Importance of Good Pedigrees

Now, more than ever, people are beginning to realize the importance of a good pedigree when it comes to collecting coins. And the reason why people are paying big premiums for good pedigrees is surprising. Read on and I’ll give you my take on why well-pedigreed coins are suddenly selling for big bucks. As I have pointed out time after time, most of the coins that I see these days are not very nice. They have generally been scrubbed or conserved and very few are original. Which is exactly why people love coins from the great old collections like Bass, Eliasberg or Norweb.

If you know where a coin has been for the last ten or thirty or even fifty+ years (as is the case with most of the coins from the three aforementioned collections) you can state, at least some of the time, that the coin is original and that it has not been doctored. Thus, the Bass or Norweb or Eliasberg pedigree acts as a sort of semi-official “blessing” that the coin is original.

Now, it is obviously not the case that every coin with a Bass, Norweb or Eliasberg pedigree is automatically “good.” I have seen a number of coins with Bass pedigrees that clearly have had their appearance changed since they were originally sold.

If you are offered a coin from one of these sales, one of the most obvious things you should do is look at the original catalog and compare the coin to the photographic image. This may be a problem as far as the Eliasberg gold coins go since the images in this sale (which was held in 1982) are poor-quality halftones that show little detail. But the quality of the images in the Norweb and Bass catalogs are generally good enough to use for comparative purposes.

There is one “dirty little secret” about Bass pedigreed coins that many collectors do not know. When the coins were originally graded and slabbed by PCGS, they were designated as being from the Harry W. Bass Collection. If a Bass coin was broken out of the holder and regraded it would lose this designation at PCGS. That’s why some Bass coins are designated simply as being from the “Bass Collection.” These second-generation Bass coins are generally not viewed with the same enthusiasm as the coins with the original designation. The same holds true for Bass coins in NGC holders that were upgraded from the original Bass sales.

Certain pedigrees may be well known to specialists within certain collecting categories but have little significance outside of these boundaries. As an example, if you collect New Orleans gold coins you are familiar with the Pinnacle collection and would pay a premium for this pedigree. But if you collect 20th century gold, a pedigree that has greater significance to you might be the Duckor or Morse collections. One of the reasons that collectors value the Bass, Norweb and Eliasberg pedigrees so highly is that these are three of the few collections sold during the modern era that had impressive runs of coins across the board.

In the art world, the issue of pedigree has been very significant for years. Smart new collectors realize that if a painting had been in the collection of a prominent collector, it is generally a “safer” purchase that if it has been bouncing around between dealers or auctions. The same is true with coins. If , for example, a 1908-S double eagle with a Duckor pedigree is available for sale, I would generally feel that this is going to be a nicer coin than one with no prior pedigree.

Proof Gold Coins

We are now on Blog #50 for the year and I’ve just realized that I’ve yet to write anything on Proof gold coinage. It seems to me that a quick overview and a few passing thoughts on the subject are well overdue. Let me begin by saying that I personally love Proof gold, especially Liberty Head issues struck prior to 1900. I love the fact that most of these coins have original mintage figures below 100, I love the dazzling appearance that nicer pieces possess and I love the excellent value that many of these coins represent in today’s market.

The Proof gold market changed radically in the late 1990’s. After the Bass, Pittman and Childs holdings were sold at auction between 1995 and 2000, there was an exceptional amount of Proof gold on the market. I can remember certain dates in the quarter eagle and half eagle series that were really rare (i.e., with surviving populations of fewer than 20 pieces) having multiple examples available simultaneously. This gave the market a somewhat warped perspective. At the end of 2000, I owned three very nice Proof 1886 quarter eagles at the same time. In the ensuing years I haven’t owned a single example and don’t think I’ve seen more than one or two.

A few very major buyers of Proof gold coinage emerged around 2001-2002 and they have quietly put away large amounts of these coins. I can think of at least two buyers that have each taken over 100 pieces of Proof gold off the market and it is likely that these coins will not reappear for quite some time.

Something that has changed considerably in this market since the late 1990’s is the market premium factor. I can remember that during the Childs and Bass sales, it was possible to buy some incredibly rare Proof issues from the 1870’s and 1880’s for just a small premium over the much more available dates from the 1890’s and 1900’s. When a coin like an 1879 half eagle (original mintage: 30) was selling for just 20-30% more than a common date like a 1900 half eagle (original mintage: 230) it was hard not to absolutely love the value that the former represented. Today, a coin like the 1879 now sells for a much greater market premium factor—and deservedly so.

Grading standards for Proof gold coinage have unquestionably changed since the mid-1990’s to early 2000’s. I notice the biggest change in the PR63 to PR64 range. At one point in time, coins in this grade range were actually relatively attractive. They generally showed a few light hairlines in the obverse fields and had Gem quality reverse. Today, many Proof gold coins graded 63 and even 64 show clear signs of having been aggressively cleaned at one time and tend to have dense hairlines on both the obverse and reverse.

As far as finding truly original Proof gold coins…you can just about forget ever seeing these anymore unless “old time” out-of-the-woodwork collections surface at auction. If you go through the Childs and Bass catalogs, you’ll see photos of wonderful, deeply toned Proof gold coins. Today, essentially every Proof gold coin you see looks like it is fresh from the Gallery Mint’s coining press with ultra-bright surfaces.

I think the best value in proof gold right now is in the smaller denomination coins. As an example, I think many Proof gold dollars and quarter eagles are very well priced in relation to the larger denominations like eagles and double eagles. I especially like any Proof gold coin with an original mintage figure of 50 or less in PR63 or higher grades. In the smaller denominations like gold dollars and quarter eagles, it is sometimes possible to purchase truly rare and very attractive coins for below $20,000 and, in some cases, for less than $10,000.