Lost in the hubbub surrounding the recently-concluded Central States coin show and the Heritage auction held with it was a sale that I think ranks as one of the more remarkable in the rare gold coin market all year. The coin of which I speak is an 1862-S eagle graded MS61 by NGC. Unless you are pretty knowledgeable, this coin probably doesn't seem like anything too impressive. But to those of us who know and love the Liberty Head eagle series, this is a coin that is impressive; downright impressive, in fact.
According to information from the cataloger, this coin showed up at the March 2011 ANA show in Sacramento where it was graded and encapsulated by NGC. The cataloger went on to add "the coin was apparently preserved by a single family for many years and we can find no previous auction appearances for it." Now that's a fresh coin!
The 1862-S, as a date, is sort of overlook-able. It is not even close to the 1864-S in terms of overall rarity and it is overshadowed by the 1865-S Normal Date as well. A total of 12,500 were struck of which an estimated 75 or so are known. This date is actually not all that hard to find in the lower grades (in this case, VF and EF) but it is very rare in properly graded AU and extremely rare in the higher range of this grade. It was previously unknown in Uncirculated and I have never seen one better than AU55.
As of the middle of 2011, PCGS hadn't graded any examples of this date higher than AU55. NGC had graded two in AU58. The previous auction record for an 1862-S eagle was $25,300 set all the way back in May 1994 by a PCGS EF40 in the Bowers and Merena sale that would grade at least AU50 by today's standards. The best coin that I can remember having seen prior to this newly-discovered piece was Bass III: 653, a PCGS AU55, that sold for a very reasonable $8,050.
When I examined the coin in person, I was impressed. I'm not certain that the coin would "cross" to a PCGS MS61 holder but I thought the coin was really Uncirculated with nice surfaces and a great overall look for the date. I was particularly impressed with the coin's luster. Considering what the typical 1862-S looks like (very worn and usually very abraded), this was clearly a special coin.
But here's the rub. While "special," this coin is as esoteric as all get-out. Its the sort of coin that, if it had been offered to me by the owner, I would have had the following conversation with myself:
Doug Winter's Adventurous Side: "This is a great coin! Its unique in Uncirculated! You love coins like this! You have to buy it!"
Doug Winter's Practical Side: "But who cares? Its a very expensive S Mint Ten and coins like this are unsaleable. The two biggest collectors for this series already have decent coins and they might not want to upgrade. If they pass, there might be no one else who cares. Cool, cool coin but I pass."
Usually, the DWPS is smarter than the DWAS and Mr. Practical wins. But in this case, Mr. Adventurous was right.
I don't know who bought this coin or who the under-bidder was. I was guessing before the sale started that the coin would bring in the area of $50,000-60,000. CDN Quarterly Bid was $31,000 in MS60 (which is a totally arbitrary number since none existed before this coin was slabbed in March but it was the basis that most buyers were going to operate from). I did make the statement to a fellow dealer a few hours before the sale began that this was a coin that I could put in my case at a major coin show, price at $60,000 and not get so much as a bite.
The price realized of $103,500 is remarkable for a variety of reasons. The first is that this price is further proof that the Liberty Head eagle series, after years and years of neglect, has really come into its own. The second is that it shows that great coins, no matter how "esoteric" they appear, are capable of bringing startling prices in today's quality and rarity driven market. The third is the fact that a coin like this even exists and how it came onto the market with no prior history. It proves that there are great coins out there, still awaiting discovery.