An auction hunter’s lesson

Over the weekend I attended an estate auction that included coins for sale. While my new business venture concentrates on all vintage collectibles, I am still a collector and continue to look for those interesting items and the good coins to add to my collection. As I was looking over the lots I noticed one had several blue folders of Lincoln cents. The collector in me could not resist and I picked up the folders and started looking.

Every hold was filled.

What drew my eye first was the hole marked “1909-S VDB.” Even though the 1914-D may be worth more, the 1909-S VDB is considered the Holy Grail amongst change hunters. With only 484,000 struck the odds of finding one are not in a change hunter’s favor. But we keep looking and hoping.

After reaching into my pocket for my ever present loupe, I asked the attendant if I could remove the coin to see the reverse. I had to check for those three letters on the back because it did say it was a 1909-S on the front. With the attendant watching me, I removed the coin from the slot, turned it over and brought it up to my loupe.

Using a 16X loupe I zeroed in on the area where I could find the “V.D.B” only to find something unexpected. On this coin, the “VDB” with no periods were punched into the coin. Holding the coin and turning it in the light to see how the light reacts, it was easy to see that the coin was not real.

Being very disappointed I quietly told the attendant that the coin was altered. She did not know what to do. When I suggested she tell her boss, she took the coin from me and went into a back room. A moment later, she returned and asked me to follow her to the office.

Scott’s 1909-S VDB

Scott’s 1909-S VDB

While the owner of the auction house was a bit upset, we talked to establish who I was and how I was qualified to judge the authenticity. After asking him to bring up my blog and showing him that I own a real 1909-S VDB, I told him how I know that the coin was altered. I handed him my loupe and told him to look at the letters. When he saw that the letters were punched into the coin instead of being in relief, he became upset again, but not at me.

I understand how he felt. In the auction business, they earn money from the buyer and seller fees. If the item sells for a high price, the auction house makes more money. In this case, since the coin was a solid VF, it could have sold for $700-800 alone.

Before he became too angry, I asked to see the 1914-D. At VF that coin is about $400 in the retail market. When I looked carefully I could see that the mintmark was added to the coin. It was not a very good job when you see it under magnification but looked all right on first glance. I showed the auctioneer how I know it had the mintmark added. He agreed with my assessment.

He asked if there were any more important dates that he should know about. I zeroed in on the hole for the 1922-D that had “No D” written in pen under the date. Even before finding the date under the loupe I could tell the coin was whizzed. That is a bad sign to begin with but if the coin was real, it would diminish its value but not make it worthless. What made it worthless was that you can tell someone filed the mintmark off the coin. Whoever did the filing did not do a good job because it made a little hole where the mintmark should be. This coin doctor probably whizzed the coin in order to cover up the alterations.

To say I gave this gentleman a shock would be an understatement. He shook my hand and offered me a discount on the buyer’s fee for helping him. After leaving his office he had the attendant who helped me remove all of the blue binders from the auction. When I spoke with the attendant later, she said they were all from the same consignor and that he was going to return them as being unsalable.

This was not the first time I attended an auction at this place and it will not be my last. Aside from being able to purchase good inventory for my business, they have proven to me they have integrity. Knowing this helps me buy with confidence.

I tell this story to provide two lessons. First, always examine the items before you bid. Even for online auctions, examine the pictures and read any descriptions carefully. If you are afraid to buy ungraded coins, then buy only graded coins. But make sure you are fully aware of what is being sold. Do not be afraid of asking the seller a question or even asking for a better picture. If the seller cannot help you then do not buy from that seller.

Buy the book before buying the coin!

Buy the book before buying the coin!

When buying from a live auction, look carefully at the coins. Even if the coin was encased by a grading service, take out that loupe and examine. This means you should know what you are looking at. Educate yourself about the coins you are interested in purchasing. In a future post, I will discuss my portable reference and buying tools.

My second lesson is to know who you are buying from. This is more difficult online but you do have to take the feedback seriously. Again, if you have any questions you should ask. Every site has a way to contact the seller in order for you to ask questions. If the seller is not cooperative, let that be a sign for you.

When working with auction houses, it takes a little longer to establish a relationship. But you need to introduce yourself, talk with people and ask questions. Make yourself known and show that you are a serious buyer. It may take a few auctions to establish a relationship, but be persistent. Aside from preferential treatment and discounted seller fees, someone with a relationship can be told bout unpublished items in advance so that you are prepared to buy quicker than someone off the street. Another advantage is that if you specialize in something that the auction house cannot sell, you can buy it as a good price. As a reseller, I find that very good for business.

Even though online auctions are very popular, there is nothing better than being there live. I highly recommend the experience.

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 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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Adding to the Top 10: #2 More Auction Records

PNGAs a follow-up to #2 Records have been broken in the Coin Collectors Blog Top 10 countdown, the Professional Numismatists Guild published a “State of the Industry” report that included the list of 12 U.S. coins that sold for over $1 million. One was a private sale while the others were sold at auction.

The eleven most valuable U.S. coins purchased by winning bidders at auctions in 2013 were as follows:

  1. 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar, $10,016,875 (Stack’s Bowers Galleries)
  2. 1804 Type I silver dollar, $3,877,500 (Heritage Auctions)
  3. 1913 Liberty Head nickel, $3,172,500 (Heritage Auctions)
  4. 1880 Coiled Hair gold $4 denomination Stella, $2,574,000 (Bonhams)
  5. 1796 silver quarter-dollar, $1,527,500 (Heritage Auctions)
  6. 1792 silver half disme (early spelling of dime) $1,410,000 (Heritage Auctions)
  7. 1796 silver dollar, $1,175,000 (Heritage Auctions)
  8. 1783 Nova Constellatio Quint Type II, $1,175,000 (Heritage Auctions)
  9. 1852 Augustus Humbert $10 gold coin, $1,057,500 (Heritage Auctions)
  10. 1792 half disme, $1,145,625 (Stack’s Bowers Galleries)
  11. 1879 Coiled Hair gold $4 Stella, $1,041,300 (Bonhams)

The 12th U.S. rare coin that sold for more than a $1 million in 2013 was an 1894 San Francisco Mint dime that sold for over $2 million in a private sale conducted by David Lawrence Rare Coins.

A PNG survey of auction houses showed that they sold a total of $392.8 million in U.S. rare coins in public auctions in 2013. Based on the PNG survey, the sales scoreboard is as follows:

  1. Heritage Auctions, $236.5 million
  2. Spectrum Group International (Stack’s Bowers Galleries and Teletrade), $105 million
  3. Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, $21.1 million
  4. Bonhams, $13.5 million
  5. Legend-Morphy Rare Coins, $7.2 million
  6. David Lawrence Rare Coins, $5.5 million
  7. Scotsman, $2.8 million
  8. Krueger & Krueger, $1.2 million

All prices include the buyer’s premium, if any.

This survey did not include paper money or world coins. It would be interesting to see the impact of the currency and world coin market alongside the U.S. coin market.

Counting Down the Top 10: #2 Records have been broken

This past year saw the high-end market get even higher with the auction of significant rarities bringing in significant prices.

1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar, PCGS SP66 CAC, sold for a record $10,016,875 to Legend Numismatics in 2013

1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar sold for a record $10,016,875 to Legend Numismatics

The year started Stack’s Bowers January 2013 New York Americana Sale where a rare, only known die variety 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar graded SP66 by Professional Coin Grading Service sold for $10,016,875. The record price for a single coin was paid by Legend Numismatics of Lincroft, N.J.

Legend Numismatics’ Laura Sperber took control of the bidding when she invigorated bidding that stalled at $5.5 million when she bit $8,525,000. She called it “shock and awe.” Sperber said that she knew that a $10 million coin would create a huge buzz for the industry and went on to predict that a coin would sell for $25 million before the end of the decade.

1913 Walton Specimen Liberty Head Nickel, PCGS PR63, sold for $3,172,500 at Heritage Auctions on April 25, 2013 to Jeff Garrett of Lexington, Kentucky and Larry Lee of Panama City, Florida.

1913 Walton Specimen Liberty Head Nickel sold for $3,172,500 on April 25, 2013 to Jeff Garrett of Lexington, Kentucky and Larry Lee of Panama City, Florida.

At the April Central States Numismatics Society, Heritage Auctions auctioned The George O. Walton Specimen 1913 Liberty Head Nickel. This is the coin that was once thought to be counterfeit. Following the untimely death of Walton following an automobile accident in 1962, his family tried to have the coin authenticated but was thought to be one of the fakes that Walton used to carry with him.

At the 2003 World’s Fair of Money in Baltimore, a conclave of experts examined the coins for hours, debated, and determined that the coin was real. One of those involved in the marathon meeting was Jeff Garrett, the current Vice President of the American Numismatic Association.

Nearly ten years later, the coin was auctioned for the first time. Graded PR63 by PCGS, the coin sold for $3,172,500 to Jeff Garrett and his business partner Larry Lee.

Silver dollar known as "The King of Coins" has sold for more than $3.8 million.

Silver dollar known as “The King of Coins” has sold for more than $3.8 million.

B. Max Mehl wrote in the Dunham Collection catalog of 1941, “In all of numismatics of the entire world, there is not today and there never has been a single coin which was and is the subject of so much romance, interest, comment, and upon which so much has been written and so much talked about and discussed as the United States silver dollar of 1804.”

Maybe the discovery of the 1933 Double Eagle coins may have the 1804 dollar beat, but only one version of that coin is legal to own. There are 15 known coins dated 1804 even though they were struck later. In 1834, eight dollar coins were struck with the 1804 date to include in a special set created as a gift for the King of Siam. The set was presented to the King by President Andrew Jackson during trade missions to the Middle East and Asia.

It is known as “The King of Coins.”

The coin is designated as The Mickley-Hawn-Queller Class I Original 1804 Dollar, graded PR62 by PCGS, sold for $3,877,500 to an anonymous bidder.

1796 25C MS67+ NGC. CAC. B-2, R.3. Ex: "Col." E.H.R. Green. The finest certified 1796 quarter.

1796 25C MS67+ NGC. CAC. B-2, R.3. Ex: “Col.” E.H.R. Green. The finest certified 1796 quarter.

While the records for coins listed above were for dollars, the year saw a record price placed for a quarter dollar. Sold as part of the Eric P. Newman Collection, the 1796 B-2 Quarter Dollar, once owned by “Col.” E.H.R. Green and purchased by Newman in 1931 for $100, the coin sold for $1,527,500. Graded MS67+* by Numismatic Guarantee Corporation is the finest known 1796 quarter.

In case you were curious, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator, $100 in 1931 has the same buying power at $1,533.35 today. Conversely, the $1.5 million sale price is equivalent to $99,618.57 in 1931.

The coin was sold as part of the November 13, 2013 “16 Selections from the Eric P. Newman Collection Part II Signature Auction” held in New York. Proceeds from the sale goes to support the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society.

1891 Marcy $1,000 silver certificate (PMG VF25) sells for $2,600,000 by Stacks-Bowers in a private sale.

1891 Marcy $1,000 silver certificate (PMG VF25) sells for $2,600,000 by Stacks-Bowers in a private sale.

Not to be outdone, the currency market saw its own record. Although not sold at auction, a $1000 silver certificate from 1891 sold for a record $2.6 million to an anonymous buyer by Stack’s Bowers Galleries. The note features William L. Marcy who served as U.S. Senator and the 11th Governor of New York, and as the U.S. Secretary of War and U.S. Secretary of State.

The note was graded VF25 by Paper Money Guaranty.

The note was sold as part of a collection of more than 85 large-size Silver Certificates that are the finest ever put together. Five notes were sold as part of this transaction. The other 80 went for sale at the 2013 World’s Fair of Money.

Can you imagine what would happen if the Langboard Hoard of 1933 Double Eagles ever make it to the auction block?

Image Credits:

  • 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar and 1891 $1000 Silver Certificate images courtesy of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
  • 1913 Walton Liberty Head Nickel, 1804 Dollar, and 1796 Quarter dollar images courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Hola NOLA!

It was a rainy day in the Crescent City but that only mattered when I tried to leave my hotel to go to the convention center. Thanks to Michael Weir, the Director of First Impression at the Hilton Garden Inn, a group of three show attendees including myself, were able to get to the convention center without being rained on. Mr. Weir gave us door-to-door service dropping us off under an overhang.

Before I continue, let me give the New Orleans visitors bureau fodder by recommending the city for your next vacation. No matter when I have come here, the people of New Orleans have been accommodating, courteous, and fun. And when you are away from home, having fun is the most important part of a visit!

After stopping to speak with ICTA’s Director Elloise Ullman, I picked up a cup of coffee before walking down to Hall G. Before entering Hall G, I went upstairs to the meeting rooms where I found I missed a talk on so-called dollars because I started to schmooze outside of the hall.

My first stop this morning was to see Steve Roach, the Editor of Coin World. We had a nice conversation where we talked about everything from the upcoming American Numismatic Association Board elections to the production of Coin World Next, their weekly publication that concentrates on one topic.

After a lively conversation with Steve and Tom Mulvaney, who is best known as the instructor of the coin photography class with the ANA Summer Seminar. Tom’s work can be seen all over the numismatic industry. Some day I will be able to take the time off to go to Summer Seminar to take his class.

I wanted to tour the bourse floor but decided to finish touring the exhibits I did not finish. While in the exhibits area I ran into Hollie Weiland, counsel for the ANA. She then introduced me to Beth Papiano. This became an interesting conversation following the criticism I wrote about her. We did talk about what I wrote and why. Hopefully, I will have another opportunity to speak with Beth again and maybe I can understand more about what happened.

Lunch was a little hole-in-the-wall poboy place where I had fried oysters before returning to the convention center to try to do more looking around and meeting people. First, I had to go back to the exhibits and see what I missed. My favorite was the Travancore Chuckram Count Counting Boards. It was an exhibit of these metal boards that were used to count small coins. These are mainly form countries in southwest Asia. There were a lot more involved with this exhibit. Hopefully, I will have a chance to spend time carefully reading the text to learn more. Otherwise, I hope the exhibitor will display it again in Chicago.

At 2 o’clock it was time for the open Board meeting. After a delay because some of the governors were caught in traffic, the meeting proceeded with thunderstorms booming in the background. I do not know if that was a message, but considering the controversies of the past few weeks, there may have been something prophetic about the scene.

But the meeting started with an interesting “ritual.” ANA Past President Barry Stuppler invited his “spiritual advisor” Zar, a Voodoo Priest, to bless, spiritually cleanse, and add good luck to Kim Kiick on her appointment as executive director. Upon the end of the “ceremony,” someone in the crowd commented that this should have been done 10 years ago—referencing the problems with executive directors over the last 10 years.

I will comment about the meeting at another time, but one of the central discussions was the ANA’s web presence and the security of the technical infrastructure. I am glad to hear that the board is taking the move to expand the ANA’s technology seriously. Yes, there was skepticism and references to age-specific issues, it does not appear that the current board will hold back progress. There still needs a few more technologically aware members of the board, which is why I am running for the board.

After the meeting, it was back to the bourse floor to shake a few more hands before going to a reception for Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA). Rep. Scalise from Lousiana’s first district and succeeded Bobby Jindal after Jindal became governor. Scalise co-sponsored newly introduced H.R. 1849, Collectible Coin Protection Act. This is the same bill that was introduced last year.

Finally, a walk down the hall to the Stacks-Bowers auction to watch the bidding on the various auction lots. Since most of the lots were out of my price range, I watched the action. The few items I could have afforded, I decided not to be a buyer. Some of those coins were hammered at a price higher than I expected. I would have dropped out before the top bids.

After being exhausted from a long day, I availed myself of the dinner service at the auction including the coffee. Meet a few people outside of the auction room came back the hotel. I did call my wife only to listen to one of my neurotic dogs bark at the thunderstorms throughout our conversation.

Tomorrow is the last day of the show and my last day on the floor. The candidate forum will be at 12 noon Central Time. I heard that the ANA arranged to have the two-hour forum broadcast on the Internet. I urge ANA members to watch the forum. If they have a way for you to ask questions, please try to do so! It is your ANA and you have to let the Board of Governors know how you feel.

I will be flying home after the candidates forum and arrive in the Washington, DC area very late. I will have a third-day update sometime on Sunday.

Heritage Publishes A Great Auction Catalog

Front Cover of the Heritage Platinum Night Sports Auction

Front Cover of the Heritage Platinum Night Sports Auction

Whomever said “Don’t judge a book by its cover” did not see the recent auction catalog from Heritage Auction Galleries for their Platinum Night Sports Auction that will be held in New York on February 23-24. The catalog is a work of art worthy of the fantastic sports collectibles that are described in its pages.

Opening the Priority Mail envelope delivered in February 4 was a beautiful holographic image of iconic image of the 1980 United States Men’s Olympic Hockey Team celebrating their victory over the Soviet Red Army team. The eye-popping three-dimensional image is far more impressive than the image that appeared on the front cover of Sports Illustrated because of the visual texture it delivers.

The “Miracle on Ice” 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team may have been a bunch of guys trying to play hockey, but to the rest of us, they were a proxy in the Cold War. With the games being played in Lake Placid, New York, the nation gathered around television sets across the nation to hope and watch our boys beat the Soviets—just because they were the Soviets, long suspected of cheating by twisting the rules to pay players at a time when the Olympics were an all-amateur competition. I remember a group of us transplanted New Yorkers watching hockey in the dorms at the University of Georgia trying to teach the southerners about hockey was almost as entertaining as the games.

After staring at the cover you tilt it and the image of Mike Eruzione’s jersey can be seen. Eruzione’s “Miracle on Ice”, game worn gold medal game jersey, and other memorabilia from the 1980 gold medal winning hockey team is what Heritage picked as the highlight of the auction. Current bid for “The Miracle on Ice” jersey is $325,000.

Turn the cover over and there is a three-dimensional holographic image of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth sitting on a bench, hats in hand holding a baseball bat. The image is from the 1927 Murders Row team. Tilt the cover to see the 1927-1928 game worn Gehrig uniform jersey that is part of the auction.

Inside the catalog are some of the most phenomenal sports collectibles that could ever be imagined from nearly every sport. One of the more unusual items if “The Bloody Sock” worn by Curt Schilling during the second game of the 2004 World Series. Schilling’s performance on bad tendons have been compared with the fictional Roy Hobbs in the 1984 movie The Natural. It also represents the end of the 84-year Curse of the Bambino. Starting bid is $25,000.

Heritage also has a ticket stub from the 1962 Philadelphia Warriors Wilt Chamberlain 100 Point Game on March 2, 1962 at the Hershey Sports Arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Officially, the attendance was 4,124 (or 10 million as the legend grew!). This PSA authenticated ticket is currently at $3,000.

For those looking for a numismatic tie to this auction, you might want to consider:

Since this is not specifically a numismatic item, I am grading it as a specimen release. I am grading this SP69 deducting a point for the typos that should have been caught in the editing process—one being in an item title that could not be ignored. It is a fantastic item and should be on the shelf of anyone who has an interest in sports and sports collectibles.

Happy bidding!

Catalog image is from the author whose catalog is not for sale!

Go Have Fun at an Auction in Penna.

How many of you look at the online auctions from the auction houses dedicated to numismatics and feel intimidated?

I can see quite a few virtual hands raised. You probably like coins shows but find the large crowds at some of those shows may also be intimidating. After all, you’re a collector, not an investor or a professional. Sometimes, you can find gems at smaller shows and even smaller auctions.

This is why I was intrigued by an auction notice sent by Stephenson’s Auctioneers and Appraisers from Southampton (Bucks County), Pennsylvania. Judging by their website, Stephenson’s is a local auction company that mainly serves buyers and sellers in its region with and probably has some clientele outside the eastern Pennsylvania area where they are located.

The nice thing about these local auction houses is that they are more accessible than the big houses and they usually have items that are affordable to the average collector. While high-end auctions are fun, if you are buying for yourself, you may not be the type looking to spend six-figures or higher on a coin.

If that is the case and you are in the Bucks County, Pennsylvania area on Friday, November 2, you may want to stop by Stephenson’s and check out their more than 200-lot coin auction that may include “some nice last-minute surprises.”

These are estate auction from the eastern Pennsylvania area. According to the information sent to me, the auction includes a wealth of Morgan silver dollars will be offered, with no fewer than 15 lots comprised of three Morgans each. An uncirculated 1882 Carson City Morgan silver dollar is one of the highlights, and another early example is a trade silver dollar dated 1877. Other antique American coins include Capped Bust half dollars from 1809 and 1838; an 1806 Draped Bust half dollar, and a Seated Liberty half dollar from 1843.

The auction includes two gold pieces. One is a 1914 Indian Head quarter eagle ($2½) and a 1917 $1 gold coin commemorating the slain U.S. President William McKinley.

There are many collectors’ books of coins, including a Washington quarter book (1932-1945) with 24 silver quarters, a Liberty Head nickel book (1883-1912) with 25 nickels, a Standing Liberty book with 10 silver half dollars, a Mercury dime book with 74 silver dimes, including 1921 and 1921-D; and a book consisting of 60 Buffalo nickels. Also included are a Walking Liberty half dollar book with 14 half dollars, a Barber dime book, Roosevelt dime book and Kennedy half dollar book with 59 Kennedy halves, including three 1964 and nine 1965 through 1970 coins. Flying Eagle and Indian Head penny sets will be available, as well as many other books, too numerous to mention.

Desirable non-monetary gold and silver items with both intrinsic and historical value include a boxed set of three 24K gold over .999 silver ingots commemorating the 1973 Triple Crown Winner Secretariat, and a framed sterling silver set titled “The Official Bicentennial Medals of the Thirteen Original States.”

Other lots of interest include two California Gold tokens (1852 and 1853) and an 1860 $5 note issued by the Miners and Planters Bank of North Carolina. Fractional currency, and U.S. Prestige and Olympic Prestige sets.

Auction will be held on Friday, November 2, 2012 at Stephenson’s gallery located at 1005 Industrial Blvd., Southampton, PA 18966. Auction preview is on the auction day from 2-4 p.m. The auction starts at 4 p.m.

For additional information, call Cindy Stephenson at 215-322-6182 or e-mail There will be no Internet bidding for this sale; it is exclusively for gallery, phone and absentee bidders. Visit Stephenson’s online at

If you are in the area, go and have some fun. Who knows, you may find something interesting to bid on!

Some of the items in this auction

All images courtesy of Stephenson’s Auctioneers.

Review: Heritage Mobile Catalog for the iPad

Heritage Mobile Catalog Opening Screen

Late last month, Heritage Auctions announced the free Heritage Mobile Catalog for iPad. The app allows those interested in Heritage auctions to view auction lots, see high resolution images of the items, bid, and follow auction, “in real-time,” according to Heritage. As a customer of Heritage, I downloaded the app hoping it would be something special.

This review is for the Heritage Mobile Catalog for the iPad only. Heritage has a separate app that works for the iPhone and iPad that is a wrapper around their mobile website. Do not confuse the two. The Heritage Mobile Catalog app is an application and different from the website. The Heritage app provides nothing more than what you can experience if you opened Safari on your iDevice and went to For Android users, you are not missing anything by not having the Heritage App. I deleted the Heritage app from my iPhone and iPad.

The Heritage Mobile Catalog app is works in portrait and landscape mode on the iPad, but I found that using it in landscape mode looks better. When you open the app, you are presented with a number of virtual “catalogs” of Heritage’s various auctions. Even though this blog is interested in numismatics, I like to look at some of Heritage’s other auctions—which is why I now own some older political memorabilia. For this review, I selected the catalog for the August 3 Currency Signature Auction in Philadelphia.

The first issue that users will experience is this is not a “real-time” application. Before being able to browse an auction, you have to download the catalog. This can take some time depending on your connection. Even a more recent test using my home WiFi connection at full strength and no other activity I lost track of the time it was taking to download a catalog that was reported to be over 164 megabytes. All I remember was that during the wait I was able to make a bio-break and pour a beverage. If I was not trying to refresh my review, I would have given up and opened Safari to go to their website.

The Update dialog for the Heritage Mobile Catalog app.

Once the catalog is downloaded, the other “real-time” mistake this app makes is that it asks you if you want to update the bids in the catalog. If you do not press the “Update” button, then the prices it will show you while browsing the catalog will not be current. This is not the definition of “real-time” and represents a bad user experience.

You can avoid the dialog box if you press the “Update Bids” button. This will do the same as the dialog box, but you have to remember to press it first before pressing the “View” button to see the catalog. In either case, this is not a straight forward interface for the ordinary user. In fact, as a note to the project manager at Heritage, this type of interface reminds me of the book The Inmates Are Running the Asylum. The first half of this book makes it worth reading.

Gallery View in the Heritage Mobile Catalog app is similar to Apple’s cover flow.

Once the catalog is open, the app is wonderful. The Gallery View is reminiscent of the cover-flow view used in iTunes on your computer or the Music app if you turn the iDevice to landscape mode. Browsing in Gallery View is very smooth with very good images of the auction lots. If you want to bid, just tap on the image and a bidding dialog pops up.

List View really lets you get down to the business of browsing and bidding on the auction. While Gallery View is nice, you will probably use List View more. Both views allows you to sort the list by several criteria and the Refine button will let you search for specific items and let you narrow the display by relevant terms. While the images here are screen shots from a currency auction, the Refine Search adapts to the type of auction you are viewing.

Where the annoyance returns is the “My Heritage” button that does not offer a service but connects you to the Heritage website and uses the output from the website as the display. In order for an iOS application to open a web page, it has to bring up a separate window that overlays over the app. There’s a “clunky” feeling to this type of interface that I find annoying.

When you tap on an auction to bid on it, users of the eBay for iPad app will find familiar. There is nothing wrong with this interface because I think the Heritage version is a cleaner and a little more intuitive than the way eBay crammed everything into their version.

Bid screen in the Heritage Mobile Catalog app.

Bidding was not a problem. I was able to bid on a few lots, including the one imaged. I did not win the lots I bid on because I forgot to return to the app to check on the bids. At the last minute I went to the website since I was not at home and it was taking a long time to update using the public WiFi where I was logged in.

While I can speculate on why the Heritage Mobile Catalog app does this type of pre-loading, the bottom line is that it takes too long and does not update prices in “real-time” as their announcement claims. While other apps find ways to integrate their backend processing directly into the app, the Heritage Mobile Catalog has a “bolted-on” feeling. With the exception of the Gallery View, why should someone use this app over opening the browser and directly accessing the auction on the website?

I wanted to love this app but the interface annoyances has me using the website more than this app. It is like a mint state coin that is not well struck which is why I am grading this app MS60. Whomever is responsible for this app at Heritage should look at similar apps (eBay) and consider attending the next Apple World Wide Developers Conference to attend the course on what makes a good iOS interface.


Ebay Welcomes Back ANACS and ICG

Online auction site eBay sent out a notice today to sellers of coins to remind us that their new listing policies for coins go into effect on May 31. They also announced that ANACS and ICG has met their new standards allowing coins to be sold as graded.

Coins from other services must be listed as raw including those old PCI slabs with J.T. Stanton’s autograph, which some believe are collectible in themselves.

In eBay’s last note to sellers, they wrote, “We’ve heard from both buyers and sellers that they’d like to see more coins on eBay graded by companies who meet high standards. These new requirements are an important step toward meeting these marketplace demands.”

I am still waiting to asked by eBay what I think as both a buyer and seller.

It is good to see that ANACS and ICG were able to work with eBay to be included in their new policy. Unfortunately, the policy still places restrictions on a competitive market for legitimate collectibles.

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.

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