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2011 auctions highlight variety

Did you bid on any coins offered at auction in 2011? If not, why not? Typically, all manner of coins appear at auction during any given year. There are super rarities that bring five- to seven-figure amounts when sold, and there are relatively more common coins that sell for amounts that you and I can afford.
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By: Mike Thorne

Did you bid on any coins offered at auction in 2011? If not, why not?

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Typically, all manner of coins appear at auction during any given year. There are super rarities that bring five- to seven-figure amounts when sold, and there are relatively more common coins that sell for amounts that you and I can afford.

And the number of auction venues continues to increase. GreatCollections, an auction site recently introduced by Ian Russell, formerly president of Teletrade, Inc. and CEO of Bowers and Merena Auctions, sells certified coins that bring amounts from $25 to $10,000 or more. Given this range, surely there’s something for everyone.

Did you sell any coins at auction in 2011? Unless you’re opposed to selling any of your coins for any reason, you may find that the auction route is the best way to clear out valuable duplicates and convert coins you’re no longer interested in into funds that can be used to buy other treasures.

In this article, I’ll survey the numismatic auction scene in 2011. I think you’ll find that many interesting things happened last year in the world of the numismatic auction.

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One crude metric of the health of the coin auction industry is the number of million-dollar sellers during the year. By this measure, 2011 was a relatively lean year, as I counted just two such coins. For comparison, the totals for 2006 through 2010 were four, five, four, three and four, respectively.

The first of the million-dollar sellers came early in the year at Heritage Auctions Jan. 6 Platinum Night sale held at the Florida United Numismatists (FUN) show in Tampa, Fla. The coin was an NGC-graded PR-67 1907 Rolled Edge $10 gold piece, and the winning bidder paid $2.185 million for it. (This total amount, as well as others I’ll discuss, includes a buyer’s fee, which is typically 15 percent of the winning bid.) According to Greg Rohan, Heritage president, “This is only the ninth U.S. coin ever to sell for more than $2 million at public auction.”

One of the lowest-graded coins to bring big money in 2011 also sold at the Heritage FUN auction. It was a 1795 Reeded Edge large cent, graded Fine details by NGC, which PCGS later certified as G-4.

The purchaser was noted collector Pete Miller, who needed the coin to complete his award-winning Large Cents Flowing Hair Complete Variety Set, Circulation Strikes (1793-1796). The coin also completed Miller’s All-Time Finest Large Cents Complete Variety Set, Circulation Strikes (1793-1857). For this lowly cent, Miller paid $431,250.

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The other million-dollar seller was the top lot in Heritage Auctions’ Aug. 11-12 Pre-ANA sale conducted at the Marriott-Chicago O’Hare in Rosemont, Ill. Graded PR-64 Cameo by NGC, the coin was a unique 1855-S $3 gold piece. The amount realized was $1,322,500.

The number two spot in the auction went to an 1893-S Morgan dollar, graded MS-67 by NGC, which brought in $546,250. The coin was pedigreed to the Norweb and Jack Lee Collections, and it’s the highest graded NGC specimen.

The 1893-S dollar is a well-known mintage rarity, the regular-issue coin in the Morgan series with the lowest mintage. One of the best-known Morgan dollar condition rarities, a coin that’s relatively common in lower grades but scarce to rare in higher grades, is the 1892-S. An example of this date graded MS-67 by NGC brought $184,000.

Proving that even modern coins (post-1964) can fetch huge amounts, a 1975 No S PCGS-graded PR-68 Roosevelt dime sold for an astounding $349,600 at the Stack’s Bowers Galleries conducted sale at the ANA World’s Fair of Money show held in mid-August in Rosemont, Ill. The amount paid for the dime set a new record for the highest price ever paid for a modern U.S. coin at auction. This coin is one of just two such pieces known.

The 1975 No S dime was one of more than 9,000 lots of U.S. and world coins, medals, tokens, and paper money sold by Stack’s Bowers Galleries at the summer ANA convention. With a total take exceeding $40 million, “Our ANA auction represents a true numismatic landmark, shattering records in a wide array of categories,” according to Chris Napolitano, president of the company.

Other error varieties that sold for large amounts during 2011 included the always popular 1937-D 3-legged Buffalo nickel (PCGS MS-65, CAC), which brought $48,875 in the Sacramento ANA Heritage Auction in March. Another error Buffalo, the 1918/7-D overdate in PCGS MS-64+, realized $161,000 in a Heritage Long Beach auction on Jun. 1. In the same auction, a PCGS-graded MS66+ Full Bands 1942/1-D Mercury dime brought $57,500.

Although the number of million-dollar sellers doesn’t reflect it, by other measures 2011 was a very good auction year. Other useful measures of auction success include the number of lots in an auction that actually sell and the total amount realized. The total take from the Heritage FUN auctions, for example, was more than $53 million, with 95 percent of the lots sold both in terms of the number of lots and the value of the lots. Said Rohan, “Very solid results, across the board. . . . We put together a superb auction and collectors responded with exuberance.”

The results were even better for Heritage at its Long Beach Signature Sale held Feb. 5-6 in conjunction with the Long Beach Coin, Stamp and Collectibles Expo, Long Beach, Calif. There, the sell-through rate by lot was 97 percent, with total sales of more than $8 million. About the results, Rohan said, “I think steady and solid is the best way to categorize the results. Not spectacular, but about what we expected, with a little more on top.”

Similarly, the Heritage Pre-ANA sale saw a 95 percent sell-through in terms of the number of lots, with a total realization of more than $31 million. In that sale, 26 lots brought more than $100,000 apiece.

At the October ANA Fall National Money Show in Pittsburgh, Pa., the Heritage Official ANA Signature Auction realized more than $16 million, with more than 96 percent of the lots sold. Key lots included two New Orleans-minted double eagles, an 1854-O and an 1856-O. Graded AU-55 by PCGS, the 1854-O realized $431,250, whereas the 1856-O, graded XF-45 by PCGS, with a CAC sticker, brought in another $276,000.

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Every year, key coins that are the stoppers in a set, do well at public auction. This was definitely the case in 2011. For example, in the Heritage FUN auctions, the Morgan dollar rarity key 1893-S, graded MS-64 by NGC, sold for $218,000.

Another key to the Morgan dollar set, the 1895-P, available only as a proof, realized $89,125 at the June Long Beach Heritage auction. NGC graded the coin PR-67 Ultra Cameo.

One of the most popular and affordable gold key coins, the 1911-D quarter eagle, sold as part of a complete set of Indian Head quarter eagles for $66,000. This was a lot in a GreatCollections online auction during August. NGC graded the 1911-D MS-64+.

Another 1911-D, graded MS-65 Secure by PCGS, realized $54,625 in a Heritage Long Beach auction in September. In the same auction, a 1908-S double eagle, with the lowest mintage of any regularly issued Saint-Gaudens $20 gold piece, went for $74,750. It was graded MS-66 by NGC, with a CAC sticker.

Of the three keys to the Barber quarter series, the 1901-S is by far the scarcest and most expensive. Two high-grade specimens sold in Heritage’s October sale in Pittsburgh, one for $57,500 and the other for $86,250. The least expensive coin graded MS-64 by NGC, with a CAC sticker, whereas the other piece received an MS-66 grade from NGC.

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Condition rarities also did extremely well at auction in 2011. For example, at a Jan. 4 auction held by Bowers and Merena in Tampa, FL, a 1946-S Washington quarter realized an unbelievable $14,950. Certified MS-68 by PCGS Secure, the firm’s president, Chris Napolitano, described the coin as a “top-of-the-pop” piece (top of the population of PCGS-graded 1946-S quarters).

At the ANA National Money Show Auction conducted by Heritage Mar. 17-20 in Sacramento, CA, an extremely common 1960-D Franklin half dollar in an uncommon grade (PCGS MS-66 FBL) realized $6,900. A 1957 half dollar, graded MS-67 FBL by PCGS, sold for $6,325.

As another example of a condition rarity, Scotsman Auction Co. sold a PCGS MS-67 1952-S Washington-Carver half dollar for $7,187.50 at its Midwest Summer Sale on Jul. 29. This is a coin with a value of $185 in MS-65, according to Numismatic News’ “Coin Market.”

Scotsman sold another nice commemorative coin at its Collector’s Auction 2011, held on Oct. 21 in St. Louis, Mo. Graded MS-67 by PCGS, the 1938 New Rochelle half dollar earned $5,500 against a pre-sale estimate of $600-$700.

The 1926-S Buffalo nickel is a prime example of a condition rarity, as it’s relatively inexpensive in lower circulated grades but becomes pricy in higher grades. As one example of this in 2011, a 1926-S graded MS-66 by NGC realized $115,000 at the Heritage ANA Signature Auction in Pittsburgh in October.

The 1892-S Morgan dollar is another classic condition rarity. A PCGS MS-61 example of this date brought $40,250 at the Heritage Auctions Beverly Hills, CA, Signature sale held on Nov. 8-10.

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Some unusual numismatic and numismatically related items made auction headlines in 2011. For example, the Original Hobo Nickel Society (OHNS) auction held on Jan. 8 in conjunction with 2011’s FUN convention saw two records set. One record involved the sale of a Buffalo nickel carved by the hobo artist known as “Bo.” Bo’s carving of “Bert,” achieved by removing the LI and Y from LIBERTY, sold for $7,700, which is a record for one of Bo’s carvings. The total for all items sold at the auction was $53,030.50, another record for an OHNS sale.

For collectors who like their gold in its most original form, 2011 saw the sale of what may be the largest remaining nugget of placer gold from California’s gold rush region. Found by a Nevada County, Calif., landowner in 2010, the nearly 100-ounce chunk of gold was offered in the Holabird-Kagin Americana’s Golden West Auction held in Sacramento on Mar. 16. The massive piece of gold realized $460,000, which is more than twice its bullion value, even at gold’s peak during the year.

For fans of the Beatles, a unique gold coin from the British Channel Island of Alderney depicting John Lennon sold for $119,780, which included a 24 percent value added tax. Yoko Ono, Lennon’s widow, donated the coin for the benefit of the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Lennon’s hometown of Liverpool. The silver dollar-sized coin was sold on Jun. 29 by Bonhams auction house in London.

In what had to be one of the most historically interesting lots sold at auction in 2011, the Heritage Long Beach sale in September included an “Ides of March” silver denarius. The coin, with a portrait of twin daggers on the reverse, was issued by Marcus Junius Brutus, one of the assassins of Julius Caesar, who was stabbed to death on Mar. 15, 44 B.C., perhaps the most famous Ides of March. The coin sold for an incredible $546,250.

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Although the focus of my survey has been on big-ticket items, many nice coins of lesser value crossed the auction block in 2011. For example, Teletrade (Irvine, Calif.) offers coins for collectors of all budgets in its multiple auctions each week. On Sun., Nov. 20, here are just a few of the coins that sold for amounts that virtually all collectors can afford: 1865 Indian cent ANACS-graded AU-50, $45; 1871 Indian cent NGC-graded G-6, $55; 1944-D Jefferson nickel ANACS-graded MS-65, with 5.5 steps, $9; 1936 Washington quarter NGC-graded MS-65, $39; and 1881-S Morgan dollar NGC-graded MS-64, with rainbow toning, $80.

David Lawrence Rare Coins of Virginia Beach, Va., offers many inexpensive coins in its frequent online auctions. Here are just a few that sold on Aug. 4: 1982-S Lincoln cent PCGS-graded PR-69 Deep Cameo Red, $59; 1938-S Jefferson nickel PCGS-graded MS-66, $36; 1945-D Washington quarter PCGS-graded MS-66, $81; and 1900-O Morgan dollar PCGS-graded MS-65, $182.

As I indicated above, Heritage Auctions of Dallas, Texas, sold both of the million-dollar coins at auction in 2011. Heritage also sold many less-expensive coins, particularly in its Exclusively Internet Auctions. Heritage’s internet auction on Nov. 8, for example, included the following inexpensive items: 1853 half cent ANACS-graded AU-55, $138; 1954-S Lincoln cent NGC-graded MS-66 Red, $20; 1865 nickel 3c piece ANACS-graded AU-55, $59; 2004-S silver Florida Washington quarter PCGS-graded PR-69 Deep Cameo, $18; and 1941 Walking Liberty half dollar NGC-graded MS-63, $50.

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We’ve reached the end of my survey of the numismatic auction scene for 2011. Although 2011 wasn’t necessarily the greatest auction year of all time, many interesting numismatic items crossed the auction block and found new homes. If you weren’t a bidder or seller in 2011, give it a try in 2012. You may be glad you did.

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