US Coins

Top quality classic commemoratives in June GreatCollections auction

A collection of 159 high-quality classic era 1892 to 1954 silver commemorative issues from former National Football League linebacker Gregg Bingham is expected to sell for more than $1 million across three auctions by GreatCollections that close on June 12, June 19 and June 26.

Starting the series is an 1892 World’s Columbian Exposition half dollar graded Proof 68 Cameo by Professional Coin Grading Service. It is the finest of three Cameos at PCGS and has spectacular peripheral toning in rich sea-green, aqua blue, magenta and rose colors that merge to green-tinged golden centers on both sides.

The issue sought to raise funds for the Chicago expo that commemorated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s landing in 1492. The Philadelphia Mint produced 950,000 circulation strikes along with 103 Proof coins in 1892, followed by a larger mintage of circulation strikes (but no Proof coins) in 1893.

In absence of a documented portrait of Columbus made during his lifetime, the obverse by Charles E. Barber depicts a portrait inspired by images said to depict Columbus, as interpreted by sculptor Olin Levi Warner. George T. Morgan’s reverse depicts a three-masted caravel (representing the Santa Maria) above two cartographic hemispheres.

Commemorative coin expert Anthony Swiatek wrote in his Encyclopedia of commemoratives that the Proof 1892 World’s Columbian Expo half dollar was not included as part of the yearly Proof set, which included Barber’s new Liberty Head design. “A Proof Columbian half dollar would have cost more than $1, while the Barber half dollar would cost the collector only a few cents more than face value,” he explained.

Such gorgeous toning!

Many of the coins in the consignment are characterized by gorgeous toning, including a 1933-D Oregon Trail Memorial half dollar graded Mint State 68+ by PCGS that has deep ruby colored centers, which transition to blue and gold towards the edges, with delicate sky blue across the reverse.

The design by James Earle Fraser and his wife Laura Gardin Fraser is considered by many to be the most beautiful in the series and examples were struck at the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco Mints between 1926 and 1939.

The U.S. Mint called the side with the Conestoga wagon drawn over a hill by two oxen the obverse, and it carries the date, but the side with the Native American is often considered the obverse by collectors. Swiatek sided with the collectors, dealers and grading services, who often consider this side the obverse, “because it is the more eye-catching and artistic of the designs.” Swiatek describes the design: “An American Indian, who appears to be signaling to an advancing person or group of individuals to stop — a gesture similar to a traffic policeman’s.”

The 1933 Denver Mint issue saw a production of 5,250 coins plus five assay pieces. Most sold, with 242 pieces returning to the Mint, for a final mintage figure of 5,008 coins. The Bingham example is one of two in its grade at PCGS for the 1933-D half dollar, with none finer, and the lot closes on June 26.

Closing on June 19 is a warmly toned 1938 New Rochelle, New York, commemorative half dollar graded MS-68 by PCGS with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker signaling quality for the grade. The issue was well-produced and the offered half is one of 10 in this grade, with four graded MS-68+.

It marked one of the final issues in the classic era commemorative series and celebrated the 250th anniversary of the founding and settlement of New Rochelle. A final net mintage of 15,251 was recorded from an authorized mintage of 25,000.

The spare obverse features John Pell in elegant contemporary clothing holding a reluctant “fatt calfe” on a rope that relates to city history.

The reverse depicts an elegant fleur-de-lis, a symbol of France and a nod to the coat of arms of La Rochelle, France, and the city’s Huguenot history. The designs were from Gertrude K. Lathrop, a New York sculptor, well-known in her day for her sensitive depictions of animals and her interest in wildlife and environmental protection.

Longtime museum curator Cornelius Vermeule was not amused by her design, calling it “a simple, bold, and absolutely tasteless coin,” before writing, “It is a small wonder that, on seeing a coin such as this, President Franklin Roosevelt urged a moratorium on their issue.” It would be the last new design on a commemorative half dollar until 1946 when the Booker T. Washington half dollar was issued.

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