First auctions of 2017 include some of the first coins of the U.S. Mint

All eyes in the coin hobby will be watching Heritage’s FUN auctions in Fort Lauderdale
By , Coin World
Published : 12/27/16
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All eyes in the coin hobby will be watching Heritage’s auctions in Fort Lauderdale between Jan. 4 and 9, held in conjunction with the Florida United Numismatists 2017 convention Jan. 5 to 8. 

The firm will offer 18 featured collections included this year in the U.S. coin auctions, along with hundreds of other consignments from collectors and dealers. Two additional Heritage auctions featuring U.S. and world paper money are also scheduled for the convention.

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The FUN auctions are important because they are the first auctions of the year and set the tone for the rare coin market. Also, they are massive, with this year’s sales offering more than 8,000 lots. Among the offerings are dozens of important rarities along with thousands of the more bread-and-butter type coins that make up the majority of transactions in the rare coin market. 

Top lots include one of just 10 1884 Trade dollars — this one in Proof 63 — alongside a Mint State 66 1792 half disme pattern. There isn’t an obvious seven-figure star this year as in previous FUN auctions, but the depth of the sale is impressive and here are some key issues to keep track of. 

Early Mint issues

Among the early issues from the first years of the Philadelphia Mint to be offered at Heritage’s Jan. 5 Platinum Night auction is a 1794 Flowing Hair dollar graded Extremely Fine 40 by Professional Coin Grading Service. Approximately 140 examples of this always-popular dollar are known. The issue has been heavily studied, with a 2010 book detailing each of the 137 examples then-known. Since the publication of that book several other examples have emerged.

This particular example is gener­ally problem-free, with Heritage observing, “Dappled gold and iridescent toning resides on lovely pewter-gray surfaces with radial adjustment marks extending inward from the obverse border from about 5 o’clock, clockwise to 12 o’clock.” 

As these early silver dollars were individually struck on screw presses at the early Philadelphia Mint, examples usually have striking irregularities and this example is no exception. Heritage notes that, on the subject coin, “The adjustment marks and press settings created strike weakness at the left side, although use of a glass will reveal that every star is still visible. The reverse border has a trivial planchet flaw at 2 o’clock that makes a convenient pedigree identifier.”

The pedigree includes a century in the collection of Walter Henry Childs and his descendants. When Bowers and Merena sold the collection in 1999, it sold for a relatively modest $59,800. Hobby legend Ken Bressett recalled at that 1999 auction that he was asked by the family to catalog, grade and appraise the holdings. He said, “I cannot forget his asking why the 1794 dollar was in worn condition while all the others were so nice. Actually it was in relatively high grade, but it just seemed to pale alongside the many other superb pieces.” 

Another early highlight is a 1792 Silver Center cent pattern, considered to be the first issue struck at the U.S. Mint, graded Very Fine 30 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. It represents an experiment by the early Philadelphia Mint to create a coin having an intrinsic value of one cent, by using smaller copper planchet with a silver plug. The idea proved impractical for mass production. 

Heritage writes, “A limited mintage of Silver Center cents was produced in December of 1792 to demonstrate the design to President Washington and the Congressional committee charged with amending the Mint Act of 1792 in regard to the copper coinage.” Today just 14 examples are known of the curious issue. 

The one offered at FUN Platinum Night traces its ownership history back to the Joseph J. Mickley Collection, sold by W. Elliot Woodward in October 1867. It’s had more than a dozen owners since then and was last offered publicly at Heritage’s August 2012 Philadelphia Signature Auction where it sold for $305,500. 

On its preservation, Heritage thinks it may be finer than the assigned grade, writing, “In our opinion, this coin is close to XF overall, with the devices on each side well-centered on the flan. The upper right reverse shows some slight evidence of corrosion, and there two distinguishing planchet voids in the obverse fields, one before Liberty’s face and the other at the base of the second E in SCIENCE.” 

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