Monday, March 15, 2010

Coin Monday: Double Provenance

March 15, 2010
Written by John Dale

Provenance, pedigree (the term Heritage coin catalogers use informally), a roster of previous owners…whatever it’s called, a coin’s past can be a boon to its value. While there’s no provenance that can save a coin from itself—a harshly cleaned coin remains harshly cleaned, regardless of who owned it—the right provenance can make a good coin great, or a great coin transcendent.

Lot 2176 in Heritage’s upcoming March auction at the National Money Show in Fort Worth, is a 1911-D quarter eagle. First, the date: good. The 1911-D quarter eagle has the lowest mintage of any Indian quarter eagle, just 55,680 pieces; by comparison, the issue with the next lowest mintage, the 1914, saw 240,000 examples struck.

Next, the grade: even better. This example is graded MS66. Most Indian quarter eagles don’t come close to that quality, regardless of date. Since the 1911-D started out with such a small mintage, there aren’t too many of the coins regardless of grade, and the 1911-D quarter eagles weren’t saved heavily when they were released, so most survivors are worn or heavily marked. As I write this, lot 2176 is one of only three PCGS-certified 1911-D quarter eagles graded by that firm as MS66, and PCGS hasn’t graded any finer pieces, either.

Last, the provenance: incredible. This coin is being sold as part of The Atherton Family Collection, Part Two, but before that, it was part of two of the most esteemed collections of the 20th century. The Norweb Collection was built to its full splendor over nearly half a century by Emery May (Holden) Norweb and her husband, Ambassador R. Henry Norweb.

When this 1911-D quarter eagle was sold in the late 1980s, it landed in the hands of Harry W. Bass, Jr. His researcher-collector approach to early American gold made him famous, but his eye for quality extended across the entirety of U.S. gold coinage. The Norweb provenance was front-and-center when this coin was sold at auction at the end of the 1990s, along with other Bass Collection coins outside his core holdings.

Any 1911-D quarter eagle in MS66 is sure to be coveted, but the provenance of this example, its link back to the glamour of the Norwebs and the golden touch of Harry Bass, makes it more than just a high-grade coin. It’s hard to explain the appeal of a great provenance to someone who’s never felt that way. Here’s as close as I can get: when a coin like this comes along, when it makes me forget about cataloging for a moment and sends me checking the other offices for someone to share in my excitement—a memorable provenance tells me I've been in good company feeling that way.

-- John Dale Beety

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