State of the Market: Carson City Gold Coins

For our next State of the Market Report, we’re going to take a look at Carson City gold coinage. How have the half eagles, eagles and double eagles from this ultra-popular western branch mint fared in the past few years? I. Overview

The number of serious Carson City gold coin collectors appears to have increased in the last few years. At the same time, at least three major collections have been sold (Old West, “Morgan” and the Washington D.C. collection that I sold privately in 2006). This has meant that some fantastic quality individual coins have been available with some record prices having been achieved. This has been slightly tempered by the fact that a group of significantly overgraded Carson City half eagles (and eagles) have been offered for sale at a number of auctions beginning in 2005. Until the bulk of these are removed from the market, Carson City gold in general will remain highly bifurcated and marked by huge value differences in similarly graded issues. This is truly a market where one AU55 1876-CC half eagle can be worth $17,500 while another can be worth $12,500.

II. Half Eagles

Of the three Carson City gold denominations, I would say that half eagles are probably the least popular right now. Prices for many Carson City half eagles have stayed fairly flat—or even dropped—in the last few years. There are certainly exceptions: choice, high grade examples of nearly any pre-1890 date are strong and even lower grade examples of the key issues (such as the 1870-CC, 1873-CC and 1878-CC) are in great demand in the VG to VF range. With coins that are priced at $20,000 and up, collectors are very fussy and will not generally purchase a coin which they or their trusted advisor(s) do not feel lives up to its stated grade.

I think that the market for Carson City half eagles will remain spotty over the next few years. My gut feeling is that exceptional coins will continue to do quite well and that many of the key issues from the 1870’s will see across the board demand. In my opinion, the most underrated Carson City half eagles right now are the 1877-CC, 1878-CC and the 1881-CC.

III. Eagles

Spectacular Carson City eagles have brought spectacular prices during the last few years. As an example, the finest known 1870-CC, graded AU55 by PCGS, sold for $115,000 in ANR’s August 2006 auction while a PCGS MS64 example of the more common 1890-CC was bid to $80,500 in Heritage June 2006 sale. But results for mediocre or low-end Carson City eagles have been quite soft in the past few years. This is mostly attributable to a group of overgraded, low-end coins (mostly valued in the $15,000-35,000 range) which an investor has had mixed success selling at auction during the last two years. I personally know of at least four or five collectors of high quality Carson City eagles and they are all looking for essentially the same type of coins right now: choice and original with good eye appeal.

I feel that once the last of the inferior quality Carson City eagles mentioned above are finally sold, the market for these coins will heat up. For collectors who enjoy a challenge (and who have an appropriate budget) this is a great series to collect. In my opinion, the most undervalued dates in this series are the 1870-CC, 1873-CC, 1877-CC and the 1883-CC.

IV. Double Eagles

If you had asked me a few years ago if Carson City double eagles were overvalued I would have probably said yes. If you ask me the same question today I would still probably say yes but with less reservation than in the past. When compared to half eagles and eagles from this mint, Carson City double eagles appear to be overvalued. But (and this is a big, big “but”) the double eagles from this mint have a sexiness factor that is greater than nearly any other series of United States coin. Let’s face it: even if you don’t really care about coins, it is pretty hard to resist the allure of a big, attractive gold piece that saw duty in the most romantic era in the history of this country. And because of this fact, Carson City double eagles will always be very, very popular.

My biggest complaint about this series is that while prices have shot up in the past few years, grading standards have decreased. I often see coins like 1871-CC double eagles in AU50 holders that a few years ago would have graded EF45; or even EF40. Given the fact the Trends for an AU50 1871-CC is now $40,000, I have a hard time spending this kind of money on an example for my inventory which has tons of bagmarks and/or a near-absence of luster. The same goes for dates like the 1872-CC, 1873-CC, 1878-CC and 1879-CC. These are now $10,000++ coins in AU50 and higher grades and if a new collector is going to be spending this kind of money on these dates, I would hope he is getting a nice quality coin.

That said, I think there is still some value to be had in this series. I will continue to buy nearly any attractive, original AU55 to MS61 Carson City double eagle I can find for under $5,000. I also like very choice and reasonably original examples of the key dates but, as I said above, I usually pass on examples that I think have inferior eye appeal.