The ANA World’s Fair of Money is traditionally among the largest coin shows organized in the United States. This year, it is being held in Philadelphia, PA, from August 14 to 18. The same week sees a large number of coin auctions being held, offering a wide variety of numismatic items by various companies. We have covered several of the auctions by Stack’s Bowers in other preview articles; in this one, we will take a look at some of the most interesting (from a historical and value perspective) items in the various U.S. coin sessions offered by Heritage Auctions. All lots discussed in this article, as well as the lots in their various floor and online sessions, can be viewed in detail on their website.
The first lot that we will take a look at certainly classifies as one of the most historical in the auction. It was the favorite coin of Eric P. Newman, the famous numismatist who passed away last year at the age of 106. He acquired the coin in 1942, and it has been off the market since. Offered as lot 5010 is the unique 1792 Washington gold eagle pattern, graded EF-45. A coin that was possibly presented to George Washington himself, the coin was almost certainly carried as a pocket piece perhaps by Washington himself, accounting for the grade. It is considered the first gold pattern for United States coinage and is dated a full three years before the Philadelphia Mint struck the first gold coins for general circulation. George Washington did not want his image to appear on circulating coinage, so while this would never have become a circulating coin, it is interesting to view it as a “what could have been.” We invite you to read through the lengthy and detailed auction description, which covers all historical and numismatic aspects of this immense rarity. The coin carries an impressive pedigree and is perhaps one of the most important pieces of 18th century American numismatics.
The next lot we take a look at is a coin that, on paper, never existed. Lot 5180 is one of less than a dozen confirmed examples of the 1870-S Liberty Seated dollar, graded EF-40. According to records from the San Francisco Mint, no silver dollars were struck that year, but that is obviously not true, as there are a small number of 1870-S silver dollars known to exist (the current estimate is somewhere around nine to 11 pieces, and a total mintage of 15 has been suggested by numismatic researchers). The theory is that these were struck to celebrate the opening of the new San Francisco Mint, which also caused minuscule quantities of other coins to be struck. A set of these reportedly is still located in one of the cornerstones of the mint, which still exists to this day. Whatever the reason was that these were struck, they remain very rare, and offerings are extremely infrequent.
1921 was an interesting year for the various mints around the United States. That year, the first silver dollars were struck since 1904, and while later that year the Peace dollar design was introduced, eventually the old Morgan dollar design was struck again (but from new hubs, creating what some consider a different subtype). While Proof coinage of the United States had been largely discontinued after 1916, a small number of 1921 Morgan dollar Proofs were struck at the Philadelphia Mint. They are generally classified as either Chapman or Zerbe Proofs. Chapman Proofs are considered true Proofs, while Zerbe Proofs are generally considered to be merely special strikes, but not true Proofs. They are named after the gentlemen who ordered these to be produced. Lot 5208 is one of the scarce Chapman Proofs, graded PR-63, and is stickered by CAC. The exact mintage is unknown, but figures between 12 and 40 have been reported, with a relatively small number surviving in problem-free condition.
Called the “Discovery of a Lifetime” by Heritage Auctions, lot 5248 is a newly discovered example of the extremely rare 1854-S half eagle graded EF-45. This is just one of four examples known to exist, one of which has been missing since 1967, while another is permanently impounded in the Smithsonian. The third is in the Pogue collection and was not sold with the rest of their collection, making this the first example of this rare date to be publicly available since 1982. Only 268 pieces were minted, an extremely minuscule number, and it appears they were released into circulation — where they were not noticed for several decades. It is unknown why they were struck in the first place (it has been suggested that was done to balance the books, which seems unlikely, or perhaps it was by special request, which also seems unlikely), but we do know that it is one of the rarest regular issues of American gold coinage.
The final lot to discuss is lot 5368, a rare MS-62 graded example of the 1860 Mormon $5 gold piece. Part of the territorial gold series most commonly associated with California, these are believed to have been struck from Colorado gold. Of much higher quality than the other Mormon gold issues of 1849-1850, these are of a totally different design, featuring a lion on the obverse and a rudimentary executed eagle on the reverse. Obverse legends use the Mormon alphabet, while the reverse is in English, reading DESERET ASSAY OFFICE PURE GOLD. Reportedly 472 pieces were struck, and of these, just a small number are still known to exist. The one offered by Heritage in Philadelphia is tied with one other for the finest known, and is one of the very few pieces of Mormon gold that exists in Mint State.