The 2011 Heritage FUN Sale contained some of the most interesting and freshest coins that have appeared at auction in the last few years. Yes, there were some retreads, some low-end "stuff" and some run-of-the-mill lots, but there were also some really exceptional coins; most of which could be found in Thursday night's Platinum Night session. I'd like to focus on a group of coins from this session that I found exceptional. 1. 1864 Quarter Eagle, NGC PR65 Cameo, CAC Gold Label. Lot 5033. I have seen some pretty incredible Proof quarter eagles over the years but the truly amazing ones, at least from the standpoint of grade, tend to be date 1890 and later. Pre-1880 Proof gold coinage tends to be far, far rarer and really superb pieces, regardless of denomination, are almost never seen.
This 1864 Proof quarter eagle was from the Henry Miller collection and it was easily the best Proof quarter eagle in the sale. I'd even go out on a limb here and say that it was one of the best--if not THE best--early date Proof of this denomination that I've seen. It was in an old PR65 holder but I graded it PR67 DCAM. The coin sold for $80,500 which is a record price for a Proof of this year.
Only 50 Proofs of this year were made and I doubt if more than fifteen or so exist. The best that I had ever seen before the Miller coin was Bass III: 210, graded PR66 by PCGS, that sold for a very reasonable $27,600 back in 2000.
This coin was purchased by an extremely savvy dealer and it will be interesting to see what grade it will be after it is resubmitted for grading. I'd love to think that PCGS or NGC would call it a PR67 DCAM without it having to be conserved.
2. 1823 Half Eagle, NGC MS65 CAC. Lot 5096.. This was a coin that you had to see in person to really appreciate. When I pulled it out of the box during lot showing at Heritage's office in Beverly Hills my reaction was pretty to the point and it rhymed with "moley bit." In a nutshell, this was among the prettiest early gold coins that I've ever seen.
I knew this coin would be one of the most actively bid on lots in the Heritage sale and my guess was that it would wind-up in the collection of a prominent father and son in Dallas who have the best set of early gold assembled in modern times. It was purchased by a Chicago-area dealer for $299,000 bidding as an agent for a collector.
The 1823 is a scarce date in all grades with an estimated 100 or so known. It is typically seen in AU50 to MS61 grades and it is rare in MS62 to MS63. There are a few nice MS64's (there were actually two PCGS examples available at the FUN show) but this is the only Gem. It is from the Bareford collection and it had the sort of unmessed-with appearance that you almost never see anymore on early gold coins.
My opinion is that this coin sold for a ton of money but it was a ton of coin. I'd have to assume it was bought as a type coin and if this is the case, the new owner is getting a Fat Head half eagle that he or she will never have to worry about upgrading.
3. 1838-D Half Eagle PCGS MS63. Lot 5105. This was another fresh coin but, unlike the Miller pieces listed above, it had never been on the market until the 2011 FUN auction. I spoke with the dealer who consigned this coin and he told me that it was part of a small group of coins that had been in a New Hampshire family for many generations and was recently "rediscovered" by the family.
I am a big fan of this issue. It is the first half eagle made at the Dahlonega mint and a popular one-year type that is in demand in all grades. It is scarce in Uncirculated with fewer than a dozen known but most of these grade MS60 to MS61 and are characterized by processed surfaces. The 1838-D in the FUN Sale was only the second coin ever graded MS63 by PCGS and it was one of the two best I'd ever seen. It had lovely natural coloration, choice surfaces and a wonderful overall look that just shouted "originality."
This coin sold to a collector bidding on the floor for $57,500. It broke the previous auction record for the date which was set by a PCGS MS62 that brought $40,250 in the 1999 FUN sale.
4. 1857-O Double Eagle NGC MS62 CAC. Lot 5251 This was my favorite lot in the sale. I knew it was going to be a hard coin to buy but, more than any other coin in the sale, it was a coin that I wanted to own. I spoke with a client of mine who is a seriously collector of New Orleans gold (and Type One double eagles) and he agreed to let my represent him. We decided to bid $125,000.
The coin opened at $100,000 and I found myself bidding against two other dealers. I was able to raise my hand at the $130,000 mark but was outbid by another dealer at $140,000 and then watched another dealer successfully buy it at $150,000. With the buyer's premium the coin brought $172,500.
I can't imagine a New Orleans double eagle with much more eye appeal than this 1857-O (I liked it more than the 1852-O graded MS65 in the sale!). It had superb color, great luster and a really wonderful look that you really had to see in person to appreciate. I graded it MS63+ and am really interested to see what it winds-up grading. I wouldn't be shocked if it was graded MS64.
There are just two choice examples of this date known. The first is a PCGS MS63 that brought $97,750 back in the Bass III sale (May 2000). That was a huge price for an 1857-O double eagle back then but the market has really soared for great Type One double eagle in the ensuing decade and the more I think about it, the more I wished I had bought this coin; even at a level above what it sold for in the FUN Sale.
It was hard to limit myself to just four coins in this auction as there were dozens of really great pieces with great stories to tell. Prices were exceptional for the coins that merited them and this sale offers pretty convincing evidence to me that great coins are back in demand. (But did they ever really ever fall out of favor?)