Jim Bisognani: Long Beach and Summer FUN!

Posted on 6/22/2023

As two high-traffic auctions combine into one big sale this summer, Jim reflects on one of the most famous sales in numismatic history.

Well, my collector friends, the calendar tells me that today is the first day of summer! With that duly noted, it seems appropriate that the Summer Long Beach Expo is also under way as we go to press.

Always a popular venue, you’d see dealers wheeling and dealing in earnest at the Hyatt Regency prior to dealer set-up on Wednesday. Then, the audible buzz accompanying the public as they arrive for opening day Thursday morning. The Long Beach Expo is one of my favorite shows, and I attended them all when I was working for the Coin Dealer Newsletter nearly 20 years ago.

As is habit, I now found myself perusing the Heritage Auctions website to view the upcoming Long Beach Expo signature sale highlights. But what’s this? There is no Long Beach Signature Auction scheduled. Not even in “name only” with the lots being sold at the home office in Dallas. Instead, I find that, for the first time, there will not be a stand-alone Long Beach Signature Auction. Instead, Heritage is combining the Long Beach Expo and the upcoming Summer FUN show into one sale!

This joint venture will be running at the Heritage Auctions Dallas office from July 20 to 23, effectively one month after the actual Long Beach Expo has concluded and one week after the conclusion of the Summer FUN Show… but hey, what’s in a name? More on that later.

For me, this is simultaneously disappointing and a little bit exciting. After all, it’s the coins we’re interested in, right? And while the sale is a little over a month away, there are a few standout NGC-certified items that bear mentioning.

This 1876-S Liberty Half Eagle graded NGC MS 62 ranks as the second-finest-known example of this coveted San Francisco Half Eagle. It’s a rarity in any grade, as only 4,000 coins were struck in this centennial year at our most-western-point mint. Since numismatists were even a bigger rarity, none were lined up at the San Francisco Mint to snag a coin for their collection. So the entire mintage was released to general circulation, where it saw extensive use in commerce.

At present, the NGC Census reveals a total population of just 27 in all grades. The majority are — as expected — in low- to mid-grade circulated condition, with only this present coin and the finest-known NGC MS 65 in Mint State. This occasion will mark the first appearance for this NGC MS 62 1876-S. It will be fascinating to see how much this coin brings, as the market for rare date gold has been on fire since the pandemic.

1876-S Liberty Half Eagle graded NGC MS 62
Click images to enlarge.

A bit of reference: The lowest-graded example in the NGC Census — an AG 3 coin — realized $3,120 back in March 2022. Compare that to $1,920 realized for an NGC F 12 which came to market in September 2019! The AG 3 brought in 62.5% more than a coin that was several full grades higher to boot, which is somewhat astounding even when taking into consideration the powerful market.

1876-S Liberty Half Eagle graded NGC AG 3. Realized: $3,120 in March 2022
Click images to enlarge.

Reflecting on the historic Garrett sales

One can only imagine what the finest-known 1876-S Half Eagle graded NGC MS 65 —which was part of the famous Garrett Collection sale for Johns Hopkins University — would bring if it were to appear in the current market. The database in my head races back to nearly 43 years ago, locking in on a mild reminiscence of those historical Garrett sales.

Although the catalog was produced nearly eight years prior to the advent of third-party grading, the 1876-S Half Eagle was catalogued nonetheless as a “Unique Gem Uncirculated” MS 65. This coin was lot #487, and it was from the first of the Garrett sales back in November 1979. It brought what was, at the time, an incredible $34,000!

I can personally attest to the fervent action at these Garrett sales, as I was fortunate enough to attend a pair of these “circuses” and even recorded the entire event on a cassette recorder (only audio, my friends), which I had brought to the sale in New York. I remember asking Bill Hawfield, the President of Bowers & Ruddy, if it was alright to place the recorder close to the auctioneer’s — George Bennett — podium. He said sure. In fact, Bill asked me to please make a copy of the sale for him when I was through, which I gladly agreed to.

Yes, even in my earlier numismatic career, I was a nut for stats and history. I recall the enormous applause after lot 1565 from the Garrett sale – Part 3, back in October 1980. What was the amazing coin that generated this ovation, you may ask? Was it one of the many spectacular New Jersey coppers or maybe the fabulous 1796 MS 65 dime? No, it had to be the 1795 Gold Eagle graded MS 65 — right?

Nope — all wrong. The coin which caused all the commotion on the floor was a 1913 Type I Buffalo Nickel in Fine to Very Fine condition… which realized $175! There was nothing special about the coin, except that it had the Garrett pedigree. Without it, the coin would have been worth, at most, $3 or $4 (no, I didn’t bid on it).

The 1913 Type I Buffalo Nickel as it appeared in the auction catalog in 1980. Realized: $175 in October 1980
Click image to enlarge.

It’s fun to reflect on those Garrett sales. In total, there were four sales, with 2,353 lots, held between November 1979 and April 1981. The total proceeds from those sales were just over $25 million, so the average price paid per coin was a little over $10,600. Please let me take my pick. Hmm… one of the Brasher Doubloons would be nice. Those Garrett sales were historic; now there’s a name of consequence.

Anyway, back to the Long Beach/Summer FUN Signature sale...

Another rare gold coin caught my eye; an 1864 Liberty Quarter Eagle graded NGC MS 60. A truly fabulous find in any condition, as only 2,772 were struck for general circulation at the Philadelphia Mint during the height of the Civil War. A true treasure, as it’s estimated that fewer than two dozen in all states of preservation remain today. Of the four known Mint State examples, this is the first public appearance of any of that quartet in over 27 years!

1864 Liberty Quarter Eagle graded NGC MS 60
Click images to enlarge.

Enjoy the summer season, my fellow coindexters, as it is all too brief here in New England. Perhaps you can parlay a trip to a regional or marquee numismatic event while on vacation with the family! I am sure the kids will enjoy it.

Until next time, be safe and happy collecting!

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