No Motto Philadelphia Half Eagles and Eagles: A New-Found Appreciation

A few months ago, I decided to start focusing more on No Motto half eagles and eagles from the Philadelphia mint than I had in the past. Formerly, I had sort of pooh-poohed these coins as being “boring” but the more I’ve studied these series, the more I think they may be one of the true Final Frontiers of the rare date gold market. As a buyer, one of my major criteria for making a purchase is the fundamental rarity of a coin. By this, I am referring to the availability of a coin in all grades. Virtually all Charlotte and Dahlonega gold has a good degree of fundamental rarity, meaning that a specific issue is hard to locate in any grade, not just in Gem. This isn’t the case with No Motto Philadelphia half eagles and eagles. Or is it?

The more I began to study these two series, the more I realized that many of the issues that I formerly thought were common in circulated grades were just not as available as I presumed. Let’s say that I decided that I was going to promote Philadelphia eagles from the 1840’s in AU grades. If these coins were as available as I had felt, I probably would be able to accumulate fifty or even a hundred coins over the course of a six month period; certainly enough to make the promotion worthwhile.

You can probably guess where this is going. I did make a decision to do this very promotion and after searching for nice, crusty coins in the AU55 to AU58 range I was able to come up with exactly eight pieces. And this is after five months of pretty intensive searching. Given the fact that my per-coin cost basis was in the $1,000 range, I became more and more intrigued. Clearly, my epic promotion wasn’t going to happen. But in the course of planning it, I became smitten by No Motto half eagles and eagles from the Philadelphia mint.

Let me give you a couple of reasons why I think these coins are interesting:

1. There are no true “stoppers.” Virtually every branch mint series has a few issues that are extremely rare and expensive. In the Philadelphia No Motto half eagles from the 1840’s and the 1850’s, there are no impossible coins. In fact, with the exception of a small number of coins (1842 Small Letters half eagle, 1858 eagle) nearly all of the issues can be found in either the very high circulated grades or even in Uncirculated.

2. The per-coin cost basis in these series is far lower than for branch mint issues. If you want to collect Dahlonega half eagles in AU grades, every coin you buy is going to cost at least $3,000-4,000. You can purchase many of the more available Philadelphia half eagles for around $1,000 per coin and many of the eagles are $1,250-1,500 each in very presentable condition.

3. For someone like myself who loves choice, original coins there are a lot more nice Philadelphia half eagles and eagles available than branch mint pieces. Because of the fact that there is a big value spread for the branch mint issues between EF45 and AU55 (or even AU55 and MS61) there is tremendous financial motivation to scrub original coins. Many dealers have made a career out of taking an AU50 Charlotte quarter eagle that they bought for $3,000, processing it, getting the coin into an AU55 or AU58 holder and selling it for $5,000, $6,000 or even more. The financial motivation to destroy a nice, original AU55 Philadelphia half eagle is currently not that great and, ironically, a greater percentage of the coins remain intact.

4. Since very few people currently collect these coins, you have less competition and an easier shot to buy the nice pieces without having to pay nutty money.

So does this blog signal an end to my love affair with branch mint gold issues? Hardly. I still am a strong buyer of all nice Carson City, Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans gold coins (from dollars through double eagles) and will continue to be so as long as I am a professional numismatist. But I’ve become much more appreciative of No Motto Philadelphia half eagles and eagles and you will see more of them appear for sale on my website in the future. Will I write a book on them? Probably not. I will, however, probably write in-depth features in my monthly web articles that discuss these coins on a date-by-date basis.