By Mike Thorne
Did you buy any coins at auction in 2015? Sell any? If the answer is no to either or both of these questions, you may be missing out on some golden opportunities.
In this article, I’ll sample some of the more interesting and important events that took place on the auction scene in 2015.
During a year of falling bullion prices, several major rarities crossed the auction block. One measure of the strength of the auction market in 2015 is the number of million-dollar sellers. Using this admittedly crude measure, I counted 13 coins that sold for seven-figure amounts, a number just slightly behind my count of 14 in 2014.
In terms of big-ticket items, 2015 got off to a roaring start in January with the various Heritage auctions at the Florida United Numismatists Convention in Orlando. At the auctions, seven coins topped the million-dollar mark.
Five of the seven were sold in Part 1 of the Donald Partrick Collection of American Colonial coins, which, by itself, realized nearly $26 million. At the top of the list was a 1792 Birch cent graded MS-65 by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, with Certified Acceptance Corporation sticker. This realized $2,585,000 (all figures include a buyer’s fee).
Not far behind at $2,325,500 was Partrick’s 1792 Eagle-on-Globe copper quarter, graded MS-63 by NGC, with CAC sticker. “This coin was last offered publicly in 1890, so there was obviously excitement from top collectors at the prospect of acquiring it,” said Jim Halperin, co-founder of Heritage Auctions.
Although collectors might have been excited, the purchaser of both this coin and the Birch cent was actually a coin dealer, Kevin Lipton. “They rank right up there with the greatest things I’ve ever owned,” he said.
The other seven-figure sellers included two 1776 Continental dollars, one a Newman 1-C (NGC XF-40) and the other a Newman 3-D (NGC MS-62). Both realized $1,527,500.
Also bringing in seven-figure amounts were a 1792 copper disme NGC-graded MS-4 Red and Brown, with CAC sticker ($1,057,500); a 1793 Chain cent graded MS-66 Brown by the Professional Coin Grading Service, with CAC certification ($2,350,000); and an Ultra High Relief 1907 Saint-Gaudens double eagle ($2,115,000). PCGS assigned a grade of Proof-68 to the UHR Saint, which was being offered for the first time at auction. Previously, it was part of the Saint-Gaudens Estate.
Despite the astonishing results from the sale of the first part of his collection, Partrick asked for and was granted a delay in selling the remaining parts. “[The sale] was truly a wonderful experience,” Partrick said. “I love my coins and would like to continue to enjoy them a while longer.”
Another 1792 Birch cent made the list of seven-figure coins at the Stack’s Bowers Galleries Baltimore sale in late March. PCGS graded AU-58, the coin realized $1,175,000.
2015 was a great year for Stella $4 gold pieces, as two of the 1880 Coiled Hair variety, with just 8 known according to the Red Book, made the seven-figure list. The first brought $1.82 million at the Heritage Central States Numismatic Society auction April 22-25.
Said Greg Rohan, president of Heritage Auctions, “In terms of important Stellas that are available to collectors, this is one of the very best, and collectors responded to that rarity with very aggressive bidding.”
NGC graded the piece Proof-67, with CAC sticker. In the same sale, a PCGS-graded Proof-65 1879 Coiled Hair Stella (12 known), with CAC sticker, realized $881,250.
Heritage sold the other 1880 Coiled Hair Stella that earned a place on the seven-figure list at its Long Beach sale in June. Part of the New Orleans Collection Part Two sale, the PCGS graded Proof-65 piece, with CAC sticker, earned $1,116,250. At the same sale, an 1880 Flowing Hair Stella (17 known), graded Proof-65 by NGC, garnered $$417,125.
Two examples of the “common” 1879 Flowing Hair Stella, with a mintage of 425+, sold at the Stack’s Bowers auction at the Whitman Coins & Collectibles Baltimore Expo in early November. The better example, graded Proof-65+ by PCGS, with CAC sticker, went for $188,000. A PCGS-graded Proof-62 specimen, with CAC sticker, realized $135,125.
Rounding out the list of seven-figure sellers were three coins sold in the first of seven rounds of the D. Brent Pogue Collection. Held by Stack’s Bowers and Sotheby’s at Sotheby’s in New York City, the May 19 sale exceeded $25 million. The top amount went for the last lot in the auction, a PCGS-graded MS-65 1808 Capped Bust Left quarter eagle. Once owned by famed collector Colonel E.H.R. Green, it sold for $2,350,000.
The other two seven-figure pieces were coins graded MS-66 by PCGS that both sold for the same amount, $1,527,500. One was a fabulous example of the always popular 1796 quarter, and the other was a 1797 Draped Bust half dollar.
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One of the most unusual numismatic items to appear at auction in 2015 was a cent carried aboard the Gemini VII space capsule on a flight in 1965. The 1793 Flowing Hair large cent with a wreath reverse and vine and bars edge circled the earth 206 times in the capsule’s in-flight medical kit. Graded EF-45 BN by NGC, the coin carried a pre-auction estimate of $25,000-$50,000.
The Stacks Bowers auction catalog description of the coin included this comment: “This historic item is truly out of this world and deserving of a price that reaches toward the stars.” After spirited bidding, this itinerant large cent was hammered down on May 20 for an amount well above its high estimate, $70,000, which, with the buyer’s fee brought its final cost to its new owner to $82,250! Truly an astronomical result.
Without the provenance of the space capsule example, a PCGS-graded MS-66 RB CAC specimen earned the top bid at Heritage’s ANA auction in mid-August. Said Greg Rohan about the $399,500 coin, “This is simply a magnificent and historic coin. It set the stage for what was an incredibly successful week overall for Heritage. We posted more than $46 million altogether . . .”
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Two Confederate half dollars sold at auction in 2015. Graded Proof-30 by NGC, the first to sell realized $881,250 at Heritage’s FUN auctions in January. According to the firm’s Jan. 10 newsletter, this example is the “... most famous of just four examples struck by the doomed Confederacy, and the only example that can be traced back to CSA President Jefferson Davis. For absolute rarity and historic significance, the 1861 Confederate half dollar is unsurpassed in the annals of American coinage.”
The second example was offered at Stack’s Bowers Baltimore auction in March and its sale price was the second highest of all the items sold in the auction. The highest amount went for the 1792 Birch cent cited above. NGC graded Proof-40, this Confederate half dollar realized $646,250.
According to the sale catalog, “The obverse die [what we would think of as the reverse] was prepared to the Confederacy’s order. It is the only coin known that was specifically authorized and coined by the Confederate States of America.” This example is thought to have gone initially to John Leonard Riddell, New Orleans postmaster and former melter and refiner at the New Orleans Mint. It eventually surfaced with dealer Lester Merkin (1916-1992).
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As always, nice examples of key coins did well at auction in 2015. For example, at Heritage’s PNG Dallas Invitational sale held from Feb. 26 to March 1, a PCGS graded MS-66 1916-D Mercury dime with full bands realized a healthy $94,000. Well behind this example, the same date in MS-65 FB, also certified by PCGS, earned only $43,475. This shows how much difference in value there can be between coins separated by a single point on the grading scale.
Another key coin, an 1893-S Morgan dollar, earned top honors at the Heritage Summer FUN auction in July. Graded MS-63 by PCGS, this rarity key sold for $282,000.
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Error coins are frequently big sellers at auction. For example, a virtually unimprovable example of the always popular 1937-D 3-legged Buffalo nickel sold for $64,625 at the Ira and Larry Goldberg Coins and Collectibles Pre-Long Beach sale in mid-September. Described by the cataloger as a “... well struck superb gem example sparkling with intensely lustrous surfaces further enhanced by delicate overtones of steel blue and golden iridescence...,” the coin was graded MS-66 by PCGS, with a CAC sticker.
Another error winner was a 1905 Indian cent struck on a gold quarter eagle planchet. PCGS graded MS-64, this gold cent brought $105,750 in a Heritage Long Beach sale in September. It’s one of just five known of this error.
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That’s my look at the numismatic auction scene in 2015. Although the focus has been on rare and pricey coins in this review, keep in mind that there are almost always inexpensive items in any major auction, coins that you and I can afford. If you’ve not bid on coins at auction in the past or sent some of your coins to sell at auction, give it a try in 2016. You may find that you enjoy the experience.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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