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Great Year for Auctions
By Mike Thorne, Numismatic News
December 13, 2013

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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The year 2013 has had its moments. The sequester. Partial government shutdown. Flirting with the fiscal cliff. Precious metals plummet. These were all events or near-events during 2013 that should have had and did have negative effects on the American economy and on our hobby. Still, despite all the economic disasters and near-disasters, rare coin auctions flourished. Here’s what I found when I looked at them.

What can you say about a year that saw 10 coins surpass the million-dollar threshold at auction, with two of the coins being an 1804 dollar and a 1913 Liberty Head nickel? The previous high number of million-dollar coins sold at auction that I have counted since 2006 occurred in 2012, when a total of six achieved that status.

Even more noteworthy, the old record amount paid for a single coin at auction was surpassed, not by a few dollars, but by nearly $2.5 million. And remarkably, that coin was neither a 1913 Liberty Head nickel nor an 1804 silver dollar.

It was a silver dollar, however. Specifically, the coin that achieved an auction record of $10,016,875 was a 1794 Flowing Hair dollar graded Specimen-66 by Professional Coin Grading Service, with a Certified Acceptance Corporation sticker of approval. Study of the characteristics of this magnificent dollar suggest that it actually might have been the first dollar coin struck by the U.S. Mint.

The 1794 dollar was one of the stars at Stack’s Bowers Galleries Americana Sale, conducted Jan. 22-24 in New York City. The winning bidder was Legend Numismatics of Lincroft, N.J. According to Legend’s Laura Sperber, the company had planned beforehand to make the 1794 dollar a $10 million coin. To this end, the principals had developed a “shock and awe” bidding campaign. They initially planned to apply the “shock” at $5 million, but the sale got away from them. Sperber said, “... in the fog of bidding, we suddenly got hit at $5.5 million (missing our $5 million invoke). We knew we could not wait any longer. We invoked ‘shock and awe’ and jumped the bid to $8,525,000.”

And won the coin at $10,016,875. The final price includes a buyer’s fee, as do all the prices cited in this article.

Overshadowed in all the clamor over the new record for a coin sold at auction were a number of pretty spectacular prices earned by other coins in the sale. For example, a 1792 silver half disme graded MS-68 by Numismatic Guaranty surpassed the million-dollar mark with a final realization of $1,145,625. Close behind came a 1793 Chain AMERICA cent graded MS-65 Brown by PCGS, with CAC certification, that went for $998,750.

Another cent worth noting was a 1793 Wreath cent graded MS-69 by PCGS. This coin has the distinction of receiving the highest grade awarded by PCGS to an 18th century coin. It earned $558,125.

So Stack’s Bowers Americana Sale included two coins that sold for a million-dollars plus and one that came incredibly close. Later in the year (April 25), a Heritage sale doubled this number. Not only that, but three pieces of paper money in the sale also went for more than a million dollars apiece. The occasion was the Central States Numismatic Society U.S. Coins Signature Auction, held in Schaumburg, Ill.

Topping the list of million-dollar coins from the Heritage auction was a 1913 Liberty Head nickel graded Proof-63 by PCGS. This was the famed Walton nickel, out of sight for many years and believed lost following the car wreck that killed its owner, George Walton in 1962. The coin realized $3,172,500.

The remaining three coins just barely cleared the million-dollar hurdle. They were a unique silver 1783 Nova Constellatio pattern quint (500 unit), graded AU-53 by PCGS Secure; a small letters, small date 1796 $1, graded MS-65 by NGC; and an 1852 Humbert $10 (California) gold piece, graded MS-68 by NGC, with CAC sticker. The first two realized $1,175,000 apiece, whereas the Humbert $10 gold piece went for $1,057,500.

Heritage also sold three of the remaining four million-dollar coins. At the Heritage Florida United Numismatists sale in early January in Orlando, Fla., a 1792 half disme graded Specimen-67 by PCGS realized $1,410,000. An MS-64 example of the same issue brought in an additional $528,750.

Another million-dollar coin sold by Heritage was a Class 1 1804 dollar, which realized $3,877,500. Both the seller and buyer remain anonymous. Graded Proof-62 by NGC, this magnificent coin was part of Heritage’s auctions in conjunction with the World’s Fair of Money in Rosemont, Ill., in August. The final sale price was $140,000 more than the coin brought in 2008.

In mid-November, Heritage sold part of the Eric P. Newman Collection, assembled over a 90-year period beginning in the 1930s. Newman’s 1796 quarter, graded MS-67+ Star by NGC, with CAC certification, went for a total of $1,527,500. Newman paid $100 for it. In fact, Newman paid approximately $7,500 for the entire collection sold in this auction, which is only part of his massive holdings. This portion of his collection sold for more than $23 million.

In September, Bonhams of Los Angeles sold an 1880 Coiled Hair Stella ($4 gold piece) for more than a million dollars. Graded Proof-67 by NGC, this amazing coin, with just eight pieces known, realized $2,574,000.

This Stella was part of the Tacasyl Collection, which consisted of just 27 lots, all gold types in proof. Every lot of this amazing collection sold, bringing in a total of nearly $11 million. The average per lot price of nearly $400,000 almost doubled the previous record.

According to the anonymous owner, “I put this collection together to have the finest known proof gold type set ever formed, and once this task was completed, I was happy to re-offer them to the collecting public. I was really gratified by the professionalism and expertise of Paul Song and his colleagues at Bonhams, as well as ... Numismatic Guarantee Corporation, who worked closely with Bonhams to make the auction of my coins a truly historic event.”

A number of other Stellas sold for healthy prices in 2013. For example, the top lot at a Stack’s Bowers sale held May 9-10 in New Orleans at the American Numismatic Association National Money Show was an 1879 Coiled Hair Stella. One of only 12 examples known of this type, the PCGS-graded PR-64 Cameo Secure coin realized $646,250. A Flowing Hair example of the same date, graded PR-64+ Secure by PCGS, brought in an additional $176,250.

At a Heritage sale held June 5-9 in conjunction with the Long Beach Coin & Collectibles Exposition, an 1879 Flowing Hair Stella, graded Proof-66 Ultra Cameo by NGC, sold for $258,500. The top lot at this sale was a branch-mint proof 1895-O Morgan dollar. Graded Proof-66 Cameo by NGC, the coin realized $528,750.

•••

Some interesting coin hoards were auctioned in 2013. One of them involved gold coins found packed in ammunition boxes in the garage of an elderly Carson City, Nev., man, Walter Samaszko Jr. The first portion of the estate sale, consisting of the bullion part of the hoard, sold for more than $3.5 million in Carson City on Feb. 26. The remainder of the coins, presumably the ones with numismatic value, were sold in early August for slightly more than $3 million. Not bad for a guy with $1,200 in the bank at the time of his death.

On June 3, Bonhams sold a hoard of American double eagles found in France. Dated between 1851 and 1928, the 497 coins were discovered when a workman was showered with the pieces while working on a vineyard building in February. Because of the source of the hoard, Bonhams called the coins the Champagne Lanson Bonnet Vineyard Collection.

Before the sale, the coins were certified by PCGS’s Paris office. Most received a grade of MS-63 or higher, with three 1924s achieving MS-66 status. Those sold for $2,925 apiece, including the buyer’s premium. In total, the sale realized $945,000, which averages out to slightly more than $1,900 per coin. Obviously, there were no 1927-Ds in the hoard.

•••

As in past years, key coins (typically the coins with the lowest mintages in a series) and condition rarities (coins that are common in lower grades but rare in higher grades) did well when they crossed the auction block in 2013. For example, in a Heritage auction in Dallas, Texas in March, the key 1893-S Morgan dollar, graded AU-55 by PCGS, sold for $38,187.50. This is a coin with a wholesale value of $23,750.

In the condition rarity category, in the same Heritage sale the relatively common 1935-S Walking Liberty half dollar, in the decidedly uncommon grade of MS-67 (PCGS), with CAC certification, brought $41,125. The wholesale value for this coin is $15,500.

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At the end of March, a PCGS-graded Proof-70 Deep Cameo 1995-W silver Eagle sold in a GreatCollections auction for the astonishing price of $86,654.70. The coin received 104 bids in setting a new world record for a silver Eagle.

Proving that a key date can bring a six-figure amount at auction even if it is not in a top grade, an 1893-S Morgan dollar graded MS-60 by PCGS sold for $115,000. The venue was an Ira & Larry Goldberg Pre-Long Beach Auction held in early June.

Some condition rarities did well in the Long Beach sale conducted by Heritage June 5-9. For example, a 1923-S Buffalo nickel, graded MS-66 by PCGS, with a CAC sticker, sold for the hefty sum of $67,562. The wholesale value of this coin is $26,750.

Billed as the finest certified example, a 1923-D Peace dollar graded MS-67 by PCGS, realized $76,375 in the Heritage Long Beach sale. The wholesale value is $58,500.

A couple of rarity key Morgan dollars, an 1889-CC and an 1893-CC, earned six-figure sums in the Stacks’s Bowers ANA World’s Fair of Money Auction held from Aug. 11-16. Graded an incredible MS-68 by PCGS, the 1889-CC sold for $881,250. The 1893-CC, a branch-mint proof graded Proof-66 Cameo by NGC, realized $323,125.

As a final example of a rarity key, the 1916-D Mercury dime, graded MS-67 Full Bands, with CAC sticker, sold for $152,750 at a Heritage sale in New York City held in early November. The coin has a wholesale value of $120,000.

•••

A number of unusual, but numismatically related, items made headlines when auctioned in 2013. One was Dr. Francis Crick’s Nobel Prize medal, which was sold along with Crick’s Nobel diploma by Heritage Auctions. This was the highlight of an historical manuscripts auction held in New York City on April 11. Drs. Crick, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 1963 for their discovery of the molecular structure of DNA. With an opening bid of $500,000, the 23-karat gold medal and accompanying document realized $2,270,500.

Also in the exonumia category, a Bearded Man/Boxcar hobo nickel that was the work of George Washington “Bo” Hughes realized $24,200 at an auction during a meeting of the Original Hobo Nickel Society, Inc., in January. The meeting took place at the FUN convention in Orlando. The buyer of this rare nickel was Chris Dempsey of Dempsey and Baxter Rare Coins in Erie, Pa. According to Ralph Winter, editor of the official journal of the group, “This was by far the largest price ever paid for a single hobo nickel.”

Heritage Auctions sold a rare foreign coin with American ties at its Chicago International Coin Fair Signature Auction in mid-April. The coin was a 1936 Canadian dot cent, one of only three known, the Pittman-Krause specimen that Heritage had auctioned from the Chet Krause Collection in 2004. PCGS certified the coin as MS-63 Red.

Expected to sell for more than $250,000, the coin in fact realized not quite that amount, $248,750 with the buyer’s premium. This is the most well-known of the 1936 dot cents, as it was stolen from John J. Pittman in 1964 and then returned later with scratches in the obverse field. The scratches undoubtedly led to the MS-63 grade.

Accompanied by an incredible backstory, a rare 1796 with Pole half cent sold for many times its pre-auction estimate in a Woolley and Wallis of Salisbury, England auction in January. Estimated to be worth between $40,000 and $47,000, the auction-company graded extra fine coin actually sold for $357,000 to Numismatic Financial Corporation, a Florida-based company.

The rare coin was purchased by Oxford student Mark Hillary, who was killed in a mountain climbing accident in 1963. Recently, Hillary’s brother found the coin while cleaning out his brother’s homemade cabinet. He took the coin to the local auction house for appraisal, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Heritage auctioned two unusual Lincoln cents for large amounts in its New York City auction in early November. Both were dated 1943, and both were struck on non-steel planchets. One of these was minted in Philadelphia on a copper planchet. Circulated to a grade of VF, the piece has large cuts on both sides, resulting in a PCGS Genuine grade. The coin sold for $88,125. Without the cuts and graded VF-35 by PCGS, a 1943-S bronze Lincoln brought $141,000.

•••

To this point, the results I’ve discussed have been big-ticket items, coins selling for many thousands and even millions of dollars in some cases. Although such coins make the biggest headlines, in most auctions you will find coins that sell for amounts in the hundreds or even less. For example, in the Heritage sale of part of the Eric P. Newman Collection that saw a 1796 quarter sell for well over a million dollars, many coins sold for much less than this.

To cite just a few examples, a 1916 Mercury dime graded MS-64 by NGC, with CAC certification, realized just $94. An 1883 No Cents Liberty Head nickel, graded MS-63 with CAC sticker, sold for $111.63. For $152.75, you could have purchased Newman’s NGC-graded VF-35 1919-D Buffalo nickel.

Earlier I noted that GreatCollections sold an unimprovable 1995-W Silver Eagle for more than $85,000 in 2013. Although this was an exceptional piece producing a phenomenal result, many, if not most, of the coins GreatCollections auctions realize much less than this. As just a couple of the inexpensive examples sold this year, a 1930 Standing Liberty quarter graded AU-58 by PCGS went for $83.60 and a 1947-S/S (repunched mintmark) graded MS-65 by PCGS realized just $79.20.

I could go on and cite inexpensive pieces from virtually all of the sales mentioned in this article, but you get the point: There’s something for almost everyone in coin auction sales conducted by even the largest auction houses.

After all the big numbers and records posted in 2013, where will numismatic auctions go in 2014? Will we see new records, or a plunging market?

Only time will tell, but the annual FUN auction could start the year with a bang.



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