The concept of Condition Census was first introduced to numismatics by noted Large Cent collector and researcher Dr. William Sheldon in the 1940's. Since then, it has been refined to include a listing of approximately the five or six finest examples of a specific date or type or in the case of series such as Large Cents or Bust Half Dollar, a specific die variety. All of my books on branch mint gold coins contain Condition Census information and I actively maintain a database with updated information for Charlotte, Carson City, Dahlonega and New Orleans issues. Some of these Condition Census databases can be purchased from me.
People who are new to rare coin collecting may not understand this information and this brief article is an attempt to make sense of the data which is contained in a typical Condition Census listing.
The three listings below are for 1839-D half eagles. They represent the coins that, in my opinion, are the finest examples of this date that exist. Obviously, this listing does not include coins that have never appeared at auction or which have traded privately in transactions of which I am not aware. In addition, there are probably links in these pedigree chains of which I am not aware; i.e., dealers who have sold or brokered one or more of these coins during a period of time in which the coin's history was not known.
1839-D Half Eagle Condition Listings
Private collection, ex New York Gold Mart (Ron Karp), Numisma (Stack's/RARCOA/Akers) 11/95: 1451 ($16,500), Winthrop Carner, Stack's 5/95: 433 ($24,200), Ed Milas. Graded Mint State-62 by NGC.
Green Pond collection, ex Heritage 1999 ANA: 7666 ($19,550), Chestatee collection (Duke's Creek duplicates), Hancock and Harwell, Leon Farmer collection. Graded Mint State-62 by PCGS.
Alabama collection via Al Adams, ex Bowers and Merena Bass IV sale, 11/00: 352 ($25,300), Harry Bass collection, Kreisberg 11/70: 1693. Graded Mint State-61 by PCGS.
As these three listings show, there are two Mint State-62 1839-D half eagles known. I regard the NGC MS-62 as the better one so it is listed first. There is more than one Mint State-61 piece known but the coin rated as #3 above is, in my opinion, the best and it is therefore listed as the first MS-61 in the Census.
The location of coin #1 is not currently known to me so it listed in a "private collection." There are other cases when I know the location of a coin but the collection wishes to remain completely anonymous.
This coin was either purchased directly or indirectly (I am not certain which) from New York Gold Mart, a firm owned by dealer Ron Karp, who in turn, purchased it directly out of a November 1995 auction where it was Lot 1451 and sold for $16,500. It was consigned to this sale by a dealer named Winthrop Carner who had purchased it from the Stack's May 1995 auction for $24,200. Prior to this, it was in the collection of Ed Milas, a well-known Chicago dealer. I am not aware of any pedigree information before it was obtained by Milas.
The second finest known 1839-D half eagle is a PCGS Mint State-62 coin that is in the Green Pond collection. It was obtained directly by this collector from the Heritage 1999 ANA sale where it brought $19,550. It was consigned to the sale by the owner of the Chestatee collection which was, in fact, a group of duplicates from the Duke's Creek collection. Before this, it had been obtained via private treaty from the Georgia firm of Hancock and Harwell who purchased it from a collector named Leon Farmer. I am not certain where the coin was before this, thus there is no earlier information listed.
The third finest known 1839-D half eagle is currently in an Alabama collection and it was obtained from the Bass IV sale held by Bowers and Merena in November 2000. In this sale, the collector employed the dealer Al Adams as his agent, which is why it is listed as being "via" him instead of "ex Al Adams." Harry Bass bought the coin from a November 1970 Abner Kresiberg sale.
Depending on your knowledge of Dahlonega gold coins and the players in the rare coin market, the information listed above either makes complete sense or it looks like the Dead Sea scrolls in ancient Hebrew.
To comprehend any Condition Census, you must learn the market participants. Learning the names of the dealers and auction companies is easy. Learning the name (real or assumed) of the collectors is harder and will take longer for the newcomer.
Assuming that you have read this article and have decided to make use of a Condition Census, your next question should be: how can I use this information to my best advantage? Some suggestions are as follows:
Condition Census information can help you determine what to pay for a coin. The listings for high grade 1839-D half eagle shown above give an indication of what these pieces have brought at auction in the past ten years.
Condition Census listings can help identify the pedigree of a coin. If you have purchased a high grade piece and you discover it is from a famous collection such as Bass, Eliasberg or Pittman, you have added value to your collection.
A Condition Census will teach you which auction catalogs you should add to your numismatic library. You will see certain names mentioned again and again in any Condition Census. If you do not have this catalog in your library, you should consider purchasing it.
A Condition Census will inform you which dealers are players in the market and which are not. My name is mentioned all through the 19th century branch mint gold Condition Census listings since I have handled so many of these coins in the past. This, in my opinion, verifies my claim as being an expert in this area. If a dealer you are buying high end pieces from claims he is an expert but has never owned important coins, this may be a sign that you need to look elsewhere.
Even if you collect lower grade coins which are not close to being Condition Census quality, you should still become familiar with these listings. In numismatics, knowledge is power and having this information will make you a better collector in every sense of the word.