Rare $99 dime variety may be worth thousands
- Published: Sep 1, 2013, 8 PM
California collector Max Lebow is turning cherrypicking into a fine art.
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 advertised.
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 challenge.
“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 for varieties.
“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 time.
“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 the listing.
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, Lebow said.
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.
Lebow 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 patted dry.
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.
Lebow 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.
Type collecting 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 PCGS-authorized dealer.
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 published book.
Yet another four years would pass, until 1996, when Lebow would buy his first Seated Liberty dime — an 1846 dime in EF-45.
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 previous hubs.
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 design.
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.
“Both the 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.
Fortin’s 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. ¦
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