Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Sale of The Naftzer Middle Date Cents

The Goldbergs sold the Middle Date Large Cent collection of Ted Naftzger on Sunday, FEB 1, 2009 in Beverly Hills. To say the least, this was a landmark sale of early copper.
The anticipation had been building for months among the EAC faithful. The catalogue went out a little more than a month before the sale - plenty of time for us to drool over these beauties, and plot a strategy for how to take home a few of them.
The Naftzger middle dates were everything that they were billed to be. Virtually every coin was in the condition census, if not the finest known of the variety. Unlike the Naftzger early date set (which had been beset by legal challenges and decimated by hasty sales in the 1990's), this set was still more-or-less intact when Ted passed away last year.

I traveled to Beverly Hills on the day before the sale, to preview the coins. About 99% of the coins were in PCGS holders, which provided a nice opportunity to calibrate my personal grading scale to both EAC grading (courtesy of McCawley & Grellman) and PCGS standards. I looked at every coin, and lingered a little on the rarities and the particularly choice examples of more common varieties. One thing that became evident was that Ted was an ultimate connoisseur of copper. While the set contained plenty of coins with mint red showing, there were a lot of truly choice coins with dark brown color, and also a number of greenish-gold coins and full green coppers. I think Ted had a soft spot in his heart for "Greenies". These distinctive coins display varying shades of green & brown, often in beautiful iridescent overtones that can hypnotize a collector. The Naftzger collection held many beautiful Greenies. The over-riding theme of the Naftzger collection was quality. Minimal marks, originality, and mint bloom were some of the hallmarks of these cents.

On the day of the sale, there was nothing out of the ordinary about the auction venue or the pre-sale ritual. I looked around the room, and identified a number of "the usual suspects" from the early copper community. In addition to the EAC dealers (out in force for this one), there were a few of the high quality type-coin dealers who are known to cross over to copper from time-to-time. There was even a pretty good cross-section of early copper collectors from the So. Cal. area (I count myself among these). I even spoke to one fellow who had come all the way from Michigan! The room was relatively full, but not overflowing, when the first lot was called.
I want to re-cap some of the highlights from this sale. I will try to be brief, but the list of highlights is fairly long (as you might expect).
LOT 2, an 1816 N2 graded MS64RD by PCGS was hammered down for $13,000 (this is a Randall Hoard coin that books out for around $1550 in MS64 RB).
LOT 12, an 1816 N7 (tied for finest known, and featuring beautiful autumn leaves golden brown color) went for a bid of $12,000 (PCGS MS66BN).
LOT 28, the finest-known 1817 N7 (with prominent mouse top) was hammered for $27,000 (vs. an estimate of $5000-up).
LOT 34, an 1817 N9 called the "King of the Greenies" by C. Doug Smith (graded MS66BN by PCGS) went for an astounding bid of $31,000 after a furious bidding war.
LOT 47, one of the finest 1817 15-star coins (N16) brought a winning bid of $44,000 (PCGS MS65BN). This was indeed a beautiful 15-star cent, in my humble opinion.
LOT 60 was the finest 1818 N4 (graded AU58 by PCGS & an EAC EF40) - it was hammered down for $18,500.
LOT 114, a magnificent proof 1821 N1 (PCGS PF65BN) brought a winning bid of $42,500.
LOT 116, an 1821 N2 graded MS64RD by PCGS went for a bid of $34,000 (this coin tied for finest known).
Both LOT 124 and LOT 125 were 1822 N4, and each coin was graded MS65BN by PCGS. However, one discriminating bidder was willing to bid $21,000 for the first coin, while the 2nd coin went for a bid of just $7000! So much for slab grading!
The two 1823 N2 cents in this sale provided some high drama:
LOT 139, an amazing gem 1823 N2 (PCGS MS65BN) was bid to a high of $110,000 after spirited floor bidding.
LOT 140, also a gem 1823 N2 (PCGS MS66BN) became the object of desire for two phone bidders, who took this coin to a top bid of $260,000!
At this point, Tony Terranova injected an amusing comment, by asking the auctioneer whether he might want to re-open the previous lot!
LOT 152, an 1824 N3 (graded MS65RB by PCGS) brought a winning bid of $26,000.
LOT 153, an 1824 N4 (graded MS66RB by PCGS) was even more popular, bringing a winning bid of $32,000. (Maybe slab grading CAN have an influence on bidders!)
LOT 183, the finest known 1826/5 N8 was hammered for $34,000.
LOT 214, the finest known 1828 N10 (small date) brought a top bid of $24,000 (vs. an estimate of just $3000-up)! That was pretty much how the bidding went through the entire sale - forget the estimates if you want to own these coins!
LOT 229, a gem 1829 N8 (PCGS MS66BN) with an amazing long list of luminary previous owners that reached back to 1900 was bid to $44,000.
LOT 242, the finest 1830 N6 (small letters REV) (PCGS MS67BN) went home for a high bid of $50,000.
A few lots later, LOT 246, an 1830 N10 Proof (PCGS PF65BN) was bid to $160,000. This coin had been discovered in 1986 in London by Jerry Bobbe, who sold it to Ted.
LOT 269, the finest known 1831 N12 in late die-state (aka "The Harpooned Whale" state) (PCGS MS64RB) was hammered down for (a relative bargain) $15,000.
LOT 290 was an incredible full red 1833 N6 (graded MS65RD by PCGS) - the winning bid was $14,500.
One of my personal favorites in the sale was LOT 309, an 1834 N6 (Lg. Date / Lg. Stars / Lg. Lett.) graded MS64RB by PCGS which was hammered for just $6000.
LOT 363, an 1837 N3 in Proof (PCGS PF65BN) with hypnotic violet-brown color brought a winning bid of $60,000.
LOT 437, a fantastic mint-state 1839/6 N1 (PCGS graded MS65BN) went home for a top bid of $230,000.

The Naftzger Middle Date sale was a quality auction for a quality collection. I have nothing but the highest praise for Chris McCawley and Bob Grellman, who catalogued the sale, and for Ira & Larry Goldberg, who conducted the auction. The Naftzger Part-2 auction catalogue is destined to be a "must-have" in the library of every dedicated middle-date cent collector or numismatic bibliophile. It was my privilege to attend.