US Coins

Rarest of the rare 1804 gold eagle at third Simpson sale

On Jan. 20 Heritage will present three seven-figure coins from the Bob R. Simpson collection in Dallas as part of its rescheduled auctions (originally set to coincide with the now-canceled Florida United Numismatists convention).

The upcoming offering includes many of the most impressive coins in the Texas businessman’s collection and will build on the more than $23 million realized in Part I and Part II.

A spectacular 1804 Draped Bust, Plain 4 gold $10 eagle graded Proof 65+ Deep Cameo by Professional Coin Grading Service with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker is perhaps the most sensational coin in the sale. It is the finest of three-known examples of this very rare early Proof gold coin and is rarer than the better-known 1804 Draped Bust dollar (of which 15 are known).

The Heritage cataloger explains: “Like their more famous 1804 dollar counterparts, the 1804 Plain 4 eagles were struck for inclusion in diplomatic presentation proof sets intended as gifts for various foreign rulers in the mid-1830s. Only four pieces were struck and just three examples are known to numismatists today.” One is on display as part of the Harry Bass core collection at the American Numismatic Association museum, leaving just two available to collectors.

The Bass coin could be considered the discovery coin, in that the issue was unknown to collectors until August 1869, when Dr. Benjamin Betts shared his example — later acquired by the Bass — in the publication American Journal of Numismatics.

In the early 20th century, the issue was considered a pattern and it has the Judd 33 listing in Dr. Hewitt Judd’s reference to the pattern series, but as Heritage summarizes, “The coins were neither regular issue proofs nor patterns, but specially created strikings produced by the Mint decades after the date on the coins for a specific government purpose.”

In the provenance listing, Heritage places it in the Philadelphia Mint’s Sultan of Muscat diplomatic presentation proof set (1834) before it entered the collection of E.H.R. Green and saw stints in various cabinets in the 20th century. Heritage writes that it was sold around 2007 privately for a reported $5 million and entered the Simpson collection around 2010, acquired from Legend Numismatics.

1885 Trade dollar

Another showstopper in the auction is one of just five 1885 Trade dollars that were struck, graded Proof 63+ Cameo by PCGS with a green CAC sticker.

Fort Worth, Texas, dealer B. Max Mehl wrote in 1913 of another example, the currently graded Proof 62 example once in the cabinet of Egypt’s King Farouk: “It ranks in rarity with the finest 1804 dollar and certainly has no peer in rarity in the entire U.S. series of silver coins. The purchaser of this coin will possess a numismatic treasure, the value of which will equal that of the highest record of that of any U.S. Coin.” These words ring true more than a century later.

In its introduction, Heritage addresses both the provenance and the desirability of any 1885 Trade dollar: “Every time an 1885 Trade dollar appears at public auction, it marks a moment in numismatic history that will be long remembered.  ... In 1946, it was the Atwater Collection; in 1984, the Carter Family Collection; in 1988, the Norweb Collection; and in 1997, the Eliasberg Collection. Today, it is the Simpson Collection. The 1885 Trade dollar cannot be viewed in a museum. It cannot be seen on a bourse floor. It can be viewed, held, and potentially owned only here, in the presentation of one of the greatest collections of U.S. coins ever assembled. For many collectors, this is the offering of a lifetime.”

Proof Trade dollars were struck for collectors alongside regular issue coins from 1873 to 1878, and between 1879 and 1883 only Proof examples were struck, just for collectors, destined for inclusion in Proof sets. The series (and denomination) ended with just 10 1884 Proof dollars, which were struck in early January before the U.S. Mint decided to stop including Trade dollars in Proof sets. The circumstances behind the five Proof 1885 Trade dollars are less clear. Heritage summarizes current scholarship on the issue, writing, “The 1885 Trade dollars were coined at some point during the first half of their year of issue, and completely legally, whether as part of an unrecorded but official issue or singularly as an item of interest to Snowden.”

Archibald Louden Snowden, nephew of former Mint Director James Ross Snowden, retired as superintendent at the Philadelphia Mint in June 1885. Heritage adds, “Snowden’s tenure as Chief Coiner coincided with the Henry R. Linderman administration as Mint Director, during which numerous rare patterns and other curiosities were struck and sold to outside collectors at a profit for those Mint personnel involved.”

When Mehl offered the subject coin in 1945 he described it, in an era where precise grading was not yet practiced, as, “Perfect brilliant proof gem.” It sold for $1,275.

Its last auction offering was at Stack’s May 2003 sale of the L.K. Rudolph Collection, where it realized $920,000.

It is currently the only 1885 Trade dollar with a CAC sticker and Heritage observes that the eye appeal is greater than the numerical grade would suggest, with a bold strike, noting, “Traditional lavender and lilac toning surrounds the peripheries, ceding to sunset-gold that warms the interiors.”

For reference, the finest-known example, known as the “Eliasberg Specimen” and graded Proof 66 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. brought nearly $4 million at the 2019 FUN auctions, and the second-finest, graded Proof 64 by PCGS, brought $1,320,000 at Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ March 2020 sale of the E. Horatio Morgan Collection.

Top 1792 Silver Center cent

The first issues from the Philadelphia Mint showcase the experimentation that took place as workers figured out how to create coins for a young nation. Heritage writes regarding these early pattern coins, “Those simple coins laid the foundation for everything that followed in United States coinage and established an innovative, decimal-based monetary system that became the most successful in the history of the world.”

The 1792 Silver Center cent, listed as Judd 1 in the pattern reference, was an effort to make a coin with an intrinsic value of one cent in a smaller and easy-to-handle size. While a clever idea, practical issues involved in making a bimetallic coinage on a large scale at the time forced abandonment of the idea, but 12 remaining examples are traced today from an unknown production.

And despite the resourcefulness, changes in the price of copper from 1792 to 1793 made it possible to produce a cent containing one-cent worth of copper while still maintaining a manageable size.

The first owner of Simpson’s example — today graded Specimen 67 brown by PCGS and carrying a green CAC sticker — was Pennsylvania collector Peter Gschwend, who had largely stopped collecting by 1871, and the coin eventually ended up in the collection of John Work Garrett and was bequeathed to Johns Hopkins University after his death. It was deaccessioned at Bowers and Ruddy Galleries’ Part IV sale of the Garrett Collection where it realized $95,000 and has not been offered at auction since. Simpson acquired it privately in 2012 from Laura Sperber of Legend Numismatics for a reported $5 million according to Heritage.

The cataloger observes, “The light reddish-brown surfaces are enhanced by highlights of electric-blue, lilac, and rose patina, with a few traces of original red in sheltered areas.”

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