The Joys of Collecting column from the Nov. 16, 2015, issue of Coin World:
I take a side trip from my continuing series on double eagles — next
week I will discuss the fabulous S.S. Central America hoard of
thousands of Mint State coins and hundreds of gold ingots lost at sea
in 1857 and later recovered. This week I share some reminiscences from
1961, which in some ways seems like yesterday, but in reality it was
54 years ago. Many present Coin World readers were not born yet!
In 1961, Europe was a fertile hunting ground for American coin
dealers. In London there were many American Colonial and early federal
coins to be had from the three leading dealers — Spink, Seaby and
Baldwin. In Switzerland, banks had gold coins, mainly double eagles,
that had been in storage for decades.
Zurich, Switzerland proved to be the ultimate destination on my trip
that year. All along the main thoroughfare, Paradeplatz, every bank
had a selection of gold coins for sale, and several had numismatic
departments. With my trusty
Guide Book in hand I went from bank to
bank to see what I find. Although the Swiss banks had counters with
tellers and cashiers similar to an American bank, trading in gold
coins was done privately. In one instance I was ushered to a room, the
door was closed, and a gold specialist was assigned to me.
We started with a tray of gold coins of various kinds, mostly
Liberty Head and 20th century half eagles, eagles, and, especially,
double eagles. They were of miscellaneous grades, some of them with
dark “vault grime” (easily enough removed with soap and water in many
instances and acetone in others), and in grades generally ranging from
Extremely Fine to Uncirculated. I picked out a half dozen, asked the
prices, and bought most of them. That proved to be openers. I was,
indeed a buyer. Otherwise, I would probably have been dismissed.
Tray after tray arrived in the next hour or two, and I bought dozens
of coins from many hundreds examined. Double eagles that were not
rarities were priced generically. There was no difference in price
between an EF coin and one that was lustrous Mint State, all were the
Swiss equivalent of, say, $40.25. I asked how many I could buy at the
ask price, and the officer said that right now he could confirm an
order for 100,000 coins, but for a larger quantity he would have to
leave the room to check! I was amazed!
My host was wise to the fact that certain double eagles had higher
values, such as those with a “CC” mintmark (he didn’t have any to show
me) and Saint-Gaudens “D” and “S” coins from 1924 onward. I bought
some scarce ones, such as a gorgeous Mint State 1926-S, picked from
three at the same price, the others being AU.
As you may suspect, Switzerland became “discovered,” and in time
most rarities were sold to dealers coming from all directions.