US Coins

GreatCollections to offer ‘blue chip’ coins in online auction of Catskill Collection

The poker term “blue chip” migrated early to stocks where it references shares that are considered to be a reliable, high value investment. The term has expanded to other types of collectibles where demand seems to be endless. This summer, GreatCollections is set to offer the Catskill Collection filled with numismatic “blue chips” like a 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar graded Very Fine 30 by Professional Coin Grading Service, and an array of always-popular rarities.

The 1794 Flowing Hair dollar is legendary as the first dollar struck at the Philadelphia Mint, and with only 1,758 issued and perhaps 150 survivors known today, any example is coveted. The Catskill Collection’s representative was offered in January 2009 at Heritage’s Florida United Numismatists auction in Orlando for $143,750. Ian Russell, founder of GreatCollections, expects it to bring more than $150,000 when the lot closes on July 12.

Its history traces back to the 19th century when it was in the collection of New England banker S. Benton Emery, passing through long-held family collections for nearly a century before selling for $19,800 at Bowers and Merena’s November 1984 offering of The Emery and Nichols Collection, where it was cataloged, in an era before widespread third-party grading, as Very Fine 20. The Bowers and Merena cataloger wrote, “The lovely appearance of this coin is far superior to most specimens of this date to be offered in recent years,” adding, “Surface marks, a problem which frequently plagues these large and heavy coins, are minimal,” before observing a few “rather insignificant” rim bruises. A swirl-like planchet irregularity, which Heritage called a “curved planchet flaw,” seen directly to the left of the lower hair curls identifies this example. GreatCollections praises its far better than average strike.

Most 1794 dollars have some type of striking deficiency. The 2009 Heritage description cited an early newspaper report on 1794 dollars in the New Hampshire Gazette which noted, “... the touches of the graver are too delicate, and there is a want of that boldness of execution which is necessary to durability and currency.” Heritage explains, “In 1794, there was no screw press large enough to adequately strike coins of this size in such a hard metal,” and, “To make matters worse, the coiners set up the dies unevenly in the press, so the already weak impression was especially soft on the left side of the coins.” A larger screw press was used for silver dollars in 1795, thus avoiding the often incomplete strikes seen on 1794 dollars. 

Always-popular Proofs

While technically a pattern, 1879 Flowing Hair $4 “Stella” issues have long been collected alongside regular-issue gold coins. The PCGS Proof 65 stunner closing on July 26 carries a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker, which recognizes its quality for the grade.

The suggested denomination name “stella” is reinforced by the five-pointed star on the reverse, giving the pattern its name. The pieces were part of an ill-fated attempt to create an international coin to trade alongside European trade coins. Patterns with the shared reverse were paired with two obverse Liberty types, in 1879 and 1880: Charles Barber’s Flowing Hair design and George Morgan’s Coiled Hair. Of these, the 1879 Flowing Hair gold examples are the most common, with perhaps 200 existing from a reported mintage of 425.

The Catskill Collection’s example was last offered at Heritage’s 2015 American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money auction in metropolitan Chicago, where it realized $205,625. Then Heritage observed, “This Gem Cameo proof has brilliant lemon-yellow surfaces with several splashes of copper-orange toning on each side,” noting, “Diagonal planchet striations are oriented down to the right on the obverse and up to the right on the reverse. These are seen to some degree on all known gold stellas, a result of the steps necessary to create the coins.”

An 1895 Morgan dollar graded PCGS Proof 67 Cameo also has a green CAC sticker, and while its mintage of 880 was comparable to other Proof Morgans of the era, it is legendary because of the absence of circulation strikings at the Philadelphia Mint that year. Many collectors look at an 1895 dollar as part of the set of regular issue Morgan dollars, despite its Proof status, which has made demand for examples in all grades insatiable. Because they have long been valued, they trade hands frequently and many have been subjected to improper cleaning or other attempts to “improve” the overall appearance, making the offered example especially desirable and among the finer known. 

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