Jeff Garrett: When Great Collections Are at Auction, It Is Time To Buy

Posted on 3/3/2022

The 1984 sale of the Amon G. Carter Jr. Family Collection was loaded with opportunities.

In the past couple of years, there have been numerous amazingly great collections sold at auction. According to the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG), over $550 million in rare coins crossed the auction block in 2021. An amazing 22 US coins sold for over $1 million.

These mega sales sometimes create unique, once-in-a lifetime opportunities for serious collectors. Many of the coins sold in these sales only become available when great collections are sold. This pattern has been repeated many times.

One of the greatest auction sales of the past is the 1984 Stack’s offering of the Amon G. Carter collection. My well-worn copy of the catalog 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 1,798 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 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 — Carter was the first publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper — thought worth collecting. His collection was not one of the largest ever formed, but his was one of the best in terms of quality and rarity.

Head-spinning silver rarities

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 for between $71 and $10,000 for a few key-date issues.

The first great coin sold was lot 207. Many consider it one of the greatest US coins ever struck: a 1794 Silver Dollar that sold for $264,000. 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. The coin recently sold for $12 million.

Many of the lesser Silver Dollars in the Carter sale were even better buys. A few lots later came 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. A Gem 1801 Silver Dollar sold for $20,900. A similar coin sold as part of the Neman 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 $5 million. The 1804 offered was a circulated example and sold for $198,000. Not a bad price, considering the same coin sold for $2.3 million 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, a coin that is now worth around $750,000 or more! A few other important Silver Dollars included the Gem 1893-S Morgan Dollar at $57,500 and a Proof 1893-CC Morgan Dollar that sold for $26,400. Wrapping up the Silver Dollar collection 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 million today. This was truly a wonderful time to buy rare coins.

Gold that really glittered

The next evening started with a selection of US 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 would 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 13 Stars. The coin sold for just $27,500 and is now worth around $500,000. A brilliant Uncirculated 1821 Quarter Eagle hammered for $12,650; it is now worth over $250,000. 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 that many telemarketers of the day were selling. It was mostly a collectors’ market, and those who purchased were well rewarded.

The next hundred or so lots consisted of nearly every issue of Proof Quarter Eagle from 1859 to 1915, followed by a nice selection of Three Dollar gold coins. Following the Three Dollar coinage, lot 630 was a complete Proof set of 1843, including gold coins. The 10-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 between $3 million and $4 million for the pair. The next lot was the amazing 1879 Quintuple Stella that sold for $93,500. According to my catalog notes, the coin was purchased by Ed Trompeter, the famous Proof gold coin collector. The coin is worth well over $1 million today.

The 1880 Coiled Hair Stella graded NGC PF 62 that sold for $74,250 during Stack's auction of the Among G. Carter Jr. Family Collection in 1984. Following NGC certification, it sold for $575,000 at a Heritage Auctions sale in 2009.
Click images to enlarge.

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 and is now worth over $150,000. According to my catalog notes, I was able to buy lot 639, the 1795 Large Eagle reverse Half Eagle, for $16,500. The coin is now worth around $200,000. 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 golds or branch mint gold coins. As mentioned above, it can be interesting to observe great collectors’ buying habits.

The collection of early $10 gold coins continued the same theme of great bargains. The 1797 Small Eagle was graded Brilliant Uncirculated and sold for just $30,350. This coin could bring over $750,000 if offered for sale. The exceedingly rare 1858 $10 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 $1 million today. The Carter collection sale continued with another nearly complete run of 1861 to 1915 Proof gold coins. Most sold for around 10 to 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 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 prices that seem about right in today’s market. A Brilliant Uncirculated 1915-S Panama-Pacific Quarter Eagle brought $4,180. Perhaps commemorative gold coins are a great bargain at current levels!

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 was one of the largest and most diverse groups ever offered in one sale.

Amon Carter must have liked Mormon gold coins, as he owned one of the rarest issues, the 1849 $10 gold coin. The coin is extremely rare, and sold for $132,000. One of these sold for nearly $1 million a few years ago. The final 200-300 lots were mostly Latin American gold coins, most 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 occasionally re-appear when great collections 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 be 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!

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