree will, no doubt, become greatly desirable in the future.
8. The BASS Collection
Harry Bass was a collector from Dallas who specialized in United States gold coins. His collection was unique in that it was concerned with die varieties of specific issues. Bass was a keen student and had more technical knowledge about varieties of United States gold coins than anyone else. What made his collection all the more impressive is that most issues were represented not only by multiple examples but numerous finest known or Condition Census pieces.
In the middle part of the 1990s, Bass announced that he was creating a foundation (the Harry Bass Research Foundation or HBRF) dedicated to numismatic scholarship and would contain his coins. The Foundation was responsible for creating groundbreaking research sites on the Internet and contains excellent reference sets of pattern coinage and paper money.
Bass died in 1997 and it was soon announced that the majority of his collections would be sold at auction by Bowers and Merena. The first Bass sale was held in May 1999 and it contained paper money, pattern coinage, colonials, a small number of regular-issue copper and silver coins and miscellany.
The major value of the Bass collection is its gold coinage and so Bowers and Merena announced that these coins were to be offered in two sales. The first was held in October 1999, while the second was held in May 2000. Together, the sales broke many records.
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About Doug Winter
Doug has spent much of his life in the field of numismatics; beginning collecting coins at the age of seven, and by the time he was 10 years old, buying and selling coins at conventions in the New York City area.
In 1989, he founded Douglas Winter Numismatics, and his firm specializes in buying and selling choice and rare United States coins, especially US gold coins and all branch mint material.
Recognized as one of the leading specialized numismatic firms, Doug is an award-winning author of over a dozen numismatic books and the recognized expert on US Gold. His knowledge and exceptional eye for properly graded and original coins has made him one of the most respected figures in the numismatic community and a sought after dealer by collectors and investors looking for professional personalized service, a select inventory of impeccable quality and fair and honest pricing. Doug is also a major buyer of all US coins and is always looking to purchase collections both large and small. He can be reached at (214) 675-9897.
Doug has been a contributor to the Guidebook of United States Coins (also known as the “Redbook”) since 1983, Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Coins, Q. David Bowers’ Encyclopedia of United States Silver Dollars and Andrew Pollock’s United States Pattern and Related Issues
In addition he has authored 13 books on US Gold coins including:
- Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint: 1839-1909
- Gold Coins of the Carson City Mint: 1870 – 1893
- Gold Coins of the Charlotte Mint: 1838-1861
- Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint 1838-1861
- The United States $3 Gold Pieces 1854-1889
- Carson City Gold Coinage 1870-1893: A Rarity and Condition Census Update
- An Insider’s Guide to Collecting Type One Double Eagles
- The Connoisseur’s Guide to United States Gold Coins
- A Collector’s Guide To Indian Head Quarter Eagles
- The Acadiana Collection of New Orleans Coinage
- Type Three Double Eagles, 1877-1907: A Numismatic History and Analysis
- Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint, 1838-1861: A Numismatic History and Analysis
- Type Two Double Eagles, 1866-1876: A Numismatic History and Analysis
Finally, Doug is a member of virtually every major numismatic organization, professional trade group and major coin association in the US.