10th Anniversary of Milt Friedberg Sale

By Rick Melamed

As we approach the 2007 FUN show, we should all take a moment to reflect upon the upcoming 10th anniversary of the historic Milt Friedberg auction which took place on January 10, 1997. Has it been 10 years already? Wow...it seemed like yesterday. To this day it remains one of the single most important fractional auctions ever (if not the most important). On the heels of Martin Gengerke 1995 sale, the first ever complete regular issue fractional sold at auction, Milt Friedberg had decided to sell his landmark collection. Only the John Ford sale auctioned by Stacks over the previous few years, could rival the vastness of Milt’s collection. While Ford’s collection was prestigious in quantity (it did include notes from Crowfoot, Boyd and others) it is still Milt’s collection that seems to shine the brightest. Milt’s great enthusiasm and research, which he generously shared with all those interested, has given him a legacy that will never be rivaled.

The fractional hobby has certainly been through a lot in the last 10 years. And we all owe such a great deal to Milt Friedberg for his profound impact on the fractional community. First and foremost is his historic encyclopedia that painstakingly researched every possible variety of fractional, specimen, proof note, experimental, essay, etc. It was truly a ground breaking effort that gave recognition to the fractional community and gave perspective from the common and uncommon notes. Even though it’s been out of conventional print for a long time, it is still the must have reference for any serious fractional collector and is still available through the FCCB in its raw form.

Another important impact that Milt had on the fractional community is the CAA auction catalog from January 10, 1997. It is also a great reference work and a must have for any serious fractional collector. If you don’t have it, get it. Some may argue that Milt may have cost himself some money by auctioning off his entire collection at one time and perhaps he did. But from a perspective 10 years afterwards indicates otherwise. The best way to appreciate a great work of art is in perspective with other works of art. One Van Gogh painting is great. A show where 100 Van Gogh paintings are sitting side by side for comparison gives us all a perspective of how truly magnificent the artist really was. To see Milt’s entire collection painstakingly researched and presented by Milt Friedberg and Len Glazer gives one a unique perspective of how truly great the collection was and how great the history of fractional currency becomes when seen in such a broad context. Bravo to Milt and others great collectors of the fractional community who also sought to sell their collections in a large perspective that not only immortalizes their holdings but gives a great snapshot of where the hobby was at that precise time.

So where have we gone in the past 10 years? Well the obvious answer is to higher prices…more so than anyone could have imagined. As more and more mainstream collectors enter into the community we’ve seen a tremendous surge in pricing; especially in the last couple of years. A lot of the current pricing makes one scratch their heads. Yes, none of us are not surprised that Gem Grant Sherman’s were undervalued. Today, a gem wide margin pair of FR1272 specimens has gone up by a factor of 10; from $357.50 in 1997 to $3450.00. Oh, if we only had a time machine back to 1997. But some of the growth is truly puzzling….especially for very common notes. $920 for an FR1381, $920 for an FR1226 or $1092.50 for an FR1303 is unthinkable and makes no sense no matter how beautiful the note is or how high it’s graded. Worth noting in the area of really high prices paid for a somewhat common note is $4,370 for an FR1289. Granted it’s a beautiful note from the Gengerke sale, but it’s more than twice the amount paid for any other FR 1289 and defies any rationale explanation.

Will it be long before we see a note graded very superb gem to squeeze out a few more dollars? Abe Kosoff in 1958 graded Burgett’s uncirculated notes only as ‘new’ with no distinction between new, choice new, very choice new, gem and superb gem. But it needs to be stated with the supposedly precise science of grading is…well…sometimes it’s not so precise. Yes it’s a good thing to grade correctly, but not everyone’s Choice CU is the same…even and especially in slabbed notes. This is a well chronicled debate and I could go on for 2 pages, but suffice it to say for this article, grading does vary between sales and should be taken under consideration when viewing the comparison. It may explain why someone paid higher for a very choice note as opposed to one graded gem. The end result…just like in the world of coins, a slabbed gem note usually sells for more than an unslabbed gem note.

At the pleasant urging of our editor, Jerry Fochtman, the comparison has expanded beyond Milt to the sale of the great collections during the past decade. Perspective is a wonderful thing. These past few years have seen a tremendous availability of great rarities and the dispersal of best in class collections. We will never see such activity in our generation. The sales and comparisons in the past 10 years are as follows:

1995 – Martin Gengerke 1997 – Milt Friedberg 1999 – Wally Lee 2000 – Mike Marchioni 2004 – John Ford 2005 – Tom O’Mara

And for good measure, Jerry and Rob Kravitz have given me access to the great Maurice Burgett sale from 1958. It was a great collection and boy do those 1958 prices seem absurdly low. I wanted to include a comparison from the Matt Rothert sale, but many of the notes were sold in group lots and it is difficult to do a note by note comparison.

Lastly, I’ve added a column to show the highest prices in the CAA and Stack’s archives for each specific notes by Friedberg number. It shows what we now and celebrate and rue. Prices in the last few years have soared to unbelievable heights. We celebrate that our legacy collections have grown greatly in value but we rue the fact that they are so expensive and becoming beyond our reach. But in the end, the good thing is fractionals are getting the respect they deserve; higher prices are the result of their recognition as the great numismatic items we value so dearly. The rest of the collecting community knows what we have always known. Please enjoy the comparison…it’s a lot of fun.

Very special thanks must be extended to Jerry Fochtman and Rob Kravitz with all their help in supplying me research information. Without their help and encouragement, this article could never have happened.