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Greatest Collection of Costa Rican Coins
by Greg Reynolds

On Oct. 23, the late Frederick Mayer’s collection of Costa Rican coins, tokens and paper money was auctioned by the firm of Spink-Smythe in New York City. The day before, Oct. 22, Spink-Shreves sold Mayer’s collection of Costa Rican stamps at the same location. The Shreves stamp auction firm and Smythe are now integrated and owned by Spink. This first part of my review concerns the setting and atmosphere of the auction, the general importance of the material that was sold, the consignor, and the participants. In part 2, I will discuss Costa Rican silver coins.

The highest priced coin in the auction was Mayer’s Costa Rican 1873 Twenty Pesos gold coin. The issue is a Great Rarity. The Mayer 1873 realized $43,225. Curiously, it weighs substantially more than two Costa Rican Ten Pesos coins, and almost as much as a U.S. Double Eagle ($20 gold coin). It will be discussed in Part 3, along with other gold coins from the collection, a few of which are incredible.

Some of the rarer, most famous, and more interesting of Mayer’s coins were minted when Costa Rica was part of the Central American Republic, which was really a loose federation that was founded in 1823 and began to fall apart in 1838. These coins will be discussed in Part 4.

Costa Rica is a stable democracy in Central America. It borders Panama and Nicaragua. El Salvador, the Honduras and Guatemala are also in Central America, which is a landmass that is connected to both North America and South America. World coin collectors in the U.S. and Europe often aim to build type sets of all Central American or of all Latin American societies.

An excellent assortment of other Latin American coins, from a few different consignors, was auctioned the following day, Oct. 24. Matt Orsini, the primary cataloguer, reveals that “all” of the coins of Argentina “came from one consignor.” It was thus an extraordinary collection of coins from this nation. An 1845 Eight Escudos (large gold coin) is an important rarity. This PCGS graded AU-58 Eight Escudos was minted in La Rioja in 1845 and was the last gold coin of the era of General Rosas. It sold for $8625.

All the items auctioned on Oct. 22nd and 23rd were owned by the late Frederick Mayer of Colorado. He died suddenly in Feb. 2007. His collection of the territorial gold coins of Colorado has not yet been sold. His collection of Colorado banknotes was auctioned in Memphis in June.

Though a U.S. citizen who had no family or significant business ties to Costa Rica, Mayer became fascinated with the culture of Costa Rica. Mayer also formed an epic collection of the pre-Columbian art of Central America.

Mayer’s Costa Rican stamps, and other philatelic items, realized more than $2.5 million. The leading buyer of Mayer’s stamps was a British citizen who collects the stamps of Latin America.

Mayer’s Costa Rican coins sold for around three-quarters of one million. His collection of Costa Rican coins will be forever recognized for both its completeness and its quality.

Jim Elmen has been a dealer in world coins for more than thirty-five years, and runs his own mail bid sales of truly rare world coins. Elmen declared that “this is easily the best collection of Costa Rican coins that has ever been publicly auctioned.” Lance Tchor agrees, “Oh yea!” Lance has been a dealer of U.S. coins for more than thirty years and is an advanced collector of Latin American coins.

Stephanie Hudson, an active bidder, remarked that, “to the best of my knowledge, this is the best collection” of Costa Rican numismatic material “publicly sold.” Separately, Andrew Lustig said almost exactly the same thing.

Lustig has been a coin collector since the early 1970s and a dealer since the late 1970s. “As far as I know,” stated Lustig, “this is the best Costa Rican coin collection that has been auctioned.” Andy has attended hundreds of auctions, including all of the Eliasberg sales.

Lustig was probably the most excited of all the bidders at the Mayer sale. He has been personally collecting Central American coins for more than ten years. Additionally, he was representing several collectors and collector-dealers who are avidly interested in the coins.

At an intermission, Lustig and I observed how energetically the bidders were talking about coins with each other. Andy remarked, “this is how it should be. The people here are happy talking about coins” and adding to their collections. “No one is looking to upgrade them or do something to the coins.”

Of course, at every coin auction, there is always at least one dealer who views coins “only as merchandise.” At the Mayer sale, though, more than eighty percent of the ‘in person’ bidders were really enthusiastic about the coins or were cheerfully driven by specific clients who were really enthusiastic about them, or both!

The atmosphere is much different at some (not all) U.S. coin auctions where too many leading bidders do not care about the coins that they are buying. Several plan to ‘crack out’ coins from their holders and re-submit them to grading services with the aim of receiving higher grades. A few of these ‘crack out’ artists often change the surfaces of the coins before re-submitting them. Additionally, a large number of expensive auction purchases eventually ‘end-up’ with non-collecting investors who may never learn about coins.

I have, though, reviewed many U.S. coin auctions where the bidders have a passion for the coins being sold, and I am optimistic about the U.S. coin market. The two leading grading services recently made progress in controlling grade-inflation and in filtering problematic coins. Further, the CAC has been a positive force. In both the world and U.S. coin fields, the percentage of auctions that are dominated by passionate collectors can be much larger if collectors become better educated by reading and asking questions of experts. The participants in the Mayer sale were clearly knowledgeable.

At the sale, there were three passionate collectors from Costa Rica. They were Mauricio Soto, Ambassador Duenas, and one who may wish to remain anonymous. F. Tomas Duenas is the Ambassador to the United States from Costa Rica. While many senior diplomats are reserved and aloof, he is friendly and seems to very much enjoy talking about coins. “Being of such importance,” Ambassador Duenas revealed that he “would have not missed this auction and its action for anything”!

Two U.S. collectors from the East Coast were obviously jubilant when they saw the coins during lot viewing sessions. One of the two was an active bidder at the Mayer coin sale. He bought an amazing Half Onza (Four Escudos) 1850 gold coin that will be discussed in part 3.

The Costa Rican businessman Mauricio Soto has been collecting coins and paper money since he was a kid. Later, he became a part-time dealer to sell his “duplicates.” The first major coin show that Soto attended was a FUN Convention in Orlando. He “was eight years old.” He was “on vacation” with his family. One day, Soto’s “mother and sister” insisted upon “going shopping,” which his father “did not want to do. So,” Mauricio asked “to go to the coin show” and his father seemed “willing to go anywhere except shopping” for clothes. At the FUN Convention, Mauricio tried to buy some rare paper money items, but he could not afford them. He now has a first rate collection of Costa Rican paper money. At the Mayer sale, Soto also bid for one of his friends who was unable to be there.

During the Oct. 24 “Latin American Rarities Sale,” Soto was the successful bidder for a lot of two Costa Rica railway certificates dating from 1888 and 1890. These are not extremely rare. It is curious that these certificates depict a former President of Costa Rica, Bernardo Soto, who is Mauricio’s great-grandfather.

The friendliness of the Costa Rican bidders and of the auction firm staff contributed to the positive, upbeat atmosphere. Staff experts showed items at lot viewing sessions and discussed them with the bidders. Discussions were interesting and no one was upset by disagreements or criticism. Plus, the auction house executives and staff experts strongly exhibited a sense of humor, which is a factor that is sometimes missing at collectibles auctions.

Stephanie Hudson traveled all the way to New York from North Carolina to represent a collector who “was very happy with his purchases. He collects coins of the Central American Republic and all coins of Costa Rica and the Honduras.” While many coin dealers regard auction participation as a chore, Hudson, Lustig and the Rubensteins all seemed genuinely pleased to be at the Mayer sale.

Robert Steinberg has personally “hundreds of auctions” in his “forty years as a full-time coin dealer.” As Bob is not a stamp buyer, he never before attended an auction in the Shreves gallery. Steinberg declared that “Tracy Shreve was an excellent auctioneer.” She is “very professional, efficient and entertaining.” Both Charles Shreve and Tracy Shreve were lively and cheerful.

The main draw, of course, was the material that was auctioned. A growing number of U.S. citizens are collecting Latin American coins, usually of more than one country. In addition, more people around the world have started collecting coins, in part due to the growth of coin related information on the Internet. For the world to see, in parts two, three, and four, I will provide details and analysis of many of the extremely rare, high quality, and/or interesting Costa Rican coins that were in the Mayer collection.

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