In their July 31st Rarities Sale, Bowers and Merena auctioned off one of the finest specialized groupings in recent history: the Henry Lang collection of Carson City gold coinage. A close look at this collection is very revealing about the current state of the Carson City market and about high end 19th century gold coinage in general. These coins were mostly purchased in the early 1990's and were notable for their "fresh" original surfaces and overall high quality. Many were undergraded by today's standards, due to the fact that both PCGS and NGC were especially conservative regarding Carson City gold coinage when these pieces were first graded.
In the descriptions below, "Trends" values refer to the July 29th edition of Coin World Trends while "Bid" refers to the June 2002 edition of Coin Dealer Newsletter Greysheet. When the expressions "No Trends" or "No Bid" is used, this refers to instances where one of these publications does not list a value for a specific date in a specific grade.
All prices realized listed below include the 15% buyers charge which is applied to all lost sold by the auction house.
1880-CC: Lot 636, graded Mint State-61 by NGC. This was the best example of this date that I had ever seen. I graded it MS-62 and thought it could even grade MS-63 on the right day. It sold for $19,550, which is easily a record price for this date.
1881-CC: Lot 637, graded Mint State-63 by NGC. I bought this coin for $26,450 which seems expensive (Quarterly bid for an MS-63 is $16,000) until one realizes that it is now in an NGC MS-64 holder. This is the finest 1881-CC eagle I have ever seen and one of the best coins in the collection from the standpoint of condition.
1882-CC: Lot 638, graded Mint State-61 by NGC. I have never seen another Uncirculated 1882-CC eagle. I loved this coin and it was the eagle I most wanted to buy out of this collection. I did wind up purchasing it for $20,700 and it immediately upgraded to MS-62 at NGC.
1883-CC: Lot 639, graded Mint State-60 by NGC. This is one of just two known Uncirculated examples of this underrated date. I graded it Mint State-61 to Mint State-62. I thought it would be a hotly-contested lot but was very surprised that it sold for a record $17,250 (CDN bid is $10,500 while Trends is $11,500).
1884-CC: Lot 640, graded Mint State-60 by PCGS. This coin was bought back at $9,200. I did not really care for it as the surfaces had a few too many abrasions. But it was a really Uncirculated coin and one of around a half dozen known of this date. At $7,500 or so, I would have been more interested.
1890-CC: Lot 641, graded Mint State-63 by NGC. This was the shocker of the late date eagles. It sold for an incredible $18,400. Bid is $10,000 while Trends is $16,000. Clearly, at least two people graded this coin Mint State-64. If the buyer is right, this will become a highest graded coin. If he is wrong, he made a very expensive mistake as a nice MS-63 is worth $9,000 or so.
1891-CC: Lot 642, graded Mint State-64 by NGC. A really nice borderline gem and one of the best examples of this common date that I have seen. But it opened at a robust $9,000 ($10,350 with the buyer's premium) and there were no takers in the audience.
1892-CC: Curiously, there was no example of this date in the Lang collection.
1893-CC: Lot 643, graded Mint State-60 by NGC. The crowd was probably too busy buzzing about the next lot (the 1870-CC double eagle) to pay attention to this lovely and very underrated piece. It went unsold.
Overall Analysis: The Lang collection of Carson City eagles contained some magnificent coins. I thought that prices for the coins from the 1870's were, for the most part, quite strong. Buyers realized that many of these coins were unlikely to improved upon in the next few years, so the finest known or high Condition Census pieces went for very strong prices. The coins from the 1880's were amazing and buyers bid accordingly. Auction records were set for the 1880-CC, 1881-CC, 1882-CC and 1883-CC. The coins from the 1890's went more reasonably, although the 1890-CC was a surprise and a world record.
DOUBLE EAGLES (1870-1893)
1870-CC: Lot 644, graded Extremely Fine-40 by PCGS. In recent years, this has been an incredibly popular issue and prices have risen accordingly. The Lang coin was one of the sharpest I had ever seen I thought it would upgrade to EF-45. But I was stunned that this coin brought $149,500. I would guess that Mr. Lang paid less than half this amount and he was, no doubt, pleased with the result.
1871-CC: Lot 645, graded About Uncirculated-58 by NGC. This was a great coin that only a handful of viewers appreciated. Most examples show dense abrasions and have been repeatedly cleaned. This was a lovely "slider" that was crisp and original. I bought it for $20,700 and thought it was a sensational purchase.
1872-CC: Lot 646, graded Mint State-61 by NGC. This was another lovely early date CC double eagle. It had superb color, great luster and lovely color. It sold for $26,450, which is just a bit higher than MS-60 Trends. I think this was a great value as it is the finest known and it could well upgrade to MS-62.
1873-CC: Lot 648, graded "net MS-60" by Bowers and Merena. This coin was unencapsulated due to a large mint-made planchet flaw and spotting on the obverse. It still sold for $14,950 and I'm sure that the dealer who purchased it is confident that he can get it graded at PCGS or NGC.
1874-CC: Lot 649, graded Mint State-61 by PCGS. Few people realize just how rare this date is in high grades. Apparently all of the people "in the know" were in the room as this coin brought a remarkable $17,250. This is more than double MS-60 Trends (and more than triple MS-60 bid!).
1875-CC: Lot 650, graded Mint State-63 by NGC. Most higher grade 1875-CC double eagles have been cleaned or dipped at one time. This was a superb, fully original piece that was very high end for the grade. I paid $14,375 for it and quickly resold it to a type collector who wanted a single choice Carson City double eagle for his set.
1876-CC: Lot 651, graded "net AU-58" by Bowers and Merena due to having been cleaned. This sold for $4,830.
1877-CC: Lot 652, graded Mint State-62 by NGC. This coin was bought back at $23,000 which was a bit of a surprise as I thought it would bring in the $22,500-25,000+ range. It is probably the finest known and important CC double eagles of this quality are seldom offered for sale.
1878-CC: Lot 653, graded About Uncirculated-58 by PCGS. I thought this was a very nice coin but did not think it would upgrade. It sold to a dealer for $12,650. With Trends at $11,500 in AU-58 and $20,000 in MS-60, this individual clearly believed this coin had a realistic chance of upgrading.
1879-CC: Lot 654, graded Mint State-60 by NGC. There were some noticeable spots on the upper obverse but I still liked this coin a lot and thought it was better than its indicated graded, It sold for $24,150 (Trends is $22,500 in MS-60) so I obviously was not the only person who felt this way.
1882-CC: Lot 655, graded AU-58 by PCGS. This coin sold for a very strong $5,290, which is full Mint State-60+ money for the date. I thought it was a nice 58 but not better.
1883-CC: Lot 656, graded Mint State-63 by PCGS. The 1883-CC is a date that is almost never seen above MS-62. This coin is one of just two graded MS-63 by PCGS with none better. It brought $18,400, which is a strong but not absurd price, given that Trends is $22,000. In my opinion, buying a great coin like this for a bit more than 80% of Trends is a very fair value in today's market.
1884-CC: Lot 657, graded Mint State-62 by PCGS. Trends for this date in MS-62 is $6,500. This coin sold for a healthy $7,475.
1885-CC: Lot 658, graded AU-58 by PCGS. This was a very nice coin that I felt was accurately graded. It sold for $9,250. With AU-58 Trends at $7,250 and MS-60 at $10,750, the new owner clearly graded this coin at least Mint State-60.
1889-CC: Lot 659, graded "MS-64" by Bowers and Merena. This coin was oddly presented as it was one of just two pieces in the Lang collection that wasn't a "no-grade" but was not encapsulated by PCGS or NGC. I graded this piece MS-62 to MS-63 and it was passed on by the bidders at an aggressive opening bid of $15,000.
1890-CC: Lot 660, graded "MS-63" by Bowers and Merena. This was the other piece in the collection that was raw but was capable of being graded. I agreed with B+M's grade and was prepared to pay in the $10,000-12,000 range. The final bid was a very strong $17,250.
1891-CC: Lot 661, graded Mint State-61 by NGC. People who viewed this lot were divided on its quality. I liked it but many people were not crazy about the heavily spotted obverse. Despite the spots, the coin brought $17,250, which is well above CDN MS-60 bid ($10,000) and MS-60 Trends ($12,500).
1892-CC: Lot 662, graded Mint State-62 by NGC. This was a very nice coin for the grade and with a huge jump in Trends between MS-62 and MS-63 ($8,000 to $21,000) it was inevitable that there would be some serious bidding. At $11,500, this piece will either be a great deal for its new owner (if it upgrades) or it will be an all-time record for the date in MS-62.
1893-CC: Lot 663, graded Mint State-63 by PCGS. This was among the nicer 1893-CC double eagles I had ever seen. It brought a very strong $16,100. With MS-63 Trends at $10,000 it was obvious that the successful bidder was hoping for an upgrade to Mint State-64.
Part Two of this article will contain an analysis of the Lang collection's eagles dated 1880-1893 and all of the double eagles from 1870 to 1893.