Congratulations on your decision. I’m sure you’ve given this a lot of thought and I’d like to assist you in formulating a plan of attack. First, there are two things you’ll need plenty of: funds and patience. Second, you’ll need some guidance regarding the logistics of your decision. And finally, you are going to want some collecting suggestions.
This article is going to touch on a lot of ground, so I recommend that you read it in sections; sort of the way I laid it out.
I’m going to tackle each denomination (half eagle, eagle and double eagle) from two perspectives: coins in collector grades (in this case, primarily Extremely Fine and lower) and coins in condition census grades (meaning the finest available grade range for each date).
1. HALF EAGLES
Half eagles were made at the Carson City mint from 1870 through 1884 and again from 1890 through the closing of this facility in 1893. These can be neatly divided into three categories:
1870’s dates: These are mostly scarce to very scarce in all grades and very rare to extremely rare in higher grades.
1880’s dates: These are relatively available in collector grades and they range from rare to extremely rare in higher grades.
1890’s dates: These are common in collector grades and only marginally scarce in the lower Uncirculated range.
First, let’s look at collecting Carson City half eagles in collector grades. The good news is that there is no single “killer” date in this series to stymie the collector on a budget. The three toughest dates (1870-CC, 1873-CC, and 1878-CC) should be available in the Very Good to Very Fine range, while the next tier of rarities (1872-CC, 1875-CC, 1876-CC, and 1877-CC) are still pretty reasonably priced in collector grades.
The early Carson City half eagles saw extensive circulation in local commerce and, as a result, significant numbers exist in the AG3 to VF35 grade range. As an example, they key date 1870-CC shows a population of 47 in this range as of 12/16. Even after reducing this number for resubmissions, there are still around three dozen comparatively affordable 1870-CC half eagles extant in collector grade PCGS holders.
For the 1870’s dates, I suggest that Carson City collectors working on a tight budget focus on coins in the Fine-Very Fine range (except for the 1870-CC which might be suitable in Good-Very Good and to move up to EF for the more common 1879-CC). You should be able to fill most of the holes for around $3,000-6,000 each, but you’ll need to budget around $7,500 for the 1878-CC, and as much as $10,000-12,500 for the popular 1870-CC.
How about the 1880’s dates for lower budget collectors? Only five were issued and only one—the 1881-CC—is scarce. I’d suggest that the grade range for these dates all be EF40 to AU50 with maybe a VF or lower end EF for the 1881-CC. Your budget for each of these five dates should be in the $2,000-4,000 range.
The four 1890’s Carson City half eagles are easy to locate and even the collector on a limited budget can expect to find nice AU pieces for $1,000-1,500 each. For a splurge, why not buy the common date 1891-CC in MS61 or even MS62?
The overall cost of a nice quality collector grade set should run in the $60,000-80,000 range, and it could be assembled in three to five years; possibly less.
Assembling a set of Carson City half eagles in Condition Census quality (meaning in the top half dozen or so known) is a daunting task but of the three denominations of gold coins from this mint, it is the most realistic to begin in 2017.
As I mentioned earlier, all of the 1870’s CC half eagles are very rare in higher grades. In Uncirculated, the number known ranges from none (the 1872-CC) to maybe as many as five or six (the 1879-CC) with most of the dates having a current Mint State population of no more than one to three coins).
A more realistic goal is to assemble a date run of 1870’s Carson City half eagles in AU55 to AU58. The three most challenging dates are (to no one’s surprise) the 1870-CC, 1873-CC, and 1878-CC. In my opinion, the most challenging of these three dates in the AU55 to AU58 range is the 1873-CC, and I doubt if there are more than four to six known in this range.
If you want to assemble a really meaningful set of Carson City half eagles, it will be judged by the quality of the 1870’s dates which it contains. I’d guesstimate that a budget of $200,000-400,000 would be required for a set in which all 10 1870’s dates grade at least AU55 to AU58.
The 1880’s dates are less of a challenge but all five (except for the 1882-CC) are rare in Uncirculated. A Condition Census-quality set would likely contain the 1880-CC and 1882-CC in Uncirculated, the 1883-CC and 1884-CC in AU58 and the 1881-CC in AU55. I’d suggest a budget of $55,000-80,000 for these.
The 1890’s CC half eagles are all common up to MS63, and I’d suggest that a world-class set can still contain these four issues in MS63 as long as each coin is hand-selected and choice for the grade. I’d budget around $20,000 for this subset.
This would bring our set’s total to an estimated $275,000-500,000. Of course, this is just an estimate and the actual number could run close to seven figures if we start to add in Uncirculated pieces from the 1870’s.
Right now, high-grade Carson City half eagles appear to be somewhat out-of-favor with collectors and such a set is completable from the standpoint of competition, but very hard to do given the paucity of available coins.
The rarity distribution for Carson City eagles closely mirrors the one which I described above for CC half eagles. Carson City eagles are even rarer than their half eagle counterparts due to smaller mintages and lower survival rates.
1870’s dates: These are all scarce to very scarce in all grades and all are extremely rare in higher grades.
1880’s dates: These are scarce but relatively available in collector grades and with one exception (1881-CC) they are rare to very rare inn higher grades.
1890’s dates: These are common in collector grades but are not often seen below AU and above MS62. One date (the 1893-CC) is noticeably scarcer in higher grades.
Let’s look at collecting Carson City eagles in collector grades. In the case of this denomination, it won’t be as “easy” to locate certain dates in the VG-VF range as it was for Carson City eagles. Only two dates can be termed “somewhat available” in this range (the 1871-CC and the 1874-CC) and the others are all rare to very rare with the hardest to locate being the 1870-CC, 1873-CC, 1878-CC, and the 1879-CC. This last date will prove to be the stopper for the CC eagle collector on a budget. As of 12/16, only nine have been graded VF35 or lower and just two in grades below VF20.
I don’t think it is possible to assemble a collector quality set of 1870’s dated Carson City eagles for less than $100,000, and given the high price required to purchase a nice Fine or Very Fine 1870-CC (you are looking at $15,000-25,000+ for a decent, straight-graded example) I think a budget in the $150,000 range is more realistic.
The 1880’s Carson City eagles are no walk in the park for the lower-budget collector but they are much easier (and less expensive) than their 1870’s counterparts. These dates generally don’t come in grades below VF35 to EF40 and I’d suggest nice EF’s for all of these. I would budget an average of $2,000 to $4,000 per date for a total of $10,000 to $20,000 for the five coin subset.
Three of the four 1890’s dates can be found in AU grades for less than $2,500 while the 1893-CC will require a bit more of an expenditure for the lower-budget collector. In all, figure a cost of around $10,000 for this quartet.
The total cost of a “lower budget” set of collector-grade Carson City eagles is still capable of sticker-shocking many collectors as it requires around $200,000 and may take as long as five to seven years to complete.
The decision to assemble a high-grade set of Carson City eagles is, ahem, daunting. Many of the pre-1890 dates are extremely rare in AU55 to AU58 and many are unknown in Uncirculated. And it’s not like these coins are exactly cheap as a number of the rarer 1870’s issues will set you back $50,000+…if you can find one.
Every date from the 1870’s is very rare in higher grades; even the reasonably available 1871-CC and 1874-CC have fewer than 10 properly graded Choice AU examples known and most are in tightly-held collections. If this doesn’t intimidate you, the time frame on this decade alone could be over ten years unless you get lucky and a specialized collection comes up for sale. What should you budget for this part of your CC eagle set? It’s hard to come up with a specific number. Certainly $500,000 is going to be spent and I’m not certain even that is enough.
The 1880’s dates are more available in higher grades than their elusive 1870’s dates. The 1881-CC is actually pretty easy to locate in MS60 and MS61 but the other four dates are very rare in Uncirculated. If you are well-connected and pretty lucky you might be able to buy an 1880-CC and an 1884-CC in MS61. The 1882-CC and 1883-CC are extremely rare in Uncirculated and a better option, in my opinion, would be nice AU58’s. I’d suggest budgeting around $100,000 for this decade.
As I mentioned above, three of the four Carson City eagles from the 1890’s are relatively available in higher grades and a world-class set should include the 1890-CC and 1892-CC in MS62 or MS63, and an 1891-CC in MS63 or even MS64. The 1893-CC is rare in Uncirculated and I think a nice AU58 might be all the coin required for most sets. I think this decade can be completed fairly easily for around $30,000; perhaps a bit more if you go a bit nutty on the 1891-CC and 1893-CC.
So, if I haven’t totally intimidated you, what does that mean you will have to spend to put together a really great set of Carson City eagles? If you add up my figures from above they come to $630,000, but I’m going to bet the over on this figure and when the dust settles I think the final number will be much closer to $1,000,000.
3. DOUBLE EAGLES
Almost everything you learned about Carson City half eagles and eagles can be forgotten when it comes to their big brother the double eagle. This is the only gold denomination from this mint which comes in two distinct types, so the by-decade divisions we made for half eagles and eagles (see above) aren’t applicable for double eagles. Two more things: there is a “stopper” which will deter most collectors from completing a set (the 1870-CC) and many dates don’t come in grades below VF30 to EF40, meaning that there is less by-grade difference between a collector-grade and a high grade set.
The two types of Carson City double eagles are as follows:
- Type Two (1870-1876 for Carson City).
- Type Three (1877-1879, 1882-1885, 1889-1893 for Carson City).
The Type Two design contains six issues from Carson City. One of them (1870-CC) is a six figure rarity and it won’t be included in collector grade sets. Another (the 1871-CC) has become nearly impossible to locate in lower grades for less than $25,000-30,000, which likely disqualifies it from most collector grade sets. Given that two of six issues are unbuyable for lower budget collectors, I’m going to stop our discussion and move on to Type Three issues.
There are 12 different Type Three double eagles from Carson City. Four of these are scarce to rare: the 1878-CC, 1879-CC, 1885-CC, and 1891-CC; while the rest are reasonably common. In collector grades (in this case VF35 to EF45) the four tough issues are going to run in the $10,000-15,000 range. The other eight coins should prove fairly easy to locate and I’d suggest acquiring them in EF40 to AU50 with an average cost of around $4,000-5,000. In total, a nice set of Type Three CC twenties will run in the $72,000-100,000 range.
For the deep pocketed collector, the Carson City double eagle set will prove challenging although it is probably easier to complete than a condition census set of Carson City eagles. As I mentioned above, the 1870-CC is very rare and very expensive and a nice example will run in the $300,000-400,000 range. The 1871-CC is likely the only other date in this set that won’t be Uncirculated and a solid AU58 coin will run you $75,000+. I’d suggest the following grades for the other issues in this set:
- 1872-CC: AU58 to MS61
- 1873-CC: MS60 to MS61
- 1874-CC: MS61
- 1875-CC: MS62 to MS63
- 1876-CC: MS61 to MS62
- 1877-CC: MS60 to MS61
- 1878-CC: AU58 to MS61
- 1879-CC: AU58 to MS61
- 1882-CC: MS62
- 1883-CC: MS62
- 1884-CC: MS62
- 1885-CC: MS60 to MS62
- 1890-CC: MS62
- 1891-CC: MS60 to MS62
- 1892-CC: MS62
- 1893-CC: MS62
I’d make the following suggestions about these coins; suggestions which will help you create a meaningful set:
- Wherever possible, choose a PCGS coin with CAC approval. This will improve the liquidity of your set. But don’t pass on a really nice better date just because it isn’t stickered.
- Be patient when it comes to the more common dates and wait for really nice, high-end coins with natural color, minimal marks, and undisturbed luster.
- Stretch on the rare dates and don’t overspend on the common dates. In other words, spending $60,000 on a PCGS/CAC MS62 1885-CC double eagle makes more sense than spending $50,000 on a PCGS/CAC MS63 1893-CC.
- Your set will be judged on the quality of its 1870-CC so wait for the “right” coin. What the “right” coin is will depend on availability but suffice to say, almost every example I’ve seen graded AU50 and finer has been overgraded and some of the better 1870-CC double eagles from a cosmetic standpoint grade EF45.
What will you spend putting together a world-class set of Carson City double eagles? My guess is that such a set will run at least $1,000,000 and possibly more. It should take at least six to eight years to finish.
Are you interested in assembling a high quality set of Carson City gold in collector grades or in condition census grades? If so, why not work with the world’s leading expert on these and all rare date gold coins, Doug Winter? I can be contacted by phone at (214) 675-9897 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.