2011 Heat Index: What's Hot and What's Not

A popular feature of the www.raregoldcoins.com blog is the "what's hot and what's not" article that I write at the end of every year. As its the very end of what's been an interesting and active year, let's take a look at what was in demand in 2011 and what you, literally, couldn't give away. We'll look at a number of areas in the market and determine a "heat index" based on my personal experience in the 2011 coin market. 1. Gold Dollars. This was a mixed market area but overall it was fairly strong and in some cases it was very strong. The segments of the gold dollar market that were strongest were superb, one-of-a-kind Type One and Type Three issues (especially "wonder coins" graded MS68 and MS69) and very high quality Dahlonega issues (especially better dates such as the 1855-D, 1856-D, 1860-D and 1861-D). Areas that remained flat or trended downwards in 2011 include mid-level Uncirculated New Orleans pieces and San Francisco issues. The weakest segments of the gold dollar market included Gem common date Type Two issues and MS65 through MS67 common dates from the 1880's.

2. Quarter Eagles. Early quarter eagles were a strong area in the market. This was especially true for attractive, original coins in the EF40 to MS63 range that were priced at $50,000 and below. A few nice 1796 No Stars quarter eagles sold in 2011 and these generally saw prices that were higher than in the previous couple of years. Early quarter eagles priced at $100,000 and up remained hard to sell, unless they were either very rare or very nice or, ideally, a combination of the two.

The Liberty Head series saw mixed results in 2011. Nice circulated Dahlonega pieces were good sellers and even Charlotte coins, at least those in the $2,000-5,000 range, sold well if they possessed good eye appeal. The very high end of the market was strong. Ultra rare issues such as the 1841, 1854-S and 1863 all saw strong price increases in 2011. The surprise "trendy date" of the year was the 1864 which, in a short period of time, saw explosive price growth as collectors realized how rare it was.

Most quarter eagles dated 1870 and later remained hard to sell, even those with low mintages. There were a few exceptions (the low mintage 1875 became popular in 2011) but this seems like an area in the market that offers good growth potential for collectors with a budget of $1,000-5,000 per coin.

3. Three Dollars. After a rough patch of five or so years, the Three Dollar market showed more strength than I can remember. Buyers were fussy and coins that were not high end were hard to sell. The most popular dates included the 1854-D, 1855-S, 1861-1864 and the low mintage issues from the 1880's. Dates that were hard to sell included the 1854-O, 1865 and 1877. The rare Proof-only 1875 was a good seller while the not-as-rare Proof 1876 was harder to sell.

Prices on better dates in MS63 to MS65 have dropped to levels that make them prime for a promotion in the coming years. There are enough nice to very nice coins available (not factoring in common issues such as the 1854, 1874, 1878 and 1889) that I would not be surprised to see prices for nice coins rise.

4. Half Eagles. The market for early half eagles was very quality conscious in 2011. As an example, a common date early five such as an 1803/2 in AU55 to AU58 was worth 5-10% more if it were CAC-quality as opposed to the typical washed-out, unappealing example. The grade range that really began to see price separation due to quality was MS63 to MS64. There are early half eagles in MS63 holders that are hard to sell at $25,000; the exact same issue in the same grade with a CAC sticker and real eye appeal can be an easy sale at $30,000+.

The market for very rare early half eagles was hard to gauge in 2011 due to so few pieces trading. But in the Heritage 2012 FUN sale there is a superb date run of rare half eagles including an 1819, 1821, 1825/1, 1826, 1828, 1828/7 and both varieties of 1829. I expect these coins to bring record prices and the "heat" that they generate is likely to spread to the rare but more more obtainable dates of this era.

The Liberty Head half eagle market was generally good in 2011. The areas that were strongest include collector quality Dahlonega pieces, rare Civil War dates and high quality New Orleans issues. Areas that began to show some tentative strength included No Motto Philadelphia issues in AU and Mint State grades and rare but formerly unpopular low-mintage dates from the 1860's and 1870's. The market for Carson City half eagles in 2011 was mixed. There were not many nice coins on the market and the better dates that did sell only brought solid prices if they were very choice.

5. Eagles. While not everyone realizes this, eagles were probably the strongest denomination in the gold coin market in 2011. Nearly all areas were as stronger or stronger than in 2010 with the exception of early eagles (1795-1804) which remained off their market highs of a few years ago. But this statement needs to be clarified. Most of the early eagles that are offered for sale are very low end for the grade. Nice early eagles sell for 10-20% premiums over their low-end counterparts.

The Liberty Head eagle series came into its own in 2009 and since then, prices have been strong for choice examples of rare and low mintage dates. In my opinion, prices of rare, low mintages issues such as the 1863, 1864, 1865, 1872, 1873, 1876 and 1877 are still very low in comparison to less rare but more popular double eagles from this era.

The Carson City eagle market was similar to that described above for the half eagles. If a coin was choice and rare, it sold for a strong price. If it were just so-so, the price ranged from decent to slightly above average. But if a real "pig" was offered (and some of the CC eagles in holders are grossly overgraded) it might bring a distortingly low price. Collectors are urged to work closely with an informed specialist and to learn how to distinguish a choice, original piece from an overgraded low-end example.

6. Double Eagles. For the last five years, the Liberty Head double eagle market has seen an inexorable march upwards in price. In the second half of 2011, this area of the market seemed to weaken a bit, probably due as much to the steep rise in bullion prices as a natural correction.

The always-popular Type One market softened a bit but remained strong. CAC approved coins brought good premiums, especially for issues like the rarer New Orleans mint coins where eye appeal was a real concern. Premiums for rare shipwreck coins remained very strong in 2011. If an S.S. Central America, Brother Jonathan or S.S. Republic coin that had a population of just a few coins was available at auction it brought many multiples of a non-shipwreck coin's price.

The Type Two market was a bit stronger than in the last past few years. The market for common dates in MS62 through MS64 dropped rather significantly but scarcer dates (such as the 1868, 1869, 1870 and 1871) rose in AU and Uncirculated.

The bullion-related Type Three issues and the condition rarity market declined in 2011 but the market for truly rare issues (1881-1886 and 1891 Philadelphia) was strong.

7. Proof Gold. This was a strong area of the market in 2011 and part of the reason was a greater supply of choice coins than in recent memory. Strong prices were seen at the Heritage 2011 FUN sale where the Henry Miller collection, which contained dozens of superb rare date Proofs, brought very strong prices. Coins that were in demand include very low mintage issues and virtually all pre-1880 half eagles, eagles and, especially double eagles.

8. 20th Century Gold. The various 20th century series saw a mixed year in 2011. Common date generic issues saw significant shrinking in premiums over spot and in some series, coins were trading for tiny premiums.

A series that was stagnant in 2011 but which is primed for attention is the St. Gaudens double eagle. The upcoming sale of the Dr. Steve Duckor collection, to be sold by Heritage next week in their FUN auction, includes many very choice, very rare issues which are likely to bring record prices. This may not necessarily impact lower quality examples of these dates but it will clearly bring a lot of attention to a series that has been flat since the Morse Collection sale of 2005.

A series that seemed to be quietly attracting collector and investor attention in 2011 was the Indian Head eagle. I only handled a few interesting Indian Head eagles in 2011 but the coins I did own sold quickly and generally to smart dealers.

All in all, I look at 2011 as being a good year for the rare gold coin market. Not a great year but certainly a stronger one than 2009 or 2010. It was a year that rarity and originality became more in vogue. It was a year that soaring bullion prices were a big story during the first three-quarters. My firm DWN had an excellent year in 2011 and I am personally excited about the coming year and what it will bring.