Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Goin’ ‘Shoeless’ at Heritage: Trove of tainted ‘Black Sox’ player in April

March 31, 2009
Posted by Noah

“Shoeless” Joe Jackson is one of those guys who lives on as much in infamy as legend. He stands among the most brilliant baseball players to ever step on a diamond, and as one of the most cursed. The former cannot be disputed. The latter, however, is rightfully the subject of much debate. The fact, though, is that we’re auctioning off some very cool Joe Jackson stuff – and I don’t mean the singer of Steppin’ Out – in the April Sports Auction. For the right collector – that brave soul who loves the sport as much for its black eyes as for its glory – these are must-have items.

I’ve always been a fan of the underdog – I took 16-seed Radford to win the NCAA Tourney this year – so it may not come as a surprise that I always believed Joe Jackson was framed. Also, how can you not love a guy whose nickname is “Shoeless?” The most telling fact of his innocence, though, is in his statistics during that notorious 1919 World Series. They went up. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Would a guy trying to hand the Series to Cincinnati play better in a situation that depended on the best players intentionally playing worse? I don’t buy it. If I had about $100,000, however, I’d certainly buy the 1914 Boston Garters Joe Jackson baseball card that’s part of the trove.

Another key lot in the several that constitute this mythic corner of baseball history is a 1908 Greenville Spinners team photograph featuring an impossibly young version of the soon-to-be slugger and pariah. It is his first gig, the year before he was called to the majors, and eventually stardom, by Connie Mack, and Jackson is raw. What’s impressive about him in the photo is the raw physicality he conveys, a diamond in the rough. He’s ready to break out, if not ready for the challenges and pitfalls of fame, which took him considerably longer to master. It’s a beauty of a piece, and at around $20,000, I’d say well worth it. Something Cooperstown should be interested in, even if it represents a supposed stain on the game. (Jackson was never convicted of any wrongdoing, by the way. MLB had already made up its mind as to his culpability.)

In the photo, the team mascot sits right at Jackson's right foot, if you don't already know what he looks like.

“This is the first ever to reach the hobby's auction block,” said Chris Ivy, “and the first we've ever encountered, period.”

It’s an amazing look at the innocence of youth before the influence of fame and fortune, and scandal, make it all dissolve into a bitter mask of indifference.

As for the other Joe Jackson, the singer from the 1980s, I have seen him in concert at least a dozen times and his albums – from 1977’s I’m The Man up through 1986’s Big World – remain a staple in my music rotation. His longtime bass player, Graham Mabe (pronounced “Maybe”) is the very best of his generation and is the reason I learned to play the bass guitar. I had the chance to interview Joe for Goldmine Magazine last year, and found him to be a very forthright person, a good interviewee and a very outspoken advocate for Smoker’s Rights. No kidding. Still, he rocks.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Coin Monday: Rarity Comes With the Territory

March 30, 2009
Posted by John

Though cataloging comes fairly late in the consignment process, often the catalogers get a hint of what’s coming through the pipeline. My main source is the consignment director grapevine; I can’t count the number of times I’ve met a CD in the hallway and the first thing I hear is: “You’re going to love this. I had an (insert fabulous rarity here) come in today. It’s going in the next auction.”

I have my other sources as well, and one of them told me about a small gold ingot that was in-house and was going to be part of next month’s Central States Auction. A few probing questions later, I found out it was a Moffat ingot, created in 1849 during the California Gold Rush. I was on the numismatic equivalent of a sugar rush the rest of the day, asking for updates on the ingot’s internal processing status a little too frequently. I also spoke with the other catalogers and convinced them to let me do the write-up on it. Victory was mine!

Two days later, I had the opportunity to actually catalog the ingot itself. In the meantime, I’d done plenty of research and consulted with outside sources, supplementing my knowledge of the Moffat ingots in general.

Most ingots created during the California gold rush were meant only to serve as a way of transporting gold; a solid rectangular ingot was much easier to handle than the gold dust and tiny nuggets that made up the bulk of California gold discoveries. Such ingots were weighed, usually to the hundredth of an ounce, and stamped with that weight, the ingot’s fineness to three decimal places, and a conversion of that weight and fineness to a dollar value based on official government rates. Sizes and dollar values varied widely.

The Moffat ingots from 1849, by contrast, are smaller and share the denomination of $16.00.

Why $16.00? Some scholars suggest that the $16.00 denomination corresponded with the eight escudo coins, better known as doubloons, circulating in Latin America; just a few years before the gold rush, California was Mexican territory, and even after California became part of the United States, Mexican coinage stayed in use. (Two other small-size Moffat bars are known, denominated in irregular dollars and cents. They are unique and held by the Smithsonian.)

Somewhere between one dozen and two dozen of the $16.00 Moffat ingots survive today, suggestive of what must have been a much higher original mintage. In addition, all known examples show wear from handling. It is clear that the $16.00 ingots, of a much smaller size than other ingots, were not intended as a mode of transportation; instead, they were made to serve as money, and judging from their worn states, the Moffat ingots did indeed serve that purpose. They were among the first pieces of West Coast territorial gold, or gold money struck by private individuals or firms instead of a government mint or assay office.

This $16.00 Moffat ingot is a fascinating artifact of the California Gold Rush, an inspiration for those with a passion for the past. As I held it, I remembered the classic numismatist’s line about money being “history in your hands,” and once again I felt its truth.

When Tiger roars we are lucky just to be within earshot

March 30, 2009
Posted by Noah

Monday is reserved for coins, I know, but I felt compelled to write something after watching Tiger Woods come roaring back to dominance in yesterday’s conclusion to Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Invitational. If you are not a golf fan, and don’t watch the guy, then I really do pity you. He is, simply put, the greatest to ever pick up the sticks, and certainly the most dominant athlete on the planet at the moment. Greatness personified, no matter how you slice it, is named Tiger Woods and we are all fortunate to be living in the time of his glory.

I went through the Heritage archives to dig up some of the Woods memorabilia that has sold here in past auction, and it’s an impressive list. There are some things that rightly went for a bundle and some things that were picked up for a song that are worth more and more with every passing year and every passing victory. The top lot is a tourney worn, and signed, Nike cap from around 2004, sweat-stained and all, pictured above. It brought more than $9,000 last October, which looks like a bargain now.

While I am a hacker by any account, I do love playing the game. More than that, however, I love to watch it. I’ve watched it since I was a kid, when I was obsessed with Greg Norman and my brother worked at Preston Trails Golf Club, where the Byron Nelson was played for years, and where I got to go and watch The Shark play in person. It’s a game of sheer poetry when played at its highest level, and sheer travesty when played at its lowest – meaning mine – level. It’s exquisite tension, soaring drama and unbelievable pathos when the very best slug it out for top honors at the most difficult courses, and time and time again Mr. Woods has shown that he has no equal in any time period. Before he is done, mark my words and the words of thousands of others, the history books will be completely rewritten in his exact image.

I wanted to enlist the help of one of our resident experts to legitimize my meager standing, so I called Mark Jordan, one of our Consignment Directors in Sports, the go-to golf guy, and a man who has forgotten more about sports history than I could assemble in any five lifetimes. His thoughts on Woods and Bay Hill:

“(This Bay Hill victory) just shows how determined and focused Woods can be when playing golf,” he said. “Any mortal who is five strokes behind on a Sunday, it’s hard to come out and win. Tiger had to reach down and deep and see if he could pull it out, which he did, and the look on his face when he won shows the guy knew that it was really special that he accomplished that.”

Agreed. Tiger is a man who plays his personal feelings very close to the vest, and people respect that, I believe, because he is so giving of his fire and focus when he is on the course. He is the greatest ever, no one can doubt it, but he still manages to make us root for him like he’s the underdog. The only thing Tiger Woods is an underdog to is history, and that won’t be for too much longer.

“You know, he limps around at Oakmont and wins the U.S. Open (June 2008) on one leg,” Mark continued, “then he has surgery, comes back eight months later and wins Bay Hill, which is (Arnold) Palmer’s tournament to boot. With The Master’s coming up this really gets him in a frame of mind to do well there.”

To the rest of the PGA Tour, who might have hoped for a little respite from Tiger’s dominance as he slowly rehabbed his way back, they all just took a collective punch in the gut – along with a spike in TV ratings and the return of the big prizes as long as Woods is in the field.

I could go on ad infinitum about the man’s greatness as a golfer. Time will tell if he shapes up to be a great man off the course, but that is unimportant right now. All that matters now is that he is back in the game, as great as he ever was, and we should all be grateful to get to fan ourselves from the bright white heat the star of his greatness gives off.

Here’s that archive once again, and a hearty welcome back to Mr. Woods from the world of mortals…

Friday, March 27, 2009

No one – I repeat – No One is faster than The Flash…

March 27, 2009
Posted by Noah

… and very few are more valuable, at least if you’re talking about Showcase #4, The Flash, 1956, from DC Comics. It’s the book that started the Silver Age, and is easily the most valuable Silver Age comic that exists. Did I mention that Heritage is auctioning off a copy of Showcase #4 in our May comics auction? Did I further mention that it’s from the Motor City Run, and that it’s the single highest graded copy of the book in existence? Forgive me for not saying so sooner.

I know that this was a comic printed in 1956, and that I was but a mote of cosmic dust at that point, but this was the comic book of my dreams as a kid. I also know that the Silver Age ended in 1970, the year I was born, but I bought ratty old Silver Age Flash comics with my meager allowance all through the 1970s, the more beat up the better, as I actually enjoyed reading them. I read many of them until they literally disintegrated in my fingers. The few that survived my slavish reading and re-reading of them, as I was very politely informed by Barry Sandoval when I started working here and brought them in on a whim, are worth maybe a couple bucks each. I think he was being charitable at that, as nice a guy as he is…

Showcase #4 introduces Barry Allen as The Flash, and tells his famous origin story. Many a kid, I imagine, was tempted to douse themselves in a stew of chemicals in the hopes of gaining the same speed. At least I know I was – thanks to my brother Matt for stopping me on that hazy July afternoon.

Barry Allen was The Flash of my childhood, and is still The Fastest Man Alive, in my opinion. Wally West is Kid Flash. Period. I know that very fact has become a big part of Wally West’s character, or was until 1996’s The Return of Barry Allen, but I still didn’t buy it, even as much as I enjoyed watching Dr. Zoom take yet one more thrashing some 3,000 years before he was born.

My passion for The Flash has never really died; it’s just changed over the years. Ii now mainly consists of a plastic Flash figurine on my desk. It’s of a later vintage, so I know it must be Wally West. That doesn’t matter to me, though. One of my oldest and dearest friends in the world gave it to me years ago. It has sat on every desk I have worked at for more than a decade, which is not so interesting. The real story of this Flash, though – and I think this proves that The Flash really does have superhuman powers, in all of his forms, even plastic – is that this one survived a rather nasty flood in 2005.

I had just moved to Amherst, MA to edit a couple antique magazines when I got the call one morning that the basement office where I worked in Palmer, MA, flooded to the ceiling overnight when the Quaboag River overran its banks, travelled across a football field, and a parking lot, to flood the whole street and all the buildings on it. Everything was completely destroyed. When we made our way in two days later, knee-deep in mud, paper slush and office equipment, I went to the area of my desk. There, miraculously, sitting right where my desk once was, was The Flash, stand and all.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t a miracle, but it was pretty cool, considering it was really the only thing I was hoping to find.

Here’s a link to all The Motor City run comics in the May Comics Auction. You can look, but you can’t touch…

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Don’t hold your breath for relics from the Titanic anytime soon

March 25, 2009
Posted by Noah

You can’t be in this business without having wondered – at least once during the last 24 years since it was located – whether the 5,000+ relics actually salvaged from the sunken remains of The Titanic would ever actually come to the auction block and what they would be worth. The answer to the former is, as of today, probably never, and the answer to the latter is: who knows?

The AP is reporting widely today that a U.S. Maritime District Judge in Virginia, one Rebecca Beach Smith, is set to rule within weeks that the wreck is “an international treasure” and that “the salvaged items must remain together and accessible to the public… ensuring the 5,900 pieces of china, ship fittings and personal belongings won't end up in a collector's hands or in a London auction house, where some Titanic artifacts have landed.”

The disputed sale of just a few of these things brought great scrutiny and some impressive prices when they were auctioned off, and I’m sure the imminent ruling doesn’t do a whole lot for the folks at RMS Titanic, Inc., who salvaged the relics and were seeking limited ownership of the artifacts from the world’s most famous shipwreck. It is a legal to-do that began in 1985 when the first images of the ship were broadcast to surface.

I won’t lie and tell you that I’m 100% happy about this, because I would have hoped that Heritage’s crack team of Consignment Directors would have been all over this and would have brought the goods, and the glory, home to HA HQ in Dallas. On the other hand, this is indeed good news for the tens of millions of people who have already stood in line to see the artifacts in exhibitions, and for the millions more who will. It may not be a win for Heritage, necessarily, but it is a win for the world at-large. Let’s all give a hearty cheer! Hooray Humanity!

As I enjoy doing with any story like this, I went to Heritage Auction Archives and did a search for “Titanic.” The results were somewhat varied. I expected the myriad movie posters from the late-1990s James Cameron pic, and from various other movies about the sinking, but there are also a good selection of autographs from survivors. The coolest lot, though a prop from the movie, is a lifejacket, which was used during filming. Do you think that Leo might have actually touched it? Maybe Kate spilled her Diet Coke on it? Perhaps James Cameron berated the extra wearing it?

The autographs, especially for one Milvina Dean – the youngest survivor from the ship, btw – seem to have turned into a cottage industry. I suppose, though, I would have done the same thing had I survived the most famous wreck in history…

I was no great fan of the Leo and Kate movie. Despite good FX for the time, the script was horrendous and a lot of the acting wooden. My friends and I actually referred to the movie as The Craptanic. What do you want? I was very cynical, if not clever. I did, though, develop a new appreciation for the movie a year or two after its release when I traveled through India for several months with a good friend. Everywhere we went, it seemed, the movie was playing to massive sold out audiences – especially in Bangalore, Mumbai and Chennai (formerly known as Madras) – and I must have seen at least 1,000 Titanic t-shirts up and down the sub-continent and into Nepal. That was added to the hundreds of greetings we received as we walked the streets of cities or rode trains where people would stop us, shake our hands and say: “Namaste! Leo DiCaprio Titanic! Best film! Best film!”

Check out the HA Titanic archive above, or right here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

'Freaks' find acceptance – an update on a very cool movie poster…

March 24, 2009
Posted by Noah

You may recall that, oh, exactly 14 days ago your humble blogger looked into the churning fog of his crystal ball and recognized an absolute gem just dying to be discovered in Heritage’s March movie poster auction. The humble little prize was a very rare 1932 original Freaks movie poster. I’m not saying that I personally made it a great poster – you flatter me, you flatterer you – I’m just sayin’…

That poster sold last weekend for more than $100,000, and was the second highest lot in the entire auction, right behind an exquisite 1931 Dracula one sheet that I also wrote about more than a month ago in these very pages. Let me just say that, yes, the thing still creeps me out.

The story behind the Freaks poster – which hopefully will become very familiar to everyone soon if it gets picked up off the AP wire and distributed nationally – is one of those great tales that makes the final sale of it that much better.

I had the good fortune to help with the crafting and pitching of the story and to talk to the consignor, one Anne Stafford, out of Southern California. She bought the poster in a dusty old antiques story in Corona Del Mar in the early 1970s. She and her husband were young and struggling at the time – the way so many of us struggle(d) at that age – and she agonized over the $10 the dealer wanted for it. Her love for her husband, and his love of B-movies, was greater than the immediate hardship caused by the missing sawbuck. He loved the poster, they hung it on the wall with tacks until years later when Anne decided to have it framed. Fast forward almost 40 years and the thing sells at auction for 10,000 times its original price. Pretty good investment, yes?

I love stories like this not just because they end happily with the consignor getting justly rewarded for a true treasure, but because the original purchase of the thing, and its subsequent preservation, was an act inspired by the love of a wife for her husband. I don’t have to tell anyone that the journey of a marriage is sometimes biting and sometimes bit – to paraphrase Russel Hoban in Riddley Walker – but ultimately worth it when you give yourself over to what it represents. I like to think that this poster was a witness to both the good times and the bad in their marriage, and ultimately a witness to the value of the institution itself.

Things like the story of this poster are what the story of marriage is built on, what generations relate down the line. That story, with the poster’s auction, is now part of the public domain, and the poster is now in a new home. All these years the Staffords had been sitting on a museum quality rarity, one of the greatest posters in the entire hobby, and one that is worth every cent the buyer ultimately paid for it. Had I had the cash then you can bet I would have dropped it on the thing in a second. For them, however, it was simply that great birthday present from the early 1970s that seemed to cost so much at the time.

Still married, and waiting for that healthy payment check for their consignment, they can laugh about the initial stress of that original purchase, and wish that they had bought a few more posters, spending a few more dollars they weren’t sure they had.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Coin Monday: Of Registry collecting and a 1919-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar

March 23, 2009
Posted by John

I never got into Registry collecting, mostly because my budget can’t support it, but I’ve long found it fascinating. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Registry collecting is an online way for collectors to compare their cabinets with one another, a service usually supplied by a grading firm (for example, NGC).

After registration and setup, simply enter the certification ID numbers off the holders for coins you own, and they appear on the site as being part of your collection. Add in a touch of mathematical fiddling, and presto! For the series you collect, Walking Liberty half dollars, for example, you get one neat-and-tidy score that tells you where your assembled coins stand against the collections others have submitted to the site. Public rankings fuel the competitive spirit, leading collectors to acquire even finer examples of coins already owned.

As with any other numismatic activity, Registry collecting can inspire strong passions and lead to behavior that can seem over-the-top to those on the outside. I have personally observed a collector with a list of coins to purchase, organized into groups so that each group purchased in sequence would move his set one rung up the ladder. Occasionally this mindset turns into an arms-race mentality that can border on Dr. Strangelove levels of absurdity. If there are 89 examples of a particular coin tied for the finest certified at MS67, for example, all is well. Those who want to find a representative at that level can do so, though it may be expensive. When a single MS68 coin is certified, though, it upsets the balance; one collector can gain an edge over everyone else. Much fretting, discussion, and jealousy ensues when a new best-known coin appears in the listings: Who is the lucky one? How did the coin get that grade? What can I do to get my hands on it?

For series enthusiasts, and for Registry collectors in particular, there are many conditionally rare Walking Liberty half dollars coming up in our April Central States auction, including this 1919-D Walking Liberty half dollar, an MS66 beauty.

That’s right, it’s an MS66, and it’s the single finest survivor graded by PCGS. Coinage production was sluggish in the United States immediately following World War I, and the meager output for 1919 was noted for poor production quality, particularly at the Denver and San Francisco Mints. Half dollars were a larger silver denomination, unlike easily-collected cents and nickels, and few individuals saved examples of the new year’s coinage, particularly out West. The Great Depression came just a decade later, and it is a virtual certainty that coins that might have been saved earlier were spent to pay for necessities. Is it any wonder that 90 years later, pristine examples are rarities?

Yet this coin has survived the decades with the same luster and radiance it must have had the day it was struck. To those who would have this coin to call their own, two pieces of advice: First, if you can, do what I have done and savor the piece in person. Admire it at arm’s length and then stare at it closely. Appreciate it, not only for the number on the holder but for the quality that number represents. Celebrate its beauty.

Second, do what I cannot: open the checkbook and prepare to spend a six-figure sum.

Friday, March 20, 2009

April 1 Space Auction gets a nice mention in today’s New York Times

March 20, 2009
Posted by Noah

National publicity, even international publicity, is not new to a world-class agency like Heritage. Just in my seven months here I’ve watched – and had the pleasure to be an active participant in – more than a dozen stories that have broken widespread across newswires and related media outlets across the globe. You add to this the extensive category-specific PR we get, then it starts to expand exponentially into much higher numbers.

Today, though, on this glorious Dallas spring Friday – I kid you not when I say it is a gorgeous day here, as good as it gets in Dallas in my humble opinion – we all got a little kick when we saw that our own Michael Riley, Chief Cataloger and Historian, was quoted in the New York Times today in a nice little piece about our April 1 Space Exploration Auction here at Heritage world HQ, which I wrote about just last week. As a major player in the auction world, we’re all usually pretty sanguine about a story hitting big, but the cachet of the Times makes this one just a little sweeter. It is, after all, America’s paper of record for just about everything.

Michael is a good man and an amazing researcher and historian – and he’s just one of the many superb talents in this building that makes it such a pleasure to come to this beautiful place every day – and he deserves to be quoted for this auction, and he deserves whatever attention may come his way today for his contribution. A passing week has not dimmed my observation that the April 1 Space auction is so cool I can hardly contain my excitement.

I wrote to our resident celebrity to ask him if I could get an autograph before he is partying like a rock star with A-list starlets, and he quickly rebuffed my request – all in good humor, I assure you.

“I think I’ll retire while I’m on top,” he wrote.

In all seriousness, though, the NYT article is just the topper for all the hard work that Michael and the rest of the Space and Americana team has done to make not only this auction such a great success, but also to put Heritage squarely on the top of the heap when it comes to this niche of the market. Clearly, even the space exploration of almost 40 years ago still has the same power to capture our imaginations as it did then.

If you have a few minutes and want to spend some quality digital time with an amazingly cool collection of stuff, much of which actually saw the lunar surface, then grab a cup of coffee, kick back and click on this link. It’s time you’ll find well spent, especially as it fires your imagination into the stratosphere.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Off subject for a moment: On the death of Natasha Richardson

March 19, 2009
Posted by Noah

I’d like to take a few minutes this morning to go just a little off-subject for this blog, though you’ll see that – with my typical breathtaking flair as a writer, ha-ha – that we will ultimately come back. It is a bit grim what I have in mind, to write a bit about the sudden death of famed stage and screen actress Natasha Richardson, wife of actor Liam Neeson. Believe it or not, I had a connection to the couple – not big, but enough to warrant some reflection.

For the second day in a row I find myself transported again to New York’s Hudson Valley.

When I was first starting out as a journalist, as I’ve written before in this blog, I worked for a chain of weekly papers based in a town named Millbrook. Being so close, but just far enough, from NYC, it was home to many famous people. Those that moved there loved the place as a haven from the hysteria of celebrity worship, and the “regular folks” of the town were fiercely protective of these people, and went out of their way to treat them like regular folk. It works quite well, actually. Among the many that live(d) in Millbrook are/were Richardson, Neeson and their two sons.

I eventually became editor of the Millbrook Round Table, the local paper. As editor, I was also a reporter, photographer and layout artist. If you’ve worked in small newspapers, then you know what I mean. As editor in Millbrook I had occasion to know many of the people that lived there, if not by name, at least to say hello to them at the local diner, coffee or antiques shop. Liam Neeson was well-known for riding his motorcycle along the gorgeous and secluded back roads of The Hudson Valley, and one day – it was a Wednesday, I believe, in fall of 2000 – he collided with one of the numerous deer in the area, suffering a crushed pelvis.

I had the good fortune, a week or two after the incident, to be able to go to the home he and Ms. Richardson shared with their boys to interview him about it. It was a normal enough interview, pleasant and no longer than it needed to be. She answered the door, a resplendent beauty in blue jeans, served me a cup of tea – pouring the cream, but not measuring the sugar – and their boys toddled around as toddlers do. I interviewed her husband, then we all chatted pleasantly for a few minutes after the interview about theater, literature and American history. I then took my notebook, shook both of their hands, and left. I was struck by how normal they seemed, even in a place where the famous strove extra hard to be normal.

I’m sorry that she has died, I’m sorry for the pain Liam Neeson must feel, and most of all I hurt for their now teenage sons, whose sadness must know no measure. It is a cruel trick of fate, but death is indiscriminate. None of us gets out alive, no matter how much time and energy we expend ignoring this fact. If, in her death, Natasha Richardson has given people a chance to remember her considerable accomplishments, re-connect with the love in their hearts, to contemplate the fate which awaits us all, and to touch so many people who never knew they could be touched – myself included – then I count her life well lived and her death not in vain.

There is also a Richardson connection to Heritage – albeit small – in the form of two lots in our archives that bear her name. One is a movie poster for the creep John Carpenter movie Gothic, which I hated, and the other is a somewhat odd, and now oddly moving, baseball signed by both she and her husband. It sold for $18 in 2007, with BP.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A view of the Hudson River Valley from the banks of The Trinity

March 18, 2009
Posted by Noah

Okay, so Heritage World HQ is not exactly on the banks of the Trinity, but it’s close enough. We can see the river from the numerous windows on the south side of the building bearing our name. The Trinity, however, is simply a wonderfully clever device – if I say so myself – to make the title of this post work.

What it actually refers to is an amazing major gathering of American paintings – The Buchanan Collection of American Art – that will be auctioned here in June as part of our American Art Auction. The auction is shaping up to be stellar, without a doubt, and that includes some amazing paintings beyond Buchanan. There is one painting, among the many landmark names, that made me sit up right away and take notice. Near Leeds, an 1869 oil on canvas by Hudson River School luminary George Inness. The painting is, in a word, breathtaking.

Anyone who knows me well – Anyone? Anyone? – knows that I have a deep and abiding love for the Hudson River School painters. This came during the decade in which I lived there, in and around Rhinebeck and Red Hook – just above Poughkeepsie, two hours north of NYC – when I worked as a reporter, editor and antiques and art writer. I drove the roads that skirted the Catskill Mountains and peered onto the Hudson, the very views that painters like Frederick Church – I spent many a pleasant afternoon hiking around his amazing Olana estate – and Thomas Cole and Inness, among others, painted with such passion and detail that their influence over the subsequent generations of American painters has yet to diminish.

During the years I traveled that hallowed American landscape I came to know it as a place where America’s history took place. The American Revolutionary War is represented by buildings, plaques, furniture, roads, estates and any vast number of places that bore direct witness to the birth of this amazing country. From that history, The Hudson River Painters were born. They captured the light, the angles and the shadows of the Hudson Valley, but more so they captured the gravitas of the astounding beauty of the place. Just writing about it makes my heart ache to be back there now, as spring brings those amazing vistas to life with a veritable bursting chrysanthemum of varied colors. It is indeed the very view-shed of America, the way in which the northern population centers of young America came to identify itself. It’s very hard for me to write about it with writerly detachment, so much do I love the place…

Inness’s Near Leeds is a masterpiece of middle period Hudson River Valley painting. It looks east towards the mighty river, barely discernible in the distance. Here’s what Marianne Berardi, Heritage’s Senior Art Fine Arts Expert, wrote about the painting in the upcoming Heritage Magazine:

“The verdant scene is calm and the space is beautifully constructed,” she writes. “A woman and her child sit on a log in the right foreground, watching a horse-drawn cart descend along a road, which carves through the heart of the composition and takes the viewer’s imagination along the same path. The greatest force in the painting is the light streaming through the gate on the right, and filtering through the delicate screen of trees.”

Well put, indeed. I’m very excited about this painting, about the amazing Buchanan Collection – which I will certainly cover in more detail in a later post closer to the auction – and about the American Art Auction in general. This is a major auction and it should go a long way toward showing art collectors in this nation that Heritage is a serious player on the scene. I’m glad I get to be around to bear witness to it.

The catalog for the auction is not fully online yet, minus a good handful of works, so you’ll have to accept this little teaser as a taste of the good things to come. Trust me, it’ll be worth the wait.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March Madness meditation on a hazy Tuesday

March 17, 2009
Posted by Noah

First of all please accept a heartfelt b’gosh and b’gorrah from this Jew on such a fine St. Patty’s Day. I can never think of March 17 without remembering my years in NYC, on which March 17 was a mass sick day for thousands of workers in the city. And sick indeed they all became by the end of the day, what with drinking steadily since 8 a.m. that morning… Ah, good memories….

In light of the infuriating news of AIG bonuses, I will focus today on the fact that March Madness is finally set to begin. The NCAA tournament brackets have been finalized and there’s a pool supposedly making its way to around Heritage – not that I, or Heritage, condone such a thing – but so far no one has asked me to join. That’s just as well I suppose, given that a) I am lousy at predicting the future without a souped-up Delorean and Marty McFly to navigate the pitfalls of the future and b) I haven’t followed the NCAA tournament since my daughter was born three years ago. It wasn’t for lack of wanting to, though. You take her mid-February birth, however, and add almost four solid months of colic to that and you can imagine that March never stood a chance.

The last time I really followed the tournament in depth was actually in 1999, a few months removed from a life-altering journey across India and Nepal. I believe Arizona won that year, a number 5 seed.

This year’s tournament is shaping up to be pretty good, I reckon, what with the ever-changing #1 ranking this season. Louisville, Pitt, UConn and The Tarheels all take the #1 seeds, though I don’t imagine all four will be standing by the end. That’s as much as I can say. Were I to actually participate in the office pool, I would try and let one or two get through to the Final Four. My heart usually prevails over my head, however, and I most likely would support #16 seed Radford as the ultimate tourney winner. Go Radford! I’d be curious to know who the experts in the company have chosen – and there are many in our Sports Memorabilia department, as you can imagine – including our illustrious founder Steve Ivy. Word has it that Steve is passionate about basketball and is an experienced and successful bracketologist.

I do have to sound off on what I believe is the greatest championship game in the history of the tournament, and I hope a few people disagree with me. There really is only one choice: ‘Nova over Georgetown, 66-64, in 1985. It was the first year of the 64-team tourney. ‘Nova was an 8-seed and G’town a #1. The Wildcats shot an amazing 78.6 from the field, going 22 for 28 in FGAs. They shot 90% in the second half and just simply stunned G’town and poor Patrick Ewing, who I came to love as a Knicks fan in the 1990s. There! I wrote it and I won’t take it back…

I took the liberty of searching our archives for some choice NCAA Final Four memorabilia, in the hopes of finding something spectacular. What I found is interesting, not great, especially, but interesting nonetheless… I actually had more luck looking up individual players than an overall concept. The top seller is a lot of 1996-2005 coach’s press pins, which brought more than $700 in 2007. After that it’s more pins and several programs…

If you want to let me know your choices, or express empathy with my dark horse pick of Radford, then feel free to shoot me an email: NoahF@HA.com.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Coin Monday: A nickel is a cent is a very rare nickel, and it will be offered in Baltimore

March 16, 2009
Posted by John

One of the most intriguing items in our upcoming Baltimore U.S. Coins auction is actually a mistake: a five-cent piece struck on a planchet (or blank piece of metal) intended for a one-cent coin. As far as minting mistakes go, the wrong-planchet error is uncommon, though by no means unheard-of; stray cent planchets get stuck at the bottom of a tote bin, for example, and jar loose when the bin is filled again, this time with nickel blanks. What makes this error so special is when it was struck, a time that is inextricably linked to a host of temporary changes to U.S. coinage; this error could not have happened in any other year.

It was struck in 1943, at the height of America’s involvement in World War II, a time when the nation’s need for metals such as copper and nickel had never been greater. Many people, even among non-coin collectors, have heard of “steel cents” and “war nickels,” though they may not know exactly what they are or how they differ from regular pieces.

In 1943 only, one-cent coins were minted out of zinc-coated steel instead of the bronze alloy that had been used from 1864 until 1942. The various mints faced enormous technical challenges with the steel planchets (steel being much harder to strike than bronze, among others), and the odd coloration of the steel cents led to confusion with dimes. In 1944, the metal used for cents changed back to a majority-copper alloy, which was called “shellcase brass” after one of its main sources, salvaged ammunition casings. Cent coinage in bronze resumed in 1947.

The “war nickel” alloy was more successful. While the five-cent pieces called “nickels” were only 25% nickel (the element), the rest of the alloy being copper, the element nickel was essential to making stainless steel, and thus crucial to the nation’s military manufacturing. Starting in October 1942, the alloy used to strike five-cent pieces changed to 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese, cutting down on copper usage and completely eliminating nickel. This alloy was more successful than the steel-cent experiment and continued through the end of 1945. The “war nickels” also had their designs changed, with prominent mintmarks placed above the dome of Monticello on the reverse, the better to identify them; as silver prices rose, more and more were taken out of circulation for their silver content, with the “war nickels” virtually vanishing from pocket change by the mid-1960s.

This wrong-planchet error could only have come from 1943, the year when the cents were steel and the nickels were silver. The surfaces are slightly worn, suggesting that it either circulated for a short time or was kept as a pocket-piece curiosity. The surface area of the steel cent blank, smaller than that of a nickel, has cut off parts of the design, including much of the date, though the bottoms of the digits are visible, including the distinctive curve of the 3.

Wrong-planchet errors involving steel cent blanks are some of the most prized mint mistakes, since they were made within a one-year window, and most errors made in any given year are caught before they can leave the mint and melted down. If you’re visiting us in Baltimore, our lot viewing is a great chance to look at this fascinating error, as well as a whole host of other treasures.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It’s not exactly ‘Beam me up, Scotty,’ but it’s as close as I’ll ever get to space travel

March 12, 2009
Posted by Noah

I’ve been known, occasionally, to get carried away with the excitement of a given moment, but I’m not exaggerating when I say there’s a lot in our April 1 Space Exploration Auction that may well be the very coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and any previous ones I might have had… It’s Astronaut John Young’s Gemini 10 Foldout Desktop Cockpit Control Training Aide

Before I get to the meat of this amazingly cool piece of space memorabilia, can I just say that I am of a generation that, as kids, was promised – at least by The Jetsons, Star Wars and Star Trek – that the future held flying cars, teleportation, green women and wise little lizard-like gurus who would teach me to use a light saber and lift my space ship out of a bog without touching it, which would have come in handy when it came time to let the dog out and I didn’t want to get up from the couch. I know that Star Wars ostensibly took place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but stick with me. So far I haven’t gotten any of these things Hollywood promised me, and I want, at least, my flying car.

My disappointments with the whole of human kind’s inability to fulfill my puerile sci-fi fantasy aside, this lot I’m talking about was a manual training aide for Astronaut John Young, one of the nation’s most prolific and respected space travelers and moonwalkers. He used it to master the hundreds of circuit breakers and switches he was required to know better than scripture when he commanded the Gemini 10 lunar mission. It wasn’t even flown into space, but it was one of the most crucial pieces of erudition for one of America’s best and bravest. I can only imagine how nuts I would have been as a kid to have something like this, just simply as a toy. Even as an adult, sitting here writing this, I am picturing myself sitting at home, early on a Saturday morning, navigating myself and my imaginary band of Federation Jedi on some secret mission at the behest of Master Yoda.

When I started this job last year, one of the first press releases I had to write was for a Space Exploration Auction. Howard Weinberger, Heritage’s Senior Space Consultant told me something that has stuck with me.

“It’s a truism in the world of Space flown memorabilia,” he told me, “ that if you took every single thing that has ever flown into space, in the possession of an astronaut, and put it all together, then it would fill a single large suitcase. Heritage has now been to that suitcase five or six times.”

Granted, a lot of the Space flown memorabilia in the April 1 auction is not necessarily from that singular suitcase, but a lot of it is. That which isn’t is indeed still part of America’s greatest era of space exploration, and still floated in the great yonder, free from the surly bonds of earth. This cockpit training aide did neither, and I’d still give some part of the right side of my body to have it.

I may not ever get to seek out new life or boldly go where no one has gone before, but I can at least venerate those who did, and – where possible – play with the same toys. Check this thing out, and see if you don’t feel the same way.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Of Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch and mysterious missives from the past (or future?)

March 11, 2009
Posted by Noah

I usually get up early in the morning – really early, really – so I can get myself ready for the day, check my email in peace and have a cup of coffee to the soothing early morning sounds of NPR and the quiet page click of The New York Times. It’s worth the loss of an hour’s sleep to get the time. This morning The Times featured an article in its Art & Design section about the opening of a legendary Abraham Lincoln pocket watch that, as legend had it, contained a mysterious inscription on the inside, from a watch repairer, to Abraham Lincoln, engraved at the start of the Civil War.

Heady stuff to be sure. I had actually heard this rumor before. The watch, belonging to The Smithsonian, hadn’t been opened in almost 150 years, and the message was subject of much debate. The watch was passed down through generations of the same family, before being bequeathed to The Smithsonian, and it was only on Tuesday of this week, March 9, that the thing was finally opened.

I have to admit there was a part of me that hoped it would be a message from a time traveler who got stuck in 1861 and left the inscription for his future self, to tell him to be careful not to eat the knockwurst – which, of course, gave him indigestion, which caused him to over sleep and miss the temporal window that would have allowed him to travel back to the year 3049. Alas, however, it is simply a message of support for the Union.

It reads: “Jonathan Dillon April 13- 1861 Fort Sumpter(sic) was attacked by the rebels on the above date. J Dillon,” on the underside of the watch. It continues: “April 13- 1861 Washington thank God we have a government Jonth Dillon.”

Not exactly a message to Kirk and Spock instructing them to bring whales with them from the past to the future, but still cool nonetheless, and a heartening message of national unity from a time of great and terrible distress. It doesn’t hurt that the watch is a thing of amazing beauty, with undeniable proximity to America’s favorite President.

As soon as I got to work, with the Lincoln watch on my mind – and covetousness in my heart, I admit – I checked out the upcoming May 13 Fine Watch auction here at Heritage. It wasn’t so much in the hopes of finding something of great historical import that was somehow overlooked by the team of experts we have here – it would never happen, trust me – so much as a desire to bask in the glow of timepieces – pocket watches in particular – that I most likely will never have.

The auction overall is chock full of great watches, mind you, any of which I would be glad to own – an superb and stylistically progressive circa 1809 Breitling Cosmonaute 1809 Chrono-Matic, in particular – but there’s a Soyer (a Dieppe) Single Hand Oignon with Center Winding pocket watch, circa 1695, that is such a stunner that I’ve had it open on my computer most of the morning just so I can take look every so often and drift into a daydream of owning it. You can see it by clicking the link above. I urge you to.

Could I ever really wear such a watch, were I to own it? I don’t know. I’m not really the pocket watch type. You kind of have to be a little older, much more English, wearing a very well tailored gray or brown suit, with a derby on your head, a monocle in your eye, and the name Lord Autumnbottom etched onto your calling card…

Still, a guy can dream… Pip, pip! Cheerio!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

“One of us, one of us! Gooble gobble, gooble gobble!”

March 10, 2009
Posted by Noah

You either know exactly what I’m talking about above, or what you already suspected has truly come to pass; that I’ve lost my mind. For anyone with money on the latter, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but it’s a clear reference to the 1932 cult classic horror movie Freaks. See it once and you’ll never forget it, and you’ll definitely find yourself chanting the title quote of this post at some point in your life. I’m not saying I like it; it’s simply a fact…

It also happens that the original 1932 movie poster for Freaks is one of the most sought after, and rarest posters in all of the hobby. It also just so happens that Heritage has one – maybe the only surviving one, who knows… – in the March 20 Vintage Movie Poster Auction. It is a rare gem of the highest order, and truly one of the greatest horror movie posters ever to surface. This particular one is an insert poster, about 14-inches across and three feet high, so not massive, but a true beauty from a movie that is almost 80 years old and still as difficult to watch today as it was back then.

“It’s one of a kind, that’s for sure,” said Grey Smith, our Movie Poster Director. “What’s there really to say? It’s just an exceedingly rare poster. MGM realized they made a mistake, pulled it, and let it sit in their vaults for 15 years, or more, before giving it to an independent distributor.”

One of the account executives that I work with here in Marketing, Eric, overheard me talking about the movie with our Marketing VP, Debbie.

“I’ve seen that movie,” he said. “That’s, uh…. That’s a disturbing movie.”

Eric keeps it pretty low-key, so I can only assume he was shaking and cowering on the inside at the memory.

Freaks was so gruesome, and so over the top, and people were so tweaked by it that MGM first tried to cut the movie from 90 minutes to 60 to minimize the outrage, and ultimately shelved it. In the hands of independent distributors, it became a true cult classic in the 1960s and 1970s, and then in the 1980s and 1990s kids like me and my brothers, and countless thousands of others like us, were able to rent it from the local video store. I pored over the movie with friends obsessively during many a late night in college – a few beers or a bottle were sometimes involved – and we invariably drew the ire of neighbors when one or two people would get the bug to take up the chant of “Gooble gobble, gooble, gobble!”

The movie, directed by Dracula director Tod Browning – it effectively ended his career – is dramatically no great shakes. In a nutshell: Blonde bombshell trapeze artist falls for strongman. They plot to seduce the sideshow midget, who stands to gain a large inheritance. Complications ensue. Couple is found out. Freaks attack couple, mangling them. The moral? It’s not the physical freaks who are the real freaks. It’s the “normal” couple with their dastardly intent. The original version of the movie had the freaks castrating the strong man and completely disfiguring the trapeze artist, to the point where she had to live in the side show as The Squawking Chicken Lady. So un-PC.

The freaks in Freaks are all real, every last one of them. And yes, it is still hard to watch. It is only necessary, however, to watch but once to have it indelibly seared in your brain in perpetuity.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Coin Monday: A cataloger’s cliffhanger concluded or The charm of an 1876-CC 20 cent piece

March 9, 2009
Posted by John

Previously: I marveled at the 1870-CC double eagle that a fellow cataloger, George, had shown me. After I enjoyed looking at that coin, he indicated that he had another. What could top an 1870-CC double eagle?

He laid it onto my desk. I looked closely.

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

It was another 20 – not dollars, but cents: an 1876-CC twenty cent piece, graded MS64, easily the rarest issue for its short-lived denomination and one of the most famous Carson City coins of all time. It is the centerpiece for our upcoming Baltimore, MD U.S. Coin Auction at the end of this month.

Officially, 10,000 examples were struck, certainly a figure that commands respect, but there are lower mintages to be found elsewhere, and it is now known that there are a handful of coins struck at Carson City that are distinctly more rare than the 1876-CC 20 cent piece is today. Yet it is not merely a rarity; it is a venerable rarity, having been recognized as such since 1893, when collector Augustus Heaton, now known as “the father of mintmark collecting,” for his pamphlet Mint Marks, A Treatise, wrote in said pamphlet that the issue was “excessively rare.” More than a century’s worth of collectors have pursued just a handful of survivors. Identifying how many there are is a speculative exercise at best, though estimates of 15 to 18 pieces have gained wide, if not universal acceptance.

Then again, in theory, there shouldn’t be any 1876-CC 20 cent coins to speak of. Carson City Mint Superintendent James Crawford received an order from Mint Director Henry Linderman in Philadelphia, ordering the melting of all 1876-CC 20 cent pieces that were on-hand, which amounted to nearly the entire mintage. A handful of examples slipped through the cracks, however, accounting for the few specimens available. (It’s worth noting that a majority of known examples are Mint State, indicating that they never entered circulation.)

It is likely that a few of today’s survivors were to serve as assay pieces, coins sent from Carson City to Philadelphia to check for weight and fineness of the silver used, but not actually tested (and thus destroyed). It is also probable that Carson City Mint personnel saved a few coins as keepsakes. While numismatists are unlikely ever to learn exactly where, when, and how the few survivors were saved from the melting pot, speculation makes up much of the fun in collecting!

When I picked up the coin, my eyes first went to the word LIBERTY, on a ribbon draped across the shield on the obverse. On the coin, the letters are doubled, the result of a mistake in the die-making process. The doubling is dramatic enough to see without magnification, though I soon added a loupe to check the area more closely.

George gave me almost a minute with the 1876-CC twenty cent piece.

“All right, John,” he said. “I need it back.”

I handed the coin back to George with more than a hint of jealousy. “Enjoy cataloging it.”

“Oh, I will.”

George gathered up the two coins and headed to the next office. I returned to cataloging the Seated half dollar, pausing only once while typing to delete a reference to Carson City. Perhaps I still had Nevada on my mind…

Friday, March 6, 2009

Who will watch the Watchmen? Hopefully me – and a zillion other devotees – this weekend!

March 6, 2009
Posted by Noah

Okay, so I’ve heard a couple lousy reviews on the radio, and read one this morning that was not necessarily bad, but certainly not good. This, I figure, is to be expected. What I want to do is tell them that they simply don’t get it. You have to go to The Watchmen. It does not come to you!

The thing is, I have this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that the reviews I’ve heard have a certain amount of truth to them. Watchmen has been in development of some kind since its first publication in the mid-1980s. If you’ve read it, and gotten through it, then you’ve probably read it a few more times over the years and have a certain reverence for its scope, detail and amazing breadth of story. It’s an epic, sweeping, grueling meditation on politics, religion, salvation and social and moral decay. It’s also essentially a product of its time – again, the mid-1980s.

I, like so many of the deep and abiding fans of the comics, read them originally as high school and college students in the era of their creation. Gen-X came of age just as Watchmen was printed. The Cold War had really not ended, cassette tapes were being replaced by CDs, and urban decay and crack cocaine were among American’s greatest fears. Soon the Internet age would make all this look like a quaint time, but they were heavy days. We live in different heavy days now, with different implications, and those of us who read it originally with devotion to the book have much different lives and perspectives. Is the story, then, still relevant to us? 1980s boredom, anger and ennui were all fine and good before, oh, marriage, children, work and about a million other things that make you grow up.

The movie will be flashy, violent, beautiful and grim. It’s slavishly adapted from the comic, minus the pirate comic book story – available as a separate thing altogether online, I believe – and a giant space squid that destroys NYC and united the world in peace, which the fanboys on the Web have been moaning over for months. It’s a crucial part of the comic, and I lament its loss, but would its inclusion have made the story more relevant now?

Off the cuff, I wrote Jim Halperin, our Co-founder, renowned coin expert and a great fan of comic books in general. He gave an answer that I think I might find if I asked any 100 people who fell in love with the book back when it was first published: “Not sure if I will go; depends on if my kids want to see it.”

If you don’t have kids I reckon you’re still feeling a little bit the same way. Comics Director Barry Sandoval, a guy who knows the Watchmen quite well, and has sold many superb original copies over the years simply said he was curious. After 20 years of waiting, so am I.

The Watchmen does not mean the same to me as it once did, but I still consider it great art. I hope that it is wildly successful, and that it turns on a whole new generation to the comics. If it does, the prices on the comics will benefit, which is good for business. If it tanks, the comics may take a hit of some kind, but they will bounce back, because they aren’t the movie, and are still pure…

I put together a list from the HA archives of Watchmen sold in the past, and the top issue – a 9.9 issue #12 – brought more than $560. That, however, is an anomaly, as there are almost no issues of the comic in that condition anywhere. It is, however, an interesting list. There are also some Watchmen comics in this Sunday’s Internet Comics Auction. It will be interesting to see if the prices on these good copies exceed the normal price, around $50 a copy, for good condition examples.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The end of newsprint and ink-stained fingers: Is there value in newspapers?

March 4, 2009
Posted by Noah

Last Saturday morning, chopping some pear for my daughter’s cereal, I read a news story online about the latest collapsing newspaper conglomerate, and the latest big city title to shutter forever. Buried in the list was a little company called JRC, now in Chapter 11, which owns the first newspaper I ever wrote for – the first writing I ever got paid for – called The Pine Plains Register Herald. It was a weekly of 400 circulation in a tiny town in New York’s Hudson Valley. It was one of seven in a chain of small weeklies under the umbrella of Taconic Press, which was what JRC had bought. I worked all up and down Taconic Press, in most every capacity. They were some of the best days of my life. With the demise of its parent company, just like that, Taconic Press – like myriad others – will soon be no more. Perhaps it is best, as the newspaper must inevitably yield to the Internet. Here I was, after all, reading about it digitally…

But this is Heritage, and we’re collectors! If the newspaper must yield to the Web, then the best examples of the passing medium will end up with us, and there is always a buyer for the highpoints of any American cultural touchstone. With that in mind I sat down this morning and searched the Heritage Auction Archives for newspapers. After a few tries and a bit of sorting, I came up with the list you can see here.

The good news? There are indeed a handful of valuable newspapers in and amongst the more than 2,000,000 lots we have on file. The bad news? There are only a handful of valuable newspapers in and amongst the more than 2,000,000 lots we have on file. So that Nov. 5, 2009 Washington Post, or that Sept. 11 (and/or 12), 2001 New York Times, or that Nov. 23, 1963 Dallas Morning News? Well… You won’t be retiring on them anytime soon… Maybe your great-great grandkids…

The top selling newspaper issue of all time at Heritage is a very famous one, indeed, though, and the world won’t likely ever see its equal again. It’s the last issue of The Daily Citizen of Vicksburg, MS, printed on July 2 and 4, 1863, deep in the heart of The Civil War. It sold in 2007 for more than $5,000. It is famous for two things: 1) that it was printed on wallpaper because there was no paper in the embattled, starving city, and 2) The conquering Federals added their own editor’s note to the original editor’s note; too long to post here, but good stuff indeed…

The second highest lot, which brought more than $1,400 at our Civil War Auction last November, is a Lincoln Assassination edition of The New York Times from April 15, 1865. Printed in the shadow of Ruination Day, in the hours between Lincoln’s shooting and death. Again, amazing stuff.

This is not to discourage you as much as myself, perhaps. You see, I have a large box in the back of my closet that I’ve been schlepping around for more than a decade now. It contains the first several dozen newspapers in which a story of mine appeared, along with several dozen magazines with various writings of mine in them. I can read each story and tell you exactly what was going on in my life, in the world, and in the room where I wrote it at the moment my fingers were on the keys. The truth is that the powerful memories those papers evoke are the most value they will ever have.

Now that I think about it, actually, that’s worth a tremendous amount to me, even if a bidder will never offer a plug nickel for them.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

How to really make money in stocks…

March 3, 2009
Posted by Noah

Like so many Americans, I listen to the financial reports on the radio on the way to work every morning and I cringe. I am punch drunk with the relentless stream of mortgage debt swap kidney punches and numb from the unremitting jack-booted kicks of bailouts with 10 zeroes attached. Like so many Americans I put some of what I’ve made over the years into this account or that account and I have watched them dwindle by half in the last two years, through no fault of my own. It’s rough out there, and nowhere is it rougher for the man or woman engaged in the everyday slog than on Wall Street. Perhaps it is just a realm that I – plebe that I am – and those like me, should not have dallied with in the first place.

This morning, though, my gloom and doom are washed away. As I drove to work this morning, the radio blissfully off, I realized that there was indeed a way for someone like me to make a wise investment regarding stocks, and that it happened to be afforded me via the very place that I work, and where you read this, Heritage. I got to my desk this morning, quickly brought up the HA Auction Archives and typed in “stock certificate.”

Lo and behold, it came up with a sizable and impressive list of stocks that our currency department has auctioned off over the years that are indeed still worth quite a bit of money. There’s quite a bit of other stuff there, valuable coins and gold certificates, and some Beach Boys memorabilia as well, so you’ll just have to pick through it for the stocks that most interest you.

Okay, so I know it’s not technically playing the market, but it is playing the market, if you know what I mean. The top stock on the list – a 50 share Disney stock certificate, signed by Walt himself in 1964 – tops out at more than $16,000 and the bottom – a certificate of stock from the Dinwiddie Steel Company – comes in at $3.45, still worth a lot more than some shares of major banks operating on taxpayer money today. A good deal, if you ask me. There are even a couple pieces of stock in some upcoming auctions that I’m weighing carefully placing a bid on. Am I joking? Only half… The truth is, these stocks will hold their value, even if it’s just a few bucks. To me, in this day and age, that’s truly priceless.

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!