AoC Market Analysis: The Price of Pedigree – Neil Armstrong Family Collection

Recently, the World, and in particular Americans, had a real treat: the first sale of Neil Armstrong’s collected personal effects and mementos.

(Update: there has been a second sale, and we wrote an article about these Armstrong Coins, too.)

From the Armstrong Family Collection Sale - 1969-D Kennedy Half Dollar, Obverse

From the Armstrong Family Collection Sale – 1969-D Kennedy Half Dollar, Obverse. This coin sold in a lot with three other Kennedy Half Dollars for an astonishing figure – approximately 5,700% of NGC price guide value.

From the Armstrong Family Collection Sale - 1969-D Kennedy Half Dollar, Reverse

From the Armstrong Family Collection Sale – 1969-D Kennedy Half Dollar, Reverse. Since Kennedy started the Moon Race and was assassinated in 1963, just a year after Neil Armstrong became an astronaut.

Included in this massive look into one of the most famous American Heroes, were some coins.

There’s nothing saying these were Neil Armstrong’s coins. They may have been. He was certainly not a collector, though a couple of the coins were those that were the quality of a collector.

But the most exciting parts of the sale were not the collectible coins, but rather the mundane ones. These were coins of accumulation. They may have been set aside, but not because they were particularly nice examples.

And again, they may have had little to do with Neil Armstrong. They simply have his family name on them.

So what’s the the value of Armstrong family pedigree? Substantial. As in, incredible. As in, more valuable than any coin collector pedigree in the known Universe. These coins seriously sold for moon money.

One small step for a man, one giant leap for the value of a Kennedy Half Dollar. Not a leap, more like a Saturn V launch. (I say truly, you, these auction results will not reflect in the value of any other Kennedy Half Dollars, so don’t get excited.)

And it should also be noted that none of these coins had what space memorabilia collectors crave: they were not flown. They did not go into space. Or at least, there’s nothing saying they did.

Grading: Not Great to Awful

The coins were all certified by NGC. In some cases, they exaggerated grades by a huge margin. I’m not kidding. We’re talking 300% gradeflation. A Good 4 graded Fine 12? Seriously?

Photography

The coins were photographed and sold by Heritage Auctions. Any serious coin collectors would consider the photography mediocre – if they were choosing to be charitable about it.

As is always the case, look at the coins in hand before you bid on them. The photographs seemed to be taken to emphasize the better parts of the coin and hide the not-as-good parts. But that’s always the case with Heritage – their photographs seldom look anything like the coins in-hand.

The Impact of Mediocre Grading and Photography

But does any of this it matter?

Not really. Not in this case

The grading doesn’t make sense. Grade the coin like you’d grade any coin and let the market decide! Don’t try to be a market maker. NGC lost credibility after some of these these ludicrous grades. (And believe me, it’s not only NGC that does this. PCGS is every bit as prone to do it, too.)

The misrepresentative photography is nothing new. The collectors here probably don’t care too much. Condition isn’t significant when there are very few examples.

The hobby needs honesty. The hobby needs our genuine take.

In this case especially – and always in cases of major historical importance – the market cares not about the grade, but about pedigree.

Which means there’s no reason to do it, so they just make themselves and the whole hobby look stupid. Moving on.

Here, Pedigree Shines where Coins Don’t

And in this case, the “Armstrong Family” Pedigree proved positively transcendent. These were not coin collectors looking for grade. These were collectors who wanted a small piece of their Reluctant American Hero.

From the Armstrong Family Collection Sale - 1972 Eisenhower Dollar, Type 3, Obverse

From the Armstrong Family Collection Sale – 1972 Eisenhower Dollar, Type 3, Obverse. This coin sold for an astonishing 2,500% Price Guide.

From the Armstrong Family Collection Sale - 1972 Eisenhower Dollar, Type 3, Reverse

From the Armstrong Family Collection Sale – 1972 Eisenhower Dollar, Type 3, Reverse. As you can see, the strong connection to Neil Armstrong in the form of the Apollo 11 Mission Patch likely played an integral part into this coin’s astonishingly high sale price. But it wasn’t as high as the SBA Dollar…

And, of course, as coin collectors, we want those coins. It’s just incredible to have the opportunity to be a part of this Great American’s life.

Let’s look at the results. We’ll go through them one by one and look at the impact of the family name – the possibility that Neil Armstrong’s breath may have mixed with the air somewhere near these coins. It’s entirely possible that he picked them up and checked them out. It’s more likely that they belonged to his father, who was an, at least somewhat serious collector. It’s also possible that he set them aside in a change jar somewhere. Only Rick and Mark Armstrong may know, and they chose to not share during the auction, nor did the catalogers at Heritage mention it.

Before we begin: I’ve been harsh on some of the grading and photography.

But nothing is wrong with these prices. They is what they is.

This is simply what it costs to get a coin with the Armstrong name on it. I would have loved to buy all of them for these prices, but I don’t have this kind of budget. (Now you know I didn’t win the billion dollar lottery.) But, I mean, it’s Neil Armstrong we’re talking about here – or, his family, at least.

And I should note also, none of these coins are spectacularly toned. We see crazy prices with beautifully toned coins. That’s not why these prices were crazy. On the contrary, most of these coins have unattractive toning.

For our “actually trading for” list prices below, we’ve just looked at a market average of regular coins – coins that are not particularly special. That makes them much like these Armstrong coins, but without the pedigree. (In fact, our “market average” coins are often much nicer.)

Okay. The moment you’ve all been waiting for…

Auction Prices Realized, Armstrong Family Collection Coins

1904 $20 Liberty Head Double Eagle, NGC MS 63. Sale price: $3,500
As-graded NGC price guide: $1,775
As-graded, actually trading for: $1,300 – $1,500
Armstrong Family Premium: 230%+

Actual grade: AU-58 or Unc Details
Actual grade actually trading for: $1,100 – $1,200
Armstrong Family Premium: 270%+

1878-CC Silver Morgan Dollar, NGC MS 63. Sale price: $1,125
As-graded NGC price guide: $490
As-graded, actually trading for: $350 – $450
Armstrong Family Premium: 250%+

1881-S Silver Morgan Dollar, NGC MS 63. Sale price: $687.50
As-graded NGC price guide: $70
As-graded, actually trading for: $40 – $60
Armstrong Family Premium: 1,100%+

1882-O Silver Morgan Dollar, NGC VG 8. Sale price: $325
As-graded NGC price guide: $28.50
As-graded, actually trading for: $18 – $22
Armstrong Family Premium: 1,300%+

1900-O Silver Morgan Dollar, NGC G 4. Sale price: $450
As-graded NGC price guide: $28.00
As-graded, actually trading for: $18 – $22
Armstrong Family Premium: 1,800%+

1921 Silver Morgan Dollar, NGC MS 63. Sale price: $475
As-graded NGC price guide: $58.00
As-graded, actually trading for: $30 – $60
Armstrong Family Premium: 790%+

1921-D Silver Morgan Dollar, NGC MS 62. Sale price: $300
As-graded NGC price guide: $57.00
As-graded, actually trading for: $30 – $50
Armstrong Family Premium: 600%+

1923 Silver Peace Dollar, NGC MS 62. Sale price: $400
As-graded NGC price guide: $45.00
As-graded, actually trading for: $20 – $35
Armstrong Family Premium: 1,100%+

Actual grade: AU 53
Actual grade actually trading for: $16 – $22
Armstrong Family Premium: 1,800%+

1928 Silver Peace Dollar, NGC Uncirculated Details. Sale price: $387.50
As-graded NGC price guide (not Details): $510
As-graded, actually trading for: $150 – $370
Armstrong Family Premium: 5%+

Actual grade: AU Details
Actual grade actually trading for: $120 – $170
Armstrong Family Premium: 200%+

You thought those Morgans were pretty stratospheric… Here’s where it gets exciting.

1972 Copper-Nickel Eisenhower Dollar, Type 3, NGC MS 62. Sale price: $575
As-graded NGC price guide: $23
As-graded, actually trading for: $10 – $15
Armstrong Family Premium: 3,800%+

Yeah, you read that right.

But wait, there’s more.

1979-P Susan B. Anthony Dollar, Narrow Rim, NGC MS 63. Sale price: $600
As-graded NGC price guide: $5
As-graded, actually trading for: $2 – $5
Armstrong Family Premium: 12,000%+

Wow.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute.

1830 Capped Bust Half Dollar, NGC F 15. Sale price: $875
As-graded NGC price guide: $135
As-graded, actually trading for: $65 – $85
Armstrong Family Premium: 1000%+

1907-S Barber Half Dollar, NGC G 6. Sale price: $262.50
As-graded NGC price guide: $37.50
As-graded, actually trading for: $10 – $20
Armstrong Family Premium: 1,300%+

1945-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar, NGC VF 35. Sale price: $425
As-graded NGC price guide: $16.50
As-graded, actually trading for: $5 – $10
Armstrong Family Premium: 4,300%+

1962-D Franklin Half Dollar, NGC AU 50. Sale price: $487.50
As-graded NGC price guide: $11.60
As-graded, actually trading for: $5 – $15
Armstrong Family Premium: 3,250%+

Yep.

Okay, strap in.

4 x Kennedy Half Dollars – 1967, 1969-D, 1976, 1976, NGC MS 64. Sale price: $2,750.00
As-graded NGC price guide: $48
As-graded, actually trading for: $20 – 40
Armstrong Family Premium: 6,800%+

2 x Kennedy Half Dollars – 1964, 1964-D, NGC MS 64. Sale price: $1,000.00
As-graded NGC price guide: $46
As-graded, actually trading for: $20 – 40
Armstrong Family Premium: 2,500%+

3 x 1964 Kennedy Half Dollars, NGC MS 65. Sale price: $2,375.00
As-graded NGC price guide: $135
As-graded, actually trading for: $60 – 90
Armstrong Family Premium: 2,600%+

3 x 1964 Kennedy Half Dollars, NGC MS 65, MS 64, MS 63. Sale price: $2,000.00
As-graded NGC price guide: $82
As-graded, actually trading for: $30 – 60
Armstrong Family Premium: 3,300%+

1942-S Mercury Dime, NGC XF40. Sale price: $475.00
As-graded NGC price guide: $3.25
As-graded, actually trading for: $3 – 5
Armstrong Family Premium: 9,500%+

1864 2C, Large Motto, NGC VG Details. Sale price: $400.00
As-graded NGC price guide (not Details): $20
As-graded, actually trading for: $5 – $15
Armstrong Family Premium: 2,600%+

1858 Flying Eagle Cent, Small Letters, NGC F 12. Sale price: $425.00
As-graded NGC price guide: $55
As-graded, actually trading for: $20 – 40
Armstrong Family Premium: 1,000%+

Houston, we have a problem.

Actual grade: G 4
Actual grade actually trading for: $10 – $30
Armstrong Family Premium: 1,400%+

And that just doesn’t make sense. Especially if you know anything about Flying Eagle Cents. Which NGC does. Why would you do that? It’s stupid. It does nothing but reflect badly on them and our hobby and discredit all of us. But… But, there was no reason. It’s so disappointing.

3 x Indian Head Cents, 1859 – NGC VG 8, 1894 – NGC VG 10, 1909 – NGC VG 8. Sale price: $425.00
As-graded NGC price guide: $41
As-graded, actually trading for: $20 – 35
Armstrong Family Premium: 1,200%+

Actual grades: AG 3, VG 8, VG 8
Actual grade actually trading for: $20 – $30
Armstrong Family Premium: 1,300%+

1862 Indian Head Cent, NGC VG 10. Sale price: $237.50
As-graded NGC price guide: $12
As-graded, actually trading for: $5 – $10
Armstrong Family Premium: 2,400%+

1863 Civil War Token, Not One Cent, F-197/380 a, NGC AU 55. Sale price: $1,062.50
As-graded NGC price guide: N/A
As-graded, actually trading for: $60 – $100
Armstrong Family Premium: 1,000%+

Actual grades: XF 45
Actual grade actually trading for: $50 – $80
Armstrong Family Premium: 1,300%+

1862 Indian Head Cent, NGC VG 10. Sale price: $237.50
As-graded NGC price guide: $12
As-graded, actually trading for: $5 – $10
Armstrong Family Premium: 2,400%+

3 x Indian Head Cents, 1870 – NGC G 4, 1876 – NGC AG 3, 1890 – NGC G 6. Sale price: $425.00
As-graded NGC price guide: $97
As-graded, actually trading for: $60 – 80
Armstrong Family Premium: 500%+

(The 1870 is closer to AG 3 than 4.)

1904 Indian Head Cent, NGC AU 55. Sale price: $300.00
As-graded NGC price guide: $29
As-graded, actually trading for: $20 – $30
Armstrong Family Premium: 1,000%+

Actual grades: VF 35
Actual grade actually trading for: $10 – $20
Armstrong Family Premium: 1,500%+

So there you have it.

There were non-U.S. coins, too – some with similar results. There was also a Victor D. Brenner silver Lincoln plaque that sold for silly money – $2,500. But this list is a great place to start.

A Different Type of Coin Pedigree

Obviously, different coins mean different things to different people. Whether any of these coins meant anything to Neil Armstrong or not, perhaps we’ll never know. But for slab collectors and pedigree collectors and space nuts that just wanted a coin, prices have been set.

Let’s dice it all up.

These 40 U.S. coins. Smallest pedigree premium: 140%. Largest pedigree premium: 12,000%. Overall average pedigree premium for all 40 coins: 2,600% or more.

As is always the case with pedigree coins, the less-expensive pieces typically carry a higher pedigree premium. In the regular coin world, the best of the best classic coins are expected to have a pedigree, so the pedigree premium is often baked in to the premium of having one of the finest known. But there’s also a floor – a minimum cost to get in.

Think about it, if you’re a Capped Bust Half Dollar collector and you want a Neil Armstrong coin, there’s only one. Who knows if it will ever come up for auction again. Who knows if it will ever be seen again. So if you have to have it, you have to pay for it. $875, apparently.

And I said it before, I’ll say it again – that’s not wrong! That’s the beauty of a free market auction.

When it comes to Armstrong Family coins, the coins carrying the largest premiums tended to be the ones with the greatest connection to the Commander Armstrong’s feats. The Kennedy Half Dollars obviously have a connection to the Space Race through President Kennedy. The Ike and SBA dollars sport the Apollo 11 Mission Patch design on their reverses.

They were not, overall, nice coins. Their connection to Neil Armstrong isn’t strong. It’s likely these coins were in his possession somehow or other. But he wasn’t a coin collector, he’s a historical figure. (Well, isn’t that the understatement of the century?)

Other Auction Items

It should be said that there were many other common collectibles that reached extravagant auction returns, also. Space mission patches – not Apollo or flown or anything directly related to Armstrong, mind you – Space Shuttle mission patches. Perhaps he was friends with crewpeople on those missions. Boy Scout patches and papers. I don’t believe any single item sold for less than $100. So there were Armstrong pedigree premiums on everything, from truly intimate keepsakes to – if it belonged to anyone else – pretty much junk. (There was not a lot of this – and people were thankful for these pieces as they were often more affordable.) The auction provided a unique insight into a very private but very publicly celebrated American, and it was fascinating.

And I have to mention the items that were flown – items like the Robbins Medals and flags and space suits. Pieces of the original Wright Flyer that went to the moon. It all sold to collectors and museums, each for the price of a nice home most anywhere in America. Or at least a really nice car. I mean, really nice.

I harped on Heritage’s mediocre photography, but overall they did a phenomenal job with the whole collection. I just expect more from coins from them. Especially considering the provenance, and the fact that they sell a few coins now and then.

Into the Future

Now that the excitement of the first auction is over, will these coins hit the coin market, and what will they bring? Will any of them ever be sold, or will they be hoarded by their new proud owners? The most likely coins to come up are the Kennedy Half Dollars. And that will be interesting. How interesting?

Only time will tell.

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