The 1861-D is, without a doubt, the most popular gold dollar. It has a minute original mintage figure believed to be in the range of 500-1,000 coins, and it has extreme multiple demand levels on account of its incontrovertible origin as a Confederate product.Read More
I define a “Trophy Coin” as one which suitably combines rarity, appearance, and a great story in one neat package. Trophy coins aren’t necessarily the rarest pieces within a specific series. As an example, a 1907 High Relief is far from the rarest issue in the St. Gaudens series, yet for most collectors it is a Trophy Coin while a great rarity like a 1921 Saint in MS63 (and above) is considered more of a specialist’s issue.
Trophy coins, because of their strong multiple levels of demand, tend to be fully valued in regards to other coins. You’ll never read an article by me espousing how an MS64 is undervalued. But I know that a nice MS64 High Relief on my website will sell more quickly than many rarer issues which don’t have Trophy Coin status.
This article deals with gold Trophy Coins. By their very nature, trophy coins are expensive and this article will seem elitist, but if your coin budget is a few thousand dollars per issue, you just aren’t going to be a player in the Trophy coin market.
In addition to a brief discussion about each trophy coin, I’m going to include the “pitch” which makes these coins so unique and which gives them multiple levels of demand.
1. 1861-D Gold Dollar
The Pitch: The only gold coin which can be positively attributed to Confederate manufacture. A coin which every Southerner should own!
The 1861-D is clearly the most desirable gold dollar and a strong case can be made for calling it the single most coveted issue from any southern branch mint. It has many things going for it: genuine rarity (fewer than 100 are known from a mintage estimated to be in the 750-1000 range), unique appearance, compelling backstory (struck by the Confederate forces after the mint had been seized from the Union forces), and multiple levels of collector demand.
The 1861-D dollar has become extremely popular in recent years and it now trades in the $40,000-50,000 range for a decent example. I still like the growth potential for this issue, and it is possibly the best “investment” of any coin on this list due to its unusual co-status as collector coin and trophy coin.
2. 1796 No Stars Quarter Eagle
The Pitch: Rare one-year type and first year of issue.
Only 963 examples were produced and while it is not the rarest early quarter eagle (that honor goes to the very rare but very esoteric 1804 13 star reverse) it is clearly the most popular issue of this type; if not the entire denomination.
This is an issue which has been regarded as a great coin long before the Trophy Coin concept even existed. It is truly a rare coin but, for me, the thing about the 1796 No Stars that I find most appealing is its unique design. It is a minimalist’s dream with its stark obverse; a design which I far prefer to Stars Obverse type which was adapted later in 1796.
The 1796 No Stars quarter eagle has shown good price performance over the last few decades and I see no reason why this shouldn’t continue. With type collectors, quarter eagle specialists, early gold enthusiasts, and trophy coin buyers all competing for a limited number of problem-free examples, I like the future for the No Stars very much.
3. 1911-D Quarter Eagle
The Pitch: The rarest date in the most avidly collected (and the only completable) set of 20th century gold issues.
This is one of the few coins on this list which needs an asterisk. While I regard a Gem Uncirculated 1911-D quarter eagle as a trophy coin, I certainly don’t regard a circulated example as anything more than a widget. And, to a degree, this is true with lower-end Uncirculated examples as well.
The reason this issue deserves to be on the list is more marketing-driven that, say, a 1796 No Stars quarter eagle. The 1911-D is a condition rarity (unlike most of the other coins on this list) and its presence is a bit disingenuous as a result. While I freely admit this, for many collectors, an MS65 1911-D quarter eagle is a dream coin and this is exactly what we are referring to when we discuss “trophy” issues.
Price levels for high grade 1911-D quarter eagles have dropped in recent years, primarily due to a (temporary?) weakness in the Indian Head quarter eagle market. If I had to guess, I’d say this weakness is temporary and a carefully hand selected, CAC approved MS64 or MS65 should appreciate in anticipation of an influx of new collectors entering this area of the market.
4. 1875 Three Dollar
The Pitch: Rare Proof-only issue with reported mintage of just 20 coins.
This is an issue whose presence on this list is likely to not be unanimously approved. It isn’t because the 1875 isn’t a rare coin; clearly it is. Any Trophy Coin controversy caused by the 1875 three dollar is more likely to be due to a lack of collector enthusiasm for this denomination. I am in the former camp because this coin is “sexy” and because it has been accorded Trophy Coin status for many generations. If I remember correctly, a Gem Proof 1875 three dollar sold for over $100,000 back in 1973, and it was the first six-figure United States gold coin. (!)
Ironically, third-party grading has not been kind to the 1875 three dollar as it has proven, once and for all, that this issue was restruck ca. 1875-1876, as the total number known exceeds the reported original mintage. That said, the 1875 three dollar, in my opinion, is still an indisputable Trophy Coin.
The price performance for this issue has not been all that impressive given what Gem Proofs were worth two decades ago versus what they are worth now. But I expect three dollar gold pieces to become more popular sooner than later, and if and when this happens, the 1875 will regain its status as the King of Threes.
5. 1795 Small Eagle Half Eagle
The Pitch: First year of issue and, along with the similarly dated eagle, the first American gold coin.
I think that there would be very little argument with placing the 1795 half eagle on any Trophy Coin list. Who wouldn’t want to own a good-looking example of this historic issue? And the beauty of the 1795 Small Eagle half eagle is that it is available enough in better-than-average grades and it isn’t wildly expensive.
The level of demand for this coin has always been strong but I have noted an even greater demand in the past decade. Type collectors have always wanted a nice 1795 half eagle but now there is competition from other collectors as well. I wouldn’t necessarily regard just any 1795 small eagle as a Trophy Coin (even a nice EF, while something that I would personally be thrilled to buy for inventory, isn’t a true trophy). A higher grade example (in this case MS63 or above) with original color and choice surfaces would be a great addition to any trophy coin set.
I expect coin like 1795 half eagles to show excellent price appreciation in the coming years. These are the Old Masters of American coins, if you will, and while they are not as faddish as more modern issues, they have the core fundamentals which any issue needs for future appreciation.
6. Gem Indian Head Half Eagle
The Pitch: In MS65, perhaps the most beautiful American regular issue gold coin and rarest 20th century type in Gem.
This choice is a bit of a stretch but it’s my list of Trophy Coins and I can stretch if I want to. The Indian Head half eagle is by far the rarest major gold type coin struck in the 20th century in higher grades. A properly graded MS65 or finer example, preferably with CAC approval, is not only a beautiful coin to look at; it is scarce from an absolute standpoint. I have always loved this design and even today, with looser grading standards and (current) lesser demand, Gems are hard to locate.
What I like about the Indian Head half eagle series is the variation of “looks” which the individual issues show. If you study this series even a short while you’ll learn that a high grade 1908-S, as an example, has a very different appearance than a 1909-D. The luster is different, the color is different, and the strike is different. I find these differences to be interesting. What I really like about this series, though, is just how rare even a common date like a 1909-D is in properly graded MS65.
Price levels have dropped quite a bit on Gem Indian Head half eagle in the last few years and I attribute this to a few factors. The demand for this design in Gem Uncirculated is low due to a current lack of Indian Head half eagle specialists; for some reason the ebb and flow of serious collectors in this series is more pronounced than for other comparable series. Even collecting gem gold by type is currently out of fashion so type coin demand for common(er) dates in MS65 and higher is low. At the current level of $15,000 or so for a PCGS/CAC MS65 slightly better date, I love the value of this Trophy Coin.
7. 1795 or 1933 Eagle
The Pitch (es): First year of issue or last year of issue. The 1795 is the biggest-sized early gold coin while the 1933 eagle is the only legal-to-own gold coin from this year.
I anguished whether to choose the 1795 or 1933 eagle as my Trophy Coin and really couldn’t leave off either issue so…I decided to include both.
The 1795 eagle is not a dramatically rare coin—except in very high grades—but it is a coin which nearly any collector can relate to. If you think about the context in which this coin was issued, it has a fascinating backstory. In 1795, ten dollars was a tremendous amount of money. The average citizen never saw a gold eagle in 1795, let alone owned one, and these were more storehouses of value for banks or the very wealthy.
1795 eagles are not inexpensive (choice coins can run into the mid-six figures) but given the age, beauty and historic/numismatic significance they possess, I think they are very fairly priced for a true Trophy Coin.
The 1933 is the yang to the 1795 eagle’s yin. Only a tiny fraction of the 312,500 originally struck escaped the melting pot and most are in higher grades. Of the three dozen or known, most grade MS64 to MS65 and a few really attractive Gems exist. These trade in the $400,000-600,000+ range and I would not be surprised to see properly graded MS65 examples break the million dollar threshold in the not-too-distant future.
8. Proof Liberty Head Double Eagle
The Pitch: Big. Shiny. Rare. What’s not to like?
If I was given the chance to do a numismatic show & tell with a billionaire, I would bring as many Trophy Coins as I could find. And I’d start with big, flashy coins like better date pre-1900 Liberty Head double eagles in PR64 to PR66.
These coins check nearly every well-heeled collector’s hot boxes. Even a newbie collector or investor is going to like the way an 1893 double eagle looks in Gem Proof, especially if it shows full cameo contrast and it has across-the-room black and white appearance. Nearly every pre-1900 issue has an original mintage of under 100, and even a “common date” like an 1896 still has a likely surviving population of less than 50 coins; less in Gem Proof.
Our unnamed billionaire might not want to start a date run of Proof Twenties, but it is certainly likely he’d want to buy at least one example for type purposes, and maybe even expand in to a three coin set with a Type One, Type Two and Type Three issue included. For just a shade over $100,000 he could begin this endeavor with a really nice Type Three. I personally like the growth potential of such coins quite a bit and have lately sold a number of PR64 and PR65 Type Three double eagles.
9. 1907 High Relief Double Eagle
The Pitch: America’s most beautiful coin. The Trophy Coin to end all Trophy Coins.
You can’t pick more of a trophy coin than a High Relief double eagle (well actually you could—an Extremely High relief—but even this list has some price parameters and $3 million+ is probably out of the range of most readers of this article).
I won’t replay the backstory of this coin as it has been told many times, but suffice to say even with bastardization by the mint, the design for this coin is truly beautiful and it appeals to virtually all collectors.
High reliefs have been good storehouses of value in recent years. They tend not to rise in price all that much or drop in price either. As a trophy coin, I personally like examples which are graded MS64 and MS65 and approved by CAC. From personal experience, I never have trouble quickly selling a nice High Relief when it is listed on my website. They are not crazy expensive relative to their strong demand.
10. 1915-S Pan-Pac Octagonal $50.00
The Pitch: The biggest coin, size-wise, to be struck at the U.S. mint. Big, beautiful and, in the case of the octagonal design, highly unusual appearance.
If you sit and think about it, the Pan-Pac Octagonal is a gimmick coin. It's huge, it's eight-sided, and even by 1915 standards, its mintage of 645 is presumptuous at best. That said, it is the Mack Daddy of all Trophy coins, and it is a coin that every rich collector or investor can’t resist.
Even someone like me, who doesn’t care for gold commemoratives, loves the Pan-Pac Octagonal. I realize that the Round $50 is considerably scarcer, especially in Gem, but the Octagonal is so, well, odd. I love the massiveness of this coin and the way that even encased in a PCGS holder, it feels like a little brick of gold. I love the Robert Aitken design. And, of course, I love that crazy, crazy shape.
This is an issue which I think has great investment potential for those individuals who think this way. I can see nice Pan-Pac easily breaking the $100,000 mark in the future, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see an investor or a fund start buying all the MS64 and better examples up and driving prices along.
What are you favorite Trophy Coins? Did I leave any coins off this list that you think should be included? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts.
Do you buy rare gold coins?
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Contact me, Doug Winter, directly at (214) 675-9897 or by email at email@example.com.
In the last blog in this multi-part series, I talked about the Philadelphia gold dollars in the Vasquez Rocks Collection. In this second installment, I'm going to focus on a group of coins that are near and dear to me: the Dahlonega gold dollars. The Dahlonega mint began production of gold dollars in 1849. They produced six Type One issues (from 1849 to 1854), a single Type Two (in 1855) and six issues that featured the Type Three design (from 1856 to the closing of the mint in 1861). For all three types, the estimated total mintage is fewer than 75,000 coins.
The individual who formed the Vasquez Rocks collection did something amazing: he formed a complete Uncirculated set of gold dollars from this mint. To the best of my knowledge, the only other collections that had a complete set of Dahlonega gold dollars in PCGS/NGC holders were Duke's Creek (sold by Heritage in April 2006) and Green Pond (sold by Heritage in January 2004 and assembled by me). This statement, of course, doesn't take into account older specialized gold dollar collections such as Ullmer, McNally, Miles and Pierce which were also complete in Uncirculated but which were formed before the days or third-party grading.
Before I get into specifics about the gold dollars in the Vasquez Rocks collection, here are a few interesting facts to ponder:
- Of the 13 coins in the set, ten have been graded by PCGS and three have been graded by NGC.
- The highest graded Dahlonega gold dollar in the set is an NGC MS64 (1853-D) and the lowest grade is a PCGS MS60 (1856-D).
- Two coins (the 1851-D and the 1858-D) have been awarded "plus" grade designations by PCGS.
- The average grade of a Dahlonega dollar in this set is 61.92; this figure is arrived at by giving the plus coins an extra half a point (i.e, 63+ is figured as 63.5)
- Coins in this set have pedigrees from such famous collections as Chestatee, Green Pond, and Pittman.
Now, let's get a bit more specific and discuss the coins, type by type.
I. Type One
There are some outstanding Type One Dahlonega gold dollars in the Vasquez Rocks collection. A complete list is as follows:
- 1849-D, PCGS MS62
- 1850-D, NGC MS63
- 1851-D, PCGS MS63+
- 1852-D, PCGS MS61
- 1853-D, NGC MS64
- 1854-D, PCGS MS62, ex Pittman Collection
It's hard for me to pick a favorite coin from this group, but the piece that I like the best is the 1851-D in PCGS MS63+.
The 1851-D is the second most common Type One gold dollar (after the 1849-D) and there are as many as 20 known in Uncirculated. However, it is very rare in MS63 as evidenced by the PCGS population of four (with only two better). The Vasquez Rocks coin is the only MS63+ currently graded by PCGS and it is a magnificent coin with a bold strike, rich yellow-gold color and delightful frosty luster. It would make a perfect type coin for the collector who is seeking a single higher grade Type One gold dollar from Dahlonega for his collection.
II. Type Two
The Dahlonega mint produced Type Two gold dollars for just one year. The 1855-D had an original mintage of just 1,811 and there are fewer than 100 known, mostly in lower grades. This is the single rarest gold dollar from this mint in higher grades and there are exactly four known in Uncirculated.
The coin in the Vasquez Rocks collection is graded MS61 by PCGS and it is the fourth finest known 1855-D dollar. It is one of two Uncirculated 1855-D dollars that were once in the Green Pond collection and it has been off the market since early 2004 when it was acquired from the auction by the owner of the Vasquez Rocks collection for $46,000.
Only a small number of 1855-D dollars are known with sharp strikes and an even smaller number have a full date. The Vasquez Rocks coin is exceptionally well struck; so well struck, in fact, that PCGS has designated on the holder that it is a Full Date. Of the four Uncirculated 1855-D dollars, only one other (ex Duke's Creek/Bass) has a Full Date.
In addition to its exceptional strike, this 1855-D has great eye appeal for the issue with a good deal of luster seen on choice surfaces. Both sides have pleasing color and if you have seen many examples of this date, you'll know that it is seldom found with this degree of good looks!
III. Type Three
The Type Three design was introduced in 1856 and the Dahlonega mint produced six issues before it was closed in 1861.
The Type Three D mint dollars in this collection are as follows:
- 1856-D, PCGS MS60, ex Chestatee collection
- 1857-D, PCGS MS61
- 1858-D, PCGS MS62+
- 1859-D, NGC MS62
- 1860-D, PCGS MS62, CAC approved
- 1861-D, PCGS MS61
Again, it is hard to focus on one coin, given how many outstanding pieces are in this set. I'm sure you expect me to focus on the 1861-D but I'm actually going to discuss the 1860-D, a coin that, to me, is clearly a highlight of this set.
Only 1,566 gold dollars were struck at the Dahlonega mint in 1860 and this is a rare issue in all grades. A dubious distinction held by this date is the fact that it is the worst struck gold dollar from this mint. The coin in the Vasquez Rocks collection, while showing the familiar weak U in UNITED, is among the best made examples of this date that I have seen. It is of just two graded MS62 by PCGS with a single coin better (an MS63 that should be deleted from the population report as it now appears as an NGC MS64). It is nice enough for the grade that it was approved by CAC and it is one of just two examples of this date in MS62 to have received a CAC sticker.
I am hoping that I will be able to keep the Dahlonega dollars from the Vasquez Rocks collection intact and they will be offered, at first, as a set. If no one purchases them intact, the coins will be broken up and, I assume, they will sell quickly.
For more information on the coins in this collection, please feel free to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I expect the full Vasquez Rocks collection to be available for sale in a few weeks.
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.
I don't consider myself to be a real pro when it comes to rare coin promotion but even I know a no-brainer when I see it. 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, you can bet that rare coin promotion gurus who are far more clever than I have been preparing for this event for some time. So if you are Joe Coin Promoter and you are gearing up for the Civil War Sesquicentennial in 2011, what kind of gold coins can you get enough of to do a promotion? Let's go denomination by denomination and figure this out.
I. Gold Dollars
Only two mints made gold dollars in 1861: Philadelphia and Dahlonega. The 1861-P is common and cheap; the 1861-D is rare and expensive. The 1861-D is unpromotable; it is too rare to accumulate in quantity and is already too expensive. A clever dealer could probably stealthily buy 40-50 1861-P gold dollars in lower Mint State grades over the course of a year and have enough coins to promote. He could probably find as many 1862-P gold dollars and maybe have as many as 100 coins in total. I would have to wonder, though, if the intended audience for this promotion would get excited about gold dollars as they are small, common and not really "sexy." As a collector I'd probably avoid stockpiling any Civil War gold dollars to ride the coattails of a promotion.
II. Quarter Eagles
Two mints made quarter eagles in 1861: Philadelphia and San Francisco. The 1861-S is unheralded but scarce and I doubt if you could put together a group of more than three or four over the course of a year. The 1861-P is common in grades up to MS63 and it might be possible to accumulate enough to promote. I like the promotional possibilities of this issue and it might not be a bad idea for a collector to buy a few MS62 to MS63 pieces and see if prices increase in the next few years. None of the other Civil War Philadelphia issues can be found in enough quanity to promote. The San Francisco issues are all rare but it might be possible to put together a rag-tag group of circulated examples.
III. Three Dollar Gold Pieces You couldn't promote threes in Uncircirculated as all of the Civil War issues are rare enough and expensive enough to preclude this. But you might actually be able to acculate a few dozen nice circulated pieces. This promotion actually makes sense to me as the three dollar denomination is odd and interesting and it would appeal to non-collectors. It is also out of favor right now so the possibility of buying a fair quantity exists. The 1861-64 dates are all moderately scarce but available in the EF-AU range for less than $4,000 per coin. As a promotion bandwagon jumper, these three dollar gold pieces kind of make sense to me.
IV. Half Eagles
The two southern branch mint half eagles (1861-C and 1861-D) would be fantastic issues to promote but they can not be found in quantity. The San Francisco half eagles of this era are also very rare and while not as glamorous as the 1861-C or 1861-D, issues like the 1862-S and 1864-S half eagle are highly unlikely to be used in a promotion. This leaves the Philadelphia coins. The 1861 is the only one that is common although I wonder if a promoter could find, say, fifty to one hundred examples. I imagine that if you were willing to sell cheap pieces, like in EF40 or EF45, it might just be possible. Not "easy," but maybe "possible."
Civil War era ten dollar gold pieces were made only at the Philadelphia and San Francisco mints. All of the west coast issues are rare in any grade and the possibility of finding more than a few in any grade is unlikely. The Philadelphia issues are even rarer with the exception of the 1861 which can be found in some quantity in circulated grades. But I just don't think you could come up with enough coins to make for a good promotion. Which is actually kind of shame as a group of 1861 eagles in EF and AU grades would make a great Civil War-themed promotion.
VI. Double Eagles
There isn't a better denomination to promote these days than the double eagle. The coin are big and with gold at $1,400 or so per ounce, they interest nearly every investor. Unfortunately, there is just a single Civil War double eagle that might be available in a quantity great enough to promote: the 1861 Philadelphia. This is probably the most common non-shipwreck Type One double eagle and it exists in significant quantity in circulated grades. But....there may be a fly in the proverbial ointment. Type One double eagles are currently as popular as any series of American coin and an issue like the 1861-P, which used to be fairly easy to buy in quantity, is now in demand by legitimate collectors. It still might be possible but its not going to be an easy task.
After thinking about Civil War era gold coins to promote for the Civil War Sesquicentennial in 2011, I've pretty much come to the conclusion that unless someone has been working on this project for at least a year already, it probably can't be done in time. Given the scarcity of these coins and the costs involved, maybe it would make more sense to work on buying 500 circulated 1861 Indian Cents or 750 circulated 1864 and 1865 Two Cent pieces.
In their recently concluded January 2010 Americana sale held in New York, there were two record-setting Dahlonega gold coins that I think are worth taking a closer look at. What were these two pieces and why did they sell for as much money as they did? The first piece was an 1861-D gold dollar graded AU53 by PCGS. I had sold this exact coin a few years ago and was familiar with it. It was very high end for the date and grade and, by today’s standards, would probably grade AU55 to AU58. I expected that it would bring around $40,000 or so. It sold for $57,500. I believe that this is an all-time record price for a circulated 1861-D dollar.
This coin did so well for a number of reasons. The first, obviously, is that it was a nice coin. 1861-D gold dollars are not well-known for having good eye appeal and the last few that have been available have either been damaged or not terrifically appealing. The second is that there is currently an unprecedented demand for this date. The 1861-D dollar is an indisputably cool coin and a lot of people are looking for coins like this right now. Given the supply/demand ratio, it seemed likely that this coin would sell for a strong price but, again, I was pretty stunned at it bringing close to $60,000.
What would this coin have sold for in another environment? Probably a lot less. One thing about auctions is that it only takes two people to really want a coin and it can sell for a ton of money. If I had owned this exact 1861-D dollar and put it on my website, I’m sure my asking price would have been in the low $40’s and I might have not even expected to get that much money for it. But now that the bar has been raised for the 1861-D dollar, I expect that the next one offered will be priced enthusiastically, to say the least.
Another really exceptional Dahlonega coin in the Stack’s sale was an 1860-D half eagle graded MS63 by PCGS. This superb coin had an exceptional back story. According to the catalog it had been “received at the Dahlonega mint in 1860 in exchange for mined gold and scrap.” It had been in the same family since then and it was making its first appearance ever. It brought $43,125.
I did not actually see the coin in person but at least two reliable sources told me it was absolutely lovely and had a good chance to grade MS64 if resubmitted. It was probably the second finest known example of this date and it was one of the freshest, most interesting Dahlonega half eagles of any date to come onto the market in a number of years.
The Duke’s Creek/Miles/Bareford 1860-D, graded MS64 by both PCGS and NGC, is traditionally accorded the status as the finest known 1860-D. It brought $49,500 all the way back in the Stack’s May 1995 auction. Given this fact, I expected the 1860-D to bring around $40,000 and I was actually the underbidder on the January 2010 coin, having dropped out at $35,000 plus the 15% buyers’ premium.
What this coin’s price realized tells me is that the market for very high quality, fresh to the market Dahlonega gold is very strong. There is little in the way of supply and when a once-in-a-lifetime coin like this 1860-D becomes available, collectors react accordingly.
As I’ve written before, I like coins with what I call “multiple levels of demand.” What this means is a coin that is sought by a number of different sorts of collectors. As an example, the typical Dahlonega half eagle is likely to appeal mostly to a Dahlonega specialist whereas a coin like an 1838-D half eagle might appeal to a broader range of collectors due to its status as a one-year type and a first-year of issue. There are not all that many gold coins that have such widespread appeal that they might be tempting to, say a Lincoln Cent specialist. But the coins that I am going to list below are pieces that in my experience have strong cross-collector appeal. I have sold a High Relief, as an example, to collectors who have never bought another St. Gaudens double eagle and probably never will. But I have never sold a rare date Saint (let’s say a 1929 in MS65) to a collector who specialized in Charlotte gold and wanted a rare date like the 1929 just “for grins.”
There are a number of rare gold coins with multiple levels of demand. For the sake of brevity, I am going to just list five. I can think of another five very easily. I’d like your input in case I decide to write another of these articles, so please feel free to list your five and send them to me by email at email@example.com.
Without further ado, here’s my Fave Five Rare Date Gold Coins with broad levels of demand.
1. 1861-D Gold Dollar: This is a coin that I could probably sell a dozen of if I had them available. The 1861-D gold dollar appeals to a broad number of people for many reasons. It has a great historical perspective as it was issued by the Confederacy. It appeals to Dahlonega collectors as a key issue and to gold dollar specialists as well. It is rare in all grades and it has a crudeness about it that appeals to collectors who like “neat” coins. I’ve never had a hard time selling one and it is a coin that I would buy in nearly any grade, providing it wasn’t damaged or harshly cleaned.
2. 1845-O Quarter Eagle: Every coin dealer (and collector) has a few “pet” dates and, for me, the 1845-O quarter eagle is very high on the list. It probably doesn’t have the high level of demand among non-specialists that the other four coins in this group have but I think this issue is so rare, so undervalued and so historic that it belongs in any favorite’s list that I write. What do I like most? How about the mintage of just 4,000? The fact that this date was essentially unknown until the 1890’s? That a presentable VF to EF can be purchased for less than $5,000 makes it seem even more cool to me.
3. 1854-O Three Dollar: This isn’t a really rare coin and that’s one of the things that appeals to me about the 1854-O. I recently sold a nice, evenly worn EF for less than $3,500 and I’ve sold examples that cost over $50,000. What I like about this issue is the fact that it is the only three dollar gold piece from New Orleans. Unlike the 1854-D (another one-year issue) it is inexpensive enough that a collector who has no interest in Three Dollar gold pieces would buy one; unlike the 1854-D that is expensive and which might cause many collectors to think twice before an impetuous purchase.
4. 1838-C Half Eagle: This is another first-year of issue. It is traditionally linked with the very popular 1838-D half eagle (another first-year issue that is a one-year type as well). What I like more about the 1838-C is while it is probably a bit less scarce than the 1838-D in terms of overall rarity, it is far rarer in high grades. I regard the 1838-C as an extremely scarce coin in properly graded AU50 to AU53 and it is genuinely rare in choice, original AU55 to AU58. In all my years of specializing in Charlotte gold, I’ve only handled two legitimately Uncirculated 1838-C half eagles and only four or five that I regarded as true AU55 to AU58 pieces. Despite this coin’s rarity, it is still affordable in VF and EF grades.
5. 1838 Eagle: Here’s another first-year-of-issue that has gone from mostly unknown to very popular in the past few years. It is the first eagle produced after a thirty-four year hiatus and it is a rare, low mintage date with just 7,200 struck. It isn’t technically a one-year issue (a number of 1839 eagles have the same design) but it is a coin that is held in very high accord by collectors who do not care for the Liberty Head eagle series on the whole. Unlike the other dates listed above, the collector contemplating an 1838 eagle will have to consult various pricing sources as both Trends as the Greysheet do not reflect the levels that this date has brought at auction and via private treaty of late.
A few years ago, I wrote an article entitled “The Warehouse Theory of Coin Investing.” The gist of this article was that there are certain coins that remain in such demand with collectors that a sound investment theory might be to stockpile attractive examples of these and work with a specialized dealer who could then, over the course of time, resell them to other collectors. A coin that I used as the Poster Child for this was the 1854-D $3.00. If you had listened to this advice, you probably outperformed the market. There are clearly a small but definable group of coins that have been in strong demand over the last few years and their price levels have risen accordingly. Even in the now-weaker market of early 2009, I think many of these remain in demand and their overall level of value has stayed higher than other, “non-essential” coins.
What are some of the coins that I would suggest collectors put away multiples of in 2009?
I remain a big fan of any coin that has multiple levels of demand. What I mean by this, is a coin that is sought-after by collectors who might not normally be interested in this series. An example is the 1861-D gold dollar. Because of this issue’s association with the Confederacy, there is demand for it from collectors who are likely to never buy another Dahlonega coin of any date or denomination. But this coin is also sought by gold dollar specialists, last-year-of-issue collectors, Dahlonega specialists and collectors who like cool, historic coins, regardless of when or where they were produced.
What are some of the other coins that I would suggest collectors might be clever if they owned a few decent examples? Let’s look at this on a mint-by-mint basis. (Please note that this assumes that any duplicate coins purchased for “warehousing” meet the following criteria: choice for the grade, fairly priced and good overall eye appeal).
Carson City: Any 1870-CC gold coin is desirable and they always sell quickly for me when I have them in stock. Because of its currently high price I might not want to own two or three 1870-CC double eagles. I would be most likely to want multiple examples of the 1870-CC eagle in VF and EF grades as this issue remains a good value at current levels. I wouldn’t be opposed to owning multiple examples of any relatively affordable half eagle or eagle from the 1870’s that was totally original with great color and choice surfaces, especially if it were priced below $15,000.
Charlotte: The one Charlotte issue that comes to mind as being a great warehousing candidate would be the 1838-C half eagle in Very Fine to About Uncirculated grades. This issue’s status as a one-year type and a first-year-of-issue makes it extremely popular with collectors. My other two choices would be an 1838-C quarter eagle and an 1839-C half eagle. I might also suggest stockpiling any $3,000 or lower coin from this mint that was 100% virgin original.
Dahlonega: There are five very obvious warehouse choices from this mint: the 1855-D and 1861-D gold dollars, the 1854-D three dollar and the 1838-D and 1861-D half eagles. The first, third and fifth coins are one-year types while the second and the fourth have Confederate association(s). Another issue that I would give consideration to is the 1855-D quarter eagle. This has the lowest mintage of any Dahlonega coin and it is the single rarest issue produced at this mint. I would remind the potential warehouser of any or all of these coins that damaged or low-end examples need not apply. The same comment that I made for sub-$3,000 Charlotte coins applies to those made in Dahlonega as well.
Denver: Your basketball team is doing well this year but I don’t see many warehouse possibilities. With the possible exception of the scarce 1911-D eagle. Oh, and I like LoDo a lot...
New Orleans: There are five distinct one-year types from this mint: 1855-O gold dollar, 1839-O quarter eagle, 1854-O three dollar, 1909-O half eagle and 1879-O double eagle. I find all five of these to be popular and liquid, although I’m not sure that I consider all of them to be warehousing candidates. As an example, I wouldn’t suggest that anyone own multiple examples of the 1909-O in Extremely Fine. But I like this date in properly graded AU55 and above and I certainly would encourage a warehouser to salt away a few.
The New Orleans issues that I would be most inclined to suggest that someone own multiples of are the key issues that are still not fully valued. Some of these include the 1845-O quarter eagle, the 1847-O half eagle, the 1841-O, 1879-O and 1883-O eagles and the 1855-O double eagle.
Choice, original No Motto coins from New Orleans that are priced at below $3,000 seem like a good area to warehouse as well; especially half eagles.
Philadelphia: One of the problems about discussing gold coins from this mint is that you are looking at a lot of denominations (gold dollars through double eagles) and a long, long time of issuance (1795-1933). For the sake of this article, we’ll focus briefly on the early issues (pre-1834) and the Liberty Head issues (1840-1908).
There are lots of early gold coins that make sense as warehouse candidates. Most people are going to guess that I suggest famous issues like the 1796 No Stars quarter eagle. Actually, the coins I’d be more likely to want to warehouse are the Fat Head half eagles from the late 1820’s/early 1830’s. These coins are expensive and could certainly decline in value if the economy gets more uncertain but they are incredibly rare and, after many years of neglect, are now appreciated by many levels of collectors.
The Liberty Head issues that would make interesting warehouse candidates include the classic rarities from this mint: the 1841 and 1863 quarter eagles, the 1875 and 1876 three dollars, the 1887 half eagle and the 1875 eagle. I would also suggest a small number of very rare issues that, while not extremely popular (at least yet...) appear to represent good value relative to their rarity. These include the 1863 gold dollar, 1864 and 1865 quarter eagles, the 1863 and 1865 half eagles and the 1863, 1873, 1876 and 1877 eagles.
San Francisco: The obvious issues to warehouse from San Francisco would be the mega-rarities: 1854-S quarter eagle, 1864-S half eagle and 1864-S eagle. Even though there are a lot of undervalued and very rare issues from San Francisco, this mint’s comparative unpopularity leads me to believe that warehousing coins from the Barbary Coast might not be a stellar idea.
If you do decide to warehouse a specific issue (or more) my advice is to be under the radar. Let one dealer with who you have a good relationship know about it. I wouldn’t suggest you broadcast to the world that you own five 1838-D half eagles. If you are discrete about what you own, it will be to your advantage when it comes time to sell.
I currently know a number of collectors who warehouse certain gold issues and it is enjoyable for me to work with them. If this is something that intrigues you, please feel free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I had an interesting conversation with another coin dealer the other day. We were discussing what we are buying (and not buying) right now and he mentioned to me that, for the last few years, he has been primarily focused on buying only the key date coins in all series, even in such esoteric areas as Charlotte and Dahlonega gold. Focusing on keys has been a great strategy in mainstream series such as Barber coins or Morgan dollars. Issues like the 1901-S quarter and the 1893-S dollar have clearly outperformed the rest of the market during the last six to nine years. This got me to thinking: is this performance also the same in the market areas in which I specialize? To determine this I decided to select a small group of key dates from each series and to then compare them with a “generic” date as a baseline. The results are interesting.
The first item I chose was the ever-popular 1861-D gold dollar. As a generic comparison, I selected an 1859-D gold dollar. The former is the key Type Three issue from this mint while the latter is one of the more common dates.
In June 2000 Heritage auctioned a PCGS AU55 example of the 1861-D gold dollar for $12,075. Today, a similarly graded 1861-D would probably fetch over $30,000. I think it’s a safe bet to say that this issue has at least doubled—if not tripled—in value since the beginning of the decade.
In comparison, an AU55 example of the 1859-D gold dollar in AU55 would bring around $3,750-4,000 at auction today. In looking back at auction records from the 2000-2002 era, I noted at least three AU55 coins selling for $3,000-3,300. The price growth of the 1859-D gold dollar has been marginal at best. This does not totally surprise me, given that the Dahlonega market is very collector-oriented and that this sort of market is generally skewed towards rare dates or “neat” specific coins.
(NOTE: An important factor that I am not going to delve deeply into here is gradeflation. Even though the 1859-D gold dollar in AU55 appears to have experienced little price growth in the last decade, it is likely that coins sold as AU55 in 2002 are, by today’s standards, at least AU58; if not better. Gradeflation is, for many more common coins, what has caused the greatest amount of price increases).
The second item I chose was the 1842-C Small Date half eagle. This is the rarest collectible gold coin from Charlotte. As a generic comparison I selected an 1849-C half eagle. It is one of the more common issues from this mint.
Heritage sold a pair of comparatively high grade 1842-C Small Date half eagles in their June 2008 auction. A PCGS AU58 brought $43,125 while an NGC AU55 realized $31,050. Looking back, I noted that Heritage sold a PCGS AU58 in April 2002 for $55,200 and a PCGS AU55 in January 2003 for $35,650. The price performance of this key issue has been poor in the last five years and the 1842-C Small Date in AU is clearly worth less today than it was in the past.
In AU55, an 1849-C half eagle is currently worth $3,500-4,000. Looking back at auction records from around 2002, the same coin was worth basically the same.
What I think this shows is that in an area like Charlotte gold that hasn’t been very popular during recent years, even though a coin is a key issue (like the 1842-C Small Date half eagle) this doesn’t mean it will rise in value. It seems obvious to say this but, no matter how rare a coin is, if it isn’t part of a popular series then it is unlikely to increase in price.
How about Carson City double eagles; an area of the market that was popular in 2002 and is even more popular today? I chose the 1871-CC as my key date and the 1892-CC as its generic counterpart.
Current values for About Uncirculated 1871-CC double eagles are as follows: AU50= $32,500-35,000; AU53= $40,000-45,000 and AU55= $50,000-55,000+. Looking back to early 2003, Heritage sold a PCGS AU50 example for $14,950 in their January 2003 auction and an NGC AU55 in the same auction for $17,250. Clearly, levels for this date in AU have almost tripled in the last five years.
How about the common 1892-CC in AU grades? Heritage recently sold an NGC AU55 in their June 2008 auction for $3,450. Going back to June 2004, they sold a PCGS AU55 in the same grade for $1,840. A more detailed examination of auction records from this era shows that the typical AU 1892-CC double eagle in AU has doubled in value in the last five years.
This is a fairly interesting case study. CC double eagles have performed really well in the last few years due to their popularity and just about every coin has doubled in value. But the key issues in the series (1870-CC, 1871-CC, 1873-CC, 1878-CC, 1879-CC, 1885-CC and 1891-CC) have outperformed their more common counterparts. The one exception to this rule tends to be in the area of high grade coins. Even the common CC double eagles in high grades (in this case MS62 and better) have performed exceptionally well in the last few years due to strong demand.
The one problem with the strategy of buying only key dates is that in most gold series, these issues are very expensive. With entry level undamaged 1861-D gold dollars now exceeding $20,000, only elite collectors can realistically look to purchase such coins. And maybe this amount would be more rewarding if spent on three or four nice common date Dahlonega coins in AU instead of one very-rare-but-not-so-aesthetically appealing 1861-D.