US Coins

Pogue IV auction tops $16 million for 61 coins

The fourth installment of the D. Brent Pogue Collection realized $16,749,038, bringing the Pogue Collection total to more than $85 million, firmly establishing it as the most expensive collection ever sold at auction. 

The Pogue auction, subtitled “Masterpieces of United States Coinage, Part IV” and a joint venture between Stack’s Bowers Galleries and Sotheby’s, took place at the latter firm’s New York City headquarters on May 24. The two stars of the sale, the finest known 1804 Draped Bust dollar and the only collectible 1822 Capped Head $5 half eagle — both failed to meet their reserves and did not sell.

The 61 lots that did sell saw an average of $274,574 per lot, selling over the high estimate value for those lots, and a dozen coins from Pogue IV are among the Top 250 Auction records, according to Stack’s Bowers. 

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Pogue wrote of the attraction that the 1822 half eagle held for him in the introduction to Q. David Bowers’s 2014 book The 1822 Gold Half Eagle: Story of a Rarity. Pogue said, “It was a special moment in the autumn of 1982 when I got a call from my dad in New York City that he had bought the Eliasberg specimen of the 1822 half eagle.” 

In the end, for the Pogue family, “the sentimental value outweighed the financial reward,” Stack’s Bowers executive vice president Christine Karstedt said in discussing the Pogue family’s decisions to keep the two coins.

A Reuters news story published the afternoon of the auction suggested that the two coins could sell for as much as $27 million, according to information provided by Sotheby’s. On the Pogue Collection, David Tripp, Sotheby’s worldwide senior numismatic consultant, said, “They purchased not only the rarest but the finest examples known,” adding, “Many of these, as you can see, they look like they were made yesterday, even though they’ve stood the test of time.”

Finest-known 1804 dollar

Lot 20 was Pogue’s 1804 Draped Bust silver dollar graded Proof 68 by Professional Coin Grading Service. The Class I Original dollar is named the Sultan of Muscat-Watters-Brand-Childs-Pogue 1804 dollar and is well-known as “the finest known example of the King of American coins.” Some anticipated that it would be the most expensive coin ever to sell at auction when it crossed the auction block on May 24. 

After the sale co-founder Q. David Bowers said, “Our sale of the D. Brent Pogue Collection which is still in process has broken world records left and right. Nothing like it has ever happened before! Considering the rarity and the quality of the coins offered, it will never happen again. As I said before, those participating have had a rendezvous with destiny!”

It opened with auctioneer Melissa Karstedt looking for a bid of $7.6 million. It slowly moved to $7.8 million and Karstedt said, “We’ve got a thinker on the phone.” A cut-bid increment of $7.9 million was next, then $8 million, followed with the auctioneer asking, “Anyone want to yell anything out?” Bids of $8.2 million, $8.4 million, $8.5 million, $8.6 million came next with Karstedt adding from the podium, “Don’t forget any of you can bid while we’re waiting.”

The bids continued to a final bid of $9.2 million, after which Karstedt dropped the hammer and said “Passed” to a surprised audience. The famed dollar failed to meet its reserve.

After the auction concluded, Stack’s Bowers Galleries said, “A world record sum of $10,575,000 was bid from the phone for the finest known 1804 dollar, the highest price ever offered for any coin, but it did not surpass the consignor’s reserve price.”

It was last offered at auction at Bowers and Merena’s August 1999 sale of the Walter H. Childs Collection, where it sold for $4,140,000. As the lot description in the Pogue IV catalog began, “No other coin so singularly symbolizes the ultimate levels of rarity and desirability in American numismatics as does an 1804 dollar. It would be out of character for this august cabinet to settle for any 1804 dollar other than the finest one extant, the most beautiful and best preserved example, the one whose provenance is filled with the most history and mystery.”

1822 gold half eagle

The other expected star in the sale was offered six lots after the 1804 dollar. The 1822 Capped Head gold $5 half eagle was called “the most legendary rarity in American numismatics” and “one of America’s most noteworthy historic collectibles in any form.” It is one of just three known — two of which are part of the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution –— making the Pogue coin the only example available to collectors.

Graded About Uncirculated 50 by PCGS it opened with Melissa Karstedt looking for a bid of $6 million. When that failed to materialize, she accepted a bid of $5.5 million, followed by bids of $5.6 million and $5.8 million, $6 million, $6.2 million and finally $6.4 million. At that level the rarity passed as well.

After the sale Stack’s Bowers said, “The only collectible specimen of the extremely rare 1822 half eagle, or $5 gold piece, received a phone bid of $7,285,000, a bid surpassed among gold coins by only the 1933 double eagle $20 gold piece that brought $7,590,000 in 2002.”

Unlike the blazing and nearly perfect 1804 dollar, this 1822 half eagle has what Stack’s Bowers described as an unassuming physical presence. The description added, “This is not a gem, nor does it glitter like a jewel. This piece displays antiquity. It shows wear and use. Its surfaces suggest its life before collectors and cabinets and fame. Within the shadows of contrast between a coin worth $5 and a coin worth millions, this coin hides a story whose earliest details will forever remain unknown.”

It was last offered for auction in October 1982 as part of the auction of gold coins from the Louis E. Eliasberg Sr. Collection by Bowers and Ruddy Galleries where it brought a record-setting $687,500.

As Stack’s Bowers concluded, “The phrase ‘once in a lifetime’ is perhaps the most abused of the long list of numismatic clichés. Nearly all rarities surface at least once a decade. Some seemingly swim through auctions once a year or more. A specimen of the 1822 half eagle has sold at public auction on precisely two occasions, no more and no less.”

Other rarities sell

The sale was much more than these two exceptional coins. As Sotheby’s pointed out before the sale, “The supporting cast of coins in Part Four is no less impressive, and two coins in particular would be the stars of any other sale.” These included a 1795 Draped Bust dollar graded PCGS Specimen 66 that opened at $800,000 and sold for $1,057,500 against an estimate of $900,000 to $1.3 million. 

An 1838-O Capped Bust half dollar, graded PCGS Branch Mint Specimen 64, sold for $493,500. 

That half dollar represents the first year of half dollar production at the New Orleans Mint, which was the first U.S. Mint outside of the Philadelphia Mint to strike U.S. coins. As Augustus Heaton wrote on this issue in his 1893 book, A Treatise on the Coinage of the United States Branch Mints, “They are not merely among the rarest Mint Marks, but the rarest pieces of United States coinage.” That book helped build the popularity of collecting coins by Mint for U.S. collectors. 

These first half dollars were produced with great care in New Orleans. As the catalog notes, “Today, the 1838-O halves are called ‘Specimens,’ a modern term to acknowledge their distinctive minting procedure and texture, though in the past they have often been called Branch Mint Proofs.” They have an appearance distinct from Proofs of the era produced at the Philadelphia Mint, the reflective fields, “displaying a handcrafted surface that is neither frosty like typical half dollars of this era struck for circulation, nor mirrored like Proof half dollars coined in Philadelphia for presentation or sale to collectors.”. 

Of the nine known to exist today this example is one of the finest known. Stack’s Bowers observed, “The overall aesthetic impression of the superb color and distinctively sharp strike is uniquely appealing, giving this half dollar a look matched by no other issue of this design type or any other. Among specimens of the 1838-O, many of which have been carelessly handled, this ranks within the top echelon of survivors.” It was used to represent the issue in Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth’s book 100 Greatest U.S. Coins and has a long provenance that traces back more than a century. 

Another bright spot was an 1833 Capped Head $5 half eagle graded Proof 67 by PCGS that sold for $1,351,250 against an estimate of $850,000 to $950,000. Considered the finest Proof pre-1835 U.S. gold coin, the description started, “If the half eagles of the Pogue Collection were to be evaluated on no other basis but their beauty and proximity to perfection, the dozens of landmark examples of this denomination found in this collection would need to find their place in line behind this one.”

Beyond the two million-dollar coins, eight broke the half-million mark. As Stack’s Bowers co-founder Q. David Bowers said that beyond the two expected top lots, “Our catalog is unequalled in terms of a combination of ultra-high grades and rarity! Sort of like selling a room full of Rembrandts!”  

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