I’m sitting here at the February 2017 Long Beach Expo in the shadow of one of the greatest coins in American numismatics – the $10 million 1794 Silver Dollar – and one of the greatest collections of U.S. Silver Dollars ever assembled – the Bruce Morelan Collection of Early Dollars. What Bruce has done is assemble many of the highest-quality examples of Bust Dollars from the 1794-1803 era. Thanks to the emergence of some incredible-quality coins in recent years, Bruce has had access to coins and collections that many of us never believed would ever appear on the market. When I wrote about this collection for the promotional brochure that accompanies this presentation, I called it the highest concentration of value in the PCGS Set Registry, meaning that the per-coin value in this set is simply off the charts.
The perspective I’d like to impart in this blog is from that of a “fly on the wall” who observed the comings-and-goings over a day-and-a-half day period. In other words, what was it like to observe the reactions of collectors and dealers as they examined this incredible set?
First of all, the marketing presentation for this set was stunning. Typically, PCGS displays important Set Registry collections in one or more cases in a designated area at major coin shows. For the Morelan Collection, PCGS took over a carpeted area measuring thirty by thirty feet (to my knowledge, that’s the largest area PCGS has ever devoted to a single collection). The premier coin in the collection, the PCGS SP66 1794 Dollar, took center stage in a specially constructed, secure cabinet, always attended by one or more of PCGS’ security personnel. A backdrop of large graphic panels presented each of the twelve coins in the collection with descriptive notes provided by Bruce himself. In front of the 1794 Dollar was a well-lit display case containing the remaining eleven coins in the collection, again with descriptive cards for each. The PCGS Marketing Department developed some fun, social media cutouts with which collectors could take photographs of themselves and their friends. In another area, a video monitor featured an endless loop of interviews about the collection with Bruce, David Hall, Don Willis, and me. PCGS Set Registry staffers Gayle and Cosetta were on hand to guide people through the display area and answer questions. PCGS Marekting Director, Steve Sloan, supervised the construction of the display and ensured everything ran smoothly.
On Wednesday, the day when dealers set up their booths, traffic was somewhat light, primarily because most of the dealers had already seen the coins when PCGS presented them at the Florida United Numismatists convention in January. Many of the dealers spent a lot of time examining each of the coins and relishing the experience. I kept hearing the word “Wow” over and over again, which was my reaction, too, when I first saw the coins on display. Many of the dealers had pictures taken of themselves standing beside the 1794 Dollar.
On Thursday, traffic through the exhibit was steady throughout the day. Hundreds of collectors and dealers took the opportunity to view these amazing coins. For most, this was their first exposure to coins of this type and quality, so we answered a lot of questions and explained the importance of the collection. The most common question came from collectors who wondered about the meaning of “Silver Plug” as it pertained to the 1794 Dollar. Normally, “plugged” is not a positive attribute because it means the coin has been holed at some time (usually for jewelry), then repaired by having the hole plugged. However, in 1794 and 1795, silver plugs were used, in the normal course of business, to increase the weight of some coins up to the required amount.
In the afternoon, Bruce Morelan, the owner of the set, came by. This was his first time seeing the display and his enthusiastic response was especially gratifying. Bruce is one of the nicest guys in the business, very approachable and congenial, and his passion for collecting is evident throughout his conversations about his coins. He held court and paused for photos with appreciative collectors and dealers who were present for this unannounced, special moment. Laura Sperber, who has assisted Bruce in building some of his world-class collections, visited the display. Here’s what she posted on her website shortly after her visit: “We actually had to wait in line to get our pics taken with the [1794 Dollar]! The display was beyond any we have ever seen anywhere.” Other veteran coin dealers commented that they had never seen a collection of such exceptional quality.
Kudos to everyone at PCGS who had a hand in presenting this fantastic display and, thank you, Bruce, for your willingness to share this unique collection.