An Analysis of Carson City Half Eagles Through Recent Major Auction Results: Part One

Two major auctions of Carson City gold coinage have enabled specialists in this series to make some interesting observations regarding the strength of this series. The first of these auctions was the sale of the Old West Collection and it was conducted by ANR in August 2006. The second was recently held by Stack’s in January 2007 and it featured the Morgan Collection. For the sake of convenience, in this article the Old West Collection will be referred to as “OW” while the Morgan Collection will be abbreviated as “MC.” 1870-CC OW: PCGS 58, sold for $80,500 MC: NGC 55, sold for $37,375

In my opinion, the Old West coin was exceptional and its price realized at auction reflected this. The Morgan coin was not as nice but I think it was an extremely good value at less than what the Old West coin brought. Clearly, this date is in strong demand due to its rarity and status as the first-year-issue half eagle from this mint.

1871-CC OW: PCGS 58, sold for $27,600 MC: NGC 45, sold for $10,350

Given the big spread in grade, it is hard to make a valid comparison between these two coins. The Old West example was among the finest known and it brought strong money while the Morgan coin was, in my opinion, a lock AU50 in today’s grading environment. This date remains quite rare in AU.

1872-CC OW: NGC AU58, sold for $29,900 MC: PCGS AU50, sold for $23,000

These coins made for an interesting comparison. In my opinion, the NGC AU58 was more like an AU55 while the PCGS AU50 was an AU55; hence, the similar prices realized. The 1872-CC half eagle appears to be more available in AU than I remember it being in the past and I wonder if a small hoard hasn’t been uncovered in the past few years (?).

1873-CC OW: None present MC: NGC AU50, sold for $28,750

This was one of just two CC half eagles missing from the Old West collection which should tell you how scarce it is. The Morgan coin was definitely an upgrade candidate and its price realized reflected this. I am convinced more than ever that this is the rarest Carson City half eagle and that coins grading AU50 or better with any amount of eye appeal are truly rare.

1874-CC OW: PCGS 58, sold for $27,600 MC: PCGS AU55, sold for $18,400

These were two of the nicer 1874-CC half eagles that I have ever seen. The Old West coin set a record for a circulated example of this date while the Morgan Collection coin was, in my opinion, a piece with a good shot to upgrade to AU58. I think both of these were very solid prices and indicate that collectors will pay strong prices for choice, original coins; even for dates that, by the rigorous standards of 1870’s Carson City half eagles, are somewhat common.

1875-CC OW: PCGS 55, sold for $17,250 MC: NGC 63, sold for $103,500

These two coins are really like comparing apples to oranges, given the extreme difference in quality. What is interesting about the Morgan Collection coin is that I sold this piece to the consignor for around $60,000 over a decade ago. Given how superb-and rare—it was, I think it was an exceptional buy and I expected before the sale that it might sell for as much as $125,000-150,000.

1876-CC OW: None present MC: PCGS 53, sold for $17,825

This is another date that, like the 1872-CC, seems to be more available now in the AU53 to AU58 range than I can remember it being in the past. I think the Morgan Collection example brought a strong price since it was judged to have a good shot to grade AU55 if resubmitted.

1877-CC OW: PCGS 55, sold for $17,250 MC: NGC 55, sold for $18,400

I thought these were both nice coins and very comparable in terms of quality. After these two sales, I think we can safely conclude that a nice quality AU55 1877-CC half eagle is worth somewhere in the range of $17,000-19,000.

1878-CC OW: PCGS 50, sold for $16,100 MC: NGC 45, sold for $12,650

Here is an instance where having some knowledge about these two coins answers some interesting questions; namely, why did an EF45 coin bring nearly as much as one graded AU50? The answer is simple: the AU50 was not very nice and had funky color while the EF45 was original, choice and perceived to have upgrade potential.

1879-CC OW: PCGS 58, sold for $12,650 MC: PCGS 58, sold for $13,800

Two coins, same date, same grade, nearly similar prices realized. End of story, right? In this case, no. In my opinion, the Old West 1879-CC was just gorgeous and I could see it grading MS61 on a good day. I did not care for the Morgan Collection example (disclosure: I sold both of these coins and I clearly missed the fact that the Morgan Collection example had been recolored a number of years ago as attested by the fact that it had turned a deep Cheeto Orange shade…).

1880-CC OW: PCGS 62, sold for $29,900 MC: NGC 60, sold for $12,650

I liked both of these coins a lot and their prices realized indicates that a number of other bidders did as well. Both coins sold in excess of current Trends and/or CDN Bid and the reason is simple: they were really nice, original coins with great eye appeal. Simple lesson: buy nice coins, build an interesting specialized collection, realize strong money when you sell them.

1881-CC OW: NGC 62, did not sell but later resold by Stack’s in their November 2006 auction for $46,000 MC: NGC 63, sold for $57,500

Given the fact that only three or four Uncirculated 1881-CC half eagles exist, it is a wonderful coincidence that two of the better ones sold at auction within a few months of each other. Given their results, I would say that the new owner of the MS63 example from the Morgan Collection got himself an amazingly good deal as he was able to buy a coin which I though was a lot nicer than the Old West specimen for just a 20% premium.

1882-CC OW: PCGS 62, sold for $32,200 MC: PCGS 61, sold for $21,850

I’ve been surprised at the strength of the market for Uncirculated examples of the 1882-CC, given that at least four have sold in the past six months that either grade MS62 or will be in an MS62 holder at some point. As a point of reference, the MS62 in the Old West collection was extremely choice for the grade while the MS61 in the Morgan Collection was clearly believed to be an upgrade candidate.

1883-CC OW: PCGS 58, sold for $9,775 MC: PCGS 58, sold for $12,650

Ah, the magic of the old PCGS holder. The Morgan Collection coin, while not appreciably better than the one in the Old West Collection, brought nearly 30% more. I would have to say that a good reason for this was the fact that it was a fresh coin in a very old PCGS green label holder.

1884-CC OW: PCGS 58, sold for $12,650 MC: PCGS 61, sold for $29,990

These were two of the nicer 1884-CC half eagles that have sold recently and the market seems to have finally recognized the fact that this date is quite rare and undervalued in higher grades. In fact, the example in the Morgan Collection is quite possibly the Finest Known and I thought it was among the most important pieces in this memorable collection of Carson City half eagles.

1890-CC OW: PCGS 64, sold for $9,775 MC: NGC 63, sold for $8,050

The NGC MS64 in the Morgan Collection should probably grade MS64. But here’s why buying coins at auction can be risky. If the coin stays as an MS63 it’s worth $5,500. If it upgrades, it’s worth around $10,000. So the buyer has around $3,000 in downside and $2,000 at most in upside. For most dealers, this upside/downside ratio is acceptable but for many collectors it isn’t.

1891-CC OW: PCGS 65, sold for $43,700 MC: PCGS 64, sold for $13,800

As far as I know, both of these are record prices for slabbed examples of this popular common date. The MS65 in the Old West Collection is probably the finest known 1891-CC and I was impressed by what it sold for. The MS64 in the Morgan Collection was awfully nice for the grade and given that it brought more than twice what the typical MS64 brings, I would guess that at least two people thought it had a good shot to grade MS65.

1892-CC OW: PCGS 63, sold for $5,750 MC: PCGS 62, sold for $4,140

This was an instance where I thought the coin in the lower grade holder (i.e., the Morgan Collection MS62) was nicer than the coin in the higher grade holder. This is why you can’t blindly look at auction records when determining a coin’s value. Clearly, not every 1892-CC half eagle in MS62 is worth $4,140.

1893-CC OW: PCGS 62, sold for $4,600 MC: NGC 63, sold for $8,625

The Morgan Collection coin was in an older holder and was exceptionally nice for the grade (I thought it had a very good chance to grade MS63). Here is another coin that can mislead the new collector. Not every MS63 1893-CC half eagle is worth $8,625. In fact, I recently sold a nice properly graded PCGS MS63 for $6,500.