Feigenbaum: ’94-S Dime ‘Go To’ Guy|
May 10, 2013
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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For John Feigenbaum, one coin keeps coming back to him. Far from being a bad penny, it’s an 1894-S Barber dime.
Three times the coin has crossed his path, a pretty good ratio considering there are only 10 known to exist.
The latest is a dime graded PCGS Proof-64 and CAC approved.
Feigenbaum, who is president of David Lawrence Rare Coins, bought it about a month ago and has put it on the market. Asking price: $2.5 million.
Feigenbaum’s affinity for the 1894-S dime goes back to his childhood, influenced by his father, David Lawrence Feigenbaum, who collected Barber coins.
“I was raised that the 1894-S coin was the coolest coin to own,” Feigenbaum said.
His father collected and wrote about Barber half dollars, quarters and dimes, but he was passionate about the dimes.
“In all three series, the only coin that is really impossible to obtain is the 1894-S,” Feigenbaum said. “In the other series, nothing stops you.”
Even the Whitman folders he would fill as a child had a plug with the word “Rare” written on it where the 1894-S should go, he recalled. That made him want it all the more.
“But I grew up modestly,” he said. “I knew I would never have it.”
As part of his literary work, the elder Feigenbaum published a registry of Barber dimes in 1991 and instituted a numbering system, L-1 to L-10, to identify the 10 known 1894-S dimes.
John Feigenbaum has owned L-4 and L-5 and brokered L-3.
“By the time I’m out of the coin business, I’d like to handle all 10,” he said.
His first encounter with an 1894-S dime was in the 1990s when he was building a collection of coins for a customer.
“We were down to needing just a handful of coins, and he needed the 1894-S,” Feigenbaum said.
Up to that point, the most the collector had spent acquiring a coin was $35,000, but Feigenbaum sensed he could afford the ’94-S.
“I told him how great it would be to own it, and I thought it would be a feather in my cap to sell one,” he said.
So Feigenbaum acquired the coin that was once owned by Jay Parrino for his client in 1998. Final transaction price: $825,000.
But Feigenbaum would see that coin again.
In 2005 he sold the client’s entire coin collection in a series of auctions. Known as the Richmond collection, the 1894-S sold for $1.33 million.
“He was pleased,” Feigenbaum said.
Two years later Feigenbaum received a call from another client who was interested in the coin and wanted to know if he knew where it was. He did.
“I was able to place the coin for $1.9 million,” he said.
It was 2002 when Feigenbaum acquired coin L-5.
“I was offered the coin in a weak part of the market,” he said. “A major dealer had it and offered me the coin. I ended up splitting it 50/50 with David Schweitz.”
They then sold the coin, only to see it show up in a 2005 Heritage Auction where it was purchased by Laura Sperber of Legend Numismatics for $1,035,000. The coin was graded NGC Proof-65 and PCGS Proof-65, but has been upgraded to NGC Proof-66.
The coin Feigenbaum currently owns first crossed his path back in 2007, three months after he brokered the sale of the L-3 coin for $1.9 million.
“The coin had been off the market since 1984; I thought it had dropped off the face of the earth,” he said.
But the owner had died so the family consigned it to Stack’s for auction.
“I was really excited because I had just sold the other coin,” he said. “It was so beautiful. Wow!”
Feigenbaum went to the auction but was unsuccessful in his attempt to buy it.
“I was outbid,” he said. “It sold for $1.55 million.”
He congratulated the buyer and told him that if he ever wanted to sell the coin to let him know.
“He had no interest in selling it until about a month ago when he called me out of the blue and was willing to talk about selling. He gave me a pass or play price, and I agreed to buy it. That’s what put it in my hands today.”
Feigenbaum said it wasn’t an option to take the coin on consignment.
“You have to buy it or you don’t get to handle it,” he said.
But unfortunately, he doesn’t get to keep it.
“I wish I didn’t have to sell it, but I don’t have that kind of financial ability to hang on to these,” he said. “I’d like to own all 10, but I am not Bill Gates.”
But a benefit of being a coin dealer is that he gets to handle coins way above his means, he said.
“As a collector, I am so frugal I wouldn’t handle anything in the tens of thousands of dollars,” he said.
Truth be told, Feigenbaum doesn’t collect coins.
He used to, but he watched how conflicted his dad felt when a customer was in search of a certain coin that his dad happened to own as part of his collection. Does he sell it to his best customer or does he keep it?
In the end, his dad sold the coins from his collection, but Feigenbaum said he wants to avoid that kind of conflict. So he collects oil paintings instead.
“There are other things to collect in the world,” he said. “It’s a rich life either way.”
That’s not to say he doesn’t still carry a soft spot for that special Barber dime.
“The 1894-S dimes feel different than other possessions,” he said. “In some ways, by owning a ’94-S dime you’re just part of its history that went on before you and will go on after you. You get to be part of a lineage. You’re just inserting yourself in its history.
“It’s bigger than you.”
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