The Best Values in Todays Rare Coin Market

There are many issues that face collectors in the coin market of 2010. A lack of quality coins is driving many collectors to seek new areas of specialization. Both PCGS and NGC have recently added “plus” grades which will no doubt change certain areas of the market as well. More than ever, collectors are gravitating towards areas that offer value. The days of new collectors and uninformed wealthy investors arbitrarily throwing money at plastic rarities are over and we appear to be back to a collector-oriented market. So what are some of the areas in this new market that offer the best value to collectors? I have chosen three price ranges ($1,000-5,000; $5,000-10,000 and $10,000 and up) and included some of the series and/or types that I feel are especially good values. Some are currently popular; some are not. What I have tried to focus on are coins that are actually available in some quantity and issues that I gladly buy to put into my own inventory when they are available.

1. $1,000-5,000

a) Gold Dollars, 1865-1872: The eight year run of gold dollars produced at the Philadelphia mint from 1865 through 1872 doesn’t include any real rarities but nearly all of these coins are scarce and undervalued in MS63 to MS64 grades. Most are priced in the area of $1,500-2,000 in MS63 and $2,000 to $3,000 in MS64 (the 1865 is rarer and more expensive in both grades) and they seem like good value to me. Take the 1872 as an example. Just 3,500 business strikes were made and only a few hundred exist in all grades. In MS64 this coin is worth around $3,000 yet it might take me months to find a decent example in this grade. Yes, gold dollars are small but this is a very collectible series and one with a number of really undervalued issues.

b) Classic Head Quarter Eagles: I’m a big fan of this series in properly graded AU55 to MS62 grades. Note that I stress properly graded as many of the coins that I see are either low end or unappealing due to having been processed. The Philadelphia issues, with the exception of the rare and much undervalued 1839, are affordable in this grade range with pieces valued at $1,750 or so at the lower end and around $5,000 at the higher end. The mintmarked coins are, of course, far more expensive and are not necessarily “good values” although I am an avid buyer of any mintmarked Classic Head quarter eagle in EF40 and better that is choice and original. For collectors at the lower end of this budget range, a nice set of About Uncirculated Classic Head Philadelphia quarter eagles is a fun and challenging endeavor.

c) Three Dollar Gold Pieces: After a few years of collector and investor popularity, this series has recently gone quiet. I don’t necessarily believe that all three dollar gold pieces are good value. In fact, I feel that some formerly undervalued issues are now marginal value at best (primarily due to the fact that many are grossly overgraded and have absolutely no eye appeal). What I do like about this series is that prices are actually down versus where they were five to seven years ago; which is pretty remarkable when one considers that gold has essentially doubled in price since then. Given the lack of collector interest, a new collector can buy PQ quality three dollar gold pieces for a very small premium right now. There are many coins on the market and with some patience, a really nice partial set of Threes could be assembled. The dates I still regard as undervalued include the 1858, 1862, 1864, 1870-72 and the ultra-low mintage issues from the 1880’s.

d) No Motto Half Eagles and Eagles: In the $1,000-5,000 range there are few areas in the United States gold coin market that offer better value than No Motto half eagles from the Philadelphia mint in the higher About Uncirculated grades. As an example, I frequently sell very nice common date AU58 half eagles from the 1840’s for under $750. That might not seem like a big thing until you consider that an ultra common With Motto half eagle in AU58 is worth $350 or so. In the case of the eagles from this era, many of the common date issues from the 1840’s are still available in nice AU58 for less than $1,500. I love the idea of a large size, visually attractive U.S. gold coin that was made well before the Civil War being highly affordable.

e) Crusty Original Charlotte and Dahlonega Quarter Eagles and Half Eagles in Extremely Fine: It will be very interesting to see what percentage of Charlotte and Dahlonega quarter eagles and half eagles receive a “plus” designation from PCGS and NGC in the coming years. If they are strict with their standards I believe that the number could be as low as 10-15% of the total submissions. As someone who is a strong buyer of nice, affordable branch mint gold I can tell you that choice, original pieces with natural color and surfaces have become exceptionally hard to locate. You can still buy nice Extremely Fine Charlotte and Dahlonega quarter eagles and half eagles in EF40 and EF45 for less than $3,000. I think these are wonderful values given their history and rarity.

2. $5,000-10,000

a) Early Half Eagles in Choice, Original About Uncirculated: Given the fact that early half eagles have doubled in price in the last five to seven years, I’m not certain that calling them “undervalued” is the right term. But even at current levels, I like the values that Bust Right (1795-1807) and Bust Left (1807-1812) half eagles offer in the higher AU grades. These are exceptionally historic issues and they are instantly appealing to virtually any new collector or investor who has the resources to afford them. These individuals might not want to assemble a date set of Bust Left half eagles but at $9,000-11,000+ for a high quality About Uncirculated example it is likely that these will become a centerpiece of any new collection. As with the Extremely Fine C+D coins I mentioned above, it will be interesting to see what percentage of early half eagles are given a plus designation by PCGS and NGC.

b) Affordable Uncirculated Dahlonega Half Eagles: If I had to choose the quintessential Dahlonega gold coin for the new collector, I’d select something like an 1847-D or 1853-D half eagle in properly graded MS61 to MS62. These coins are big, rare, attractive and reasonably priced at less than $10,000. What’s even more interesting about coins like this is that they are priced at essentially the same level as they were in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s. Yes, gradeflation has pushed many AU58 coins into MS61 and MS62 holders. But the popularity of Dahlonega half eagles is as high in 2010 as at any point I can remember. If you can locate a few CAC or “plus quality” Dahlonega half eagles in MS61 to MS62 at today’s levels, I’d suggest that you jump on them.

c) No Motto Half Eagles and Eagles in MS62: MS62 is the “sweet spot” for most No Motto gold. The coins in MS60 to MS61 holder are often questionable as to their “newness” but most MS62 gold from this era tends to have a pretty nice overall appearance. What’s most interesting about this grade is its price point. Take, for example, a common No Motto half eagle like the 1847. In MS62 it can be purchased for around $3,000. In MS63, the same issue is going to run at least $6,000. In the eagle series, the price differences are more extreme. An 1847 eagle in MS62 is a $7,500 coin but in MS63, if available, it could cost $20,000 or more. I believe that more collectors will begin to focus on high quality No Motto gold from the 1840’s and 1850’s in the near future and there are still many issues that a $5,000-10,000 per coin budget can secure a piece that is not that far removed from the Condition Census.

d) Type Two Liberty Head Double Eagles: The Type Two series has sort of fallen through the cracks in recent years. Type One double eagles are remarkably popular with collectors and the Type Three series seems to be an area that is a marketer’s delight right now. That has left the Type Two series as a sort of void. There are two areas in this market that I currently like as good values. The first are the scarcer date Philadelphia issues from 1866 to 1872 in About Uncirculated and above. The second are choice, original common dates in MS62 to MS63. The scarce Philadelphia issues have retained most of their value despite not having promoted in the last few years; imagine what an influx of new collectors might do to prices for these coins. Common dates in MS62 and MS63 are scarce and have dropped quite a bit in price from their highs of a few years ago. At $3,500-4,000 for a choice MS62 and $11,000-13,000 for a nice MS63 I like the value that these offer as type coins.

3. $10,000-25,000

1. Capped Head Quarter Eagles: In this price range, it is hard to beat the Capped Head quarter eagles (produced between 1829 and 1834) for value. All of these issues were produced in limited quantity and even the most “common” date (the 1829) has considerably fewer known than the early half eagles and eagles in this price range. After the market highs of 2006 and 2007, prices on Capped Head quarter eagles have dropped around 15-20% but few pieces have been available at the new lower levels. I especially like choice, original examples that grade between AU55 and MS62. In this grade range you are typically getting an aesthetically appealing coin. A nice About Uncirculated pieces will cost in the mid-teens while an MS62 that is properly graded will run in the low to mid 20’s. The “sleeper” date in this series is the 1833 while the 1832 is tougher than many people realize as well.

2. Classic Head Half Eagles in MS63 and MS64. I’ve already mentioned Classic Head quarter eagles in the first part of this article. I also like high grade Classic Head half eagles. In MS63 and MS64 this type is scarce and when these coins are nice they typically have great cosmetic appeal with lovely coloration and surfaces. Classic Head half eagles were made from 1834 to 1838. The commonest issues are the 1834 Plain 4 and the 1835. If you’d like an example of this design for type purposes, you are very likely going to buy an 1834 or an 1835 but the 1836 and 1838 are much scarcer and priced at just a 10-20% premium in the MS63 to MS64 range. Current price levels are around $11,000-12,000 for a nice MS63 and $18,000-20,000 for a nice MS64. Considering that a full Gem MS65, if available, will run around $60,000-65,000+, I think these MS63 and MS64 examples offer really good value.

3. Condition Census No Motto Issues: This area is a pretty narrow focus, I admit, but I think some of the best values in the entire coin market are in the $10,000-25,000+ Condition Census quality No Motto issues. This includes half eagles and eagles produced in the 1839-1866 era. I would throw the quarter eagles from this era into the mix as well. If you can find them, very high grade (in this case MS63 and higher) Philadelphia gold coins from the 1840’s and 1850’s seem like the best values in this area. The coins tend to be very well made, very attractive and genuinely rare in this grade. Given the fact that there are not many date collectors of these coins, they need to be viewed more as type issues. But it is hard to argue with their rarity in high grades, especially due to the fact that most smaller denomination Philadelphia gold coins struck prior to the Civil War are unknown in Gem and excessively rare even in MS64.