Coins and Medals

2 Jun 2014, starting at 10:00 PDT .

Auction information

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1907 (MCMVII) High Relief $20 Proof 67 NGC
The 1907 High Relief double eagle is one of the most popular coins ever struck by the United States Mint. The coins are sculptural in appearance and are considered by many to be the most beautiful regular issue gold coin ever produced. Unfortunately, the design was also impractical and redesigned by Charles Barber later in the year to a much lower relief that was easier to strike with a single blow of the dies. The date is given in Roman numerals (MCMVII, the coin's nickname by some) and lacks the Motto, IN GOD WE TRUST. President Roosevelt believed that money could easily be used for ungodly pursuits such as gambling and thus the name of the Lord should not be used on coinage. Around the late 1960s or early 1970s, some experts began to recognize certain 1907 High Relief double eagles as Proofs. These coins are different than "normal" High Reliefs, but certainly not like the latter Matte Proof double eagles of the series.

In studying the reference book, Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Proof Coins 1722-1977, we find a section specifically devoted to the topic of Proof High Relief double eagles and part of it is herein reproduced as bullets:

● True proofs do exist and these appear to have received six or seven blows from the dies rather than the normal five.
● Inner borders sharp on both sides.
● Generally a satin finish
● Relief details fully brought up.
● All berries rounded.
● All Capitol pillars countable.
● All tail feathers with clear ends.
● Edge letters are much bolder than on normal strikings, with horizontal striations between them.
● Only a minor trace of knife-rim.

The existence of true satin Proof coins is controversial. NGC recognizes this High Relief Proof but PCGS does not. Listed below are the criteria used by NGC to distinguish Proof examples of the High Relief edition of the Saint-Gaudens double eagle from business strikes:

● Extreme sharpness in all details, both at the centers and toward the peripheries.
● The complete absence of die erosion or distortion.
● Numerous, raised die-polishing lines on both sides. These appear in a random, swirling pattern. While also evident on currency strikes, these are particularly bold on Proofs.
● Uniform satiny surfaces without any of the conventional radial flowlines that produce typical mint luster.
● A build-up of metal just inside both borders, though especially evident on the reverse. This appears as a slightly raised ridge forming a concentric circle with the coin's border which probably resulted from the extreme compression to which the Proofs were subjected by additional impressions on the hydraulic medal press.

There are no official mintage figures for Proofs and the origins of the coins are a mystery. As stated above, Proof examples have deep swirling die lines and exhibit a satiny surface similar to the (1909-1910) Roman finish Proof gold coins. NGC has graded over 250 Proof examples (including resubmissions) and the finest High Relief thus far graded is a Proof 69 that sold for $534,000 in 2005.

Many proofs look very much like their business-strike counterparts, and close examination is required to differentiate the two. This piece exhibits that wonderful as-made surface texture from special die polishing, rich, green-gold color, and the designs raised in exceptionally high relief (thus, the name). A masterwork in American coinage, the design of Augustus Saint-Gaudens is represented here in what must be very near his envisioned form. Amazingly struck up, free from all but the most-trivial abrasions, and exceptionally well preserved, this is a spectacular coin destined for a museum-quality collection.

This Proof 67 is one of only 18 coins so graded at NGC, with 10 finer: 5 Proof 67*; 1 Proof 67+, 2 Proof 68, 1 Proof 68*, and a single Proof 69. This makes this piece among the finest Proofs obtainable and an exceptionally appealing specimen. (PCGS 9138)
Sold for US$ 222,300 inc. premium
1859 $20 Proof 62+ Cameo PCGS
When researching the true rarity of the 1859 double eagle as a Proof, the Breen Proof Encyclopedia discusses complete proof sets issued in 1859: "It is possible that the odd 13 (of 1513) double eagles minted Jan. 22, 1859 might have been proofs: no more twenties were coined prior to the date when the mint cabinet obtained its proof set." Breen goes on to say in April, 1859, based on expectations from previous years, as many as 50-70 complete gold proof sets could have been made. It is likely, however, many of these went unsold and found their way to the "Melter & Refiner" at a later date. Although the actual mintage is unreported by the Mint, the production of Proof 1859 double eagles is estimated at 80 pieces in the Guidebook of U.S. Coins, 50 pieces are currently reported by PCGS. Notwithstanding those amounts, currently prominent numismatists such as Akers, Jones, Garrett and Guth concur there are fewer than 10 identifiable Proof specimens that survive today in all grades.

As Garrett and Guth put it, "The high face value of most gold coins prevented all but the wealthiest of collectors from obtaining them. When times got tough, collectors often sold their collections, or spent the coins at face value including proof gold coins." This is the kind of rare gold coin that makes history-minded numismatists marvel, to think of all the hardships and economic challenges this coin's owners must have endured for this piece to survive in such a well preserved condition. A chronological list of these events would include the Civil War that began just two years after this piece was minted, in 1861. Many troubled times would follow, including the Reconstruction Period, the Panic of 1893, the Panic of 1907, two World Wars, the Great Depression, innumerable recessions and stock market crashes, any one of which might have been the cause for attrition of a Proof double eagle, whether for profit or mere survival.

The present coin, housed in a Proof 62+ Cameo PCGS holder, displays soft green-gold with deeper honey-gold colors at the center of the reverse. All details are razor sharp as is the high wire edge prominently presented on each side. Of course there are a few scattered light handling marks and hairlines in the fields, but the unquestionable deeply mirrored fields reflect nicely against the richly frosted devices. For pedigree purposes, we mention a tiny mark in the left obverse field midway between stars 1 and 2 and Liberty's chin, a couple of tiny parallel marks under star 9, and a spot in the right reverse field under the eagle's wingtip. All of the above are inconsequential compared to the remarkable aesthetic appeal of this extremely rare specimen. Considering the unmistakable popularity and resultant price increases of Proof gold (and gold in general) in recent years, we predict that this piece will result in a standout performance when it crosses the auction block.

When studying specimens that exist today, the NGC Census shows five examples including a Proof 58 that entered circulation, two in Proof 63 Cameo, and one Proof 66 Cameo. PCGS lists only one example -- this piece that was recently graded.

Based on our provenance research presented below, we believe that there may be seven or eight specimens surviving; two of the survivors are permanently housed in museum collections (Smithsonian and ANS), presumably off the market forever. Two examples are also known in complete 1859 proof sets, one set formed by the late John J. Pittman. He purchased the double eagle in 1952 for $525. In 1997, the Pittman 1859 proof set sold for $426,250. It should also be noted the 1859 proof set from the Royal Mint Museum Collection recently sold in London (3/2013) by Morton & Eden (Sotheby's) was missing the 1859 Proof $20.

Auction Appearances:

1. Bonham's, (6/2014), the present coin, Proof 62+ Cameo PCGS (recently certified and the only example certified at PCGS)
2. Bowers & Ruddy, United States Gold Collection (10/1982), lot 897, Proof 65 (Uncertified) realizing $71,500. Note: This was the finer of either the Bell Collection (Stack's 1944) or the Ten Ecyk-Clapp coin. The previous owner possessed both specimens at one time, then sold one, and kept this one as the better of the two. This is believed to be the original Clapp specimen.

The following four auctions feature the same coin:
3. Superior Galleries, (2/1999), lot 3430, Proof 58 NGC, realizing $18,400
4. Bowers & Merena, (1/2000), lot 413, Proof 58 NGC, realizing $12,075
5. Heritage Auctions, (1/2004), lot 7588, Proof 58 NGC, realizing $14,375
6. Heritage Auctions, (9/2006), lot 4434. Proof 58 NGC, realizing $17,250

(PCGS 89071)

Ex. The Kernochan Family Collection
Sold for US$ 210,600 inc. premium
1915-S Panama-Pacific $50 Round MS62 PCGS
Commemorative coins are one of the most popular specialties in American numismatics. In this field there are several hundred different varieties, what with silver and gold coins from the Classic Era 1892 to 1954, plus a parade of well made modern issues since then. Among the classics, there are two pieces, first and foremost, in the limelight: the large, impressive, and rare $50 "slugs" produced to the extent of just 1,500 each, with a net distribution of far less. The obverse of each issue features the helmeted head of Minerva, a classic touch, and an owl, representative of ancient Athens and knowledge, is on the reverse. While both are essentially the same motif, the octagonal differs inasmuch as dolphins are found within each angle. At the Exposition it seems that the octagonal format was the more interesting to buyers, evoking images of the famous Augustus Humbert $50 pieces of the same shape issued during the Gold Rush in 1851 and 1852. Regarding the event itself, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, laid out on the shore of San Francisco Bay, was a veritable city of elegance. Buildings resembling temples were interspersed with sculpture and other art, truly a wonderland. Construction was mainly of a composition known as staff, resembling stone on the outside, but not durable. After the Exposition closed, the buildings were demolished, except for the Palace of Fine Arts, which remained and was used as a municipal store facility for fire engines and other equipment. Eventually, the heritage of the building was re-recognized, and today it stands in fine form and is an attraction for visitors.

The concession for numismatic items was held by Farran Zerbe, a man of questionable ethics and reputation who earlier served as president of the American Numismatic Association, but not with distinction. The Association was determined to hold its annual convention in San Francisco that year, with the Exposition as the prime drawing card, not to overlook Zerbe's impressive display. On view for sale were all of the new commemoratives, including the silver half dollar, the gold dollar and quarter eagle, and both versions of the $50. These were available in several forms including in envelopes and in leatherette cases. (After the Exposition closed, some sets were sold in frames.) The half dollar, gold dollar, and quarter eagle were sold in fair numbers to the public and others, but many thousands were melted. After the event closed, Zerbe mounted a campaign, including a mailing to banks, to sell more coins. Then he called it quits, and the unsold remaining coins were shipped to the Mint and melted. Of the 1,500 Round $50 pieces initially struck, 1,017 remained unsold and were subsequently melted, leaving a net mintage of just 483 coins. It did not take long before the coins achieved a premium value, and by the early 1920s the $50 pieces were in strong demand. Ever since then the value has gone up year by year, punctuated by the Depression, but still upward by the end of the 1930s. Today in 2014, all of the Panama-Pacific coins are strongly desired, with the $50 pieces especially so.

The attractive Mint State quality of the coin offered here makes it especially appealing. Shimmering velvet bloom bathes both the obverse and reverse of this remarkable example. Close examination of the surfaces yields the presence of only a very limited number of defects, a rather amazing observation considering the open nature and fragility of this design. The rarity and importance of this issue is foremost among all of the commemoratives (whether they be gold, silver, platinum, or copper-nickel) in the U.S. coinage series. (PCGS 7451)
Sold for US$ 71,370 inc. premium
1806/5 $2.5 7x6 Stars AU58 PCGS
BD-2, High R.5. The year 1806 was the penultimate date for the Capped Bust Right type, which was retired in favor of John Reich's Capped Bust Left design in 1808. Two die varieties are known for the date, both are overdates, 1806/5 (this coin with 7 x 6 obverse stars and 1806/4 with 8 x 5 obverse stars). From a miniscule mintage of just 480 coins, experts agree that this date is tied with the 1841 as the third rarest date in the entire quarter eagle series! It is estimated that only 25-35 examples are known in all grades. In his book, Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties, John Dannreuther calls the issue "one of the rarest of the early quarter eagles." In their Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins 1795-1933, Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth explain the unusual circumstances of the 1806/5 striking:

"The 1806/5 overdate represents one of the rare instances when a die that had already been used to strike coins in one year was softened, overdated, rehardened, and then used to strike even more coins. Most other overdates occur on unused dies from previous years."

We theorize that the overdated (1806/5) obverse die probably failed very soon after being put into production, thus the limited mintage of just 480 coins.

The present coin is well struck, although some typical weakness is detected at the central regions on each side. Only slight wear is noted on the highest points of the design with no singularly mentionable marks or other surface problems. A prominent die crack is visible through the top of LI in LIBERTY and a small area of deep toning is seen within the right side of the shield. When researching both PCGS and NGC, we find a total of 10 examples have been certified in AU58, with eight finer. (PCGS 7655)
Sold for US$ 64,350 inc. premium
Auction information

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