US Coins

Top rarities fail to sell in Pogue IV auction

The expected stars in the fourth installment of the D. Brent Pogue Collection — 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 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 total for the first three auctions now stands at $68,577,182, with totals from Pogue IV adding to the record for a single collection sold at auction.

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.”

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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.

Had it found a new bidder at that level, with that 17.5 percent buyer’s fee it would have realized $10.81 million and set a record for a coin at auction.

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 later. 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 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.

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.

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.”

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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