THE COLLECTOR’S TROVE OF PREMIUM U.S. COINS IS ONE OF THE FINEST EVER ASSEMBLED
By Steve Lansdale
As with so many coin collectors, Tom Bender’s passion for collecting started in his childhood and got reignited later in life – in his case, while rummaging through his late father’s personal coin collection.
“I started collecting coins as a kid,” Bender says. “My father collected and had a few in a safe deposit box. I looked through the box and saw some of the coins, and I called my brothers, and we all wanted to keep some of his coins. That really rekindled my interest.”
Bender’s renewed enthusiasm for the hobby evolved into one of the finest collections of U.S. coins – a trove that includes the finest PCGS Registry Set of Carson City coinage, the finest complete certified $3 Gold Proof set ever assembled, an Indian Cents Basic Proof set that is ranked No. 2 all-time finest in the PCGS Set Registry, and a Lincoln Basic Circulation Strike set that is ranked No. 3 current finest and No. 5 all-time finest. Now, more than 300 coins from Bender’s extraordinary collection will be offered in Heritage Auctions’ Aug. 22-28 US Coins Signature® Auction.
“Tom Bender is a beloved figure with an important collection that is known throughout the numismatic community,” says Todd Imhof, Executive Vice President at Heritage Auctions. “He has a well-earned reputation as someone who actively pursued the highest-quality coins. Now the most serious collectors will be able to enjoy the results of his efforts.”
Among the top Carson City coins in Bender’s collection is an 1876-CC Half Eagle, MS66 that he calls “the nicest Carson City gold coin in existence.” The coin’s history can be traced to a private 1893 transaction between Philadelphia coins dealers S.H. and H. Chapman and Washington, D.C., collector John M. Clapp, whose collection was passed to his son, John H. Clapp. The Clapp Collection was purchased in 1942 by Baltimore collector Louis E. Eliasberg Sr., the only numismatist ever to compile a complete collection of U.S. federal coins by date, mintmark and major variety. This coin has been sold at auction several times, landing in 2012 in the famous Battle Born Collection, a complete 111-piece assemblage of all the issues from the Carson City Mint.
Bender’s trove also includes an 1876-CC Twenty Cent Piece, MS65 known as “the Duke of Carson City Coins.” The prized 19th-century rarity’s allure rivals that of the 1804 dollar, 1838-O half dollar or the 1894-S dime. This spectacular Gem example of the famous Western rarity, making just its third auction appearance, is from an odd denomination that was doomed from the start. If the Mint had discontinued the quarter when it introduced the twenty cent piece, the new denomination might have been successful, but the two denominations were produced side-by-side, causing much confusion. In January 1876, the Carson City Mint Cashier still had 4,261 twenty cent pieces from the previous year in stock, enough to cover commercial demand for some time; as a result, the Carson City Mint struck only 10,000 in 1876. Because of the denomination’s unpopularity, the majority of the mintage was melted. PCGS and NGC have combined to certify 23 coins between them, but that total likely includes an unknown number of resubmissions and crossovers. PCGS CoinFacts more conservatively estimates the surviving population at 20 examples in all grades.
Also among the top offerings once held in the Battle Born Collection is an 1871-CC Seated Liberty Quarter, MS65, one of just three Mint State survivors known for the date. This magnificent coin traces back to numerous collections, including James A. Stack, Reed Hawn and Rusty Goe.
The 23 Lincoln cent lots in Bender’s collection include a 1909 VDB Lincoln Cent, MS67+ Red. The first-year issue with Victor D. Brenner’s initials on the reverse is a popular type coin in the Lincoln cent series. While examples in MS67 Red are common, Plus-graded pieces at this level are scarce, and PCGS lists only four coins finer. The offered example is one of just 69 in 67+ Red, and there are only four finer. Other top Lincoln cents from the collection include a 1909-S VDB Cent, MS67 Red, a 1910 Cent, MS67 Red and a 1912-S Cent, MS66 Red.
After his Lincoln cent and Indian head cent collections were largely complete, Bender turned his attention to gold dollars.
“I walked around a coin show – FUN 2006 – and was introduced to David Akers, who had a display of gold dollars,” Bender says. “They weren’t for sale yet, but I saw those gold dollars and absolutely fell in love with them. A month later, he auctioned an 1852 Gold Dollar in MS69. It was significant to me because my intention was to build a complete set, and that was my first gold dollar. In addition, it was from 100 years before the year I was born, part of the 1852 set I was trying to build.”
That magnificent example is from a population of just 69, with none graded finer.
Another spectacular beauty in Bender’s collection is an 1884 Gold Dollar, MS69 that is also from a population of 69, with none graded finer. “I have seen all of the MS69 gold dollars,” he says, “and to me, this is the nicest gold coin dated prior to 1900 I have ever seen.”
A defining coin in Bender’s impressive collection, and one of the memorable survivors of a date and denomination that has helped define many of the great collections in numismatic history, is an 1802 Half Dime, Sharply Defined AU53, which includes among its previous owners Louis Eliasberg Sr. A 2017 Heritage Auctions population report documented 31 examples, nine of which – including the offered example – are graded Very Fine and About Uncirculated, with none currently known in Mint State condition. All told, it is believed 35 to 50 examples still exist.
The collection also features an 1800 JR-2 Dime, MS66+ that is the finest certified example of this extraordinary coin. Dimes dated 1800 have appeared less at auction than any date of the 1796-1837 period, with the exception of 1804. Only a handful have earned a spot on the Condition Census, but none exceeds the quality of this Plus-graded, CAC-endorsed Premium Gem, which sits atop the list of graded examples.
Imhof credits Bender’s “unrelenting focus on quality” for the magnificence of his collection. “His various sets span the U.S. numismatic universe,” he says, “most of which are the very finest known.”
STEVE LANSDALE is a staff writer at Intelligent Collector.