The Great Branch Mint Gold Popularity Contest of 2009

I realize that the title of this blog sounds like an outtake from the Dukes of Hazzard but I thought it might be an interesting topic to take each branch mint and analyze it in terms of its popularity. Then, for the icing on the proverbial cake, I thought it would also be interesting to name the five or so most in-demand issues from each mint. Just as an FYI, I am not including Denver among the five branch mints as it is relevant only to 20th century issues and this article is primarily focused on 19th century gold coinage.

1. Dahlonega: At this point in time, I’d have to rank Dahlonega as the single most popular of the branch mints. I am basing this on the following observation. Dahlonega coins, at least for me, seem to be as easy to sell now as they were a few years ago. There are certainly exceptions to this rule; namely overgraded examples priced in the $10,000+ range, high grade common date gold dollars priced at $10,000 and above and virtually any coin in any price or grade range that is not at least fairly original and appealing. But nice, properly graded and fairly priced D mint remains a best-seller for my firm.

I would have to rank half eagles as the most popular coins from Dahlonega right now, followed closely by quarter eagles. The price range that seems most in-demand is $1,500-5,000 but expensive Dahlonega gold will sell if it is a scarce, popular issue or if the coin is very high end. Coins with good pedigrees are popular right now and this is clearly an area in the market where many collectors are searching for CAC-quality coins.

The Five Most Popular Dahlonega Gold Coins in 2009: 1861-D gold dollar, 1854-D three dollar, 1838-D half eagle, 1839-D half eagle, 1861-D half eagle.

2. Carson City: As recently as a year or so ago, I would have placed Carson City as the number-one most popular of the branch mints. I’ve noted a slight slippage in popularity in this mint, especially at the high end. I think the reason for this is that a few of the collectors who were buying the five-figure rarities and condition rarities a few years back are less active. Another thing which has hurt this segment of the market is the number of extremely overgraded higher grade coins that have been floating around from auction to auction for what seems like an eternity. The problem with these coins is that when they do finally sell, they sell cheaply and this drags down the price of nice coins.

Carson City double eagles remain the most popular denomination from this mint, followed by eagles and half eagles in that order. Coins that are attractive and original and priced at $5,000 and under are the quickest movers while expensive Carson City coins, unless they are fresh to the market or really exceptional, tend to be harder to sell right now.

The Five Most Popular Carson City Gold Coins in 2009: 1870-CC half eagle, 1870-CC eagle, 1873-CC eagle, 1870-CC double eagle and any common date or slightly better date double eagle in the AU58 to MS62 range that is choice for the grade and priced below $10,000.

3. New Orleans: There’s no doubt in my mind that New Orleans gold is no longer “up and coming.” It is clearly a very popular segment of the branch mint market and I think there are probably just about as many collectors working on specialized sets of New Orleans gold as there are in any other area of 19th century American gold.

Double eagles were, until recently, the clear favorite among the many gold denominations from New Orleans. I think the popularity of this denomination has faded just a bit in the last year, mostly due to the prohibitively high price of the rarities in the series. That said, these are still the most popular New Orleans gold coins, followed by eagles, half eagles, quarter eagles, three dollars and gold dollars.

There are many New Orleans issues that can still be purchased in relatively high grades (EF and AU) for less than $5,000 and these are increasingly popular. The major rarities from this mint remain in demand, especially in the eagle denomination.

The Five Most Popular New Orleans Gold Coins in 2009: 1839-O quarter eagle, 1841-O eagle, 1883-O eagle, 1856-O double eagle, 1861-O and 1879-O double eagle (tie).

4. Charlotte: In my opinion, demand for most Charlotte gold coins is fairly light right now. There are exceptions to this. Attractive, lower priced half eagles (in the $2,000-4,000) range seem to be selling nicely and very high end half eagles with a great appearance are selling as well. The area that is weak in this end of the market is the bright-n-shiny AU55 to MS62 coins. No surprise, there....

Quite frankly I’m a little perplexed that this area of the market has remained soft for the better part of a decade. There are very few major Charlotte collectors from this part of the country and this was the case even a few years ago when the banking industry was booming in Charlotte. When I released the third edition of my Charlotte book a few years ago this gave a bit of life to the market but it still lacks the overall enthusiasm seen in the Dahlonega market.

The Five Most Popular Charlotte Gold Coins in 2009: 1838-C quarter eagle, 1838-C half eagle, 1839-C half eagle, any very original crusty XF common date half eagle priced below $3,000.

5. San Francisco: Every time I undertake an article like this that ranks the branch mint’s popularity, poor San Francisco always seems to finish last. This doesn’t make total sense to me. The city of San Francisco is by far the most upscale and “art/collectibles-friendly” of the branch mint locales, the coins are interesting and there is some real value for the money within this collecting area.

There are certainly some bright spots in this area. Type Three San Francisco double eagles are very actively collected and many of the Type One and Type Two issues from this mint are still in demand as well. I think two factors have combined to work against this mint in terms of its popularity: the lack of a good standard reference book and the fact that the various shipwrecks found in recent years have scared people away from purchasing high end coins from this mint.

The gold coins from this mint that seem to be in the highest demand right now are 1854-S quarter eagles (a Classic Rarity that has finally been appreciated), choice and rare issues from the Civil War era and better date eagles grading AU50 and above.

The Five Most Popular San Francisco Gold Coins in 2009: 1854-S quarter eagle, 1864-S half eagle, 1864-S eagle, 1854-S double eagle, 1861-S Paquet double eagle.

As you can well see, there is a pretty common theme with each of these mints. In 2009, most of the collectors of branch mint gold are sophisticated and they are back to buying real coins; not just the plastic that houses them. Collectors want coins that are either choice for the grade or rare enough that they know their opportunities to find another will be limited.