US Coins

Stewart Blay sets of cents and dimes to be offered in November

Stewart Blay’s Flying Eagle and Indian Head cents will highlight GreatCollections auctions in November, with a PCGS MS-66+ red 1877 cent that the collector called the “Golden Princess” being of particular note. An 1893-O Barber dime is also among the attractions.

Images courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts.

GreatCollections will continue its offerings of Stewart Blay’s Registry Sets, presenting his collections of Flying Eagle and Indian Head cents, along with Barber dimes across two auctions ending on Nov. 12 and 19.

Blay, who died last year, explained how he selected coins: “My philosophy is to find the finest example of each date and type. Originality, luster, and preservation are the most important factors to me.” 

The online auctioneer sold Blay’s Lincoln cent collection for $7.7 million in January, led by the finest of three known 1958 Lincoln, Doubled Die Obverse cents. Blay’s cent, graded Mint State 65 red by Professional Coin Grading Service and bearing a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker, realized $1,136,250. In August 2022, the firm sold his Proof Lincoln cents, with a 1909 Lincoln, V.D.B. cent in PCGS Proof 67+ red bringing $365,625.

Blay’s collection of PCGS-certified Flying Eagle and Indian Head cents was exhibited at several major shows, including the Florida United Numismatists show in Orlando and later the Long Beach Expo in California. Series specialist Richard Snow told PCGS in 2020, “It’s a monster collection,” adding, “Stewart was working on this set even in 1980, before the Set Registry and even before PCGS! He’s one of the pioneers in getting finest-knowns.”

1877 cent: Blay’s "Golden Princess"

One of Blay’s favorite coins to be offered in November is the finest certified 1877 Indian Head cent, graded MS-66+ red by PCGS with a green CAC sticker, The issue is well-known as the key date in the series with a comparatively low mintage at 852,500. Q. David Bowers wrote in the introduction to Snow’s 2006 A Guide Book of Flying Eagle and Indian Head Cents that a full red survivor is extraordinary, explaining, “The survival of Mint State coins is a matter of chance — a piece put away in a cast-iron bank in the 1880s, or left in a box of keepsakes, or perhaps picked out of circulation by a coin collector. In proportion to the original mintage figures, only a tiny fraction of 1% of the various issues have survived in Mint State.”

This one has the characteristic ill-defined lettering at the center of the reverse seen on all circulation strike examples, along with blazing original red color that is rare. Blay thought the coin was undergraded despite the lofty grade, writing in the PCGS Set Registry, ‘It has frost so thick and luster so gold and attractive, I call her the ‘Golden Princess.’ ”

Top 1893-O Barber dime

Another highlight is an 1893-O Barber dime graded MS-68 Prooflike by PCGS with a green CAC sticker that Blay was especially proud of. GreatCollections founder Ian Russell suspects that its inherent quality indicates that it may have been specially produced at the New Orleans Mint, though Mint records are silent on the issue.

Typical 1893-O Barber dimes have some areas of weak striking, especially in the hair above Liberty’s forehead. Blay’s example shows bold details, and light toning including warm golden and magenta hues. Walter Breen’s 1977 study of Proof coins that was updated in 1989 included comments on “Branch Mint” Proof coins, noting that employees of the New Orleans Mint went to the Philadelphia Mint where they would have learned the techniques of making Proof coins. Blay’s example shows both a bold strike and reflective surfaces, along with a high level of preservation that indicates it was handled with great care since it was struck.

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