If you are a collector of rare date gold, you have probably noticed that there are distinct patterns of availability. In other words, certain coins may go from very unavailable to available over the course of time due to a number of reasons. How available are certain types of coins right now? Knowing the availability of a specific series is important when making a decision to collect it. If the coins aren't there, you can't buy them. Let's take a look at each denomination and conclude if now is a good time to start (or not to start) a collection.
Gold Dollars: This is a good time to start a collection of gold dollars. In the past year or two, I have noticed a number of choice, interesting examples of all three types for sale in grades ranging from Extremely Fine to Gem Uncirculated.
The demand for Type One gold dollars has increased in the last few years but there still seem to be some interesting coins on the market. Philadelphia examples are plentiful in all grades. Charlotte and Dahlonega issues are less available and a few dates (1850-C and 1850-D, 1854-D) remain extremely hard to locate above AU55.
Type Two dollars seem to be in abundant supply but this is misleading as most of the available coins are Philadelphia issues from 1854 and 1855. I find that high grade branch mint Type Two dollars are less available than in the past but not enough so to dissuade a collector for starting to collect them.
Type Three dollars also seem plentiful right now with some very interesting coins having been available (or coming available). But a few of the tougher issues are hard to find right now; most notably the 1861-D which is more popular than I can ever remember. I've also noticed a real shortage of San Francisco Type Three dollars in MS63 and above. Again, this shortage would not be enough to dissuade my from recommending a Type Three set right now.
Quarter Eagles: The availability of this denomination depends on what you are looking for.
Early quarter eagles have always been hard to find but I can't remember a time when the supply has been more dry than it is now in the Winter of 2012. As someone who is a major buyer in this area, I can tell you that the coins just aren't there right. I still love early quarter eagles but the lack of availability is a little frustrating for me and the collectors who I supply.
A few years ago, you could find semi-available early quarter eagles easily; coins like an 1830 in AU55. Now, these seem to be extremely hard to find. I don't attribute this to them being many times more popular than they were a few years. Where are these coins? I'm not certain that I know the answer.
If a deep pocketed collector wished to have begun a Finest Known or Condition Census collection of Liberty Head quarter eagles, he could have purchased some great coins in the past year. I have personally purchased at least ten finest known or close-to-finest examples in the last year and know of other coins that have been offered privately that would make great additions to great collections.
But this series has been well represented in collector grades as well. There are a few better dates that have not been available of late but I'd still say that it remains an excellent time to be a collector of Liberty Head quarter eagles.
Three Dollars: If you were thinking of collecting this series, your timing is great. There are some wonderful Threes on the market right now and many are at price levels that haven't been seen since the early 2000's.
There are still some dates in this series that haven't been readily available. Some of the ones that come to mind are the 1855-S, 1857-S, 1860-S and 1865. And the rare Proof-only 1875 actually seems a bit less available right now than it was a few years ago.
Bottom line: if you like high quality Threes, this is a good time to begin a set.
Half Eagles: The current availability of early half eagles is very odd. There is a real lack of coins in the VF-EF range and the reason i obvious: they are scarce to begin with and the few nice coins tend to be bought by collectors who will own them long-term. The AU graded early half eagles that used to be plentiful (I could count on buying three or four a month) now seem very hard to find, especially if they are CAC-quality. In Uncirculated, early half eagles remain relatively available but the quality is spotty. Non-CAC coins in the MS60 to MS63 range tend to be available at auction but nice, original examples that are realistically priced sell quickly and are hard to find right now.
The availabilty of Liberty Head half eagles has been helped by the fresh Helem and Littlejohn deals that entered the market in February. I doubt if many of the better coins will hit the secondary market and collectors remain starved for nice examples of rare issues from Philadelphia and San Francisco.
The market for Charlotte and Dahlonega half eagles is good with the latter clearly being stronger than the former. Are good coins available? If you are searching for nice pieces in the collector grade range, I'd say "yes." If you are are looking for finest known or high quality Uncirculated pieces I'd say "not often" for Dahlonega and "from time to time" for Charlotte. I'd certainly recommend beginning a collection now of either mint's half eagles given the current availability.
New Orleans half eagles are another story. Condition Census examples have become exceptionally hard to find and it would be very frustrating beginning a high grade collection right now. Dates like the 1846-O, 1851-O, 1855-O and 1856-O have become extremely hard to find in nice AU grades, let alone in Uncirculated.
Eagles: Of the seven denominations of gold coins struck by the U.S. mint (not including Stellas) the ten dollar gold piece or eagle is probably the most challenging to collect. It's never been easy to put together a set of Liberty Head eagles. Right now, it's tougher than I can ever remember with prices for the rarer issues shooting upwards.
I felt like a dinosaur at the recent Littlejohn sale as I sat through lot after lot of rare ten dollar gold pieces and was blown away by the prices. This isn't all that much different from a decade+ ago when double eagles increased in price dramatically in what seemed like a short period of time. I see the same thing happening with eagles right now.
The issues that appear to have increased the most are the ones that appear for sale the least. This seems obvious but formerly hard-to-sell coins like Philadelphia eagles from the 1860-1877 era and nearly any pre-1880 San Francisco eagle suddenly appear to have gained some popularity as long as they are high end for the grade.
Would I suggest that a DWN client begin a set of Liberty Head eagles right now? I would but it would be with hesitation. I'm not certain if the next EF-45+ 1873 eagle that becomes available will be worth over $40,000 and I wouldn't feel comfortable suggesting to a client of mine that one is worth anywhere near this. But there are still good values in this denomination. The collector of eagles will have to be more careful now than before to make certain he is getting good value.
Double Eagles: Despite a strong collector base, the availability of good Type One double eagles has been excellent in the last year or so. This holds true for both the relatively common dates and the rarities. In fact, other than the 1854-O, I have handled every rare Type One issue multiple times during the last year and have seen at least three or four 1856-O double eagles sell in the last year or two. The issues that still do not turn up that often in higher grades include the 1854-S (with non-seawater surfaces), 1859-O, 1860-S and 1866-S No Motto.
The Type Two market seems to have picked up in the last year and I think that part of the reason for this is the availability of good coins. I've been pretty surprised at how many 1870-CC double eagles have been available since, say, 2010. I can think of at least five or six that have been available and the finest known was discovered (and then stolen) within the last year.
If a collector wanted to begin a collection of Type Three double eagles, I believe he would find good examples of many better dates. But the Big Five Philadelphia issues (1881, 1882, 1885, 1886 and 1891) remain very hard to locate with good eye appeal and surfaces.
If you have any more questions about the availability of what you want to collect, please feel free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org