US Coins

Heritage sale offers bidders rare gold coins in multiples

Good things came in multiples at Heritage’s Feb. 24 Premier Session auction in Dallas and leading the offerings was an 1879 Flowing Hair $4 pattern “Stella” graded Proof 65 Cameo by Numismatic Guaranty Co. that realized $184,500. Closely on its tail was another one — graded Proof 65 by NGC — that sold for $174,000.

The issue is legendary in the U.S. series as a pattern that is collected alongside regular issue coins by generations of well-heeled collectors. They were part of a proposal for a world trade coin and 425 of the 1879 Flowing Hair gold $4 patterns were recorded struck.

The proposal was unsuccessful and, as Heritage wrote, “It is nonetheless true that the stellas, along with the goloid dollars and the various metric coinage proposals, were flawed and unworkable. The stellas would only approximate, rather than exactly equal, the values of several well-established European gold coins; a proposition of doubtful value.”

On the more expensive of the two, Heritage noted, “The wonderfully preserved surfaces of this unusual experimental coin radiate bright yellow-gold color with deeply mirrored fields and sharply contrasting mint frost over the devices,” along with the typical striations across Liberty’s face seen on nearly all examples. It had last sold a decade earlier at Heritage’s 2011 Central States Numismatic Society auction, realizing $195,500.

The second one improved on the $161,000 it realized when previously offered at a 2009 Heritage auction. Along with the oft-seen striations, “A couple of shallow, undistracting indentations on Liberty’s cheek are noted, along with a few hair-thin scrapes in the field just above the date,” and, “unmentioned on the holder is the considerable cameo contrast visible over the yellow-gold surfaces.”

Six Pan-Pac $50 ‘slugs’

Also among the top lots were six 1915-S Panama-Pacific International Exposition gold $50 commemorative coins in both round and octagonal formats, of which, respectively, 483 and 645 of each were distributed.

A round type graded MS-65 by Professional Coin Grading Service topped the six offered, bringing $150,000. As expected for the grade, Heritage writes, “The fields are clean, and the only mentionable flaw is a slender horizontal pinscratch across the Minerva’s cheek and neck.” Another round example graded MS-64 by PCGS with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker sold for $122,022.

Q. David Bowers has called Robert Aitken’s design “one of the most elegant ever produced for any state of the Union,” with inspiration from the Great Seal of California. They were issued along with a commemorative silver half dollar, gold dollar and gold $2.50 quarter eagle, at the urging of dealer and raconteur Farran Zerbe alongside an exhibition to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal. Writing in his 1971 book Numismatic Art in America, curator and critic Cornelius Vermeule noted, “These coins were a tour de force, dated to be sure, but unusual enough in all respects to be worthy of what American numismatic art could achieve when creativity and Mint technique worked in unison.”

The finest of the four octagonal $50 “slugs” was graded MS-65 by NGC and sold for $138,000. Heritage wrote, “The present coin is a spectacular Gem, with sharply detailed design elements and impeccably preserved orange-gold surfaces. Vibrant mint luster is evident on both sides of this delightful specimen and the overall presentation is simply stunning.” Another one graded MS-64 by PCGS with a green CAC sticker sold for $105,000, trailed by another MS-64 PCGS example without a CAC sticker that brought $99,000 and an NGC MS-64 example that followed up at $87,000.

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