World’s most valuable private coin collection up for auction

  • Living
  • Sunday, 10 May 2015

The Pogues paid RM15mil for this 1804 Siver Dollar, and it is expected to fetch RM37mil at the auction.

“Money makes money”, they say, and this adage is best exemplified by the D. Brent Pogue coin collection which was assembled over 40 years. Unlike works of art, antiques, stocks and properties, coins already ARE money.

Never before in the history of numismatics has a father and son assembled a coin collection worth US$200mil to US$220mil (RM740mil to RM814mil). Their collection of coins does not run into thousands.

There are 650 coins in their collection, but they are the finest coins in existence and in mint condition.

As the United States is a superpower, its King of Coin, the 1804 Silver Dollar is also the world’s most famous and sought after. You may own an identical 1804 American Silver Dollar but if it has been used to balance a foot of a cupboard for the last century and Miss Liberty’s profile has been unceremoniously squashed, it may be worth US$1,000 (RM3,700) or US$10,000 (RM 37,000) instead of US$10mil (RM37mil).

Nothing beats a shiny coin.

When Brent Pogue, 50, chose his first coin in 1974 at nine years of age, he picked the brightest and most shiny coin. It was a principle he would adhere to stringently as he continues to amass his coin collection.

Of course, having a wealthy father helped.

This 1822 US$5 coin is expected to fetch US$10mil at the auction of the most valuable private coin collection later this month (all photos show the front and back of each coin). Photos: Stack’s Bowers Coin Galleries
This 1822 US$5 coin is expected to fetch US$10mil at the auction of the most valuable private coin collection later this month (all photos show the front and back of each coin). Photos: Stack’s Bowers Coin Galleries

His father Mack Pogue was a successful real estate Texas developer from Dallas who gave a bag full of pennies and a price list to the then nine-year-old Brent as a hobby. “Dad said he paid US$100 (RM370) for the bag of coins and I had seven days to pay him US$110 (RM410).

“I sorted the coins and a bright penny caught my eye as it was so attractive. I checked and was stunned when it was appraised at US$80 (RM296) . I figured the remaining 50 or so coins must be worth more than US$30 (RM111). I exercised my option within 20 minutes,” recalls Brent.

That triggered his interest but even he was daunted by the vast scope of American coins produced over two centuries. So, he decided to collect coins from the first 50 years of coinage when dies were still engraved by hand.

During George Washington’s tenure as first president of United States, merchants had to struggle with various British and European coins as America did not have her own mint.

In 1792, Washington gave 58 ounces of silver to a Philadelphia saw-maker named John Harper who entered history by pressing the nation’s first currency in the form of 1,500 “half-dismes” or half-dimes.

Said David Bowers of Stack’s Bowers Coin Galleries, “One of the finest – still as crisp and detailed as when it first left Harper’s shop – will be auctioned on May 19 and is expected to fetch RM1.3mil,” Not bad for a half-dime.

The Pogues paid RM15mil for this 1804 Siver Dollar, and it is expected to fetch RM37mil at the auction.
The Pogues paid RM15mil for this 1804 Siver Dollar, and it is expected to fetch RM37mil at the auction.

The Pogue collection flaunts perfectly preserved examples of coins produced in the early years of the American republic from 1792 to 1840.

The most historically important, precious and rarest coins were produced by small mintages. Crude facilities at Philadelphia Mint made survival of high quality coins unlikely.

Each steel die used to strike coins from this era was painstakingly made by hand, resulting in variations prized by collectors. The finest known examples are to be found in Brent Pogue’s collection.

Of course, there is always the remote possibility of someone opening an ancient trunk in an attic filled with pristine coins. But until then, the Pogues’ collection rules.

In 1982, Mack trusted his son’s judgement and paid RM2.5mil for an 1822 $5 gold coin, setting a new world record for the highest amount ever paid for a single coin. The Pogues hit the jackpot as that coin now is valued at RM37mil, giving them a tidy profit of RM34.5mil if someone bids for it.

“I knew we had to buy the coin to complete a set. There are only three known examples and two are in the Smithsonian Museum. So this is the only specimen in private hands. This 1822 Five Dollar gold coin, also called the 1822 Half Eagle, is the kind that can vanish from the market for 50 years,” says Brent.

In his case, it took a mere 33 years for the Pogues to release it back into the market.

He repeated the feat in 1999 when he paid RM15mil for the legendary 1804 Silver Coin which is also expected to fetch RM37mil. Just these two coins alone could chalk up a profit of RM56.6mil for the Pogues.

The 1804 Silver Dollar was also minted in 1834 in small quantities as diplomatic gifts, and this example was presented to the Sultan of Muscat in 1835. It is considered the finest example of this legendary coin.

In 2000, another 1804 Silver Dollar came into the market but in good, not perfect, condition. Not surprisingly, Mack was still reeling from the RM15mil his son paid for the first coin and refused to dole out another RM6.6mil for the second coin.

Recalled Brent, “I thought Dad was going to strangle me but I told him he had to protect his investment.”

By removing another rival from the market, Brent Pogue ensured his first Silver Dollar would maintain its status and value.

This brings to mind the world famous stamp – the 1856 British Guiana 1-cent magenta – touted as the only stamp of its kind in existence. Unlike the 1804 and 1822 coins, this stamp is so dull, dreary and unattractive, only a serious connoisseur could love it.

In 1922, American collector Arthur Hind beat the stamp-obsessed King George V for the stamp by paying £7,343 (a vast sum then) for it. Four years later, a second stamp turned up. Hind bought and famously burned it in public so he could declare “I still possess the only copy”.

In June 2014, this nondescript, fragile, one-cent, one-inch by one-inch stamp sold for RM35mil in New York.

Like everything in life, there must be a willing buyer and willing seller.

One transaction took three years.

“He was a World War II veteran living in Ingalls, Indiana.

“He had metal fragments throughout his body and an amputated leg. The last thing you need is to negotiate with a man who survived all that. He had 200 coins including a 1793 chain cent, America’s earliest penny in gem-mint condition, the finest in existence.

“I pestered him for three years before he gave in.”

So why cash in the cash now?

“In my mind, the collection is now complete. Some of my coins have been off the market for 40 years. Selling them is a bittersweet experience but I think now is the time to pass the torch to a new generation of custodians who can appreciate the legacy of these great coins,” says Brent.

Like all mortals, he must be mighty keen to see how much his treasure trove is worth.

“The American economy was founded on these coins. A record price today will be a bargain in 10 years,” asserts David Bowers of Stack’s Bowers who is auctioning off the coins with Sotheby’s.

The first auction of the D. Brent Pogue coin collection will be held on May 19 and 20 in New York City, with six more to follow till 2017.

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