Greatest. D Mint Quarter Eagle. Ever.

Unlike their gold dollar and half eagle counterparts, high grade Dahlonega quarter eagles are very rare. This denomination is extremely hard to find in Uncirculated grades and there are a number of dates, especially the rarities, that are virtually non-existent. That's why a recent purchase of mine so excites me. Here's some information about the coin and my take on why it lays claim as the single most significant quarter eagle of any date from this mint. (Please note that this coin is not currently for sale and that this isn't an ad masquerading as a blog in order for me to sell this piece)

There are essentially six rarities within the Dahlonega quarter eagle series: 1840-D, 1841-D, 1842-D, 1854-D, 1855-D and 1856-D. Each of these dates has fewer than 100 known in all grades and most of them are High R-7 to R-8 in Uncirculated (meaning that around one to three properly graded Mint State pieces are known).

The two rarest Dahlonega quarter eagles from the standpoint of high grade rarity are the 1855-D and the 1856-D. These have the two lowest mintage figures for any quarter eagle from this mint. The total numbers struck are 1,123 for the 1855-D and 874 for the 1856-D, respectively.

Both of these dates are major rarities in Uncirculated. Before the recent discovery of the 1855-D in PCGS MS63 (more on this in a second), the 1855-D was more or less unknown in Uncirculated. I say "more or less" because while a few examples had been graded in the MS60 to MS61 at PCGS and NGC, none of these were coins that I think had unanimous approval as being truly Uncirculated. The same holds true for the 1856-D.

The story behind this newly discovered 1855-D is interesting. It was part of a collection of coins, with an emphasis on Charlotte and Dahlonega gold, put together by William and Beuelaress ("No, I can't pronounce this either...") Hemel from Orlando, Florida.

1855-D $2.50 PCGS MS63, courtesy of Goldberg

I know nothing about the Hemels from the standpoint of collecting. They flew well under the radar and from the look of their recently-sold collection, they appeared to be hole-fillers who primarily bought cheaper, more affordable C+D coins including many cleaned or damaged pieces. But they had a few great coins in their collection and the 1855-D quarter eagle was clearly the best piece that they owned.

From the scant pedigree information that the Goldberg sale contained, it seemed that the Hemels were most active with their coin buying in the 1970's. They bought a few coins out of auction but a quick perusal of Stack's and Paramount sales from this era shows no 1855-D quarter eagles that fit the description of the coin in the Hemel sale. We'll probably never know where this coin came from but perhaps it was from a local dealer that the Hemels had contact with or maybe even an accumulation of coins from a Southern family that had put the 1855-D away a century before.

I have handled virtually every higher grade 1855-D quarter eagle that is known and I have never seen a truly nice one. The strike of this issue is irregular, to say the least, and a significant number of the coins that I have seen in higher grades have planchet irregularities and/or have been processed in an attempt to hide these surface problems.

The coin in the Goldberg sale was truly special. It was extremely well made with a great quality planchet and it had, by far, the best luster that I have ever seen on this date. In fact, now that I think of it, I'm not sure that I've ever seen an 1855-D with enough luster remaining to really know for certain what the "right" texture for this issue actually is. The look of the coin was really exceptional as well with lovely natural yellow-gold color. It was clearly an original piece and, as I said above, this is unusual for a date that is nearly always found with "improved" surfaces.

When I was figuring what to pay for this coin, I thought that the best comparable was the 1854-D quarter eagle graded MS63 by PCGS that Heritage sold as Lot 4690 in their October 2011 sale. That coin brought $86,250. But, and this is a huge but, that coin had something "interesting" lurking in its past. The very same piece, as recently as 2004, had been graded MS62 by PCGS and had brought just $34,500 in the Heritage June Long Beach sale of that year. So, in my opinion, the 1855-D in the Goldberg sale was clearly a "better" coin.

I wound up purchasing the 1855-D for $86,250; a record price for the date but, I think, a very good value.

After the sale, I starting thinking: what are the greatest single Dahlonega quarter eagles? If I made a Top Ten list, which coins which I include on it? And after I made this list, where would the 1855-D place?

In chronological order, here is my Top Ten list of D Mint quarter eagles along with some comments:

1. 1839-D PCGS MS64, ex James Stack. Finest Known Classic Head D Mint.

2. 1840-D NGC MS62, ex Duke's Creek/Bareford. Unique in Mint State.

3. 1841-D PCGS MS63, ex Green Pond. Finest known of four in Mint State.

4. 1842-D NGC MS62, ex Duke's Creek/Norweb. Finest known of 2 or 3 in Uncirculated.

5. 1847-D NGC MS65, ex Duke's Creek. One of two known D Mint quarter eagles in Gem.

6. 1850-D NGC MS65, ex Duke's Creek/Eliasberg. The other Gem D mint quarter eagle.

7. 1854-D NGC MS64, ex Duke's Creek. Finest known.

8. 1854-D PCGS MS63, ex Heritage 10/11: 4690. Record price at auction for any D mint quarter eagle.

9. 1855-D PCGS MS63, ex Goldberg 1/12: 1209. Tied for record price and finest known of the date.

10. 1856-D NGC MS61, ex Duke's Creek. Finest known of the rarest D mint quarter eagle.

After thinking about the coins on this list, I think a few can be eliminated for being "common coins in uncommon grades" while others can be knocked off for "only" grading MS61 or MS62. I think the best candidates for the Best D Mint Quarter Eagle of All Time are the 1839-D in MS64 and the 1855-D in MS63. The 1855-D wins my vote for the better of the two given the relative availability of the 1839-D in MS60 to MS62 grades.

For more information on this 1855-D quarter eagle or on any other Dahlonega gold coinage, please feel free to contact me at

"Stick With The Keys..."

Strategy For Collecting Rare Gold Coins

When I was a kid just beginning to get serious about coins, an older local dealer made a comment that has stayed with me for years. When discussing his buying philosophy he said, "Stick with the keys, kid, you'll never go wrong." What he meant, of course, was that if you bought the rarest, most desirable coins in a specific series, you would do well over time.

His advice was sound, and key date coins in nearly all series have performed brilliantly during the last decade. This was even further reinforced this morning by a key date that I had just purchased at a show.

I listed an 1854-D quarter eagle in PCGS AU58 CAC on my website this past weekend. Within one day I had no less than six people inquire about it (all the more impressive when you consider I was asking $18,000 for it) and this got me to thinking about a hypothetical situation involving buying key date rare gold coins.

Let's say a collector had around $100,000 to spend over the course of a few years on Dahlonega quarter eagles. Would he be better off trying to assemble a complete (or near-complete) set in the EF grades or trying to spend all the money on as many nice 1854-D, 1855-D, and 1856-D quarter eagles as he could find?

I'm not certain that there is a "right" or a "wrong" answer for this. He could spend his $100,000 on processed, over-graded examples of these three dates and have a group of coins that, while rare, will prove hard to sell when the times comes to do so. In this case, I'd rather see the collector purchase thirty nice $3,000-3,500 coins.

But assuming our collector friend was patient, savvy, and well-connected and was able to acquire a few nice key dates would he have a "better" collection? I'm not certain that a small group of key dates actually constitutes a collection per se but as someone who buys a lot of Dahlonega quarter eagles, I'd personally be more interested in a small group of rarities than an assortment of more common examples.

Let's talk about "key" dates.

There are key dates that aren't especially popular (the 1842-C Small Date half eagle comes to mind) and there are key dates that seem fully priced at current levels (some would say the 1870-CC double eagles fits this category although I wouldn't necessarily agree with this). The three Dahlonega quarter eagles that I mentioned above fall into the category of key dates that are popular and priced at levels that make sense.

What makes one specific key date more desirable than another? In the area of rare date gold, I'd list a few specific factors.

The first is the overall collectibility of the series a coin is a key in. If a series is actively collected by date (say St. Gaudens double eagles) than a key date within that series is likely to be highly prized--and priced. If a key date is part of a series that is not terribly popular (say San Francisco quarter eagles) than a key issue might not be in strong demand.

Certain key issues aren't necessarily rare but they are in strong demand due to the nostalgia factor. When you were a kid, you were probably obsessed with the 1909-S VDB Cent, right? There was that gaping hole in your blue coin folder that you knew you'd never fill and that pesky S-VDB haunted your dreams for years...until you became successful and could afford a nice one. In its own little way, for a coin geek buying a nice 1909-S VDB Cent is like becoming the starting quarterback for your high school team or dating that hot girl from your 10th grade English class who'd never make eye contact with you.

For a more sophisticated coin collector, the concept of the key date has other ramifications. Is the coin rare in all grades? What is the "right" grade to buy the specific key date? Is the issue in question historically recognized as a key or is it an issue whose rarity is recently noted?

But I digress...

Getting back to our original hypothetical question, I think I would choose the key threesome Dahlonega quarter eagles if I were presented the question I asked earlier. I'm basing this decision on the fact that whenever I do list any of these three dates on my website they get multiple orders and seem to attract collectors who don't necessarily specialize in the series.

This last point is important. A key issue is iconic if it has multiple levels of support. A coin like a 1795 half eagle or a 1907 High Relief St. Gaudens double eagle isn't truly a "key" issue from the standpoint of true rarity but both are issues that are sought by collectors or investors who aren't specialists in early half eagles or Saints.

I haven't met many gold coin collectors who focus exclusively on key issues and after thinking about this, I'm sort of confused as to why more collectors don't do exactly this. How cool would it be to see a collection of Liberty Head half eagles that contained Condition census examples of the ten rarest issues or a Liberty Head eagle collection that focused on rarities such as the 1858, 1864-S, and 1875?

What are your thoughts on key dates? Please feel free to share them with me in the comment section below.

When Auction Records Don't Tell the Whole Story

I’ve discussed how using previous auction records can be an extremely valuable asset in determining the current value of a coin. But there are instances when previous records can be misleading and they can keep a collector from making an intelligent buying (or selling) decision. When I recently attended the Heritage pre-ANA Platinum Night Sale, I was bidding both for my own account and for a number of clients. One of the coins that a client of mine had a strong interest in was an 1855-D quarter eagle graded AU55 by PCGS. The coin was pedigreed to the North Georgia collection and it had been off the market since its last auction appearance all the way back in January 1999. This could easily be confirmed three ways: it was in an older style PCGS holder, there were no auction records for this specific coin in the last decade and the consignor had been actively buying key date quarter eagles during the 1999-2000 era and it was likely that he had purchased it back then.

The next step for me was to view the coin in person and I travelled to Dallas a few weeks before the sale to look at the lots. I liked the 1855-D quite a bit. It had attractive medium to deep reddish-gold color, a nice planchet and I thought it was a high end example of a date that is seldom found with good eye appeal. I called the client the next day and reported the good news.

We then needed to determine the coin’s value. My first reaction was to go to Heritage’s auction archives and look to see what the last couple of PCGS AU55 examples had brought. Here’s what I discovered:

In February 2009, a PCGS AU55 had sold for $12,650. The only other relevant record for a PCGS AU55 was in June 2007 when an example brought $14,375. Trends for this date in AU55 is $27,500 which I told the client I thought was on the high side but I also mentioned that I thought the prior two auction prices seemed very low.

My next step was to go back to the two Heritage sales that the 1855-D quarter eagles had appeared and read my viewing notes. I first went to the February 2009 catalog. According to my notes, I thought that the 1855-D in that sale was “recolored with a large obverse flaw at 12:00.” Given the fact that I had scratched a large “X” through the photo and wrote “YUCK” next to it, I assumed I wasn’t crazy about the coin. Then, I checked the June 2007 sale. Voila! It was the same coin and my reaction was equally as harsh.

Just for grins, I also checked the Heritage January 2006 catalog where there was another 1855-D quarter eagle in PCGS AU55. This one had sold for $18,975 and, guess what, it was the same coin. So not only had this coin dropped in price from close to $19,000 to just over $12,000 it also meant that the PCGS population of nine coins in this grade was probably inflated as well.

My client was interested in this information but he was even more interested in what I told him next. According to my notes, the North Georgia coin had brought $32,200 all the way back in 1999. Even more interesting was the fact that this coin was graded the same ten years ago, meaning that it hadn’t magically gradeflated from, say, an AU50 to an AU55 as have so many branch mint gold coins.

As I stated earlier, the crux of the issue was what to pay for this coin. Based solely on the auction records cited above, I would have stated in the $13,000-16,000 range. But as I just explained, these records were misleading because they all represented one coin and this specific coin is probably the world’s worst PCGS AU55 1855-D quarter eagle.

In the end, we wound-up purchasing the coin for $23,000. Compared to the $12,650 that the last 1855-D quarter eagle in PCGS AU55 this seems like a high price. But I don’t think it is. What the auction records didn’t explain was that the 1855-D is an extremely rare coin in properly graded AU55, it is essentially unavailable any finer (PCGS has graded just three above AU55) and a high end coin with great eye appeal for the issue and a good pedigree is worth a premium to a serious collector.

My client hasn’t seen this coin yet (I just shipped it yesterday and he should be looking at it about the time I finish this blog) but assuming he likes it as much as I do, the moral of the story is don’t let previous auction prices keep you from making intelligent numismatic decisions. I give this collector alot of credit for being smart enough to figure much of this out on his own without me having to hold his hand through every step of the process. A good collector gets a great coin to add to his impressive collection. Sometimes, things work out for the best...