In Search of a “Sleeper”: Collecting Classic American Coins


Through Marc Ferguson for PCGS ……

Dumped pieces are often referred to as “sleepers”.

People looking for numismatic sleepers look for coins or banknotes that have the potential for above-average price gains in the months and years to come. Identifying sleepers requires a thorough study of coins, banknotes and the market, and PCGS offers a wealth of easily accessible information from which tables, charts, indexes, PCGS price guide, population report PCGS and PCGS CoinFacts.

Perhaps no numismatist was better at identifying sleepers than the deceased. John Jay Pittman (1913-1996). Her daughter Polly told me his father would stay awake until two or three in the morning studying auction catalogs and other numismatic reference books. As a result, the story goes, during his lifetime, Pittman did not invest more than $ 100,000 in his collection, which sold for over $ 30 million after his death!

Pittman was a savvy negotiator, but more importantly, a savvy researcher. If saving time has greatly contributed to enhancing his collection, he has made a number of purchases of well-thought-out sleepers. Some well-known examples that sold out in 1997 in the first installment of his collection’s sale include his purchase at the 1948 ANA convention in Boston a Half Disme of 1792 for $ 100 which made $ 308,000; his purchase in 1956 of one dollar in Proof 1854 Type 2 gold, one of four known, for $ 525 which brought in $ 176,000; and his purchase of one of the two known Proof $ 1,833 5 Half Eagles for $ 635 from 1954 king Farouk sale in Egypt, which made $ 467,500. He bought the 1854 proof gold dollar at the Central States Numismatic Society Convention auction in Indianapolis where, when the lot went up for sale, he walked to the front of the hall, faced the crowd, raised his arm in the air to bid and watched whoever dared to bid against him until he won the room. After this move, he earned the nickname “The Statue of Liberty”.

Half Dime Bust, 1792 H10C, PCGS MS68. Image: PCGS.
Gold dollar, $ 1854 billion 1 Type 2, DCAM, PCGS PR64 + DCAM. Image: PCGS.

Today’s Market

This could be one of the most beneficial times in numismatic history to identify, locate, and purchase sleepers. The current market reminds me of the time from 2003 to 2004 when the coin market woke up from a long slumber and downward price spiral as it completed its decade-long transition from the market. based on investors from the 1970s, 80s and early 70s. from the 90s to a much healthier collector-based market. In the 2000s, times were good. Investments in stocks, real estate, fine arts, rare coins and other speculative alternatives have made big gains, only to be stopped by the financial crisis more than a decade ago.

The huge amount of stimulus money being pumped into the economy these days and the interest in alternative and tangible investments bode well for numismatics. The market is already seeing strong price increases in areas like the popular Morgan Dollar series and auction results for high quality rare coins, in general, have been strong lately.

The outlook is bright for gains in the value of rare coins over the next several years, as several major rarities are on the verge of breaking the $ 10 million mark. As several famous rarities start selling at eight figures, the stage will be set for price points to hit stunning new price records, generating publicity for the coins market and pulling cheaper coins to new heights of. higher prices with them.

A more recent search for a sleeper

A few years ago, collector-investor Test jeans (not his real name) was looking for a place in numismatics to invest money. He wanted to identify a sleeper suited to his budget, which would maximize his investment potential and allow him to actively participate in the fundraising. He was attracted to gold coins, and at the start of his research, the Proof-only 1879 Flowing Hair $ 4 Stella caught his attention.

However, he quickly realized that with a mintage of 415 according to PCGS CoinFacts, there were likely hundreds of such coins that survived. Indeed, PCGS CoinFacts estimates that at least 300 to 350 “are still there”. Further, Assay realized that for him owning one of these coins is tantamount to “buying coins”, not “collecting coins”. In other words, buying a copy of this coin show, which could be done with relative ease, would be investing, not collecting, so he resumed his search for a sleeper.

Assay had been a collector of coins and other important collectibles, and from his youth had been interested in Territorial gold coins of the American West. He began his quest by going through the PCGS Population Report and looking at the total number of coins rated for each Territorial Gold Coin issue. Then, when he found low population issues that looked promising, he researched them in the PCGS Price Guide to find their relative value to other territorial issues and determine if they were within his budget. Mr. Assay said these resources were “absolutely essential” to his research.

One type of piece that caught his eye was the United States Bureau of Gold Analysis $ 10 1852 and 1853 coins. The total population for the 1852 issue was much higher than for the 1853 issue. Oddly, he observed that the 1853 coins were issued in two varieties, indicating their title: ” 884 THOUS ”and“ 900 THOUS ”, while all 1852 $ 10 coins were manufactured as“ 884 THOUS ”. These notations are prominently displayed on the obverse of the coins. Currently, the PCGS Population Report lists a total of 211 for the number 1852, 13 for the 1853 884 variety, and 18 for the 1853 900 variety, but the populations were much smaller when Assay began his research.

California Gold, 1853 $ 10 Assay 884, PCGS AU55. Image: PCGS.

Sensing that he was on to something, Assay took his research further by searching for specialized books on the subject. He soon discovered that the 884 variety had only been minted for one week in 1853, from February 23 to March 1. Eureka! Assay has found his sleeper. Now the pressing question has become, with a PCGS population of only a handful of coins, how could he find one to buy?

Before beginning his search for the coin, he studied auction records and quietly discussed the territories with a few merchants and other experts. In his quest, he also attended shows on both coasts and in the Midwest. Finally, Assay found a nice example of UA in an auction and bought it. Later he was able to improve the room. Assay has built up a collection that contains a few other territorials, so the 1853 884 THOUS $ 10 gold coin satisfied his collector’s interest, as well as an investment.

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