US Coins

2012 starts with a bang at FUN, NYINC

The rare coin market started 2012 with a bang as auctions associated with the Jan. 5 to 8 Florida United Numismatists convention in Orlando and the New York International Numismatic Convention held the same week realized together more than $130 million.

The FUN convention and NYINC attract different sets of collectors and dealers. The FUN show’s focus is primarily on United States material while the NYINC takes a more global perspective, offering coins and attracting collectors and dealers from around the world.

Nearly 11,000 people attended the FUN show this year, and although the NYINC attracted fewer people with 1,636 public attendees, the auctions associated with both shows brought similar totals. The NYINC auctions realized more than $65 million while the Heritage FUN U.S. coin and paper money auctions brought nearly the same amount, exceeding $64 million.

The expectations for the various auctions were high, perhaps too much so. Prior to its sales, Heritage Auctions estimated that its FUN and NYINC auctions might realize more than $80 million while NYINC chair Kevin Foley said that there was a chance that the various auctions at NYINC might bring more than $100 million. While those lofty expectations went unmet, the total of $130 million is still impressive as it confirms the strength of the market for nearly all types of coins, ancient to modern, from around the world.

A robust U.S. market

Leading the Heritage auctions were two lots that each brought $1.38 million: a 1793 Flowing Hair, Chain, Periods cent, graded Mint State 65 brown and an 1829 Capped Head, Large Date gold $5 half eagle, graded Proof 64.

The 1793 Flowing Hair, Chain cent set a record in Orlando as the most expensive cent sold at auction, surpassing a record that the same coin had set in 2004 when it realized $391,000 at an American Numismatic Rarities auction. This example lost its record status, albeit it briefly, in 2009 when the finest known 1795 Liberty Cap Reeded Edge cent sold for $1.265 million at the sale of the Dan Holmes Collection of large cents.

The Chain cent was a one-year type (it was struck for only about a month) and has historically been one of the most desirable type coins for collectors. The record-setting Chain cent traced its ownership back to the Civil War, and its first owner of record was Joseph Zanoni, a Cincinnati collector who issued tokens during the Civil War advertising his ice cream shop. It later was in the Louis E. Eliasberg Sr. Collection, which is considered the only complete collection of U.S. coins ever assembled.

The 1829 Capped Head $5 half eagle also had a storied history that went back to the mid-19th century and the catalog noted that it was the only certified Proof example of the entire type. For nearly a century the coin resided in Baltimore’s Garrett collection, being purchased by T. Harrison Garrett in 1883 from W. Elliot Woodward and staying in the family’s collection through its transfer to Johns Hopkins University after John Work Garrett’s death in 1942. The legendary Garrett Collection was sold at auction in November 1979, where this coin was described as being in Mint State condition, with the description acknowledging that it was possibly a presentation piece.

The coin Heritage anticipated to lead its Platinum Night sale — a 1921 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle graded Mint State 66 — was expected to be a million dollar coin as a comparable example realized $1,092,500 at a 2005 auction. However, the bidding stalled at $747,500. The coin was part of Dr. and Mrs. Steven L. Duckor’s collection of Saint-Gaudens double eagles, which realized $5.68 million in total. Of the 52 coins in the Duckor offering — 33 coins set or tied record prices for their date and grade, according to Heritage.

Other highlights in Heritage’s FUN auctions included an extraordinary pewter 1776 Continental dollar graded Mint State 67 — the finest known Continental dollar and described as “virtually perfect” — that sold for $546,250 and a 1933 Indian Head gold $10 eagle graded MS-64+ that brought $402,500. The latter possibly benefited from the attention that the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle received last year as the focus of a two-week trial that determined that the government and not a Philadelphia family owned 10 examples that were recently uncovered.

In total, more than 200 coins in the Heritage auctions realized more than $50,000 each, more than 500 individual coins brought more than $20,000 each and nearly 900 coins exceeded $10,000 each. The results showed both an appetite for great rarities and surprising depth for mid-level pieces.

Wild about ancients

At NYINC, a dozen firms offered world coins, medals and paper money at the Jan. 2 through 9 auctions. The $65 million total for the auctions was a jump of at least 50 percent from the previous record of more than $40 million for a NYINC event, set the prior year.

The NYINC results were led by the 642-lot Prospero Collection, which was auctioned by an entity consisting of Baldwin’s, Dmitry Markov and M&M Numismatics on Jan. 4. A unique gold stater of Pantikapaion — a city on the Black Sea — created circa 350 to 300 B.C., sold for $3.8 million against a $650,000 estimate, establishing a new record price for an ancient Greek coin. The coin was described in the catalog as “among the most spectacular numismatic objects to survive from the classical world” and as “one of the greatest pinnacles of ancient Greek numismatic art.” The diminutive piece featured an obverse with a facing head of a bearded satyr turned slightly to the left with long, wild hair and an reverse depicting a winged griffin.

Another record was sent when a Sicilian silver tetradrachm of Naxos from circa 461 to 430 B.C. realized $994,500 against a $125,000 estimate. It was described as among the most famous coins from antiquity. The obverse depicts a profile of Dionysus — the Greek god of wine and festivity — while the reverse depicts a bearded, squatting and naked Silenos, a part human and part beast creature perhaps best known for his drunkenness.

Low estimates relative to the achieved values were the norm at the NYINC auctions, with an extreme example being a gold aureus of the Roman emperor Galba from circa 68 to 69 that realized $432,900 against a pre-sale estimate of $60,000. Galba’s rule as emperor lasted for little more than seven months.

A star is seized

The NYINC was not without a bit of drama. The expected star of the NYINC auctions, a silver decadrachm of Akragas, Sicily, described as a “masterpiece of late 5th century engraving” and one of just 12 known examples, was to be offered Jan. 4 in an auction conducted jointly by Classical Numismatic Group and Nomos AG. It was set have an opening bid of $2.5 million and was promoted as being the most expensive ancient Greek coin ever sold.

The day before its scheduled sale, law enforcement officials seized it with another coin from the “Cabinet W” collection and detained Dr. Arnold-Peter Weiss, the owner and consignor.

Dr. Weiss was charged with criminal possession of stolen property, a second degree felony. While the catalog recorded a provenance — or ownership history — dating to the 1960s for the Akragas decadrachm, the criminal complaint indicated that the other coin seized, a circa 405 to 403/2 B.C. silver tetradrachm of Katane in Sicily pedigreed to a private purchase in 2010, was “freshly dug” from the ground and, according to the criminal complaint filed against Weiss, the Italian government “never gave defendant or anyone permission, consent, or authority to remove said coin [from] the ground or to remove it from Italy.”

While some feared that the event would dampen the mood and scare bidders concerned with increasingly aggressive efforts by foreign countries to protect their cultural patrimony, participants in the auctions seemed unfazed.

Like in the U.S. market, bidders for ancient coins came prepared to establish record prices when necessary to acquire rare and beautiful coins. ¦

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