Friday, May 22, 2009

Coin Friday and Monday: That coin

May 22, 2009
Posted by John Dale

(Because Monday is a holiday, and most of us are going to be remembering our fallen soldiers and celebrating the start of summer, John Dale and I huddled and decided to move Coin Monday to today and let the Coin Monday faithful have a full long weekend to savor the work. That, and I am always happy to turn an extra day over to John Dale; I learn as much from his posts about coins as in any part of my job, and more than once I’ve related facts that I’ve picked up in these posts to friends and family. No kidding. The most useful is to never – ever! – call a cent a penny. I repeat, NEVER call a cent a penny. You don’t want to see what happens to a numismatist when you commit this egregious sin. My thanks to John Dale, and my wishes to you for a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend. – Noah Fleisher)

The idea of a condition census, or listing of best examples, for a date or die variety is time-honored in numismatics. Usually, the condition census will show a sliding scale of grades, such as the top two or three coins being graded AU55, the next best examples XF45 or AU50, and so on, with small rather than large differences in quality from one piece to the next. A few issues, however, have coins in their condition censuses that have become famous in their own right; the Abbey Cent, a 1799-dated large cent, is not at the top of any generally accepted condition census for its variety, yet it has achieved such fame that merely saying “Abbey Cent” sparks instant recognition among many early copper collectors.

In other instances, a coin is without rival, far ahead of the other pieces in the condition census, and gains recognition for its quality; such a coin may be referenced by grade or by pedigree, if the latter is applicable, and the highest possible honor is to be known simply as “that coin,” as in the following conversation:

Cataloger A: “So, have you seen anything exciting today?”

Cataloger B: “We’re getting in an 1856-O $20.”

Cataloger A: “Oh, nice! What grade?”

Cataloger B (smiling): “It’s a 63.”

Cataloger A: “A 63! …oh, is it that coin?”

Cataloger B (nodding): “Yes, it’s that coin.”

Our Long Beach Auction press release covers plenty of ground on the Specimen 63 1856-O double eagle, but it’s hard to convey in a press release how it feels to be in the presence of a mind-blowing coin, one that takes the expectations a collector has for an issue and turns them upside-down; it is not lackluster but gleaming, not softly struck but sharp, not heavily abraded but lightly marked. Until its reintroduction to the numismatic community, no collector even dreamed that an 1856-O $20 like it could exist, and once it appeared on the market, its impact was immediate. Phrases such as “the single most important New Orleans double eagle in existence” are not mere puffery, but reflections on the esteem in which this specimen is held. A common refrain among numismatists is, “If only this coin could talk!”

Perhaps it’s just the auction-house employee in me, but I imagine that if coins could talk, this one would be singing like Eartha Kitt and wanting an old-fashioned millionaire.

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-John Dale Beety

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