Jim Bisognani: CSNS Sales Roar to $61 Million!

Posted on 5/11/2023

An outstanding Newman coin leads Jim to reminisce about past sales and an old friend.

Well, I think it is safe to say spring is finally at hand. All the trees are brandishing fresh blooms; the grass is growing rapidly. Meanwhile, the birds are singing their songs without fear of having their vocal cords freezing up. There’s nothing like hearing the trill of the black-capped chickadee as it grazes and calls others to the freshly stocked feeder on our front porch.

As I settle into my office, I’m confronted with fresh emails. Unfortunately, none of them really helped me with the project at hand this morning. This brings a question to mind, one which some of you have asked. Am I ever at a loss for what to write? Honestly: of course. There are times that yours truly is at a minor loss. But numismatics — both the hobby and the business — is enormous, and there is always something to write about or review. So it’s off to Plan B. (Or is it Plan C?)

Let's talk about the CSNS auction

Heritage just concluded their 2023 Central States Signature auction, and it was a rousing success! Per Heritage’s press release: “Dozens of records fall in Heritage’s $61.1 million Central States Numismatic auctions.” Of this total, $46.2 million was generated from US coin sales. Nearly $9.2 million was hammered home from world and ancient coins, and another $5.7 million was generated in other US currency.

Quite the showing, I say! Back in my youth, when we were still using the abacus, I think a total like this single sale would be equal to what would’ve been generated for the entire year in public auction sales, and then some!

Leading the way was Round 3 of the prestigious Harry W. Bass Jr. Core Collection, which generated nearly $18.15 million. Those proceeds from this famous and prestigious collection are earmarked to benefit dozens of Dallas-based nonprofits supported by the Harry W. Bass Jr. Foundation, with an emphasis on early childhood education and literacy in Dallas. Not surprisingly, a third of those lots from the Bass Core reached six figures and beyond, with one pair breaking through the million-dollar threshold.

A quick review of all the Heritage results reveals that 18 NGC-certified coins went for six figures. Not surprisingly, the lion’s share of this group was gold coins.

Yet it was this beguiling, finest-known 1801 Half Dollar graded NGC MS 64 that secured top bragging rights on the home front. The finest-known example of its kind in the NGC Census, this O-102 variety is the only known example of the coin in Mint State out of approximately 100 coins known of the die marriage. It realized $420,000.

Click images to enlarge.

What a joy it is to view. I had the pleasure of viewing this coin in person many years ago. When this coin last appeared at public sale, it was a featured lot in the Eric P. Newman Collection Part II auction in November 2013, nearly a decade ago. That sale, which was held by Heritage in the Big Apple, raked in $23.4 million. This coin, which Eric Newman purchased for a “mere” $90, realized $329,000. While this reflects nearly a 28% advance from when it sold a decade ago, it is easy for many collectors and dealers to shrug and to say, “No, that’s not really that much of an increase in a decade.”

However, during the sale, there was a tremendous amount of excitement surrounding the Newman Collection. Bidders chased anything in an NGC Newman Collection holder, and in many cases, ultra-exuberant bids were cast! As future Newman Collection sales appeared, the prices realized were more reflective of current trends (but still considerable).

Yes, my fellow coindexters, the prices realized were really off the charts a decade ago. So showing an increase of 28% is, in my estimation, significant, even in this frenzied market.

Reminiscing: Eric P. Newman

The data maven I am, I fondly recall that this particular sale, which consisted of 1,827 coins, was painstakingly assembled by Mr. Newman from the early to mid-20th century, and his total expenditure for that part of his collection was around $7,500. Truly mind-boggling. Altogether, that equates to an unfathomable 311,900% profit for the Eric P. Newman Foundation!

It was around Thanksgiving of 2013, just after the Eric P. Newman Part II auction had concluded, when I had my last conversation with the great man himself. He was 102 years old at the time, still an active scholar and quintessential numismatist at that age. His vast library, work ethic and lifelong passion paid testament and homage to it. I retrieved that phone interview to relay the following narrative:

Jim: Did you have any personal statement on that which just sold?

Newman: I don’t comment on the commercial end at all because I don’t — I’m not familiar with it. I am only a researcher, right; and that I enjoy and I love to do the encouraging development of new material.

Jim: It was truly an amazing sale and such great coins for true collectors to enjoy.

Newman: Well, as you know, I’m retaining a great many of the coins that are in my collection because I have to keep my museum going, and my research projects going.

Jim: Will there be any further sales?

Newman: Yes, there will be a further sale of Half Cents, in which we are participants, and that will take place in January of next year at Goldbergs’ sale. There will be some future sales, and I think one of the foreign coins has been announced.

Jim: Do you still research on any particular subject or series?

Newman: Yes — I can’t — look, I’m 102 years old, and that’s why I can’t work at the pace that I used to.

Jim: I can certainly appreciate that! 

Newman: But I still enjoy research, and that is what I hope to continue to do even though it’s on a very limited basis.

Jim: Do you have any favorite series that you've researched over the years?

Newman: I don’t have a favorite; I work at the programs that I undertake, and I have no favorites. I just like to work to the extent that I can.

Jim: Thank you, sir. I have been a fan of yours for many years.

Newman: You’re very, very nice to say so, and I will try to do a little bit more in research in due course. Happy Thanksgiving to you, good luck to you, keep going!

Jim: Thank you, sir, you too, and take care.

It was truly great, listening to that conversation that I had with Eric back in November of 2013. Amazingly, he would still be with us for another four years, passing at the age of 106 on November 15, 2017. His passing was around the same month and day as our conversation in 2013. For those fellow coindexters out there who aren’t familiar with Mr. Newman, I suggest viewing part of his celebrated collection, which is online at the NGC website and can be seen here in the NGC Newman Gallery.

At present, yours truly only has this fondly recorded memory and two coins from Eric’s vast holdings in my collection. As it turned out, both coins were from the Eric P. Newman Collection Part IX auction from November 2017, which concluded just two weeks before the great numismatic scholar’s passing.

Celebrating my neighboring state, this 1920 Maine Centennial Half Dollar Commemorative graded NGC MS 64 (Eric paid a rather royal $6 for it) has rather lovely toning, I say!

A 1920 Maine Centennial Commemorative Half Dollar graded NGC MS 64 and pedigreed to the Eric P. Newman Collection
Click images to enlarge.

And this rather lovely 1936 Bay Bridge Half Dollar graded NGC MS 63. (Eric paid $3.50.)

A 1936 Bay Bridge Half Dollar graded NGC MS 63 and pedigreed to the Eric P. Newman Collection
Click images to enlarge.

Until next time, be safe, and happy collecting!

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