Rare coins in unusual places

A problematic 1870-S $3 piece
Published : 05/28/12
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Occasionally, rare coins turn up in the oddest places.

Such seemed to be the case with an 1870-S Indian Head gold $3 coin that was widely promoted in a May 16 press release for a June 2 auction at Four Seasons Auction Gallery in Alpharetta, Ga. Four Seasons is not well-known for its coin auctions, so the offering of this legendary rarity — which carried an estimate of $2 million to $4 million and had a hefty reserve — received some attention. It was to be the star of an otherwise modest sale.

It seemed odd to many that a great rarity would be offered at a small auction house not known for its numismatic expertise and would not be authenticated prior to being offered for sale. When Coin World called Steve White of Four Seasons, he said that interested buyers could bring their own expert to evaluate the piece and said that the consignor’s prior efforts to receive third-party authentication were unsuccessful “because it was repaired.” He further said that matters of authenticity are subjective and that even experts differ.

The item had a fun backstory. It was allegedly found in a Victorian-era souvenir book at a San Francisco book store in the 1990s by a European tourist.

The issue is steeped in mystery, so it would not be impossible that another example would show up.

However, side-by-side photographic comparison of the discovery piece with the example that is currently in the Harry Bass Jr. Research Foundation’s collection revealed that they are dissimilar in many details. The Bass example is the only one known to collectors today, although a second example was reportedly placed in the cornerstone of the San Francisco Mint in 1870. Various experts shared their thoughts that the new coin was not authentic.

The coin was subsequently withdrawn from the auction.

Rare coins do sometimes turn up at smaller sales. On May 12, Chicago-area dealer Fox Valley Coins auctioned an uncertified Proof 1844 Seated Liberty dollar — one of just 15 minted — that sold to a collector for $14,950.

Marlon Mathre of Fox Valley said that the winning bidder is a collector and added that while the firm had independently verified the authenticity of the coin with several experts, that the winner is covered under the firm’s policies that provide a guarantee that the coin is a Proof 1844 Seated Liberty dollar. ■

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