The finest-known Continental Dollar leads the way
By Jim Bisognani for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) ……
It is officially summer. It seems like not that many years ago, I would be in the midst of enjoying the long-earned summer vacation from school: a joyous time for leisure fun, cookouts and plenty of exploring around the neighborhood on my bike.
It seems like I personally discovered several new places of interest hitherto uncharted by the masses on nearly every excursion! Being raised in New England supplied me with a wealth of history and the early mindset to appreciate my immediate surroundings so very much.
I was just a short walk to downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where I could stroll past the John Paul Jones house where the commander resided and boarded there on two occasions: in 1777 as his warship Ranger was being built, and again in 1781-82 as the ship America was being outfitted.
Then, after an amble up Daniel Street, I would view the stately Warner House. This great two-and-a-half-story brick colonial home is believed to have had none other than Ben Franklin personally install one of his new-fangled lightning rods at the residence in 1763.
It was amazing to investigate historic homes dating back to the early 1700s. One of the joys of residing in New England: history abounds nearly everywhere you step.
Stepping in to Numismatics
It was at an old foundation I happened upon in one of my explorations in the summer of 1968 that I unearthed a Draped Bust Large Cent dated 1805. This large copper presented itself to me at a corner of the crumbling foundation. Talk about a thrill! The coin was crusted and was the recipient of environmental ravages of time, yet she still possessed the strong detail of a very fine coin.
Literally history in my hands!
Coins such as this are not merely metal discs accompanied by documented mintage figures; they are living history, circulating amongst the commoners or the elite during the infancy of our great Republic. History and coins have been a passion for me ever since.
Rarities Surge in Long Beach
Now, blast forward to summer 2018 and we are fresh from the Long Beach Expo and Heritage’s Signature Auction realizing a very healthy $18.1 million. Once again, strength in the market is obvious, especially as it relates to quality for the grade and coins in the $10,000+ price point.
The nearly 4,900-lot sale featured a wealth of truly great collector coins, with many fresher rarities. I find the auction data to be quite telling, revealing that 12 lots eclipsing $100,000 brought in nearly 35% ($6.33 million) of the sales total. And the 143 lots in the still-high-rent district of $10,000+ pulled in another $3.2 million, or nearly 18% of the overall sale.
So, while representing slightly less than 3.2% of the number of lots, this top-tier legion generated a shade over $9.5 million, or nearly 53% of the sale value! This averages out to a shade over $61,500 per coin!
While serious collectors and well-funded dealers battled for coins out of reach for the average collector, nearly 97% of the Heritage Long Beach sale was in line for more collector-friendly coins, averaging out to about $1,800 per coin. Below are a handful of lots of significance to me and to the current state of the market. Of course, I am compelled to lead off with a pair of exciting Colonial issues.
A truly phenomenal Revolutionary Dollar was also the top NGC prize in the sale. The finest-known 1776 Continental Dollar pewter “EG Fecit”, graded NGC MS 67, captured $444,000. This satiny semi-prooflike example pedigreed to Brand-Boyd and Ford is truly the finest known of this type. When this coin first appeared for public sale in Part 1 of the John J Ford Collection in October 2003, this Colonial era curiosity realized a healthy $184,000. Remaining off the market for nearly nine years, the next appearance for this ultra-gem Revolutionary dollar was in the 2012 Winter FUN sale, where the coin raced to $546,250. While the price just realized in Long Beach reflects nearly a 19% discount from the level attained six years ago, I feel it is truly an undervalued American icon.
Another fascinating lot was a terrifically preserved 1662 Massachusetts Oak Tree Two Pence Large 2 Noe-34, graded NGC MS 63, which raced to an impressive $19,200. This rather diminutive New England Colonial is infrequently encountered in anything approaching full mint state.
I have always been enamored with these tiny colonials. A true prize for the connoisseur.
In my estimation, here is the total package in a rare US coin: a sometimes still-overlooked early federal issue key date Draped Bust quarter. And a coin at the top of the charts both in numeric designation and eye appeal. This 1804 Draped Bust Quarter, graded NGC MS 65, which claimed $336,000, is the finest known, period. A scintillating color palette envelops this well-struck one-of-a-kind gem. Of the original mintage of only 6,738, according to the NGC Census, only five coins have been graded as Mint state: three graded MS 62, one graded MS 63, and the finest known, the present MS 65. Pedigreed to “Colonel” Green, Jerome Kern, Max Mehl… just a fabulous, intriguing lineage! To own her is to have the ultimate “unsung” rarity. Although appearing four times at public sale in this still-new century, the prices realized have remained steady.
I offer for the coindexters’ consideration a sometimes-forgotten and affordable first-year mintmarked Mercury dime. No, not the Denver issue – the San Francisco delivery! I know as a youth, I could never hope to afford a high-grade 1916-D Mercury dime. For me, this West Coast coin was this next best thing. She is a coin that falls into the average collector’s price point, too. This 1916-S, graded NGC MS 66 FB, realized $1,140; this is a scarcer first-year type, usually encountered with billowing frosty satiny luster and priced a mere fraction of the Denver counterpart in MS 66 FB! Yet quite surprisingly, although the 1916-S has a mintage nearly 50% greater than the semi-key 1924-D, according to the NGC Census just 26 1916-S coins have been graded MS 66 FB. Compare this with the 1924-D, which as of June 2018 reveals 30 graded as MS 66 FB and carrying a price valuation nearly 57% higher than the 1916-S, to boot!
In my estimation here’s a fabulous Civil War era coin. This 1862 Half Dime, graded NGC MS 66, sold for $720! Although the coin is not scarce in average to choice Mint State, she does become decidedly more difficult to acquire in full Gem or better. So for type collectors, this little Lady Liberty is a great choice. This coin is a white blazer endowed with a superlative strike and vivid Proof-Like tendencies.
Finally, although I didn’t view the coin in person, there appears to be obvious doubling or an over-date to ponder on the last digit.
As the summer heats up, it’s time to plan a numismatic family outing or two. Do try to include the kids. I realize it will be tough, but try your best to have them hold off the urge to splurge on music downloads or video games for a week or so, and introduce them to living history: numismatics. Hey, they may like it!
Until next time, happy collecting!
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Jim Bisognani is an NGC Price Guide Analyst having previously served for many years as an analyst and writer for another major price guide. He has written extensively on US coin market trends and values.
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