In conjunction with the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money held in Chicago this week, Heritage Auctions offered a number of historical and valuable pieces in their US Coins Signature Auction. These are coins that are not only historically interesting for their background, they are also coins that are offered very infrequently anywhere in the numismatic world, and the sales in Chicago might have been the last for quite some time. Collectively, the top five lots sold final prices totaling $6,345,000.
The highest individual price realized was for lot 5517, the 1792 Silver Center Cent certified by PCGS as MS64 Brown and stickered by CAC. The coin, considered a test piece struck before any circulating United States Coinage, is one of a total of fourteen known specimens. This coin is the first listing in both the Judd and Pollock books on United States Patterns, and is a coin that was personally mentioned by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to President George Washington in 1792. The piece was struck in copper with a small silver center, meant to make the intrinsic value as close to one cent as would be feasible. Jefferson reportedly included a few cents for Washington to see, but unfortunately information as to exactly which (if any) of the surviving specimens were these two coins have not been preserved for our generation.
The coin that was offered by Heritage is the second finest known, with only the superb Garrett specimen (grading MS-67) preserved in better condition. The Heritage coin resided in the Norweb collection, and is generally referred to as such. It sold for $1,997,500 including the buyer’s premium. This is not a record for this coin, as it allegedly was sold for $2.5 million over a decade ago. Yet, it remains one of the highest prices any of these have ever sold for, and with the historical significance of this coin, it is a price that might even seem like a bargain a few years from now.
Next up is lot 5545, the unique 1792 Specimen Half Disme graded by PCGS as SP-67 and stickered by CAC. The 1792 Half Dismes are fairly well known as the first issued coinage from the United States Mint, an issue in which George Washington played an important role, to the extent this Martha’s silver was reportedly used to provide for the silver to strike these coins. Whether that story is true or not, these are certainly historical pieces, and given the fact that the one sold is considered a unique specimen striking and clearly stands out from the rest. It may possibly be the case that the coin sold by Heritage was once held or perhaps in the possession of George Washington himself. Even though that is not confirmed, the pedigree of the coin is still traced back to the first part of the 20th century, and was once part of the famed Virgil Brand collection, after which it was owned by numerous collectors and dealers. On Thursday night the coin realized $1,292,500 including the buyer’s premium.
Struck a few years after the two previous coins, the next coin on our list is considered to be the absolute key type to a complete type or design set of United States coins from 1793 to the present. It is one of the finest known Draped Bust/Small Eagle Half Dollars, the 1797 graded PCGS MS-65+ and stickered by CAC (lot 5582). Of this type, which was only struck in 1796 and 1797, it is believed that less than 300 survive to this day.. These are survivors from a mintage of just 3,918 coins, delivered in three batches between February 28, 1796 and May 26, 1798. Even though some of those have survived in pristine condition, few collectors can afford this type even in low grade, making it the true stopper in a complete type set. The PCGS MS-65+ example sold by Heritage sold for $1,292,500, testifying to that.
Another early American Specimen was sold as lot 5565, the unique Specimen 1796 Quarter Dollar, graded PCGS SP-66. The coin once resided in the fabled Eliasberg Collection, and is the only known specimen from a total mintage of 6,146 pieces, the only 18th century Quarter Dollar (after this issue none would be struck until 1804). This makes it a very desirable type coin, as it is the only Quarter Dollar with the Small Eagle design. As mentioned in the excellent Heritage description that accompanied the auction, this unique coin has only had four owners in the past 167 years or perhaps longer. The first owner was Mathew Stickney, one of a very limited number of American coin collectors during the first half of the 18th century, who acquired it sometime during the first half of the 19th century. Via the Clapp and Eliasberg collections it came into the hands of an unnamed collector who consigned it to the Heritage auction. He (or she) had purchased it back in 1997 for $200,000, a relative bargain as it now realized $881,250 including buyers premium at the ANA Heritage Auction. Certainly not a bad return of investment!
The final coin we would like to cover is another 18th century coin, a 1795 (13 Leaves) Ten Dollar Gold piece certified MS-65 by PCGS. Offered as lot 5661, this is one of the finest known examples of this type, which at the time was the largest coin in production by the United States Mint. The ten dollar denomination was first produced in the very year that this coin was struck, 1795. Sharing a similar reverse to the Half Dollar discussed above this coin was produced to a somewhat larger extent, making it a somewhat more affordable type coin, even though it is definitely not cheap in any grade. In true uncirculated condition it’s very scarce and in gem, such as the coin offered by Heritage, it’s a prime rarity seldom offered for sale. The coin had last sold in the fall of 1988 for $82,500 and now, almost 26 year later it sold for almost exactly ten times that number, realizing $881,250 including buyer’s premium. This concludes our selected number of rarities, but there were many more, and this was certainly an auction to remember for some of the prime rarities that were offered.