2018 was a decidedly mixed year for the rare coin market. In brief: interesting rare coins performed fairly well to very well, while uninteresting coins performed terribly.
To be more specific, the rare date gold market continued to be among the strongest—if not THE strongest—area of the coin market. This was especially true for series which were collector-oriented or which were popular for any number of reasons.
Not all rare date gold coins were in demand in 2018. And not all examples of a specific date or type were sought-after. It was very easy to sell choice, original early half eagles in collector grades (EF to low-end Uncirculated). But the exact same dates/types were difficult to sell if they had eye appeal issues. More than any time in recent memory, collectors wanted to own pretty, pleasing coins and if they were rare or interesting, so much the better.
There were at least four areas which stood out (at least in my opinion) in 2018. I base this on how well they sold on my website and how well they sold when they appeared at auction. The following list is based on my observation(s) and different dealers may have entirely different perceptions.
1. CAC APPROVED EARLY GOLD PRICED UNDER $15,000
Affordable early gold (the term is relative, of course) has been among the strongest areas in the rare coin market for the last five to seven years. CAC has done a good job at identifying better quality coins and the market has reacted favorably. We now have pricing scenarios where a choice AU55 Capped Bust Right half eagle with CAC approval is worth more than a non-CAC MS61, or where a CAC EF45 Capped Bust Right eagle with CAC approval is worth more than an AU55 without a CAC sticker.
Early gold appeals to a variety of buyers and can be collected in a number of ways. In the “affordable” category, we are basically talking about half eagles as quarter eagles tend to be expensive and eagles—although very popular—tend to be very hard to find with choice, original surfaces. Capped Bust Right (1795-1807) and Capped Bust Left (1807-1812) are the easiest early gold types to locate with good eye appeal and with semi-affordable price tags. Hence their continued popularity.
Another category of early gold which remained very popular in 2018 was coins dated in the 1790s. Only a handful of these can be bought for less than $15,000 but if we expand our price point to $30,000, this brings in a few more issues like 1798 and 1799 half eagles and 1799 eagles. These will continue to be in demand given the “coolness factor” of any coin dated 179X and even non-CAC pieces sell quickly if they are nicer than average.
I expect the demand for interesting early gold priced at $15,000 and lower, and with CAC approval to continue to be in demand in 2019.
2. RARE DATE, LOW MINTAGE PROOF GOLD
There is really no such thing as a “common” piece of Liberty Head Proof gold. But I would define a “rare date” as one with an original mintage of 50 coins or less. This entails most Proof gold produced prior to 1890.
In 2018, I handled fewer Proof gold coins than for nearly any year I can recall. It wasn’t for lack of trying; I love the low mintage issues from the 1860s and the 1870s, and am a strong market-maker in these coins in grades ranging from PR62 to PR66. There just didn’t seem to be a lot of coins available and I attribute this to increase demand.
The Proof gold that appeals to be most are the smaller denominations (gold dollar, quarter eagle, three dollar, and half eagle) with price tags in the $15,000-40,000+ range. These coins offer a lot of bang for your coin buying buck, and they appear to have become really popular of late. I am working on date sets of Proof gold dollars, quarter eagles and half eagles for different clients, and I was able to sell them considerably more in 2017 than I was able to in 2018.
I expect there to be continued demand for low mintage Proof gold in 2019, but I worry that some specialized collectors will be turned-off if the supply remains so low in the near future.
3. NO MOTTO NEW ORLEANS EAGLES
If you collect No Motto New Orleans eagles, 2018 was a good year for you. Coins were relatively available (I offered numerous rare and important pieces in 2018) and the long-awaited third edition of my book on New Orleans gold was released in the late summer.
Unlike the first two entries on this list, No Motto New Orleans eagles appeal more to date collectors and this is a completable series with just 21 issues and no unobtainable rarities. Many of these coins can be obtained in relatively high grades for less than $10,000 and even the two rarest dates (1841-O and 1859-O) aren’t out of reach for most collectors.
One interesting observation for this series is the continued high premium for PCGS coins versus NGC coins. While this isn’t always deserved, it is not unusual to see a date like an 1852-O or an 1856-O sell for a 25-50% premium in PCGS AU55 or AU58 (or sometimes even in lower grades). Part of this is due to the much lower population figures for many of these issues in PCGS, and part is the market’s perception (deserved or not) that the PCGS coins are just a lot nicer.
I see no reason why No Motto New Orleans eagles won’t continue to be popular in 2019. The only caveat I would offer is that certain dates might be impacted by overseas hoards entering the market, and I would suggest that specialists continually check the PCGS population figures to make sure a specific date hasn’t been “Fairmont-ed”
4. CHOICE AND RARE LIBERTY HEAD QUARTER EAGLES
For years, it seemed like I was one of the few buyers who sought choice and rare Liberty Head quarter eagles. This seemed to change in 2017 and in 2018, Liberty Head quarter eagles not only increased in popularity but they noticeably decreased in supply.
What I’ve always liked about this denomination is its collecting versatility and the value that it offers. The Liberty Head series went on forever (1840-1907) and there are nearly 150 different issues. This means there are tons of ways to collect these coins: by mint, by date, by subset (i.e., late date Philadelphia coins or Civil War issues). Liberty Head quarter eagles offer the collector with a budget of $2,500-7,500 per coin the opportunity to swim in a fairly deep end of the pool. If you have $5,000 to spend, you can buy a pretty neat quarter eagle; this amount will not go especially far in Liberty Head eagles or double eagles.
In 2017, I handled a ton of great quarter eagles, including many finest known and Condition Census coins. In 2018, the supply seemed to dry up and I wasn’t able to offer nearly as many significant coins. I attribute this to strongly increased demand. As one might expect, there are plenty of collectors focusing on Dahlonega quarter eagles. But for the first time I can recall, the demand is strong for typically-overlooked issues from Philadelphia and San Francisco.
I expect the demand for Liberty Head quarter eagles to continue to be strong in 2019. I am curious to see if the supply increases as this denomination typically is not found in overseas hoards; the current source of many interesting larger denomination US gold coins.
What are your choices for the most in demand rare date US gold coins in 2018? Please feel free to leave your comments and observations at the end of this blog or send them to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.