Friday, March 29, 2013

March Whitman Expo success points to strong rare coin market

By Steve Roach - 
First published in the April 8, 2013, issue of Coin World

From nearly all appearances, it seems that the rare coin market is in a good place.

Dealers were happy following the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Baltimore Expo, March 14 to 17, and Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ floor auction sessions held in conjunction with the show realized in excess of $10 million.

Dealer reports and auction results show the same thing: quality, marketable coins continue to bring increasingly big prices, while middle and lower-end coins languish in inventories and at auctions.

Further, dealers and auction houses continue to report expanded demand from international bidders for high-end, classic U.S. coins. This increased demand and pool of bidders bodes well for the long-term rare coin market.

The results from Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ Baltimore auction show that the market’s taste for classic early U.S. rarities shows few signs of slowing down. A Mint State 64 1792 half disme realized $470,000.

Oddly, the catalog did not include a provenance for this piece, but it appears to be the same piece that was offered at a July 2008 Stack’s auction where it sold for $373,750, according to the earlier auction’s printed prices realized.

Sellers who try to predict the market with high reserves are often coming up short, especially regarding unusual coins and other numismatic items that are challenging to value due to a lack of comparables in the marketplace.

Bas-relief bronze cast of early design for 1916 Standing Liberty quarter
A few highly interesting lots failed to meet their reserves including a bas-relief bronze cast of an early obverse design for the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter dollar. It was described as “Possibly unique and intended for preparation of dies.”

It did not meet its reserve of $65,000, although it had realized $120,750 when offered as part of Stack’s sale of the Minot Collection on May 21, 2008. The 2008 lot description asked the question, “What kind of Standing Liberty quarter is this?” before answering, “The truth is this is what Hermon MacNeil had intended his new quarter to look like.”

Another oddity, a 1909 Indian Head cent struck on a Barber dime, described as a “magnificent off-metal, double denomination error” and one of only two known Indian Head cents struck on a struck Barber dime, failed to meet its reserve of $60,000.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Fantastic Liberty Head 5-cent pieces offer something for all budgets

By Steve Roach
First Published in the April 1, 2013, Special Edition of Coin World

The Liberty Head 5-cent coin series is one in which there is literally a collecting challenge for each budget.

Collectors seeking a point of entry into coin collecting can put together a solid date set of 1900 to 1912 issues in Fine 12 condition for less than $100. Those wanting to collect a handsome set in circulated condition of all regular issue piec
es from 1883 to 1912 (including the scarcer 1912-D and 1912-S issues) can accomplish that goal for less than $1,000.

The two big stoppers of the set are the 1885 and 1886 issues. The 1885 5-cent coin has a mintage of 1,472,000 pieces, and examples with Fair 2 to About Good 3 with problems such as cleaning, scratches or polishing can be found in online auctions at the $175 to $200 level. Solid, problem-free Good 4 examples certified by leading third-party grading services can be found at the $450 to $500 level.

The series is also interesting because it has two distinct design subtypes. The first is the 1883 Liberty Head, No CENTS subtype, which was used in 1883 only and was modified later in the year to the second, With CENTS, subtype. On the first version, the representation of denomination on the reverse by only a Roman numeral V led to some reported trickery from individuals who tried to pass the “centsless” 5-cent coins off as contemporary Coronet gold $5 half eagles. The addition of CENTS to the design ended the trickery.

1883 Liberty Head, No CENTS 5-cent coins are widely available in Mint State grades since they were saved in large quantities at the time of issue by a curious public. Nice About Uncirculated 50 examples can be found at the $15 level while Mint State 64 examples are at the $100 level. Those wanting to spend a bit more can buy gorgeous MS-65 examples for $175 to $200.

Of course, the series benefits by having a great rarity in the 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent piece. With just five pieces known, it’s too rare to collect as part of the regular series. The fact that they were struck under mysterious circumstances makes their inclusion as a regular part of the series even less secure.

What is certain is that the 1913 issue is a legendary American rarity that guarantees regular coverage to the series whenever one trades hands. A Proof 64 example realized $3,737,500 at a Jan. 7, 2010, Heritage auction.

Collectors who want to add an example to their collections are in luck! The famed Walton example, graded Proof 63 (and the subject of this month’s cover story), will cross the auction block on April 25 at a Heritage auction in Illinois.

Thankfully, typical Proof Liberty Head 5-cent pieces are more affordable. Fantastic Proof 65 examples of most dates can be found at the $500 level, even for the 1907 with a low Proof mintage of just 1,475 pieces. Proofs of most dates generally trade at similar price levels, save the 1885 and 1886 coins due to pressure on those dates resulting from the scarcity of circulation strikes for those years

Monday, March 11, 2013

February a busy month for rare coin auctions at Long Beach Expo

By Steve Roach -
First published in the March 18, 2013, issue of Coin World

February was a busy month for coin auctions, with both Larry & Ira Goldberg Auctioneers and Heritage Auctions holding major sales prior to and during California’s Long Beach Coin, Stamp & Sports Collectible Expo, held Feb. 7 to 9.

This 1793 Liberty Cap cent, PCGS AU-53, brought $310,500
In total, the two firms’ February Long Beach auctions realized more than $28 million, allaying some doubts in the coin market about the viability of the thrice-yearly Long Beach Expo as a successful auction platform.

Leading the Goldberg auctions was the Paul Gerrie Collection of Large Cents, 1793 to 1814, which realized $3,681,668 across 83 lots. In total Goldberg’s various pre-Long Beach auctions of U.S., world and ancient material realized just over $18.3 million with a strong 93 percent sell-through rate by lot.

Among the highlights of the Gerrie Collection were multiple 1793 cents. A 1793 Flowing Hair, Chain, AMERICA cent graded Mint State 62 brown by Professional Coin Grading Service brought $402,500 and a 1793 Liberty Cap cent graded PCGS About Uncirculated 53 realized $310,500 against an estimate of $100,000 and up. The collection’s finest 1793 Flowing Hair, Wreath cent, graded PCGS AU-58, brought $43,700.

Heritage’s Long Beach auctions realized more than $9.7 million with an 88.3 percent sell through rate by lot.

The Heritage auction showed that the market for top modern rarities continues to sizzle. For example, a 1986 American Eagle silver bullion coin graded PCGS MS-70 realized $21,150 and a 1992-D Lincoln cent of the Close AM design (a distinct and rare reverse subtype) graded MS-65 red by PCGS brought $13,512.50.

Exceptional rare coins from ancient to modern continue to bring strong prices at auction, perhaps buttressed by recent mainstream attention that has been paid to the rare coin market in the wake of the $10 million sale of a 1794 Flowing Hair dollar.

For those who missed the chance to take home a great large cent from the Gerrie Collection, Goldberg is planning to offer “The Missouri Cabinet,” which it touts as “the only complete collection of U.S. half cents ever formed” with “every business strike variety and every proof variety” included. The collection has around 300 coins, most being the finest known, and will be offered in February 2014.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The premium paid for a a 'brand name' collection (or, who owned a coin before you sometimes matters)

By Steve Roach
First published in the March 4, 2013, Special Edition of Coin World.

A collector doesn’t have to have a gigantic budget to own a coin that was once part of a great collection or owned by someone famous.

Great collections by “brand names” in numismatics, so famous that only last names are needed, like Eliasberg, Garrett or Pittman, have plenty of rarities. But their extensive collecting scope means their collections included many “normal” coins alongside the rarities.

This MS-66 dollar realized $373.75 in a 2010 Heritage auction.
Louis E. Eliasberg Sr. sometimes strove for completeness over quality and didn’t always strive to get the best of everything. For example, a pleasant but undistinguished 1883 Liberty Head, No CENTS 5-cent piece, graded Mint State 64 with the Eliasberg provenance noted clearly on the slab, realized $161 at a 2010 auction. Because of the pedigree, the price was roughly double what comparable examples sell for at auction.

Sometimes, coins that were part of great collections are very nice, but also extremely common, as is the case with Eliasberg’s MS-66 1882-S Morgan dollar that brought $373.75 at a 2010 auction. That same amount could have purchased his 1850-O Coronet gold quarter eagle with About Uncirculated details, but also carrying scratches and improper cleaning, at a 2011 auction.

Finding a low-value coin from the collection of John Jay Pittman may be a bit easier. Pittman was a collector of not unlimited means, and among his rarities he had some very usual coins. His 1943 Winged Liberty Head (Mercury) dime graded Mint State 67 brought $50 and his 1857 Indian Head gold dollar in About Uncirculated 55 realized $253 at 2010 auctions. Both prices are right in line with prices realized for coins without a noteworthy former owner.

Of course, a coin’s numismatic value can mean little if the coin was once owned by a mainstream celebrity.

During a Beverly Hills, Calif., auction of the estate of Greta Garbo, a circulated 1905 Indian Head cent that to a numismatist would sell for around $5, carried an estimate of $50 to $100 and realized an astounding $448. Garbo was born in 1905, so the coin presumably had a personal connection to her.

Two Morgan dollars dated 1898 and 1903, respectively representing the years that her brother Sven and sister Alva were born, sold for $500 when individually they would typically sell at around the $40 level.

Perhaps the best-known “celebrity premium” paid for coins happened during the April 26, 1996, Sotheby’s auction of the estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. A lot of nine 1967 and two 1964 Kennedy half dollars grading About Uncirculated to Brilliant Uncirculated realized an astronomical $8,645, exceeding the estimate of $200 to $300.

A similar group of 11 half dollars could easily be purchased for around $10 at the time.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Is it finest or worst known? For some coins, beauty is in the eye of the beholder

By Steve Roach
First published in the Feb. 25, 2013, issue of Coin World.

Some coins are considered beautiful by nearly everyone, from the noncollector to the most avid numismatist. Then there are others that present a look that may be more of an acquired taste.

This rare 1788 Connecticut Copper is either the finest or worst known, depending on how you assess its faults against its merits. It was given a grade of About Uncirculated 50 by the auction firm and realized $1,175.
Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ January 2013 Americana Sale contained a coin that perhaps only the most devoted specialist could love.

It was a 1788 Connecticut Copper, with Draped Bust Left design on the obverse, and a seated figure on the reverse, mimicking the Britannia featured on contemporary English coins.

Early Colonial coins were produced from handmade dies, and the variances in their production are among the things collectors enjoy most about the coins of the era.

Simply put, no two copper Colonials look exactly alike.

The subject coin was struck on a cracked and badly broken planchet, described in the catalog as “little more than scrap, with a horizontal striation across the center so severe that it is a wonder the coin remains intact.” It even has several “natural holes” along with some old inactive corrosion.

Despite its flaws, the coin also has its charms.

The surfaces are described as “attractive mahogany brown,” the centering is described as good, and the legends and date are both present. The description adds that it is, “Really a remarkable piece, either the finest known or the worst known, depending upon your perspective.”

It was given a grade of About Uncirculated 50 and realized $1,175.

The cataloger’s concluding sentence fully encapsulated the sometimes elusive charm of early, hand-struck coins: “A truly fascinating Connecticut, one which will either be proof of the new owner’s dedication to the series or his absolute madness, or perhaps both.”

If a curious buyer had any doubts of the coin’s quality, perhaps the provenance would pique one’s interest. It had been purchased by Ted L. Craige, from F.W. of New Rochelle, N.Y., on Feb. 2, 1964, “the same week the Beatles landed nearby at JFK Airport.”

A Very Fine 20 example of the same variety described as “more typical” than the aforementioned one realized $258. Its planchet was described as “stout” while the surfaces were described as “Glossy and attractive dark chocolate brown.”

Monday, February 4, 2013

What goes into creating a $10 million coin?

By Steve Roach
First published in the Feb. 18, 2013, issue of Coin World.

The sale of a 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar for $10,016,875 at Stack’s Bowers Galleries Americana sale established a record for any coin sold at public auction.
The $10 million 1794 Flowing Hair dollar.

How it got to that level is a rather curious story.

There was no doubt that when the coin crossed the auction block it would be expensive. Although it had sold privately in 2010 for a reported $7.85 million, consensus prior to the auction seemed to be that there was a possibility it could sell for less.

During the auction, it almost seemed that it would sell for less, as bidding for the coin stalled at the $5.5 million level. Then, Legend Numismatics’ Laura Sperber invoked (in her words) “shock and awe” when she elected to jump the bid to $8,525,000.

Jumping the bid refers to placing a bid higher than standard bidding increments.

She wrote on her blog, “We firmly believe we took control of the bidding at that point and made a powerful statement about what it will take to beat us.”

The bid also had a symbolic element to it.

Sperber wrote that her firm “knew that $10 million would create a huge buzz for the entire coin market and ‘change the game’” before declaring, “A new era in the rare coin market has been created.” She went on to predict the possibility of a $25 million coin in the next decade.

While that prediction may be the subject of some debate in coin circles, there is no doubt that this coin will bring positive attention to the rare coin market and the market for great rarities should improve as a result.

One upcoming rarity has already benefited from this increased attention.

In the last week dozens of mainstream news outlets have covered Heritage’s upcoming offering of the Walton example of the 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent piece as part of its Platinum Night auction at the Central States Numismatic Society’s annual convention in Schaumburg, Ill.

Executives at Heritage initially expected that the coin would realize in excess of $2.5 million.

Now, with the broad media attention that the record-setting 1794 dollar sale has attracted, that estimate may prove conservative.

Yet, reasonably set expectations are often better than unattainable ones, and the mainstream attention may bring new eyes — and money — into the coin field.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Some big prices for some very small coins: Looking at silver 3-cent pieces

By Steve Roach
First published in the Feb. 11, 2013, issue of Coin World.

One of the great pleasures of major auctions is that collections are offered that can really help define the market for a given series. At Heritage’s recent Florida United Numismatists auction, the Walter Freeman Collection of silver 3-cent pieces shows that collectors have a hearty appetite for these diminutive coins.

The near-complete collection of Mint State and Proof issues was housed in old-style Numismatic Guaranty Corp. holders. In a market that values freshness, these coins represented an unusual buying opportunity and bidders undoubtedly saw upgrade potential in many of the lots.

This colorful 1862 silver 3-cent piece graded Proof 65 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. realized $6,462.50 when offered as part of Heritage Auctions’ recent sale of the Walter Freeman Collection of trimes.
The issue’s resemblance to a dime lent it the nickname “trime.” Three distinct design subtypes are collected.

Prices for problem-free circulated examples have risen in the past decade as collectors become more aware of their relative scarcity.

Examples in top grades have also seen increased interest over the past few years. As evidence of the robust demand in top grades for the series, 18 different pieces from the Freeman Collection realized more than $10,000 each.

The collection’s top lot was an 1855 silver 3-cent coin graded Proof 65 that sold for $44,062.50. The catalog description noted that the Proof issue, “never distributed in large quantities, today is a rarity regardless of grade with only 50 or so surviving specimens estimated. In a broader sense, as a representative of the Type Two design in proof, it is also a category rarity as well.”

An 1854 example graded Proof 65 that was once part of the collection of John Work Garrett, with a pedigree dating back to 1883, realized $38,187.50.

An 1869 3-cent coin graded Mint State 67 was the numerically highest-graded piece in the collection. It realized $41,125.

An MS-66 example of the 1851-O coin — the series’ only Branch Mint issue — realized $4,700. The least expensive coin was an 1859 piece graded MS-65 that sold for $1,028.13.

Many coins sold for multiples of what comparably graded examples would be expected to sell for. An 1862 3-cent coin graded Proof 65 with rich multi-colored toning realized $6,462.50 — far more than the $1,300 to $1,400 range that peer examples have been trading for at auction. If this coin returns to market, one should not be surprised to see it housed in a new holder at a higher grade.