It's been a few years since I've written in depth about the Type One double eagle market. But in double eagle time "a few years" is equal to a considerable amount of time when compared to other less popular series. This is a changing, dynamic market which continues to impress me with its demand for coins and its ability to attract collectors with budgets ranging from medium to jumbo.
Let's take a look at the 18 Philadelphia issues and see what's happened to the market in the last three to five years, where it is headed and what my feelings are about the pros and cons of each issue. I'm going to focus on two grades in this article: AU58, due to the relative affordability of these coins versus Uncirculated examples and MS62, due to the fact that this is usually the "best available grade" for Philadelphia Type One issues.
1850: This numismatically significant issue is the first double eagle from the Philadelphia mint. Many years ago, I strongly pushed this date and felt it was well undervalued. In 2013, I think it is actually sort of pricey in comparison to other comparable Type One issues, particularly in AU58 and higher grades.
The 1850 has been readily available of late in EF45 to AU55 grades and I wonder if some sort of hoard hasn't hit the market as I don't recall this issue being this easy to locate in the past. Two grades that I find interesting for this date are AU58 and MS62.
Around three to five years ago, it was possible to buy a decent-looking 1850 double eagle in AU58 for $6,000-7,000. Today, the same coin will cost $8,000-10,000 and I think a really choice PCGS coin with CAC approval could bring $11,000+. To me, this seems like a lot of money for such a coin.
Three to five years ago, an MS62 1850 double eagle would be a $22,000-25,000 coin. Today, if you can even find one, an 1850 in this grade will run $32,500-35,000. Given the relative unavailability of this date in grades higher than this, a nice MS62 actually seems like better value than an AU58 (!)
I continue to buy this date but I am very selective. I avoid any 1850 which is not choice and original and tend to purchase coins which grade EF45 to AU50 (as good introductory pieces for new collectors) or great quality MS62's (for deep-pocketed date or type collectors).
1851: The 1851 is actually a harder coin to find than the 1850 but it doesn't get the recognition that its predecessor does. It remains very easy to find in grades up to AU55 but it has becomes harder to locate in AU58. As with nearly any non-shipwreck Type One, properly graded Mint State coins are rare.
Three to five years ago, it was possible to buy quantities of AU58 1851 double eagles for around $2,500 per coin. Today, so-so AU58's sell in the $4,000-4,250 range and nice CAC-quality piece can run as high as $5,000-5,500. A wholesome, original "slider" at five thousand bucks still seems to me to be comparatively good value and I will buy anyone one I see for my inventory.
MS62 and finer examples of the 1851 have all but disappeared. None have sold at auction since November 2011 and I think a fresh, original PCGS example with CAC approval could bring $16,000 or more if offered today. Given that the market for this coin was in the $11,000-13,000 three to five years ago, I think this remains an excellent value.
1852: The 1852 is now probably the single most available Type One Philadelphia double eagle. It used to be similar in availability to the 1851 but I see it more often.
In Heritage's 8/12 sale, an auction record was set for this date when a PCGS MS64 with CAC approval brought a robust $82,250. What's really impressive about this price is the fact that the exact same coin sold for $35,650 in a Bowers and Merena auction for $35,650 in 9/08. Nice return on investment for a four year hold, no?
AU58 examples of this date have shown the same price growth as described above for the 1851. You are now looking at $4,000-5,000 for an AU58 depending on quality (still a fair number, in my opinion) against a former value of $2,500-3,000 around three to five years ago. I'm still fine with buying these.
1853: While inevitably lumped with the 1851 and 1852, I find this date to be harder to locate than the 1852 but easier to locate than the 1851. It is clearly the rarest of the three in higher grades and it is nearly impossible to find above MS62.
In AU58, the 1853 is currently selling in the $4,000-5,000 range as compared to $2,250-2,750 five years ago. An MS62 would bring $14,000-16,000 if available and this is not much more than what a comparable coin would have sold for five years ago. Given this fact, I'd personally look for a nice Uncirculated example, especially given the fact that this date is all but unknown in MS63 and above.
1853/"2": You'll note that I placed italics around the 2 in the date; PCGS does this as well and this is because many researchers question whether this variety is actually an overdate. I personally do not and here's why: the major diagnostic on this variety (a die dot below the RT in LIBERTY) is seen on at least one other obverse which is clearly not an overdate...or even a recut date for that matter.
AU58 examples of this date may been relatively flat over the last three to five years although the last two or three that I have seen have garnered prices around $17,000; three to five years ago the same coins might have sold in the $13,000-15,000 range.
Despite this variety's low population in MS61, prices have stayed flat since 2005. In June 2010, a PCGS MS61 sold at auction for $34,500 while in February 2007, a coin in the same grade/same holder realized $37,950. To me, this is the market basically stating that $35,000 is a lot of money for a coin which might not even be an overdate. And I agree.
1854 Small Date: This is the more common of the two varieties of double eagle made at the Philadelphia mint in 1854. It is significantly scarcer than the 1851, 1852 or 1853.
Nice AU58's used to be available with some degree of regularity but they have become harder to find, especially if they are CAC-quality. You are looking at a $4,500-5,500 coin, depending on holder and appearance. I think these are great values. Three to five years ago they were 2,500-3,000.
In MS62, this is an extremely scarce date and prices have remained surprisingly static. In the current market, an average quality MS62 is worth $15,000-17,500; not all that much more than the same coin would have sold for three to five years ago.
Time to interject an observation. For the most part, Type Ones from Philadelphia have performed really well over the last three to five years in AU58. They haven't done that well in MS62; a grade that represents true rarity for most of these issues. I think this has to do with the fact that 58 coins have traded with some regularity while 62's are rare enough that they don't trade often. This may continue to be the case in the future but I think the MS62 coins are a great investment for the collector with a large budget.
1854 Large Date: As recently as a decade ago, there was some question as to whether this variety would be accepted by serious collectors but it clearly has and today the 1854 Large Date is ranked as the third rarest Type One from this mint after the 1859 and the 1862.
The 1854 Large Date is virtually unknown in Uncirculated but it is offered for sale from time to time in AU58. An example in this grade now trades in the $20,000-25,000 range. Five years ago, the same coin might have fetched $16,000-18,000.
I think this variety has a good amount of growth potential in the AU53 to AU55 range. Three to five years ago, a nice quality example might have been available for $7,000-9,000; today this coin is $9,000-11,000. But one must remember that the price spread between a 53 and a 58 is now close to 2.5x which means that the typical collector will shy away from the 58 and seek a nice 53.
1855: The 1855 and the three issues which follow it (1856, 1857 and 1858) are all what I would describe as "slightly scarce" issues. The 1856 is the rarest, followed by the 1855, 1858 and 1857. Of these four, the 1855 is by far the hardest to find in high grades.
Three to five years ago, the 1855 double eagle was not recognized as a scarce issue in AU58 and I can recall buying decent examples for $3,500. Today, an average quality AU58 will cost in excess of $5,000 and a PCGS/CAC example could bring over $6,000. In my opinion, these are still good values and I would buy everyone I could find.
In MS62, this date is extremely rare and none have sold at auction since early 2005. So, MS61 is about as nice as this date comes. In 2013, a nice quality 1855 in this grade would sell for $16,000-18,000+. Five years ago, this coin might only bring $10,000-12,000.. I would not be surprised to see a similar increase in price for MS61's over the next five years as this date is in strong demand.
1856: I'd sort of like to take credit for "discovering" this date but there were other people looking for nice quality 1856 double eagles as far back as a decade or two ago. It remains a very hard issue to find in the higher AU grades and a rare coin in Uncirculated. The population figure shown by PCGS seem to me to be inflated as there are 14 in MS61 and 8 in MS62 but far fewer auction records than one might assume for a date with a population as high as suggested by PCGS.
A nice quality AU58 will cost in the $5,500-6,000 range and a PCGS coin with CAC approval could bring more. Five years ago, a high end 58 was worth around $4,000-4,500. Given how popular this date has become, it seems to me to be good value at current levels.
No nice Uncirculated 1856-P double eagle has sold at auction since a PCGS MS61 appeared in April 2011. Given the paucity of appearances and given the potentially strong demand for a nice piece if it became available, I'd be ready to pay a record-setting price for any 1856 double eagle graded MS61 or better should one become available.
1857: As I mentioned above, the 1857 is the most available of the 1855-1858 Philadelphia double eagles. It remains fairly affordable, even in higher grades, but it has performed well over the last five years.
I have sold a number of 1857 double eagles in AU58 over the past few months and I can't recall having ever priced a PCGS/CAC example at more than $4,250-4,500. Five years ago, I would have priced a similar quality example for $2,500-3,000. I think this date remains a good value in properly graded AU58.
No 1857-P double eagle graded MS62 has sold at auction since early 2006 and I haven't handled one in close to three years. An MS61 is still worth less than $10,000 and I would personally have no problem recommending a nice MS61 at, say, $8,500 or $9,000 to a collector.
1858: This date seems to have become a bit more available in circulated grades than I recall it being three to five years ago. That said, nice AU58 coins are harder to locate than before and Mint State pieces are rarely offered any more.
The price performance seen for this date has actually been better than that for the 1855 and 1856, despite it being far less scarce. In today's market, a nice AU58 example will sell for $4,750-5,250. Five years ago, it was possible to find AU58's for $2,750-3,000.
Remember the comments I made above on the population figures for the 1857 in MS61 and MS62? The same holds true for the 1858. The PCGS figures make this date appear to be somewhat available but it is actually almost never offered. No MS62's have been sold since 2005 and just a handful of MS61's. An average quality MS61, if available, would sell in the $13,000-16,000 range; five years ago it would bring $9,000-11,000. For the money, I'd personally rather have a nice 1855 or 1856.
1859: This is my favorite sleeper date in the Philadelphia Type One series and I have watched demand for this issue soar in the last few years. Despite significant price increases, I still think a nice mid-range AU 1859 is a good value.
In AU55, an 1859 double eagle is a $10,000 coin, give or take a few bucks. This isn't actually that much more than this date was bringing in this grade five years ago. The difference is that I could sell ten of these in AU55 for $10,000 today; five years ago this would have been a big stretch for most collectors.
I just set a record price for the 1859 in AU58 when I paid $23,500 for a PCGS/CAC AU58 in the March 2013 Stacks Bowers auction. This was by far the best AU58 I'd seen and I though the coin had better eye appeal than most of the MS60 to MS61's of this date. An average quality AU58 would sell for $15,000 or so today; five years ago it might bring $11,000-13,000 to a savvy collector.
I still love this date and I will continue to support it at higher price points.
1860: This date has performed well in AU58. Today, a nice example will sell for $3,750-4,250. Five years ago, you could find similar quality pieces for $2,750-3,000.
In MS62, the 1860 remains a very scarce date although it is more available than the 1855-1858 issues. If you can find one, an MS62 is going to cost $10,000-12,000. Five years ago, this would have been an $8,000-9,000 coin.
1861: Before the SSCA shipwreck made the 1857-S so common, the 1861 was the most available Type One from any mint. It remains available in AU58 but it seems to have come one of those "when you really need one you can't find them" issues.
Five years ago, you could find nice AU58's for $2,000-2,500 and they weren't easy to sell. Today, these coins are sold to a more enthusiastic Type One market and to Civil War date collectors for $3,500-4,000. I don't necessarily love the value of these at $4,000 a pop but hats off to the smart collectors who put these away at $2,250.
This date hasn't done as well in MS62 but it has certainly appreciated in the last three to five years. Today, it is a $7,000-9,000 coin. Five years ago it was a $5,000-6,000 coin. While I don't love the value of an AU58 at $4,000 I really think a properly graded MS61 at, say $8,000 seems like a good deal.
1862: This remains the rarest Type One from this mint and the level of demand for the 1862 has soared. I used to handle one every month or two; now I'm lucky to buy one or two each years.
As you might expect, this date has performed really well over the last few years. If you want to own a nice AU55, you are going to have to step up and pay in the $17,500-20,000 range. Five years ago, I was still buying this date in AU55 for $10,000-12,500. AU58's have risen in price to $25,000; five years ago if I paid $17,500 for one most people would have thought I was crazy.
With no Uncirculated examples having sold at auction since December 2009 (and whoever bought this coin for $32,200 should take a bow because you ripped it...) I shudder to think what a nice, fresh MS62 would bring today. Loved this date ten years ago, love it today.
1863: After some nice 1863 double eagles were found in the SS Republic shipwreck, I though the price of this date would get wrecked. Wrong. The 1863, which remains a scarce, popular Civil war issue, has done very well in the last few years.
I've handled three nice AU58 1863 double eagles in the last year and my average cost has been around $15,000 each. Five years ago, I was able to buy comparable examples for $11,000-12,000.
The 1863 has remained strangely unavailable in MS62 and higher grades. For even the most advanced collector, a nice MS61 would be a great find. If one were to become available, I think it would bring at least $32,500-35,000. Five years ago, an 1863 in MS61 was probably a $25,000 coin.
1864: The 1864 is more available than the 1862 and 1863 Philly issues but far more scarce than the 1865. I have some serious questions about the PCGS/NGC population figures for higher grade coins as this date does not seem to appear at auction with the frequency that one might expect. As an example, PCGS shows that 15 have been graded in MS61 but none have appeared since June 2008.
This date seems a little pricey to me in AU58 at its current value of $7,500-8,500+ but a little research reveals that pieces were bringing $6,000-7,000 at auction as far back as 2006.
Uncirculated examples of this date have no recent records. A small group of nice MS62 from the S.S. Republic sold for $25,000+ in April 2005 and it would be interesting to see what they would fetch today.
1865: This is a date which was clearly affected by the discovery of numerous nice, high grade pieces in the S.S. Republic. Five years ago, high grade 1865 double eagles were virtually unknown; in the last year I have owned at least a half dozen grading MS62 to MS64.
In AU58, the price performance of this date has not been impacted as much as I would have expected. Today, a nice AU58 1865 trades in the $4,500-5,500 range. Five years ago, the same coin was trading for $2,500-3,000.
Before I did some price research for this article, I expected that levels had dropped on MS62's of this date due to the many newly graded pieces which have entered the market. This hasn't been the case. Today, an MS62 sells for $15,000-17,000. Five years ago, a similar coin would have brought in the area of $12,000-14,000.
This is actually one of the few Type One dates I'd caution buyers against in MS62. The current NGC population is 57 in this grade with 211 higher (!) and, for the money, I'd rather have a date like an 1857 or an 1858 in MS61 to MS62.
The overall state of the market for Philadelphia Type One double eagles is better in early 2013 than at nearly any point which I can recall. Prices have shown a nice amount of appreciation, the number of new collectors has increased and the rosier economic picture means that people are less hesitant to buy expensive coins than they might have been in 2008-2009. Despite this, I think a compelling point can be made for calling many of the Philadelphia issues undervalued in nearly all grades, especially AU58 and MS62.
Do you want more information on Type One double eagles? I would be happy to answer your specific questions, and maybe even sell you a coin or two. Contact me via email at email@example.com.