US Coins

Market Analysis: Same grade, different prices

Two 1848 Coronet, CAL. gold $2.50 quarter eagles graded AU Details sold at Heritage on July 14. The coin at lower left, with a mount removed, brought $20,400, while the other, upper right, which was cleaned, realized $37,200.

Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Valuing coins with problems is all about balancing the positive and the negative, and is perhaps more challenging than valuing “straight-graded” issues. Take two 1848 Coronet, CAL. gold $2.50 quarter eagles, both graded About Uncirculated Details, that sold one after the other at Heritage’s July 14 Premier Session auction in Dallas.

The issue is popularly collected as the first U.S. commemorative coin. The issue celebrated the first delivery of the new gold to the East Coast; 1,389 pieces were reported struck from 230 ounces of gold sent to the U.S. Mint that was recovered as part of the California Gold Rush. The mark CAL. was stamped on the reverse above the eagle while the coins were in the die.

Today these are wildly popular. Around 150 survive with the “distinguishing mark on each” as was requested by Secretary of War William Marcy, who delivered the gold to Washington, D.C.

The first of the two offered was graded AU Details, Mount Removed by Numismatic Conservation Services, with glossy surfaces and a slightly discolored copper-toned area near the top of the obverse that indicates it was once mounted and used as jewelry. Not unappealing, it sold for $20,400 and is among the least expensive examples of the issue to sell in recent memory.

Carrying the same AU Details grade with a “cleaned” modifier by Numismatic Guaranty Co., another example with far greater eye appeal, sold for $37,200. It showed significantly more details in the eagle’s feathers and Liberty’s hair and only light wear. Heritage wrote, “The slightly granular orange-gold surfaces show scattered minor abrasions, with the luster somewhat muted by the noted cleaning,” but it certainly is an inoffensive example.

Of course the “cleaned” label on a coin can be subjective, since many times the line between market-acceptable conservation and a “cleaned” coin is thin.

NGC describes a cleaned coin as one that is not in its original state — “A coin exhibiting abrasive or chemical cleaning.” Professional Coin Grading Service interprets cleaning as surface damage due to any form of abrasive cleaning and explains, “This is perhaps the most frustrating of all the No Grades, because subtle cleaning is often difficult to detect in less-than-optimal grading conditions.”

When it comes to mounting and other more severe forms of damage, less subjectivity is required.

Still, the counterstamp on both examples is bold.

The offering of two “problem coins” in the same auction with the same AU Details grade serves as a reminder that eye appeal remains the most important component in valuing otherwise similarly details-graded coins. 
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