The $200 Million
Pogue Coin Collection Comes Up for Auction by Jonathon Keats
| Posted on 4/13/2013
American commerce was anarchic
during George Washington’s first term as President. Merchants
used a jumble of coins from Europe because the United States
lacked a mint of its own. So in 1792 Washington gave 58
ounces of silver bullion to a Philadelphia sawmaker named
John Harper, who pressed the nation’s first currency: 1,500
“half dismes,” stamped with the head of Miss Liberty, bearing
a value of five cents apiece. The President was so pleased
with this achievement that he touted it in his next speech
Washington had good reason to be proud.
“A nation’s sovereignty was symbolized by its coinage,”
explains Q. David Bowers, chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers
Galleries, “and these were our country’s first coins.” Several
hundred examples of those first half dismes have survived.
One of the finest, still as crisp and detailed as when it
left Harper’s shop, will be sold by Stack’s Bowers on May
19 in the first of seven auctions of the D. Brent Pogue
Rare Coin Cabinet. It’s expected to bring in up to $350,000.
While the rarity and condition of Pogue’s
half disme would earn it pride of place in most coin collections,
its value amounts to pocket change in what will likely be
the most valuable such collection ever auctioned. The 650
coins in the Pogue Cabinet, amassed over 35 years, are “going
to sail past the nine digits,” Bowers says confidently.
According to presale estimates, the auctions are expected
to bring in more than $200 million for what New Jersey coin
dealer Laura Sperber recently described as “the ultimate
The 50-year-old Pogue is the first to admit
it didn’t start out like that. In 1974, when he was 9 years
old, his father, Dallas real estate developer Mack Pogue,
brought home a sack of old pennies and a price guide to
give the boy a hobby. Mack told his son he had paid $100
for the bag, and Brent had a seven-day option to purchase
it for $110. “My business instinct kicked in,” Brent recalls.
He picked out a 1915 cent that he appraised at $80 because
it was so shiny. “I exercised my option within 20 minutes.”
As Pogue’s knowledge broadened and his connoisseurship
deepened, his focus narrowed to the first half-century of
American coinage, when dies were still engraved by hand.
By 1982 his father trusted his judgment enough to buy an
1822 $5 gold piece (above) at auction for $687,500. (It
was one of three known to have survived; the other two are
in the Smithsonian.) “I knew we had to buy the coin because
it would let us put together a complete set,” Pogue says.
“It’s the kind of coin that could go away for 50 years once
Pogue has managed the family holdings ever
since, spending four decades patiently gathering the full
run of early federal coinage in the best available condition–”a
collection representing our country’s economic birth,” as
he describes it–driven by his modern business sense. “You
have to be opportunistic, and you have to have guts,” he
says. At one auction that meant bidding $4.1 million on
the legendary 1804 silver dollar–in the finest condition
of eight known–spending more than twice as much as had ever
been paid for any coin at auction.
That was in 1999. The following year another
1804 dollar came up for sale. Still stunned by how much
he and his son had splurged the first time, Mack Pogue wanted
nothing to do with it–yet Brent prevailed upon his father
to spend another $1.8 million. “I thought he was going to
put his hands around my neck,” Brent recalls. “I told him
he had to protect his investment.”
From that point forward the Pogues just
kept going, with Brent increasingly thinking of the hobby
as a business and himself as a manager. “I regard myself
as the steering wheel of this collection,” he says. “My
family is the gasoline.” The combination has been formidable,
overcoming even the toughest of obstacles: fellow collectors
who have no intention of selling.
One recent transaction took more than three
years of bartering with a World War II veteran living in
Ingalls, Ind. “He had metal fragments all through his body
and an amputated leg, and the last thing you want is to
negotiate with a man who survived all that,” Pogue says.
But the vet’s collection of 200 coins included a few key
pieces that the Pogues needed, such as a 1793 chain cent–the
nation’s earliest penny–in gem mint state, the finest in
So why sell the family’s core holdings now?
“In my mind the collection is complete,” Pogue says. “Some
of these coins have been off the market for 35 or 40 years.
It’s time to share them with the numismatic community.”
“These sales will be very good for the coin
market,” Bowers says. “Very, very few people in numismatic
history have ever put together a collection like this. It
will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own some of
these coins. A record price now will be a bargain in ten