There was an interesting post on the PCGS U.S. Coin Forum today (September 8, 2015), recalling the Superior Galleries Auction in 2004 when a spectacularly toned PCGS MS-67 first-generation (aka rattler)-holdered 1926 Oregon Trail Commemorative Half Dollar sold for an astounding $69,000. It set off a media firestorm. Normal price for an average MS-67 specimen would have been around $2,000 at that time. Many followup responses on the forum raised questions about the whereabouts of the coin today, whether it was getting darker in the holder, and even if it might have been artificially toned.

Rather than see a lot of misinformation get printed about one of the greatest Commems in existence, I decided to weigh in on the discussion. I asked a good friend, Mark Jankowski, to post my comments on the thread, since I am not a member of the forum. What I wrote and Mark posted is below.

U.S. Coin Forum, 9/8/15

Larry Shepherd asked if I would post this for him……..Mark

From Larry:

Hopefully I can clear up the many questions about this commemorative coin since I probably know it better than anyone, and I get to see it on a regular basis.

I first saw this Oregon Commemorative coin in Mike DeFalco’s office in Ontario, CA. as a raw coin in or around 1984. Mike said he wanted me to see the most amazing commemorative coin he had ever seen or handled. I would have killed for it, but unfortunately it was already spoken for. As a side note, Mike had a very young employee then — some kid named Miles Standish. I wonder what ever happened to him? 🙂

(Added: If you don’t know, Miles is now one of the world’s foremost experts on coin grading.)

I can tell you all without hesitation that the coin looks today exactly as it did then and as it did when it made headlines in 2004. The colors have not changed a bit, and the coin is no darker. The differences in photos and the various TrueViews are purely due to lighting. The earlier TrueView was slightly darker than the actual coin. The most recent one (shown here) does a better job of capturing the coin’s vibrance and bold colors. That is why I recommended to the owner that he have the coin re-TrueViewed again. There has been no darkening, and any coin that has remained the same since 1984 would definitely be considered stable. I have no concern about the legitimacy of the toning, nor do I think it will look any different 50 years from now.

That coin stuck in my memory from 1984 until it reappeared in 2004. In the interim, Mike DeFalco and I discussed it many times. Neither of us made secret our desire to own it if it ever came back on the market. When it did in 2004, I was building the San Diego Collection of commemorative coins and I wanted it for that collector. I convinced him to allow me to bid up to $35,000, an astronomical number for a commemorative coin in a 1987 rattler MS-67 holder. I thought surely I would come home with it.

When the lot opened there were at least a dozen hands in the air. When it reached $30,000 there were still at least six or seven bidders, to my dismay, and the room was really buzzing. I knew $35,00 wasn’t going to prevail, so I immediately mentally upped my limit to $42,000.

At $40,000 there were still at least five bidders; me, Laurie Sperber, David Schweitz, Mike Defalco and someone else. I made my $$42,000 bid and was immediately outbid. Laurie dropped a little later, and as the bidding reached into the $50s it came down to a final and lengthy shootout between David and Mike. The room was going crazy, urging both to keep going and applauding each new higher level. There were a lot of gasps, and the auctioneer catered to the suspense by moving slowly in $1,000 increments rather than taking larger jumps. David finally won at $69,000 and Mike left disappointed. David told me later that he would have gone higher, if necessary. Mike said later that he wished he had stayed in longer.

I came to own the coin through the purchase of the Schweitz Commemorative Coin Collection in late 2005, as it was one of the centerpiece coins of the set. I then later resold the set intact, with the Oregon included, to the J&L Collection, where the coin continues to reside. Since then, David and I have continued to help J&L improve their collection, and it can be viewed in the PCGS Set Registry. Interestingly, I just spoke to the owners at the PCGS Member’s Only show last week, where they told me that the Oregon is one of two commemorative coins in their fabulous collection that will never be sold during their lifetimes. So if anyone out there wants to own this coin, my suggestion is — get to know their kids!