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2008 Fun Orlando Auctions

by Greg Reynolds

More than $50 million of U.S. coins were auctioned in just one week, by four different auction firms, in Orlando, before and during the Florida United Numismatists (FUN) Convention. Millions of dollars worth of other numismatic items, especially paper money, were auctioned as well. For U.S. coins, though, the ten days from Jan. 4 to 13 of auctions and private transactions constitute the leading event of the year.

2008 Fun Auctions Heritage’s Platinum Night at the FUN Convention is probably the most awaited auction session of the year. It is packed with very rare U.S. coins, many of which are of high quality. While a few coins sold on Platinum Night will be discussed below, many will be discussed in additional articles that will appear on CoinLink.

The Platinum Night event was held on Jan. 10. Superior Galleries conducted an auction on Jan. 5 & 6. Stack’s held one on Jan. 7, and B&M did on Jan. 8. I will devote a separate article to the Bowers & Merena sale.

Although the most important coin in the Superior sale was the Proof 1876-CC dime, it has already been the subject of an article on CoinLink. Among other highlights of this Superior auction are three octagonal $50 gold coins.

1851 U.S. Assay Office $50 There are many varieties of octagonal $50 gold coins that were minted in San Francisco in 1851 and ‘52. These are attributed to Augustus Humbert and/or the U.S. Assay Office. All three octagonal $50 coins in the Superior auction are graded MS-60 or higher by the Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NGC).

Although some octagonal $50 varieties are considerably rarer than others, I will refer to these three by date and grade. After all, none of the three is extremely rare, and very few collectors attempt to build sets of all die and edge varieties.

An 1851, NGC MS-62, realized $189,750, a high price, though not a record. It was particularly nice coin ‘for what it is,’ as collectors generally expect territorials, especially large ones, to have more imperfections and technical problems than U.S. gold coins from the same time period. It has never been harshly cleaned, nor heavily dipped, and it is well struck. It has fewer contact marks than most other octagonal fifties.

After I wrote my description of it, I discussed this 1851 $50 gold coin with Charles Browne, who is a leading coin analyst, a perennial auction participant, and a former PCGS grader. Browne emphasizes that “it is a very nice coin,” much more so “than most of the other 1851 $50 coins.” Browne concluded that “it has no serious problems and no significant blemishes.” Browne regards all three octagonal fifties in this auction as “unusually well detailed. Many of the others are flat in the body of the eagle and in parts of the shield and base.”

I was not as impressed by the next octagonal fifty, another 1851, of a noticeably different variety. It is NGC graded MS-60, and its quality is nowhere near the quality of the fifty that sold just before it. Browne points out that “the fields are especially rough and granular, and this $50 gold coin has a few large bruises, gashes and bumps.” It brought $81,650, a strong price.

I glanced very quickly at the third octagonal, an 1852, NGC graded MS-61. It seemed considerably more appealing than the second and not nearly as desirable as the first octagonal fifty in the Superior sale. Browne said that this one is “particularly nice for a coin of this type. It does not have any of the severe gashes, gouges, or other impairments, that are the norm for such octagonal fifties.” It garnered $90,850.

1811 $5 Capped Draped Bust Tall 5 My favorite gold coin that sold in this Superior auction was an 1811 Half Eagle ($5 gold coin) that was certified as MS-64 by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). I was surprised to find out that Browne was not all that enthusiastic about it. It has soothing green overtones, and very light orange-russet hues at various locations, especially about the date and last three stars (which are on the viewer’s right). There are very few contact marks, and its faint hairlines, however numerous, did not bother me very much. It is sharply and evenly struck on a nice planchet (prepared blank disc). Overall, its grade is a mid-range to high end 64, in my view. It brought $43,700. Laura Sperber was the successful bidder.

Of course, there was an array of U.S. coins in this Superior auction, and in the auctions conducted by the other firms. As there is no way that the contents of a significant coin auction can be fairly summarized, the purpose here is to provide a sampling of important and/or interesting coins that sold.

The Stack’s auction in Orlando had an excellent run of patterns. Very Unusual Items in Orlando Auctions, for mention of the auction record for a Gobrecht dollar that was then set.

In this Stack’s sale, an 1897-S Eagle ($10 gold coin) is noteworthy. It is one of only three that the PCGS has graded MS-66. Unfortunately, I did not see it. Charles Browne tells me that “it is a very pretty coin which merits a solid 66 grade.” When I asked him if this 1897-S had ever been cleaned or dipped, he said, “No, it is completely original.” Browne added that one of the other three traded at the September 2007 Long Beach Expo. The grade of that Eagle, according to Browne, is a mid-range to high end 66 and is of higher quality than the 1897-S that Stack’s just auctioned. Browne knows for sure that the other one was sold privately for “substantially less” than the $47,150 price realized for this 1897-S Eagle.

This Stack’s auction included two 1818 Half Eagles ($5 gold coins), both of the over-denomination variety where 5 D. is punched over 50 on the reverse (back). In my article on an 1813 Half Eagle that Stack’s auctioned during the summer, I roughly estimated that there are from one hundred to two hundred 1818 Half Eagles in existence, of all varieties. These are demanded by both ‘date’ and ‘type’ collectors, as most of the other dates in the series are extremely rare.

Of the two 1818 Half Eagles in this Jan. 7th auction, Browne asserted that one “is of average quality for a certified AU-58 Capped Head Half Eagle.” It realized $23,000. Browne has much higher regard for the other, an NGC graded MS-64 1818. “Its nice old-time color, and overall originality, compensate for some light hairlines and contact marks.” It brought $63,250.

Only once has a certified MS-64 1818 Half Eagle of any variety realized more at auction, and that was the Palakika 1818 that Heritage auctioned in May 2007. My guess is that the Palakika 1818 is of much higher quality than this one.
Stacks 1827 $5.00 Gold in MS-66
Stack’s also auctioned an 1827 Half Eagle that is NGC graded MS-66. It is the same coin that was offered by the Goldbergs in Feb. 2007, and by Heritage in May 2007. The cataloguer for the Goldbergs identified it as having been from the Floyd Starr collection that Stack’s auctioned in October 1992. In Feb. 2007, I compared the images in the Goldberg catalogue to the pictures in a Stack’s 1992 Starr catalogue, and I vaguely recollect now that I agreed that it is likely to be the same coin. In the online version of the January 7, 2008 catalogue, the Stack’s cataloguers did not mention any pedigree for this 1827 Half Eagle.

Browne refers to this 1827 Half Eagle as “gorgeous.” I remember seeing it last year. It has terrific, original luster, and is well struck. Its few imperfections are more noticeable in images than in actuality. Browne concludes that “its grade is a solid 66.” In my view, it just makes the 66 grade. There is an excellent chance, though, that it is the finest known 1827 Half Eagle, and is very likely to be one of the fifteen finest of the Capped Head, Large Size (1813-29) Half Eagle type. The reported price realized of “$322,000″ is rather impressive. It is almost certainly an auction record for the date, by a substantial margin, and is one of the highest auction prices for any coin of the whole type, which is the most difficult U.S. coin series to even 80% complete.

Another notable Half Eagle in the Stack’s auction is an 1871-CC, NGC graded MS-61. Browne declares that it is “a great coin with original luster. Though it has a lot of contact marks, it is really uncirculated, unlike some certified ‘Mint State’ Carson City gold coins that have friction on the high points.” It should be noted, though, that the Delaware firm, for which Browne works, bought this 1871-CC. It is one of only two 1871-CC Half Eagles that the NGC has graded 60 or higher; the other is graded 63. The PCGS reports grading one as MS-61 and another as MS-62. This coin realized $43,700.

Half Eagles and patterns seem to be the most newsworthy pieces in this Stack’s auction. As I will be devoting an article to the Madison collection, which predominated Heritage’s Platinum Night, I will mention only one Madison collection coin here.

Although its price realized has already been widely cited, I seem to be the only reporting coin analyst who knows that this 1796 ‘No Stars’ Quarter Eagle has been PCGS graded MS-65 since late 1995, and was NGC graded MS-65 shortly before it was PCGS graded MS-65. The price realized of $1,725,000 is an auction record for any Quarter Eagle. It is also true, though perhaps not directly relevant, that a Half Eagle has never sold for as much as $1 million at auction, nor has a $1 gold coin or a $3 gold coin.

In my upcoming Very Unusual Items in Orlando Auctions article, I will mention some of the more curious items sold during Platinum Night. Below, I itemize three Half Eagles and three Eagles, which are newsworthy and are somewhat representative of the non-Madison gold coins that were sold during Platinum Night.
1861-D $5 MS63 PCGS. CAC
The 1861-D Half Eagle that was formerly in the ‘Duke’s Creek’ Collection is the finest known of this date. It is of significantly higher quality than the Farouk-Norweb-Bass 1861-D, which is also PCGS graded “MS-63.” Moreover, this is one of the finest known Dahlonega gold coins of any date or denomination in existence. It sold for an astounding $207,000. It has nice luster and surfaces, and is well struck for a Dahlonega (Georgia) Mint coin.

A key date 1909-O Half Eagle, PCGS graded MS-63, brought $92,000. It is appealing for the grade, and is desirable in general. The PCGS price guide values this coin at $85,000. A different 1909-O, also PCGS graded MS-63, sold for this exact same price about one year ago, during Heritage’s January 2007 Platinum Night.

Though I just glanced at it quickly (because there was a tremendous number of great coins in this auction), I was particularly impressed by the 1916-S. It is PCGS graded MS-66, and the PCGS has not assigned a higher grade to any 1916-S Half Eagle. It has very attractive orange and orange-russet tones, along with soft patches of blue, with touches of green. It realized $57,500.

Heritage sold another PCGS graded MS-66 1916-S in August 2007 for $60,375, and a third in April 2007 for $63,250. Although I have not scrutinized the images, it seems that Heritage auctioned all three PCGS graded MS-66 1916-S Half Eagles, in less than one year.

An 1804 Eagle, PCGS graded AU-55, brought $80,500, well above the wholesale price range. In recent years, four other auction results for PCGS or NGC graded AU-55 Eagles of this date are $35,650, $36,800, $43,125 and $57,500.

A rare 1863 Proof Eagle brought $138,000. It is NGC certified “Proof-65 Ultra Cameo.” Kathleen Duncan, principal of Pinnacle Rarities, was the successful bidder. Throughout the night, she was one of the leading bidders, especially for gold coins. She was representing newsworthy clients that will not be revealed at this time, though may be discussed on CoinLink in the future.

David McCarthy, an expert in territorials, “really liked” the 1853 U.S. Assay Office $10 gold coin. It also caught my eye. It is well detailed, has very few contact marks, and exhibits a lot of luster. This coin has more personality than others of the same issue. It is PCGS graded MS-63, and brought $44,850.

Also on Platinum Night, an 1805 quarter realized a startling price of $402,500! I will write about it. Please ‘stay tuned’ for more articles regarding coins in Orlando auctions.

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