POLL: How much will the Saddle Ridge Hoard sell for?

One of the 1,427 "Saddle Ridge Hoard" buried treasure gold coins certified by PCGS.

One of the 1,427 “Saddle Ridge Hoard” buried treasure gold coins certified by PCGS.

Kagin’s, the rare coin firm hired by the couple who found the Saddle Ridge Hoard, partnered with Amazon.com to sell the coins online. At some point, I will contact Kagin’s to ask why they chose this route to sell these coins, but I find it an interesting choice.

In the middle of the 20th century, recognized sales expert Elmer Wheeler came up with the phrase, “Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle.” Wheeler says, “it’s the sizzle that sells the steak and not the cow.” He has a point. How many relatively common coins sell at higher prices because of their pedigree. How many coins have sold for more than expected because they were ex-Eliasberg, ex-Norweb, ex-Bass, or ex-Ford pedigrees? Right now, the Saddle Ridge Hoard has a lot of sizzle. Even in a few months at an auction, can you imagine the interest that would be generated by opening these coins up for public bid?

For this week’s poll, I am not going to ask if you are interested in purchasing a coin from the Saddle Ridge Hoard. Given the sizzle, I am sure many people would love to own one of the coins. Rather, given what may be seen as an unusual way of selling these coins, how much do you think the collection will realize? Of course if you have a different opinion, add it as a comment. I would love to know what you think!

How much do you think the Saddle Ridge Hoard will bring in?

More than the $10 million estimate. (49%, 23 Votes)
Why aren't they selling it at auction? (23%, 11 Votes)
Less than the $10 million estimate. (19%, 9 Votes)
Right around the $10 million estimate. (9%, 4 Votes)

Total Voters: 47

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Time wasted over claims Saddle Ridge Hoard was once stolen from Mint

One of the cans found as part of the Saddle Ridge Gold Coin Hoard

One of the cans found as part of the Saddle Ridge Gold Coin Hoard

Anyone following the main stream media has heard of the Saddle Ridge Hoard, the 1,427 gold coins found in cans buried under a tree somewhere in California. The couple who found the coins and their location has been kept confidential to prevent potential prospectors on their property. Reports have surfaced that the find has opened a new gold rush in California.

This is not to say that treasures can only be found in California. As someone who has started a business dealing with collectibles, I have found interesting items at good prices in the most unexpected places. The concept is not to start digging where someone else made their discovery but look for clues to new finds elsewhere. Chances are that the next find will not be the same area.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Saddle Ridge Hoard story is the speculation of where the coins came from and why were they buried in that location. The most entertaining was the story that these coins were stolen in 1901 from the U.S. Mint in San Francisco. Even though it sounds plausible, the details of what would have happened based on historical record does not support this theory.

The old San Francisco Mint building built in 1874

The old San Francisco Mint building built in 1874

Based on the response of David McCarthy, senior numismatist for Kagin’s, the firm working with the family, the two factors that debunks the theory that the coins were stolen from the Mint is that the coins in the hoard were mixed dates with the latest being six years prior to the theft and many of them were circulated. If they were stolen from the Mint, they would be all uncirculated, one date, and all with S-mintmarks.

Also, the U.S. Mint is not a bank. It does not save inventory. Records† show that over the years, the U.S. Mint loathes keeping inventory for long periods of time. These sources report a revolving inventory suggesting that only the 1933 Double Eagles may have been kept in the vaults longer than other coins while the policies about gold coins were being settled.

Anticipating the question about the GSA Hoard of silver dollars, those coins were not stored by the U.S. Mint. Those dollars were delivered to the Department of the Treasury to use as backing for silver certificates. The storage areas where the coins were found were either facilities used or leased by Treasury. Coins that were melted under the Pittman Act for sale to the British to help them fund their defense in World War I were coins held by the Treasury. Coins struck to replace the melted coins were then stored in Treasury facilities.

When the General Services Administration (GSA) worked to consolidate and reduce office space in the 1960s, millions of mostly Morgan dollars struck in Carson City were found in several buildings including in storage areas off the historic cash room in the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. Coins were sold the public by sealed bid over five auction sales between 1972 and 1974 with one final sale in 1980.

Up until 1964, anyone could trade a silver certificate for silver coin at par (e.g., $1 silver certificate for one silver dollar). This ended when silver rose in price making the price of silver more expensive than par value.

One of the 1,427 "Saddle Ridge Hoard" buried treasure gold coins certified MS66 by PCGS

One of the 1,427 “Saddle Ridge Hoard” buried treasure gold coins certified by PCGS

Even though the Treasury issued gold certificates, the gold backing were stored in limited vaults—and eventually Fort Knox. While there was some trading of gold certificates for gold coin, which is where the problems of the 1930s came from, gold was handled differently. The U.S. Mint had a cash operation where they would trade gold for coin (after it was assayed) and gold certificates for coins. This type of trade could also be accomplished at assay offices. But banks of the time were not required to make the trade. While many did as a service, with a service fee of course, there is no record of the government hoarding gold coins in the way silver dollars were hoarded.

Saying that the Saddle Ridge coins were once stolen from the Mint makes for a good headline. Good headlines makes for page views and page views translates into more advertising dollars for those blindly reproducing the erroneous story without checking the facts. Unfortunately, the truth cannot be explained on a bumper sticker or in a sensational headline—but that does not mean I will not try!

See the Saddle Ridge Hoard at Whitman Baltimore

It is being reported that Don Kagin will bring many of the coins in the Saddle Ridge Hoard to the Whitman Expo that will be held March 27-30, 2014 at the Baltimore Convention Center. If you need an excuse to come to Baltimore aside from attending the largest coin and currency show that is not run by the American Numismatic Association, coming to see the Saddle Ridge Hoard before it is broken up and sold later this year.

† A good reference for U.S. Mint statistics is a government-produced publication named Domestic and Foreign Coins Manufactured by the Mints of the United States: 1792-1965. It has been scanned several times and can be found on one of the many archive sites. The problem is that I found only one good scan, and it is not the best, but forgot where I downloaded it from. Printed copies are even more difficult to find.

  • Image of the can of gold coins from the Saddle Ridge Hoard courtesy of Kagin’s.
  • Image of the old San Francisco Mint courtesy of Wikipedia.
  • Image of the graded eagle courtesy of Professional Coin Grading Service.

PCGS Declares 1964-D Peace #1

Now that it is award season, Professional Coin Grading Service is getting into the act by release its first annual listing of the “PCGS Top 100 Modern United States Coins.” PCGS is using the rising popularity of modern coins, those minted since the change to base metals in 1965, to bring this list to the public. PCGS announced the list on January 11, 2013, during a luncheon at the Florida United Numismatics Convention in Orlando, Florida.

PCGS is offering a $10,000 reward to verify a genuine 1964-D Peace dollar, the number one coin on the new PCGS Top 100 Modern U.S. Coins list.  This image is a PCGS artist's conception of a 1964-D Peace dollar.

PCGS is offering a $10,000 reward to verify a genuine 1964-D Peace dollar, the number one coin on the new PCGS Top 100 Modern U.S. Coins list. This image is a PCGS artist’s conception of a 1964-D Peace dollar.

Topping the list is the 1964-D Peace dollar, a coin that was struck but never put into circulation and allegedly destroyed.

“Mint records indicate that 316,076 1964-dated silver Peace dollars were struck at the Denver Mint in May 1965,” said Don Willis , President of PCGS, “but they were all were supposed to be destroyed.”

PCGS believes that not every 1964-D Peace dollar was destroyed and has offered a $10,000 reward “just to view in person and verify a genuine 1964-D Peace dollar.”

In 1964 the price of silver rose to new heights that it made the value of ordinary circulating coins worth more for their metals than their face value. Because of this, silver coins were being hoarded by the public and becoming scarce in circulation. Western states that relied on hard currency including the gaming areas of Nevada needed the U.S. Mint to strike additional coins for circulation.

The striking of a dollar coin had a powerful ally: Senator Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, Democrat from Montana, whose state would be directly affected by the new coins. Although the numismatic press was not in favor of the measure because of its limited ability to solve the coin shortage, Mansfield pushed a bill through congress to authorize the Mint to strike 45 million silver dollars.

After much discussion, the Mint looked for working dies but found that few survived a 1937 destruction order. Those that did survive were in poor condition. Mint Assistant Engraver Frank Gasparro, who would later become the Mint’s 10th Chief Engraver, was authorized to create new dies of the Peace dollar with the “D” mintmark. Since the coins would mostly circulate in the west it was logical to strike them closest to the area of interest.

Treasury Secretary C. Douglas Dillon was opposed to the the coin and wrote a letter to President Lyndon B. Johnson saying that the coins would not be likely to circulate and be hoarded. After Dillon resigned, Mansfield questioned the new Secretary, Henry H. Fowler, who assured Mansfield that the coins would be struck.

Although Mint Director Eva Adams, who was from Nevada, also objected to striking the coin, the Denver Mint began trial strikes of the Peace dollar on May 12, 1965.

When the coins were announced three days later, coin dealers immediately offered $7.50 per coin which would ensure that they would not circulate as intended. Everyone saw this as a poor use of Mint resources during a time of sever coin shortages. Adams announced that the pieces were trial strikes never intended for circulation and were later melted under reportedly heavy security.

To prevent this from happening again, Congress added a provision in the Coinage Act of 1965 (Public Law No. 89-81; 79 Stat. 254) that put a moratorium on striking silver dollars for five years.

There have been reports that some Peace dollars were struck using base metals (copper-nickel clad) as experimental pieces in 1970 in anticipation of the approval of the Eisenhower dollar. The same reports also presume these coins have been destroyed.

“It sometimes takes years for famous coins to surface,” said Hall. “Until 1920, no one knew there actually were 1913 Liberty Head nickels in existence. Until 1962, no one knew the 1804 Draped Bust silver dollar and the other coins in the special presentation set given by the United States to the King of Siam in 1836 were still in existence.”

“When we offered a $10,000 reward in 2003 to be the first to see and authenticate the long-missing Walton specimen 1913 Liberty Head nickel it resulted in the re-discovery of that coin after a 41-year absence from the hobby,” Hall continued. “Perhaps this new reward offer will help solve the mystery of whether any 1964-D Peace dollars survived the melting pots. It’s the number one modern U.S. coin.”

For collectors of silver crown-sized coins and large U.S. dollars, the 1964-D Peace dollar is the ultimate fantasy coin. As someone who collects silver coins including modern bullion issues, it should come as no surprise that I chose the 1964-D Peace dollar for this blog’s logo. My version was made using Photoshop and colored to not look “real” to avoid potential issues from our law enforcement friends at the Department of the Treasury.

It would be difficult to put a price if a version of the coin is found. It would certainly be a unique coin whose auction would start well out of my price range—maybe set a record for being the highest price paid for a single coin, topping the 1933 Farouk-Fenton Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle that sold for $7,590,020 in 2002.

As part of the announcement, PCGS announced the top five in the PCGS Top 100 Modern U.S. Coins as follows:

  1. 1964-D Peace Dollar: The most controversial and one of the most famous of all modern issues.
  2. 1975 proof no “S” mintmark Roosevelt dime: Only two known, and one recently sold at auction for $350,000.
  3. 1974 aluminum Lincoln cent: 1,570,000 were minted but only one is known and is graded PCGS MS62.
  4. 1976 proof no “S” mintmark Bicentennial Type 2 Eisenhower dollar: only one example is known.
  5. 2000-W proof Sacagawea dollar struck in 22 carat gold: 12 are known

1964-D Peace dollar image courtesy of PCGS.

Another Story that Sells

I continue to be amazed with the stories some coins garner. Last week, I received a note announcing that one of the only two known 1907 rolled edge Indian Head $10 Eagle Proof gold coins will be exhibited at the up coming Long Beach Coin, Stamp & Collectibles Expo.

The coin is own by Monaco Rare Coins of Newport Beach, California and has been graded by Numismatic Guarantee Corporation as Satin PR67.

“This important and monumental rarity was not discovered to be a proof finish until several years ago.  It was previously misattributed as mint state. The coin now is insured for $3 million,” said Adam Crum, Vice President of Monaco Rare Coins.

According to Crum, there are some researchers who believe that this coins may have been owned by President Theodore Roosevelt. As part of Roosevelt’s “pet crime,” he worked with prominent sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to redesign U.S. coinage. Prior to his death, Saint-Gaudens completed the design of the Indian Head $10 gold Eagle and the iconic $20 gold Double Eagle, both introduced in 1907.

“One prominent numismatist told me, ‘After all the research we did, your coin has to be Teddy’s,’” Crum said. “Obviously, more research is required, but that is what being a numismatist is all about, isn’t it?  I look forward to more discovery.”

Even if the coin was not owned by Teddy Roosevelt it is still a great story!

If you are in the Long Beach area, the show runs Thursday and Friday, May 31 and June 1, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.., and Saturday, June 2, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Drop by and see this historic coin!

Stories That Sell

Earlier this week, “The Screem,” an iconic painting by Norwegian impressionism artist Edvard Munch was sold at auction [PDF] by the famous Sotheby’s auction house. The hammer price with auction premium was a record $119,922,500 to an anonymous buyer.

Classic works of iconic designs do very well at auction. In the numismatic world, Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Liberty design is one of those iconic image. First appearing in 1909, it was used on all $20 Double Eagle coins struck until 1933. When the American Eagle bullion program was introduced, the design was returned to the American Gold Eagle coins.

Of the coins bearing the Saint-Gaudens design, the 1933 Double Eagle is the most iconic of the series. It was not supposed to exist. After two were sent to the Smithsonian Institute, the balance of the 445,500 mintage was supposed to have been destroyed as part of the gold recall ordered by Franklin D. Roosevelt at the beginning of his presidency. In a story that inspired two very good books, it was found that the only 1933 Double Eagle that is legally in private hands was once authorized to be exported to Egypt to be in King Farouk’s collection.

After many years of fighting, the auction by Sotheby’s-Stacks sold the coin to a private collector for $7,590,020 in 2002, with $20 being paid directly to the U.S. Treasury to monetize the coin. This remains the record for the sale of a single coin.

If a good story sells a coin, then the story of the 1933 Double Eagle will continue to drive up the price of the coin. Last July, a jury awarded ten 1933 Double Eagle coins owned by Joan Landbord to the government. Langbord, the daughter of Israel Switt, claims to have found the coins while searching through her father’s old goods. On more than one occasion, Switt has been accused of being the source of the 1933 Double Eagle coins that made it out of the Philadelphia Mint.

Although the coins remain locked up at the United States Bullion Depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky, the Langbord family is planning an appeal of the court’s decision. Even through there are three other known specimens, this story is going to drive up the price of these coins.

Stories can turn an average design into something spectacular. For instance, the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel does not have one of those iconic designs. In fact, President Theodore Roosevelt called the design by the Mint’s Chief Engraver Charles Barber “hideous.” But as an extension of Roosevelt’s “pet crime,” the coin was being replaced by the to-be-iconic Buffalo Nickel design by James Earle Fraser. But in 1913, Mint employee Samuel Brown allegedly had five examples of the Liberty Head design struck as souvenirs.

The story becomes more interesting with the pedigree of each coin. The Eliasberg Specimen once was a feature of the Louis Eliasberg collection, a Baltimore financier who attempted to collect an example of every known coin. This coin was sold in 2007 to a private collector for $5 million, currently the second most amount paid for a single coin.

Other storied coins include the Olsen Specimen that was once owned by Egypt’s King Farouk and appeared on the first version of the television show Hawaii Five-0. The McDermott specimen is the only one that shows signs of circulation and is now part of the American Numismatic Association Money Museum’s collection. The Norweb Specimen is now part of the Smithsonian Institute’s National Numismatic Collection.

The Walton Specimen was once owned by dealer and collector George O. Walton who died in an automobile accident in 1962. In an attempt to auction the coin in 1963, it was thought to be one of the copies that Walton was known to carry around. For forty years, Walton’s daughter kept the coin in a box that was sitting in the bottom of a closet. The coin was brought to the 2003 ANA World’s Fair of Money in Baltimore where a group of experts spent hours authenticating the coin as genuine.

Recently, the 1792 Silver Center Cent, a pattern that was the first coin struck at the new Philadelphia Mint, sold for $1.15 million. Its design features the work of chief coiner Henry Voight, whose liberty head design has been described as “scary.” But it is the story of the founding of the Mint and of the Mint’s first director, David Rittenhouse.

We may never see rare coins sell for the same prices as famous works of art, but the numismatic community can celebrate the stories and history of these iconic coins in a way that the art world is not able to, which makes numismatics a special hobby.

Image Credits
Image of The Scream courtesy of the Associated Press.
1933 Double Eagle image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Head Nickel image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Image of the 1792 Silver Center Cent Pattern courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries.

Record Sale for Rare Dollar

Last week, a 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar that may be the oldest known silver dollar was sold for a record $7.85 million! Steven L. Contursi of Rare Coin Wholesalers of Irvine, California sold the coin to Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation of Sunnyvale, California in a private sale.

The coin was graded by Professional Coin Grading Service as Specimen 66 (SP66).

The sale surpasses the $7.59 million paid (including buyer’s premium) in 2002 for the legendary Farouk-Fenton 1933 Double Eagle.

As an interesting aside, the Farouk-Fenton would be worth $9,197,822 accounting for inflation between 2002 and 2010. Of course the coin could sell for more if it should come up for sale again. However, the existance of the ten Langbord-Switt 1933 Double Eagles could change the perception of value for all of the 1933 Double Eagles.

Will You Collect Rare Coin Trading Cards?

Can you own a 1913 Liberty Head Nickel? What about a 1856 Flying Eagle Cent? Is there a 1907 High Relief Saint Gaudens Double Eagle in your future? Most of us commoners can only dream about owning one of these great rarities. But would it be interesting to have a unique collectible about these and other great coins?

A friend who is a baseball card collector and was searching the Internet looking for a a particular card. After doing a series of online searches he stumbled on a website that he thought I would be interested in seeing. Sure it was about trading cards, but not of baseball players. He said that these were trading cards of rare coins. I thought my friend was doing some early weekend celebrating, but it was such a different idea that I had to see for myself. His email had a link to www.eaglesofamerica.com. When the page loaded, I was surprised to see that this company had partnered with the Upper Deck Company to create rare coin trading cards.

What an interesting idea! I probably will never own most of these rare coins, so why not supplement my collection with trading cards about them? According to the site, “Series 1” will be sold in foil packages at coin and hobby shops. Each package will have eight out of 500 different cards, one of 100 Lucky Penny card that will have an uncirculated Lincoln cent from 1930-70, and one bonus card. The bonus card has an assortment of prized to be claimed from the publishers.

The cards will be available in November from hobby shows with a suggested retail price of $5-6 per pack. Sweepstakes and other prizes are described on the site that include a 1907 High Relief Saint Gaudens Gold Double Eagle, a Trade Dollar, a 1799 Bust Dollar, and a trip to Washington for a visit to the Smithsonian Museum. It will be interesting to see if these cards generate interest in the numismatic community.

Detecting the History of a $6 Bill

One of my favorite television shows is History Detectives, the PBS show where four people who have interests in various areas of antiques, history, and sociology research the background and history of artifacts people have found or had handed down to them by family members. Rather than determining the worth of an item like they do in Antiques Roadshow, the concentration is to learn about the item and its significance, or insignificance in history. Two of the History Detectives, Elyse Luray and Wes Cowen, have appeared on Antiques Roadshow.

Now in its fifth season, my local PBS television station showed the new second episode. One of the investigations was Dr. Gwendolyn Wright researching a Continental Currency $6 bill found by an Omaha, Nebraska family in a book. The story allows Dr. Wright to step outside of her area of architectural history to learn the historical significance of this note.

Rather than recap the segment here, you should visit the episode information on the History Detectives website to watch the eight minute video and read the transcript. I think you will find it as fascinating as I did.

When History Detectives are aired, the segments are concluded with another history detective giving more information about the general topic with more information. After the Continental Currency segment, Wes Cowen talked about the interesting history of US coins. Unfortunately, the two stories they used provided incorrect information.

The first mistake was saying that there was a public outcry from the public regarding the nudity on the Standing Liberty Type 1 Quarter. This myth was debunked by researcher Roger Burdette in his book Renaissance of American Coinage 1916-1921. Burdette writes that according to records from the US Mint and National Archives, designer Hermon A. MacNeil requested the change to make Lady Liberty look stronger in the face of the Great War (World War I).

The second mistake was the claim that the only legal 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle was smuggled out of the country. Although the coin was smuggled out of the Philadelphia mint, the State Department issued a legal export permit for a representative of King Farouk to carry the coin to Egypt. The State Department might have made a mistake, but that does not mean the coin was smuggled out of the country. To read more about this coin, I highly recommend the book Illegal Tender by David Tripp.

Even with these mistakes, I will continue to watch and recommend this show.

Eliasberg 1913 Nickel Sells for $5 Million

An unnamed California-based collector purchased the Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Head Nickel for $5 million. The finest known of the existing 1913 Liberty Head Nickel was graded PR66 by the Professional Coin Grading Service was owned by Legend Numismatics of Lincroft, New Jersey and Bruce Moreland, a Washington state business executive. They paid $4.15 million in May 2005 for this coin.

The pedigree of this coin is attributed to Louis E. Eliasberg Sr., a Baltimore banker whose renowned collection included “one of everything.” His collection was sold following his death in 1976.

Of the five examples known to exist, one is owned by the Smithsonian Institute and the other by the American Numismatic Association.

Slab image from Legend Numismatics.

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