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Are You a Picker or Gobbler? by Len Augsburger

Originally published on May 10 2018

Gerry Foreward: Len is the LSCC Vice President, NBS Vice President, Executive Director of the Newman Numismatic Portal and well published numismatic author. If that was not enough, Len also worked for Heritage as a contractor writing auction lot descriptions and possesses insights towards bringing auction lots to market.

One can form a collection a single coin at a time, or by purchasing multiple coins at once when the opportunity presents itself. Where does one find buried treasure? Believe it or not, the best place to look is in the spot where previous finds have been made. You are far more likely to do find something there than by digging random holes in your neighbor's backyard. (Note to self: be sure to do this when they are out of town). So if there is a good coin on market, there are probably more close by, and it's no surprise that the greatest collections are often built in chunks. The Eliasberg purchase of the Clapp collection is perhaps the greatest example in our corner of the collecting world. Within the Liberty Seated coinage, Eliasberg had a fine run of dates (including many of the pre-1858 proof rarities), but it was the Clapp purchase that filled in the branch mint pieces in the highest grades. Likewise, the Newman collection of Seated coinage was largely built on bulk purchases from the Green estate in the early 1940s. The keyword is opportunity. First shot at a Clapp or Green collection comes along perhaps once a generation, and even then you have to present with a loaded checkbook in the right place at the right time.

The same phenomenon isn't exclusive to multi-millionaires. Within the field of seated quarters, we've seen important collector grade sets only once every few years. When these opportunities appear, there is a rare opportunity to make significant progress on one's set. In 2004, I wrote about the Bruce Burnham quarter set in the Gobrecht Journal (link here). Burnham lived close to me in Illinois, and I had a chance to view his collection several years prior to the sale. At the time I was starting a quarter set in F/VF grades. Brian Greer sent out a monthly fixed price list, and every month I would pick up a semi-key example, like a well-circulated 1866-S or 1872-CC quarter. Seeing Bruce's collection was an eye opener. Here was a group of amazingly toned pieces at the AU and MS level - I had never seen such coins, as this was before I started attending national shows. Burnham related to me that he spent more money on postage, returning declined purchases, then he did on the coin themselves - no doubt a bit of exaggeration, but you get the point. A light bulb went off in my head and I moved up the grading curve. To Bruce goes the credit (or blame), and most of my lesser coins got sold back to Brian Greer, who I do not recall ever turning down an opportunity to buy something back.

Fast forward to 2004. Bruce decided he was "stuck" at about 80 coins in his set and couldn't easily find the ones he needed. David Lawrence was dispatched to sell the set at fixed prices, and the feeding frenzy began. Somehow I got wind of the sale (Bruce may have called me), and was close to first in line. I had seen all the coins in person, no doubt an advantage at a time when Internet access wasn't as convenient as today. I purchased about a dozen coins, most of which I still have. Another large group went to a fellow LSCC member with whom I shared notes at the time. Among the pieces I acquired were the 1872-CC, 1849-O, and 1858-S quarters, all EF, and an 1877-S in MS2, not a rare coin but one with off-the-chart eye appeal. Another similar opportunity was the Williams Gallery Ebay sale in 2006. Where this set came from I have no idea, but all of the sudden a near-complete set of quarters appeared on Ebay at a time when users weren't being duped by counterfeits and shady sellers. I purchased about a dozen raw seated dollars in the early days of Ebay, and every single one of them was genuine - unthinkable today. In any case, the Williams quarter group included an 1891-0 in AU, and other pieces. The chance to buy multiple pieces all at once was again an important step in working toward a complete set.

All of this brings us to the Iowa Collection of seated quarters. This is the largest collection of PCGS/CAC quarters to have yet appeared on the market. That only makes this an important opportunity. Secondly, this is a solid collector-grade set. This is not the Gardner or Newman collection - those are wonderful coins, and one can stare at them for hours during auction lot viewings. The present coins are accessible to most collectors of seated coinage, and the chance to fill holes from a near-complete set, much less PCGS/CAC examples, is an opportunity that will come only once every few years. If you are pursuing a set at this grade level, I encourage you to look over the listings carefully, and to act decisively, for many of the coins will go quickly. Gerry will have the unenviable task of declining orders for pieces that have already been sold. On the flip side, he will also have the pleasure of pleasing the clients who get there first. I encourage you to be among the latter group.