When opportunity meets preparation, you get “Luck.” Students who take my Flying Eagle and Indian Cents course at the American Numismatic Association Summer Seminar or study my books hopefully come away prepared to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.
In early October I got real lucky. I had just posted an auction on eBay and went to the “just listed” Indian Cent section. The very first auction I came across showed four Indian Head cents, three corroded ones and a decent 1888 cent in Very Fine condition.
I nearly fell off my chair in disbelief as soon as I saw the image of the four coins. The 1888 cent was obviously the very rare 1888/7 Snow-1. If you look at Coin World’s U.S. Coin Values, you’ll see that an 1888/7 cent in VF-20 is listed at $9,000. The opening bid was only $10.
Now, in my class and in my books I mention that the easiest way to attribute the rare 1888/7 Indian cent is not to pull out your loupe and try to see the very small bulge of a 7 under the 8, but to look for a die break on the obverse rim at 9:00. I teach that using this diagnostic, you can tell an 1888/7 cent at arm’s length.
The auction was only a three-day sale and was just posted, so I put in a token bid of $20 and went to a bid-sniping program that automatically bids for you a few seconds before the auction ends. I registered a random bid between $5,000 and $5,500 and waited.
Would someone see the coin and challenge my bid? Had anyone who read my books or taken my course seen it? I was giddy and nervous at the same time. I worried: What if someone tries to make a side offer to the seller and he takes the auction down?
You must remember that as a specialist author and dealer, I am bound by an unstated oath of integrity that means that I can’t hide the fact that a certain coin is a rare variety when it is presented for my appraisal or offered for me to purchase. The only instances where I can ethically cherrypick an unidentified rare variety are when it is offered to all others at the same price, when I don’t have any special advantage, except being at the right place at the right time.
When the auction ended on Sunday afternoon, I was out on my boat with my family, out of access to the auction. For once, I was the one saying “Can we get going now?” When I arrived to the closest town, I checked the auction. I won the lot for $47 postpaid. I was ecstatic. It arrived a few anxious days later in a First Class envelope with signature confirmation, which the postman forgot to get. I ripped open the package and sure enough, it was the real deal.
The coin was submitted to Professional Coin Grading Service at the Dallas ANA National Money Show and graded VF-35, making it a $10,000 coin. It sold at the show to a dealer-friend for close to that amount. Anyone could have made this find, but having the knowledge and the opportunity, I got lucky.
Rick Snow operates Eagle Eye Rare Coins in Tucson, Ariz., and is author of multiple books on Flying Eagle and Indian Head cent die varieties.