US Coins

Memorable events in Marketing double eagle treasures

The Joys of Collecting column from the Nov. 2, 2015, monthly issue of Coin World:

The United States double eagle is one of my favorite coin denominations.

In the Oct. 26 edition of my column, I told of the great surprise when in 1999 hundreds of Mint State $20 double eagles from the SS Brother Jonathan crossed the auction block. I was involved in this, and I and my son, Andrew (who now can be found at Stack’s Bowers Galleries at 123 W. 57th St., in New York City), went to Crescent City, Calif., and in mountainous seas — 10- to 12-foot-high waves, but not breaking at their tops — had gone out to the American Salvor earlier to watch the recovery operations. 

For the first time in numismatic history, a significant number of Mint State Type I double eagles — bearing the 1850 to 1866 No Motto design — were available at one time. Our sale was a smashing success. As coins have a way of doing, in the years since then, all have increased handsomely in value.

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I imagine that everyone can recite his or her pivotal experiences in numismatics. For me, having been at the game since I was a teenage dealer in 1953 and having attended more American Numismatic Association summer conventions than anyone else in history, my list of memorable events is a long one. It started on one day in 1952 when I called on Robert Rusbar, the tax collector in my hometown of Forty Fort, Pa., to see his collection of rocks and minerals, one of my collecting interests at the time. When we were finished with that he brought out an album of Lincoln cents. “Have you ever seen a penny worth ten dollars?” Of course, I hadn’t. I held his precious 1909-S Lincoln, V.D.B. cent in my hand, and an hour or two later departed with two Whitman folders he gave me — one for cents from 1909 to 1940 and the other for 1941 to date. The rest is history, at least for me. 

The early years of my dealership, part-time while I was in high school and, later, at Penn State, evoke many fine memories of double eagles, including the very first such coin I obtained — a Very Fine 1855-S coin. Such a coin is of no account today in 2015, but it was the first time I ever held one in my hand — evoking history straight from the Gold Rush. 

In the 1950s and early 1960s, I bought and sold $20 coins regularly, usually the scarcer dates and Mint marks rather than bulk quantities. The 1907 Saint-Gaudens, High Relief coin was a favorite, with nice examples selling for a couple hundred dollars each or so, with the price rising steadily. One day in 1960, Yale University contacted Empire Coin Co., the firm Jim Ruddy and I conducted, to state that it was seeking to sell an example of the 1907 Saint-Gaudens, Ultra High Relief double eagle, one of fewer than two dozen struck, considered to be among America’s greatest rarities.

Our offer was $18,000, about equal to that year’s A Guide Book of United States Coins retail price listing. After a brief exchange of comments, the coin was ours. Today in 2015, $1,800,000 would be the more likely price for the coin!

These and other memories bring me to 1999 — the year we sold the Brother Jonathan coins. By that time, the vast treasure recovered by Bob Evans and others from the long-lost wreck of the SS Central America had made news for years here in Coin World. Many stories were about the protracted claims coming in from all directions, lawsuits, and more. Finally, in 1999 Dwight Manley formed the California Gold Marketing Group and arranged to buy en bloc from the finders over 92 percent of the greatest gold treasure ever found! The rest went to settle legal claims.

I was invited to have a small share in the company. Next column: Excitement prevailed as I helped market thousands of Mint State 1857-S double eagles and hundreds of gold bars! 

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