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Sotheby’s auctioned Lawrence R. Stack’s collection of Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval coins in London in April 1999. It seems that the connection between this ancient New York firm and Sotheby’s as auctioneers is well established.

This sale was composed of high-priced United States coins. High-priced indeed; the sold total was $7.7m (£5.3m). A contributory factor might be that these mostly very rare coins had not been on the market since the death of the collector in 1978 – nearly a quarter of a century ago. That is a long time for such coins not to be available to collectors and we must assume that Jeff Browning (of Texas) acquired many of his coins well before his untimely death.

Now for the prices. The highest price of the day was the low estimate $600,000 (£413,000) paid for the ultra-high relief 1907 gold double eagle designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. It was described as “the greatest achievement in United States numismatic design” and “among the finest known”. There are as many as 20 examples known, struck before the die broke. They are all listed in the catalogue. The then President, Roosevelt, took a keen personal interest in the whole project. For this reason the catalogue will have a certain transatlantic interest.

The following lot was a similar coin but because of minor differences in the relationship of the lettering on the edge and different sides it made only $100,000 (£69,000). The estimate was $40,000-60,000. It seems that the very finest US coins are a market that is difficult to predict.

The hyperbole throughout the catalogue makes us want to request our friend Alice to pass the proverbial bag. Quotes: “…it is hard to imagine a finer surviving example” and “…nearly beyond compare” or “…even remotely compare to this fabulous coin.” Oh, ple-e-e-e-ase!