As recently as five years ago, most of the rare date gold coins that I sold were from the Southern branch mints; pieces from Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans. But today, these coins make up a smaller percentage of my inventory and my sales. I now find myself making a market in coins that I formerly considered very difficult--if not impossible--to sell. What are these "back from the dead" coins and why are they suddenly popular? The Poster Children for impossible-to-sell rare date gold coins used to be expensive Philadelphia and San Francisco issues from the late 1850's, 1860's and early 1870's. These coins have now garnered a small but growing following. After years of being unsalable they can now find homes BUT only if they a) are choice for the grade and have good eye appeal (CAC verification helps) b) are larger denomination coins (a half eagle or larger) and c) are either low mintage issues or are from the Civil War era.
I was going to add one more point: relating to price. But the more that I think about it, the more I realize that the "right" coin of this type doesn't necessarily have to be affordable (i.e., below $10,000). In fact, I can now sell $25,000 or $50,000 coins that I regarded as formerly illiquid if they have one thing going for them.
And that's rarity.
Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about. A few weeks ago, I bought an 1874 half eagle in PCGS MS62. It was a great coin: fundamentally rare, beautiful, and very low population. A few years ago, this is a coin that I would have passed on by rationalizing that "it was cool but how could I possibly sell it?" But I took a chance on it because it was a coin that I thought "if I was a collector, I'd want this coin in my collection."
Within three hours of posting the coin on my website, I had four serious inquiries about it. Two of the inquiries were from collectors who are working on sets of Liberty Head half eagles. But the other two were from collectors who liked the concept of this coin. It wasn't cheap (around $15,000). But it was the second or third finest known of probably no more than five or six that exist in Uncirculated and it was a coin that is actually pretty rare in all grades. In comparison to Southern branch mint, a coin like this nice Uncirculated 1874 half eagle suddenly seems like a heckuva deal.
So why are coins like this becoming more popular?
I have a few theories. Here are a few of them.
1. Trends Has Come Down. In the past, Trends was too high on some of these coins. Certain Trends values have come down, in some cases substantially, making these coins look like better values at the new, lower numbers.
2. Rarity Is In Vogue. For a number of reasons, new collectors are more attracted to really rare coins than common coins in uncommon grades. A coin like, say, an 1862 half eagle or an 1863 eagle is really rare in any grade and this appeals to this new, sophisticated breed of collector/investor.
3. Half Eagles and Eagles Are Being Collected by Date. Both the Liberty Head half eagle and eagle series are now being seriously collected by date. This makes certain formerly unpopular semi-key issues (I'll throw out one as an example: the 1876-S half eagle) more popular if the coin is right.
4. Auction Prices Are Nutty. When you see auction prices like an 1875 eagle in PCGS AU53+ for $345,000 this drives the market. It suddenly becomes a lot easier to sell an 1862 eagle in nice AU55.
5. Collectors Crave Value. "Value" is the new mantra of the coin market. Collectors seek coins that have price levels that make sense. The factors that I listed above combine to make coins like 1864 half eagles or 1867-S half eagles seem like good deals.
6. Not All These Coins Have Been Ruined. Something that has hurt the Southern gold market is the relative unavailability of choice, original coins. Certain P+S mint issues have been spared the processing/doctoring that has beseiged C+D gold due to their relative obscurity.
So does this mean that I am done with Southern branch mint coins and, from now on, want to be known as Mr. P Mint half eagle? Certainly not; I love Southern coins and will continue to specialize in them. But I do note a renewed interest in non-Southern coins and I think that this is excellent for the overall health of the rare date gold coin market.