Monday, March 2, 2009

Coin Monday: A cataloger’s cliffhanger

March 2, 2009
Posted by John

“I have a couple of coins to show you.”

I turned around in my chair. George was hovering behind me, a Cheshire-cat grin on his face. I set aside the Seated half dollar I was cataloging. If George had a pass-around coin, it was bound to be spectacular.

“All right, show me.”

“Is this a better date?”

He passed me the coin. “Hello!”

It was an 1870-CC twenty dollar gold piece, or double eagle, graded XF45, from the Baltimore Signature Coin Auction at the end of this month. After the initial rush of excitement, my cataloger’s sense took over. I remembered the last 1870-CC double eagle Heritage had offered, the VF30 Baltimore Collection example in our October 2008 Dallas auction, but to find the one before it, I had to go back more than two years, to the Wyoming Collection specimen we offered in Denver in August 2006. An example landing on my desk was far from an everyday occurrence!

My thoughts turned to its rarity and history. All of the 1870-CC coins, from quarters to double eagles, are famous as being the first of their kind, and coins from Carson City have a powerful ability to evoke thoughts of the Old West. The coin in my hand brought to mind struggles and triumphs, both the slog involved in setting up a mint with the limited resources available in Nevada, which had achieved statehood just six years earlier, and the sense of achievement that must have come when the first coins, silver dollars, were struck.

Those first double eagles were not made to be held in bank vaults or otherwise sit idle; they were made for commerce, and they served that purpose, perhaps too well. The vast majority of them have been lost to time, and none of the 1870-CC double eagles known today – estimated at 40 to 50 survivors out of a production run of 3,789 coins – came through the ages without becoming worn and marked. The coin I held had its share of abrasions, but it was not so worn as most, and the fields still had much of their original shine. I grabbed my loupe and studied the coin more closely.

George gave me half a minute of uninterrupted viewing. “You like that?”

“I sure do,” I said over my shoulder, not wanting to look away.

“Well, how about this one?”

There was a click of plastic on wood as George laid another coin in a holder on my desk.

I lifted my head with a chuckle. What could top the 1870-CC double eagle I already had in-hand? Then I saw it.

“Yeah,” I managed after a few seconds. “That’s a better date.”

To be continued!