US Coins

When it comes to these coins, beautiful is relative

Many coins are uniformly considered beautiful by U.S. coin collectors.

Rainbow toned Morgan dollars, magnificent 1907 Saint-Gaudens, High Relief gold $20 double eagles, perhaps a Gem Proof Seated Liberty dollar with frosty, untoned devices and deep, virtually black mirrors — all of these will elicit oohs and aahs from collectors and non-collectors alike.

Then there are some coins that require a bit more connoisseurship, with a beauty that isn’t as obvious.

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Heritage’s Jan. 5 Florida United Numismatists Platinum Night auction offered a double-struck 1652 Willow Tree shilling graded Mint State 62 by Professional Coin Grading Service with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker indicating quality within the grade that realized $170,375.

It is listed as Noe 1-A and illustrated in The New England and Willow Tree Coinages of Massachusetts by Sydney Philip Noe and is the sole Mint State survivor certified by PCGS.

Each Willow Tree shilling was individually hammered — often multiple times — and, afterward, while it met the technical weight requirements, its designs had often suffered. On this example the central willow tree design on the obverse is not particularly legible, nor is the date on the reverse, and it is oval rather than round. 

Yet this one appeared recently at Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ sale of the Henry P. Kendall Foundation Collection in March 2015 where it sold for $164,500. There it was described as “a fascinating, beautiful, and all-but-unworn specimen of this rare coinage.” The description added, “Like most Noe 1-A Willow Tree shillings, the striking is messy, with several impressions poorly lined up, summing into a coin that bears nearly all of the design, but with little rhyme or reason. The tree itself resembles a bramble bush.” It concluded, “calling a Willow Tree ‘Double Struck’ on a certification label is as unnecessary as it is self-evident; all Willows are.”

This example was collected by Salem, Mass., collector Matthew Stickney before his death in 1894, though it was likely acquired decades prior, and its recent sale in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for more than it achieved at auction less than two years earlier proves that beauty is not necessarily a prerequisite for a rare coin to achieve a big price.

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