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Rare Canadian coin collection nets almost $3 million US in New York auction


NEW YORK (CP) - A rare Canadian coin once called the most valuable in the world by the Guinness Book of Records was sold for $690,000 US to a Calgary dealer at an auction here Monday night.

The coin was one of more than 700 in the Belzberg Collection of Canadian Coinage which Toronto entrepreneurs Sid and Alicia Belzberg sold piece by piece. The collection took more than 30 years to complete, and in less than seven hours was sold off for almost $3.1 million. "Letting go of the collection is not easy emotionally," said Alicia Belzberg. "It is now time for others to enjoy the thrill of the hunt."

"This is one of the greatest sales of all times," said John Wilson, president of the American Numismatic Association. "This is a fabulous set of coins, and unless someone buys the whole set, it will never be done again. It is one of the most important collections ever formed."

The 1911 silver dollar that collectors have dubbed "the emperor of Canadian coins" is one of only two in existence, and the only one to be privately owned. The other is in the Bank of Canada Currency Museum in Ottawa. It is "a numismatic superstar," according to the Heritage Numismatic Auctions Inc., which organized the auction as part of the New York International Numismatic Convention.

In the late 1960s and early '70s, the Guinness Book of Records described it as the world's most valuable coin. It was eventually overtaken when rare U.S. coins began selling for more than $115,000 in the mid-1970s.

The successful $690,000 bid was made by coin agent Stan Wright of Calgary's Diverse Equities Inc.

"What Mr. Belzberg has accomplished here is nothing short of a miracle," Heritage auction director Bob Korver said in December.

"I have never seen a complete collection of Canada, and never expected to, because there are some prohibitively rare and expensive coins in there."

That's a big part of the reason Sid Belzberg has opted to sell.

"When I did it, I did it really as a labour of love," he said. "What ended up happening is so much money was tied up in it that it became an investment."

"It is a business," said Alicia Belzberg. "Tonight is a business night."

The Belzbergs founded one of Canada's top technology companies, Belzberg Technologies Inc., which produces electronic trading and brokerage systems. Sid Belzberg also served in November as co-captain of the Canadian men's chess team at the 35th Chess Olympiad in Bled, Slovenia.

The collection also contained the only known complete set of British Columbia gold and silver $10 and $20 coins from 1862, minted by the province at the height of the B.C. gold rush. At the last moment, however, the Belzbergs placed a reserve on it that no bidder could match.

"Naturally, we are disappointed that the coin failed to reach the consignor's

required minimum bid of $874,000. If it had sold, the total sale would be close to the original $4-million estimate," said Jim Halperin, president of Heritage Auctions.

The four-coin set alone is worth more than $1 million, Korver said in December, noting there are only two other known examples of the $10 gold pieces: one in London's British Museum and the other in the B.C. Archives in Victoria.

"Overall, I'm extremely pleased," Korver said of the auction, but acknowledged that Heritage staff "were a bit disappointed" that the B.C. coins were placed on reserve.

One auction highlight was a one-cent "dot" coin made in 1936 with a dot in the design to note the emergency transition between the death of King George V and Edward VIII's succession to the throne. The near-pristine penny sold for $230,000 against a $250,000 pre-sale estimate, but still established a record price as the most valuable 20th-century penny - U.S. or Canadian, according to Halperin.

An 1879 50-cent coin bearing Queen Victoria's portrait was sold for its estimated value of $103,500, while a 1921 50-cent piece in mint condition - the so-called "king of Canadian coins" - sold for only $78,200, well below its pre-sale estimate of between $115,000 and $126,500. The lowest successful bid was for a 1947 penny, at $24.15.

Along with the B.C. gold, the collection also included a variety of rare coins produced in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.

All prices include the 15 per cent buyer's fee paid by all winning bidders.

Sid Belzberg, 44, began collecting coins when he was eight after his grandfather gave him a 1967 collection of centennial coins. When he acquired his first coins, he said, he was "elated."

He said he doesn't plan on starting again.

"Oh, no, it was too much work," he said.

CBC News

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