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.
1870-CC: Lot 607, graded MS-61 by NGC. I loved this coin but it was very flatly struck on the neck. Bid is $80,000 and this coin sold for $77,625. In retrospect, this was a very good deal as it is one of just three known Uncirculated examples of this major rarity.
1871-CC: Lot 608, graded AU-55 by NGC. One of the nicer examples of this date I have seen in some time. I graded it solid AU-58. Bid is $8,750 in AU and $45,000 in MS-60 with no Trends listed over EF-45. The coin sold for $14,950 which is a solid price for the issue.
1872-CC: Lot 609, graded AU-50 by PCGS. Very undergraded and a solid AU-55+ to AU-58 in my opinion. Probably the best 72-CC half eagle I have ever seen with a great strike and superb color over very lustrous surfaces. I purchased this coin for $25,875.
1873-CC: Lot 610, graded AU-53 by PCGS. A solid coin for the grade and accurately graded by today's standards. Bid is $20,000 in AU while Trends is $32,500. This brought $18,975 which seems a touch cheap.
1874-CC: Lot 611, graded AU-50 by NGC. Undergraded; I thought it was a nice AU-55. Bid is $6,500 in AU while Trends is $11,500 in AU-50 and $16,500 in AU-55. This piece brought $10,350. It would have brought more except that there are currently a few other nice 74-CC half eagles on the market.
1875-CC: Lot 612, graded AU-55 by PCGS. I couldn't decide whether I liked this coin or not. I thought it might upgrade to 58 but it was a touch on the dull side. It brought $16,100 with Bid at $8,400 in AU and Trends at $12,250 in AU-50.
1876-CC: Lot 613, graded MS-65 by PCGS. I didn't have to decide about this coin...I loved it and thought it was the single best CC gold coin that I had ever seen. In fact, I grade it MS-67 by today's standards. I purchased this coin for $138,000 and genuinely believe it was fantastic value. I would have paid considerably more and feel that this will be a $250,000 coin the next time it becomes available.
1877-CC: Lot 614, graded AU-58 by NGC. This was the second best 77-CC half eagle I had ever seen and I graded it MS-61. It was a lovely coin that I really wanted to buy but I was outbid by a Florida dealer who paid a solid $29,900. Bid for an MS-60 is $38,000. This is an example of a price that will seem strong to someone who did not view these coins but was probably a good value in the long run.
1878-CC: Lot 615, graded AU-55 by NGC. This was one of the few disappointments for me in the sale. It had a funky orange-gold color which appeared to be artificial. It still brought $24,150, which is a strong price for a date that is bid at $14,500 in AU. Had this coin been choice for the grade, however, it would have brought over $30,000.
1879-CC: Lot 616, graded AU-58 by NGC. I thought this was a nice coin for the grade but I did not see it as Uncirculated. I was obviously wrong, as it brought a strong $10,925. If this coin "works" for the dealer who bought it, it was a purchase, as a Mint State-60 to 61 example is worth $15,000+. If it stays in an AU-58 holder, it's a truly bad deal as it is worth $6,000+.
1880-CC: Lot 617, graded MS-61 by NGC. A really nice coin for the grade which I thought had a solid shot to grade MS-62. I bought it for $11,500. Unlike nearly every 1880-CC I have seen that was graded MS-60 or MS-61 by the services, this one was a real "BU" coin with no evidence of wear.
1881-CC: Lot 618, graded AU-58 by NGC. This was my favorite "sleeper" lot in the half eagle section. I thought it was a very high end MS-61 and easily one of the best I had ever seen. It brought a very strong $17,250; Trends is $13,250 in AU-58 and $20,000 in MS-61 while MS-60 Bid is $16,500. An expensive coin but well worth it.
1882-CC: Lot 619, uncertified due to having been cleaned. An ugly coin that was out of place among the other lovely half eagles in the Lang collection.
1883-CC: Lot 620, graded MS-61 by PCGS. I graded it an MS-62 but didn't like the noticeable scrape in the left obverse field. This coin brought $29,900, which I thought was among the strongest prices in the sale. MS-60 trends is $18,500 while MS-60 Bid is $14,500. This coin was purchased by a very smart dealer but I'm not exactly certain how he's going to make money on this purchase...
1884-CC: Lot 621, graded AU-55 by PCGS. I graded it AU-58 with no chance of being called Mint State. At least two people disagreed with me as this coin brought an incredible $11,500, which is nearly triple the current Trends listing of $4,500 in AU-55.
1890-CC: Lot 622, graded MS-65 by NGC. A really lovely gem example that was one of the nicest common date CC half eagles I have ever seen. It was bought back by the consignor at its opening bid of $14,000. I thought this coin was worth $20,000+ and regretted not buying it as soon as the lot closed.
1891-CC: Lot 623, graded MS-64 by NGC. Bid in MS-64 is $4,350 and this nice example sold for $4,083.
1892-CC: For some odd reason, there was no 1892-CC half eagle in this collection.
1893-CC: Lot 624, graded MS-64 by NGC. I haven't seen many better 1893-CC half eagles than this but I have a hard time getting excited by this date. It brought $14,950 which I thought was the right price considering its quality. Bid is $13,500 in MS-64.
EAGLES (through 1879)
1870-CC: Lot 625, graded EF-45 by NGC. This was the nicest EF example of this date that I have seen in a number of years. It brought $26,450, which is a strong price but not unreasonable when one considers how rare and undervalued this issue is. Bid is $18,000 in EF while Trends is $25,000 in EF-40.
1871-CC: Lot 626, graded MS-62 by NGC. This was one of my favorite coins in the sale. It was a superb, very high end coin with claims to an MS-63 grade and it is easily the finest known 1871-CC eagle. I bought it for $66,125 which I thought was good value given the rarity and quality that this one-of-a-kind coin represents.
1872-CC: Lot 627, graded AU-55 by PCGS. I graded this coin AU-58 and feel it is the finest known example of this rare date. It sold to a collector bidding on the phone for $41,400. This is a strong price but when one considers that this is a finest known coin that will probably never be improved on, it is hard to "overpay."
1873-CC: Lot 628, graded AU-53 by NGC. This coin was reserved for $24,000 and did not sell. A second example, Lot 629, was graded EF-45 by NGC and it brought a very strong $17,250 (Trends is $18,500 in EF-45). This coin will probably wind-up in an AU-50 or AU-53 holder but was not especially nice.
1874-CC: Lot 630, graded MS-64 by NGC. This was the highlight of the Lang collection eagles. It sold for $103,500 to the same dealer who had sold it to Mr. Lang in the mid-1990's. I thought this was a very strong price for this coin but would add that this is another coin, like many in this collection, that truly represents one-of-a-kind quality.
1875-CC: Lot 631, graded AU-53 by PCGS. I wasn't wild about this coin because of its abraded surfaces but did like its originality. It sold for $20,700. Quarterly Bid is $20,000 in AU-50. I consider this to be a strong price for the coin, as I recently sold a similar quality PCGS AU-53 to a collector for 20% less.
1876-CC: Lot 632, graded AU-58 by NGC. This coin was just a bit bright from a dipping but it was very "meaty" with quite a bit of luster visible. I bought it for $29,900 which I thought was a strong price but not out of line for a coin that was the third finest known example of a rare issue. Bid is $12,000 in AU and $45,000 in MS-60.
1877-CC: Lot 633, graded AU-55 by PCGS. I graded this coin AU-58 and consider it the second finest known example of a rare and very underrated issue. It sold for $24,150. At the sale, I thought it was expensive but upon reflection I think this was a good value for the collector who purchased it. Bid is $11,000 in AU (too low) and $40,000 in MS-60.
1878-CC: Lot 634, graded AU-55 by NGC. I graded this coin AU-58 and thought it was either the first or second finest that I had ever seen. It brought $19,550 which I thought was an extremely good value. Trends is $20,000 in AU-50 while Bid is $16,000 in AU. The extreme originality of this coin made it worth considerably more than these published levels.
1879-CC: Lot 635, graded AU-53 by PCGS. I graded this coin AU-53 to AU-55 and thought it was well above average for the date and grade. It sold for $25,300 which I thought was a very strong price, given the fact that Bid is $16,500 in AU.
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.