Friday, July 31, 2009

Gearing Up for Platinum Night

July 31, 2009
Posted by John Dale

Heritage is about two hours into Session 1 of our Los Angeles U.S. Signature Coin Auction, and tonight, the Platinum Night session will give bidders the opportunity to win some top-notch treasures. Among all the wonderful coins, what will emerge as the top lot? There are several strong candidates.

Right now, two lots are tied for highest bid. The first one to sell will be Lot 1246, the 1880 Coiled Hair Stella, a fantastic specimen of one of the most famous U.S. gold patterns. Matching it with a $400,000 current bid is Lot 1316, an AU58 example of the 1856-O double eagle, the finest example of that date Heritage has offered since its record-breaking auction of the singular Specimen-63 coin for over $1.4 million.

Following the two lots at $400,000, two beautiful Saint-Gaudens eagles are not far behind. At a current bid of $325,000, Lot 1312, a 1933 eagle in MS65, is just a few bidding increments away from the front-runners. Also close is the lot just before it, Lot 1311, a 1920-S eagle in MS66, at $300,000.

No auction would be complete without its wild cards, and with the right bidding environment, there are several lots that could explode and take over the top slot. Will the lure of shipwreck lore send the massive Lot 1374, a hefty Justh & Hunter gold ingot salvaged from the ocean-floor resting-place of the S.S. Central America, as high as it once was deep? And what of the brass 1776 Continental dollar in Lot 1002? It's the finest known example of an infrequently traded but undeniably in-demand variant of its type. Leave the pricing guides at home for this one; they won't help you be the last bidder standing.

After that, there are many more lots noted at or around the $200,000 mark, including the 1854-S quarter eagle and a number of other high-end Continental dollars from the Collection of a Patriotic American.

Which lot will wind up in the top spot? Join us on Heritage LIVE! to watch the auction action and maybe contribute some of your own!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

One of only two Rolexes known to have landed on the moon, and Heritage has it...

July 30, 2009
Posted by Noah

You know, I just happen to be in the market for a new watch...

In my humble estimation, it doesn't get a whole lot cooler than this. An Apollo 17 Lunar Module Flown Rolex GMT-Master Chronometer, directly from the personal collection of Mission Command Module Pilot Ron Evans, will be part of our Oct. 8 Signature® Space Exploration Memorabilia Auction. Nobody does Space Exploration memorabilia better than Heritage and - as if you needed proof - the firm has done it again.

"We’ve done a tremendous amount of research on the subject," said Michael Riley, Chief Historian and Senior Cataloger at Heritage, "and we can confidently say that this is the only one of two Rolex watches known to have ever made it to the moon's surface to come up for auction."

There is nothing that can set the modern imagination alight like space travel, and little that inspires more awe in humans than the original Mercury and Apollo astronauts. America's "Right Stuff" pioneered space flight in the 1960s and actually spent time on the surface of the moon, the closest humans have ever come to personally exploring a distant world. As such, anything associated with the nation's space program, especially anything that was actually with the astronauts on the lunar terrain, brings a premium from space collectors.

In the evolving hierarchy of Space Exploration collecting, astronauts' timepieces have proven among the most sought after. It's widely known that the Omega Speedmaster Pro was the only watch approved by NASA for use on the Apollo moon flights, leading to its being called the "Moonwatch." Several astronauts, however, preferred their own timepieces, such as the Evans' present example. It already has significant value simply because it's a Rolex. Factor in its provenance, who it belonged to and where it's been, then it becomes not just a great watch, but one of historical import, as well.

"Many students and collectors of space-flown timepieces are aware that Jack Swigert carried and/or wore a Rolex on the ill-fated Apollo 13 flight, which never landed on the moon," said Riley. "Our research has turned up only one other Rolex, worn by Edgar Mitchell on Apollo 14, that can claim to have landed on the lunar surface."

Dr. Mitchell himself reported that he did indeed wear his Rolex in the lunar module during Apollo 14, but the whereabouts of the Rolex are unknown as of now, so this watch – with its unimpeachable provenance – carries a special distinction. Interestingly, but on another note, Dave Scott actually took his personal Waltham watch with him to the moon on Apollo 15.

This handsome, all-original, 1968-era Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master was Apollo 17 Astronaut Ron Evans' personal watch. He placed it into his Personal Preference Kit (PPK), which was taken to the moon by his crewmates Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt aboard the Lunar Module Challenger while he orbited the moon in the Command Module America. It remained on the moon for approximately 75 hours on what is, up to this day, the last manned lunar landing mission.
After Evans' return to Earth he certified the watch by engraving the pertinent facts, along with his name, along the outside edge of the back of the watch with an electric engraving tool. He wrote: "FLOWN ON APOLLO XVII 6-19 DEC 72 ON MOON 11-17[?] DEC RON EVANS."

Apparently Commander Evans didn't remove the stainless steel band to accomplish this as the "writing" is a bit rough and shaky. The apparent '7' in the 'ON MOON' phrase was certainly intended by him to be a '4' but, being directly below the band's attachment to the watch, and due to the size of the portable engraving machine, the number was not clearly engraved.

There is no doubt – due to photographic evidence, authentication and a letter of certification from Ron Evans' wife, Jan Evans – that this watch belonged to Commander Evans, and that he took it with him on Apollo 17.

Like I said, it doesn't get a whole lot cooler than this...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Collector's Corner: A passion for biography via affordable ephemera

July 29, 2009
Posted by Noah

(Heritage Blog is happy today to relay the latest in it Collector's Corner posts, where collector's can share the story of their passion, or its evolution, with like-minded souls. Today's post comes from a writer, a biographer and a collector of ephemera, with a heavy emphasis on black and white Carte de Visites from about 100 years ago, give or take a decade or so on each side. While the writer's specialty is not something that Heritage has a heavy emphasis in, we do see good examples of Cartes de Vistes in various auctions, and we can all appreciate the work that goes into identifying a subject - it's like putting a piece of someone's soul back in place and honoring their memory for it. This is a lovely and engaging narrative that I think you'll enjoy as much as I did. - Noah Fleisher)

Collecting anything is a passion that makes sense without question to the collector. Others may look askance when they see some various collections, eyebrows raised, curious glances clearly indicating a bit of disbelief.

I collect ephemera, usually inexpensive documents, photos, and in particular, diaries of days past. As a professional writer, particularly of biographies of both well-known and obscure figures in history, I am unable to resist biographical material that sits gathering dust in an antique shop. That diary or letter, with handwritten words put on those pages by someone who was obviously compelled to share their deepest thoughts and actions remains a window to their soul even so many years later. That person would have no way of knowing at that moment in the past, at the point of pen touching paper, that anyone would care. They would certainly have no way to even grasp the reality that anyone who didn’t know them would care, and certainly not 10s or 100s of years after that writing.

Yet I care. I cannot not care. I collect these documents so as to be able to understand people from all walks of life, from all decades and even centuries. It is hard to get anything more blatantly human than someone’s writings. That’s why as a people so many of us love to read memoirs and diaries and to look at old photographs. All of these items are the truth of the moments of a life - a snapshot in time, or the words of a brief slice of someone else’s reality.

Photos clearly have that effect, too. If a photo speaks to me, if it has some sort of name identification on it, and it is for sale for a good price, I will purchase it. I then take it home and do the research on that name, on the life of that person. This “system” never fails me. If I were to browse through 30 photos at any given visit to an antique shop and buy just one, I can be assured that the person - a stranger to me at the point of purchase - will become a close personal friend in short order. The story of that individual, every single time I have done this, has been an amazing tale.

Take, for example, my purchase of a photo out of an antique mall in Frederick, Maryland. She was breathtakingly beautiful; a young woman wearing nothing but a corset was looking over her right shoulder. The picture was taken from behind, her curly hair caught up in a loose knot and then cascading down her back. It was a black and white carte de visite with a red filigree-type border surrounding the woman’s picture. Underneath that, at the bottom and centered, was the woman’s name, “Miss Charlotte Behrens,” and under that, “ZITKA.”

When I turned the photo over and saw the price - less than one dollar - there was no choice. This lady was going home with me. I’m so happy she chose me to tell her story. As I got her home and began my research I learned that Miss Behrens had been the Victorian stage’s fallback version of Elizabeth Taylor. At the time of her death, I discovered, she had been married to Robert B. Mantell, one of the stage’s best known early Shakespearean actors and, to this day, recognized as such. Charlotte was considered the “anti-Victorian” Victorian actress, and had amassed an incredible paper trail - through newspapers, magazines, and family letters - that would rival any well-known celebrity of today.

Sadly, Charlotte Behrens passed away at the age of 32, in the prime of her life. She was just catching her stride as a well-known and celebrated actress when a mysterious illness befell her. For months she was in and out of bed, and then she was gone. Her talent ultimately became lost to history, likely never to again be celebrated…. until I found her battered photo at the bottom of a pile of forgotten entertainment industry photographs.

Charlotte’s is only one such story of many that I have found in my never-ending desire to collect and tell the stories of the past. Or, more appropriately, those stories have repeatedly found me - through photos, documents, diaries, letters, and just about any sort of written paperwork and/or visualization that can trace back to an actual person who at some point walked the face of our earth.

Thomas Carlyle, a Victorian satirist and writer said, “History is the essence of innumerable biographies.” I’m a collector of stories in the hopes that I can chronicle as many of those biographies as I can get my hands on in my biographical lifetime.

To leave a comment, click on the title of this post.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

We all know 'Hollywood' chews 'em up and spits 'em out, but this is truly frightening...

July 28, 2009
Posted by Noah

I know that the truism in vintage movie poster collecting is that classic horror holds sway - and some of those posters are indeed still mighty creepy - but I have to say that little can compare in sheer sinister menace than the top lot in our just finished July 23-25 movie poster auction, a 1923 gem for the movie Hollywood. You can see it there and I dare you not to be at least just a little bit creeped out.

The strange thing is that it is indeed an apt metaphor for Hollywood even today, and a bold and beautiful print, truly as much a great piece of art as is a fantastic piece of early American cinema and Pop Culture. It's just so… I don't know… Eeewww…

The movie itself was not of much remark, nor is it particularly remembered. The poster is a true rarity, and one look can attest to its appeal and popularity. It does little, however, to convey the story of Hollywood, one of hapless wannabe actress Angela. She comes to L.A. – her Grandpa in tow – and fails to find any work in Tinsel Town. As this cruel fate befalls her, and on her rounds through the town and to the office of every casting director, Angela's Grandpa gets signed to a contract and becomes a big star. The rest of the family soon comes to L.A., ostensibly to bring their relatives back home. Once in Tinsel Town, though, they all also become movie stars, all as Angela is forced to sit and watch. Short on story, the movie was more importantly a showcase of virtually every major movie star of the silent era, as Angela encounters star after star in her own unsuccessful bid for a slice of fame’s pie. From “Fatty” Arbuckle, to Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Zasu Pitts and Gloria Swanson; you name the star and they made a cameo.

While the movie really cannot be said to even approach the idea of lurid, there is something distinctly lecherous and lustful in this image, even as it's comical and absurd, stylish even, with its Deco feel, outstanding lines and audacious coloring. This poster borrows heavily of the commercial illustration palate of the day, and bears more than a little resemblance to a lot of great advertising posters of the era, minus, of course, the Big Creepy Head devouring a daisy chain of young maidens…

I also have to wonder if an image like this would even stand a chance if released as part of a PR push for a major film today. We have a bevy of sallow-faced, empty-eyed kids with raven hair crawling out of TVs and slashing through cinemas everywhere, outer space robots with American brand vehicle names on them and a host of other disturbing imagery, but this - in these hyper-sensitive-desensitized times - would drive people out of their minds… In fact, I think I've gone a little mad just looking at it.

To leave a comment, click on the title of this post.

-Noah Fleisher

Monday, July 27, 2009

Coin Monday: A Portrait of American Liberty

July 27, 2009
Posted by John Dale

From the early Renaissance to the present day, the commemorative medal has been an important part of the Western artistic tradition; of the thousands of medals struck in Europe from the early 1400s through the end of World War I, the best are equal parts art and artifact – beautiful slivers of history that tell their stories through heraldic allegory.

Most such medals are little-remembered today, their subjects all-but-forgotten except to the specialist, but a handful have gained and kept greater fame. One such medal is the Libertas Americana, which is represented in bronzed copper in Heritage’s upcoming August 2009 Los Angeles US Coin Auction.

The Libertas Americana is widely considered an American medal and collected as such – and the concepts for the design came from famous founding father Benjamin Franklin – but the actual creation of the medal fell to Augustin Dupré, among the most famous French medallists of his day, and a tasteful choice on Franklin’s part, since the reverse is an allegory of France’s support for the American colonies as they fought for independence from Great Britain. The standard reading is that the figure of Minerva is France, complete with fleurs-de-lis on her shield; the American colonies are the infant Hercules, killing the snakes; and the lion is Great Britain, depicted with tail held between the legs, a show of cowardice.

It is not the reverse for which the Libertas Americana is remembered, however; rather, the beautiful obverse is what has been most enduring. Dupré’s figure of Liberty, a young woman with free, wind-blown hair and a cap-on-pole over her far shoulder, had a readily discernible influence on the earliest coins struck at the Philadelphia Mint, the copper cents and half cents. Among the best treatments of this artistic “borrowing” is the relevant set of passages in Numismatic Art in America, a brilliant examination of American coinage aesthetics by classicist Dr. Cornelius Vermeule.

Dr. Vermeule’s erudite treatment of the Libertas Americana is well worth reading, but a simpler demonstration might be just as effective. In the Platinum Night catalog for the Los Angeles Auction, the Libertas Americana medal is lot 1013. A turn of the page (or a click of the “Next Lot” link on the Web page) and the next lot is a 1793 half cent. Looking from one to the other, the debt is obvious. While the half cent’s New World workmanship was not so polished as its French inspiration, the two have a shared belief in the importance of Liberty, a belief that lives on and not only in metal.

To leave a comment, click on the title of this post.

-John Dale Beety

Friday, July 24, 2009

Capes, Crooks and Cliffhangers: Heroic Golden Age Serial Posters book new from Heritage

July 24, 2009
Posted by Noah

Heritage Auction Galleries has announced the publication of Capes, Crooks & Cliffhangers: Heroic Serial Posters of the Golden Age, a new comprehensive book about the posters of the Golden Age serial movies, which used to play to enthralled audiences before 1930s and 1940s Hollywood hits. The posters are widely sought today and can command prices well into the five figure range.

The coolest thing about this book? It comes with a special introduction by Noel Neill, TV’s original Lois Lane. the other coolest thing? The amazing images of these rare, valuable and amazing posters. Mmm-mmm gooood!

The standard softcover edition is available for $39.95. Also available is a deluxe slipcased hardcover edition – strictly limited to 100 copies – which comes with a numbered bookplate that is signed by both authors and by Neill, for only $125.

“All of these colorful characters, and many others from the comics, pulps, and radio, made their silver screen debuts as multi-part serials,” said Grey Smith, co-author of the book and Director of Vintage Movie Posters at Heritage, “in which the hero would face certain death at the end of each chapter, urging their fans to return week after week to continue their thrilling adventures.”

The superheroes that are now the subjects of multi-million-dollar blockbuster films and the centers of merchandising and comic book franchises – names like Batman, Superman and Captain Marvel – may have gotten their starts in the pages of Golden Age comic books, but it was actually in these serial adventures that their names and personas were forever bonded to the American psyche.

“In reading about these amazing posters, and the classic serials they represent,” said John Petty, Co-author of Capes, Crooks & Cliffhangers, “You get a real sense of how these chapterplays transported depression-era audiences to a place of absoluteness. There was good and bad, right and wrong and just and evil. You can imagine how important this was to people in such confusing times.”

No less a person than Stan Lee calls it, “… a page turner…a literary and artistic feast,” and Leonard Maltin hails it as “[a] welcome book.” Nice... Thanks Stan...

Fans of today’s blockbuster superhero movies owe it to themselves to see where America’s cinematic obsession with superheroes all began. For more information on ordering your copy of Capes, Crooks & Cliffhangers, click here.
-Noah Fleisher

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bernie Wrightson totally creeps me out, and I mean that in the best way possible…

July 23, 2009
Posted by Noah

If you sense a slight lag in my sentences today it’s because I am having trouble typing through the savage grief in my bones and the stinging tears in my eyes…

If you haven’t heard the news then I advise you to sit down for this, because it’s going to hurt: Gidget the Chihuahua, who was famous for having the words, “Yo quiero Taco Bell” CGI-ed onto her grizzled muzzle, as well as for having spent the better part of a forgettable Hollywood movie riding around in Reese Witherspoon’s purse (nice work, if you can get it) has died at the age of 15… That, though, isn’t what has me so bitter I could chew tinfoil. No… It’s the fact that this dog’s death is national news and the fact that more people can utter the tagline to that inane fast food commercial than can recite the preamble to the Constitution… Which category do you fall in?

No, what I am morning is the very death of good taste and erudition in America… The obit linked to above actually quotes the owner as saying that Gidget was “happy right up to the end.” Um… Okay… She was a dog… A dog with a brain the size of a pecan… It’s not like she had a lot of room to contemplate the deeper truths of the universe.

My bile raised, I wanted something to calm me down. I gravitated to the upcoming comics auction here at Heritage and it wasn’t more than a minute before I started paging through the Bernie Wrightson original artwork grouping in the sale. Granted, it’s not the most cheerful stuff, but Wrightson is an unqualified master of horror comics – his imagery is familiar to almost every pop culture fan in the nation, in some form or another – and the very thought of his original Swamp Thing #8 artwork was enough to make me swoon. I spent many an hour with Swamp Thing as a kid, most of them hiding in the back a huge bush in our backyard, with frequent visits by one of our many dogs, where I read those things over and over and over until they literally crumbled in my hands.

Wrightson is a legendary modern comics figure, and, as I’ve learned from a couple of our comic guys here, this trove of his work is as good a grouping as a Heritage auction has ever had. The Uncle Creepy splash page and the cover to the Bernie Wrightson 1977 NYCA Gallery Catalog is among the most brilliant work this great artist has ever done. It’ll rightly bring a pretty penny.

If you don’t know Wrightson’s name, a quick glance at some of his work will quickly familiarize you with him. The bulging eyes, wild hair and oily, creeping colors have a subtlety that is all its own. The work is equally compelling and repelling, which is what I reckon makes it so much fun… I suppose some might say the same about that dog and its strange fame. I wouldn’t disagree, necessarily, I would just make the case that one adds infinitely to the national pop culture archive, making as collectively smarter in the end, while the other does just the opposite… In fact, I can feel IQ points draining as I think about it. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which.

To leave a comment click on the title of this post.

-Noah Fleisher

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Famous pucks from Harold ‘Mush’ March part of NHL trove in October

July 22, 2009
Posted by Noah

Mention the name of legendary Chicago Blackhawks right winger Harold “Mush” March to hockey fans and two famous goals come to mind: First, his historic overtime goal in game four of the 1934 Stanley Cup – a laser shot out of a face-off that secured the win and was the first overtime goal to ever decide a championship – and the first ever goal scored in Toronto’s famous Maple Leaf Gardens Stadium, which forever gave Blackhawk fans bragging rights over Leafs fans.

Now those two famous pucks, along with March’s 1930 Blackhawks jersey and 1934 Blackhawks jacket, will form the centerpiece of the hockey offerings in our October 2009 Vintage Sports Memorabilia auction. The trove comes with unimpeachable provenance, having been consigned by March’s son, Harold, Jr. Unfortunately for you, and me, the lots aren’t viewable online yet, but I just had to tell ya’…

“For NHL fans in general, and Blackhawk fans in particular, can’t get much better than this,” said Chris Ivy, our Sports Director. “These pucks are key pieces of both hockey history and the storied Chicago Blackhawks franchise.”

Both pucks are estimated to bring $10,000 and up. That’s a lotta hockey sticks, if you know what I mean.

March was a scrappy winger, known for his diminutive size, his fearless play and his fidelity to Chicago. He is one of the few players of the era to spend his entire career with the same team, all 17 years of it, a mark only topped by Dit Clapper, the revered 20-year Boston Bruins defenseman. He was not known as the greatest scoring threat, but he certainly had a penchant for scoring important and timely goals, namely the 1934 Stanley Cup OT winner.

March described his most famous goal in John Devaney and Burt Goldblatt’s 1975 book The Stanley Cup, A Complete Pictorial History:

"Well on that goal that won the series, they had a face-off,” March related. “I shot it and it went through Cude's legs (Wilf Cude, the Detroit goalie who later starred with the Montreal Canadiens) and into the net. I didn't realize it at the second, you know, that we'd won the Stanley Cup, but it was great. I rushed in and got the puck and then the fellows grabbed me and wheeled me on their shoulders all the way around the rink. It was nice to see my name on it for the first time. It's always nice to be a champion."

“We’re very excited to be the first ones to offer Marsh’s famous pucks to collectors,” said Ivy. “He was a great player and a crucial figure in two Blackhawk Stanley Cup titles, as well as several great moments besides the two these pucks represent, and we fully expect Chicago fans who bleed red and black to recognize how important this memorabilia is.”

To leave a comment click on the title of this post.

-Noah Fleisher

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

You’re a Good Man, Charles Schulz: Original Peanuts artwork readies for August Comics Auction

July 21, 2009
Posted by Noah

Okay, first I must unburden myself – and I don’t think I’ll be alone in this – by saying that Lucy Van Pelt should be ashamed of herself. I cannot tell you how many years, how many thousands of Peanuts strips I read through only to walk away with a burning sense of anger at the raven-haired nemesis of poor bald-headed Charlie Brown. Come on Lucy! Let him kick the darn ball for once!

Whew… I feel better… After spending the morning working on some PR for our upcoming Comics and Comic Art auction I just simply couldn’t go on without venting my lifetime of frustration with Lucy. Now, after today, and a decade of therapy, I think I might be able to let it go. I believe the history has vindicated my position of frustration with her, and my deep and abiding compassion for Charlie Brown – and it has nothing to do with the fact that we have the same haircut…

In the impressive trove of original Charles Schulz Peanuts art that will be featured in the aforementioned auction there is indeed a football-themed strip – it should bring a lot more than its $25,000 estimate – that features Lucy, as ever, simply unable to contain herself and her impish impulse to cause grievous bodily harm to Charlie Brown, who, also as ever, is too much of a simp to not fall for Lucy’s guile. Come on Chuck! Don’t fall for it! Don’t you see the pattern this sets up for your whole life? Man… and to think, he keeps pining after the Little Red-Haired Girl… As if…

Looking over these amazing 12 stripsespecially the one pictured above, where Schroeder and Lucy compare music boxes, and guess whose is better? – I couldn’t help but remember a feature from a Mad Magazine of my childhood, I can’t remember which issue, where they tackled the subject of what would happen if the Peanuts gang were to age like normal folks… It certainly stuck with me, especially the panel of Snoopy and Woodstock as hippies in the 1960s. Let’s just say that when Woodstock comes out of Snoopy’s dog house he’s flying a little crooked. KnowwhatImean? There was also a great panel at the end that showed both Charlie Brown and Lucy as old fogies, on the day of Charlie’s retirement. They were married, and they were bickering. It was funny, but bittersweet. I guess Lucy never managed to get Schroeder to look her way, and I guess her meanness to Charlie Brown masked some more tender feelings beneath… Or maybe I’m just reading a little too much into it…

Our Director of Comics Operations here, Barry Sandoval, said that he was a little surprised by how popular the Schroeder and Lucy strip is, and in general how many people name the young piano genius as their favorite Peanuts character. Not Snoopy, not Linus, but Schroeder. If most of these people are like me, they like Schroeder because he has class and taste, because he plays the keys like an old soul, and because he was able to get the better of Lucy in almost every situation… Somehow, in small part, this made a big difference to anyone sick of watching her always pull that football away from Charlie Brown, sending him careening through space with an “Auuuuggghhhh!” and a thud.

To make a comment, click on the title of this post.

-Noah Fleisher

Monday, July 20, 2009

Coin Monday: 1933, the Golden Endgame

July 20, 2009
Posted by John Dale

Production of gold coins for circulation in the United States ended in 1933. Though the Mint continued to strike eagles and double eagles through the last days of the Hoover Administration – hundreds of thousands of each – a new President transformed the nation’s money and banking systems.

On April 5, 1933, just a month after Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn in, he signed Executive Order 6012, which drastically reduced the amount of gold Americans could own, barring exceptions for professional or numismatic purposes (the latter exception thanks to then-Secretary of the Treasury William H. Woodin, himself a coin collector).

In conjunction with the executive order, the Treasury halted the release of gold coins from the Mint and its own stores; millions of coins, mostly double eagles, were melted later in Roosevelt’s tenure. This included almost the entirety of the 1933 mintages, which were held back from release while there were coins of earlier dates still awaiting distribution. There is considerable controversy over whether the 1933 double eagle was ever officially issued and thus legal to own, enough to fill two nonfiction books and many hundreds of pages of legal documents arguing both sides. Even today a court battle over a set of 10 1933 double eagles is ongoing.

The legal-tender status of the 1933 eagles, however, is not in doubt, and the few known survivors, such as this MS65 example in Heritage’s upcoming August Los Angeles U.S. Coin Auction, are eagerly sought-after. Not only are they rare, with only 30 to 40 pieces known according to the catalog description, but they also represent the end of the circulating gold coin, not only in the United States but throughout much of the Western world; in response to the Great Depression, a number of European nations, including the United Kingdom, moved off the gold standard in 1931 or 1932.

For a coin of such quality as this Gem, aesthetics cannot be overlooked, either. From the sharp strike to the vibrant luster and the nuanced colors that enliven each side, every facet of the piece reinforces its aura of beauty. That beauty has entranced a series of prestigious owners, including Phillip H. Morse and Jim O’Neal. Ownership of any 1933 eagle has long been a sign of an advanced collection, and possession of a Gem such as the present piece especially so. With the auction of this lot, the final Saint-Gaudens eagle could be the final addition to a memorable collection of the series… or it could be just the beginning.

To leave a comment click on the title of this post.

-John Dale Beety

Friday, July 17, 2009

That's 872-6467, not 867-5309: Calling Up the Inverted Jenny

It's 867-5309 if you're trying to call Jenny (and really, if you're prank-dialing the digits from a Tommy Tutone song, you need a hobby...maybe stamp collecting?), but if you're interested in an Inverted Jenny, as in "One of the Two Most Awesome U.S. Stamps" Inverted Jenny, you'll want to dial 872-6467. It won't be Jenny who answers, but Heritage. (That's 1-800-872-6467, actually. Tommy Tutone didn't provide an area code, but I will!)

It's not just any Inverted Jenny that's coming up in our August 2009 Signature Stamp Auction, to be held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but the single highest-graded Inverted Jenny that qualifies as "never hinged." The gum on the back of the stamp is completely undisturbed; in the cataloger’s words, it has “original gum without a single gum skip or bend.” (Here’s the Wikipedia entry for stamp hinges, sure to contain a few terms or sentences that will make the philatelists reading it cringe but a solid-enough reference for the rest of us!)

The Inverted Jenny stamps all famously come from a single sheet of 100, purchased by William T. Robey the day after the stamp type went on sale and quickly sold to Philadelphia-based stamp dealer-auctioneer Eugene Klein. He in turn sold the sheet to Colonel E.H.R. Green, wealthy scion of the "Witch of Wall Street," Hetty Green. He was both a noted philatelist and numismatist; not only did he own all the Inverted Jenny stamps at one time, he also owned the complete set of five 1913 Liberty Head nickels! It was Green who owned the sheet when it was broken up, at the suggestion of Klein, and many of the Inverted Jenny stamps were sold off as individuals, including this one, which was in Position 68 on the sheet of 100.

Owning any Inverted Jenny stamp would be cause for celebration, but this one is particularly desirable. As noted, the stamp was never hinged, highly unusual for the time, and its condition is remarkably strong for a stamp going on 90 years old. Reprinted in the auction catalog and on the same Web page as the stamp is a most interesting letter from Mr. Robey, dated May 15, 1918, the day after Robey's purchase of the Inverted Jenny sheet. In it, Robey asks the recipient whether he had received a telegram concerning the Inverted Jenny sheet and inquires as to the recipient's interest. It's a remarkable document, and today, if devotees of American philately were asked "Are you interested?", the answer would be a resounding "Yes!", and not only for the full sheet of 100...these days, a single stamp would do.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Iconic Monster “Bride” and a famous Femme Fatale in Heritage July Movie Poster Auction

July 16, 2009
Posted by Noah

This is cool stuff: One of only two examples of The Bride of Frankenstein Style A half sheet from the famed New Zealand Collection will anchor the July Signature® Vintage Movie Poster Auction at Heritage.

It was 10 years ago when the collective hobby of vintage movie posters was set abuzz with the news that a family in Wellington, New Zealand had found a stash of mint condition Universal Studios 1930s horror movie titles, the most sought after titles in the world. Imagine, then, setting out to renovate your house, pulling up your old floor and there, perfectly preserved through more than six decades, is what turns out to be upwards of $1 million worth of posters.

The titles in the find were names like The Raven, The Invisible Ray and Dracula’s Daughter. The prize title in the stash, however, was The Bride of Frankenstein, represented by five posters: two Style A half sheets and three Style B half sheets. It is one of those two Style A half sheets, the only two copies known to exist, that is providing the early buzz for Heritage’s July movie poster auction.

“For collectors of vintage movie posters it can’t get much more exciting than the New Zealand Collection,” said Grey Smith, Director of Vintage Movie Posters at Heritage, “and this Bride poster is quite spectacular. It’s got a superb image of Boris Karloff and is in amazing condition.”

The last time Heritage sold a half sheet of The Bride of Frankenstein, in July of 2007, it was the more common style B and it brought more than $65,000. This much more desirable style and condition half sheet should bring well in excess of $100,000.

“It’s every collector’s dream to stumble upon a group of posters secretly hidden decades ago,” Smith said. “For most of us, owning one of these posters from an actual find like that is as close as we’re ever likely to get.”

Rivaling the iconic Bride in the auction is Hollywood’s quintessential femme fatale, Rita Hayworth, looking every bit the seductive vamp in a very scarce style B one sheet of the 1946 noir classic Gilda. The twisting plot involving Rita Hayworth’s tortured, headstrong heroine and Glenn Ford’s obsessive anti-hero twisted in and around a classic film noir plot that locked Hayworth’s place in the pantheon of America’s greatest sex symbols. With her wild hair, slinky dress, dangling cigarette and sultry looks, as produced so beautifully on this rare one sheet, Hayworth posters just do not get any better than this iconic image from Gilda.

Further highlights of the July auction include: The Cameraman, from 1928, a beautiful one sheet from the movie, which starred Buster Keaton, estimated at $15,000 and up, and a rare one sheet of Preston Sturges’ famous 1941 screwball comedy The Lady Eve, with an unforgettable performances by Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda. It is estimated at $5,000 and up.

To view full color downloadable images, and to read detailed descriptions of each lot in this auction, go to

To leave a comment click on the title of this post.

-Noah Fleisher

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What's at the end of the rainbow? Heritage, of course...

July 15, 2009
Posted by Noah
Sometimes you get a gift from the Great Divine Powers-That-Be that you can't ignore. Such was the case with the pictures you see below, taken by Heritage's own Michael Puttonen, Art Director extraordinaire, and an extraordinary artist in his own right on his own time... Please insert your own tag line about Heritage, a pot of gold and the end of the rainbow... just no jokes about leprechauns.
Check them out and enjoy.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Time for Martignette is now! Elvgren, Vargas, Leyendecker and Rockwell ready for the block

July 14, 2009
Posted by Noah

Try as I might, I just can't make myself sick of The Charles Martignette Estate. I've written about the incredible 4300 piece collection, and been back and forth to our Slocum Street location a few miles from Heritage HQ here on Maple Avenue in Dallas, and I simply have not tired of seeing these incredible canvases. The first auction from the collection - a mere smidge of the total at around 400 pieces - will go on the block tomorrow afternoon at 1 p.m. Dallas time. The auction floor, literal and virtual, should be packed, and the bidding should be intense. Most of these pieces have never been offered on the open market before and I, for one, expect a free-for-all.

Have I mentioned how much I love this stuff? And to further sweeten the pot -as if it could be any sweeter than seeing Elvgrens, Vargas, Rockwells, Leyendeckers, Cornwells, Bolles and Morans up close and personal - and as a compliment to the coverage the collection and tomorrow's auction have already gotten in the antiques, art and auction press, the Associated Press Dallas's Jamie Stengle wrote an excellent article currently making its way to thousands of outlets around the world. It's a good piece that explores Martignette's "quirkiness" as she put it, but also his simply amazing collection.

Here's a link to the article, and a taste of what she wrote: "Charles Martignette's love of illustration art had largely gone unseen, an incredible collection tucked away in storage rooms and a sprawling warehouse before his death. But as auctioneers prepare for an expected $20 million sale, thousands of pieces of art — from scantily clad pinup girls to wholesome works by Norman Rockwell — will come out of the dust.

"Martignette's roughly 4,300 pieces of art will be up for bidding during a series of auctions at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas beginning Wednesday, just more than a year after he died at age 57. Auctions will continue over the next two years with some pieces expected to draw tens of thousands of dollars each.

"He was at the very forefront of collecting this type of material. He was very quirky, very eccentric, but he was also very clever. What he ended up with was the very best examples," said Edward Jaster, Heritage's vice president.

Thanks Jamie!

If you still haven't had a chance to see the art yet, I do heartily recommend that you follow this link to the auction and spend some time familiarizing yourself with the work; you'll be seeing a lot more of it in the future, and the value will only rise. There will never be another collection like this, or a provenance as unimpeachable.

I mean, think about it: The collection is worth $20 million. Can you even begin to imagine how many pieces of art that is? Or how much space it took to store it?... It's mind-boggling to say the least, and a lot of fun to hear from the folks here at Heritage who were among those who waded in to his warehouses after his death. The boxes and such were, literally, piled to the ceiling, packed like sardines. Not even Martignette knew anymore what exactly was in there. He may be dead now, but his legacy will be lasting and important.

Last but not least, as we wait for the auction tomorrow, I want to say goodbye to the painting above here, James Avati's masterpiece for the cover of Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye Berlin, the book that became the musical and the movie Cabaret. It is the one piece, above every single one, that I covet the most and would do anything for. Had I an extra $10K or so sitting around, or if my longed-for suitcase of money shows up, then there would be no contest for it. The bidding is already above $6,000, so I'm obviously not the only one to recognize the genius of this painting and thus, alas, it will not be so, unless a sympathetic blog reader decides I am worth getting such a gift. And I am...I am...

I love this painting for a lot of reasons, none of which I have room to write about here. Suffice it to say, she's beautiful and looks like a cool lady and a ton of fun. Had I a time machine, I would go back to 1950s Berlin and find her, and make her mine, which I have about as much chance of doing as I do of being able to buy this painting tomorrow. A bloger can dream, though, can't he?

To leave a comment, click on the title of this post.

-Noah Fleisher

Monday, July 13, 2009

Coin Monday: Matte Proof Gold, taken with a grain of sand

July 13, 2009
Posted by John Dale

U.S. coinage designs evolved rapidly during the early 20th century, creating a complex web of changes that broke up the Mint Engravers’ oligopoly on hard money motifs.

In 1905 just three designers – Christian Gobrecht, James B. Longacre and Charles Barber – could be credited with circulating coinage designs struck that year, and the first two were long dead. By the end of 1921 their designs were done, swept away by creations from artists outside the Mint. (A recent and excellent treatment of the time period is Roger W. Burdette’s Renaissance of American Coinage trilogy; together, the three books are among my most-consulted cataloging references, and for good reason.)

These rapid shifts brought with them a number of challenges, including the question of how to strike proofs, the carefully prepared, sharply struck, and all-around special versions of workaday coins.

The “first wave” of new designs, the gold denominations as re-imagined by Bela Lyon Pratt and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, was not well-suited to the mirrored-field (or brilliant) style of proof coinage to which collectors were accustomed. To find a solution, U.S. Mint officials used the time-honored tactic of cribbing from Europe, where the matte proof, as exemplified by this 1912-dated Saint-Gaudens double eagle, was highly popular as a finish for medals. The matte proof is named for the non-reflective quality of the surfaces though Burdette prefers the term sandblast proof, a reference to the sandblasting that gives matte proofs their finely granular texture.

The logic behind a matte proof is that since there is no flashy luster or shine to distract the viewer, the focus is going to be on the design. Unfortunately for those who championed the matte proof in the United States the switch from brilliant to matte was jarring enough to stir complaints, and appeals to sophistication and technical necessity went largely unheard. The controversy surrounding matte proofs was one of several reasons why proof coinage was suspended in 1916. Even today, while the matte proofs of yesteryear are revered, they are an acquired taste for most collectors (myself included!), and after proof production resumed in 1936 as a response to the increasing popularity of coin collecting, brilliant proofs were the rule.

With an understanding of what matte proofs are, though, an exquisitely preserved specimen offers a vaguely exotic but undeniable beauty. The aforementioned focus on the design is particularly welcome in the case of the Saint-Gaudens eagles and double eagles, which are often praised as among the most beautiful American coins.

In 1912, sales of the matte proof double eagle amounted to just 74 pieces, and today survivors are distinctly rare. These elusive and lovely coins may not shine in person, but in the eyes of many collectors, their reputation has plenty of luster.

To leave a comment, click on the title of this post.

-John Dale

Friday, July 10, 2009

When Coins and Fireballs Collide

July 10, 2009
Posted by John Dale

February 20, 2009: the Heritage blog had been up for a little less than a month and a half. At the invitation of Noah Fleisher, Keeper of the Blog, I dashed off a few hundred words about what it’s like to be a coin cataloger. As the first guest blogger, I opened with a bit of snark: “The Noah Fleisher monopoly on the Heritage blog has ended!”

Just over three months later, when Noah told me he was going on vacation for a week, he extended another invitation to me: to take over blogging duties for the whole stretch. It seemed like an awesome challenge in every sense of the word, and I accepted. I knew I would have to push beyond coins, so I took a trip through the various auctions and previews on the Heritage site; rather than letting Noah make the discoveries and deliver them to me, I had to seek them out myself.

Looking back at that first blog post, I ended it with “I’m a firm believer that no collector has only one hobby!” I spoke from personal experience. While I appreciate the inherent awesomeness of the Thomas Nast political cartoon and the program from the first Masters, neither inspires me to pursue more of their kind. My second collection, small but growing, is of fantasy art. It’s an offshoot of my other big hobby: I’m a gamer, passionate about tabletop role-playing and card games as well as video games. (Obligatory Q&A: Have I played Dungeons & Dragons? Yes, and chances are pretty good I own more 20-sided dice than you do.)

Here at work, everyone knows I am a gamer. On the wall of my workspace is a poster of an impressionistic wheat field, not wrought in the 19th century by Pissarro or Monet to hang on a wall forever, but by a gifted contemporary fantasy illustrator, John Avon, to appear on thousands of one of the most common Magic: the Gathering cards, the Plains; it is no less beautiful in its ubiquity. The wallpaper on my computer is a black-and-white screenshot from an online game I play, Final Fantasy XI, of a hushed snowscape with a moon rising over a tree-lined cliff, a scene as serenely elegant as an Ansel Adams photograph.

When a Comics and Comic Art auction is coming up, like the one scheduled for August, I devour the previews; when there isn’t an image of the Fred Fields TSR module cover “Mind Flayer” up, I beg and plead with the cataloger for a taste of how it looks, and when I see a J.P. Targete painting of an orc, posed in his savage regalia against a backdrop of war-tents, only one word comes to mind: Cool.

Mr. Targete is a wildly talented illustrator of both science fiction and fantasy; I highly recommend checking out his official gallery. (Content caution: contains images of dragon-on-dragon violence and mild female nudity. I know several of our Illustration Art customers just thought, “What’s wrong with that?!”) He’s one of my more recent “discoveries,” if you will, an artist I vaguely knew about but didn’t fully appreciate since he spent some time as a concept artist working on projects I never encountered.

Nowadays, however, I am officially a full-on fanboy. Also falling in the recent-discovery camp is the family Froud; two of Brian Froud’s illustrations, “Dawn Fairy” and Goblin, are part of Heritage’s July 15 Illustration Art auction. Keep checking Heritage’s auctions and previews for more fine fantasy art and other treats for a diverse array of collecting tastes!

-John Dale

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Coin Thursday: The Little Princess

July 9, 2009
Posted by John Dale

As I was growing up, one of my favorite books was an English translation of The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. My first memories of The Little Prince were of it being read to me, but I curled up with it on my own while I was still completely a child.

In high school, in college, and as a working writer, I read and re-read it, and each time two thoughts came to me: “How did I understand so much so soon?” and “How much will I never understand?” Like the Prince’s single rose, the story continues to unfold for me, and even as I learn and comprehend, the next layer beckons. I have no doubt that when I am old enough to be called either wise or a doddering fool, The Little Prince will be there for me, as simple and as complex as it ever was, never having lost its power to inspire and surprise me.

About the same time as my first rediscovery of The Little Prince, my passion for coins really took hold, and The Little Prince was counterbalanced by the “Little Princess,” more formally identified as the 1841 quarter eagle, a coin prominently featured in our August Los Angeles Auction.

Here’s a questions that’s been bandied about by many a numismatist: “If you could have any coin in the world, what would it be?” For several years, “an 1841 quarter eagle” would have been my answer.

As I grew up, my answer became a touch more mercenary: I would get an example of the “King of American Coins,” sell that 1804 dollar, buy my 1841 quarter eagle, and enjoy many more great coins with the rest of the proceeds. Still, the 1804 dollar is only the means to the end. Even today, the 1841 quarter eagle tops my list of dream coins.

With so many other wonderful coins out there, why did the 1841 quarter eagle capture my imagination? Pinning down one reason is impossible. There was a touch of Red Book mystique to it; it was a proof issue listed before the Red Book said there were proofs! (This was before I researched early proof coins and realized that yes, the Mint made many proof issues before 1858, just not in large and relatively well-defined quantities.)

It tied into my fascination and mild bewilderment with proof-only issues, when my child-mind would laugh at the silly grown-ups who would make “special” coins without remembering to make ordinary ones first.

The 1841 quarter eagle also happens to be highly elusive, with between 15 and 18 extant, though I do not know how well I truly comprehended such rarity back then. Maybe it really was the nickname above all else, the idea of having a “Little Princess” to call my own in the years before I was ready to claim a more famous coin.

I may be older now, but my love for the Little Princess remains. As with The Little Prince, how did I understand so much so soon, and how much will I never understand?

-John Dale Beety

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Getting with the Program: A Golf Latecomer's Take on the First Masters

July 8, 2009
Posted by John Dale

I’ve enjoyed watching sports all my life, though my attempts to actually play said sports outside intramural competition ended in sixth grade, when I acquired costochondritis on the cross-country course and compiled an 0-6 record in wrestling. Unsurprisingly for an Indiana kid, basketball excited me most, but I also enjoyed watching football, baseball, and the occasional potluck pick from "sports rarely seen outside the gymnasium or the Olympics." Golf was more take-it-or-leave-it; compared to the constant motion and energy of basketball, the comparatively staid golf broadcasts rarely held my 7-year-old or even 10-year-old interest.

That changed for me on April 13, 1997, a date golf fans know well for the final round of the 1997 Masters; after a decent first round on Thursday and two utterly brilliant rounds on Friday and Saturday, a 21-year-old Tiger Woods had all but put on his first green jacket. There was an excitement around golf and Tiger, an energy I hadn’t seen before in the galleries. The announcers were talking about “the future of golf,” and looking back on the past dozen years from the perspective of 2009, that future has come true in ways few could have dreamed of.

Certainly, the phenomenon of Tiger Woods could not have approached the mind of Bobby Jones on the eve of the “First Augusta National Invitation” Tournament, an event now universally recognized as the first instance of The Masters. Horton Smith won that first event, as well as the third in 1936. Many traditions have sprung up around The Masters, but one that has not survived is the official program; it was produced in 1934 and 1935 but then discontinued. Examples of the 1934 program, like this recent discovery in our upcoming September Signature Sports Memorabilia Auction, number only about a dozen, and whenever they come up for auction, the passion golf fans have for their sport—a passion that often confines itself to light clapping on the course—can come alive.

To be sure, the condition of this program isn’t perfect; like all pieces of paper ephemera, this program was meant to be used and then kept as a souvenir or disposed of as the owner pleased. The cataloger notes “moderate cover wear, including splitting at the spine,” but elsewhere, there is nothing but praise for the program; the staples are firmly attached to the pages, and the interior quality is remarkable; comparing the white inside pages with the back cover is quite the revelation. (Speaking of which…how about that advertisement on the back cover? It’s the “Monroe Adding-Calculator,” complete with 1930s office girl and potshots at FDR’s New Deal labor reforms. It definitely hits my threshold for retro-cool.)

Beyond rarity or condition, though, it’s simply awesome to imagine where this program might have been, what shots it might have seen as it was held by an unknown spectator in the gallery as the crack of persimmon-wood drivers sent balls sailing through the air.

-John Dale Beety

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

In Nast We…Trust? A hidden gem in the July 15 Illustration Art Auction

July 7, 2009
Posted by John Dale

Across the wide expanse of American history, there are many newsmakers (and many more behind-the-scenes toilers!) who have influenced its course, but only a relative handful –a few hundred, no more than a thousand – that have become so celebrated that they land in the pages of the average eighth-grade history textbook. Most of these names fall into well-defined classes: the pioneer, the president, the symbol of the times.

A few idiosyncratic folks, however, forge their own paths; the name that stuck out to me most as I sat in Mrs. Schwering’s class was Thomas Nast, the caricaturist popularly known as the creator of the modern political cartoon (Let’s not forget he also gave us the modern image of Santa Claus! – Noah).

In that sense Nast, too, was a pioneer; while he certainly was not the first political cartoonist (if you disagree, Benjamin Franklin’s JOIN, OR DIE snake and Gilbert Stuart’s Gerrymander would like to have a word with you), he was notable for his long-range campaigning and consistency, using his cartoons in Harper’s Weekly to hammer repeatedly at foes.

His most famous target was “Boss” Tweed, the infamously corrupt leader of New York’s Tammany Hall political machine and himself a symbol of the Gilded Age. Tweed’s displeasure with Nast has grown to legendary proportions, including the (apocryphal?) line about how voters might not be able to read, but they couldn’t help seeing Nast’s “pictures” in the paper – a strange way of putting it since many of Nast’s early cartoons were heavy on text as well as their more famous imagery.

“Boss” Tweed was convicted and died in prison, but Nast was not done crusading. Even after Nast and Harper’s Weekly parted ways – a split that was mutually disastrous – Nast continued to craft his cartoons, which gradually became simpler and more closely resembled the political cartoon as it appears today.

In style if not in content, his cartoon in our July 15 Illustration Art Auction, The Fat and the Lean Issue, could have been created today: the corpulent and coin-headed effigy of the pig iron trust holds a bar of his own manufacture, which weighs down on a pick-toting man (who looks suspiciously like a Rough Rider-era Theodore Roosevelt) already “shouldering” a war tax. In true political cartooning fashion, the only subtlety in this work is the delicately sketched background, with its smokestacks and house-on-the-hill.

Small but powerful, important but surprisingly affordable (with an opening bid of $400), this cartoon represents a slice of journalism history that may be more than a century old but hardly seems dated.

-John Dale

Monday, July 6, 2009

Coin Monday: The 246

July 6
Posted by John Dale

(I am away on vacation this week – not that this will bother many of you, sniff sniff, sob sob – and have left the Heritage blog in the capable hands of our favorite young numismatist, John Dale. Those of us here at Heritage fortunate enough to deal with John Dale on a common basis share two things: we are quite fond of him and recognize the considerable talent he has at the tender age of 24. Working with him on this blog has made me aware not only of John Dale’s keen intellect and sharp humor, but also that he is a man of many interests and a flat out good writer, no matter the subject. All this week you’ll get to sample John Dale’s work across the spectrum of his existence. You’ll see that his taste is as varied as his talent and his eye for great collectibles so much more than just coins. Many thanks John Dale! – Noah Fleisher)

John Dale Beety here. As Noah has pointed out, I'm taking over the blog for the week. Beyond that, though, the routine isn't changing much, so I'm going to start things off with a Coin Monday.

Many of the greatest rarities in U.S. coinage have come from potentially illicit (or at least dubious) origins. An example is the 1913-dated Liberty Head nickel, which appeared suddenly in the form of five mysterious examples first owned and displayed by Samuel Brown, who never explained how 1913-dated nickels were produced bearing a design that ended in 1912. (Mr. Brown’s employment at the Mint during 1912 and 1913 has provided endless fodder for speculation.)

Other rarities – to give a modern paraphrase to any number of old-time researchers – are all-natural. One issue that has been singled out as such since its rediscovery is the 1854-S quarter eagle. Its origins are in the California Gold Rush, and it came about through an unusual combination of supply and demand.

The need for actual federal coinage was obvious, and the United States started to alleviate the shortage, first through the issues of the United States Assay office, and later through its evolution into the San Francisco Mint, which began formal operations in 1854. As the San Francisco Mint, it produced coins that were identical to those struck at Philadelphia, except for the “S” mintmark on their reverses. That first year, though, the San Francisco Mint struck only 246 quarter eagles. Because this feels like a Battle of Thermopylae sort of day, I’ll go ahead and call them… The 246. (For all the Frank Miller graphic novel devotees and source-material movie fanatics out there, sorry, but this is as close as you’re going to get for a reference.)

Like the Spartans at Thermopylae, The 246 had assistance in its battle against the coinage shortage: gold dollars, a similarly small group of half eagles, and much larger mintages of eagles and double eagles. Gold dollars passed for small change in the context of 1850s California, and eagles and double eagles were convenient for transport; mid-range denominations like the quarter eagle and half eagle simply fell through the cracks and were not ordered in quantity. Any gold struck by the Mint quickly went into circulation, though, and that included the quarter eagle.

The 246 were no match for the hundreds of thousands of miners, merchants, and settlers in California. For a number of years, the 1854-S quarter eagle was thought to be lost completely, though a well-worn example turned up in 1910, and 11 more have appeared in the near-century since, giving The 246 a dozen more survivors than The 300.

The 1854-S quarter eagle is the crown jewel in the R.M. Phillips Limited Partnership Collection, a remarkable collection focused on the denomination that includes many early rarities and the prized proof-only 1841 quarter eagle, the “Little Princess” – but that’s a story for another day.

-John Dale Beety

Friday, July 3, 2009

For love of The Declaration of Independence

July 3, 2009

Posted by Noah
(I will be on vacation next week, and John Dale Beety will be ably holding down the fort here at the Heritage Blog. I have no doubt you are in capable, creative hands. Have a safe and happy 4th of July, remember to thank our American forefathers, whose dream has come true in ways they would have never believed. In honor of those great men, and the greatest writer among them - Sorry Mr. Adams - I humbly submit to you the opening of The Declaration of Independence, written by the one and only Thomas Jefferson. It is some of my favorite writing on the planet; words of which I can never tire. -Noah Fleisher)

"When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
-Posted by Noah Fleisher, written by Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, July 2, 2009

This just in: Holden Caufield to remain 16 for the foreseeable future, in the U.S. at least…

July 2, 2009
Posted by Noah

Yesterday, July 1, was a victory for novelist and notorious recluse J.D. Salinger when a U.S. District Court Judge ruled that 60 Years Later: Coming Through The Rye, an “update” of the character of Holden Caufield some six decades later as an old man, cannot be published or distributed in the U.S.

The writer of the book, a Swede with the pen name John David California, is understandably taken aback, but – as the New York Times reports – the judge makes a pretty clear case. The book, says the judge, is not a “critical parody” of Catcher, but rather, simply a copyright infringement. No soup for you!

I can’t really provide you with a look at the now, uh… is banned the right word? Banned? Do we ban books still in this country?... Um… Blocked! The now blocked book because I’m not sure if it’s legal. I can, though give a link to a very beautiful first edition hardcover of the original Catcher in the Rye, sold here at Heritage last October for the reasonable sum of just more than $4,000.

The thing is, California’s book has already been published outside the United States, most notably in England – where I’m sure there aren’t any copies left on the bookshelves today. Does the ruling mean you can’t buy the book overseas and bring it back to America? Can you order it from a foreign book dealer and have them ship it? Is there a charge if you’re busted with it? These are all questions best answered by someone with a hint of a clue. For now, though, you just have me.

I’m not one of those writers who slavishly bow at the feet of Catcher In The Rye, though it is without doubt one of the greatest American novels ever written. Salinger’s prose is mellifluous and his ability to convey Holden’s melancholy and joy at watching his beloved little sister ride the Carousel in Central Park is heartbreaking; it’s a seminal moment in modern fiction and makes me a little lightheaded just thinking about it, like the first few sips of a really good scotch.

It would be easy to wax poetic about Salinger and his book for a good 500 words, but it’s been done. I understand Mr. California’s consternation, especially if he thought he was writing something completely original, even though it was obviously about characters created by another person, and a judge just took away what would have surely been a mint in readers and promotional appearances.

Facts is facts, though, and no one in their right mind would think someone like Salinger – who has gone to great lengths in the almost 60 years since Catcher’s publication to protect both his work and his privacy – would simply let this go with just a summary thumbs up or thumbs down.

In fact, if you take a few moments to read an interview California did with The U.K. Guardian earlier this year, it’s pretty clear that his intention was never critical parody. It’s also clear that he rather sanguinely hopes to get a positive response from Salinger and assumes there’s a chance the author could also be upset by it. Um… No and yes, respectively, Mr. California.

"Maybe he will get upset, but I'm hoping he will be pleased," said California in the interview, May 14, 2009. "I'm not trying to lure him out of hiding – maybe he wants his privacy [but] it would be fun for me to hear what he thinks about this, and if he's pleased with the way I've portrayed Holden Caulfield and his future."

The writer, Alison Flood, rather presciently then ends with this: “Perhaps California shouldn't hold his breath for a fairytale ending.”

It’s safe to say that Mr. California has his answer from both Salinger and The United States. As for that fairytale ending? I wouldn’t say he didn’t get one, I’d say it just happens to be a Grimm’s fairytale ending. If you’ve ever read them then you know how so many of them end, and it’s rarely pretty.

-Noah Fleisher

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Even blogs need a break

July 1, 2009

The Heritage Blog is taking a day off. It is a little tired and wants to sit by the pool, even if it is one of those blow-up kiddie pools, or the big plastic kind it had when it was a kid... Man, those summers were hot...

Never fear, however, the blog will be back tomorrow.