Carson City Gold Coinage: 1999 Update

In 1994, the book "Gold Coins of the Old West" was published. This book, which I co-wrote with Dr. Lawrence Cutler and which was based on research from 1992-1994, immediately became the standard reference for Carson City gold coinage. In the ensuing years, there have been some important changes in the Carson City gold coin market; enough that I am planning to rewrite my book and release a new version of it sometime in the year 2000. Following are some observations from the past few years that I feel are important for collectors of Carson City gold coins. These observations are limited by the size of this article and they will be discussed in much greater detail in my upcoming book.

I. An Important Hoard Hits the Market, 1992-1997

The single most important hoard of United States gold coinage of all time was quietly released into the market between 1992 and 1997 (these dates are based on my own observations and may not be accurate). It is unknown exactly where these coins were from or what dates were included. What is known is that this hoard contained thousands of Carson City pieces and that the rarity levels for certain dates were changed forever.

It appears that this hoard contained more Carson City double eagles than half eagles or eagles. Some of the double eagle dates that were dramatically affected by this hoard include: 1872-CC, 1873-CC, 1874-CC, 1876-CC, 1877-CC, 1882-CC, 1883-CC, 1884-CC, 1890-CC and 1893-CC.

Just how significant were these hoards? The 1876-CC double eagle is an excellent example. In Jnauary 1993, the first third-party graded Uncirculated example of this date, a PCGS Mint State-61, was sold in a Bowers and Merena auction for $13,750. A few months later, a group of forty or so Mint State-60 to Mint State-61 1876-CC double eagles entered the market. I can remember being offered a number of these coins in the $3,500-4,000 range; good value for me, but not such good news for the person who bought the B & M PCGS Mint State-61. Interestingly, prices for this date (and many of the others affected by the hoard) have recovered from their market lows of 1994. Today, a third-party graded 1876-CC in Mint State-60 is worth $4,000-4,500, while a Mint State-61 would easily trade in the $5,000-6,000 range.

II. Supplies Dry Up, 1997-1999

The hoard described above was truly a once in a lifetime occurrence in terms of the availability of Carson City gold coinage. And, for the most part, the truly rare Carson City issues (especially those struck prior to 1880) have remained just as rare as they were when "Gold Coins of the Old West" was published. When comparing the Condition Census listings of 1994 versus the listings of 1999, it is interesting to note just how little change there is for the rare pre-1880 issues. This is an interesting contrast to the Condition Census listings for Charlotte and Dahlonega coinage. I have attempted, since 1991, to keep a database with Condition Census listings for all 19th century branch mint United States gold coins. For certain Charlotte and Dahlonega issues, the coins which comprise the Condition Census are almost entirely new since my books on these two mints were published in 1997 and 1998, respectively. Why is this so? The most important answer has to do with the fact that prices on Charlotte and Dahlonega coins have gone up so much in the past few years that many old-time collectors are selling them and they are being supplanted by investors who, as a rule, hold coins for a much shorter period of time.

III. The Strike vs. Wear Conundrum

Certain Carson City gold coins, especially half eagles and eagles made from 1870 to 1875, are extremely hard to grade. These issues were poorly produced and they have strikes that are unique to their respective issues.

As an example, 1873-CC half eagles generally come with very poor detail on the obverse and it is not uncommon for the obverse of a coin to appear Very Fine while the reverse looks close to About Uncirculated. At the time my book was published, I can remember the constant struggle I had to get these rare dates in the "right" holder when I would send them in for grading. It seemd that both PCGS and NGC would never learn the difference between strike and wear. Coins I was convinced were real About Uncirculated-50's would always come back as Extremely Fine-45's and I would sell them begrudgingly.

Today, the services are much better at grading the difficult Carson City issues. They have learned the difference between strike and wear and tend to put coins in the "right" holders. In fact, in some cases they have become overly liberal and put coins in AU-50 and AU-53 holders that would not have graded higher than EF-45 a few years ago.

IV. Double Eagles Become the Coins Everyone Wants

Carson City double eagles have always been popular with collectors. But after thousands of them became available in the mid-1990's (see #1 above), their popularity (and price) levels dropped significantly. I can remember going to coin shows in 1994-1995 and having other dealers telling me that they didn't even want to look at any Carson City double eagles I might have brought with me.

Demand for Liberty Head double eagles began to pick up considerably by 1996. As a result of promotions by large-sized marketing firms, Liberty Head double eagles, in particular, became one of the hottest areas of the rare coin market in 1997.

Carson City double eagles have proven to be one of the most promotable areas within this denomination. There are a number of reasons why these coins are very easy to promote: they have a great story behind them; they are big, attractive coins that can easily be appreciated by the novice; they are scarce, but not so much so that they can't be marketed in small to medium sized quantities; they are a short, completable series (unlike Philadelphia double eagles), etc.

With the imminent sale of choice and gem quality Type One double eales from the S.S. Central America, it is possible that many more collectors will become interested in double eagles. The demand for choice and rare pieces from the Carson City mint should increase accordingly.

V. Some "Impossible" New Coins Become Available

Some Carson City coins that I would have formerly thought could not have existed have entered the market since the publication of "Gold Coins of the Old West." There have been a number of viable reasons for the sudden availability of such coins: an increase in price bringing out "hidden" coins, old time collections becoming available due to the death of their owner and accidental discovery. Some of the more important Carson City gold coins that have come into the market since the publication of my book in 1994 include the following:

1870-CC $5.00, PCGS Mint State-61. This coin was discovered by a non-collector in 1995 and it was later purchased by a Nevada coin shop. It was sold to a collector in Reno. It is the only unequivocally Uncirculated example of this date that I have seen and it is a superb coin with deep, original color over "crusty" surfaces.

1871-CC $5.00, NGC Mint State-63. This coin first surfaced in 1996 or early 1997 and it was offered as Lot 7686 in the 1997 ANA sale. After trading hands a few times, it is now owned by a pair of midwestern dealers. It is the only known Uncirculated example of this date and it is one of the finest Carson City coins of any issue from the 1870's.

1870-CC $10.00, PCGS About Uncirculated-50. Until this piece was discovered in the midwest early in 1999, the 1870-CC eagle was unknown above Extremely Fine-45. This coin was sold by the author to a New Jersey collector for a mid-five figure price in February 1999.

1870-CC $20.00, PCGS About Uncirculated-50. This is another issue that until recently was unknown above Extremely Fine-45. However, in the past few months I have had the pleasure of handling two 1870-CC double eagles in About Uncirculated-50. Both were sold to Universal Coin and Bullion in Beaumont, Texas who, in turn, placed them with appreciative new collectors.

VI. Pricing Information Remains Vague & Outdated for High Grade Coins

I have recently had the opportunity to handle some high quality Carson City half eagles and eagles and have noticed that published pricing information for these coins is either outdated (due to a paucity of auction records or reported private sales) or non-existent. I would like to suggest the following price levels for the rare pre-1890 half eagles and eagles, based on transactions of which I am aware of or have participated in.

HALF EAGLES, 1870-1884 DATE AU-50 AU-55 MS-60 HIGHER 1870-CC 25,000 35,000 100,000 --------- 1871-CC 10,000 17,500 --------- MS-63: $95,000 1872-CC 20,000 35,000 --------- --------- 1873-CC 30,000 50,000 80,000 --------- 1874-CC 11,000 19,000 40,000 --------- 1875-CC 12,500 23,500 55,000 --------- 1876-CC 15,000 27,500 --------- --------- 1877-CC 12,500 25,000 --------- --------- 1878-CC 20,000 35,000 --------- --------- 1879-CC 3,000 6,000 15,000 MS-61: $20,000 1880-CC 1,250 4,000 12,000 MS-61: $15,000 1881-CC 7,500 11,500 25,000 MS-61: $35,000 1882-CC 600 1,500 6,000 MS-61: $8,000 1883-CC 3,000 7,500 17,500 MS-61: $21,500 1884-CC 2,500 4,500 17,500 ---------

EAGLES, 1870-1884 DATE AU-50 AU-55 MS-60 HIGHER 1870-CC 50,000 --------- --------- --------- 1871-CC 15,000 20,000 AU-58: $30,000 --------- 1872-CC 22,500 --------- --------- --------- 1873-CC 30,000 --------- --------- --------- 1874-CC 7,500 15,000 AU-58: $25,000 --------- 1875-CC 27,500 40,000 --------- --------- 1876-CC 25,000 --------- --------- --------- 1877-CC 15,000 --------- --------- --------- 1878-CC 20,000 30,000 AU-58: $35,000 --------- 1879-CC 25,000 35,000 AU-58: $40,000 --------- 1880-CC 1,500 3,500 12,500 MS-61: $15,000 1881-CC 900 1,250 7,000 MS-62: $10,000 1882-CC 3,000 6,000 17,500 --------- 1883-CC 2,000 4,000 15,000 --------- 1884-CC 2,000 3,750 12,500 MS-62: $20,000

It is my opinion that current pricing information for Carson City double eagles, while not perfect, is comparably accurate. This is due to the fact that enough pieces trade that it is easier to compile and track price levels.

VII. Conclusion

The future looks excellent for Carson City gold coins. This is an area where the classic rules of supply and demand are in effect: an ever-dwindling number of choice and/or rare coins are being pursued by an increased number of affluent, serious collectors.

The publication of my new book on Carson City gold coins in 2000 should provide a further impetus to prices. In my admittedly biased opinion, I'd strongly suggest that collectors who are interested in beginning a set of Carson City gold coins do so immediately - while they can still find some coins.