Monday, March 29, 2010

Coin Monday: Period of Adjustment

March 29, 2010
Written by John Dale

[Image uploading doesn't seem to be working at the moment. Consider it extra incentive to click on the link for now. I'll try to upload it again later. -- JDB]

The Fort Worth auction is in the books (though the Post-Auction Buys will still be available for a limited time), so it’s time to move on.

The next U.S. Coin auction, the official auction of the Central States Numismatic Society convention, will bridge the end of April and the beginning of May. It’ll be held in Milwaukee, a city that holds plenty of fond memories for me, mostly involving coin conventions, chess matches, and eating with my family at some of my father’s favorite German restaurants. (His favorite two, in no particular order: Mader’s and Karl Ratzsch’s.)

Actually, my mind has been on Central States for a while, since cataloging for each auction happens up until about four weeks before the coins are hammered down. I’ve already seen most of the coins that are going to be in the auction, and while there isn’t an 1804 dollar this time (ending the streak at two), there’s plenty to be excited about.

For example, there’s this 1975 Mint set. Just an ordinary Mint set, right? Of course not! This is Heritage. It couldn’t be that easy. Follow the link and take a closer look at that quarter. Looks kind of funny, doesn’t it? And not just because it’s a Bicentennial quarter, either. It’s ... not all there.

The Bicentennial quarter in the set is actually a die adjustment strike, a special kind of “error coin,” and in many ways not an error at all. In fact, die adjustment strikes are made on purpose! When a coinage press is being set up, a few test strikes are done on coinage blanks to make sure that the dies are properly aligned.

These test strikes aren’t done at full power at first, to keep the equipment from being damaged if something is wrong, but the power is enough to make a shallow, partial impression on the planchet. On this quarter, most of the broad details are visible, but the drummer doesn’t have much detail, and the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA are illegible. (They’re supposed to be around the top. You’ll have to trust me on that.)

While die adjustment strikes are a vital part of mint operations, they’re not supposed to leave the grounds. Usually they’re destroyed, but this quarter not only wasn’t destroyed, it was packaged into a Philadelphia Mint set by accident and shipped out to an unsuspecting buyer! Fortunately for the set, the quarter was recognized as special, and rather than being “broken out” of the set, it was certified with the other coins in its packaging. It would’ve been a cool coin on its own, but now, it’s a cool coin with a great story. It's hard to argue with that!

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

-- John Dale Beety

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Knock knock knockin' on Heritage's Door: Original Energizer Bunny to finally come to rest in Beverly Hills

March 25,2010
Posted By Noah

Talk about an advertising icon with legs – or, in this case, tracks. One of the original four Energizer Bunnies – and one of the two that was in the majority of Energizer commercials prior to retirement around 2000 – will be sold at Heritage in Beverly Hills in the April 9-11 Signature® Music & Entertainment Auction. It comes with the original custom made cases for both the Bunny and the three controllers. The price for this famous lapin? Somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000+. But, hey, it's more than two feet tall, right? And talk about aconversation starter at parties, or a way to meet chicks at bars...

The pink bunny with sunglasses – 25 inches from feet to ears and almost a foot-and-a-half across – a drum and blue and black flip-flops became instantly recognizable to consumers since the minute it was introduced in 1989, and has since been named by as #5 on the list of the Top 10 Advertising Icons of the 20th Century. To occupy the same space as other advertising symbols like The Marlboro Man, Ronald McDonald, the Pillsbury Dough-boy and The Michelin Man, among the few, is rarified company indeed.

The bunny still runs as it did in its heyday, which means that you would need three people to operate it in its full glory: the head is on a gimbal, allowing for full range of the motion for the head; the arms bang the drum and move up over its head; drumsticks spin in its hands; his ears move backwards and forwards, the feet march and it moves in all directions, and spins on its axis, on tracks.

For the original ad campaign Energizer had Eric Allard and his company, All Effects, create four original animatronic bunnies. Each one was given a letter of the alphabet as identification – A, B, C and D – and a nickname to go with it. The present example is the "C" specimen, oh-so cleverly nicknamed “Clint.”

A and B, made with wheels instead of tracks, were impractical for use and scrapped for parts. C and D were made with tracks and the rest is advertising history, yes?

There were indeed two other Energizer Bunnies created – one with a deep sea diving suit and one with an astronaut suit, both of which were directly sewn onto a mechanical bunny body – but neither possesses, or needs, the range and detail of motion that the two principle bunnies needed.

When this thing hits the block in two weeks in Beverly Hills, Pop Culture watchers the world over will be anxiously waiting to see what it brings. There are only two bunnies that can claim the original spot and the top glory of starring in more than 100 commercials... For collectors, this may well be the only shot they're going to get for many years to come.

The ad campaign may keep going and going, but for this Energizer Bunny – one of the originals – it’s about to get a long deserved rest and a brand new home.

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

-Noah Fleisher

Monday, March 22, 2010

Coin Monday: Heritage Auctions and The Riddle of the ‘Double Eagle’

March 22, 2010
Written by John Dale

One of my favorite pop tunes is Nik Kershaw’s The Riddle.” The lyrics are pure British nonsense (the artist has stated as much) that originally served as placeholders for the incredibly catchy music.

Recently I fielded a riddle of my own from another department. Actually, it wasn’t a riddle, but a genuine question: why do numismatists call the big gold coins “double eagles” when there’s only one eagle on the back?

I giggled a little. I hadn’t thought about the term “double eagle” that way. Then I put on my Serious Professional cap and typed my reply. The word “eagle” in “double eagle” doesn’t actually refer to the bird on the reverse, but rather a denomination of ten dollars.

The usage dates back all the way to 1792, when the Second Congress passed the Mint Act, which laid the groundwork for the United States Mint and is followed (albeit with much modification) to the present day. The term “eagle” appears in Section 9 of the Act, which starts:

“And be it further enacted, That there shall be from time to time struck and coined at the said mint, coins of gold, silver, and cop­per, of the following denominations, values and descriptions, viz. EAGLES – each to be of the value of ten dollars or units …”

The section continues from the eagle through the half eagle (one-half of ten dollars or five dollars) and quarter eagle (one-quarter of ten dollars or two and a half dollars), before going on to silver. When the discovery of California gold inspired calls for a coinage denomination larger than the eagle, the Act of March 3, 1849 authorized the striking of “double eagles, each to be of the value of twenty dol­lars, or units …”

Actual production began in 1850.

While terms like “dollar,” “cent,” and “dime” (originally (“disme”) are in common use today, “eagle” is not. Even when gold coins were made with regularity, they weren’t used much except by bankers and the wealthy. While many Americans grew up with cents and parts of a dollar, even in the early 1800s, gold coins were simply irrelevant to everyday life.

When the eagle denomination went back into production in 1838 after a 34-year hiatus, the denomination was written as “TEN D.” (for DOLLARS) instead of “ONE EAGLE.” Similarly, the early double eagles read “TWENTY D.” instead of “DOUBLE EAGLE.”

All too often, numismatists can be impatient with others who don’t understand the jargon, and I’m no exception. When I thought about it from the asker’s point of view, though, the question was perfectly logical.

If I didn’t know any better, I could see myself flipping over a double eagle and wondering why there weren’t two birds on it myself!

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

-John Dale Beety

Monday, March 15, 2010

Coin Monday: Double Provenance

March 15, 2010
Written by John Dale

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- John Dale Beety

Thursday, March 11, 2010

1000 Comic Books You Must Read: A Review by Heritage Auctions' own Barry Sandoval

March 11, 2010
Written by Barry

I’m not sure if you can afford to buy Tony Isabella’s new book, 1000 Comic Books You Must Read.

Oh, you won’t have a problem paying the price on the back cover, a very reasonable $29.99. (In fact, follow this link to snag it for the pittance that is $19.79). I’m talking about the price of all of the comics you’ll end up buying after you read the book.

“Luckily for you, many of the issues chosen are now available in reprint form,” the afterword says.

Yeah, that’s fine if you want to read Fantastic Four #1, but you’re out of luck when it comes to the likes of Jumbo Comics #1, Silver Streak #7, or Crime Does Not Pay #22.

Let’s say you wanted to buy every comic in the book, with no compunctions about substituting reprints to save money and no qualms about buying the lowest of low-grade copies to save dough. Even with those compromises, getting all of the comics couldn’t possibly cost less than $20,000. If you left the Golden Age out of it, you could probably do it for $5,000. Thanks a lot, Isabella!

Well, the fact that so many great comics exist isn’t the author’s problem (Tony Isabella is a veteran comic writer/editor, who among other things has my undying gratitude for giving John Byrne his big break at Marvel). The wealth of material in this book is amazing, with cover scans generously laid out four-to-a-page. What a treasure trove! Many of the scans were taken from Heritage’s own Permanent Auction Archives, with our blessing of course.

Before I get to the positives, there is one thing I would “zing” the author or his publisher about: some of the scans shown in the book don’t show the original comics but rather reprints, including Action #1, Whiz #2, and Tales of Suspense #39. What’s up with that?

That mini-abomination aside, let me tell you what I loved about the book: the author avoided falling into the three traps that compilers of similar (if less ambitious) lists have fallen into.

Trap 1: Making the list too personal, and by that I mean personal in a way that’s boring for the reader. The choices are personal all right, but in a way that’s interesting for the reader, a very difficult feat to pull off.

Trap 2: Focusing too much on “key” issues. Any comic collector already knows what those are. Thankfully, Isabella neither ignores them nor spends too much time on them.

Trap 3: Focusing too much on covers. Lists of the best covers are fun, but anyone with two eyes can easily make his or her own. Admirably, this book is about comics you must read, not covers you must look at.

The result is a book equally fascinating for the beginning comic fan or the advanced collector. I consider myself the latter, but have I ever read Wings #1, All-Winners #9, or Two-Gun Kid #60? No, but I want to now. I think this book will make some collectors rediscover what got them interested in comics in the first place.

Here again the author goes beyond the usual suspects. Everyone knows Fantastic Four #51 has the classic “This Man, This Monster” yarn. But Kookie? Konga’s Revenge? Super Green Beret? Who knew these series even existed, much less that the stories in them were worth seeking out?

Also, the author includes all genres of comics, as well as Spirit sections, promotional comics, Undergrounds, Independents, Warren mags, and even a few non-U.S. classics like Asterix and Tintin.

I’m loath to use that reviewer’s cliché, “A must for any [whatever]’s library,” but this book will certainly be a fixture in mine.

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

- Barry Sandoval

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In the market for a dinosaur? Who isn't! Your chance is coming soon at Heritage Auctions

March 10, 2010
Posted by Noah

I think I've expressed in these blog pages on the Interwebs my sincere desire to acquire - and subsequently clone - a dinosaur, then go back in time and present it to my playground self back in the mid-1970s at elementary school.

While I was there I would warn myself against many things, the Ice Capades and Fruity Pebbles in particular, not to mention beets of all stripes, and tell myself to invest heavily in Microsoft. Then I would jet back to 1938, pick up a dozen or so Action #1s, then to 1939 for a dozen or so Detective #27s, then I would be back at home in time to catch the season finale of Psych tonight - I am ever a fan of the great Dule' Hill.

All of that is to say that, as you can see by the picture to the right, we had some big company at Heritage earlier this week and I couldn't resist taking a quick pic or two. With a few hundred thousand, maybe, or maybe a few million, I could at least fulfill the first part of my peurile ramblings above. That, mes amis, is a real, not-quite-live, Stegosaurus, 70%-80% intact, as it was assembled for photography for a Natural History auction to take place sometime next year.

And, oh yes, did I mention how much fun it is to work in a place where you walk into an auction room and see a full-size dinosaur? I didn't? Well, let me tell you...
Let's just say that the beast was hulking, huge and scary, and that's just judging by the size of its skeleton. You can see by the other picture just how big it was compared to a man - that man is our Natural History department's own Peter Wiggins, and if you know Peter, you know he's a good-sized (and good-natured) guy. I can only imagine having to run away from such a hulk of dino meat, and dodge that spiked tail, just like I'm sure poor Cha-ka the Pekuni, also known as the great character actor Phillip Paley, used to have to do on a daily basis in the jungles of The Land of The Lost. Don't even think of getting me started on the sleestaks... Creepy, man, Creepy...

The Stegosaurus above, unnamed as of yet - though I do like Chet - has no estimate attached to it, though I can't imagine I can walk away with it for less than a lot more than I have, or probably ever will have. So, listen, I'm open for partners in a deal to buy this thing. Once I have it, and once my Time Machine is done, there's at least one copy of both Action #1 and Detective #27 in it for you... I promise I'm good for it.

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

-Noah Fleisher

Monday, March 8, 2010

Coin Monday: Little Coins Get a Little Bit Bigger

March 8, 2010
Written by John Dale

By size (though not value), the dime is the smallest coin used regularly in the United States, with a diameter of just under 18 millimeters. In the past, particularly during the 19th century, this wasn’t always the case. The half dime (same face value as today’s nickel, but made out of silver) was just 15.5 millimeters across when the denomination ended in 1873.

From 1851 to 1873, the three cent silver coin was even smaller, only 14 millimeters in diameter. Its weight was just four-fifths of a gram—less than the average paper clip. They were nicknamed “fish scales” for their thinness and size. Even the three cent silver pieces don’t take the tiniest-coin honor for regular U.S. coinage.

Instead, the short-lived first version of the gold dollar takes that honor. This 1849-D gold dollar illustrates the Type One or initial design. Like other Type One gold dollars, it is just 13 millimeters across. (All coins in this post are part of Heritage’s March 2010 National Money Show auction in Fort Worth.)

As so many numismatists like to say, the Type One gold dollars “proved unsatisfactory.” (Read: too darn small!) Mint employees turned out a series of experiments and patterns, some retreads of old ideas, in their quest to improve the design. One of the more intriguing patterns to come out of this quest is an annular design that tried to broaden the diameter of the gold dollar without decreasing the thickness.

The trick involved putting a hole in the middle of the coin, a style not seen on any official United States coinage, though it is used elsewhere in the world, notably on current five yen coins of Japan.

Eventually, the Mint settled on a broader and thinner planchet, diameter 15 millimeters, as its solution. The first design for the new dimensions, the so-called Type Two, was a bit of a bodge, but it was corrected swiftly, and the final Type Three design stayed more or less stable until the last circulating gold dollars were struck in 1889.

The gold dollar wasn’t the only denomination to grow in size, either. The tiny three cent silver coins were struck through 1873, but it was in 1865 that they really met their match, when the Mint first issued a three cent coin in copper-nickel. The three cent nickel has a diameter identical to that of today’s dime.

The half dime also got a larger copper-nickel replacement in the same year. While the design of this 1866 Shield nickel may not look familiar, the size should; at 20.5 millimeters, it’s just a touch smaller than the modern five cent coin. The nickels jingling in our pockets are throwbacks to the days when a lot of little coins got just a little bit bigger.

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

-John Dale Beety

Thursday, March 4, 2010

What price the Mummy's head? At Heritage Auctions, it was $31K+ last January...

March 04, 2010
Written by Yinan Wang

(It is my pleasure to turn the blog over today to Yinan Wang, a new-ish addition to Heritage's Natural History Department, and - as you'll see by reading below - an entertaining blogger. I can confirm everything that Yinan writes about in the following post, especially the cool creepiness of the mummy head, and how working at Heritage - all of Heritage - can often feel like that last scene in Raiders of The Lost Ark, when Indy is watching the ark as it is buried by a forklift in a the back of a non-descript warehouse somewhere in Washington, D.C. The difference here, though, is that things are only put away briefly - until bought at auction - and they are relatively easy to get to - as long as you know someone with security clearance and you never, ever, touch! Trust me, when I get to make my happy rounds to any number of Heritage departments to look at the amazing stuff, well, let's just say that my hands are always behind my back and I do the appreciating with my eyes. Thanks Yinan, for the Natural History update. Read on and enjoy! -Noah Fleisher)

How much is a human head worth? About $31,070 if it happens to be the head of an Egyptian mummy.

Before I go any further, I apologize for the late blog entry; after the January auction the staff here at the Natural History department disperses around the world to look for exotic pieces for the next auction and I didn’t get much internet access in Marrakech. Now that I’ve had a chance to dust off my boots, let us examine some of the interesting pieces from the January Signature Natural History auction.

Back to the head: yes, the head dates from sometime between the New Kingdom and Ptolemaic eras (1500-300 BC) and fetched $30K+ after some fierce bidding. I’m actually quite glad it’s no longer sitting in the office; it was getting kinda spooky walking past his eyeless stare on the way to the coffee room every day. If I knew my head was going to be on someone’s shelf in 3000 years, I’d be rather annoyed.

Another fun item that sold was a 9 foot tall Russian Brown Bear that went for $9,560. It was rather entertaining watching people try to figure out how to move it out of the warehouse. You can just hear the bear saying, with a perfect Russian accent: “In Mother Russia, you are not moving bear, bear is moving you!”

Eventually the bear was successfully moved onto a truck before it could crush capitalism.

There were many exciting fossil pieces sold at the auction as well, including a beautiful Pteranodon from Kansas that went for $33,460. The amazing piece looks great and it would look nice on my wall (secret Santas take note).

Some other great pieces that went to good homes? T-rex teeth, dinosaur bones, fossil fish, etc.

The mineral section brought the highest prices of the show, with the top bid being a giant aquamarine crystal from Pakistan, bringing in $143,400. It essentially looked like a nice big piece of blue ice bigger than a flashlight. Although minerals don’t quite have the organic aspect of the other Natural History categories, they’re generally very pretty.

So what is it like working in Natural History? Remember that final scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” where the box containing the Ark is wheeled into a warehouse full of boxes? Yes, it’s like that. Our shelves are chuck full of oddities, taxidermies, dinosaurs, crystal skulls, and the occasional human head.

At the moment we’re working on processing our new inventory for the next Signature Natural History auction; June 6th 2010 in Beverly Hills. I’ll post again before the auction to give you a preview of some of the special pieces on our shelves! Until then, happy bidding!

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

-Yinan Wang

Monday, March 1, 2010

Coin Monday: "A Bonded-Mated Pair"

March 1, 2010

Written by John Dale

“A bonded-mated pair.” While it may sound like the subject of a pulp magazine cover in the next Illustration Art catalog, it’s actually a coin term, used to refer to a particular class of error. A “mated pair” is a set of two coins united by a common strike; a “bonded-mated pair” is a mated pair in which the two coins were fused together instead of separating. This is what happened to the bonded-mated pair of 1972-S proof cents coming up for auction in the March 2010 Fort Worth Official ANA Auction.

So that’s the answer to the first question: “What the heck is that?” Now for the second: “What the heck happened to it?” After all, most of the fun in error collecting comes from imagining what happened!

I described a mated pair as a set of two coins united by a common strike. More specifically, imagine one coin being struck. The planchet goes between the dies, the moving die goes down and strikes the planchet with a ton of force. Out pops a coin, which then leaves the dies. Another planchet takes its place.

But what happens when the newly struck coin doesn’t get out of the way? It can stick to one of the dies, leading to a brockage error, like this dime I wrote about back in June 2009. Or the newly struck coin could get partway out of the dies, but not completely. It lands under or on top of the next planchet, the dies come down, and suddenly there are two coins which share one impression from the dies.

Usually the two coins separate from each other after the strike. Often they are split up, with one being caught in an inspection and never leaving the mint, for example. Owning a mated pair, or both halves of a common strike, is far more desirable than having just one of the pieces.

A bonded-mated pair takes the idea of a mated pair one step further. Instead of separating, the mated pair is bonded together by the common strike. Most bonded-mated pairs never get out into the world; they’re ludicrously easy to spot in a hand-inspection, and several automated systems are designed specifically to weed out misshapen oddities like this one. Interestingly enough, this error is also a proof bonded-mated pair, and all proofs are supposed to be hand-inspected at least once before they head out the door! Makes you wonder… [Then you realize that this thing was made in the early 1970s in San Francisco, and it all makes sense. – Noah]

What’s most dramatic about this error is how it’s bent. The photographs, as great as they are, can’t do justice to how truly three-dimensional the error is. The two coins form an angle nearly 45 degrees from the horizontal, like the sides of a chevron or the two halves of a book held open as a reader searches for a page. While this error, like all the best, leaves a few unresolved questions, it does offer many insights, and more importantly, a solid jumping-off point for wild speculation. So in both speculating and bidding, have at it!

-- John Dale Beety