US Coins

Double the fun with two 1885 double eagles

All eyes will be on Heritage’s April 25 Platinum Night auction at the Central States Numismatic Society’s 80th annual convention in suburban Chicago, April 24 to 27. 

A 1792 Silver Center cent pattern graded Specimen 35 by Professional Coin Grading Service elicits high expectations, selling recently at Heritage’s 2016 American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money Platinum Night auction where it brought $352,500. 

Joining this in Schaumburg is a 1792 disme pattern struck in copper with a reeded edge graded Specimen 25 by PCGS. It was previously offered at Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ 2016 ANA auction, where it did not meet its reserve, and before that brought $211,500 at its February 2014 Americana Auction. 

Coin Shop LotteryInside Coin World: New column, ‘Coin Shop Lottery,’ makes its debut: A new column makes its debut, and we look at a medal containing metal flown into space and explore a token with links to riots in Great Britain in the 1790s, all only in the April 22 “Coin World.”

The two patterns are listed as Judd 1 and Judd 10 respectively in J. Hewitt Judd’s book United States Pattern, Experimental and Trial Pieces.

1885 gold double eagles

The offering of any 1885 Coronet gold $20 double eagle is a highlight — but having two in one auction is very unusual. Just 751 strikes were produced for circulation, and most served their purpose, so the PCGS Mint State 61 example offered at CSNS is unusually nice. Heritage explains that, in the 1880s, the double eagle denomination circulated most frequently in Europe and Latin America, serving both in currency reserves and for settling large accounts in foreign trade. The Bland-Allison Act of 1878 favored production of silver dollars at the expense of large-denomination gold coins, so double eagle production in the 1880s was sparse. Perhaps 100 survive in all grades. 

There were also 77 Proof 1885 double eagles struck for collectors, of which only 20 or so remain today. Heritage explains, “Because most 19th century collectors preferred to update their collections by purchasing Proofs every year, few of the business strikes were saved for numismatic purposes.” Grading service population reports confirm that Uncirculated survivors are rare, with PCGS recording just three in MS-61 with six finer: four in MS-62 and two in MS-63. Consistent with the grade, the lot description records occasional minor contact marks, but sharply detailed design elements with some nice prooflike contrast. Heritage’s last offering of an MS-61 example was back in 2012 where one sold for $70,500. More recently, a PCGS MS-62 piece realized $82,250 at a Stack’s Bowers auction in 2014. 

Collectors with a more limited budget might be drawn to another example in the auction, graded PCGS Genuine, About Uncirculated Details, Harshly Cleaned. Heritage writes that PCGS’s assessment may be itself a bit harsh, since, “the in-hand appearance only suggests that the coin was cleaned.” The catalog states, “under a loupe, dense hairlines appear as well as numerous tiny marks. The medium-gold surfaces are bright, yet they retain solid About Uncirculated sharpness and considerable visual appeal. We note a small mark on the bridge of Liberty’s nose and another near star 13.” Grading services will use the term “Harshly Cleaned” when the effect of the cleaning has a particularly negative impact on a coin’s eye appeal. 

Heritage offered a different representative graded PCGS Genuine, AU Details, Altered Surfaces, at its 2018 CSNS auction, where the unnaturally bright double eagle realized $54,000. With this comparable, it will be interesting to see how the market responds to the subject offering. 

Standout half dollars

The Jim O’Neal Collection of early half dollars contains several standouts, including an 1805/4 Draped Bust half dollar graded MS-65 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. carrying a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker. The Overton 101 variety has an illustrious provenance. It was part of the estate of “Colonel” E.H.R. Green and subsequently purchased by Eric P. Newman for $40. When it was offered at Heritage’s Part II auction of the Newman collection it brought $152,750, and it sold again shortly after, in Heritage’s August 2014 sale of the Oliver Jung Collection, realizing $152,945. 

No half dollars were struck dated 1804, although dies were created with the date. The prominent overdate was the result of the Philadelphia Mint in 1805 repurposing two obverse dies already created with the 1804 date. Dealer B. Max Mehl — ever the promoter — tried to link the issue with the legendarily rare 1804 Draped Bust dollar when he said an 1805/4 half dollar was “the closest a collector could come to an 1804 half dollar.” 

On its appearance Heritage writes, “This amazing Gem displays brilliant-silver mint luster that shines through deep golden-brown and iridescent toning on each side. The strike is exceptionally sharp and the surfaces are splendid, with only a few inconsequential handling marks.” 

Possible branch Mint Proof

An 1892-O Barber half dollar graded Specimen 66 by NGC with an NGC Star is an impressive survivor from a group of New Orleans Mint Barber halves that have been long identified as possible branch Mint Proofs. While official documentation is lacking that would firmly establish New Orleans Mint Proof half dollars, Q. David Bowers wrote when discussing another exceptional 1892-O half dollar from the collection of Louis Eliasberg, “It is not difficult to envision a scenario in which on the first day of striking this new design at the New Orleans Mint some special pieces were made for presentation.”

In absence of contemporary documentation, the coin’s quality speaks to its Specimen status. Heritage writes, “This example was clearly minted with great care. The planchet was undoubtedly polished to a highly mirrored finish, and the dies also show some evidence of polishing or special preparation. The nearly perfect strike shows weakness only at the junction of the right shield edge and the wing, and on the right (facing) claw and arrow feathers.” 

The cataloger adds, “The coin is brilliant throughout, and the absence of color makes the finish of this piece accessible to all who view it. The fields are deep and shimmer with mirrorlike intensity, once again unlike the finish on any Barber half except a proof. The devices are frosted and, in fact, a Cameo designation would easily be justified.” 

Other details favoring it being a branch Mint Proof include evidence of a double strike on a few reverse letters. Die cracks matching the other possible Proof 1892-O Barber half dollar from the Eliasberg sale indicate that the two coins were struck at the same time from the same die pair. The offered half dollar has a long history at CSNS auctions, being previously offered twice in the last decade. At Heritage’s 2009 CSNS auction it failed to meet its reserve of $95,000 and more recently at Heritage’s April 2013 Platinum Night auction it sold for $108,687.50.

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