Quality and rarity ruled as more than 1,800 coins from legendary numismatist Eric P. Newman’s collection brought more than $23 million at a Nov. 15 to 16 Heritage auction in New York City.
The total exceeded the firm’s pre-sale estimate of $15 million, and multiple records for individual issues were broken.
The catalog stated that the collection “is the greatest collection of early silver United States coins ever seen,” warning bidders, “Never again in our lifetimes will there be as well matched an assemblage of early U.S. silver type coins.” Bidders seemed to have agreed, as many coins sold for multiples of what recent market comparables would suggest.
Perhaps what’s most amazing is that the collection was acquired for around $7,500 decades ago. More than half in the offering, including most of the top lots, were obtained by Newman in the 1930s and early 1940s from the estate of Col. E.H.R. Green, who had died in 1936. Green was the son of Hetty Green, who was known as “The Witch of Wall Street.”
Crazy, wild, colorful coins
One of the hallmarks of the silver coins in the Newman Collection was that many displayed extraordinary colors. These hues were the result of long-term storage in Wayte Raymond paperboard holders.
In the foreword to the Heritage catalog, Maureen and Stuart Levine wrote, “While forming his collection, Eric and his father, a doctor, meticulously modified wooden cigar boxes to hold a single row of coins; each coin within, often wrapped in thin paper, had been carefully placed in an annotated envelope.” The combination of the wrapping, envelopes, boxes, boards, drawers and cabinets provided a storage environment that encouraged the production of rich colors on the silver coins.
The top lot of the auction exhibited the magnificent rainbow toning that characterized many of the top lots: a 1796 Draped Bust quarter dollar graded Mint State 67+ ★ by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker indicating quality within the grade, that realized $1,527,500. The cataloger called it “the most beautiful American silver coin that exists today,” and that sentiment has been echoed by numerous leading numismatists.
Many of the coins, including this one, accompanied their original paper envelopes noting the original cost — in this case, just $100.
The seven-figure auction price established a record for the denomination and the piece was the second coin from the Newman Collection to sell recently for more than $1 million at auction. On April 25, at Heritage’s first auction of Newman’s collection, an 1852 Humbert pioneer gold $10 coin graded NGC MS-68 brought $1,057,500. It was among 159 coins, primarily U.S. patterns, that brought more than $4 million total in the April auction.
NGC certified all of the coins in both Newman auctions and created a special identifying label. After the sale, NGC chairman Mark Salzberg said, “Mr. Newman had an amazing eye for rarity and quality that was far ahead of his time.”
Dozens of six-figure prices
As a testament to the quality of the collection, 46 coins crossed the six-figure mark. At $910,625, a visually distinctive 1795 Draped Bust dollar in MS-66+ ★ with a green CAC sticker was the second-most expensive lot of the night. It was traced back to an 1891 auction and was purchased by Newman for $75 as part of the Green estate. The coin’s appearance was distinctive in that it was brilliant but for a patch of color in the right obverse field.
Few coins in the collection were more dramatic than an 1807 Draped Bust quarter dollar in MS-66 ★, with a green CAC sticker, that brought $411,250. It was cataloged as having surfaces with “a gorgeous blend of orange and gold at the center, within a ring of rich blue and turquoise toning. The reverse has attractive cobalt-blue and turquoise peripheries, with the central areas exhibiting a beautiful blend of orange and gold toning.” The stunner was originally purchased from the Green collection for $40.
Besides magnificent type coins, the collection had numerous rarities, like an 1818 Capped Bust quarter dollar in Proof 67. It is well-known to collectors as the plate coin for several key reference works and was originally sold by Samuel Hudson and Henry Chapman in December 1890 as part of the Thomas Cleneay Collection where it was described simply as “Proof. Sharp, beautiful impression.” Newman purchased it for $20 as part of the Green estate. The coin — the finest known of the date and the only available Proof 1818 quarter dollar — brought $381,875.
Topping the varied Seated Liberty offerings was an 1840-O Seated Liberty, No Drapery quarter dollar in MS-67 ★, with a green CAC sticker, that sold for $329,000. Like other pieces in the Newman Collection, the sharp and vibrantly colored, pristine coin was the finest-graded by a substantial margin and carried the Green provenance.
A strong $188,000 took home a magnificently toned 1861 Seated Liberty quarter dollar in Proof 68 ★ Cameo. Although it’s not a rare issue on its own — a solid PCGS Proof 65 Cameo with a green CAC sticker brought $9,200 at an April 18, 2012, auction — bidders considered it among the finest Proofs of the entire type and bid accordingly. For comparative purposes, it sold for more than 10 times more than any other Proof 1861 quarter dollar at auction.
Not just for the well-heeled
While dozens of six-figure rarities captured the headlines, hundreds of coins that were affordable to nearly all collectors sold, including 24 coins selling for less than $100 each. The least expensive coin in the offering was a Proof 65 1953 Washington quarter dollar that brought $53. Type collectors could buy an Extremely Fine 40 1865 copper-nickel 3-cent coin for $56 and an MS-62 1935 Indian Head 5-cent piece, with a green CAC sticker, for $62.
In fact, nearly a quarter of the lots offered brought less than $500 each.
Collectors of 20th century issues had their choice of substantial, high-quality runs of 1913 Indian Head 5-cent pieces and 1916 Winged Liberty Head (“Mercury”) dimes.
An MS-64 1916 Winged Liberty Head dime with a green CAC sticker brought $94. It was the least expensive of 32 separate examples offered of this first-year issue, the most expensive being a beautifully toned dime in MS-67 ★ full bands, with a green CAC sticker, that brought $4,112.50.
Proceeds of the sale will be used exclusively for supplementing the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society’s museum operations and scholarly research efforts and for the benefit of other not-for-profit institutions selected by the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society for public purposes. Newman Part III, which focuses on world coins, will be sold by Heritage at its New York office, Jan. 14 to 16, 2014. ■