A collector doesn’t have to have a gigantic budget to own a coin
that was once part of a great collection or owned by someone famous.
Great collections by “brand names” in numismatics, so famous that
only last names are needed, like Eliasberg, Garrett or Pittman, have
plenty of rarities. But their extensive collecting scope means their
collections included many “normal” coins alongside the rarities.
Louis E. Eliasberg Sr. sometimes strove for completeness over
quality and didn’t always strive to get the best of everything. For
example, a pleasant but undistinguished 1883 Liberty Head, No CENTS
5-cent piece, graded Mint State 64 with the Eliasberg provenance noted
clearly on the slab, realized $161 at a 2010 auction. Because of the
pedigree, the price was roughly double what comparable examples sell
for at auction.
Sometimes, coins that were part of great collections are very
nice, but also extremely common, as is the case with Eliasberg’s MS-66
1882-S Morgan dollar that brought $373.75 at a 2010 auction. That same
amount could have purchased his 1850-O Coronet gold quarter eagle with
About Uncirculated details, but also carrying scratches and improper
cleaning, at a 2011 auction.
Finding a low-value coin from the collection of John Jay Pittman
may be a bit easier. Pittman was a collector of not unlimited means,
and among his rarities he had some very usual coins. His 1943 Winged
Liberty Head (Mercury) dime graded Mint State 67 brought $50 and his
1857 Indian Head gold dollar in About Uncirculated 55 realized $253 at
2010 auctions. Both prices are right in line with prices realized for
coins without a noteworthy former owner.
Of course, a coin’s numismatic value can mean little if the coin
was once owned by a mainstream celebrity.
During a Beverly Hills, Calif., auction of the estate of Greta
Garbo, a circulated 1905 Indian Head cent that to a numismatist would
sell for around $5, carried an estimate of $50 to $100 and realized an
astounding $448. Garbo was born in 1905, so the coin presumably had a
personal connection to her.
Two Morgan dollars dated 1898 and 1903, respectively representing
the years that her brother Sven and sister Alva were born, sold for
$500 when individually they would typically sell at around the $40 level.
Perhaps the best-known “celebrity premium” paid for coins happened
during the April 26, 1996, Sotheby’s auction of the estate of
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. A lot of nine 1967 and two 1964 Kennedy
half dollars grading About Uncirculated to Brilliant Uncirculated
realized an astronomical $8,645, exceeding the estimate of $200 to $300.
A similar group of 11 half dollars could easily be purchased for
around $10 at the time. ■