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.