I was thinking the other day about the cycles of availability that run through the coin market. Around ten years ago, the market was flooded with rare date Proof gold; today you almost never see it. In the late 1990's, there were a number of wonderful collections of Charlotte and Dahlonega sold at auction; today you rarely see more than a few interesting pieces scattered here and there. What are some of the other rare, interesting coins that have gone from being formerly available to currently almost unavailable? 1. 1861-D Gold Dollars and Half Eagles: A quick check of my records shows that I handled four 1861-D gold dollars in 2008, three in 2009 and exactly one since then. After sighing in frustration, I couldn't bring myself to check the numbers on the 1861-D half eagle but I'm sure they are similar.
Neither of these issues are truly rare but they are immensely popular and have a collector base that extends out of the core group of Dahlonega cultists that you'd expect would want to own them. This means that once a collector buys a "dream coin" like an 1861-D gold dollar he isn't likely to sell it; even though values have risen appreciably on this coin (and the similarly dated half eagle) in the last three years.
2. Really Nice AU55 to AU58 Dahlonega Half Eagles. Where exactly have these all gone? In the not-so-distant past I might have three to five different crusty AU55 to AU58 Dahlonega half eagles in stock, especially after returning from a major show or big auction. Today, it seems like months can go by before I am able to buy one or two.
I have a few theories as to these coin's sudden disappearance. many of the formerly crusty AU55 and AU58 coins have been dipped-n-stripped and are now bright, unappealing MS60 to MS61 coins. Many of the very nice crusty pieces that I sold over the years are in tightly-held collections and aren't likely to be sold any time soon. Prices have been flat for a number of years on these coins and collectors who might have bought, say, an 1852-D half eagle in crusty AU58 back in 2004 have no real reason to sell from a financial standpoint. So, the supply of nice DWN-quality Dahlonega half eagles is currently at the lowest level I can remember in years.
3. Rare Date Fat Head Fives: I used to be an active buyer of the half eagles struck between 1813 and 1834, I still am except for the fact that nearly all of my activity in this area, of late, has been focused on a small group of dates: namely the 1813, 1814/3, 1818 and 1820. Virtually all the other dates of this type have become unavailable in recent years.
Not that they were ever flooding the market, but a decade ago you could count on one or two examples of dates like the 1824, 1826, or 1827 to become available every year. Now, they seem nearly unavailable. Four 1826 half eagles half eagles have appeared at auction since early 2006, only two 1826's since 2005 and no 1827 half eagles since the middle of 2008. That's frustrating for collectors and dealers alike!
4. Uncirculated No Motto New Orleans Eagles. If you discount the small groups of coins found on the S.S. Republic and S.S. New York shipwrecks, the number of nice Uncirculated No Motto New Orleans eagles available in the last five years or so has been very small.
Looking back at my records, I've handled no 1841-O or 1842-O in Uncirculated, two 1843-O, no 1844-O, one 1845-O, no 1846-O, three 1847-O, one 1848-O, no 1849-O and so forth and so on. Yes, these coins are all rare (with the exception of the 1847-O) but it seems like the pattern of availability has changed. I'd attribute this to the fact that the majority of the coins that did become available in the late 1990's and early 2000's (which I'm now beginning to realize was a once-in-a-generation period of rare date gold fertility) were generally snatched up by serious collectors who are not currently in a sell mode.
5. Major Rarities. If you own truly rare United States gold coins, pat yourself on the back. You own something that many new collectors and investors would give (almost) anything to add to their collections.
Let's look at a few examples. The rare 1854-S quarter eagle suddenly became reasonably available in 2005 and three examples (out of around 12-13 known) were sold at auction. But since then, only three other appearances at auction have occurred with the last of these being in July 2009.
Another rarity in the quarter eagle series is the 1841 with around fifteen or so known in total. In 2004, there were three auction appearances and another two sold in 2005. Since then, only two have been offered at auction with the last record in July 2009.
The list could go on and on and, by now, I'm assuming you get the point: really neat coins that we had become fairly accustomed to seeing during the late 1990's and up to the middle of the 2000's have become rarer than I would have imagined. With the demand for these really neat coins seemingly at its strongest point in a number of years, it will be interesting to see what, if any, important single coins or collections come to the market in the next year or two.