Thursday, May 21, 2015

Rick’s Pedigree Coins – Pedigrees & Hoards: Shipwreck Coins

Shown blow is a reprint of an article appearing in COINWeek on May 21, 2015.  COINWeek is an on-line coin magazine that is free for numismatists to read and enjoy.

By May 21, 2015

Pedigrees & Hoards: Shipwreck Coins


By Rick Bretz for CoinWeek….

Thanks to a fellow pedigree collector, I’ve started to add shipwreck coins to my collection. There’s a lot of information available on each shipwreck, and the stories are as interesting as any “land-based” hoard so why not?

The nice thing about building any pedigree collection is that you can establish your own rules for a set. You could, for example, collect one example each from the shipwrecks you wish to include. You could also target one shipwreck and collect as many different varieties or dates from it as you can.

Or you could pick and choose from an endless variety of approaches the ones that best suit your own collecting interests.

Personally, I limit my collection to one example from each shipwreck, and the coin must be of United States mintage. I’ll touch on another interesting collection later, but for now let’s move on to a more macro look at the shipwreck-coin collecting niche of our hobby.

NGC Guidelines for Grading Shipwreck Coins

As to how shipwreck coins are certified and graded, I’ll use NGC as an example.

Grading shipwreck coins is complicated by the environmental conditions the pieces have endured, but in my opinion, Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) has developed a sound and consistent strategy to recognize these conditions and still provide uniform grading standards. For a comprehensive understanding of the process, you can read the complete article detailing the company’s procedures here.

One interesting point they make is that silver coins are susceptible to the “environmental damage” tag and do not receive “hard” numeric grades. However, gold coins–being made of sturdier stuff and not as easily damaged–often avoid the “environmental” tag and receive real grades.

A quick summary for understanding NGC grading is shown below:

Grading Standards for Shipwreck Effect Designated Coins

·         SHIPWRECK EFFECT AA coin exhibiting minimal surface disturbance from saltwater exposure, and exhibiting superior eye appeal for a shipwreck artifact;

·         SHIPWRECK EFFECT BA coin showing evidence of light surface disturbance from immersion in saltwater. May have some areas of moderate disturbance, not affecting central design elements. Coin possesses above-average eye appeal for shipwreck recovery coin;

·         SHIPWRECK EFFECT CA coin displaying moderate disturbance to its surface from exposure to saltwater, while possessing at least average eye appeal for a recovery specimen. Accurate attribution and identification is not hindered by any surface impairment;

·         SHIPWRECK EFFECTPortions of the coin exhibit heavy to severe disturbance from saltwater exposure, with metal loss affecting the design. While accurate identification and attribution may be possible, it is no longer possible to draw conclusive determinations about the coin’s surface prior to saltwater exposure.

                                                 (Source: NGC)

Highlights of Notable Shipwrecks with U.S. Coins

With the help of my aforementioned fellow pedigree collector, I have developed the following summary of notable shipwrecks containing U.S. coins authenticated by NGC and PCGS:

SS New York: The SS New York was a side-wheel steamship that operated between Galveston, Texas, New Orleans and New York City. On September 5-7, 1846, the ship encountered a major hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico after leaving Galveston and was lost at sea. The ship’s cargo included U.S. gold and silver coins as well as foreign coins. Gold coins found in 1990 were thought to have been part of New York’s cargo but confirmation wasn’t forthcoming until 1994. Authenticated by NGC.

SS Central America: The SS Central America operated between New York and San Francisco through the Panama Canal. On Sept. 12, 1857, the ship was caught in a hurricane off the South Carolina coast and sank. When she went down, Central America was carrying primarily U.S. gold with some silver and foreign coins. It was initially found in 1988 but legal battles ensued and recovery is ongoing. Authenticated by PCGS and NGC.

SS Brother Jonathan: The SS Brother Jonathan was a paddle steamer that sank in heavy storms off the coast of California on July 30, 1865. The ship was carrying a large quantity of U.S. gold coins. Located in October 1993. Authenticated by PCGS.

SS Republic: The SS Republic was a Civil War-era side-wheel steamship operating between New York and New Orleans when it was lost in a hurricane on October 25, 1865. The ship contained a fortune in gold and silver coins meant to assist in the rebuilding of New Orleans after the Civil War. Discovered in 2003 off the Georgia/South Carolina coast. Authenticated and Graded by NGC.

As with other pedigree/hoard coins, there’s a lot more to each story and extensive coverage can be found by conducting a web search for the respective shipwreck. In this article, I just want to give the reader a taste of what’s out there.


As I mentioned earlier, there are a number of ways to assemble shipwreck coin collections.

One that I find particularly interesting is a collection limited to 1861-O (New Orleans Mint) Seated Liberty half dollars from the Republic shipwreck. During the year 1861, the New Orleans Mint was operated by three different governments: the United States Federal Government, the State of Louisiana after it seceded but before it joined the Confederacy, and the Confederate States of America (in that order, of course). With the help of the large number of half dollars found on Republic, experts were able to define characteristics (specifically die cracks) unique to each government’s mintage.

Before I close, I would like to pass along a couple tricks I learned identifying listings for shipwreck coins in the “Big Three” auctions:

  1. Heritage: Whether you set up an automatic search program or just use a regular search, the selection criteria default to searching only the listing title. Heritage is extremely inconsistent when it comes to pedigree or shipwreck information in the title line so you’ll miss a large number of coins. I just searched “shipwreck” (April 25, 2015) in the standard Heritage search and found three active auction coins. If I manually modify the default program to also search in the coin description, 21 current shipwreck coin listings appear. That’s 18 more coins that you’d otherwise miss. To me, that’s a big deal, since many of those coins are highly collectible.
  2. eBay: eBay has nothing to do with either the listing or description so it’s tremendously inconsistent and you will miss coins. My suggestion is to try different search term combinations. For example, I was searching for SS Republic coins and I found some that failed to mention the name “SS Republic” but did say “1861-O Shipwreck Coin”. Conversely, when I searched for just the term “shipwreck”, I found listings that failed to include “shipwreck” and only showed “SS Republic”. It’s all over the map, so perseverance is key.
  3. GreatCollections: I don’t have any advice for you here because these guys are consistent and disciplined in how they represent their items. If it has a pedigree, it’s in the title.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Rick's Pedigree Coins – Skidaway Island Collection of Bust Half Dollars

Heritage Auctions introduced an exceptional collection of Bust Half Dollars to pedigree collectors at the Dallas Invitational PNG US Coins Signature Auction at the Gaylord Texan Hotel on February 26 – March 1, 2015.  The collection was graded by NGC with “Skidaway Island Collection” on the label.  The Bust Half Dollars have exceptional eye-appearance and are a true “collection” versus a “hoard” of coins.  The collection included 437 of the Overton numbers ( and approximately 500 Bust Half Dollars in total.  Ownership previously resided with a private collector who remains anonymous.   

Some of the Skidaway Busts acquired in the Heritage (February PNG) auction are now starting to appear in the secondary market at coin shops, shows and on Ebay.  However, if you would like an example for your pedigree collection and don’t necessarily feel like paying the flip premium then you are in luck as the coins are still appearing in current and future Heritage auctions.  Just click on the Heritage link and search “Skidaway” in Bust Half Dollars (  You should see about 25 current offerings.  

The following photos show the amazing quality and beauty of a few of the coins Heritage presented: 

(Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions)

(Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Rick's Pedigree Coins - Jacksonville, Florida 2015 Spring Coin Show

The Jacksonville, Florida Coin Club will present their 2015 Spring Coin Show on May 29-31.  Also, I will be attending the show during limited hours to sign copies of both my books.  You can contact the club for the exact times.  

May 29-31, 2015
Show Hours:
Friday: 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Saturday: 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Sunday:  10:00 AM - 3:00 PM

FREE Admission & Parking


Matt Adams, Bourse Chairman
(904) 703-3311


Monday, May 4, 2015

Rick’s Pedigree Coins – Pedigrees & Hoards: The Palace Collection of Egypt’s King Farouk

Shown blow is a reprint of an article appearing in COINWeek on May 4, 2015.  COINWeek is an on-line coin magazine that is free for numismatists to read and enjoy.


By Rick Bretz May 4, 2015

Pedigrees & Hoards: The Palace Collection of Egypt’s King Farouk

By Rick Bretz for CoinWeek….

A lot of my writing about Pedigrees & Hoards is based on the research of others–gathering and processing information from many sources, trying to make contacts with people involved in the discoveries, and then writing the story as you see it.

Sometimes you have to work hard to massage the data you find into something resembling a coherent story. Other times, you run across an article so precise and so well-written that it’s a shame not to share it as-is.

In that vein, I’m going to quote two paragraphs covering the “Palace Collection” written by coin blogger James Bucki in an article entitled “Top 5 Famous Coin Collections of All Time”.

No. 5: King Farouk of Egypt

King Farouk I of Egypt (1920 – 1965) ruled Egypt from 1936 to 1952 when he was overthrown in the Egyptian Revolution and forced to abdicate. Farouk was known for his extravagant lifestyle and glorious spending sprees. In the 1940s, American coin dealers would frequently travel to Egypt to sell him thousands of dollars worth of coins at a time. His collection included approximately 8,500 gold coins, all five known examples of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel and hundreds of U.S. pattern coins, some of which are unique.

The most famous of his numismatic possessions was a complete set of $20 gold Saint-Gaudens double eagles, including the rare 1933 issue. In February and March of 1954, Farouk’s numismatics holdings were sold at the Palace Collections of Egypt coin auctions in Cairo, Egypt. Many of these pieces found their way into other famous coin collections such as the Harry W. Bass Collection, the Norweb Collection and John J. Pittman’s.

While there is much more to the extravagant lifestyle that King Farouk lived, Bucki does an excellent job of recapping several of the highlights contained in the Palace Collection. Two of the most renowned coins in the Farouk Collection were the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle and of course his 1913 Liberty nickels.

The story of the ’33 Saint is interesting even without its attachment to the Farouk Palace Collection, but when you couple elements of a numismatics, illicit coins, international diplomacy, and a record-breaking Sotheby’s auction, it only adds to the appeal.

 The Palace Collection was broken up after Farouk’s ouster in 1955. The ’33 was supposed to be returned to the United States Government, in accordance with an agreement with Egypt. However, the coin mysteriously disappeared.

In 1996, it was alleged that the long-lost Farouk ’33 had resurfaced. The government set up a sting operation in order to get it back. After a lengthly legal dispute, that coin was “monetized” and sold at Sotheby’s for $7.6 million. It was supposed to be the only “legal” ’33 a private collector could ever own. A recent court decision surrounding the Langbord-Switt hoard of 10 1933s might change this.

Farouk’s 1913 Liberty Head nickel did not lead as interesting life as the 1933 double eagle, but it is still a crown jewel in any collection with only five known to exsist. It is thought that the Palace Collection contained two 1913 Liberty nickels, but at different times.

Despite being a huge and numismatically-important collection, pedigreed coins from the Palace Collection are not as common as one might expect–primarily because the auction took place long before the era of PCGS and NGC.

Still, the coins are out there and the attachment to Farouk brings premium money for many of these fantastic coins.

My example from the Palace Collection was an 1893 Liberty Head nickel.

The coin was authenticated and graded by PCGS and CAC and is featured in my book, Rick’s Legacy – Pedigree & Hoard / Coins & Currency (2015). Sadly, the USPS destroyed the nickel in their negligent handling and now it is lost forever, with only part of a shattered PCGS slab remaining.