Monday, April 26, 2010

Coin Monday: A Day in the Life of John Dale Beety, Hand Model

Monday, April 26
Written by John Dale

“The job description doesn’t tell you half of what you’re going to do.”

It was just one of many sage pieces of job advice I received in college that I had to learn the hard way.

“Numismatic cataloger” sounds nice and tidy: write about coins and get paid for it! So simple! Eh-heh-heh… The business cards remain the same, but nowadays I’m a coin cataloger, editor, over-the-phone coin describer, blogger, implementer of consignor promises and a half-dozen other roles I’ve performed in the past few weeks and now forgotten.

Oh, I’ve also been a hand model.

If you’ve ever seen a picture of me or my hands, you just had a needlescratch moment in your brain. Hand model?!

Perhaps it wasn’t hand modeling in the traditional sense, but I was pressed into service for a nifty new feature: the “360 Degree View” for coins, videos taken to show off high-end coins in all their lustrous glory. I was part of a few dozen videos, and on coins like lot 2272 in the upcoming Central States auction in Milwaukee, those are my cuticles and half-moons framing the coin as it swirls around in the light.

The first time I tackled an Indian half eagle like the 1911-S in lot 2272, I actually had a bit of a panic, because the Indian half eagles (and the quarter eagles like them) are “built” nothing like a typical U.S. coin. Most U.S. coins have low “recessed” fields that are protected by a raised rim around the coin. The central device (a portrait, an eagle, a monument, or what-have-you) is also raised, but no higher than the rim, so the coins can stack.

The Indian half eagles and quarter eagles, designed by a now semi-obscure early 20th century artist named Bela Lyon Pratt, by contrast, turn the relationship on its head. There is no rim to speak of; the fields are raised instead of lowered; and the devices, rather than being sculpted in relief, are defined by lines sunk into the field.

The goal was to keep the coin’s devices legible as the surfaces wore down—all well and good, except that the Indian half eagles really didn’t circulate! On the other hand, with the fields exposed, they attracted all manner of marks and abrasions, which makes finding high-end examples challenging today. Even a near-Gem like lot 2272 is ahead of the curve.

I am unlikely to reprise my hand-modeling role anytime soon, unless the company calls. Still, it was enjoyable to get to review the Platinum Night session of the Central States auction, one coin and one 30-second video shoot at a time.

Who knows… maybe if they have me act as a hand model for the next auction, they might even pay for a manicure!

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

-John Dale Beety

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Elvgren's 'Bear Facts,' Martignette's favorite, on the block in about two weeks at Heritage Beverly Hills

April 21, 2010
Posted by Noah

The smile on the bear says it all...

Gil Elvgren's essential , magnificent 1962 pin-up, Bear Facts (A Modest Look; Bearback Rider), is going to find a new home in about two weeks when it occupies the centerpiece position of the May 7 Pin-Up & Glamour Art Auction taking place at Heritage Auctions Beverly Hills. It is estimated (quite conservatively, in my humble opinion) at $50,000-$75,000. It's already at $65,000, and we have a ways to go. 'Nuff said.

Perhaps of equal importance to the awesomeness of the piece itself is its enduring fame and its place in Charles Martignette's personal pantheon of Elvgren masterworks. In fact, Bear Facts was Martignette's favorite Elvgren of all. Period. It appeared as the dust jacket cover, and figure 414 of Martignette and Lou Meisel's book Gil Elvgren All His Glamorous American Pin-Ups and also as Figure 82 of The Great American Pin-up, again by the same pair.

I'll sum it up again: The single greatest Illustration Art Collector of all time, Charles Martignette, who assembled the single greatest collection of Illustration Art ever assembled, had a single favorite painting by Gil Elvgren, himself the greatest pin-up artist to ever live, and it was the one you see here, offered for the first time at public auction on May 7.

This painting is going to go big, obviously, and only the very most advanced collectors are going to be vying for this, though every single collector of the form, at every level, is going to be watching and wishing. If I had half a chance I'd buy it myself. I don't, however, have even a quarter of a chance, or an eighth. Or a sixteenth... I would, however, be more than willing to mow your lawn for a year if you buy this for me...

The truth is that, like every Illustration Art Auction here at Heritage in the last year that has featured Martignette's amazing (did I say amazing? I meant AMAZING!) collection, there is much to love and classics of the form all over the sale. There are many that I love, and many I would love to own, none of which I will be able to afford for a long time - but I will someday, and on that day the world will be mine!

Do yourself a favor and take a look through the Illustration Art catalog. Linger a little longer over the Elvgrens, the Vargas, the Armstrongs and the Morans, among the many. Choose one for yourself, one for your best friend, and one for your favorite regular Heritage Blogger whose initials are not JDB (Whoever that may be...).

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

-Noah Fleisher

Monday, April 19, 2010

Coin Monday: One Cent, Two Cent, One Cent Planchet

April 19, 2010
Written by John Dale

Before I get to the coin part of today’s post, a bit of timely fantasy artwork that caught my eye, Real Musgrave’s The Audit. Don’t let the glasses and the so-cute-it-hurts expression fool you; that little whelp of an auditor probably has a big, bad dragon for backup. I could imagine The Audit adding a touch of whimsy to an IRS agent’s office when it sells in May, but now that I think about it, a whimsical IRS agent might be even scarier than a giant red dragon!

From giant scaly winged monsters to other wrong things, Coin Monday is going back to errors. It’s a category that never lacks for variety at Heritage, and in the upcoming Central States U.S. Coin auction there are 77 different pieces in the Errors category. The coin that immediately caught my eye was lot 1585.

First things first: it’s a two cent coin dated 1864. Odd denominations are always a favorite of mine, and the two cent coin had a practical application when it was first struck in 1864, supplementing the new bronze cent as small change in the difficult Civil War economy. In the postwar period, though, it didn’t have much reason to go on. Along with several other coinage denominations, the two cent piece was abolished in a major “housekeeping” bill passed in 1873.

A two cent coin, in and of itself, is certainly interesting but not necessarily expensive. A two cent coin on a one cent planchet, though? That’s a lulu. Error coins from the 19th century are extraordinarily popular with collectors, since far fewer of them have survived compared to 20th century errors, and this wrong-denomination coin is a beauty. It has light wear, possibly from being kept as a pocket-piece, or else passing through a few hands before somebody looked at it closely and saved it as a curiosity.

The one cent planchet it’s struck on is compelling in its own right, since the bronze alloy was introduced in 1864, the same year this error was struck. One cent coinage had gone through several rapid transitions, from the bulky copper large cents to smaller copper-nickel small cents with two different designs. The bronze alloy stuck, however, and aside from a brief period in World War II, one cent coins were struck in bronze until 1962.

Two important firsts came together in 1864, and the result was this important error. Collectors of the category, especially pre-20th century specialists, will want to give it serious thought. As for the auditor or quality control types who prefer their two cent pieces non-erroneous, well, Heritage just might have you covered, too…

-John Dale Beety

Monday, April 12, 2010

Coin Monday: If you’re a nut for Bust Halves, has Heritage got something for you

April 12, 2010
Written by John Dale

Coin collecting humor isn’t likely to tear up the comedy club circuit anytime soon. Most of it consists of terrible puns, though there have been a handful of exceptions. (The best coin humor I’ve ever read is “Pearlman’s People,” written by public relations maestro Donn Pearlman, which used to grace the back page of The Numismatist.) [I can indeed vouch that Pearlmann is a virtuoso of PR, as I have had the chance to study at the feet of the master these last two years… - Noah Fleisher]

Even more disturbing than the generally poor quality of coin collecting humor is the number of people who repeat it, not because they know it’s bad, but because they believe it’s good. Self-awareness isn’t the most common trait among coin collectors. Then again, we do have the capacity for rare flashes of insight and self-understanding, as evidenced by the best coin club name of all time: the Bust Half Nut Club.

There has never been greater truth in numismatic advertising. Bust Half nutters are obsessed with Bust half dollars; they know they’re obsessed, and they’re at peace with it.

“To be considered as a candidate for BHNC membership, and individual must own a minimum of 100 different Bust die marriages by Overton attribution,” etc. That means 100 distinctly different matchups of obverse and reverse dies… and the documentation to prove it. Like I said, self-awareness.

A prominent Bust Half nut was the late Donald R. Frederick, whose collection of early U.S. coinage, alias “Bayside Part II,”is an important Featured Collection in the upcoming April 2010 Central States auction. Mr. Frederick’s collection went far beyond the 100-variety minimum; in fact, Heritage is auctioning 443 separate varieties from his collection!

The varieties range from relatively common to scarce and even very rare. Picking out a single half dollar highlight is difficult, but the 1827 Overton-148 (that is, the 48th die marriage identified and listed in the Overton reference) is a safe pick. It is one of just 14 to 15 pieces believed known—and one of just 12 coins accounted for in our census—with a grade of VF35 awarded by PCGS.

While there will be a great deal of interest in Mr. Frederick’s coins, I am particularly interested in how a certain non-coin lot turns out. Lot 3370 contains two copies of the Overton die variety reference, one a First Edition signed by the author to Mr. Frederick, the other a Revised Edition with extensive annotations in Mr. Frederick’s hand. The latter was Mr. Frederick’s “working copy” of Overton, his personal and well-traveled guide to Bust half dollars that can now pass into another’s hands. For the devoted student of Bust halves, this well-worn book of Mr. Frederick’s may prove more valuable than any piece of silver.

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

-John Dale Beety

Thursday, April 8, 2010

It's still going! - Original Energizer Bunny readies for auction Saturday at Heritage Beverly Hills

April 8, 2010
Posted by Noah

While I don't have a ton of time for writing today, I thought it might be fun to post this little video I took this morning at Heritage Auctions Beverly Hills.

The consignor of the original Energizer Bunny readying for auction here on Saturday has the thing up and running and had enough hands - in the way of friends, not actually on him - to get the running.

Now, it's a cool thing in the first place, an amazing piece of pop culture, to be sure, but it's actually even cooler when you see it working and running live.

The video is not too long, but you get the point, and that is indeed the bunny. His nickname is Clint, and his business associates refer to him as EB, but that's Mr. EB to you...

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

-Noah Fleisher

Monday, April 5, 2010

Coin Monday: Personal Treasures from the "S.S. Central America"

April 5, 2010
Written by John Dale

There are certain stories that will be told and retold for as long as there are collectors of U.S. coinage. The sinking of the S.S. Central America, with its lost gold and lost lives, has enough financial and personal tragedy to endure for centuries. Yet for decades the disaster faded from memory, not quickly but with the slow erosion of waves on a rock, as ships such as the Titanic and the Lusitania took on more meaning.

When the Central America’s gold was re-discovered, so too was its story, and the long-forgotten details seemed fresh and exciting. The “Ship of Gold,” as it is now often called, gave historians new insight into California Gold Rush assayers’ ingots and collectors a remarkable opportunity to own like-new 1857-S double eagles, such as this Gem in the upcoming April-May Central States U.S. Coin Auction.

The assayers’ ingots and gleaming double eagles, stacked up and packaged up in the hold of the Central America, are of great historical and collector importance. When I think about the wreck, though, I find myself drawn to other numismatic treasures. In addition to the ingots and double eagles, headed for the banks of New York City before they met a different fate, there was more gold onboard the ship: the personal fortunes of passengers, which often took the form of double eagles but also eagles and half eagles, gold dust and nuggets.

There were also a number of oddities, reminders of the strange and often dysfunctional monetary system that Californians cobbled together in less than a decade. Two Territorial gold coins in the Central States auction, both moderately worn from five years of use in West Coast commerce, were recovered from the bottom of the ocean floor. One is an 1852 ten dollar Augustus Humbert/United States Assay Office coin, graded VF30 by PCGS; the other, also dated 1852 and graded VF30 by PCGS, was issued by Moffat & Co.

As the San Francisco Mint became established, many of the old Territorial gold coins that stayed in California were melted, and few survivors remain. Both coins are of varieties rated as R.6, or “very rare,” with a couple dozen examples known at most. While fewer Territorial gold coins were recovered from the Central America than assayers’ ingots or 1857-S double eagles, the few Territorial pieces salvaged do offer valuable clues to how various issues were used or not used in California at the time.

One of the great paradoxes of the Central America is that for all the value its gold holds for us today, there was a time when it was all but worthless. Survivors’ accounts tell of people throwing away their golden fortunes, like the coins and nuggets were leaden weights instead of wealth—and why not, for what is the value of gold against one’s life? We, however, are not in danger of drowning. We can study. We can acquire. We can collect.

We must remember.

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

-John Dale Beety

Thursday, April 1, 2010

An education in high-end coin collecting: A Heritage Auctions Account Executive’s story

April 1, 2010
Written by Heather Harvey

(This is no April Fool’s joke. I have the pleasure today to welcome Heather Harvey to the Heritage Blog. Heather is an Account Executive for the Coin category, and – as anyone reading this probably knows – that’s a pretty big matzo ball [Happy Passover Ma!] here at Heritage. The biggest in fact. Thing is, when Heather came into her job, taking over from a very well-liked predecessor, she had big shoes to fill not only in getting to know everyone – and reveal her strong work ethic and positive disposition – but also in her knowledge of coins. As you can read below, that knowledge equaled exactly Zero. Fortunately for her, and all of us, there are about a million experts here at Heritage, give or take 999,950 or less, and an education was soon underway. Remember Heather, Cardinal Rule #1: It’s called a cent, not a penny! – Noah Fleisher)

Two years ago, on her fourth birthday, my niece received a large, silver-like coin from an older family member. She was told it was to go toward her colleges expenses.

College expenses? Huh?

She wasn’t alone in her look of bewilderment, because who honestly thinks a coin will contribute to the hefty fees associated with higher education these days? Maybe he forgot to take his medicine that morning…

Fast forwarding to my interview at Heritage six months ago. I was asked: “Do you know anything about numismatics?”


Coming from the person I was to replace I thought for sure I needed to know this to get the job (or at least know what the word meant). Timidly answering with a “no,” he assured me that it wasn’t necessary in order to organize the advertising for those particular venues. Although I didn’t know the first thing about numismatics, I knew enough about marketing to get the job as the Marketing Account Executive for coins and currency, and I began my advertising duties a week later.

That same week a whole new intricate world of numismatists and a hidden underground numismatic community was brought to light. The amazement on my face could not have been more apparent. People collect these things? These coins are worth what? This coin is how old? Someone spent that much on one coin? I can’t call it a penny anymore? Are these people OK? Don’t they know it’s only a quarter?

It seemed as if I would never run out of questions, and maybe I never will, because I’m still increasingly intrigued by not only the coins themselves, but the people who collect these tiny rarities.

Recently my involvement with numismatic advertising, in addition to my fervent curiosity of the collecting community, led me to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the ANA National Money Show ™ in Fort Worth, TX.

I’ve learned by seeing firsthand that, to the collector, it is so much more than just a quarter. They truly have a sincere love of… well, money. From the intaglio printing and secrecy surrounding the new $100 bill at the B.E.P, to the rows of gleaming showcases and wizened faces hunched into their magnifiers at the show, it was all most remarkable. These people are so passionate and knowledgeable about something I never gave a second thought to unless it involved my trip to the ATM because some store didn’t accept credit or debit.

After learning more than I ever thought to learn about numismatics, I’m finding this love/passion/obsession – whatever you want to call it – admirable. For someone to have such a unique understanding of a niche so detailed and so specific is absolutely fascinating.

Even so, I’m not sure I’ll ever summon this “collecting gene” and start my own private collection of fancy money no one else has. I’ll just secretly hope that my dear old relative will generously bestow whatever other college funding coins he may have laying around to my cause so I can sell them. I may not be a collector, but I can still relate to their love of… well, money. It’s just that, for now, I’d rather spend it!

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

-Heather Harvey