While doing some research for a new article on the State of the Market of Charlotte Gold (which will be posted on my website on either the 5th or the 6th of September), I thought of an interesting question which applies to any buyer of rare date gold coins. What area of the market has been the best investment in the past decade? As those of you who know me realize, I am not a big advocate of rare coins as an investment. But I am enough of a pragmatist to realize that it is important for any person, no matter how much of a true collector he is, to feel that his rare coin purchases are going to appreciate in value over the course of time.
So, I decided to do a little research project, of which the parameters are as follows: A collector had $10,000 to spend on Charlotte gold coinage in 1996. Would he have done better buying a number of cheaper coins or should he have put all of his eggs in one basket and bought a single big-ticket item? To conduct this project, I’ve decided to use the Redbook as my pricing guide (don’t turn up your nose; the Redbook is actually a surprisingly good pricing source—take a look at the list of contributors and see whose input is being used for gold coinage). I’ve also decided that only PCGS/NGC graded coins can be used in the sample, for the sake of ease and consistency.
Hypothetical collector #1 decided that he was going to purchase coins graded EF40 and EF45 in 1996. According to the 1997 edition of the Redbook (which would have been the most current available edition in 1996), common date Charlotte quarter eagles were valued at $900-1,100 in EF40. So let’s use an average price of $1,000 per coin and say that our collector bought 5 coins with an aggregate cost of $5,000.
This collector also decided to purchase some common date Charlotte half eagles. According to the Redbook, these were valued at $1,200-1,500 in EF40. Let’s use an average price of $1,300 and say that our collector bought four coins with an aggregate cost of $5,200. This would have brought the total cost of his holdings to $10,200.
Hypothetical collector #2 decided to purchase one single “big coin” and focused on a common date Charlotte half eagle in MS60. According to the 1997 Redbook, an 1847-C (the most common date of this denomination in higher grades) had a value of $10,000.
Both collectors put their coins away for a decade and in 2006 decided they were ready to sell. Who did better?
According to the 2007 edition of the Redbook, a common date Charlotte quarter eagle has a value of $2,200 in EF40; a figure which is very accurate in today’s market, in my opinion. This makes our collector’s five coins worth an estimated $11,000. An EF40 common date Charlotte half eagle has a value of $2,500. Our collector owns four of these and the quartet is now worth an estimated $10,000. This brings the total value of his $10,000 investment to an estimated $21,000.
(There is, of course, one other factor to consider. The chances are reasonably good that if he purchased his nine coins in 1996 from a reasonably good dealer, at least half of the coins would upgrade in today’s more liberal grading environment. Factoring in another 30% for these upgrades—a number which might actually be conservative—this collector’s holdings are now valued at around $27,000).
The 2007 Redbook states that the value of an 1847-C half eagle in MS60 has risen to $13,000. But, unlike the Redbook’s EF40 valuations which are quite accurate, this figure seems pretty high to me. I think the actual value of an 1847-C half eagle in MS60 is more like $8,000.
Let’s assume that this collector bought a nice MS60 back in 1996 and he gets his coin upgraded to MS61 when he resubmits it to PCGS or NGC. In my opinion, an MS61 1847-C half eagle is worth $8,500-9,500; possibly a little bit more if it is a nice coin for the grade.
So which collector did better from a financial standpoint? Clearly, it was the person who purchased the group of nine EF coins. His investment of $10,000 at least doubled and possibly tripled if he was lucky with his upgrading. The collector who purchased the one MS60 half eagle did very poorly. In fact, his original investment of $10,000 is probably worth less than this today.
I think that a few conclusions can be reached from this somewhat unscientific price study.
1. In the area of branch mint gold, the best performers in the past decade have been the collector-quality issues. By collector quality, I am referring to affordable coins in the VF and EF grade range. These have the strongest level of demand because they are the most affordable examples of these coins.
2. Not all high grade branch mint gold performed poorly in the past decade but off quality pieces (and most branch mint gold graded MS60 is generally on the low end of the eye appeal spectrum) are actually worth less today than they were in 1997.
3. Making a decision to start an EF set of Charlotte or Dahlonega gold coinage is much more difficult in 2006 than it was a decade ago. The reasons for this are fairly simple. Firstly, most of the “real” EF coins are now in AU50 or AU53 holders. Secondly, many of the nice EF coins are currently owned by active collectors who do not wish to sell them, given the fact that they know such coins are very hard to replace.