US Coins

Gold headlines the Long Beach sales

The Long Beach Coin, Currency, Stamp and Sports Collectible show is set for the Long Beach Convention Center Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 with Heritage hosting the official auctions at the show. 

Several additional auctioneers will be taking advantage of the presence of dealers and collectors gathering in California and will be hosting “pre-sales,” including Ira and Larry Goldberg Auctioneers, Bonhams and Legend Rare Coin Auctions. As usual, gold coins are among the highlights of these auctions.

Heritage will offer an essentially perfect 1864 Indian Head gold dollar as part of its Premier Session at its Jan. 30 to Feb. 4 Long Beach auctions that is tied with several others as the finest known by date, type and series. Demand fell for the small-sized dollar during the Civil War and just 5,900 gold dollars were struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 1864. The tiny diameter of barely 15 millimeters and the weight of 1.67 grams made these dollars easy to lose in day-to-day commerce, so instead, many were sent overseas en masse to satisfy trade obligations. 

Proof 1963 Roosevelt dimeInside Coin World: Readers report doubled die, repunched Mint mark finds: We preview content exclusive to the Jan. 21 print and digital editions of Coin World, including reader discoveries (like a Proof 1963 Roosevelt dime with a doubled die reverse) in the monthly column “Varieties Notebook.”

As Heritage explains, “virtually none circulated, so today — although rare in all conditions — a proportionately large percentage of surviving 1864 gold dollars are in Uncirculated condition.” The subject coin is graded Mint State 69 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. and is joined by another survivor similarly graded by Professional Coin Grading Service as the finest-known for the date. Just 19 MS-69 gold dollars are graded in the entire series, of any date, with none finer. 

The coin in the Heritage auction was formerly in the collection of celebrated gold expert David Akers and offered as part of Heritage’s sale of the David and Sharron Akers Collection at the January 2014 Florida United Numismatists convention where it sold for $58,750. At that sale it was described as “exceptional for its gorgeous reddish-gold and lilac color, semiprooflike fields, cameo contrast, and vibrant mint luster.” 

The current description observes, “The strike demonstrates pinpoint sharpness in all aspects, including the few faint remnants of die clashing that appear solely on the obverse around Liberty’s headdress and, to a lesser extent, on Liberty’s frosted portrait.” To distinguish Mint-made aspects from post-striking damage, the description further notes, “Several raised dots near Liberty’s ear may be signs of die rust or improperly annealed dies.” 

A very peculiar mountain

Bonhams will host an auction of coins and medals on Jan. 28 in Los Angeles and of interest to Western gold specialists is an 1860 Clark, Gruber & Co. gold $20 piece that was privately struck by the Denver firm. The obverse displays a charmingly isolated, stylized depiction of Pikes Peak while the reverse is an interpretation of the eagle on contemporary gold $10 eagles. 

As Heritage wrote in the offering of another example graded Extremely Fine 45 by PCGS that sold for $305,500 at its 2014 Central States Numismatic Society auction, “The design of the coin is a fanciful pyramidal structure with trees at the base and DENVER just beneath, supposedly a depiction of Pike’s Peak but in reality resembling the mountain not at all.”

Clark, Gruber & Co. opened in the summer of 1860 and became the most successful private coiner in Colorado, striking quantities of quarter eagles, half eagles, eagles, and double eagles in 1860 and 1861, along with gold assayer’s bars or ingots in 1862.

The offered coin is graded PCGS Genuine, Tooled, Repaired and Cleaned, and carries an estimate of $90,000 to $110,000. It is listed on page 410 of the 2019 “Red Book” and is listed as Kagin 4 in Don Kagin’s book Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States. It is an important and rare example of the famed Pikes Peak design, representing the largest denomination struck by the coiner. The firm struck $120,000 in coins between July and October 1860, but discovered that its 1860-dated issues did not wear well. Bonhams writes, “Accordingly, its redesigned issues dated 1861 (coined through 1862) contained a little extra alloy in the interest of durability, but their gold content remained at 1% over the federal standard so that nobody could accuse the firm of debasement or other dishonesty.”

The catalog entry records light golden-green color and sharp details and provides a details grade of Very Fine to Extremely Fine, adding, however, “Unfortunately, the fields have been tooled and smoothed in an attempt to remove some marks on each side, and the surfaces were subsequently cleaned. Each side now presents a somewhat muted finish with considerable evidence of smoothing to help explain the stated qualifiers; several small marks in the upper left obverse field and are also mentioned for accuracy.” The damage makes it a more affordable example of this rarity that may otherwise be unobtainable to a collector. 

Big shipwreck treasure

A mass of gold rescued from a famed shipwreck stars in the Goldbergs’ Pre-Long Beach auctions in Los Angeles taking place from Jan. 27 to 30. On Jan. 28 the firm will present a huge Kellogg & Humbert Assayers gold bar, marked as .896 fine, 85.35 ounces, $1580.85, and numbered as bar 826. It is plated in Q. David Bowers’ 2002 book A California Gold Rush History, which features the treasure from the SS Central America, from which this bar was recovered. 

The SS Central America was a sidewheel steamer that operated between Central America and the United States in the 1850s before it sank in the Atlantic Ocean in September 1857. Today well-known as the “Ship of Gold” thanks to shrewd branding, the SS Central America carried more than 30,000 pounds of gold — which some estimate to be worth more approximately $300 million in today’s dollars. The shipwreck was located by Tommy Thompson’s Columbus-America Discovery Group of Ohio in 1988. After a prolonged legal battle, most of the gold was awarded to the discovery team, and recovery at the site continues, now led by Odyssey Marine Exploration. 

Kellogg & Humbert were successful assayers, pairing John G. Kellogg and Augustus Humbert. The firm formed in April 1855 and continued through 1860, with the name well-known to numismatists through the gold $20 and $50 coins that they minted, along with the many Kellogg & Humbert gold ingots recovered from the SS Central America. Prior to the discovery of the shipwreck, few large stamped ingots survived from the era, due to the high intrinsic gold value, which meant they were very expensive to hold onto. Many of the recovered ingots from the first-round of exploration at the wreck site were auctioned by Christie’s in New York on Dec. 14, 2000, and with the smallest ingots realizing higher premiums over their gold value than massive ones.  

The offered bar was previously sold at Heritage’s 2007 auction in Orlando, Florida, where it realized $115,000. Heritage cited Thompson’s initial impressions of the discovery where he described the effect of seeing the gold on the ocean floor: “At first we thought we were looking at bricks, but as the beams were adjusted, the color came out. Suddenly, the same monitors that had revealed nothing but colorless ocean terrain for weeks now appeared to be painted a brilliant gold. These weren’t bricks, but ingots, ingots everywhere ... stacked on the bottom like brownies ... stacked like loaves of bread ... spectacular gold bridges of gold ingots piled on top of timbers and spread over the ocean floor. Then, a little farther along, we found piles of coins, heaped in towers and seemingly spilling into frozen waterfalls. The coins in this part of the shipwreck, which we named the ‘Garden of Gold,’ were spread amid the wreckage, stretching beyond Nemo’s lights into the blackness of the sea.” 

Two assay cuts are observed on opposing corners of the bar. It is housed in a custom clear plastic holder, and carries an estimate of $200,000 and up. The Goldberg’s cataloger summed up the appeal of the large, bright yellow bar with deep red patina in the center of the back side, calling it “a great numismatic item owing to its connection with Kellogg & Humbert assayers and coining office, and an even greater treasure piece, representing as it does a souvenir of the most illustrious treasure ever salvaged from the Davy Jones’ Locker depths.”

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