Carson City double eagles can be neatly divided into three tiers of rarity. The third tier is the common issues (1874-CC, 1875-CC, 1876-CC, 1882-CC, 1883-CC, 1884-CC, 1889-CC, 1890-CC, 1892-CC, and 1893-CC), while the second tier are a bit less available but still reasonably easy to locate (1872-CC, 1873-CC, 1877-CC). The first tier—or what I like to call the Big Five—consists of the 1871-CC, 1878-CC, 1879-CC, 1885-CC, and the 1891-CC. If we assume that most collectors will never buy an 1870-CC due to its rarity and cost, these five issues are the keys to the set.
Given the fact that I am selling a wonderful specialized set of Carson City double eagles (the Mentor Collection), I thought it would be appropriate to write a blog which shared my feelings about the Big Five; especially in the post-Fairmont era of the gold coin market.
First, let’s rank the Big Five by overall and high grade rarity:
It’s interesting to note that high grade rarity basically follows a date chronology with the exception of the 1891-CC which is rare by virtue of its low mintage.
For most collectors, the 1871-CC is the rarest date in the CC double eagle series as they will not be buying an 1870-CC. The 1871-CC is easily the rarest of these five dates, both in terms of its overall and high grade rarity.
As the rarity of this issue became better known, the entry level for a decent 1871-CC rose accordingly. Today, it is very hard to find a decent example for less than $30,000 and even at that price, the best you are likely to find is a details coin which has problems. You’ll likely have to spend closer to $50,000 to buy a decent 1871-CC, and really nice coins (AU55 and AU58) are almost never seen. The last Uncirculated 1871-CC to trade at auction was an NGC MS60 which sold for $111,625 in the 2015 Heritage ANA event, and I am aware of a PCGS MS60 selling in the last year via private treaty for significantly more than this.
The Fairmont holdings have not impacted the 1871-CC. There have thus far been just three coin sold by Stack’s Bowers (6/18 PCGS 45, 8/18 PCGS 40, and 10/18 PCGS 40) with prices consistently in the 40s. Assuming that there are just a few pieces in this group, it seems likely that the market will be able to absorb these coins.
In the last decade, the population of this date has increased fairly significantly. However, almost all of the 1878-CC twenties that have entered the market are in lower grades, and the 1878-CC remains very rare in Uncirculated with just six graded by PCGS as of late July 2019.
This date is reasonably easy to locate in EF40 to EF45 and there are some nice examples with CAC approval which have sold at auction in 2018 and 2019. This date becomes very scarce in properly graded AU55 to AU58. Interestingly, no Uncirculated 1878-CC has sold at auction since the Battle Born: 11047 (NGC MS61) coin in 2012, and the last Uncirculated PCGS coin was an MS61 which sold in late 2010.
The Fairmont 1878-CC double eagles, thus far, have not exceeded AU50 and it appears that this date is “safe” in essentially all grades. I remain a strong advocate of this date.
For years, the 1878-CC and the 1879-CC were basically equal in terms of overall and high grade rarity. In 2019, I now regard the 1878-CC to be about 10% rarer than the 1879-CC and close to equal in rarity in Uncirculated. There are still probably less than 10 legitimately Uncirculated 1879-CCs known and nearly all are in the MS60 to MS61 range. The single finest is the PCGS/CAC MS62 Battle Born: 11048 coin which brought $74,750 in 2012; today this coin is probably worth over $100,000.
Some nice 1879-CC double eagles from the Fairmont holdings have entered the market but none have, thus far, exceeded AU53. The 1879-CC remains scarce in properly graded AU55 and rare in AU58. I think this date is “safe” in AU55 and higher and I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a nice MS61 at today’s levels.
The 1885-CC is now very similar in terms of its overall rarity to the 1879-CC but it is significantly more available in Uncirculated. Beginning around 2011-12, a number of Uncirculated 1885-CC double eagles were sold at auction and this included four records for PCGS MS62s between 2011 and 2017. The PCGS population figures for MS61 (14) and MS62 (8) 1885-CC double eagles are almost certainly inflated, but this date is clearly the most available of the Big Five in higher grades.
It is interesting to note that, thus far, there have been no Uncirculated 1885-CC double eagles in the Fairmont holdings; the finest are a small number of PCGS AU58s. It is probable that the 1885-CC will turn out to be the least rare date in the Big Five, but it is clearly rarer than its population figures might suggest.
I have always regarded the 1891-CC as the sleeper issue in the Carson City double eagle set and by virtue of its low mintage, the 1891-CC seems safely ensconced as the second rarest of the Big Five in terms of its overall rarity. This date didn’t see as much circulation as the other four and it is thus more available in Uncirculated than all but the 1885-CC. But don’t think I’m saying this is an easily-located issue in Uncirculated; the last to appear at auction was a PCGS MS61 which sold in January 2017 for $44,650.
The PCGS population figure of 12 in MS61 seems inflated by resubmissions, and given that just two have sold at auction since 2009, I’d suggest the actual number could be as low as six or seven.
There do not appear to be any Uncirculated 1891-CC double eagles in the Fairmont holdings and only a small number of AU55s. I think this date is “safe” in nearly any grade, primarily by virtue of its very small mintage figure.
Before we close, let’s take a quick peek at CAC populations for the Big Five:
These figures show us a few things. First, the 1871-CC is really difficult to locate with CAC approval while the other four issues have remarkable similarity in terms of the total approved by CAC. Secondly, any of the Big Five in Uncirculated with a CAC sticker is extremely hard to locate and such coins should command large premiums when they come available. Thirdly, any collector who thinks he can assemble an Uncirculated set of CAC approved CC double eagles (not including the 1870-CC which is unknown finer than AU55) is in for a serious challenge!
Do you collect Carson City double eagles or are you thinking of starting a set? Why not deal with the Man Who Wrote the Book! Contact me at (214) 675-9897 and let’s discuss your collecting goals.