Gold, Rarities push B&M sale over $7 million

Sunday, January 16, 2005

From Numismatic News
by Greg Reynolds
Monday January 17, 2005

Rare gold brought strong prices at a Jan. 9 auction by Bowers and Merena, a division of Spectrum Numismatic Auctions.  The sale was held at the Radisson Bahia Mar Resort in Fort Lauderdale.  Prices realized totaled $7,311,696, including the 15 percent buyer’s fees. 

Bradley Karoleff, a noted dealer and researcher, was the auctioneer and Steve Deeds managed the event, which was held a few days prior to the Florida United Numismatists convention. 

Rare, large gold coins brought strong prices.  A highlight was the 1795 $10 gold coin of the very rare variety with nine leaves on the branch on the reverse.  The cataloger suggests that there could be "Just 18 examples known."  This one is graded AU-58 by the Professional Coin Grading Service of Newport Beach, California.  It sold for $184,000 to Steven L. Contursi, who bid over the Internet. 

The next lot, a 1797 $10 gold coin with a small eagle reverse, was also PCGS graded AU-58.  It is rare as a date.  A New Jersey dealer bought it for $93,150. 

A proof 1902, Liberty Head $20 gold coin was another highlight.  It is graded Proof-65 by the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation of Sarasota, Fla.  It realized $54,050. 

Saint-Gaudens $20 gold pieces are among the most beautiful and popular of all coins.  A 1924-S Saint, NGC MS-64 sold for $11,270, and a rarer 1931, PCGS MS-65 garnered $66,700. 

Many collectors are not aware that the United States did issue $50 gold pieces.  There are assay pieces of the 1850s, patterns of the late 19th century, and commemoratives of 1915, which were issued in conjunction with the Panama-Pacific exposition in San Francisco.  A 1915-S, of the octagonal variety, PCGS MS-66, sold for a staggering $189,750. 

Although there were a wide variety of U.S. copper, nickel, silver and gold coins in the auction, it will be best remembered for the James W. Lull type set.  In the category of business strike type sets without gold coins, the Lull set is one of the finest, though it is missing a few early types.  Jeff Ambio, director of numismatics for B&M, believes that it is "the finest Mint State type set ever to be offered at public auction." 

Many of the coins in the Lull type set were formerly in the Knoxville collection, which was the best silver type set of all time.  It was built under the direction of Jay Parrino, and much of it was sold to Steve Contursi in 2003.  The Knoxville collection did not contain copper or nickel coins and it was never offered at auction, though it did contain proofs and patterns. 

The Lull 1793 half cent, PCGS AU-53, realized $20,125.  All cited prices realized, and underbids, include the standard buyer’s commission.

The excitement really started when the Lull 1793 Wreath cent came on the block.  It opened at around $185,000.  More than seven bidders competed until a floor bidder captured the piece for $253,000.  It is PCGS graded MS-66.  Contursi was the underbidder, via the Internet. 

On behalf of a collector, Laura Sperber was the successful bidder for three quality half dimes.  The Lull 1797 half dime, PCGS MS-65, went for $82,800.  It was previously in the Oliver Jung collection, another fantastic type set.  ANR auctioned it in July. 

The Lull 1832 half dime, PCGS MS-68, sold for a reasonable $41,400.  Sperber believes that "it is tied with one other as the finest of the entire type of Capped Bust half dimes."  For this collector, Sperber also obtained the Lull 1838 Liberty Seated, No Drapery, half dime, another PCGS MS-68, for $34,500.  Sperber’s client has now completed a set of all half dimes from 1794 to 1873.  At the July 2004 auction by Bowers and Merena, she was the successful bidder for the unique 1870-S half dime.  The price realized of $661,250 is, undoubtedly, a record for a half dime.  The 1870-S was earlier in Martin Paul’s private collection, and then owned by Jay Parrino for several years. 

Sperber relates that her client "enjoyed the challenge of completing a set of high grade half dimes," and particularly "likes Seated material in general."  He has many MS-68 grade half dimes in his collection.   For a different collector, Sperber acquired three other coins from the Lull type set and four silver dollars from the Excalibur collection of proof Morgans.  She explains that this connoisseur is "working on many different sets" and wants "the finest and prettiest coins on the market." 

This connoisseur, through Sperber, obtained the Lull 1853 quarter and half dollar, both with arrows and rays, and both graded MS-67 by PCGS.  For the quarter, bidding started at around $35,000, and then four floor bidders and two telephone bidders pushed it above $50,000.  The final price was $56,350.  The 1853 half realized $78,200. 

Sperber was also the top bidder, for this connoisseur, on the Knoxville-Lull 1833 half dollar, PCGS MS-68.  The opening bid was less than $40,000 and the closing price was $89,700. 

Many of the collectors and dealers in attendance thought that the Lull 1820 dime, PCGS MS-68, is the finest known of the entire Capped Bust, large size type (1809-28).  After opening just above $40,000, a half dozen bidders competed until it finally sold for $74,750. 

The Lull 1831, reduced size, Capped Bust dime, also PCGS MS-68, realized $37,950.  Robert L. Hughes, a long time dealer from Beverly Hills, bought it for his inventory.  He also acquired what could be the coolest coin in the Lull collection, a 20-cent piece that is both amazingly brilliant and very colorfully toned.   It is sharply struck, has never been cleaned, and probably never even been dipped.  The russet and blue tones, combined with vibrant luster, are extraordinary.  It realized $73,600. 

The Excalibur collection of proof Morgans contained many superb gem Philadelphia Mint proofs, but it will be remembered for containing extremely rare branch mint proofs.  Robert L. Hughes bought the 1879-O, PCGS Proof-64 Cameo, for $71,300.  The Excalibur 1893-CC, PCGS Proof-65, went to an anonymous bidder for $132,250.  It thus sold for more than the Excalibur 1895, the date that is typically regarded as the key proof in the Morgan series.  The Excalibur 1895, NGC "Proof-68 Ultra Cameo," realized $103,500. 

The Knoxville-Lull 1878-S Trade dollar sold for $98,900.  This is likely to be a record for a business strike Trade dollar.  The most expensive coin in the sale is the Knoxville-Lull 1795, Draped Bust silver dollar, NGC MS-66.  It went to a floor bidder for $327,750.  For more information, contact Bowers and Merena Auctions, 18022 Cowan Suite 200D, Irvine, CA 92614; telephone (800) 458-4646. 
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