Thursday, June 28, 2018

Jim Neiswinter and Dan Trollan

Just a few weeks ago, the Early Copper community was jolted by the news that two of our superstar collectors plan to team up and offer coins from their collections for sale in early 2019.

Jim Neiswinter, a native of New York and a member of EAC since 1981 has pursued the CENTS OF 1793 since purchasing his first one in 1983. That first coin was a 1793 Wreath cent (a variety called Sheldon-11a). It was not until Feb. of 1986 that Jim acquired the 1793 cent that ultimately led to our meeting. On Feb. 1, 1986 Kagins Numismatic Auctions sold the Phillip Van Cleave collection. It was, at the time, the first complete Large Cent collection (by Sheldon numbers) sold at public auction. LOT 5017 was the famous (and rare) 1793 Sheldon-15 Liberty Cap large cent, and Jim was the winning bidder. Sheldon called the S-15 the "The aristocrat among the Liberty Cap cents, and therefore an aristocrat of aristocrats among the Large Cents". He called it thus due to the astonishing rarity of this coin. At the time Sheldon wrote Penny Whimsy (1958) there were just 5 examples of S-15 known. Today the census has expanded to 13 known. Jim's coin is the 7th finest (with the #1 coin permanently impounded in the ANS museum). This acquisition motivated Jim to do extensive research on S-15, and publish a wonderful book called "The Aristocrat" in 2013. Inexplicably, I waited until 2017 to visit Jim at his table at the EAC convention in Philadelphia to introduce myself, and obtain a copy of The Aristocrat (along with the author's autograph). This book has become one of the "keys" to my numismatic library. I now count Jim as one of my EAC friends. Jim ultimately obtained all of the Sheldon varieties for 1793 (16 specific die parings, and 3 distinct edge variations of Sheldon-11, called S-11a, 11b, and 11c).

Dan Trollan is a business man from Durango, Colorado, who happens to love Large Cents. He joined EAC in 1989 (just a few years before I joined in 1992). By the time I met Dan, which I think was at the 2001 EAC convention in Fredericksburg, VA, he was deeply involved with the CENTS of 1794. The two things that struck me most vividly about our first encounter was how doggone approachable Dan was, and how bushy his mustache was! Dan is a prominent member of an EAC sub-group known as "The BOYZ of 94". Dan went on to assemble a complete Sheldon set of 1794 cents, comprising not just the 58 collectible Sheldon-number varieties, but also the 11 Non-collectible (NC) varieties. Dan is just the third person to achieve this level of completeness for 94's!

The sale of the coins from these two esteemed members of EAC is scheduled for late Jan. 2019 in Los Angeles. Goldbergs, in collaboration with M&G Auctions are expected to conduct the copper auction on Jan. 27,2019. The occasion leaves me with some strong and conflicting feelings. On the one hand, it is going to be a very important auction, attracting bidders from all across the country, and promising many bidding highlights. On the other hand, it feels as if two of my "contemporaries" in the world of copper are preparing to "pass the torch" to a new generation of copper enthusiasts. This is certainly appropriate and timely. The economy seems strong, and the coin market has never been better poised to absorb coins of such quality and significance. And yet, it is hard to avoid the sense, that in some way an era is passing. However, I can look back to the Walter Husak sale in 2008. That auction produced at least as much "electricity" as any other copper sale I have attended. And, Walter remains very active in EAC. Likewise, Chuck Heck sold his wonderful collection of 1794 Cents in Feb. 2017, and he remains prominent in EAC affairs. I hope that the same can be said for these two fine gentlemen.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Apple Cheek Love

I rarely devote a post to just one coin. I want to make an exception this time, for the sake of one exceptional copper coin. Next week, Stacks Bowers will be offering this beautiful 1794 large cent (Sheldon-24, called the "Apple Cheek" variety by Dr. William Sheldon in his book on the subject of early cents).

The coin is graded MS-65 BN by PCGS. The provenance (as might be expected) includes numerous early copper luminaries, including T. Harrison Garrett, Walter J. Husak, and D. Brent Pogue.
Here is a link to the Stacks Bowers description (LOT 2176 in their Baltimore March sale).
This coin ranks CC#3 in the Early American Copper census for the variety. It is certainly a visual treat. I was lucky enough to see the actual coin at lot preview earlier this month. I will not be bidding for this beauty, but whoever ends up being the winning bidder can be proud to own a historic piece of Early American Copper.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Goldbergs Pre-Long Beach sale of the GREEN TREE half cents

The Green Tree half cents comprised the first 236 lots of the Goldberg's pre-Long Beach auction, held Sunday Feb. 18 in Los Angeles. These are my post-auction impressions from the sale.
The majority of the coins stayed relatively close to pre-sale estimates, and met expectations. However, as usual there were both upside surprises and also some coins that fell far short of their estimates. The general theme that emerged was that scarce & rare varieties that were in mid-to-low grades did not do very well (price-wise). Here are a few of the most notable examples:
  • LOT 15 was a 1794 C-7 (R5+) graded EAC F12 (PCGS F15). It was hammered for $2650 vs. an estimate of $5000.

  • LOT 21 was a 1795 C-3 (R5+) graded EAC F15 (PCGS VF25). It was hammered for $4250 vs. an estimate of $8000.

  • LOT 90 was a 1805 C-2 (R5) graded EAC VG10 (PCGS F12). It was hammered for $3750 vs. an estimate of $8000.

  • LOT 100 was a 1806 C-3 (R6) graded EAC G4+ (PCGS G4). It was hammered for $3000 vs. an estimate of $6000.

  • It was apparently a good day to be bargain hunting among rare half cent varieties!
    As I mentioned above, there were also some surprises on the upside of prices. A few of these include:
  • LOT 125 was a 1809 C-2 (R3) graded EAC VF35 (PCGS AU53). It was hammered for $2100 vs. an estimate of only $600!

  • LOT 172 was a 1825 C-3 (R1) graded EAC MS64 (PCGS MS65RB). It was hammered for $4000 vs. an estimate of only $2000.

  • LOT 201 was a 1849 C-1 (R2-) graded EAC MS63 (PCGS MS64RB). It was hammered for $3000 vs. an estimate of only $1000!

  • LOT 205 was a 1851 C-1 (R1) graded EAC MS65 (PCGS MS66BN). It was hammered for $4000 vs. an estimate of only $2000.

  • Note that all these coins rank very high in the condition census. The trend that emerges from these high-side surprises is that Quality is still King!
    I will try to share some impressions from the large cent portion of the sale a little later.

    Sunday, February 11, 2018

    The Goldbergs FEB 2018 Pre-Long Beach auction preview

    It is that time of year again. Time to shake off the snow from winter, and head to sunny Southern California for a week of coin activity. The Long Beach coin convention begins Thur. Feb. 22. In addition to the huge bourse floor (over 400 dealers attending), Heritage will hold a big coin auction. But, the Sunday before Long Beach, copper collectors will have a chance to participate in the Goldberg's pre-Long Beach sale.
    Goldbergs have a great lineup of more than 600 lots of U.S. copper coins (and hundreds of coins in other U.S. series as well) up for sale. The headline collection for the sale is a large high-quality collection of half cents, called the Green Tree Collection.
    The Green Tree Collection comprises 236 lots of half cents (1793-1857), and an additional 16 lots of U.S. cents. Many of the Green Tree coins are in stellar condition, but there are also a number of mid-grade and collector level coins that should entice a lot of online bidding action.

  • LOT-1 is a choice 1793 C-1 (PCGS AU50 / EAC 40+). A real beauty.

  • LOT-18 is a choice AU 1795 C-1 (Lettered Edge / PCGS AU58 / EAC 55)

  • LOT-144 is a nice looking 1811 C-1 with the famous 4-star break (PCGS F12 / EAC 10)

  • While the Green Tree Collection lacks a 1796 half cent, there are two opportunities to obtain a 1796 C-2 (with-pole) in the session that follows.
  • LOT-267 is a 1796 C-2 (PCGS F15 / EAC 12).

  • This would make a welcome addition to any half cent collection.
  • LOT-287 is an example of the ultra-rare 1811 C-1 half cent with a 2-star die-break

  • Moving to large cents:
  • LOT-303 is a high-grade 1794 Head-of-93 S-11b (NGC MS61 / EAC 50+)

  • LOT-404 is a beautiful 1817 N-16 (The famous 15-star variety) that is an obverse brockage. This is a real conversation-starter!

  • LOT-470 is a high-grade 1839/6 N-1 (PCGS XF45 / EAC 35)

  • LOT-488 is a well-preserved PROOF 1843 N-12 (PCGS PF65 BN)

  • LOT-490 is a nice PROOF 1844 N-1 (PCGS PF63 BN)

  • There are three 1799 cents (S-189) to choose from in the sale, and a single 1804 (S-266a). Opportunities abound for half cent and large cent collectors in this sale. Unfortunately, the selection of colonial coins is very limited (only 11 lots).

    I plan to attend the Goldberg sale. I will be very interested in seeing how well the coins do with regard to price realized. The market for copper has been fairly quiet for the last 6 months. The last large copper auction was the Heritage Padula sale (SEP 2017). That sale featured a full Sheldon set of large cents. However, many of the coins were in low grade, and they sold at modest prices. This Goldberg sale should have a different character, since there are a number of high-grade coins that have appeal to both copper addicts and type collectors. Check out the sale on-line at the Goldberg web site, and have fun bidding in the sale!

    Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    Directions in Copper & Coins

    I have been absent from the blog scene for personal reasons. But, I continue to participate in the coin market, and have been observing the shifts underway in the market for early copper coins. A few of my observations are summarized as follows:
    > The coin market (in general) continues to mark time. Coin collectors have learned to be patient. The opportunity to acquire a truly rare coin always trumps the circumstances of the current market ups & downs. Generic material remains very weak. However, marquee coins continue to sell at reasonable prices (bargains, one might possibly argue). There are a number of forces exerting influence on the coin market today. Uncertainty is high, due to both economic and political factors. The overall economy, while appearing strong on the surface, faces a number of headwinds. Interest rates, energy prices, currency values are all at historically high levels of volatility. A long bull market in equities faces an uncertain future. Gold remains stable (?) at 2-year old levels. A break-out feels imminent.
    > Coin collecting is faced with an additional worry - the demographic challenge. The old guard is beginning to liquidate, and newcomers to copper are less inclined to follow the old ways. Full sets, by Sheldon or Newcomb # are no longer in vogue. There are so many other collecting themes to consider - die-state collecting, date-specific, RED BOOK sets, error collections. This is challenging the traditional models for value. R5 once represented a desirable coin (population less than 75). but, what if only 50 people find themselves wanting one? Well.... there will be fewer bidders. That is the new reality. But, what if a new terminal die-state is found for an R1 variety:  now, THAT is interesting! This is how it has always been with collecting. The shift is neither new nor should it be surprising.
    > GRADING! This is a subject that could fill a book. Since 1986, we have witnessed the era of the third-party-grading service (TPG). There is no denying the success of the TPG, as a business. What about the success from the perspective of the coin hobby? Well, in fairness, there have been some positive developments: Authentication, as part of the TPG service, has gone a long way to remove counterfeit & altered coins from the market place. Certification has also created value in the form of "perceived good" coins (ie. coins that the services deem fit for numerical grades). The "bad" coins (those deemed unfit by the grading services, and given "details" grades) have suffered a great deal of persecution in the marketplace. Is this fair? That depends upon your perspective of the role of the TPG. They have become the "arbiters" of good & bad in the coin marker. Those willing to accept the  judgement of the TPG hold the products of that judgement. Those willing to think on their own may hold some questionable (?) coins. One day, when the third-party grading paradigm is discarded, these questionable items may find increased market acceptance. When might this occur? Probably not soon enough to save today's owners. But, the coin market is ultimately rational, and the time will come when rarity & condition (in the absolute sense) will prevail over "condition rarity" (as defined by population reports). This is (admittedly) an optimistic scenario for the triumph of logic over propaganda. Time will tell whether it is an accurate forecast.
    > What about coin collecting? Will it survive the transition to a "cashless" society? We have witnessed the steep decline in stamp collecting. That should send a collective chill up the spines of today's coin collectors. Most of the stamps collected over the past 50 years are best licked and used to send out letters today! Could this also happen to coins? Well, in some cases, YES! Those double albums of statehood quarters, culled from circulation, are doomed to the tip jars of the world. The fate should be different for the classic coins from the 18th & 19th century. The abandonment of coinage in the U.S. might actually lead to a resurgence of interest in classic old coins. Rarity and history might combine to create a virtuous cycle for collectors of classic U.S. coinage. Again, I admit to a touch of romanticism and optimism combined. But, I hope I am right!

    Sunday, April 16, 2017

    A little note about Numismatic Literature

    I recently made the acquaintance of a young man who works at a local business, and he expressed an interest in coins after learning that I am an avid collector. Lately, each time I see this fellow, he either asks me what I have that is "new", or he entertains me with a story of some numismatic item that he found.
    I remember being surprised by his interest, since I thought that everyone his age was infatuated with high-tech "toys", and had no interest in "old school" hobbies like collecting. I decided to try to inspire this kid, by gifting a few numismatic books to him.
    The first gift was the modern classic "100 Greatest U.S. Coins" by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth. I just happened to obtain a duplicate copy of the 2nd edition, and the intent of the gift was "shock & awe", at both the beauty and the value of some of our finest coins.

    Next, after we had a discussion about mint-marks on Mercury dimes, I gave the young man two different books. First, an early edition of "A.N.A. Grading Standards" (I purchased a newer edition for my own use). Second was an earlier edition of "The Cherrypicker's Guide To Rare Die Varieties" by Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton. These two books have a lot of practical value for a new numismatist.

    I began to reminisce about my own beginnings with numismatic literature.
    My interest in U.S. coins began to stir in the late 1980's. I occasionally visited the retail coin shop of Steve Estes PN. Steve kept a stock of coin books for sale, and the first one I spent real money for was another classic: "The History of United States Coinage as Illustrated by the Garrett Collection" written by Q. David Bowers, who is one of the preeminent numismatists of our time (and a prolific author) . Dave wrote this book as a tribute to the famous Garrett family collection at the time of the collection's sale (by his firm, Bowers & Ruddy). The collection had been donated by the Garrett family to the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, and board of Johns Hopkins made the decision to sell.

    This volume remains one of the keystones to my numismatic library, and I can still recommend it as a good way to learn about U.S. coinage and one of America's earliest and most devoted collectors, T. Harrison Garrett. I remember being enthralled by the image of the Garrett family home (known as Evergreen House) in north Baltimore, and the thrill of actually visiting Evergreen House and taking the tour over 15 years later.
    My next big numismatic literature purchase was "Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins". As the title implies, this was an ambitious effort to cover (in great detail) the colonial coinage of the early U.S. (ie. prior to the establishment of the U.S. Mint and commencement of coin production in 1793), all the regular-issue U.S. coinage (plus proof and commemorative issues), and even much of the private & territorial coins of the U.S. Breen supplemented his encyclopedic understanding of each series with amusing (and occasionally factual) anecdotes concerning the production and/or the collecting of particular coinage issues. Breen's work covered the important types for each series, while leaving the exhaustive variety-by-variety analysis to other authors. By that time, I had become involved in collecting large cents, and it was Breen who informed me about some of the important cent hoards and accumulations (eg. The Nichols Find and the Randall Hoard) and the fact that some coins are important enough to have names of their own (eg. "THE COIN", which refers to a particular 1793 Chain Cent).

    Tuesday, February 21, 2017

    Goldbergs Feb. 2017 Pre-Long Beach sale - Auction Commentary

    The Goldbergs held their traditional pre-Long Beach copper auction on Sunday Feb. 12 at the Intercontinental Hotel in L.A. The ballroom was full, but not overcrowded, and the bidding was lively, even though the pace of the action was slow (about 40 lots / hour).

    There were five coin collections to sell: 1. The Haig Koshkarian Red Book Large Cent Set. 2. Tom Reynolds Part-2 Large Cents. 3. The Chuck Heck 1794 Large Cent Set. 4. The Pierre Fricke Color Set of Large Cents. and 5. The Bruce Tucker Collection.

    The question in my mind, going into this sale, was whether the copper market could shake off the doldrums that seemed to settle over the market last summer. This auction provided an affirmative answer, but with a few caveats. Allow me to elaborate a little:

  • The Koshkarian coins were carefully chosen coins of generally high quality. Many of the coins represented rare opportunities for bidders, which can often lead to runaway bidding. This happened from time-to-time during the Koshkarian sale, but not too often. Bidders were selective.

  • > The first upside surprise was provided by LOT 3, a 1793 Chain Cent (S-4) graded PCGS AU-50 (though only an EAC VF-30). This coin hammered for $140,000 vs. a $65,000 estimate.
    > Just two lots later (LOT 5), a 1793 Wreath Cent, lettered edge (S-11c) graded PCGS AU-55 was hammered for $48,000 vs. a 75,000 estimate. A real bargain considering this very coin sold for $92,000 in 2011!
    > Two lots later (LOT 7) a rather attractive 1794 Hd. of 93 Cent (S-20b / R5) hammered for just $20,000 vs. an estimate of $30,000. Here, the reason appears to be the PCGS "Genuine" holder. Almost every coin that PCGS did not deem gradeable was punished mercilessly by the bidders.
    > The next upside surprise was LOT 21. A very attractive 1797 Draped Bust Cent with Rev. of 1795 (S-120a) graded PCGS AU-58 was bid to $70,000 vs. an estimate of only $18,000! I suspect PCGS registry set bidders in this case.
    > The Koshkarian 1804 cent (LOT 50, S-266c) (PCGS AU-55) brought a winning bid of $165,000 vs. an estimate of $45,000. A strong price for the 2nd-finest PCGS-graded coin.
    > LOT 58, a very nice 1807 S-276 graded PCGS MS-62 was bid all the way to $95,000 vs. the estimate of $10,000. The hammer price defies explanation.
    > The Koshkarian 1826/5 N-8 cent, graded PCGS MS-64 went for a hammer of $23,000 vs. an estimate of $7500. A remarkable price for a really nice coin.
    > LOT 127, an 1844/81 N-2 cent graded PCGS MS64 RB was hammered for $65,000 (estimate was $25,000). The result is not surprising for the finest-graded coin of a popular overdate variety.

  • The Reynolds coins were basically everything "left over" after Reynolds part-1, which was held at the same place a year earlier. Naturally, there were still a few nice coins in this sale; but the marquee coins were sold a year ago.

  • > LOT 174 provided the first upside surprise of the Reynolds coins. This beautiful 1798 S-167 cent graded PCGS AU-58 carried a pre-sale estimate of $5000 and hammered for $27,000! I will admit that the coin was indeed a beauty.
    > The 1800 NC-4 cent in the Reynolds collection (LOT 197, graded G4 by PCGS) was bid to $11,000 vs. an estimate of $2000. A case of a very conservative estimate.
    > LOT 225 in the Reynolds sale was an 1805 S-267 graded PCGS MS-65BN hammered at $44,000 vs. the estimate of just $15,000. I should note that this coin is also listed as CC#1 in the Noyes EAC census for the variety.

  • The Chuck Heck collection was an entirely different kind of sale from the previous two collections. The Heck coins were virtually all "raw" coins (no slab grades), and this auction was a collector-to-collector sale. The energy and enthusiasm that greeted the Heck coins was an encouraging sign to me. It convinced me that there are still people out there interested in owning nice coins (with or without the slab). The prices exceeded expectations nearly across the board. Notable coins included:

  • > LOT 273 was the famous Chuck Heck Sheldon-37, with a provenance extending back to 1910. This lot was bid with enthusiasm to $100,000 (estimate was $40,000).
    > LOT 292 was a 1794 Starred Reverse Cent (S-48) graded PCGS G-6 (the holder needed more for authenticity than grade). The hammer fell at $25,000 (vs. estimate of $12,000).

  • The Pierre Fricke color set met my expectations. There were not too many surprises among these lots.

  • > LOT 384 was one exception. This beautiful 1821 N-1 cent graded AU58+ by PCGS got bid all the way to $12,500 (estimate was $4000). I admit I liked this coin a lot, and would have been happy to own it (just not at the price it ultimately realized).

  • The Bruce Tucker collection contained a lot of nice coins, but not a lot of outstanding rarities. The collection came up very late in the sale, but I do not believe the prices suffered much as a result. There were still many internet bidders on-line at this hour, and these folks might have been shut out by floor bidders on the earlier material. At any rate, the Tucker coins sold at very reasonable levels.