The Joys of Collecting column from the Nov. 2, 2015, monthly issue
of Coin World:
The United States double eagle is one of my favorite coin denominations.
In the Oct. 26 edition of my column, I told of the great surprise
when in 1999 hundreds of Mint State $20 double eagles from the
Brother Jonathan crossed the auction
block. I was involved in this, and I and my son, Andrew (who now can
be found at Stack’s Bowers Galleries at 123 W. 57th St., in New York
City), went to Crescent City, Calif., and in mountainous seas — 10- to
12-foot-high waves, but not breaking at their tops — had gone out to
the American Salvor earlier to watch the recovery operations.
For the first time in numismatic history, a significant number of
Mint State Type I double eagles — bearing the 1850 to 1866 No Motto
design — were available at one time. Our sale was a smashing success.
As coins have a way of doing, in the years since then, all have
increased handsomely in value.
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I imagine that everyone can recite his or her pivotal experiences in
numismatics. For me, having been at the game since I was a teenage
dealer in 1953 and having attended more American Numismatic
Association summer conventions than anyone else in history, my list of
memorable events is a long one. It started on one day in 1952 when I
called on Robert Rusbar, the tax collector in my hometown of Forty
Fort, Pa., to see his collection of rocks and minerals, one of my
collecting interests at the time. When we were finished with that he
brought out an album of Lincoln cents. “Have you ever seen a penny
worth ten dollars?” Of course, I hadn’t. I held his precious 1909-S
Lincoln, V.D.B. cent in my hand, and an hour or two later departed
with two Whitman folders he gave me — one for cents from 1909 to 1940
and the other for 1941 to date. The rest is history, at least for me.
The early years of my dealership, part-time while I was in high
school and, later, at Penn State, evoke many fine memories of double
eagles, including the very first such coin I obtained — a Very Fine
1855-S coin. Such a coin is of no account today in 2015, but it was
the first time I ever held one in my hand — evoking history straight
from the Gold Rush.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, I bought and sold $20 coins regularly,
usually the scarcer dates and Mint marks rather than bulk quantities.
The 1907 Saint-Gaudens, High Relief coin was a favorite, with nice
examples selling for a couple hundred dollars each or so, with the
price rising steadily. One day in 1960, Yale University contacted
Empire Coin Co., the firm Jim Ruddy and I conducted, to state that it
was seeking to sell an example of the 1907 Saint-Gaudens, Ultra High
Relief double eagle, one of fewer than two dozen struck, considered to
be among America’s greatest rarities.
Our offer was $18,000, about equal to that year’s A Guide Book of
United States Coins retail price listing. After a brief exchange
of comments, the coin was ours. Today in 2015, $1,800,000 would be the
more likely price for the coin!
These and other memories bring me to 1999 — the year we sold the
Brother Jonathan coins. By that time, the vast treasure
recovered by Bob Evans and others from the long-lost wreck of the SS
Central America had made news for years here in
World. Many stories were about the protracted claims coming in
from all directions, lawsuits, and more. Finally, in 1999 Dwight
Manley formed the California Gold Marketing Group and arranged to buy
en bloc from the finders over 92 percent of the greatest gold treasure
ever found! The rest went to settle legal claims.
I was invited to have a small share in the company. Next column:
Excitement prevailed as I helped market thousands of Mint State 1857-S
double eagles and hundreds of gold bars!
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