Rare coin fetches a pretty penny

The Life: For the first time, a coin has sold at auction for more than US$10 million.

The coveted 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar set a new world record. PRNewsFoto / Stack's Bowers Galleries
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For the first time, a coin has sold at auction for more than US$10 million (Dh36.7m).

The threshold was crossed on January 24 in bidding for a 1794 silver dollar that is quite possibly the first silver dollar ever minted in the United States.

The buyer, a New Jersey rare-coin dealership called Legend Numismatics, won the day with a bid of US$8.525m. When that is topped up with the 17.5 per cent buyer's premium (the auction house's take), the total price amounts to $10,016,875.

The bidding opened at $2.2m and ping-ponged up to $5.5m, at which point Legend scorched the field with a bid of $8.5m. After that it was down to Legend and one other bidder, who proved unwilling to cross the $10m threshold.

Laura Sperber, a partner in Legend, said the auction felt "long and slow. For me, it seemed to take forever".

The coin has mystique, she told a New Jersey newspaper, The Star-Ledger. "It's one of the rarest coins in existence. Who knows who could have held this coin? George Washington? Any of the founding fathers?" she wondered.

The seller, an educational foundation based in California, had paid US$7.85m for the coin in a private sale in May 2010. That means the foundation turned a modest profit of 8.5 per cent on last month's sale.

Martin Logies, who represented the California foundation, has said that the matchless dollar "blazes with a character all its own, showing off lovely light toning atop supremely deep, watery mirrored fields and frosted devices in black-and-white cameo contrast, not unlike late 19th-century proofs. It is certainly impressive and was clearly viewed as important on the day it was made, the hallmark of a first strike".

Only 1,759 of the 1794 silver dollars were struck. Perhaps 140 survive to this day. But only two are from the first handful off the die (the other is at the Smithsonian Institution).

Of the coin that set the record, Dennis Hengeveld of coinupdate.com wrote that "the strike is extremely strong, lacking the common weakness that is found on several areas of the design. Without a doubt the coin was produced with special care and also carefully treated after that, for it is in the finest state of preservation one could expect for a coin from the late 18th century."

The previous record for a coin at auction was the $7,590,020 that a 1933 Double Eagle fetched in 2002. It is a beautiful $20 coin, 90 per cent gold and 10 per cent copper, that was minted just in time for the US to quit using the gold standard of currency valuation. All but a few were melted down.