US Coins

Don Willis Collection of Colonial coins in auction

The official auctions of the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money — held Aug. 1 to 5 in Denver — offered something for virtually every collector. 

Perhaps more than any sales held during the year, the summer ANA auctions present a mix of carefully assembled collections and individual delicacies. Two of these collections offered represent the spectrum of offerings at the 2017 ANA auctions, where fascinating items don’t necessarily need to be the most expensive. Highlights from one collection are reviewed here.

Lessons learned from Enhanced Uncirculated Coin set release”The fallout from the Enhanced Uncirculated Coin set release: Another column in the August 21 weekly issue of Coin World reveals that while forms of numismatic literature like fixed-price lists were meant to be fleeting, they can actually be quite useful.

Heritage offered the Don Willis Collection of U.S. Colonial Coinage as part of its Platinum Night sale on Aug. 2. Willis is president of Professional Coin Grading Service and the offered set was the current #2 Registry Set in the category of “Finest Early American Coins and Tokens Complete Design Set (1916-1820).”

Willis said, “When I started collecting Colonials I bought the highest grade I could find. Then I realized that an uncirculated Colonial did not represent what really intrigued me. I wanted coins that may have been handled up to a quarter century ago.” His shift in interest led him to sell his Uncirculated coins to focus on choice, original About Uncirculated coins. 

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Leading off the auction of Willis’s collection was an undated (1652) New England shilling graded Extremely Fine 45 by PCGS and bearing a green Certified Acceptance Corporation sticker. The design, shared by three denominations, is primitive, or alternately, minimalist, depending on one’s aesthetic viewpoint. One side is punched NE while the denomination — either III (threepence), VI (sixpence) or XII (shilling) — is punched on the other side. The two design elements are positioned at the top of one side and the bottom of the other side so the punches wouldn’t interfere with one another. 

While the exact numbers struck are unknown, these early Massachusetts silver issues were produced in some quantity. 

Six distinct die varieties are known of the shilling, with three NE punches and three XII punches used. The offered example — listed as Noe 1-A in the series reference — is the most common of the varieties. As Heritage reports, “Nearly half of the existing population of Noe 1-A New England shillings will be found in museums, including three examples in the British Museum, and one each in the Hunterian Museum (Glasgow), the Smithsonian Institution, the American Numismatic Society, and the Colonial Williamsburg Collection.” 

The $164,500 that the Willis coin brought on Aug. 2 is a bit more than the $152,750 that it sold for when offered as part of Stack’s Bowers’ offering of the Henry P. Kendall Foundation’s collection in 2015 where it was described as “a picturesque piece of ancient Americana.” 

More unusual was a 1783 Georgivs Triumpho token graded EF-45 and bearing a green CAC sticker that sold for $1,762.50. It shows a vertical die crack on the reverse — consistent with most known examples. The token also has a reverse motif that has defied exact explanation. 

Walter Breen believed the box on the reverse depicts a weaving frame while other research connects the issue with the launch of the first hot air balloon in France in September 1783. That balloon successfully hoisted a sheep, duck and rooster for less than 15 minutes before it crashed to the ground. The idea that the seated figure might depict a seated Britannia in a hot air balloon basket is certainly whimsical, though like many elements of early American numismatics, the exact story is likely lost to history.

These tokens saw circulation in Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina, and, in contrast to most George Washington tokens dated in the 1780s, these were actually struck during that decade, and many were later used as host planchets for New Jersey coppers. As Heritage once noted in a description for a comparable example, “The portrait resembles Washington less than another famous George from the era, King George III, perhaps because a bust or painting of Washington was not available to the engraver.”

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