Click to enlarge
We've photographed a number of high profile collections over the years here in the PCGS photography department. Many of them end up getting profiled in numismatic circles, and now and again an exceedingly valuable coin will make the news at more mainstream media outlets, which is always a thrill to see. But nothing really prepared me for how the Saddle Ridge Hoard has captured the attention of the general public.
When we photograph high-value coins one important thing I tend to do is to become as detached from the subject as possible. I love coins, and we truly get some wondrous things to look at. But I cannot get too enthralled by them since I need to keep calm and relaxed when handling them. Just keep cool, take the upmost care, be professional, and try not think about how something may be worth multiple millions of dollars.
I don't want to say that this has all become old-hat by the time we photographed the Saddle Ridge Hoard, but to be honest the significance of it all was completely lost on me when I photographed it. I wasn't really aware of the full story behind it. I just knew there were a lot of gold coins that needed to be photographed. A LOT of gold coins. And not a whole lot of time to do it.
During the Long Beach show at the end of January I photographed the first batch of coins, 30 in total. These were the most valuable pieces of the hoard like the 1866-S No Motto in MS62. Though I'm not an expert on 19th century gold by any means, right away I could tell that these coins had an uncommonly high level of originality. The psychedelic $5 1892-CC also in MS62 is an example of this, and a personal favorite since it looks so unique.
Click to enlarge
Chrissie handled photographing the coins in-holder later at the show which were needed for an upcoming press release. The trickiest part about photographing these coins in the holder isn't necessarily the coin itself, but the special gold foil label.
But you don't want to hear about photographing slabs and labels. What about the coins? Well, most of these coins were $20 Liberties as you well know. I've already photographed thousands of these in the past, but they still can be a challenge. Why? The hardest part of $20 Liberties for me is striking the right balance of lighting on the obverse; Sometimes you get a nice bright cartwheel of luster going on, but a distracting area in the fields can appear where the light drops off and a dark patch lingers making things look a little uneven. We affectionately call these areas of coins where light stubbornly refuses to shine "gutters" in the photo department.
The coins are not homogenous. Most of them had their own personalities in their varying degrees of condition. Some lovely bright lustrous coins practically photographed themselves and only needed a couple of shots. The aforementioned 1892-CC and 1866-S only required 6 shots each in total before I was ready to proceed. Some more circulated examples would have stubborn highlights that needed to be tamed. Some other circulated examples were easy to shoot with their distinguished, worn appearance. Others refused to cooperate for the camera, and shot after shot just would not look right; I took 33 shots of the MS-64 1877-S $20 Lib for example. After such coins a small break would sometimes be needed. All the while we needed to contend with our normal work responsibilities.
Click to enlarge
Chrissie is still pretty new to coin photography, and the Saddle Ridge hoard was definitely a trial by fire for her. She asked a lot of questions, and displayed a great interest in getting the right look needed for the coins. In the middle of February while I was attending the PCGS Members Only Show in Las Vegas, I got word that our deadline for finishing photography had been pushed up and they all needed to be completed as soon as possible. Chrissie really came through and finished the task and completed primary photography.
But that's not the end of it. Assembling and uploading all these images was the next undertaking. This isn't so much difficult as it is very, very time consuming. Chrissie and I would still be struggling to assemble this if it wasn't for Zu, our primary editor. Zu makes sure we get all our photos out as fast as we can, and helps us out in so many ways.
In total we photographed 1427 coins from the Saddle Ridge Hoard.
On February 25th word of the Saddle Ridge Hoard hit the media and caught like wildfire. It was then that the true significance of what we photographed really hit me. Chrissie was traveling to the ANA show when the news broke, and when she arrived I sent her a text telling her to Google "Saddle Ridge" because one of her slab photos was all over the internet much to her surprise. Later that week I received quite a few calls and texts and questions from neighbors about the coins. News vans were visiting the home office. Reports from outlets all over the globe were coming out about the hoard. These coins have truly captured the public's imagination in a way I never would have predicted.
This was a big team effort, and I'm very proud of my team for all that they do. But we're only a small department here at PCGS, part of a much larger team from receiving, to grading, to sealing, to verifying, and the folks in our IT department, and so many more. We're all excited about the Saddle Ridge Hoard and the attention it has garnered, and it is a thrill to know we all played a little part in the story.