A Great Time to Buy Rare Coins

Posted on 12/4/2014

The Amon G. Carter, Jr. Family Collection

The last series of articles detailed the auctions conducted by Bowers and Ruddy of the Garrett Collection. The sales contained an incredible array of numismatic material covering Colonials to Territorial Gold, and everything in between. The four sales realized a then record of nearly $25,000,000, the most for any numismatic collection. As mentioned several times in the article, prices were phenomenally high in comparison to what they would have sold for 5 years earlier. Precious metals prices were booming and many coin dealers were making millions. Lots of them decided that it was best to invest in something they knew - rare coins. Unfortunately, this strategy did not work, as coin prices plunged in the early 1980s in tandem with metal prices. By 1982, the year of one of the worst recessions in American history, rare coins were dirt cheap once again. Quite a few of the coins sold in the Garrett sales took decades to recover their original purchase price.

Next up in my series on great sales of the past is the 1984 Stack's offering of the Amon G. Carter collection. My well-worn copy of the catalogue that I used at the sale is a very interesting window into one of the great buying opportunities in the history of numismatics. The Amon Carter collection was sold in one sale over four nights, starting on January 18, 1984. The sale consisted of 1798 lots covering cents through world coinage. A coin by coin discussion of the Amon Carter collection would be extremely lengthy, but I will try to point out the most important highlights, of which there are very many! I would highly recommend serious collectors to purchase a copy of the catalogue. Modern collectors can learn quite a bit by studying the collecting habits of the past. It is quite interesting to see what a man of considerable wealth (publishing and American Airlines) thought worth collecting. His collection was not one of the largest ever formed, but was one of the best in terms of quality and rarity.

The sale of the Amon Carter collection started rather slowly with a selection of small cents, Liberty nickels, Buffalo nickels, and miscellaneous 20th Century coinage. The first 200 or so lots sold from $71 to around $10,000 for a few key date issues. The first great coin sold was lot 207. It is not only a great coin, but actually a coin that many considered one of the greatest United States coins ever struck! Lot 207 was the amazing 1794 Silver Dollar that sold recently for over $10,000,000. The coin was accurately cataloged as the “finest known” example of the date, and even then was touted as possibly the first silver dollar struck. As mentioned before, the Amon Carter sale was a great place to buy coins. Lot 207 sold for $264,000.

As much as this seems a bargain, many of the lesser silver dollars in the Carter sale were even better buys. A few lots later saw the sale of a Gem 1795 Draped Bust Silver Dollar with Prooflike surfaces. The coin sold for $23,100 and is probably worth over $500,000 today. The Gem 1801 Silver Dollar sold for $20,900. A similar coin sold as part of the Newman Collection for over $325,000 in 2013. Some of my favorite bargains of the sale were lots 238, 239, and 240. This incredible trio consisted of 1801, 1802, and 1803 Bust Silver Dollars in Proof. The three lots sold for a combined $184,250. Today the three coins would probably fetch around $2,500,000. The 1804 offered was a circulated example and sold for $198,000. Not a bad price, considering the same coin sold for $2,300,000 in 2009. The next run of silver dollars included a nearly complete set of Proof Gobrecht and Seated Dollars. The next great highlight was the 1870-S Silver Dollar that sold for $46,750 - now worth around $500,000 or more! A few other important silver dollars included the Gem 1893-S Morgan at $57,500 and a Proof 1893-CC Silver Dollar that sold for $$26,400. Wrapping up the silver dollar collections were a rarely offered pairing of an 1884 and 1885 Trade Dollar. The coins sold for $45,100 and $110,000 respectively. They would sell for over $3,000,000 today. This was truly a wonderful time to buy rare coins.

The next evening started with a selection of United States gold coinage. The sale included a nearly complete set of gold dollars, the highest priced coin being an 1861-D Gold Dollar that sold for $17,050. The next group of coins is where some of the best bargains of the sale could be found. The Carter collection included a nearly complete set of early quarter eagles. The first incredible bargain was lot 533, an Almost Uncirculated 1804 Thirteen Stars. The coin sold for just $27,500 and is now worth around $300,000. A Brilliant Uncirculated 1821 Quarter Eagle hammered for $12,650 - now worth over $150,000. The 1825 Quarter Eagle in the same condition brought just $17,600. Bargains were easily had by anyone with the knowledge and the funds. Most coin dealers were on the sidelines, having been brutalized by the market of the previous couple of years. The few coin dealers participating were more interested in bullion related coins which many of the telemarketers of the day were selling. It was mostly a collectors market, and those who purchased were well rewarded.

The next hundred lots consisted of nearly every issue of Proof quarter eagle from 1859 to 1915 and then a nice selection of three dollar gold coins. Following the three dollar coinage, lot 630 was a complete Proof of 1843, including gold coins. The ten coin set sold for $132,000, which is quite the bargain considering one of the gold coins is worth much more than that today. The 1879 and 1880 Coiled Hair Stellas sold for $88,000 and $74,250 respectively. These are probably now worth $2-3,000,000 for the pair. The next lot was the amazing 1879 Quintuple Stella that sold for $93,500.

According to my catalogue notes, the coin was purchased by Ed Trompeter, the famous Proof gold coin collector. The coin is worth over $1,000,000 today. Like the early quarter eagle mentioned above, the run of early half eagles was also where some of the best buys of the sale occurred. The 1797 15 Stars Half Eagle in nearly mint state sold for $12,000 - now worth over $150,000. According to my catalogues notes, I was able to buy lot 639, the 1795 Large Eagle Reverse Half Eagle for $16,500. The coin is now worth around $100,000. I wish I had kept it! Several lots later the 1815 Half Eagle sold for $57,500 against my limit of $50,000. At least I was trying to buy a few of the great coins. These now sell for around $500,000. All of the half eagles from 1815 to 1834 were amazing bargains and nearly all sold for around 10% of their current worth. After the early half eagles, the sale continued with a complete run of Proof issues from 1859 to 1915. Interestingly, the sale contained relatively few rare date gold, branch mint gold coins. As mentioned above, it can be interesting to observe great collectors buying habits.

The collection of early ten dollar gold coins continued the same theme of great bargains. The 1797 Small Eagle was graded Brilliant Uncirculated and sold for just $30,350. These coins could bring nearly over $500,000 if offered for sale. The exceedingly rare 1858 Ten Dollar in Gem Proof condition sold for $121,000. This was the first lot in a complete run of Proof Liberty and Indian gold coins. This is not something that happens very often, and collectors of the day were extremely lucky to have the opportunity. Double eagles contained a few “key” dates in Choice condition. The nearly Uncirculated 1856-O sold for just $46,200. A coin in this condition might bring over $750,000 today. The Carter collection continued with another nearly complete run of 1861 to 1915 Proof gold coins. Most sold for around 10-20% of current values. The collection also included a nearly complete set of Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles, the highlight being the Gem 1927-S that sold for $20,900. A Gem example sold for over $340,000 in 2013. This might have been one of the best buys percentage wise in the sale, but there were so many great deals it’s hard to tell. Interestingly, the lots following the double eagles were some of the worst performing numismatic items sold in the sale. The run of commemorative gold coins sold for a price that seems about right in today’s market. A Brilliant Uncirculated 1915-S Panama Pacific Quarter Eagle brought $4,180.

Amon Carter was from Fort Worth Texas, and perhaps this explains his attraction to large coins. His collection contained over 35 various $50 gold slugs! It is one of the largest and most diverse groups ever offered in one sale. Specialists are urged to obtain a catalogue of this important offering. Amon Carter must have liked Mormon gold coins, as he owned one of the rarest issues, the 1849 Ten Dollar Gold coin. The coin is extremely rare, and sold for $132,000. One of these sold for nearly $1,000,000 a few years ago. The final 200-300 lots were mostly Latin American gold coins, a majority of which seemed unremarkable to me. I’m sure experts in the field would disagree.

Many of the coins purchased by collectors at the Amon Carter sale have been off the market for decades. Some will probably re-appear in the next year or so when some of the great collections slated for sale cross the auction block. Long term collectors did extremely well with purchases at the Carter sale, and many bought coins that rarely appear on the market. The next few years may present another buying opportunity for serious collectors to consider. Great sales do not happen that often, and when they do, it’s time to get serious!

Questions about the rare coin market? Send them to wmr@ngccoin.com.

Jeff Garrett bio

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