I first found out about the offering of a complete set of Liberty Head eagles from an observant client who emailed me a link in early January. He’s a succinct guy and his subject line said it all: “Epic collection of Eagles to be offered.” Within two weeks, I had already been contacted by over a dozen clients asking me what I knew about the collection (at the time, very little) and if I was going to be attending the sale (a resounding yes, with the added information that I was already in the process of booking a trip to Dallas to view the coins early).
The Admiral Collection of Eagles (it also contained a run of 1795-1804 issues, but I was focused on the Liberty Head issues) was off my radar and I pride myself on knowing where the bodies are buried when it comes to 18th and 19th century gold collections. This collection was assembled in the late 1980’s and the 1990’s by a gentleman who wasn’t known to the small core of rare gold coin dealers, although it did turn out that I had sold him coins through other sources.
In the last 10 years, Liberty Head eagles have gone from relatively uncollected to very popular. During this decade only a handful of great specialized collections have been sold: Simpson-Hall (mostly by private treaty), Johnson-Blue (Stacks, 2010), Broadus Littlejohn (Schuyler-Rumsey February 2012), Battle Born (Carson City only, Stacks Bowers 2012 ANA), The Bently Sales (Heritage 2014), as well as some important private treaty offerings by my firm.
It didn’t take a keen student of the series to know that the Admiral Collection was going to be a record-setting affair. It was a perfect storm of nice coins in a popular series sold at a point in the market where collectors and dealers are starved for fresh merchandise. Add in the fact that the market was clearly stronger in February 2018 than at any time in the last two years, and combine with some strong buyers (both collectors and dealers) clearly realizing the importance of these coins, and you have the classic recipe for Admiralmania.
Instead of writing a classic analysis of the sale, I’ve decided to focus on a dozen of the coins in the collection which I felt had interesting backstories. I’m not going to do the typical Coin Dealer Brag-fest and tell you how smart I am for buying this coin or that coin (though I spent a lot of money in the sale and I bought some really, really neat pieces). These aren’t all the highest priced coins in the sale, but they represent transactions which I think are interesting.
1. 1840 $10 PCGS AU55 CAC, Lot 5803
Also known as the 1840 Eagle Which Broke the Internet, this coin was the subject of a long PCGS Message Board thread.
Most of the people who commented on this coin a) never saw it in person b) don’t know how to grade and c) have never seen a high grade 1840 eagle. I LOVED it and graded it a strong MS61 to MS62. It was absurdly undergraded as an AU55, even if it was encapsulated at the most conservative era in the history of PCGS.
The coin sold for $33,600 which makes sense as a nice PCGS MS61 had brought $35,250 as Heritage 9/16: 14134. The current finest known, graded MS62 by PCGS sold for $35,250 as Stacks Bowers 2014 ANA: 13242.
It was interesting that this coin wasn’t gold stickered by CAC. And if/when upgraded, if CAC sees it again, will it sticker as an MS61 or even as a 62?
2. 1844 $10 NGC MS63, Lot 4230
I had last seen this coin 20-25 years ago as part of the late dealer Ed Milas’ set of Liberty Head eagles. I believe I was offered the coin for something like $25,000 back then, and my response was (as it was so often for coins like this at the time): “this is an amazing coin which I would love to own but I have no client for it and it’s too much money to tie up.”
At one time, this date was unique in Uncirculated but now there are two NGC MS61’s. Still, this 1844 is head and shoulders better than the other two and I felt it would cross to MS63 at PCGS and could even grade MS63+.
This coin brought $72,000 which is by far a record price for the date but it was actually pretty good value. Finest known? Check. Rare in all grades? Check. Would be worth well over $125,000-150,000 if mintmarked? Check. One thing this sale proved is that high-grade No Motto P mint eagles are still good deals, even at the new, much higher price levels.
3. 1850 Large Date $10 PCGS MS63 CAC, Lot 4234
I had a history with this coin. In the 1995 Warren Miller sale, I bought it for $11,000. I wound-up losing money on it (I think I got out after six months for $10,000) and this was indicative of great coins like this back in the day: they were cheap and they were not easy to sell.
Cue to 2018 and this coin is no longer the finest known (PCGS has graded an MS63+ and an MS64) but it is extremely nice and I graded it a solid MS63 to MS63+.
I was apparently smoking crack when I figured my bid ($21,000 with a stretch up to the mid-20’s) and it brought a more-deserving $48,000. This feels fair, especially if it upgrades. It also reinforces what I stated above: these high-grade P mint No Motto eagles are good values.
4. 1854-O Small Date $10 NGC MS61, Lot 4241
I’ve specialized in Liberty Head gold for over 30 years and in all this time, I’ve only handled a single Uncirculated 1854-O Small Date $10: a PCGS MS60. That’s why I agonized over the Admiral NGC MS61. Had I liked the coin more, it would have been damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.
But I just wasn’t wild about it although I thought it had a reasonable shot to cross. I was the underbidder at $21,000; the coin sold for one increment more which meant $26,400 with the juice.
A quick thought on coins like this. With a conditionally rare and popular coin, it almost doesn’t matter what you pay. With no APR’s for MS61’s (and only one MS60 back in 2005) if you paid $35,000 for this coin, isn’t that technically the market? I can make the case for this but not so much for an NGC coin which wasn’t a “lock” to cross and/or upgrade.
5. 1855-S $10 PCGS AU53, Lot 4243
The presence of the Ship of Gold exhibit was a cogent reminder that this currently-rare issue has a very real chance of becoming far less rare (or “Dwight-ed” as we Numismatic Jokesters like to say) given the number uncovered on the S.S. Central America.
The Admiral example was likely a 55 or even a 58 coin once you removed its current layer of fake color. It sold for $21,000 which was more than three times what the last 1855-S eagle graded PCGS AU53 sold for (back in late 2010).
I think someone forgot to do their homework on this date and I suggest they sell it quickly before it’s just another 55-S eagle in a market flooded with mid-1850’s San Francisco gold.
6. 1857-O $10 PCGS AU50, Lot 4246
I know this date pretty well as I’ve handled every higher grade piece known. Still, I was baffled at this one bringing $20,400 which is NGC AU58 money for the issue.
I saw this coin as a 55 at most and not an especially choice one at that. Let’s say the best this coin grades is AU55 at PCGS. What’s a commercial quality 55 worth? I’d pass at $10,000 which is why I was happy that my bid-for-the-sake-of-bidding ($7,000) was eclipsed days before the sale began.
7. 1863-S $10 PCGS MS60, Lot 4262
Here’s a classic example of a date which has gone from hard-to-sell to multiple levels of demand in a decade.
The 1863-S eagle is rare in all grades and it is exceedingly rare in Uncirculated with just two known: this one and a PCGS MS61 which last sold for $18,400 in the 1999 Bass III auction.
I loved the Admiral coin, grading it MS61 with a shot to grade MS62. I also thought it should have stickered at CAC but it didn’t because of some splotchy color on the obverse. This coin wound-up in a bidding war between a collector working on a complete set of US coins and a Western collector working on a world-class Civil War set. The winning bid was $132,000 which was pretty aggressive but not totally out of the ballpark for what might be the finest known example of a rare and suddenly popular issue.
8. 1867-S $10 NGC AU58 CAC, Lot 4273
Based on the last APR of $17,625 for a meh NGC AU58, I thought my bid of $21,000 (with a stretch up to $24,000) would have bought this coin. It was the finest 1867-S eagle I’d ever seen and it was possibly the finest known. But the 1867-S eagle is not a popular date and the With Motto San Francisco issues trail their No Motto counterparts in popularity.
This coin sold for a record-setting $45,600. If it merely crosses to PCGS AU58 (even if it still stickers at CAC) it will be a money-loser for its new owner. Let’s say it upgrades to MS61 at PCGS and it becomes the first and only Uncirculated example of this date. In years past, this would have been a Home Run for the dealer who made the coin. But in the Internet-savvy coin market of 2018, every potential buyer of this item is going to have access to information showing where it came from, how much it cost and if it has been futzed with.
I’m going to keep a watch on the population figures for this date and will be very interested to see what happens to this specific coin.
9. 1880-CC $10 NGC MS62 CAC, Lot 4306
If there was one area in the Admiral Sale that I knew I was going to get blown-out in it was the Carson City eagles. If my bid of over $50,000 (all in) for the undergraded AU50 1878-CC didn’t buy that coin, I sure as heck wasn't going to be in the running for the finest known 1880-CC.
While not a really exciting date, this was a wonderful coin; stone-cold original, choice for the grade, and very likely to cross to PCGS MS62. The only other MS62 currently known brought $27,600 all the way back in 2005, while a seemingly undergraded NGC MS60 sold for a strong $42,300 in 2016.
OK, now that you have this information, write your Price Realized Guess on a piece of paper…no cheating!
You guessed $65,000, right? Well guess again…this coin set a new price record for the date at $90,000!!
10. 1883-O $10 PCGS AU58, Lot 4312
This was a famous coin for New Orleans gold specialists; one of which I had heard of but had never seen. New York dealer Wynn Carner had found this coin around 30 years ago in a Savannah collection and had sold it to Warren Miller, who at the time was the leading collector of high-end Liberty Head eagles. In fact, I am reasonably certain it was the first 1883-O eagle ever graded AU58 by PCGS.
The coin did not disappoint upon a personal inspection. While it needed to have some questionable toning and haze removed, it looked genuinely Uncirculated to me and I thought it had a real shot to grade MS61.
I had a $90,000 bid down on this coin and I wound-up stretching to $95,000 (which translates to $114,000 with the 20% buyer’s premium). I chickened-out at a higher level and the final price realized was a record-setting $126,000. This price seems like a lot but consider this: the coin is likely one of the two finest known examples of a coin with an original mintage of 800 in a popular series. A tip of the hat to the successful bidder.
11. 1885 $10 NGC MS66 CAC, Lot 4314
The two condition rarities in the Admiral Sale which generated the biggest buzz among dealers I spoke with before and after the auction were the PCGS MS67 1897-O (which I bought) and this 1885, graded MS66 by NGC and by far the finest example of which I am aware.
A Superb Gem 1885 Eagle is the sort of coin that traditionally was met with a chorus of “great coin but who cares?” In the 2018 Coin Market, it appear a lot of people care as said coin smashed all price records for the date at a solid $66,000.
Which makes me wonder: if this exact coin had been in another auction later in the year but without all of the other Admiral coins supporting it, how would it have done? Clearly, it would have stood out in any sale as a superb, uber-fresh coin, but would it have still brought anywhere near $66,000?
12. 1894-O $10 PCGS MS61 Gold CAC, Lot 5874
Given the fact that at least 50% of the coins in the Admiral Collection were undergraded, I was surprised that just two were gold stickered: an 1879-S graded MS61 by PCGS (Lot 5845) and the 1894-O which we are discussing.
I graded this coin MS63 DMPL and it was one of the few truly deep prooflike New Orleans eagles I have seen. I figured a bid of $7500 but knew there was no way I was going to buy this coin. It brought $14,400. As an interesting comparison, a so-so quality PCGS MS63 not from the Admiral Collection (it was likely a Heritage house consignment slipped into the sale) brought a more realistic $4,920.
This lot proved that even in a gigantic sale such as this, almost nothing falls through the cracks; even a coin hidden in the back of a 580 page phone-book-sized catalog.
In summary, let’s take a quick look at how—in my opinion—coins from each mint performed in the Admiral sale.
Carson City: Nearly every nice CC eagle in the sale set a record price for the date and/or grade. Clearly, this segment of the Liberty Head eagle market is extremely strong with a solid collector base chasing a limited number of high-end coins.
New Orleans: Coins from this mint have become extremely popular with collectors and nearly every New Orleans eagle of consequence in this sale sold for strong prices. This collection included at least a half dozen Finest Known or Condition Census pieces and collectors knew how seldom coins of this caliber are offered.
Philadelphia: Casual observers will declaim that the Philadelphia coins in this sale performed wonderfully with numerous price records set. I think some of the really great P mint eagles in this sale (especially the No Motto coins) sold reasonably. If I were a deep-pocketed collector looking to make a splash in the eagle market, I’d pursue choice coins from Philadelphia.
San Francisco: The prices realized from this mint were mixed. As an example, I thought the nice PCGS EF40 1864-S (Lot 4264) went very reasonably at $114,000 and I would have paid more had I not been bidding directly against a collector who I like and who, out of respect to him, I dropped out.
I was a major buyer at this sale and I would love to assist you with a collection of Liberty Head eagles if you are working on one—or are thinking of beginning one. Contact me via phone at 214-675-9897 to discuss this or any other gold coin projects you’d like help with.