US Coins

A few coins with stories to share: highlights of CSNS auction

At major auctions like the recently concluded sales held by Heritage in conjunction with the Central States Numismatic Society convention in Schaumburg, Ill., at the end of April, some coins are expensive and easy to discover and write about.

For this sale, it was a terrific collection of Mint State Morgan silver dollars and a stellar collection of pioneer gold coins. Both of these collections were profiled in the May 19 issue of Coin World.

But major sales have many more coins — often very expensive ones — that have their own unique stories to tell and provide useful teaching lessons. 

Here are three of my favorites. 

Undated (1670 to 1675) St. Patrick halfpenny, Very Fine 20, $1,997.50

Colonial coins are challenging to many newer collectors because they’re subject to odd striking characteristics and often come on less than perfect planchets. Due to the varying manufacturing quality and eye appeal, prices can be all over the place. 

This St. Patrick halfpenny is undated, but dates from 1670 to 1675 and is listed in A Guide Book of United States Coins. It’s typically associated with Mark Newby, who came to America from Dublin, Ireland, in 1681 with a supply of copper coins in farthing and halfpenny denominations. 

This halfpenny features a brass “splasher” on the crown that was likely an early anticounterfeiting device. It serves an aesthetic second purpose as well, providing a rich golden accent on the crown. 

This Very Fine 20 example also has a Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker, indicating quality within the grade. It sold for nearly $2,000, in large part due to the strong eye appeal. Much less attractive, well-worn examples with problems like corrosion can be found for less than $100 with some searching.

1875 20-cent piece pattern, Proof 66 red, $19,975

Collectors of pattern coins love the stories behind them as much as the designs.

This 1875 pattern for a 20-cent coin features what J. Hewitt Judd called an “illogical steamship” in his book United States Pattern Coins, Experimental & Trial Pieces.

The ship is illogical because it’s in movement on water, and its auxiliary sails are billowing forward, while smoke from its stack drifts to the rear. In defying the laws of physics, the design is an amusing gaffe. 

The design is one of several distinct obverse designs on 20-cent piece patterns dated 1875. Another featured a Seated Liberty similar in appearance to the regular die and a third type featured William Barber’s left-facing bust of Liberty, sometimes nicknamed the “Sailor Head.”

The “illogical steamship” was also used on other denominations of pattern coins dated 1875, including silver dollars.

The discussed example was previously offered at Heritage’s January 2013 Florida United Numismatists auction where it sold for $25,850. It is the only example of the variety (Judd 1400) certified by a major grading service as having full red color.

1792 half disme, Very Fine Details, $18,212.50

One of this writer’s favorite coins offered at the auction was this 1792 silver half disme pattern, Judd 7, graded by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. as Very Fine details, plugged, scratches.

The firm described the piece as “well-traveled” and the years haven’t been particularly kind to Liberty’s features.

Liberty already looks stern on problem-free examples of this type. But here, perhaps accountable to the fact that the coin was holed and then repaired, Liberty’s taken on a mean, almost aggressive expression. The result is rather charming, considering the problems, transforming the pattern into something closer to folk art.

Research by Len Augsburger, Joel J. Orosz and Pete Smith has confirmed that all of the known pieces were struck from the same obverse die. Estimates suggest that perhaps 300 or so survivors remain from an original mintage of between 1,500 and 2,000 pieces. 

The offered example brought $18,212.50, with 13 separate bidders who looked past the crude repairs and perhaps also found the coin to be charming.

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