US Coins

Some gold and a discovery highlight Clars sale

A 1909-O Indian Head gold $5 half eagle sold for $45,375 at Clars Auction Gallery’s June 18 sale in Oakland, Calif. However, one of the most interesting lots was a rare Baldwin and Co. pioneer gold coin that was described rather generically and given an estimate that was far below its actual value.

While the Numismatic Guaranty Corp. Mint State 62 1909-O Indian Head gold $5 half eagle fell short of its estimate of $50,000 to $100,000, it was still one of the highest priced lots in the auction that contained 46 numismatic lots among a wide variety of art, jewelry and antiques. 

The 1909-O Indian Head half eagle saw a small mintage of 34,200 and represents the final gold coin production at the New Orleans Mint. It is also the sole Indian Head half eagle produced at the New Orleans facility, with no Indian Head gold $2.50 quarter eagles struck there.

Most known examples are lightly circulated. It is scarce in MS-62 and rare in finer grades.

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Also offered was an 1876-CC Coronet gold $20 double eagle graded About Uncirculated 58 by NGC that sold for a bid of $6,000 — or $7,260 with the 21 percent buyer’s fee — against an estimate of $7,000 to $10,000. Carson City Mint gold double eagles enjoy a broad popularity with collectors since the facility brings up visions of the Old West and mining history.

Baldwin & Co. Discovery

There were also discoveries to be made. An uncertified gold coin simply labeled as an “1850 $5 Marked XF Liberty Head Gold U.S.” had a modest estimate of $500 to $700, but Liberty’s coronet said BALDWIN rather than the expected LIBERTY, and the reverse stated CALIFORNIA GOLD around the eagle’s outstretched wings. The gold coin — which looks similar to a regular issue contemporary Coronet $5 type — was produced by the private minter Baldwin & Co. and the $5 piece is rare. The circulated pioneer gold coin sold for $12,100. It was sold uncertified, so its authenticity as a Baldwin & Co. piece, as well as its grade, has not been confirmed.

Fake 1902 Morgan dollar circulatesUnravel the mystery of die trails: Another column in the July 17 Coin World takes a look at some ‘heavy hitting’ double die discoveries

Baldwin & Co. was one of several private minters who produced gold coins in the western parts of the country after the discovery of gold in California. The firm focused on producing gold coins in the $5, $10 and $20 denominations.

In March 1851 Augustus Humbert of the United States Assay Office found that the $5 half eagles produced by Baldwin & Co. contained less gold than their face value purported — $4.91 rather than $5.

As Heritage wrote in the description for an MS-61 example that sold for $82,250 in 2014, “The assay was undertaken at the request of journalist James King of William, who was also a rival of Baldwin & Co. in the private coinage business and obviously had an axe to grind in the affair.” Heritage added, “Baldwin claimed there was a plot by competitors to discredit his coins, and a later assay at the Philadelphia Mint was much more favorable in its findings, but there was an immediate backlash in the local press, and the public lost all confidence in the Baldwin & Co. coinage. Baldwin was forced to flee the territory in the face of this public outrage, and greedy merchants only accepted his coins at a steep discount, to be profitably turned in for recoinage at the Assay Office. By December of 1851, few Baldwin & Co. coins were still in circulation.”

Among the more modern offerings in the Clars Auction Gallery sale was a lot consisting of two unopened boxes of 2012 American Eagle silver bullion coins, with each box containing 500 coins and still sealed with the San Francisco Mint tape. American Eagle silver bullion coins don’t carry a Mint mark, but grading services will attribute the San Francisco Mint mark when boxes are sealed, placing the Mint mark in a parentheses on the label. The lot, consisting of 1,000 2012 (S) silver American Eagles, realized $20,570.

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