How's the market doing for Type One double eagles? Good question and one that I feel well-qualified to answer, having been a very active participant in this market for over two decades. We've had a lot of interesting external factors shape the Type One market in the last few years. Naturally, the severe economic conditions of 2007-2009 had a profound influence; especially at the high end of the market. And even if the economy had been strong there's a chance that prices for rarities might have slowed down on their own, given the extreme rise in prices we had seen in the Type One market for the previous five years. It was natural that there would be some profit taking; what I didn't expect was some of the forced sales we saw in 2007 and 2008.
And then there is the X factor in the Type One market: the incredible run-up in gold prices that has seen metal prices top $1,200 per ounce, and the associated pressures on supply that this has brought with it.
All that said, I'm pretty amazed at how strong this segment of the market is right now. In my mind, there is no question that most Type One double eagles valued at less than $5,000 are in greater demand than I can ever remember. I also think that prices are about as strong as I can recall for these coins. If you look at recent auction, nearly all decent quality EF45 to AU58 Type One double eagles are bringing in excess of Trends (more on pricing in a second...) and these coins are typically selling at auction to dealers; not necessarily end-user collectors.
The coins priced at $5,000-20,000 are generally quite strong as well, although not as much so as at the lower price point. The key factors for Type One double eagles in this price range are: eye appeal, eye appeal, eye appeal and the "sexiness" of the date. This is clearly a collector-oriented market and really pretty coins (i.e., those that are not excessively bagmarked, those that are not all bright and shiny and those that are well-made) are in great demand. Average and below-average quality coins still sell; especially if they are useful dates. But they do not bring the premium prices that the nice coins bring.
The real weakness in this market a few years ago was with the expensive coins. As I touched on above the reasons for this were twofold. When the world economy seemed to be melting down, people weren't all that crazy about dropping $50,000 on a coin. And prices had risen so much on many of the key issues that many market participants wondered if certain key issues were still good values at the levels they had risen to.
Before addressing some specific areas in the market, I mentioned earlier about difficulties with pricing. Coin World Trends ability to keep up with this area in the market appears to not be as good as it was before and many Type One issues now sell for over Trends. This is particularly true with less expensive coins in circulated grades.
Let's look at how the coins from each of the three mints are doing.
New Orleans: If you bought good quality New Orleans double eagles at any time before 2005, pat yourself on the back. You are in a profit position and, in some cases, you are in a huge profit position. New Orleans Type One coins remain strong but not as robust as they were in 2005-2007. The dates that I see some weakness in right now are the 1857-O and 1858-O and, to a lesser extent, the 1859-O and 1860-O. The former seem a bit weak due to the fact that a number of coins in the AU grades have been available and these are two of the few Type One issues where supply seems able to keep up with demand. The latter have cooled off as a result of the fact that some truly awful AU coins have sold slightly cheaply at auction. Very nice AU55 and AU58 1859-O and 1860-O double eagles are extremely rare and choice, properly graded examples will bring well in excess of what the schlocky auction pieces have realized. It is interesting to note that few 1854-O and 1856-O double eagles have traded in the last year or two. I heard through the grapevine that an NGC AU55 1854-O traded for over $600,000 between dealers at the recent Long Beach show. If this is true then, it appears, the market for this ultra-rarity is just fine, thank you.
Philadelphia: I'd have to say that the better date Philadelphia Type Ones are the coins du jour in this series right now. The specific coins that seem to be in real demand are the 1854 Small Date, 1855, 1856, 1857 and 1858. Nice AU examples of these five issues are still buy-able at less than $5,000 and offer alot of bang for the Type One buck. The 1850 is as popular as ever due to its first-year status and the common 1851-1853 issues are in real demand in Uncirculated due to the fact that they are still reasonably priced and occasionally available. The two key issues from this mint, the 1854 Large Date and the 1859, have really come into there own in the last year. I personally love the latter issue and think it is still hugely undervalued in all grades from Very Fine to Mint State. If I were a betting man (and as a coin dealer, I obviously qualify as such) I would say that the Civil War issues will be exceptionally active in the next few years, given the 150th anniversary of the beginning of that conflict is in 2011. The 1862 is already an expensive, well-recognized issue and the 1863 is well-known but the 1864 and 1865 are affordable in circulated grades and seem like good values right now.
San Francisco: In all other denominations, the San Francisco coins lag the other branch mints in popularity. This is not the case in the Type One series where the San Francisco coins are quite popular. We can attribute this, of course, to the shipwreck coins which have been a blessing to the market and which have have made many new collectors aware of and interested in other San Francisco double eagles of this era. The post-shipwreck dates (1858-S, 1859-S, 1860-S, 1861-S) are very popular right now and appear to be bringing close to or even above Trends in AU55 and AU58. The few sales records for Uncirculated pieces in the last year have been very strong and they seem to be consistently at levels higher than 2006-2008. Two interesting individual dates to look at quickly are the 1861-S Paquet and the 1866-S No Motto. For many years these were greatly undervalued and I can remember imploring collectors to buy them at $10,000-20,000 in the early part of the 2000's. They soared in price then came down quite a bit in 2007 and 2008. After being unobtainable in Choice AU for many years, there were a lot of over graded, marginal pieces for sale. I've noticed that there are two very distinct markets for these two issues: the market for low-end pieces and the market for choice, CAC-quality pieces.
I believe that we will continue to see a very strong market for Type One double eagles in the coming years. These coins are big, they contain nearly an ounce of gold, they have a great story behind them and there are still a lot of different dates that can be bought for under $5,000 per coin. I am as bullish on Type One double eagles as on any coin in the market right now.