The Battle of the 1878-CC Half Eagle

Immovable Object Meets Irrestible Force - When the Immovable Object met the Irrestible Force in the Battle of the 1878-CC Half Eagle who won? Read today’s blog to see what happened when two won’t-be-denied collectors jousted over a rare coin and (maybe) failed to do their due diligence. The 1878-CC half eagle is one of my favorite issues. It is among the scarcest gold coins struck at the Carson City mint. There are an estimated 75 or so known in all grades with the majority in the Fine to Very Fine range. It is clearly a rare date in Extremely Fine and it is very rare in About Uncirculated with probably no more than ten to twelve accurately graded examples currently known. In the higher AU grades it is extremely rare and I know of no more than three or so true AU58’s.

So this means that when a nice example of the 1878-CC half eagle becomes available, it sends off shock waves in the Carson City gold collecting community. This is exactly what happened back in May of 2007 when a really nice PCGS AU58 was offered as Lot 2303 in Heritage’s Platinum Night session of the Central States auction.

After strong floor bidding, the coin in question brought $41,400 to a phone bidder. I can remember sitting in the audience at the time of the sale and thinking, “hmmm...that sure seems like a strong price for an 1878-CC half eagle.” My thinking, at the time, was that the coin was worth around $32,500 to $35,000 and maybe, at a stretch, it might bring as much as $37,500.

A lot has happened in the Carson City gold market since then, it appears. There are now a couple of new collectors who are very strong buyers, especially if a coin is in a PCGS holder and either the finest graded or close to it. This has meant some very strong prices for appropriate coins in the last year or two.

But as strong as these new collectors are, I seriously wonder how much due diligence they perform. By this, I mean do they do something as simple as check the Heritage or PCGS price archives and see what the last example of a specific coin sold for? Given the circumstances of the aforementioned 1878-CC half eagle, I’m not certain that the answer is yes.

The person who bought the 1878-CC half eagle last year appears to have been trying to upgrade it into an MS60 (or better) holder. This is clearly evident by the fact that the PCGS population figure for this issue in AU58 has jumped from four back in May 2007 up to eight in May 2008. A year later it appears that he gave up and put the coin in the Stack’s May 2008 sale.

Now this is just a guess but I’m expecting that after a year of trying to upgrade the coin (and thousands of dollars in grading fees) the consignor was probably hoping that he’d break even or, if he got really lucky, he’d make a small profit. I’m guessing that he didn’t expect the coin to be a rousing financial success.

When the coin sold this time around, it went for $63,250 which is clearly a record price for this date and far and away a record price for an AU58 1878-CC half eagle. What happened to make it sell for nearly 50% more this time?

The answer was simple: two collectors (let’s call them Mr. Immovable Object and Mr. Irrestible Force) decided that they really needed this coin for their Carson City set. Both were smart enough to realize that the chance of finding another comparable or better example was very unlikely, so they would have to stretch to buy it. But, as I mentioned above, I have to wonder if either collector did their homework and checked to see if this exact coin had sold recently.

Stack’s did not mention the pedigree of this 1878-CC half eagle in their description. But it was very obviously the same coin as the one that had sold a year earlier in the Heritage auction. I could quickly tell by the presence of a small but noticeable nick below the eighth star on the obverse. I’d like to think that even a new collector without the extensive knowledge of CC gold that I possess could have figured out the pedigree with about three minutes of Internet detective work; that’s one of the beauties of today’s more transparent coin market.

So do I think this coin sold for a lot of money? Yes, I do. If I had owned the coin and had it on my website, I’m sure that I wouldn’t have been smart enough to price it for $62,250 and I would have left a lot of money on the table. But do I think the new owner made a “bad purchase?” No, I really do not. He bought what is arguably the nicest available example of one of the rarest Carson City gold coins. He had to pay a steep price to own it but he got a heck of a nice coin in the process.