The recently concluded Heritage sale was not really a stellar offering from this firm. Falling after the outstanding array of coins sold at the 2011 FUN auction and occurring before what is likely to be a solid group at the Central States sale in late April/early May, the Sacramento auction did, however, contain a few really interesting coins. While I don't pretend to make comprehensive market assessments based on four pieces, I'd like to focus on these and present some thoughts. The first coin of interest was an 1850-D quarter eagle graded MS62 by PCGS. Sold as lot 4637, this piece brought $27,600 which is a record-setting price for this date. This exact coin was last offered as lot 1113 in the ANR 9/05 sale where it brought $21,850.
While I personally liked this coin quite a bit, its appearance was a bit on the "too crusty" side. Its color was real in my opinion but it was a tad splotchy and I could see some knowledgeable specialists thinking it might not have been attractive. The coin didn't have a CAC sticker and I have to assume that given the fact that Heritage sends many of the high end coins in their sales to CAC for approval that it flunked its test in Far Hills.
What I find interesting about this price realized is that the coin is not necessarily the finest known (there is a PCGS population of three in this grade but I think there are just two specimens graded as such) and it is in a series (Liberty Head quarter eagles) that isn't exactly "hot" right now.
My pre-sale estimate for the coin was in the $17,500-20,000 range. I was assuming it would bring around the middle of this range and that it would be resold at around the figure it sold for in 2005.
The next coin was an 1879 quarter eagle graded MS66+ by PCGS. This was an exceptional coin; probably the best of this date that I have seen. But the 1879 is a pretty common issue in MS63 and MS64 and not even that big a deal in MS65. In other words, this was a semi-common date in a (very) uncommon state of preservation.
As I researched the valuation of this coin, I thought about a few things. The population for this date in PCGS MS66 is just four and, as far as I can tell, this example was the only piece to have received a "plus" designation for PCGS. A "normal" MS66 1879 seemed like it was a $5,000-7,000 coin so I guessed that this one might sell for as much as $8,000-9,000.
Wrong, Mr. Rare Date Gold "Expert!" The coin brought a stunning $17,250 which I find to be a pretty perplexing number. The previous auction record for this date was set back in January 1990 when an MS65 (probably now a 66 or even a 66+ by today's standards) sold for $6,875 in a Superior auction. In the Heritage 9/03 sale, a PCGS MS66 (without a plus designation but a pretty nice coin from my recollection) sold for just $4,600.
I have to assume that either two people saw this coin as a "lock" to upgrade to MS67 (and I'm not sure that as a population 1/none better coin in MS67 that its worth much more than what it sold for in the current 66+ holder) or two serious collectors got involved in a titanic ego battle.
The third coin is one that I doubt if more than a small handful of people thought was special. The coin in question was an 1844 eagle graded AU53 by PCGS. It was offered as lot 4805 and it sold for $8,625.
Compared to the last two coins I discussed, the price of this coin wasn't shocking. I was the under-bidder and I kind of regret not going a bit higher in an attempt to purchase this coin.
The Heritage cataloger didn't realize that this coin was from the Bass collection (ex Bass III: 588 where it brought $5,290). The PCGS holder didn't note this either but the coin was obviously ex Bass and it was unchanged since its last appearance in 2000.
The 1844 eagle is an under-appreciated rarity. Only 40 or so are known from an original mintage of 6,361. I doubt if more than six or seven real AU coins are known and the Heritage coin was unusual from the standpoint that it hadn't been cleaned or processed as most 1844 eagles are. It wasn't a really attractive coin (it had numerous deep abrasions on the obverse and reverse) but this date never comes nice and I though it was actually pretty solid for the grade.
One quick, interesting side note. Heritage 1/11: 7017 was graded AU58 by NGC and it was really, really ugly. It went cheaply at $7,475. The coin in the Heritage March sale was graded five points lower (even though it was nicer) yet it sold for nearly 20% more. This was clearly a case of someone buying a "real" AU53 coin versus someone buying a coin that wasn't an "AU58" despite what the holder said.
The fourth and final coin was an 1862-S double eagle graded MS63 by NGC. This piece had been approved by CAC and it was extremely attractive for both the date and grade.
The Heritage catalog hinted at the fact that this coin may have had a shipwreck provenance. I'm almost certain it was one of the best coins from the S.S. Brother Jonathan that had, after its original sale in a PCGS holder, been broken out, sent to NGC and upgraded. The coin had luster that, for lack of a better term, just seemed a little too "shipwrecky" to have not been from this source. Instead of being frosty like the typical high grade 1862-S double eagle, this one was a bit satiny with a semi-grainy texture and pronounced rose-gold color.
The coin sold for $57,500. The previous auction record for this date was $29,555 which was set by another NGC MS63 that was sold by Bowers and Merena in their May 2004 auction.
I was surprised but not shocked by the price that this coin brought. It is tied with one coin at PCGS and two at NGC as the highest graded and I have only seen one other MS63 (the coin that sold in the May 2004 sale that I referenced above). It was beautiful, its a condition rarity and its a Type One double eagle. With these three factors in play you had to assume it was going to smash the previous auction record to smithereens.
One final note. Heritage's market penetration as a result of their internet presence never ceases to amaze me. Even at a small, "minor" sale like the Spring ANA, no great coins fall through the cracks as they did even as recently as a few years ago. Heritage could sell a high quality U.S. gold coin at the Tripoli Airport coin show in May and still get a strong price.