Eliasberg Redux

I recently returned from the St. Louis Silver Dollar coin show and the Scotsman auction, which was held in conjunction with the show on October 17th. I wasn’t originally going to attend this event as I’m not a big fan of St. Louis and wasn’t really anxious to travel right now. But the combination of a collection of superbly pedigreed gold coins (see below) and a desire to get a handle on this confusing coin market inspired me to make last second plans to go to the City with the Large Arch. First, let’s talk briefly about the show. The facility, in suburban St. Charles, is as nice as you are going to find for a medium-sized regional convention. The attendance, from a dealer perspective, was decent with many national firms manning tables. The public attendance was another story with a very small number of collectors in evidence.

My take on the activity at the show was that wholesale transactions were better than what I might have expected. There certainly weren’t a lot of five figure coins trading but I did see some good sized invoices being written. Yes, a lot of the coins that were selling were generics or bullion-related. But the market for reasonably interesting coins in the $1,000-10,000 price bracket doesn’t seem to be as adversely affected by the current economic slowdown as I might have expected.

The main reason I went to St. Louis was to attend the Scotsman auction. The lead consignment in this sale featured an intriguing group of 81 U.S. gold coins that had last appeared in the Eliasberg sale. For those of you that are not familiar with this collection, here’s a brief recap.

Louis Eliasberg was a Baltimore banker who, in the 1940’s and 1950’s, formed the greatest collection of United States coins ever assembled. The base of the collection was obtained from the Clapp family in 1942 and Eliasberg upgraded and filled-in holes for the next decade and a half. The U.S. gold coins from this collection were sold at auction by Bowers and Ruddy in October, 1982. That sale set countless records and is regarded as one of the most important auctions in the history of the American coin market.

I really had no idea which coins from the Eliasberg sale were going to be in the Scotsman auction until I arrived and, to be honest, the selection was a bit on the disappointing side. Around half of the coins were what I would basically describe as semi-numismatic (coins like an 1886-S eagle in NGC AU58) or off quality (an 1850-O quarter eagle that had been harshly cleaned). Clearly, the person who bought these coins from the Eliasberg Sale in 1982 was no connoisseur but he had still managed to acquire a few great pieces.

There were four great coins in the Eliasberg Redux sale. The first was an 1862 Gold Dollar graded PR67* Ultra Cameo by NGC. In 1982, it had been graded PR67 and it sold for $8,800. Twenty-six years later it sold for a healthy $48,875. The second great coin was an 1851 quarter eagle graded MS67* by NGC. In the 1982 Eliasberg Sale it was graded MS67 and it sold for a then-strong $7,425. In the Scotsman auction, it brought $28,750. The highlight of the consignment was an NGC PR66 1880 Flowing Hair Stella. In the 1982 Eliasberg Sale it had been graded PR67 and brought just $55,000. It sold for $494,500 in the 2008 auction which, I would assume, is a record price for any coin in a Scotsman sale. The last of the Big Four was an NGC MS65 1930-S $20 that had only been graded MS60 in the original Eliasberg sale. It brought $18,700 back in 1982 and it brought $195,500 in 2008.

But what about the lower priced coins in the sale—how did they do? I figured that there would be a considerable amount of interest and I was personally willing to pay a 15-25% premium for the coins that I liked on account of the fantastic pedigree. For the most part, my levels came up short. I did buy around a half dozen coins and was underbidder on another ten or so but on many ho-hum lots my bids were far too low.

I came away from this sale with a couple of Deep Thoughts. The first is that collectors DO care about pedigrees and there is still no pedigree that is more magic for gold collectors than that of Louis Eliasberg. There were dozens of collectors in the audience at the sale and bidding online who were willing to, say, pay $1,500 for a coin that was probably only “worth” $1,000 to $1,200. And I can absolutely see their point. As a collector myself, I find pedigree to be extremely important and a coin that combines good eye appeal and rarity (or at least scarcity) with an interesting provenance is pretty irrestible to me.

The second is that I was really impressed with the way Scotsman conducted the auction. I have never participated in one of their sales and I found them to be gracious, easy going and honest. In fact, I can think of a few older, more established auction firms that could learn something from the way that Scotsman promoted the sale, produced the catalog and made it a pleasure to do business with them.

Eliasberg 1842-C Large Date

Most collectors (and dealers) have never seen a Gem Uncirculated Charlotte half eagle. I recently had the pleasure of handling one of the finest known Charlotte half eagles of any date—the Eliasberg 1842-C Large Date—and thought it would be interesting to readers of this blog. This 1842-C Large Date half eagle has been graded MS65 by NGC. It is one of just a small handful of Charlotte half eagles of any date that have ever been graded MS65 (or better) by the services. In fact, as of March 2008, PCGS had only graded a single Charlotte half eagle in MS65 (1847-C) while NGC had graded four individual coins including this one in MS65 (the others are an 1846-C, 1852-C, 1855-C and 1857-C) plus a single coin in MS66 (1849-C).

Before we discuss the specifics of this coin, let’s look at some of the background about the date. The 1842-C Large Date has an original mintage of 23,589. An estimated 90-110 are known including as many as seven to nine in Uncirculated. The present coin is, obviously, the finest. There are also two graded MS64 by NGC and a pair graded MS63 by PCGS. I rank the 1842-C Large Date as the fifth rarest of 24 Charlotte half eagles in overall rarity and the seventh rarest in high grades.

This particular coin has a long and illustrious pedigree. It last appeared at public auction in Stack’s 1995 Milas Collection sale where it brought $44,000 in an NGC MS64 holder. Prior to being in the Milas collection, it was Lot 421 in the October 1982 Eliasberg sale where it brought $17,600. It has been acquired by Eliasberg from the Clapp collection in 1942 and before this it was sold to John Clapp, Sr. by the dealer Elmer Sears in 1920.

The first question any smart collector should ask about this coin is "is it really an MS65?" Despite the fact that it once resided in an MS64 holder (albeit way back in 1995...) I would resoundingly say "yes, it is unquestionably a Gem by today’s standards."

1842-C $5.00 NGC65

When you look at the photo of this coin, there are a few things that immediately stand out. The first is this coin’s exceptional luster. Yes, I realize that you can not accurately capture the true essence of luster in an image but on a coin like this-that is literally dripping with original mint luster-you can get a pretty decent idea of it. The second thing that is apparent is this coin’s amazing color. Both the obverse and the reverse have fabulous intense yellow gold hues that are accentuated by the full, unbroken frost. Even from an image, you can detect that this coin is original and has never been dipped or "improved."

Some collectors might look at this coin and say that it can’t possibly grade MS65 because it has marks visible in the obverse fields. I would respond to this as follows. First, the current standards of the MS65 grade do not imply that such a coin is perfect. An MS65 will show some light, unobtrusive marks; primarily in the most open part(s) of a coin design. Secondly, some allowance must be made for the fact that this is a branch mint coin from the 1840’s. Sophisticated graders of coins realize that you can’t take the standards of a Philadelphia half eagle from, say, the 1890’s and apply it to a Charlotte coin from 1842. But that said, I honestly believe that even if this exact coin was a common Liberty Head half eagle it would still be assigned an MS65 grade.

The most important thing about grading a coin like this is to consider its overall eye appeal. This 1842-C Large Date half eagle is absolutely beautiful with great detail, superb luster, splendid color and very nice surfaces. These individual factors make it far too nice to assign an MS64 grade to it. Another way of looking at this coin is to ask the question, "would I sell this in an MS64 holder?" If an exact twin of this coin came up to my table at a coin show in an MS64 holder (and it was priced like an MS64) I would write a check in about five seconds and have it cracked out and ready for regrading in about fifteen seconds. And if it didn’t grade MS65 right away, I would continue to try to get this grade.

In my opinion, the Eliasberg 1842-C Large Date is among the best No Motto half eagles of any date that I have seen in many years and it is certainly among the best half dozen half eagles known from this mint. Even a Jaded Dealer such as me gets a tingle out of coins like these and I’m sure it will be a long time before I handle another Gem Charlotte half eagle.

Ten Great U.S. Coin Auctions and Some Reminiscences

I’ve now been attending coin auctions for the better part of thirty years. I’ve gone to major sales in New York and tiny little farm sales in New England. I’ve truly seen the good, the bad and the ugly in the hundreds of sales I’ve participated in. Here is a brief recap of ten which are especially memorable to me and some noteworthy incidents that I always associate with each of these sales. 1. 1975 EAC Sale, Pine Tree Auctions 1975

As a youngster, my first love was collecting Colonials. I specialized in Connecticut Cents and, at one time, was good enough with these coins that I could attribute many of the 350+ die varieties by sight without a reference book.

The 1975 EAC sale contained what still probably ranks as the finest collection of Connecticuts ever assembled. When I received the catalog I was obsessed and can remember spending days in my room analyzing it and making lists containing first, second and third choices.

I also remember grappling with the financial aspects of the sale. I was ready to spend my net worth at the time (which was probably around $1,500) as well as sell off all my non-essential coins. My mom tried not to be to concerned as she saw my attempts at raising a few thousand dollars to spend at the sale but you’ve got to wonder if my financials wheelings and dealings didn’t alarm her somehow.

There are two things I remember best about this sale. The first is that Richard Picker, a really kind old-time colonial specialist who lived out on Long Island, volunteered to help me bid in the sale and to steer me towards the coins which he thought were the most desirable. And, best of all, he did it for free, just to “help the kid out.” Secondly, I remember that there was a Led Zeppelin concert at Madison Square Garden the day after the EAC auction ended which I had been invited to go to with arguably the best looking girl in my class—and her parents had Garden connections which enabled her to sit in great seats. So within a 24 hour span I was going to participate in my first major auction and go to my first major concert. Life just didn’t get much better than that!

2. New York ANA Sale, Stack’s 1976

I was still in high school when I heard that the ANA convention was going to be held in my home town of New York. This was clearly going to be the highlight of my summer and, as far as I can remember, it was going to be the highlight of my numismatic career, such as it was at the time.

I had participated in Stack’s sales before this but I had always had to have my mother’s written permission for Stack’s to allow me to bid; understandable as how many 13 year kids were trustworthy enough to be spending a few thousand dollars in an auction back then? This time, Stack’s let me bid without my mother’s consent and I remember thinking, for the first time, that I must be movin’ on up in the world of coins.

The sale itself was huge. I don’t know how many of you have actually thumbed through the catalog but it contained seemingly a complete set of United States coins in a dazzling array of grades, dates and denominations. At the time I was mostly interested in Seated coins and decided to focus on the dimes, quarters and half dollars.

I don’t really remember what I bought in the sale but what I do remember is my excitement viewing the auction lots, attending the sale and running around the coin show. From that point on, I was hooked on coins and decided, pretty much then and there, to become a full-time coin dealer. 31 years later, the rest, as they say, is history.

3. R.T. Wilder, Stack’s 1994

This collection of Southern gold coinage is not well-remembered but it contained one of the nicest sets of Charlotte pieces ever assembled. The coins had been consigned to Stack’s in a custom-made plastic holder with a hand-engraved brass plaque which read “Coin of Charlotte N.C. Mint 1838-1861.” The set was complete (except for the 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar) and it appeared to be very choice.

There was just one problem: the coins had been lacquered at one time and it was extremely hard to determine what their surfaces looked like under the lacquer. As an example, I remember that many of the quarter eagles seemed to be exceptional. But what would the surfaces look like below the lacquer? This was clearly going to be a sale for coin dealers who were very, very confident in their grading.

If you’ve ever viewed coins at Stack’s you know that the lighting isn’t wonderful. I hadn’t brought any special lighting with me and, quite honestly, I couldn’t make good headway in grading the coins. I then had a brainstorm: go buy a halogen lamp.

New York may be The City That Never Sleeps but, on that day in 1994, it was The City That Didn’t Sell Halogen Lamps. I can remember running all over midtown Manhattan looking for a good quality lamp. Some stores were out of them, others had the wrong ones in stock. Finally; I located one and was able to view the coins with a little more confidence.

In the end it really didn’t matter. One dealer wound-up buying most of the coins for a customer who had informed him to purchase the majority of the sale. Ironically, the few coins that I did buy turned out to be really nice once I removed the lacquer and I made quite a bit of money on these.

4. Eliasberg Silver Part II, Bowers and Merena April 1997

This was one of those collections which I would have paid money to look at. It was like opening the door of a numismatic time capsule and viewing hundreds and hundreds of coins which had been put away (and well cared for) for a century.

It was hard to decide what the most exciting area of this sale was. I can remember gasping at the Carson City silver coinage and cooing with love at the page after page of Gem Bust halves. There were amazing Proof Bust coins and the finest run of Bust Dollars I have ever seen. And the thing about these coins that was the neatest was the fact that 80-90% of them had gorgeous original coloration.

I wound up spending more money at this sale than at any other non-gold auction I’ve ever attended. I bought some superb pieces for clients and some great coins for stock, including numerous Gem Seated half dollars from New Orleans. I’m not sure that there will ever be another deal like this.

My favorite memory of this sale involved a well-known and very naughty dealer. The lots were being shown in a tiny room and, as I recall, there were no more than around 20-25 seats available at any time to see the coins. This dealer hogged up a spot for three days and parked three or four of his employees in neighboring chairs. I can remember seeing the looks of disgust on the faces of collectors who waited two full days to view lots but who could never be accommodated. Ironically, this included at least two collectors whose combined numismatic holdings are, today, worth somewhere north of $100 million. At the end of the lot viewing these two collectors were allowed to request around a dozen coins each to view in an “express lane.” Many other collectors never got to view even a dozen lots(!)

5. John Whitney (“Mr. 1796”), Stack’s 1998

This was among the more unique specialized collections ever assembled. John Whitney Walter, a New York businessman, specialized in the coinage of 1796 and he assembled an amazing set of coins which featured high grade examples struck in copper, silver and gold. This was the sort of ultra-competitive “old school” auction which probably will never happen again. I think we can officially say good-bye to small, highly specialized collections featuring unslabbed coins sold in the Stack’s pre-21st century environment.

The sale was held in a fairly small ballroom in one of the mid-town Manhattan hotels; I can’t remember if it was the Park Lane, the Essex House or another location. By the time the sale began, the room was absolutely packed. What I remember most about the crowd was the fact that there were lots of middle-aged men in beautiful suits who looked very rich and very much fit the New York Investment Banker stereotype. None of these guys ever seemed to bid during the sale, but it made for a much more impressive room than your typical drooling pack o’ coin dealers.

But the thing I really remember about the night was that a few minutes into the sale, Donald Trump (and a small entourage) popped into the room. I later learned that that the consignor was some sort of security consultant who had installed a system either in Trump’s house or office (or both) and The Donald decided to grace the room with His Presence. FYI, he never raised his hand to bid and he left after a few minutes (now doubt to do another Epic Deal) but it was a pretty cool few minutes to have The Donald in a coin auction.

6. North Georgia Collection, Heritage 1999

With a value well north of $3 million, the North Georgia Collection of Charlotte, Dahlonega and Bechtler coinage is still the largest single deal I have ever been involved with. Along with my partners Hancock and Harwell of Atlanta, we had numerous difficult decisions to face in the marketing of this collection. Which coins should be sold privately and which should be sold at auction (in a deal which contained over a dozen 1838-D half eagles, this was no easy decision!). Which firm would auction the coins and when? Would the coins be regraded or kept in the original holders?

After a numbers of strategy sessions, we decided to put the coins in the Heritage 1999 FUN auction. This was not an easy decision to make as we were paying interest on a sizable amount of money and had to wait six months for the auction to take place. But in the long run we were happy with our decision.

Looking back at the prices realized in this sale, one can see that in many ways the 1999 FUN sale was the all-time height of the market for most Charlotte and Dahlonega issues, especially high grade pieces. Even factoring in the upgrades that many of the coins in this collection saw in later years, it is still pretty remarkable to look at the levels which they sold for.

When I look back at this sale my memories are bittersweet. The owner of the collection, a truly nice guy named Leon Farmer, passed away soon afterwards and my close friend and business associate Jack Hancock is dead as well. Every time I pull a Heritage North Georgia catalog down off the library shelf to research a coin, I think of these two wonderful men.

7. Bass II, Bowers and Merena 1999

Usually, when I attend a sale I am only interested in a small number of coins. I may have to sit around for hours waiting for the coins I want to bid on but, clearly, I’m interested in a few dozen lots at most. The Bass II sale was the first auction I’ve ever been where I was interested in almost every lot. And there were well over 2000 lots in the sale!

It took me two full days of viewing to see all the coins and another day to figure out my bids. Even three days really wasn’t enough.

This was a sale that should have been broken into at least three more parts. There were simply too many great gold coins in one sale. I can remember $5,000 and $10,000 coins stuck in large lots, multiple examples of very rare dates one after another and a true sense of overload that I can’t imagine will ever be repeated.

My strongest memory of this sale was that it was an endurance contest; a true Coin Marathon, if you will. If I’m not mistaken, the first session lasted between thirteen and fifteen hours and I can remember leaving, bleary-eyed, at 3:00 in the morning. The second session started around 9:00 and last the better part of the day. I remember leaving New York that day with a number of incredible coins and being as tired as I’ve ever felt after an auction.

8. Dallas Bank Collection, Stack’s/Sotheby’s 2001

This collection actually belonged to Jeff Browning, a collector who was active in the Dallas area in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. I had heard about these coins for years and despite the fact that I spent essentially my entire adult life in Dallas I had never had the chance to see the coins (as they were kept in a bank vault in Dallas).

The meat of this collection was a set of Double Eagles which was complete from 1850 through 1932. It included one of just two known examples of the rare 1861 Paquet Reverse as well as Condition Census examples of many of the New Orleans Type One issues. My personal favorite coin in the sale was a fantastic Uncirculated 1879-O (easily the finest known) on which I was outbid by a prominent Midwestern collector.

My strongest memory of this sale is not coin-related. It was held in New York just a few weeks after the 9/11 bombings and I can remember taking the subway downtown with a friend and visiting Ground Zero. It still smelled of smoke and chemicals and many of the shrines which had been erected to the dead were still intact. It was one of the most chilling and moving mornings of my life.

9. The 1933 Saint Sale, Stack’s/Sotheby’s 2002

You probably know all about the importance of this coin and this sale so I won’t rehash old news. But my impressions from the auction are incredibly vivid.

Most coin dealers are very jaded when it comes to auctions and it takes a lot to get us excited. Everyone I knew was excited about this coin. We knew it would bring a record price but no one had a clue who would buy it. The sale took place at Sotheby’s headquarters on E. 72nd St. in New York. It was during the ANA convention and, as I recall, it was in the early evening during a heat wave when getting from place A to place B in Manhattan was even more grueling than usual. I went with a friend of mine and I remember leaving the bourse floor early so that we could get to the sale in time. We took a cab but got caught in horrible rush hour traffic. We wound up leaving the cab and jogging the remaining ten or so blocks to Sotheby’s, arriving in a pool of sweat in our suits.

When we got to the sale it was packed. We stood in the aisle and waited for the proceedings to begin. Because of the fact that we were well-dressed, someone from Sotheby’s grabbed us and escorted us to the front row where we were told to sit. I remember being very excited to have front row seats at what felt like the Numismatic Sale of the Century.

The sale itself was a bit anticlimactic. It was hard to know who was particpating with the exception of some guy a few feet away (Barry Goldwater’s son) who apparently was bidding more as a public relations gesture than as a serious player. Once the bidding hit $5 million it was nearly impossible to figure out what was going on but I do remember it was suspenseful, drawn-out and the numbers being called out by the auctioneer seemed impossibly large for a coin.

When the sale was over, everyone got up, chatted for a few minutes and went their separate ways. It was fun to attend a coin auction which, for once, had all the high dollar drama of an Impressionist Art sale.

10. The Morse Sale, Heritage 2005

When my ex-partner Todd Imhof and I first heard that this collection was coming onto the market, I knew it represented a wonderful opportunity for our company. I thought that the combination of my savvy as an auction participant and Todd’s strong customer base for rare St. Gaudens double eagles meant that we could be THE major participants in this sale. I quickly identified our major competitors for the coins and knew what our strategy would be: we would work harder than anyone to prepare for this sale.

And prepare we did. I flew down to Dallas twice before the sale to carefully look at the coins; each time grading them and taking notes. Then, Todd and I prepared a detailed Morse Guide which we sent to selected customers. The guide gave an in-depth background of each date: its rarity levels, its price history and my comments regarding its grade and appearance and Todd’s estimate as to values.

The sale was originally supposed to occur in West Palm Beach but it was moved to Dallas due to hurricane damage. Psychologically, I thought this was a huge advantage for us as Dallas felt like my “home court.”

The sale itself was hugely exciting. The room was packed and a number of bidders were represented on the bank of phones. There was a vibe in the room not often felt in auctions. To make a long story short, our hard work paid off in spades as we spent over $5 million in the sale, including two coins (a Gem 1921 $20 and a superb 1927-D $20) for over $1 million. To the best of my knowledge this is the only time in numismatic history a single firm has purchased two coins for over $1 million in a single sale. It was definitely fun being able to make history that night at the Morse Sale.

Pedigrees and Numismatics

I. What Are Pedigrees and Why Are They Important? A pedigree is a list that documents the ownership sequence of a specific coin. It is the numismatic equivalent of a legal title chain. In the world of art and antiques, the pedigree of an object is referred to as its "provenance." On some coins, pedigrees can be traced back to the date of issue. On others, the pedigree information is far more sketchy and may only include recent owners.

Typically, a pedigree refers to a public auction appearance for a specific coin. This is due to the fact that since auctions are public, they are easier for researchers to trace. On many coins, pedigrees will have gaps caused by private treaty sales that are conducted in secret between two collectors, two dealers or a dealer and a collector.

Coins with good pedigrees often command premium prices over coins with no history. There are a number of reasons for this. Numismatics is a hobby in which history plays an important role. Knowing that a coin in your collection was good enough to be owned by a famous or important collector provides pride of ownership and a high level of connoisseurship.

Pedigrees are especially important on very rare coins. On coins that are controversial, such as a 1913 Liberty Nickel or an 1804 Silver Dollar, a lone pedigree serves to establish the fact that a specific coin is genuine. On other coins, it helps to establish if a coin is among the finest known for its specific issue.

There are certain great collections that carry considerable cachet in any collectibles field. In numismatics, there are certain collections that are important enough that PCGS and NGC indicate that a specific coin is from one of these collections. The following collections are regarded as among the most important numismatic assemblages and coins from these collections often carry a premium among collectors.

II. Collections That Are Regarded As Important For Pedigree Purposes

It is often very hard to prove that a coin is from a collection sold before 1980, due to the lack of availability of old catalogs, poor catalog descriptions and inferior photography. In addition, many of today's collectors are new to the hobby and are unfamiliar with these older sales. So, the collections that form this study are ones that have been held in the last two decades and are more familiar to today's collectors.

a. The ELIASBERG Collection Louis Eliasberg was a financier from Baltimore who began collecting coins in the 1940's. In 1942, he was able to purchase the Clapp Collection. This was a collection formed by a father and son from Pittsburgh between the 1890's and the 1930's. It contained superb coins from famous auctions held from 1895 to 1915 as well as pieces that had been purchased directly from the United States mints at their time of issue. The Clapp Collection was very advanced for its era as it contained not only very high quality coins but also significant die varieties and types as well.

Eliasberg continued to add to the collection and by the last 1950's it was regarded as the most complete and highest quality collection of United States coins ever formed.

After Eliasberg dies, his collection was divided among his two children. One received his gold coins and this collection was sold by Bowers and Ruddy in October 1982 as the "United States Gold Coin Collection."

The Eliasberg gold sale consisted of 1074 lots and the final price realized was $12.4 million. The highlights of the sale were the unique 1870-S Three Dollar gold piece and the excessively rare 1822 Half Eagle, both of which realized $687,500. Other areas of strength in this sale included long runs of early coins, many rare proofs and spectacular pieces obtained directly from the Philadelphia, San Francisco, New Orleans and Denver mints from the 1890's and 1900's.

The remainder of the Eliasberg collection was sold by Bowers and Merena (the successor firm to Bowers and Ruddy) in two sales. The first of these was held in May 1996 and it contained colonials, patterns, copper coinage, nickel coinage and silver coinage from half dimes through dimes. The sale consisted of 1348 lots and it realized $11,598,000. Highlights included a Gem Proof 1913 Liberty Nickel which sold for a record $1,485,000 and the unique 1873-CC No Arrows Dime that brought $550,000.

The final Eliasberg sale was held by Bowers and Merena in April 1997. It contained silver coinage from twenty cent pieces through silver dollars and miscellaneous items from the collection. The sale consisted of nearly 2,000 lots and it realized $20.9 million. Highlights included a Proof 1804 dollar that brought a record $1,815,000 and a Gem Proof 1885 Trade Dollar that sold for $907,500.

The Eliasberg collection is the finest group of United States coins ever sold at auction. This is considered the most desirable pedigree for any coin to have, as it is a virtual guarantee that a coin is choice, original and appealing.

b. The NORWEB Collection

As with many of the great collections, the Norweb Collection was formed through a number of generations. The collection was begun by Liberty Emery Holden, the owner of the Cleveland Plain Dealer in the 1890's. His son, Albert Holden, was an ardent numismatist who added a number of important coins to the collection between the late 1890's and his death in 1913. His daughter Emery May Holden Norweb (or "Mrs. Norweb" as she became known to the collecting fraternity) and her husband R. Henry Norweb Sr. were well-known collectors who were very active from the 1930's to the early 1970's; he died in 1983 and his wife passed away in 1984. Their son R. Henry Norweb Jr. and his wife are still collectors although they decided to sell the bulk of their family's collection in 1987 and 1988.

The firm of Bowers and Merena was chosen to sell the United States coins from the Norweb Collection. The first of three sales was held in October 1987. It contained half cents, Indian and Lincoln cents, two cent and three cent pieces, half dimes, dimes, twenty cent pieces, three dollar gold pieces, California fractional gold and colonials. There were a total of 1413 lots and highlights included a Gem Proof 1829 Small Planchet half eagle that sold for $352,000 and a Gem Uncirculated 1864-S half eagle that realized $110,000.

Part II of the Norweb Collection was conducted in March 1988. This sale contained nickels, quarters, Trade dollars, gold dollars, quarter eagles, eagles and Colonials. There were 1269 lots in this sale and highlights included a Proof 1885 Trade Dollar that sold for $121,000 and a superb gem 1911-D eagle that realized $132,000.

The final Norweb sale was held in November 1988. This 1451 lot sale included large cents, half dollars, patterns, colonials, silver dollars, and double eagles. Highlights were a gem 1797 half dollar that brought $220,000, a Proof 1838-O half dollar that sold for $93,500, a 1792 Silver Center Cent that realized $143,000, an Uncirculated 1794 silver dollar which sold for $242,000, a gem 1893-S dollar which broke all records at $357,500 and the extremely rare 1861 Paquet reverse double eagle which sold for $660,000.

Overall, this 4000+ lot sale realized more than $10 million dollars. Many price records were set in all series.

The Norweb collection will long be remembered for its broad scope and superb quality. Over 95% of all United States regular issue coins were present and there were many finest known or Condition Census pieces in all series. The strongest areas included pre-1834 gold coins, early copper and silver proofs and mintmarked 19th century gold.

As with the Eliasberg collection, many of the Norweb coins were from famous auctions conducted in the early part of the 20th century. Thus, by owning a Norweb coin, it is often possible to trace its pedigree back another 50 to 75 years.

c. The GARRETT Collection

The Garrett Collection is another collection that was the result of the efforts of several generations of one family. In this case, the collection was begun by T. Harrison Garrett, an owner of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, in the 1870's. The collection grew considerably in the 1880's, until Garrett died in 1888. The collection was continued by his son Robert, who loaned it to Princeton University for nearly two decades at the beginning of the 20th century. The collection was acquired by Robert's brother John in exchange for his art collection. It was added to until the death of John Work Garrett in 1939, after which it was donated to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

The first Garrett sale was conducted by the New York auction firm of Stack's in March 1976. This sale featured long runs of original 19th century proof sets and one of the finest selections of proof gold coins ever offered.

The bulk of the Garrett collection was auctioned by Bowers and Merena from 1979 through 1981. The first sale was held in November 1979 and it contained 622 lots which realized a bit over $7 million. The unquestionable star of this sale was an example of the celebrated Brasher Doubloon that sold for a record $725,000. As this sale was held during a numismatic bull market (as were the next two parts of the sale), many price records were set.

The second Garrett sale was held during the incredibly strong market of March 1980. Consisting of just 572 lots, the prices realized for Part Two was an impressive $7.05 million. The two highest prices realized were $400,000 for an 1804 silver dollar and $500,000 for a Proof 1851 Humbert octagonal $50 "slug."

The third Garrett sale was held in October 1980 in a market that was still extremely strong. A total of 496 lots sold for over $4 million dollars and numerous new price records were established. The highest individual prices realized for this sale included $130,000 for an Uncirculated 1795 $10 and $120,000 for a choice 1798/7 eagle.

The final Garrett sale was held in the more tranquil market of March 1981. Nonetheless, the prices realized for the 661 lots totalled over $4 million, bringing the gross prices realized for the four Bowers and Ruddy sales of this collection to over $25 million. This is the second highest price realized at auction for a single collection, exceeded only by the Eliasberg collection (which brought over $40 million).

The Garrett collection was one of the first great sets of American coins and included many extreme rarities with pedigrees back to the 1870's and the 1880's. This was clearly one of the greatest collections of all time and one which probably could not be duplicated today.

d. The ELROD Collection

For most of the first part of the 20th century, branch mint coins were overlooked by all but a small number of collectors. Assembling specialized sets of coins from Charlotte and the other branch mints really did not begin in earnest until the late 1950's/early 1960's. One of the first collectors to specialize in high grade examples of Charlotte coins was Stanley Elrod from Matthews, North Carolina. Elrod began collecting coins from his "local mint" in the 1960's and would go on to assemble at least three complete sets.

The last of these was clearly the finest set of Charlotte coins ever assembled. It included a number of finest known and Condition Census pieces. It was first offered for sale as a complete set in the mid-1980's but serious negotiations regarding its sale did not begin until the end of that decade. It was eventually sold to a consortium of dealers who later sold it intact to California dealer/collector/investor Hugh Sconyers.

For the next few years, Sconyers added to the collection. He was able to include a number of coins that were significantly finer than the original Elrod coins but which, at the same time, were of similar quality and appearance to the Elrod coins that were retained. In the middle part of the 1990's, Sconyers decided to sell the collection and it was purchased by Winthrop Carner, a New York dealer who specialized in rare gold coins. Carner proceeded to break up the collection and began selling coins to an eager audience of new collectors. The majority of the coins went to two collectors: William Miller from Michigan and Paul Dingler from North Carolina.

Carner later sold the remainder of the Elrod collection back to Sconyers who then quietly brokered the coins to other collectors through a small number of dealers.

In February 1999, some of the Elrod coins were offered for sale as part of the Miller collection in the Heritage Long Beach auction. The pieces in the Dingler collection remain off the market and the other Elrod coins are owned by a number of collectors and investors.

The Elrod collection was unquestionably the finest set of Charlotte coins ever formed. Elrod was fortunate to begin collecting these coins at a time when he had little competition and nice, original Charlotte coins could still be found from time to time.

The Elrod pedigree carries a great deal of weight among Charlotte collectors as it is an assurance that a coin is not only among the finest known examples of its respective issue but that it is choice and original as well.

e. The REED Collection

Byron Reed was born in upstate New York in 1829. He moved to Omaha, Nebraska in 1856 and by the early 1860's, he had become an important figure in this new settlement. After the end of the Civil War, Omaha became an important gateway to the West and its economy boomed. Reed, who was one of the major landowners in this city, became very rich and assumed a prominent position in the business and political affairs of both the city and the state.

Byron Reed began to collect coins (as well as art, manuscripts and other objects) in the mid 1870's and continued his purchases until he died in 1891. After his death, the collection was willed to the City of Omaha and the Omaha Public Library. It was later placed in the Western Heritage Museum where part of it is now on display.

A portion of the collection was sold Spink's/Christie's in October 1996 in order to raise funds for the renovation, expansion and endowment of the Western Heritage Museum. As with all museum collections, the announcement of this sale was met with controversy. A decision was made to replace the coins that were sold with similarly dated but lower value examples.

The Byron Reed sale contained 407 lots of coins and it realized over $5 million. The strengths of the sale included proof gold coins and superb pre-1834 gold issues.

Highlights of the Reed sale included an Uncirculated 1796 With Stars quarter eagle that brought $232,000, a Gem Uncirculated 1864 quarter eagle at $132,000, a Gem 1828/7 half eagle that realized $159,500, a Gem 1829 small planchet half eagle at $374,000, a Gem 1832 twelve stars half eagle at $297,000 and a three coin partial proof set of 1875 gold issues that sold for $352,000.

Unlike some of the other great "name" collections that have been sold in recent years, the Reed sale represented just a small part of his holdings. There are many other great coins in this collection that are now on public display in Omaha and the estimated value of the entire coin collection is a conservative $25 million+.

The coins from the Reed collection are noteworthy for their originality. The silver coins from this collection were poorly stored and, unfortunately, they are so deeply toned that they have no eye appeal. The gold coins luckily avoided this fate and were characterized by nice color and good eye appeal.

f. The PITTMAN Collection

John Jay Pittman was different from the other collectors in this group. He did not come from great wealth nor did he have unlimited funds to buy coins with. His forte was an uncanny ability to spot good value and the ability to determine underpriced areas in the market before they became "fashionable" or fully priced.

Pittman was born in 1913 and went to work for Kodak in Rochester, New York in 1936. He began collecting in the early 1940's and became very active towards the middle part of that decade. Pittman's single most brilliant decision as a collector was to attend the sale of the famous King Farouk collection that was held on behalf of the Egyptian government in Cairo in 1954. At this sale, Pittman spent a considerable amount of money and actually wound up taking a second mortgage on his home to finance his purchases. When one considers what these coins sold for some forty five years later, it is clear that this great financial risk was amply rewarded.

David Akers Numismatic Auctions was chosen to sell the collection. The first Pittman sale was held in October 1997 and it featured 1264 lots of coins including half cents, large cents, small cents, minor coins, nickels, half dimes, dimes, gold dollars, half eagles, double eagles, territorial gold coins and proof sets. The total price realized for this sale was $11.8 million. Some of the highlights included a complete 1843 proof set that sold for $412,500, an 1844 proof set that realized $440,000 and an 1859 proof set that brought $426,250. Other notable coins included a Proof 1833 half eagle that brought $467,500 (Pittman paid $635 for this coin at the Farouk sale in 1954), a Gem Proof 1835 half eagle at $308,000 (this piece cost $140 in the Memorable sale of 1948) and a Gem Proof 1836 half eagle that realized $198,000 (Pittman purchased this as part of a large group of coins for $483 in the Farouk sale.

The second Pittman sale was held in May 1998. It consisted of 869 lots and the total price realized was $12.2 million. Included in this memorable offering were quarter and half dollars, silver dollars, quarter eagles, three dollar gold pieces, half eagles, eagles, proof sets, and miscellany. Some of the highlights included a Gem Proof 1852 quarter at $176,000 (it cost Pittman $50 in 1953), a Proof 1839 With Drapery half dollar for $132,000 (Pittman paid $725 for this in 1961), a complete 1845 proof set which brought $756,250, an 1846 proof set that sold for $522,500 and a Gem Proof 1838 eagle that brought $550,000 (Pittman bought this coin as part of a four coin lot at the Farouk sale in 1954 for $590).

The final Pittman sale will be held in August 1999. It consists of his foreign coins and its estimated value is $10-15 million. Assuming that this sale brings in the middle of this range, the entire Pittman collection will have brought over $35 million.

Coins from the Pittman sale are notable for their originality and superb coloration. These coins are very highly prized by collectors and a Pittman pedigree will, no doubt, become greatly desirable in the future.

g. The BASS Collection

Harry Bass was a Dallas collector who specialized in United States gold coins. His collection was unique in that it was concerned with die varieties of specific issues. Bass was a keen student and had more technical knowledge about varieties of United States gold coins than anyone else. What made his collection all the more impressive is that most issues were represented not only by multiple examples but numerous Finest Known or Condition Census pieces.

In the middle part of the 1990's, Bass announced that he was creating a foundation (the Harry Bass Research Foundation or HBRF) that was dedicated to numismatic scholarship and would contain his coins. The Foundation was responsible for creating groundbreaking research sites on the Internet and contains excellent reference sets of pattern coinage and paper money.

Bass died in 1997 and it was soon announced that the majority of his collections would be sold at auction by Bowers and Merena. The first Bass sale was held in May 1999 and it contained paper money, pattern coinage, colonials, a small number of regular issue copper and silver coins and miscellany.

The major value of the Bass collection is its gold coinage and Bowers and Merena has announced that these coins will be offered in two sales. The first is to be held in October 1999 while the second is scheduled for May 2000.

It is expected that these two sales will contain between 4000 and 5000 lots and they have an estimated value of $25 million. When these sales are completed they should break many records and the Bass collection will rank as among the most valuable ever sold at auction.

The Bass coins are being sent to PCGS and will be specially designated by this firm with the bass pedigree. It is certain that many of the coins will be removed from the PCGS holders and sent to NGC. The Bass pedigree will certainly be recognized by this grading service as well.

The Bass collection is one of the last great "old time" collections that will be sold and it is probable that coins with the Bass pedigree will be revered by future collectors.

III. Other Important Pedigrees

The following private collections or public auctions are considered very important by collectors:

Jack Lee Collection: A complete set of Morgan and Peace Dollars (including proofs from the first type) that is regarded as the finest ever assembled. This set was sold by private treaty to a group of dealers in 1998. The Jack Lee pedigree is recognized by both PCGS and NGC.

Knoxville Collection: A superb quality type collection that was assembled by a collector in this Tennessee city. It contains many finest known, ultra-high grade pieces. The Knoxville pedigree is recognized by NGC.

Whitney Collection: A highly specialized set of 1796 coins in all metals formed by John Whitney of New York and sold at auction by Stack's in 1999. The Whitney pedigree is recognized by both PCGS and NGC.

Price Collection: A very high quality set of Indian Head gold coins and St. Gaudens double eagles formed by Dr. Thain B. Price. This collection was auctioned by David Akers in 1998. The Price Pedigree is recognized by both PCGS and NGC.

Starr Collection: Also known to collectors as the "Philadelphia Estate." This collection was formed by Floyd Starr from the 1920's to the 1950's and contained a very wide range of important rarities. The collection was sold in three parts by Stack's. The first contained half cents and large cents, the second contained other regular issue United States coins while the third featured Canadian and World coins. This was one of the finest collections of American coins to be sold in the 1990's. The Starr pedigree is recognized by PCGS and NGC.

Milas Collection: Ed Milas, a well-known dealer, formed a magnificent set of No Motto half eagles (1839-1866) that were auctioned by Stack's in May 1995. This set was particularly rich in Charlotte and Dahlonega issues and contained many finest known coins. A number of these were re-offered in Stack's November, 1995 sale. The Milas pedigree is recognized by both grading services.

Bareford Collection: Harold Bareford was a New York collector who formed a very high quality collection in the 1940's and 1950's. His gold coins were sold at auction by Stack's in 1978 while his silver and copper coins were auctioned by the same firm in 1981. The Bareford pedigree is recognized by both services.

James Stack Collection: This very high quality collection was assembled in the 1930-1960 era and contained an exceptional array of high quality coins in all metals. The coins have been sold at a series of auctions by Stack's that began in 1975 and concluded in 1994. PCGS and NGC both recognize the James Stack pedigree.

Brother Jonathan: In July, 1865, the steamship S.S. Brother Jonathan was lost in the waters off the border of California and Oregon. Included in its cargo were thousands of United States gold coins with most of these being double eagles dated 1863-S and 1865-S. The ship was salvaged in 1996 and in 1999 Bowers and Merena sold these coins at auction. The high quality of these coins and the romance attached to them being from a shipwreck have made them very popular. Both PCGS and NGC recognize the Brother Jonathan pedigree.

IV. Some Final Thoughts and Important Considerations on Pedigrees In series that are collector-dominated, such as Large Cents or Bust Half Dollars, pedigrees are more important than in series such as Commemorative gold coins that are investor-dominated.

It is easier to determine the pedigrees on older "hand made" coins (i.e., those struck before the introduction of the steam press to U.S. coinage in 1837) because these coins were more prone to such phenomena as die cracks, planchet faults, etc.

Both PCGS and NGC will recognize the pedigree of a coin by providing a notation on the insert that is encased with their "slabs." To have either service provide a pedigree, it helps to make it easy to prove that a coin is from a specific collection. The easiest way to establish proof is to, of course, have a record from the auction sale which the coin came from. If this is not available and the coin is clearly recognizable as being from a specific sale, it helps to indicate a certain feature (such as a pattern of toning or the location of a mark or a manufacturing characteristic) that is easily visible in the catalog's photograph.

As Internet coin sales increase, the importance of a coin's pedigree will increase. If four people are offering the same type of coin for sale, the person who markets it best is mostly likely to sell it. Stating an important pedigree and explaining its significance is likely to make a coin more saleable; especially if the buyer is someone who has experience with antiques or art.

At this point in time, the Eliasberg pedigree is considered the most valuable among collectors. A coin with an Eliasberg pedigree typically commands a 10-15% premium due to its high level of demand. In terms of desirability, the next tier of "name sales" includes Pittman and Norweb.