'Near-Mythic' 1849-C Open Wreath Gold Dollar, XF451849-C G$1 Open Wreath XF45 NGC. Nearly every series has its key date(s), important coins that are required to complete a collection. However, throughout the entire panorama of American coinage, there are a few issues that stand out as major rarities. Among the most important is the 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar, of which there are just four confirmed examples, with a fifth piece rumored. We are delighted to present this XF45 NGC piece, the third finest of the four known coins. The 1849-C is peerless in the field of Southern mint gold coins struck in Charlotte, North Carolina; Dahlonega, Georgia; or New Orleans, Louisiana.
In fact, the 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar has few peers among all regular issue U.S. gold coins. The unique 1870-S three dollar piece is a special issue; the 1797 Heraldic Eagle half eagles with 16 stars and 15 stars on the obverse are each unique in the Smithsonian Institution; the 1822 half eagle has just three known (including two in the Smithsonian Institution); the 1854-S half eagle has just three known; the 1861 Paquet double eagle has just two known; and the 1933 double eagle has just one in collectors' hands, but 13 are known. Any of those coins would easily bring seven figures if offered at auction today. There are a few additional million-dollar coins, but none are in the same rarity category as the 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar.
The 1849-C Open Wreath has had difficulty keeping pace with other major rarities. The current auction record for any example of this issue was established in July 2004, when the finest known example realized $690,000. That was a time when eight other coins had already broken the seven-figure barrier. Doug Winter writes in the third edition of Gold Coins of the Charlotte Mint 1838-1861 that "this variety remains underpublicized among non-specialists. Among Charlotte collectors, it has assumed near-mythic proportions." The time is right for the 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar to make its own place among auction records for rare coins--and the time is also right for the forward-looking collector to add this coin to his or her collection.
As with most major rarities, the provenance of the known 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollars is subject to continual refinement. The NGC Census Report lists this coin and two others, an MS63 Prooflike piece and one that grades Fine 15. A single AU58 coin appears on the PCGS Population Report, and all four certified coins are listed in our roster:
1. MS63 Prooflike NGC. Richmond Collection (David Lawrence, 7/2004), lot 1005, $690,000; to a partnership of Heritage Rare Coin Galleries, Martin Paul, and Steve Contursi; sold to a private collector in 2005 for a sum reportedly close to $1 million. Winter writes that this coin "is said to be ex: New Netherlands inventory in the 1950s."
2. AU58 PCGS. The discovery coin for the 1849-C gold dollar. Waldo Newcomer; Belden Roach Collection (B. Max Mehl, 2/1944), lot 1083; Charles Williams Collection; Robert Schermerhorn Collection; 1956 ANA Sale (James Kelly, 8/1956), lot 1571; later, a Midwestern Collection; Auction '79 (Stack's, 7/1979), lot 749, $90,000; New England Rare Coin Galleries; private collection; 1982 FUN Sale (New England Rare Coin Auctions, 1/1982), lot 1350, $55,000; Southern Collection; Kevin Lipton; Winthrop Carner; North Georgia Collection (1999 FUN Sale, Heritage, 1/1999), lot 7722, unsold; Doug Winter and Hancock and Harwell; James Blanchard & Co.; a North Carolina Collection (Heritage, 4/2006, lot 1520, unsold. The 1944 Mehl catalog of the Roach Collection is apparently the earliest record of the variety in print. The March 1951 issue of The Numismatist carries a notice from Robert Schermerhorn that he acquired his coin "about eight years ago." Since the Charles Williams Collection was not sold until 1950, Q. David Bowers questions that portion of the provenance.
3. XF45 NGC. Jefferson Coin and Bullion, to a private collector. This is the present specimen, its first auction appearance, and to the best of our knowledge its first plated appearance. This may be the Connecticut Dealer (Lumadue) coin mentioned by Winter and Bowers.
4. XF. New England Rare Coin Galleries (8/1978); Delaware Collection. The New England coin remains in the Delaware Collection where it has resided since 1978.
5. Fine 15 NGC. The reverse is scratched and shows traces of an old jewelry mounting. "McReynolds" prior to 1956; Leo Young; Charles Southwick; 1974 GENA Sale (Pine Tree Auctions, 9/1974), lot 1952, $35,000; Elrod Collection (Stack's, 5/1986), lot 1330, $25,850; a California Collection (via Winthrop Carner for a reported $150,000); Heritage Rare Coin Galleries (1997); William Miller Collection; Long Beach Sale (Heritage, 2/1999), lot 6086, unsold; 2000 FUN Sale (Heritage, 1/2000), lot 7549, $86,250; Ashland City Collection (Heritage, 1/2003), lot 4607, $97,750; a North Carolina Collection (via Doug Winter).
The existence of five examples (rather than four) has long been suspected; Doug Winter records the possible existence of a fifth piece that "was supposedly owned by a Connecticut dealer back in the 1960s or 1970s." Bowers published his own take on the roster of known specimens, giving each of the five coins a distinctive name, although he gives little other information useful for tracing the pedigree of the different coins. He listed the Newcomer specimen (our number 2), the New Netherlands specimen (our number 1), the McReynolds specimen (our number 5), the Lumadue specimen owned by Connecticut dealer Donald Lumadue (the coin Winter mentions), and the Private Collection coin (our number 3).
Waldo Newcomer (1867-1934), the famous early 20th century collector, was the first to recognize this important variety, sometime before 1933. Most of the Newcomer Collection was sold to B. Max Mehl in 1931, although remnants of the collection were offered at auction by J.C. Morgenthau in 1939.
All past authors have written that the reason for the change from the Open Wreath to the Close Wreath is unknown. It is virtually certain that the Open Wreath coins were struck before the Closed Wreath coins, and delivery records suggest the date was July 3, 1849. In A Guide Book of Gold Dollars, Q. David Bowers writes that "two examples were sent to Mint Director Robert Maskell Patterson in Philadelphia, who replied that the coins were not well made, that the milling was too prominent, and that, in any event, new dies were being sent." The exchange appears to indicate why the change took place from the Open Wreath to the Close Wreath, and why so few of the former pieces were made.
Although two pairs of dies were sent to Charlotte in June 1849, it seems that only one pair was used. All known 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollars have the same characteristics. Doug Winter describes them: "The star opposite the tip of Liberty's nose has a short right point and it is weaker than the other stars. The leaf below the 1 in the date is hollow while the tip of the leaf below the 9 is partly detached. The ribbons are incomplete due to die lapping. A tiny die file mark can be seen above the RI in AMERICA."
Described in print for the first time, this splendid Choice XF piece has a slight greenish appearance with traces of yellow luster visible in the protected areas around the design motifs, letters, and stars. Light wear has flattened the hair strands below the coronet and over the ear, with all other details quite sharp. As Mint Director Patterson mentioned, the obverse and reverse borders are prominent. Trivial surface marks are seen to some degree on each of the known specimens, including this piece, with a prominent mark below Liberty's chin that will serve for future identification.
The current offering is the 13th time that an 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar has appeared for public competition in any auction sale since 1944, an average of once every five years. Offerings have taken place in 1944, 1956, 1974, 1979, 1982, 1986, 1999 (2), 2000, 2003, 2004, 2006, and now in 2010. It is impossible to predict when the next auction appearance may take place, but the year 2016 seems a reasonable guess. The Charlotte gold specialist who has waited to obtain this "near-mythic" variety may well want to take advantage of the present opportunity.
From The Longfellow Collection.(Registry values: N1) (NGC ID# 25BB, PCGS# 7506)
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