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Rare gold $20 on B & M block

B&Mobv.jpgBowers and Merena, a division of Spectrum, will conduct the official auction of the Baltimore Coin and Currency Convention. A range of U.S. coins, and other numismatic items, will be offered March 21-23.

Star of the event is the 1856-O double eagle ($20 gold) from the Jack Bains collection. According to B&M staff, Bains acquired it in the early 1980s. He died in 2006.

The Bains 1856-O is graded AU-53 by Professional Coin Grading Service. PCGS has graded 10 of this date, the highest being two AU-58s. The four AU-55s probably represent only one or two different coins. The Numismatic Guaranty Corp. has graded seven, including a Specimen-63.

B&Mrev.jpgIn the Auction ?90 catalog, David Akers estimated that 15 to 18 1856-O double eagles exist. In a 2003 book, Q. David Bowers said 18 to 22 exist, including two Mint State pieces. ?Probably no more than 20-25 examples remain of the 1856-O in all grades,? said a Heritage cataloger last summer.

For $345,000, Bob Green bought the 1856-O, PCGS graded AU-50, that Heritage sold in August 2006. The same firm auctioned a PCGS graded AU-55 in San Francisco slightly more than a year earlier for $431,250. The PCGS price guide values the 1856-O at $400,000 in AU-50.

The Bains estate consigned a few other gold coins, including an 1856-D gold dollar, NGC AU-53, and an 1838 half eagle ($5 gold coin), PCGS AU-53. Also included was a rare 1795 half eagle, NGC AU-53.

The most interesting consignment is the 1796 year set from the collection of Ruth and Sydney Kalmbach. The B&M catalogers provide some biographical information, perhaps the most curious of which is that the Kalmbachs ?both played French horn in the Symphony Orchestra in Milwaukee? for leisure. Ruth and Sydney ?both had careers in the sciences.?

The Kalmbachs collected coins dated 1796 because it was a tremendous challenge to complete a general set of this year. John Whitney, the most famous collector of 1796-dated coins, emphasized that 1796 was the first year in which all denominations of the era were minted. Indeed, dimes, quarters and quarter eagles ($2.50 gold coins) were first minted in 1796. Half dollars and silver dollars had been produced since 1794. There is some evidence that half dimes minted in 1792 were regular issues, not patterns. Half eagles and eagles ($10 gold coins) were first minted in 1795.

Whitney, as he liked to be called by numismatists, included die varieties of silver and gold coins, and also 1796-dated copper coins. The Kalmbachs seemed to have stuck to a more modest, though very impressive, goal of a set of silver and gold coins by date. Whitney had 92 U.S. coins dated 1796.
Whitney spent a large amount on coins. The Kalmbachs made good use of a limited collecting budget.

The Kalmbachs? half dime is NGC graded EF-45, their dime is NGC graded AU-55. The Kalmbach 1796 set has two quarters. Both are of the same die variety, Browning 2, according to the cataloger. Both quarters are graded by PCGS, an AG-03 and an EF-45. Quarters dated 1796 are a one-year type; the Draped Bust obverse and the so-called Small Eagle reverse were employed on quarters for just this one year. Quarters were not minted again until 1804.

Draped Bust, Small Eagle half dollars were minted only in 1796 and 1797. For the whole type, probably fewer than 400 survive in all grades. These are the rarest silver type coins. The Kalmbach 1796 half is graded NGC VF-25.  

The Kalmbach 1796 silver dollar is PCGS graded AU-55. It is of a variety that is rare in high grades. This variety is known as Large Date, Small Letters. There is no Large Date, Large Letters in 1796. Of 1796 dollars, PCGS has graded 322 of the Small Date, Small Letters variety, 175 of the Small Date, Large Letters, and just 122 of the Large Date, Small Letters. Only a dozen, probably including some resubmissions, were graded 55 or higher.

The Capped Bust 1796 No Stars $2.50 gold is also a one-year type. At some point during the year, stars were added to the obverse design, and the With Stars type began. The Kalmbach 1796 No Stars example is PCGS graded VF-35. It is curious that they did not also obtain a 1796 With Stars quarter eagle.

From the year 1796, there is only one variety of half eagles and it is an overdate, 1796/5. The Kalmbachs acquired two examples, now PCGS graded, EF-45 and AU-55. Numismatic News? Coin Market prices this date at $24,000 in EF-40, $34,500 in AU-50 and $75,000 in MS-60. The Kalmbach 1796 eagle is NGC graded AU-53.  

The Kalmbachs also acquired two 1915-S Panama-Pacific Expo $50 commemorative gold coins, one round in PCGS MS-62, and one octagonal in PCGS MS-64. Plus, they had three high relief Saint-Gaudens double eagles and a supergrade 1923-D Saint-Gaudens, PCGS MS-67.

Among 19th century coins, Morgan dollars are collected more than any other series. B&M will be auctioning a set of Morgans. It is named the Orchard Park collection, and it is mostly PCGS graded, though the rarest dates, 1892-S and 1893-S, are both NGC MS-60. Coin Market prices the 1892-S at $35,500 and the ?93-S at $85,000.

In the NGC registry, there are 768 sets of business strike Morgans. The Orchard Park collection ranks 12th even though it is listed as 78 percent complete.

On the NGC site, ?Bowers and Merena? is listed as the ?owner,? without explanation. Presumably, this is to protect the anonymity of the collector who assembled the Orchard Park set, and to draw attention to the auction. It seems to have been registered on Dec. 15, 2006, and last updated on Jan. 22, 2007, with the addition of an 1882-O in PCGS MS-65.

It is puzzling that the collector did not complete the set. Most of the missing dates are less expensive than several of the dates that are already included.

Though not very hard to find in circulated grades, 1889-CC Morgans are rare in Mint State. The Orchard Park collection has a PCGS MS-61 example. Numismatic News? Coin Market prices this date at $22,500 in MS-60.

Other highlights include the following, all PCGS graded: 1879-CC MS-63, 1884 MS-67, 1884-S MS-61, 1887/6-O MS-64, 1891 MS-65, 1894-O MS-64 and a supergrade 1897, MS-67! The 1901 is another date that is obtainable in circulated grades but hard to find in Mint State, especially choice examples. The Orchard Park 1901 is graded MS-63 and will attract a lot of bids.

Another consignor placed an 1861-S double eagle with the Paquet reverse in this sale. On double eagles, a slightly different reverse, one that had been modified by Anthony Paquet, was used very briefly during a period in 1861.

Though only two Philadelphia Paquet pieces are known, San Francisco examples can be found fairly often. PCGS has certified 87 and NGC has graded 79. As there are no Mint State examples, the offering of a PCGS AU-50 piece is important.

B&M will also be auctioning the Jefferson Gems collection of nickels. For most dates from 1938 to the 1960s, and many later, it is hard to find a Jefferson nickel with fully detailed steps of Monticello on the reverse. Many collectors are only interested in so-called ?full steps? nickels, and will pay tremendous premiums for them.  

This nickel collection is currently the seventh finest full step set in the PCGS registry and the 12th all-time finest. This collector used his creative powers to call himself ?ABC? and to label a full step collection of nickels as ?Jefferson Gems. Really!

In this set, the following early dates in the series are graded MS-67 with the full steps designation on each PCGS holder: 1938, 1938-D, 1938-S, 1940, 1940-D, 1940-S, 1941, 1941-D, 19 41-S, 1942 (both varieties) and almost all of the wartime nickels. In addition, he has the only 1947-S that is PCGS certified ?MS-67 FS?! This set is complete from 1938 to 1964, and more than 80 percent have the full steps designation.

As in most major coin auctions, there are hundreds of coins and other numismatic items. Collectors will find many desirable pieces that are not mentioned here.

The Baltimore Coin and Currency Convention is held three times a year at the Baltimore Convention Center in the Inner Harbor area, and B&M has conducted the official auctions for several years. 

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