By Rusty Goe
Can we do it all over again? That thought flashed through my mind as I traveled by plane from Philadelphia back to Reno, Nevada the day after Stack’s Bowers had conducted the Battle Born auction. An unparalleled complete 111-piece set of Carson City coins had just sold. I won’t see this happen again in my lifetime. I wanted to press the rewind button and go back to Thursday night August 9, 2012, at 6:00 o’clock in ballroom No. 109, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
It’s not that I’m dissatisfied with the record-setting event, but you must understand that everything it embodied consumed my life for the past 11 years, and especially the past 12 months. I didn’t want to see it end. But it did and now it’s in the record books.
In an auction that saw no fewer than 40 new price records established, something happened that everyone had said would never happen. Bidders actually received some bargains. All week long at the ANA’s World’s Fair of Money convention in Philadelphia, I heard from dealers and advanced collectors that no one would snag a bargain at the Battle Born Collectionauction. I started to believe what they said.
When Chris Karstedt introduced me and I stood to relay a message from Nevada’s governor Brian Sandoval, that he was “proud to present a treasure from Nevada, the Battle Born Collection…,” before the auction began, I looked out from the lectern, struck by four overpowering thoughts. Big crowd! Big night! Big story! Big prices! At that moment, I believed the bidding would drive prices to unimaginably higher levels.
This happened with a handful of the lots (maybe more than a handful), but by the end of the auction, I looked back and saw that more than a few fortunate bidders had secured some below-market values. Regardless, prices remained consistently strong through the 111-piece gourmet numismatic feast.
Two deliciously desirable deals (if not outright steals) came in the Liberty Seated silver dollar section. Someone ripped (a numismatic term for stole) the 1873-CC Seated dollar, graded AU-58 by PCGS, for $63,250. The 1872-CC Seated dollar, graded MS-64+ by NGC, sold for $80,500, while everyone except the winning bidder apparently chose to take a catnap.
Shrewd bidders found bargains hidden among the three gold coin denominations, although competition reached fiery levels in this category overall. The overwhelming choice for the greatest gold coin to survive from the Carson City Mint, the 1876-CC half eagle, graded MS-66 by PCGS, did not disappoint. The winning bidder paid $477,250 for the bragging rights on that piece, although many experts had predicted before the auction that it could zoom into the $500,000 to $600,000 stratosphere. Its price realized set a new auction record for a “CC” gold coin. Another heavyweight in the gold series failed to live up to experts’ expectations. The 1871-CC double eagle, graded MS-64 by NGC and considered one of the top two surviving Carson City $20 gold pieces, missed its pre-sale estimate by about $175,000. Its $322,000 price realized, while still lofty, qualified it as a fire-sale special.
The two biggest bargains probably went unobserved. I know you’ll think I’m crazy to say this, but the most expensive coin in the auction had B-A-R-G-A-I-N written all over it. Yes it set a new price record, not only for itself but for any ten-cent piece sold at auction, but the 1873-CC Without Arrows dime is worth more than $1.84 million, a lot more. I heard some people say they disagreed with the grade, they didn’t like its appearance. Guess what? It’s the only example available, so we must resist the urge to nitpick. If the 1873-CC Without Arrows dime looked like the Battle Born 1876-CC dime, it wouldn’t be any rarer. You can’t get any rarer than Unique. I’m sure if the 1870-S $3 gold piece—also unique—surfaces, serious bidders will ignore its polished surfaces and the numerals carved into its reverse, and shoot its price to the stars. The Without Arrows dime belongs in the same price range as the 1913 Liberty five-cent piece, the 1804 Draped Bust silver dollar, and other heralded U.S. rarities. Congratulations to the privileged person who bought it. You paid a record price but you got one heck of a bargain.
The 1873-CC Without Arrows dime is
worth more than $1.84 million, a lot more
I saved the best for last. The hands-down big bonanza in the Battle Born auction was the entire 111-piece collection itself. In spite of its $9.8 million aggregate total, which convincingly raised the bar for the value of a complete Carson City coin set, you won’t find a better bargain in numismatics. If someone had been so bold as to buy the whole collection for a price anywhere close to $10 million, he or she would have had something unique, something of incomparable value. I appreciate all rare U.S. coins. Yet if I had $10 million, and I had to choose between a Brasher Doubloon with EB on the wing and the 111 coins in the Battle Born collection, I could make my decision in a split second. Carson City coins have a simply irresistible attraction, plus I think they represent tremendous value—especially a complete 111-piece set, with a 63-average grade-point rating.
The individual pieces in the Battle Born collection have found new homes. The set no longer exists, except in the record books and in the annals of rare coin auction history, and in the memories of those who beheld it. It’s no longer for sale. No matter how many times we press the rewind button, we will never get a chance to do it all over again, especially the way it played out in Stack’s Bowers’ auction room on August 9, 2012.
Many people have asked me after the auction what I plan to do now that the Battle Born collection has vanished from the scene. My first response is, I guess I will try to find another client who wants to build a complete 111-piece set of Carson City coins.
Long live the legacy of the Battle Born collection!