US Coins

Market Analysis: 1799/8 Draped Bust dollar shows big changes

Sometimes coins get makeovers. But like celebrity plastic surgery, an “improvement” doesn’t  necessarily increase the overall aesthetic appeal.

A 1799/8 Draped Bust silver dollar graded Mint State 64+ by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. brought $102,000 at Heritage’s April 24 Central States Numismatic Society Platinum Night auction in Schaumburg, Ill. It is the sole finest graded of the BB-141 15 Stars Reverse variety as listed in the 1993 Bowers-Borckardt Silver Dollar Encyclopedia. Listed as a distinct variety in the “Red Book,” the underlying 8 is clearly visible beneath the second 9 in the date.

The reverse stars are organized with seven stars in the top row, joined by six in the second and two in the third, though the end stars in the top are largely hidden beneath enlarged clouds that Heritage believes were expanded by the engraver to fix his mistake, since all other reverses of Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagles show 13 stars.

The offered coin is the finest-known 1799/8 Draped Bust, 15 Stars dollar. Heritage observed, “Both sides of this spectacular Draped Bust dollar exhibit frosty mint luster beneath splashes of mottled blue, violet and golden patina. Hints of lime-green and strawberry-red patina are further apparent under magnification.&rdquo

When the same dollar sold at Heritage’s Nov. 15, 2013, auction featuring selections from the Eric P. Newman Collection, it carried the same grade by NGC, but was in a different holder with an entirely different aesthetic. The Newman catalog stated, “Both sides of this spectacular original silver dollar exhibit frosty white luster with splashes of navy-blue toning on the high points. Hints of lime-green and strawberry-red patina are virtually invisible without the aid of a magnifier.” Newman had purchased it for $35 from the collection of “Col.” E.H.R. Green, and six years ago the nearly brilliant dollar brought $141,000 in its first appearance in over 75 years.

One can only speculate on the toning in its current state. Was it removed from its slab after the buyer purchased it in 2013 and placed back in its original, sulfur-rich paper envelope that accompanied it in the Newman offering, where it was allowed to tone gradually? Was the toning more deliberate with the hope of it reaching a coveted MS-65 grade? Of course, coins can’t talk, but the newly colorful coin saw a serious reduction in value between 2013 and 2019, even though its NGC grade did not change.

The 2013 offering went unmentioned in 2019, but as the finest-known of the variety, it is obviously the same coin. Which “look” would you prefer?

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