News that a Class I 1804 silver dollar sold for $3,877,500 Aug. 9 at a Heritage auction prior to the American Numismatic Association convention in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, Ill., is enough to grab headlines. But does it grab you?
The high price is not quite a record. A sale of a coin from the same class in 1999 sold for $4.14 million. But the price is still very impressive.
It beats out the $3.7375 million price that the Mickley specimen sold for in 2008 at the Heritage auction of the Queller Family Collection.
The coin is so important that the catalog listing it features its photograph on the cover. Inside, 30 pages are devoted to it. The coin’s history is fascinating. The price is fully justified.
But does it grab you?
When coins reach prices that are unaffordable to all but a few, the minds of collectors take a detour. Why spend much time thinking about something that is unattainable?
It is precisely the unattainable that motivates us all. Something is unattainable until it isn’t. If you won the lottery, would you join the hunt for a trophy coin like an 1804 dollar? Be honest. I’ll bet you would.
Most of us ratchet down our expectations. I know the odds of my buying an 1804 dollar, or of winning a lottery, are between slim and none. That’s why when I began collecting I mooned over the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent far more. It’s human nature.
However, I never found a 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent in change, nor have I ever purchased one. By the time I found a full-time job and could conceive of buying the rare Lincoln, my tastes had changed.
But I still feel that emotional connection to the old dream. Even if someday never comes, in my mind the years disappear and for a few moments I am that wide-eyed kid again with my newly purchased Whitman albums dreaming of owning the most famous Lincoln cent. That never changes.
I have been fortunate. If I cannot own an 1804 dollar, I have had opportunities to examine them close up. I have held them in my hand and watched their prices go up over the years.
I have also had the opportunity to talk to a few of its owners. When I witnessed the sale of the Queller coin in 2008, I interviewed David Queller for the online Coin Chat Radio that we were doing at the time. I have been privileged to become a friend of Reed Hawn, who owned the coin before Queller.
You know what? At root, we all share the emotions and motivations of that wide-eyed kid that I once was. The privilege of being able to collect coins, to aspire to own pieces that so far have not come within our grasp and the opportunity to know that we are merely custodians of them is universal. In that way I shared Queller’s success and Hawn’s success.
I don’t know who the seller is or the buyer is for the 1804 this time, but I do know they are just like the rest of us.
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