Two magnificent silver dollars are headliners at the August 17 Stack’s Bowers Galleries Rarities Night sale and the Heritage Auctions Platinum Night session on Aug. 18.
This year’s American Numismatic Association auctions will be held the week after the World’s Fair of Money as co-official auctioneers Heritage and Stack’s Bowers host their auctions at their respective Dallas and Costa Mesa, California, headquarters.
1804 Draped Bust dollar
The Sultan of Muscat-Watters-Brand-Childs-Pogue 1804 Draped Bust silver dollar is the star of Stack’s Bowers’ Aug. 17 Rarities Night auction. It’s the finest-known example of this legendary rarity, graded Proof 68 by Professional Coin Grading Service. It is a Class I original example struck for diplomatic purposes in the 1830s.
It was last offered in May 2016 at Stack’s Bowers and Sotheby’s Pogue IV auction from the collection of D. Brent Pogue where it did not meet its reserve. Some anticipated that it would have become the most expensive coin ever to sell at auction when it crossed the auction block; bidding reached the $9.2 million level, which would have been a then-record sum of $10,575,000, but it failed to meet the minimum price set by the consignor.
It had previously set a record when offered at Bowers and Merena’s 1999 Walter H. Childs Collection auction for $4,140,000, where it topped expectations in the marketplace pegged it at $3 million.
Since the unsuccessful 2016 sale of Pogue’s 1804 dollar, the market for the most expensive coins has been tested. Pogue’s 1822 Capped Bust gold $5 half eagle — which also went unsold at the Pogue IV auction — was re-offered by Stack’ Bowers earlier this year and brought $8.4 million. It had passed in 2016 at a bid that, with buyer’s fee, would have been $7.52 million.
The current record for a coin at auction is the famed “King Farouk” 1933 $20 Saint-Gaudens double eagle, which realized $18,872,250 at Sotheby’s on June 8, providing evidence that bidders are willing to stretch for the rarest of the rare.
The offered dollar was originally part of a cased presentation set presented to Sayyid Sa’id-bin-Sultan (known as the Sultan of Muscat) on Oct. 1, 1835. As the cataloger observes poetically, “When Said bin Sultan first saw this coin, it was likely brilliant white, a gleaming circle of silver. After decades in its case, and years of careful preservation in the cabinets of Virgil Brand and the Childs family, superb toning has gathered on its surfaces. Light blue dominates, boldest in the right obverse field and above Liberty’s head, while gold frames the peripheries and covers the left obverse field. The effect is that of Liberty peering into a blue sky with a golden sunrise behind her.”
It is one of just eight known Class I Original 1804 dollars. A single Class II coin was struck circa 1858 in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution and six Class III restrikes bring the total known “1804 dollars” to just 15.
Stack’s Bowers concluded, “No overview on American numismatics is complete without a mention of the 1804 dollar, and the 1804 dollar’s story is incomplete without notice of the sets of coins made in the name of diplomacy,” placing it in a broader context, adding, “Legendary beyond the insular world of numismatics, no other American coin has caused as many empty inkwells as the 1804 dollar, inspiring several full-length books and countless articles and commentaries.”
1794 Flowing Hair dollar
Not to be outdone, Heritage will also offer a top example of a coveted early silver dollar when it presents the St. Oswald-Ostheimer-Hayes-Pogue 1794 Flowing Hair dollar graded Mint State 66+ by PCGS with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker, from the collection of Texas businessman Bob Simpson, at an Aug. 18 Platinum Night session.
Like the aforementioned 1804 dollar, another 1794 Flowing Hair dollar was once the world’s most expensive coin at auction when the finest-known example, called a Specimen strike by PCGS, sold for $10,016,875 at a 2013 Stack’s Bowers auction.
The subject offering is the second-finest of the 1,758-piece mintage of which perhaps 150 survive today, with it last being sold at the September 2015 Pogue II auction by Stack’s Bowers and Sotheby’s for $4,993,750.
Heritage calls it the finest Mint State circulation strike, distinguishing it from the Specimen strike and besting another one graded MS-66+ without a CAC sticker.
Heritage’s cataloger praises the bold strike and absence of visually cumbersome planchet adjustment marks, noting, “every strand of Liberty’s flowing hair is individually defined from the forehead to the tip of the bottom curl. The cheek is full, with all facial features fully struck. A speckling of golden-gray patina does not restrain the fulsome cartwheel luster that radiates from the center of each side.”
In contrast to the record-setting Specimen strike, which some have believed was the first silver 1794 dollar struck at the Philadelphia Mint, the offered dollar was not one of the first examples struck from the dies. It shows die clashing that indicates it is a middle die state and the planchet — though with fewer adjustment marks than typically seen that would bring a planchet down to the proper weight — shows no evidence of special preparation. However, the first coinage of the largest silver coin authorized by Congress was likely a very special occasion in the young country.
Heritage suggests, “Logically, some pieces were reserved as samples, supported by the fact that a handful of 1794 silver dollars survive today in Mint State, plus one Specimen strike. We can imagine that [first Director of the U.S. Mint] David Rittenhouse or other prominent Mint officials viewed this very coin at one time or another shortly after its mintage, and hand-picked it for a special purpose.”
For collectors who lack the means to purchase the 7-figure rarity, the auction also has a Very Fine 30 example certified by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. with “smooth and untroubled surfaces” that sold for $132,000 when offered at a Heritage auction last year.
Magnificent Morgan dollars
Two Morgan dollars dated one year apart should appeal to specialists and general collectors alike.
Stack’s Bowers has a beautiful Proof 68 1881 Morgan dollar with a green CAC sticker that shows both the skill of the U.S. Mint at the time to produce beautiful Proof coins, and the challenges of coin photography. The description seems to acknowledge the latter, by introducing it as “a coin that really needs to be seen to be fully appreciated.”
The firm adds, “The surfaces are wonderfully original in preservation, the obverse with a partial crescent of antique copper peripheral toning that gives way to smoky-silver and apricot-gray patina elsewhere.”
Pictures of the coin taken by the auctioneer show more of the smoky hues while pictures by PCGS, presumably taken with the coin out of the holder, show more vibrant hues. While it’s not a rare issue in the context of Proof Morgan dollars, it is among the very finest of the 984 Proof 1881 dollars struck and comes from an original, matched, “fresh to market” 1881 Proof set, with the set’s other coins offered as separate lots in the auction.
The auctioneer warns, “As the finest seen by CAC in the non-Cameo category, interested parties should expect fierce competition from other bidders for this offering and are urged to prepare an aggressive bidding strategy.”
Also coming from the Simpson Collection at Heritage’s Part IV Simpson offering is a pattern 1882 Morgan dollar graded Proof 66 brown by PCGS that has a pedigree that traces back to the Philadelphia Mint. It was struck from the regular Morgan dollar dies on a copper planchet with a reeded edge.
Heritage writes, “The surfaces are deeply patinated with over a century’s accumulation of sea-green and blue toning with an occasional area of brown in the fields or on the device high points.” The coin is unique, listed as Judd 1703a and Pollock 1906 in the pattern references.
A prior auction offering cited a letter that once accompanied the coin, documenting its provenance back to the U.S. Mint. That letter stated, “During 1884, A.M. Smith, author and publisher … visited the mint and obtained directly from Superintendent Colonel Archibald Louden Snowden an all-copper 1884 proof set, which included the quarter, half, both regular and trade dollars, and the gold denominations, together with both regular and trade dollars of 1882 in copper, and an 1883 trade dollar, also in copper. In return for the favor, and because of their close, personal relationship, we may assume that a large part of the purchase price was a strict vow of eternal silence about the very existence of these trial pieces, much less their origin.”
It is part of a series of clandestine production of exotic, off-metal coins meant as delicacies for collectors, rather than as tests for future production issues struck at that time.