California collector Max Lebow is turning cherrypicking into a fine
Lebow’s latest reported acquisition is an 1841-O Seated
Liberty, Small O, Closed Bud dime he purchased a few months ago on
eBay for $99 using the “Buy It Now” option. After carefully removing
dirt and verdigris coating the coin, he submitted the coin for
certification to Professional Coin Grading Service, which graded it
Extremely Fine 40.
The coin, according to Seated Liberty dime
expert Gerry Fortin, is worth between $10,000 and $15,000. Fortin has
the variety listed in his Top 100 Varieties Pricing Guide (found
online at www.seateddimevarieties.com).
Lebow said during an
Aug. 27 interview with Coin World that he plans to resubmit the coin
to PCGS and have it re-encapsulated with the variety attribution. He
has no current plans to sell it.
Lebow posted his find Aug. 25
on the online U.S. Coin Forum on the PCGS Message Boards. He actually
purchased the coin about five months ago. He said it was a spur of the
moment decision to post the find on the forum, having just learned how
to post images.
Cherrypicking is the practice of a hobbyist
applying extensive numismatic knowledge in searching for and
identifying a rare variety, and securing it for the price of a common
variety of the same date and Mint mark, for which it has been
Lebow, 60, who says he’s been collecting coins for
more than 50 years, uses collecting as a welcome, relaxing
“distraction” from his hectic career pace as medical director for a
busy emergency medicine clinic.
While variety collecting may
seem pressure-packed in its own right, Lebow says he relishes the
“The reason I like varieties is for the same reason
that we liked going through bank rolls when we were kids,” Lebow said.
“It’s really a related but somewhat different process than doing a
collection by date because that process is simple compared to looking
“At any one time, with the 4,000+ Seated dimes
that are listed on eBay, along with another several hundred that are
on the Internet in dealer stock and upcoming auctions, there are
probably 5,000 Seated dimes to go through at any particular
“It’s this process of hunting through lots of material to
find that one special coin that makes it so interesting.”
Taking a chance
The 1841-O Seated Liberty, Small O, Closed Bud
dime was identified in the eBay auction from which Lebow purchased it
as a common 1841-O dime variety.
The coin had only been posted
on the online auction site for a few hours when Lebow stumbled upon
Despite the coin’s dark appearance from encrusted
matter that coated its surfaces, Lebow said he was still able to
identify the variety from the reverse, showing the closed bud on
wreath closest to the N in UNITED. He also spotted the Small O Mint
mark from the New Orleans Mint.
The coin exhibits some weakness
in the details and has what resembles corrosion on the right side of
the reverse; the variety is known for having been struck with corroded
dies, Lebow said.
A large bulge appears in the middle of the
coin, with corresponding weakness on the obverse around the shield,
Brian Greer, in his 1992 reference, The Complete
Guide to Liberty Seated Dimes, writes that all the 1841-O Seated
Liberty, Small O, Closed Bud dimes he has examined exhibit the bulge
and weakness in details, as struck.
Once Lebow took possession
of the coin, he said, he began the laborious process of carefully
removing the surface contamination in hopes of submitting the coin to
PCGS for certification.
Lebow said the coin was extremely dark
and “ugly.” What he thought was hard rust actually had a slimy texture
with tinges of black, orange and green hues.
He was initially
able to remove some of the contamination by holding the coin under
running tap water, followed by immersion in acetone and a tap water
rinse before patting dry.
Lebow said he had once read about
collectors and dealers removing built-up verdigris on a coin by
immersing the coin in olive oil to loosen the material.
put the coin in olive oil that he had poured into a cap from a soft
drink bottle. It didn’t take long, he said, for the contaminants to
separate from the coin’s surfaces in a sheet.
The coin was then
rinsed again under running tap water to remove the olive oil and then
The coin has since retoned to an overall gray
color. He said the dime exhibits areas of Mint luster.
He estimates he has been vigorously
collecting Seated Liberty dime varieties for the past 15 years.
The vigor with which Lebow searches for and collects varieties of
Seated Liberty dimes has evolved from his fascination with a hobby he
first met as a youngster growing up in West Virginia.
said he was introduced to the hobby during a trip to a local toy store
that happened to stock blue Whitman coin folders. Lebow said his
parents purchased him a folder for Winged Liberty Head dimes while his
younger brother received a folder for collecting Lincoln cents.
While he was hooked on coins, Lebow said his brother didn’t share the
same collecting passion.
Lebow said he never lost his
connection to numismatics despite college and medical school in West
Virginia, additional medical training in New Orleans, and a career
move that took him to Southern California.
became a focus of his collecting habits before PCGS entered the world
of coin certification in 1986, Lebow said. Lebow began spending more
money on his coin collection, continually upgrading coins with
PCGS-certified coins already graded, or submitting coins through a
Lebow managed to assemble an almost
complete collection of certified Indian Head 5-cent coins with full
horns on the bison.
While attending one of the Long Beach
(Calif.) Coin, Stamp and Collectible Expo shows in 1988 in search of
another series to collect, Lebow picked up a copy of Kamal M. Ahwash’s
Encyclopedia of United States Liberty Seated Dimes and was immediately
intrigued. Four years later, Lebow picked up a copy of Greer’s newly
Yet another four years would pass, until 1996,
when Lebow would buy his first Seated Liberty dime — an 1846 dime in
The 1841-O Seated Liberty, Small O, Closed Bud dime was
not listed in Ahwash’s reference. Greer attributed the variety in his
1992 reference as Greer 101.
The Mint introduced new obverse
and reverse hubs in 1840, each showing minute changes from the
On the obverse, additional drapery was added
along Liberty’s arm. On the new reverse, slits were placed at the tips
of the buds in the wreath, leading collectors to call it the Open Bud
However, reverse dies from the old hub remained in use
during a transitional period that extended into 1841, resulting in the
die marriage on Lebow’s dime (a combination of the new With Drapery
obverse design of 1840 and the old Closed Bud reverse design).
Fortin attributes the variety on his website as Fortin 102. It is a
pairing of Obverse 1 with Reverse B. According to Fortin, Reverse B,
with the Small O Mint mark, represents the second leftover Closed Bud
Reverse die from 1840, creating an 1841 transitional variety.
According to Fortin: “The last known Reverse B die state was
previously documented within the description of the 1840-O Variety 107
listing. When Reverse B is paired with Obverse 1 of 1841, die erosion
is pronounced and visible behind (UNIT)ED and AME(RICA).
“Well-circulated examples of this variety can be found with Reverse B
showing excessive wear in the center of the reverse due to a die
bulge. The 1841-O Small O Closed Bud variety is considered to be a
very scarce transitional variety with nearly all known examples
grading Good through Fine and many with problems.
1841-O Large and Small O transitional Closed Bud dimes are key coins
in the Top 100 Liberty Seated Dime Variety set.”
Since he began
collecting Seated Liberty dime varieties, Lebow has managed to
cherrypick a number of other scarce varieties worth more than what he
paid for them.
➤ An 1873 Seated Liberty, With Arrows, Doubled Die Obverse dime,
Fortin 103. The coin was offered on a dealer’s website and
encapsulated by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. with a grade of About
Uncirculated 53. Lebow bought it for $135 and crossed it over into a
PCGS AU-50 holder. Its estimated value is $2,000.
➤ An 1872 Seated Liberty, Doubled Die Reverse dime, Fortin 105.
Purchased at auction for $300 housed in an NGC holder and graded Mint
State 63, the coin was crossed over into a PCGS MS-63 holder. The coin
is currently valued at approximately $1,800.
➤ An 1874 Seated Liberty, With Arrows, Missing Right Arrow dime,
Fortin 114. Purchased on eBay for $50. Certified PCGS Very Fine 25 and
stickered by Certified Acceptance Corp. Fortin estimates the coin’s
current value at between $400 and $500.
➤ An 1890-S Seated Liberty dime, Fortin 112, obverse scratch, PCGS
Genuine. Only the third example known of this variety. Cherrypicked on
eBay early in 2012 for $85. Fortin estimates the variety’s current
value at $1,500.
Lebow credits Fortin with helping to maintain his enthusiasm for
collecting Seated Liberty dime varieties.
PCGS-certified collection of Seated Liberty dimes is number one on the
PCGS Set Registry for both Liberty Seated Dimes Complete Variety Set,
Circulation Strikes (1837-1891) and Liberty Seated Dimes Complete
Variety Set and 1873-CC No Arrows, Circulation Strikes (1837-1891) categories.
Lebow’s PCGS-certified Beach Seated Dime Variety Set is number two
in both categories.
And Lebow says he’s comfortable having it remain that way. ■