Friday, May 28, 2010

Coin (Friday and) Monday: World Cup Commemoration

May 28,2010

Written by John Dale

(With Memorial Day on Monday, next week's Coin Monday is appearing here early. -- The Heritage Blog)

It’s just about World Cup time, when the greatest footballers from around the globe put on the national uniforms to seek out glory. Like just about every other World Cup tournament, this go-round has had its controversies. The host country! The Thierry Henry handball incident! The anthem! (Though you’d never hear me complaining about the opportunity to see...I mean, listen to Shakira.)

All of these seem pretty trivial, though, compared to the controversy when the United States was chosen to host the World Cup in 1994. At the end of the 1980s, when the selection was made, there was no prominent professional “football” league (as the rest of the world understood it) in the United States, and the country hadn’t qualified for the World Cup since 1950.

The U.S. national team qualified for the 1990 World Cup, however, starting a streak of World Cup appearances that will continue in South Africa. Major League Soccer, which had its roots in the 1994 World Cup bid, is going strong and expanding. And the 1994 World Cup left a numismatic legacy for U.S. collectors as well: a trio of commemoratives.

The middle coin of the set is a silver dollar, a proof example of which appears in the June Long Beach U.S. Coin Auction. On the obverse, two players are pursuing a ball; no word on whether the player wearing number 7 is going to flop and get the player wearing number 10 stuck with a spurious red card. The reverse is a shared reverse among all three coins, with the official logo of the 1994 World Cup squarely in the middle.

The silver dollar proved extremely popular, with more than half a million proofs sold. The less expensive clad half dollar did even better, with a slightly greater number of proofs and more than twice as many uncirculated-finish coins in the final tally. Even the gold half eagle, notable for showing the World Cup trophy almost alone on its obverse, sold better in proof format than any commemorative half eagle issue had in the previous four years.

While the Dallas experience has evolved from World Cup action in the Cotton Bowl to Major League Soccer in Pizza Hut Park, the 1994 World Cup commemorative coins offer reminders of how “the beautiful game” was reborn in the United States. If the World Cup ever returns to the United States (2018? 2022?), perhaps commemorative coins will come again; if so, I hope the designs are worthy of celebration.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Coin Monday: Pikes Peak Gold

May 24, 2010
Written by John Dale

The ANA Summer Seminar, held at the Colorado College in Colorado Springs, which was the site of some of my fondest Young Numismatist memories.

When a gathering of coin enthusiasts reaches critical mass, learning and silliness ensue, and this is especially true when said coin enthusiasts are in high school or college. By the end of the week, several (usually harmless) pranks have been sprung on various seminar-goers staying in the dorms.

One year, I was a designated target of the dress-as-a-ghost-and-jump-out-of-the-closet trick. Unfortunately for the pranksters, my voice hadn’t cracked yet.

BOO! EEK! ARRGH! as the “ghost” in front went down, clutching his hands to his ears.

Other moments were plenty serious, and plenty awesome, like the trip up Pikes Peak. (No apostrophe, no joke. Supposedly there’s even a law about it in Colorado.) I’d heard about Katharine Lee Bates writing America the Beautiful after visiting Pikes Peak, and after looking out at the same views, I could understand why.

Pikes Peak isn’t all that close to present-day Denver, but when gold was discovered in the area (and the earliest version of Denver founded), Pikes Peak was the most visible landmark in the region, and “Pikes Peak or Bust!” became a famous slogan for the Colorado gold rush.

The three most prominent issuers of Territorial gold coins in Colorado all referenced “Pikes Peak” on their coins. John Parsons & Company and J.J. Conway & Co. were short-term operations, and their coins are rarities today, but Clark, Gruber & Co. was better-established and struck numerous pieces in denominations that mirrored the Federal coinage. (All coins from the upcoming June Long Beach U.S. Coin Auction.)

Not only were the denominations the same, but the smaller coins looked suspiciously similar to U.S. quarter eagles and half eagles, too. The government eventually bought out the firm, and Clark, Gurber & Co. is actually the ancestor of the Denver Mint that still operates today.

While Clark, Gruber & Co. did its assaying work in present-day Colorado, the dies used to strike the firm’s coins were not made on-site, but rather shipped in. This is most obvious on the $10 coins, like lot 1978 or 1979.

Clearly the artist had never been to Colorado. Pikes Peak doesn’t look like that. Not even close. (Art directors of the world, you have a new case study!)

Today, however, the peak-that-is-not-Pikes is all part of the quaint charm of the ten dollar pieces. The Territorial coinage enthusiasts are sure to be out in force when the Clark, Gruber & Co. sequence sells. Why not join them for this golden opportunity?

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

-John Dale Beety

Monday, May 17, 2010

Coin Monday: 1916/1916

May 17, 2010
Posted by John Dale

Heritage has had at least one Featured Collection in each U.S. Coin auction since I started cataloging here, and the June Long Beach Auction is no exception. There are three Featured Collections this go-round, the most prominent of which is The Brenda John Collection. If you haven’t seen this collection already, it’s chock-full of top-quality Lincoln cents and Buffalo nickels.

Need some further convincing? Try this: there’s a 1916 Doubled Die Obverse nickel in MS64. No, you aren’t seeing double…the doubling is that strong! That huge spread between the two dates is completely real. It’s not hard to imagine production of a die being bungled this badly—accidents do happen, after all—but for such a die to then be put into use is rather baffling.

Also rather baffling is how doubling this blatant went basically undiscovered for two decades. Once you know where to look, the doubling is obvious and unforgettable, yet collectors seem to have missed the variety at the time of release. By the time it was discovered and publicized, an unknown number of examples had been lost forever to circulation, and many others were well-worn. A survivor in MS64 is a precious treasure indeed.

Also early on, collectors didn’t really understand what they were seeing. Overdates, where one date was punched over another, were familiar to them; so were repunched dates, where the same date was punched in twice, not perfectly in sync. So collectors of the time, seeing the obvious doubling on the date, naturally called it the “1916/1916,” to signal a repunched date, only it wasn’t a repunched date at all.

Take a closer look at the coin, and look away from the date. The feathers at the back of the portrait’s head are doubled, too. Also doubled are his neck and his profile, particularly the chin and lips. As collectors increased their knowledge of doubled dies, fueled by interest in the now-famous 1955 Doubled Die Obverse cent, earlier varieties were re-examined, and the more subtle signs of the 1916 Doubled Die Obverse nickel were recognized. The “Doubled Die” usage became much more prevalent after this.

Every once in a while, though, the “1916/1916” term pops up, often in old catalogs or coin albums. It may not be considered strictly right by most numismatists nowadays, but there’s still room for the old term. Then there’s a rule of collecting that I picked up from a member of my local coin club when I was still a boy: you own the coin, you can call it whatever you like! So, who wants the naming rights?

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Frank Frazetta (1928-2010): "Worldbeater."

May 11, 2010
Written by Don Mangus

(It is both a pleasure and a sad duty today to give the reins of the blog to Don Mangus, one of our comics and illustration art experts, and a fine gentleman who has graced these digital pages before. A pleasure because, well, Don is that good a writer, and a sad duty because of the task he has been asked to undertake: Eulogizing Frank Frazetta, who passed away yesterday at the age of 82. He was indeed the greatest living sci-fi and fantasy artist and one of the world's great talents, period. The forces of good are mourning the passing of a great talent. He is pictured there, to the right, scarce three weeks ago, holding The Frank Collection Catalog, of which his Warrior With Ball And Chain was the centerpiece. Surely we will never look on his like again. - Noah Fleisher)

Sadly, the passing of Frank Frazetta marks the end of a modern fantasy era.

Frazetta's iconic cover images for Lancer's paperback reissues of Robert E. Howard's immortal Conan series marked a sea-change for fantasy art. The athletic and movie-idol-handsome artist's work has inspired and influenced every fantasy artist since the 1960s, and spawned scores of bald-faced "art pirates," often dubbed "Faux-zettas" by fandom's sardonic wits.

Without doubt, Frazetta was a one-of-a-kind artistic prodigy. Though justly celebrated for his barbaric fantasy paintings, he was a master of every cartoon and illustration genre -- action-adventure, caricature, costumed hero, crime, funny animal, jungle, romance, horror, humor, satire, science fiction, Western, and everything in between.

To measure the scope of Frazetta's legacy, it's worth taking note of both the fickle nature and short memories of the publishing industry and the reading public. All too often "today's super-star" becomes tomorrow's forgotten creator. For most, "Glory days – well, they'll pass you by..."
It's sobering to ponder how close to this fate even the supremely talented Frazetta came.

In 1954, after creating a superb (and highly collectible) body of early comic book work for Standard, Eastern Color, DC, ME, Toby, ACG, and EC, Frazetta found himself in need of a steady paycheck, and began anonymously assisting Al Capp on the syndicated Li'l Abner comic strip. In 1961, after being refused a raise, Frazetta quit the Abner job, put together his latest and greatest portfolio, and hit the streets looking high and low for work from the few comic book companies that had survived the huge implosion following the industry-stifling 1954 U. S. Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency.

Despite a no-doubt superlative portfolio, the now-forgotten Frazetta came away with only a few comic book jobs, thanks almost entirely to the good graces of his old EC stable mate and friend, George Evans.

To the discerning eye, the Frazetta touch can be found submerged in the panels of Dell Comics' The Frogmen #1-3 (1962). These last-gasp comic book jobs helped keep Frazetta going during a turbulent transitional period.

The breakthrough in Frazetta's fortunes came thanks to another caring friend, fantasy legend Roy G. Krenkel, who had scored a series of Edgar Rice Burroughs illustration assignments from Ace books, and was largely carrying on a tradition pioneered by J. Allen St. John.

At first, Frazetta helped the perpetually procrastinating Krenkel fulfill a few of these assignments. Then because of the wildly enthusiastic Krenkel's urging, he struck out on his own. Not content to merely knock at the door of opportunity, Frazetta savagely kicked it off its hinges with his visceral Conan covers. A bunch of enchanting fantasy paperback cover assignments followed, as well as spine-tingling horror magazine covers for Warren Publishing, and other strikingly successful commercial art assignments -- all of which ended up crowning Frazetta the "king of living fantasy artists."

Always mindful of getting his originals back from the publishers, Frank and his wife Ellie purposefully built the Frazetta legacy. Starting in the mid-60s, the Frazetta legend grew and grew among creative art directors, fans, and collectors alike, thanks to a wealth of posters, fanzines, portfolios, calendars, record album covers and books.

Among the important career milestones were a series of five Frank Frazetta books from Bantam Books, the triumphant appearance of the Death Dealer on the cover of the May 1976 issue of American Artist, Ralph Bakshi's 1983 animated Fire and Ice movie, based on Frazetta's paintings and co-directed by Frazetta himself, the 2003 feature documentary Frank Frazetta: Painting with Fire, and perhaps most importantly – the opening of the Frank Frazetta Museum in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania in 2001.

As Jim Halperin, Co-Chairman of Heritage Auction Galleries, aptly notes, "Frazetta was, quite simply, the greatest comic book artist of the 20th Century. Amazingly, he was also a modest soul, and a true gentleman in every way. He will be missed, but never forgotten."

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

-Don Mangus

Monday, May 10, 2010

Coin Monday: 1873, Open and Close

May 10, 2001
Written by John Dale

It’s not uncommon to have guests in the cataloging department, important customers or potential customers who visit our humble wing as part of a grand tour of Heritage world headquarters. Last week was one such occasion, and I had the opportunity to show off a coin I was cataloging.

“Do you like gold?” I asked.

They did.

“Ever seen a three dollar gold coin before?”

They hadn’t. I passed one to them.

The usual ooh-ing and ahh-ing ensued. Then one gentleman turned it over.

“When was this made? 1878?” He asked.

The question struck me as odd. I didn’t remember which three dollar gold coin I’d handed to the tour, but none of the threes on my desk had been dated 1878.

“Hmm, did you check the label?”

He turned the coin over. “Oh, it’s 1873.”

Then I understood why he’d been confused. He passed the coin back to me with a comment about needing to get his eyes checked. I reassured him that his eyes weren’t the problem, and he was far from the first to make the same mistake.

At the start of 1873, the U.S. Mint used a four-digit date punch, or logotype, that had the two ends of the 3 in 1873 nearly touching the center. The 3 looked like an 8 at first glance, and it didn’t take long for this to come to the attention of the then-Chief Coiner of the Mint.

A new logotype, this time with the ends of the "3" well apart, went into service and was used for most of the year. Two dimes in the upcoming June Long Beach U.S. Coin Auction show the difference between the two logotypes: the last digit goes from ambiguous on the Closed "3" coin to obvious on the Open "3" piece.

Now there’s a funny wrinkle to that 1873 three dollar coin I showed to the tour. According to official Mint records, it shouldn’t exist. There are no records of three dollar gold coins being struck for circulation in 1873. So what gives? There are multiple possibilities, none conclusively proven.

The coins could have been struck in 1874 but from dies dated 1873. For example, when demand for $3 gold coins spiked in 1874, Mint workers may have just used the dies that were on-hand, which has historical precedent.

Or the Mint records could simply be in error, a theory used to explain any number of other rarities.

Parts of both could be correct, or both could be completely off-the-mark. Regardless, the 1873 $3 is a coin to keep an eye on.

Happy bidding!

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

-John Dale Beety

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Coin Monday on a Tuesday: Collecting the Atlanta Commemoratives

May 4, 2010
Written by John Dale

The Central States auction is in the books, though Post Auction Buys are still available for a limited time. The catalogers’ attention has been focused on the next auction, coming up in June at Long Beach.

One of the most interesting and unusual lots I have handled for Long Beach is of recent vintage: a complete set of U.S. commemorative coins struck for the Atlanta Olympics. (There aren’t any pictures yet for the set, but an example of the design—offered as a different lot in the same auction—illustrates this post.)

The Summer Olympics of 1996, held in Atlanta, Georgia, were the site of many personal and team successes, but from a numismatic perspective, they were also the inspiration for one of the most ambitious failures in recent U.S. Mint history: the Games’ commemorative coin program.

The modern era of commemorative coinage had begun in 1982. Before the 1980s, two separate eras had caused scandals that led to a suspension of commemorative coins. First, the 1930s saw some commemoratives struck on flimsy pretenses, and other designs were struck for several years, changing only the date. A change in law put a temporary stop to the latter abuse.

There were no commemoratives made from 1940 to 1945. From 1946 to 1954, a new sequence of commemorative issues came out. One, honoring the centennial of Iowa’s statehood, was a well-run success, but the other major program dragged out from 1946 to 1954, honoring first Booker T. Washington alone and then alongside George Washington Carver. That experience led to a 28-year moratorium on new issues.

U.S. commemoratives designed to honor the Olympic Games had tempted fate before: the Los Angeles Olympics were honored with three different designs in 13 different date, mintmark, and proof/Mint State combinations, and this profusion was puny compared to at least one of the original proposals! The Seoul and Barcelona Games were honored with more basic programs, but for Atlanta, the authorizing legislation pulled out all the stops.

Coins were struck in two years, 1995 and 1996; for each year, there were eight different designs, two of them in gold; and for each design, there were two different formats, proof and Mint State. Multiplied out, that makes 32 distinct coins to collect, and eight of them were gold!

Credit is due for ambition if nothing else, but the organizers’ sales projections were wildly off-target. Two coins—the 1996-W Flag Bearer and Cauldron five dollar gold coins in Mint State—had net mintages in the four-figure range, and other coins also had embarrassingly low mintages. What’s worse, the Atlanta Olympics coins affected collector purchases of other commemorative coins in 1995 and 1996, so that none of the campaigns was particularly successful.

In the wake of the Atlanta commemoratives, new rules were laid down to limit the number of commemorative programs and design types that could be struck in any one year, and the post-1996 commemoratives have been much easier to collect on a year-to-year basis.

For collectors looking to the past, the Atlanta coins offer an interesting challenge if collected one at a time. Then again, Long Beach will offer the opportunity to just buy the whole set at once. For potential bidders with deep pockets, it’s all a matter of ambition.

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

-John Dale Beety

Monday, May 3, 2010

Heritage Auctions' Illustration art in Beverly Hills? Ready, set, Go!

May 3, 2010
Posted by Noah

Before I get into today's post - and letting you know that Coin Monday with JDB will be Coin Tuesday this week - I implore you to take a look at these gorgeous images of the set-up this Thursday's (May 6) Illustration Art Auction in our Beverly Hills Office.

So many amazing paintings, and me so far away here in Dallas. I don't mind telling you that I wish I was there...

Done? Good. Now that you've had a little taste of what awaits you in Beverly Hills - and if you are in L.A., and you can get to our showroom at 3478 West. Olympic Boulevard in the next couple of days, then I do indeed implore you to go check it out! - I want those of you who tuned in for John Dale's regular Coin Monday post to read on today and to check back tomorrow for JDB's weekly insight into the mind of the coin cataloger...

This Thursday's Illustration Art auction, which I wrote about here a week or two ago, is indeed going to be stellar, and is our first bit of Martignette to happen outside the elegant confines of our Slocum Street Annex here in Dallas.

I feel a little like a parent separated from their child for the first time when their kid heads to Summer Camp - okay, so I tend to personalize things a bit too much. That's a good thing, right? - so closely have I followed Martignette, and so much do I love this art.

The good thing is, though, with this art there is very little worry in my heart. Unlike with my own kid (and so it must be with most parents) I don't worry that no one will take as good a care of the artwork as I would. In fact, I would daresay - and pray - that those good Heritage folks overseeing the auction in Beverly Hills would take ten times the care that I could. For that, I am grateful.

Check out the Illustration Art catalog online, mark your favorites, and check back with Heritage Live! on Thursday, starting around 1 p.m. Central, to see where these paintings end up. The prices up until this point have been nothing short of spectacular. There seems to be no reason to believe it will slow.

We're at about the halfway point of Martignette, give or take a few hundred paintings, and as everyone thought when this amazing journey started, the world of Illustration Art collecting will never be the same again.

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

-Noah Fleisher