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The following article appeared in the John Reich Journal. I wrote it because I was the only person who had all of the pieces to this puzzle and realized what a great coin story it was. The piece in question is quite a dangerous forgery and although I’ve on more than one occassion heard light made of its ability to deceive, I would caution anyone in that regard. Most probably such people simply like to reassure themselves by uttering such nonsense. -Jesse Patrick


Anyone seriously interested in United States coins that has not spent time with old auction catalogues is really missing something. Besides being loaded with interesting information, and in some cases being primary source documents, these catalogues are the most extensive database we have for rare coins. Auction catalogues thoroughly cover the over 150 years that United States coins have been actively collected and are essential in establishing the existence and whereabouts of particular rare coins during that time. While it is extremely rare that any given coin does not have an auction history, it is rather unusual to have any of that record preserved. In some cases the information supplied in auction catalogues can be of considerable monetary value. Personally I find it a great way to spend time with my hobby without having to have the coins themselves around. No common burglar would ever steal an auction catalogue as it often takes years of collecting these before a person learns which has the most monetary value. The lore and tradition of our hobby is no where better preserved than by the well catalogued contents of significant collections placed at auction. Quite often the cataloguers of these sales are the finest numismatic minds of their time and the opinions offered of great importance, surviving the test of time. Frankly, I attach so much importance to these sales catalogues and derive so much pleasure from them that given the choice, I would sooner sell all of my coins than part with the catalogues. As a dealer, I've heard it said that before you can figure out where to sell an item it helps to know where it came from. I know of no better education in that department than old auction sales catalogues. Once in a while you run across a really special catalogue that can take you on an adventure. Such was the case one evening over a decade ago as I perused a catalogue in which a previous owner had made comments about some of the lots in the margins. One such comment read, "Nice, but I think mine is nicer - few defects & etc." This is the sort of statement one would expect to find in an old auction room copy of a sale catalogue. It was written neatly in the margin beside lot 1289 of the Kreisberg-Schulman March 18-21, 1964 Sale of the Brand-Lichtenfels et al. Collections held in New York City. The coin in question was a 1796 half dollar with 15 stars. Although a noteworthy offering in any grade, this particular specimen was described in various places in the write up as, "brilliant proof, obviously a presentation piece, a gem and the finest specimen we have ever seen." The lot description mentioned that this coin was originally in the famous Dr. C.A. Allenberger Collection auctioned by B. Max Mehl on March 23, 1948, then having passed into the collection of Dr. J.H. Judd. A check of the Allenberger catalogue shows that the coin was indeed the same sold by Mehl as lot 385, having realized for the time a strong $735.00. Mehl described the coin with similar accolades noting its, "perfectly centered, unusually sharp, with even the feathers on the eagle's breast struck up and a few minute hair-lines due from the die and not from imperfections." Mehl also mentioned that Allenberger had bought the coin from S.H. Chapman "many years ago". Since S.H. Chapman died in 1931, Allenberger must have owned the coin for at least 17 years if Mehl's statement is to be believed and perhaps considerably longer. Abe Kosoff's Illustrated History of United States Coins, published in 1962, which is nothing more than a catalogue of Dr. Judd's Collection, shows a picture of the same coin called proof and lists it as item 36 on page 9. That all three coins are identical is quickly determined by a ragged, V shaped lint mark depression on the lower left neck of Liberty. That the writer of the concise note next to lot 1289 in the Kreisberg-Schulman sale would notice a "few defects & etc." and prefer his own coin, although essentially agreeing that the coin was "nice", is not uncommon. It is, however, rather unusual to find such a comment next to a 1796 half dollar described as proof! The real adventure begins in pondering how nice the writers coin could be compared to that being offered and the myriad reasons any person prefers one coin over another. A multitude of factors come into play whenever anyone attends an auction and views lots. Aside from financial circumstances, which seem particularly able to alter ones perception of a coin, bidders often must rely on mental images of other coins. Frequently a comparison must be drawn between the coin at hand and one's memory of another, perhaps in one's own holdings or that of a client's. If many lots are being viewed one's stamina may come into play, here favoring those of us that are younger. Of course ones level of expertise is extremely important. In regard to expertise, the person making the written notation that his coin was "nicer" was eminently qualified. Our commentator was Leo Young, not only one of the best known dealers of his time, but also a world class collector. His list of achievements include being one of the first members of the Professional Numismatists Guild as well as once its president. Leo Young was well known as a result of the many talks he gave on coins to various groups and his close ties with many numismatic clubs and organizations. He was very active on the West Coast, having held over two dozen coin auctions, and was the official auctioneer for the 1959 ANA Sale held in Portland, Oregon. Perhaps Leo Young's most important legacy to present day collectors is the auction catalogue of his collection. His prominence as a dealer and collector testify to the fact that Leo Young was accustomed to looking carefully at coins. He was no doubt astutely aware that coins have many dimensions which include surface quality, strike, luster, myriad different kinds of toning and color, eye appeal, contact marks and pedigree; all the many factors which illustrate the utter simple-mindlessness and stupidity of current grading. What today is accepted as grading supposes that any coin can be reduced and summed up in a single number by a "grading service", subsequently to be entombed in plastic as though something truly wonderful, or at least noteworthy, had been accomplished. Astute collectors and dealers know better and the veterans I talked to recall Leo Young well and described him as extremely knowledgeable about coins. Leo Young's opinion was always direct and honest. We must believe that he thought his coin was better than the one he was viewing when he wrote his comment. This was, after all, his personal copy of the Kreisberg-Schulman sale catalogue and the opinion was written for his own use and reference. Who else could possibly care anyway if he thought his coin better than the Allenburger-Judd coin? Perhaps Leo's coin was finer, more original in appearance or the surfaces might have been cleaner or more even. Anyone who knows coins will tell you that hairlines tend to stand out on mirror-like surfaces in pronounced fashion. This would be especially true of a possibly proof example of a coin minted in 1796! Perhaps it was such hairlines that made Leo Young regard his coin as finer. It could be that the V shaped lint mark on the Allenberger-Judd specimen stood out too much, was too detracting and/or simply bothered him. Most likely he did not have his specimen in front of him to do a direct comparison. Since the marginal note in the catalogue doesn't give us any more information it is safe to say that at this point we'll never know for sure exactly why he preferred his coin to the one in the auction. That Leo Young had an eye for coins I can testify myself. Some 30 years ago, when I was still in my teens, I met him for the first and only time. I was living in Detroit, Michigan and went downtown to a convention that I recall was sponsored by the PNG. It was one of those sweltering, hot summer days that only Detroit seems capable of having. One of the coins I had been searching for was a high quality draped bust dollar. I noticed one in a case that had been set up along one wall. This case contained a great type set of United States coins. All of the coins were of exceptional condition. This was apparently some sort of private exhibit since there was no one around the case and I started asking people to find out who owned the coins and if anything in the case was for sale. Finally a man showed up and asked what I wanted. He introduced himself as Leo Young, a name I was already familiar with from his auction catalogues, and told me that the bust dollar was not for sale. However, he was very polite and opened the case to show it to me. In the minutes following he showed me a number of coins in his type set. Believe me, the impact of what I saw was slow to sink in. The superb barber dime in the type set was not just an 1894 but an 1894-S! His trade dollar was an 1885! You see, Leo Young not only collected type coins but tried to include the rarest coin of each type whenever he could. Not only were his coins of high quality but any given type might include the rarest coin of the series and occasionally, as above, a legendary rarity. I cannot remember seeing his 1796 half dollar that day as his display was mind boggling in itself, the coins so beautiful and replete with great rarities. Around a decade later I made my way to California and established myself in the spectacular San Francisco Bay Area. One of the people I got to know was Leo Young's son, Gary. By this time Leo Young was not as visible on the numismatic scene and what void was left by Leo in the Oakland area seemed to filled by Gary. After knowing Gary for a number of years I was given the opportunity in the mid 1970's to buy his personal numismatic library which was fairly substantial and most likely the best of its kind on United States coins, outside of my own, in the entire Bay Area. That purchase in itself is another great story. Suffice it to say that among the books and auction catalogues which came with the purchase was Leo Young's personal copy of the Kreisberg-Schulman Brand-Lichtenfels Sale boldly signed by him on the cover. Noting that the catalogue had a lot of information written in the margins and that it had been Leo Young's I decided to keep it. Both Leo and Gary Young seem to have been blessed with the best market timing. This is clearly evident in Leo's case with the sale of his United States coin collection in 1980, right around the time of the ANA convention, by RARCOA in their part of Auction '80. United States coins were bringing record prices at the time. Some four months earlier the second part of the John Work Garrett Collection had been sold at simply astounding prices. Leo Young's coins also brought very strong prices and included in the sale as lot 1594 was his specimen of the 1796 15 Star variety half dollar. The coin was shown on one of the full color plates in that catalogue and it was described in part as, "The rarest silver type coin in the entire United States series. Brilliant uncirculated, cleaned at one time." The coin realized $75,000.00 and was the fourth most expensive lot in the RARCOA session following the 1894-S dime, a Pan-Pac set and the 1885 trade dollar. Another knowledgeable, well known and well healed dealer purchased the 1796 half dollar for inventory. We can only imagine that the dealer who purchased Leo Young's 1796 half dollar thought that it had gone cheaply at the price and would be either a quick turn for him or something he'd have to keep awhile but that would yield a nice profit when eventually sold. After all, how often do you get to even see a coin like that let alone have an opportunity to buy it? But the high prices of that era and the great demand for rare United States coins was not to last and Leo's timing of their sale near flawless. By 1981 coin prices had begun to weaken considerably and began a decline that unfolded over several years. The bullion markets had collapsed and silver, which had once traded as high as $48.00 an ounce was well on its way down to below $5.00. The coin business was not a pretty picture. Fortunes were lost virtually overnight. Many of the Garrett patterns, sold in early 1980, had dropped to about 20 cents on the dollar within a year. Needless to say, the hard times hit all dealers including the one who purchased Leo Young's 1796 half dollar. In the mean time the coin remained unsold in the new owner's inventory. I was told at the time that the dealer dipped the coin to improve its appearance and placed it on a window sill to retone, all in an effort to improve its appearance and increase its salability. Still, the piece remained in inventory. Finally coming to grips with the fact that the coin was no longer worth close to what he paid and that it needed to be sold, the coin was reconsigned through Superior to Auction '86. It was offered in that sale as lot 1136 and sold for a mere $46,200.00. Considering this hapless dealer held on to the coin for six long years of declining market and lost nearly $30,000.00 on the sale price, his purchase of the coin had been a complete and utter disaster. Again in Auction '86 comment was made about the great quality of Leo Young's 1796 half dollar. The clean, matt like surfaces and the fantastic strike were emphasized in the catalogue. "This is the boldest strike on this coveted date that we have seen with full sharpness, including full separation within all the denticles and full separation in the hairlines." It may have realized less this time around but still everybody liked the coin. Later in 1986 I was at a coin show in San Francisco held at what was then called the Jack Tar Hotel. I was walking down the isle and Gary Young flagged me over to his table. He asked me if I wanted to see something very interesting. He pulled out his father's specimen of the 1796 half dollar and told me I might want to study the coin for reference sake because it was a counterfeit. Believe me, this coin looked great. It was as sharp as a tack detail wise, had terrific surfaces, and looked like a coin that was essentially uncirculated but had been cleaned at one time. Even the detail in the edge device was sharp under magnification. Gary related the story of how the individual who had purchased the coin out of Auction '86 had sent it in to be authenticated and that the coin had come back as counterfeit. In the intervening six years Leo Young's health had taken a turn for the worse and Gary was handling all of his affairs. Immediately upon the determination that the coin was counterfeit it had been returned and refunds given from one prior owner to another until it had made its way back to Gary. Of course Leo had owned the coin so many years that he had no recourse and simply had to "eat" it. Could it have been made by E.G? Gary knew that I collected auction catalogues, having sold me his own library previously, and asked me if I knew of any catalogues containing plates of high grade 1796 half dollars. The search was on to find the prototype coin. Any extremely high quality cast counterfeit must have been produced from a mold taken from an original coin. Tracing the providence of the original coin makes it conclusive that the coin in question is in fact counterfeit because no two coins will have exactly the same defects. Finding the prototype coin also aids in fixing the time the counterfeit might have been produced. This 1796 half dollar, being a cast counterfeit of incredibly high quality, had to have been produced from a mold made from a genuine 1796 half dollar. I recalled several examples from memory having spent much time as a kid looking over old auction sales catalogues and told him I would check on it that evening when I got home. I knew I would find the prototype coin since, as I said earlier, almost invariably such rare coins have some auction history and I did. On the drive home that evening I became astounded with the thought of the windfall this meant to the major dealer who had purchased the coin out of Auction '80. What spectacular good fortune! This dealer had gone to the auction and carefully looked at lots and picked out the coins he wanted and bought them. What he didn't know is that by a stroke of vast luck he picked out one of the few coins in the entire sale which wouldn't go down in value and which he would be able to recover his full cost on! Instead of losing $30,000.00 he got his money back in full! So, a short note written beside a single lot in an old auction catalogue has led us on an adventure and left us with one final question. Which coin really was finer, the Allenberger-Judd coin or Leo Young's? I suppose that ultimately you can't really compare a counterfeit coin to a genuine one and ask which is in better condition. On the other hand, if you don't know one of the coins isn't real then I guess you can. In retrospect, what Leo Young might really have disliked about the Allenberger-Judd coin was the V sharped lint mark on Liberty's lower left neck and the deep, subliminal uneasiness he felt as he held the prototype coin.

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