nother Long Beach week has come and gone and this February’s version provided some interesting insights into the current state of the rare coin market. For me, the week began with attending the Goldberg auction in Beverly Hills. This sale contained quite a bit of rare gold coinage, including extensive runs of early half eagles, numerous high grade Charlotte and Dahlonega gold coinage and some impressive double eagles.
I thought that the overall results of this sale were mixed. The early gold coinage was stronger than I expected with the coins consistently bringing 10-20% over current market values. I found that buyers weren’t hugely picky as, in a number of cases, coins that were substandard for the grade did not sell for much of a discount versus examples that were high end.
An area that definitely saw buyer discrimination was Charlotte and Dahlonega issues. The Goldberg sale contained a host of coins in the MS60 to MS62 grade range which had problems. Nearly all were passed on by bidders but attractive, medium priced pieces brought strong prices. It seems that there are still a number of overgraded, unoriginal coins overhanging this market and until some of these go away, they will drag down the desirability of the nice coins with them.
Liberty Head double eagles continued to be very popular. A number of bidders at the Goldberg sale paid strong prices for Type I and Type II issues. As expected, New Orleans pieces led the way but I saw surprising strength in the Philadelphia and San Francisco areas as well. In Type Three issues, some of the nice, high grade Carson City double eagles in the sale brought very strong prices.
I found the Long Beach coin show itself to be among the slowest editions of this convention that I have attended in years. I go to shows primarily to buy coins and I was extremely disappointed by the near-total lack of interesting material at the show. I looked at box after box of dealer’s coins and was routinely left shaking my head wondering where all the interesting coins were. Overall, I spent around one-quarter the amount of what I spent at the FUN show which I regard as one of the best buying shows I’ve ever had. Click here to see a full list of all my new purchases with images and descriptions as well.
A curious trend at the show saw the bottom falling out of the generic gold market; despite the fact that bullion is as strong as it as been for years. Buyers could purchase VF and EF Liberty Head double eagles at melt levels and it was possible to buy the same coins in MS62 holders for only a $20-30 premium over spot; essentially melt plus slabbing fees. I mostly attribute this to cash flow problems with many of the larger market makers in the generic gold market. While I hesitate to make investment recommendations, generic gold seems like an interesting play right now with premiums as low as they have been in some time.
The highlight of the Heritage sale was a fresh-to-the-market 1854-S quarter eagle graded EF45 which sold for a record price of $345,000. As many of you know, the 1854-S is an issue which I have championed for many years and I have had the good fortune to sell three of them in my career. It is interesting to quickly recap the ascendancy of this issue into the status of Classic American Gold Rarity.
In the October 1999 Bass II sale the probable finest known example of this issue brought $137,500 which was, by a considerable margin, a record price but which, in my opinion, was still cheap for a coin which, by all rights, should be considered one of the most significant of all 19th century United States gold coins. This piece was resold a few years later in the $175,000-185,000 range. Then, around a year and a half ago, I purchased the second finest known (graded EF45 by NGC) for a record price of $253,000. This clearly raised the bar for the 1854-S and I remember a number of savvy dealers complimenting me after the auction for what they thought was a great purchase. Even after the new record price realized at the Heritage sale, I still think the 1854-S is undervalued in relation to other comparable rarities.
The market for New Orleans gold coinage seems as strong as I can remember it. Many of the bread and butter issues that I like to buy (such as 1888-O eagles in MS62 or 1893-O half eagles in MS62) were completely missing from dealer’s inventories and this makes me feel that a number of marketers are now selling these “introductory O mints” to their clients.
There are two significant shows in March (Baltimore and Charlotte) and I expect these to be excellent indicators of exactly where the market will be heading as we slide into the second quarter of the year.