On a journey ‘in’ Mexico with the Libertad silver bullion coins: Around the World

Libertad collector builds top-ranked NGC registry sets
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 07/18/16
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In May the author of this column was contacted by Tom McGrady, a coin collector from Virginia, who told him that his coverage of Mexican Libertad coins in various publications over the years had helped spur the collector to specialize in this popular series.

McGrady’s interest in coins began about 40 years ago when he was 10, and he once received a 1909-S Lincoln, V.D.B. cent in change. But when McGrady’s collection was stolen while he was attending graduate school, he lost interest until a few years ago. 

After building a set of American Eagle silver bullion coins, he decided “to go outside the box with Libertads, especially seeing that they weren’t tied to spot [precious metal value] in the way all the other sovereign bullion programs were.”

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In early 2014 he started collecting Mexican Libertad silver 1-ounce coins because of their low premiums, but it was the beauty of the coins that kept him interested. 

When he read about the 1999 Libertad mule coin, he was hooked. A mule is a coin that was struck from dies that were not intended to be paired together.

McGrady sees the Libertad coins as not just an investment, but also as “something that has huge potential later on.”

In early 2015 he began to assemble a 1-ounce silver Libertad Uncirculated registry set under Numismatic Guaranty Corp.’s Registry Set program. He noted that he had little idea how challenging this would be, adding, “It took the better part of a year finding coins that were worthy of grading as the populations for many of the coins are just so low.”

McGrady explained that he never had the goal of assembling the top-ranked registry set, especially since the previous holder of that slot had it for five years. But he said that over time as he assembled his collection, it took over the No. 1 slot, and because he had submitted so many coins for grading he had enough coins to also assemble the current No. 2- and No. 5-ranked sets too. To date his sets are the only 100 percent complete sets at NGC in this category.

Rare varieties in Libertads

Late last year a friend of McGrady’s discovered a new variety, the 1988 doubled die coin, and then about a month later McGrady himself discovered another major new variety, the 1982 doubled die reverse. 

McGrady explained that what makes the 1988 double die special is the 1988 coin is rare to start with, and only nine known examples of the doubled die version have been graded by NGC or Professional Coin Grading Service. McGrady currently owns all three NGC examples, and his Mint State 67 example is the highest known grade of this particular variety. The 1988 doubled die variety was discovered by Dan Pecoraralo, who also discovered the 1999 mule coin. 

Pecoraralo sent his mule coin to Pat Stovall who submitted the coin to PCGS for authentication and grading. At the time two examples were known of the mule; the second was owned by Stovall, who runs his family’s business specializing in Mexican coins: Lois and Don Bailey and Son Numismatic Services of Houston. He sent his example to NGC and later sold it for $7,000.

Since then a third example has been found, and it was also graded by NGC.

According to an April 6, 2015, article by Jeff Starck in Coin World, the 1999 mule “was struck using a 1999-dated reverse die showing Winged Liberty matched with an obverse die that was intended for use on the 2000 Libertad silver 1-ounce coin, or ‘onza.’ In 2000, Mexico adopted a new obverse for the Libertad coins, one showing multiple emblems encircling the longstanding, familiar eagle-with-snake-on-cactus design instead of just the central coat of arms by itself.”

In McGrady’s view, the 1982 doubled die reverse Libertad is even more special than these other rare Libertad varieties. That is because it is the first year of issue for this series, which means it went undiscovered for 34 years. Only three examples have been discovered, and McGrady owns all of them (the highest graded example is graded MS-67). 

McGrady added that he thinks this coin is likely to remain elusive “because the doubling is not as obvious as it is on the 1987 or 1988 double dies.”

Another of McGrady’s finds is a 1990 Libertad that he purchased on eBay, thinking it was a Proof. But when he received it back from NGC, it was assigned a grade of MS-67 Prooflike, making it the first Brilliant Uncirculated Libertad coin to receive a Prooflike-designation from a grading service, a rare find indeed.

Since then, the 2015 Reverse Proof coin that was released in two special sets with a mintage of 1,500 combined has been graded by the services as Prooflike too. The difference is that the 1990 coin was not intentionally struck with a special finish, while the 2015 coin was.

McGrady also wanted to highlight for other collectors his Proof 1998 tripled die, one of only three known, that was given a grade of Proof 67 by NGC, which made it the highest-graded of the three known examples of that coin.

Growing collector base

As interest in the Libertad silver series continues to grow, new collectors might discover other rare varieties.

McGrady also noted that to put together his top-ranked sets and discover these rare varieties he submitted well over 300 coins for grading.

Libertads tend not to grade as high as other major world bullion coins, perhaps because of the large open fields on what collectors generally consider the reverse (but which the Banco de Mexico considers the obverse side). In fact, only four Libertads issued between 1982 and 2010 have been graded MS-70 by NGC and three at PCGS, including a 2000 coin that McGrady owns, which was the third example from that period ever to receive an MS-70 grade from NGC.

McGrady clearly took to heart the advice often given to collectors to pick a series, specialize in it, and really stick with it to get the most out of that pursuit. 

His experience shows that by doing that, a collector has the ability to become very knowledgeable about the series and even the potential to build a world-class collection. 

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