The Battle Born Gold Coins: A Quick Analysis

The recently concluded Battle Born sale, held by Stack's Bowers at the 2012 Philadelphia ANA convention, was clearly a benchmark for collectors of Carson City coinage. It was probably the finest collection of gold from this mint that has been sold at auction during our lifetime; only the Bass sales of 1999-2000, the Old West sale held in 2006, and the Lang collection in 2003 are comparable. I attended the sale and would like to share some quick impressions of each denomination in the gold section. (NOTE: All of the prices below reflect a 15% buyer's premium and not the 17.5% that was charged to buyers who spent less than $50,000, cumulatively, at the auction). Half Eagles: On a coin-by-coin basis, the half eagles were the strongest individual series in the gold portion of this collection. Fifteen of the nineteen coins were Uncirculated and at least seven or eight were either finest known or tied for finest. But this series is not currently being contested by multiple numbers of wealthy collectors (as are, for example, Carson City Dimes and Carson City eagles). I felt that prices for the half eagles were disappointing at best, and that there were some great values for bidders.

1870-CC $5.00 PCGS MS61 CAC

A few coins stood out as great values. The foremost of these was the 1870-CC in PCGS MS61 CAC that sold for $103,500. I expected this coin to bring at least $125,000-150,000 based on the fact the fact that it is possibly unique in Uncirculated and clearly the finest known example of the rarest and most numismatically half eagle from this mint. The 1871-CC, graded MS63 by NGC, sold for $63,250 and I thought this was very cheap as I expected a final price of close to $100,000. The 1873-CC in PCGS MS62 sold for $103,500, and this seems low based on its Heritage 2011 record of $161,000 but I always felt that price was an anomaly. The 1874-CC in PCGS MS62 CAC and the 1875-CC in PCGS MS61 CAC, at $43,125 and $37,375, were both very cheap and I expected them to sell for considerably more.

1876-CC $5.00 PCGS MS66 CAC

Which brings us to my favorite coin in the sale, the 1876-CC graded MS66 by PCGS and approved by CAC. When I bought this coin in 2003 for $138,000, it was a piece that I really wanted to put away for a decade as I thought it was an amazing coin and the sort of "freak" that could bring a lot of money in a more appreciative market. But I sold it to the owner of the Battle Born collection and it has stayed off the market since then. I bid up to $350,000 for it this time but was left in the dust as it sold for $415,000 plus the buyer's premium, or $477,250. I'm certain that this is a record for any Carson City gold coin at auction and the buyer of the coin is a dealer I greatly respect who will, thankfully, not mess with this wonderful piece or worry about regrading it.

There were a few other half eagles that must have been disappointing for Mr. Born. The 1879-CC, graded MS62 by PCGS and approved by CAC, had sold to the collector for $69,000 in the Heritage 2/11 auction. This time around it brought $37,375. The 1881-CC in NGC MS63+ sold for what was close to the mid-way point of my pre-sale estimate of $40,000-50,000. A coin I really wanted to buy was the glorious PCGS MS65 CAC 1890-CC. I figured this coin would bring around $50,000 and it sold for $46,000 in the sale. Perhaps the biggest bargain, though, was the NGC MS65 1893-CC that sold for $18,400. I didn't especially like the coin, but I estimated that it would bring around $25,000.

Eagles: I expected this to be a strong part of the sale but was curious to see what impact the mixed quality would have on prices. There were some PCGS coins with CAC approval that I thought would do well. There were other coins that I thought were a bit generously graded and which were the sort of pieces that generally need to be priced at some sort of discount to sell to advanced collectors. At this sale, it didn't matter about the holder. As long as the coin had a "CC" on the back, the price was strong.

1874-CC $10.00 PCGS MS63

I disliked the 1870-CC in PCGS AU55 and strongly disagreed with the cataloger who claimed it was the finest known (the Old West: 1341 coin is clearly finer). It sold for $126,500 which in theory seemed like a marginal price but I would have passed at $100,000 if the coin had walked up to my table for sale at a show. The 1871-CC in PCGS MS62+ CAC seems pricey at $126,500 until you realize that it is the finest known and the only true Uncirculated example. One coin that sold for nearly double my pre-sale estimate was the 1874-CC in PCGS MS63. I thought bidders would be scared off by the two big scratches on the obverse (otherwise, it was a Gem...) but two collectors had to have it and the coin sold for a crazy $195,500.

A coin that really surprised me was the 1873-CC in NGC AU58. I really liked the appearance of the coin but graded it AU55 and thought that bidders would also see it as such. Ummm...wrong. It sold for $92,000 which made the nicer PCGS AU55 I sold a few years ago for a lot less seem like a really good deal.

The exact same scenario played out with the 1878-CC in NGC AU58. It was a fresh-looking and very attractive coin but one I know for sure had been upgraded from AU55. It sold for $80,500 which is more than double what I was prepared to pay for it.

Even though it is a common date in Uncirculated, the quality of the 1881-CC (graded MS64 by NGC and approved by CAC) made it special. I paid $74,750 for the coin in the Old West sale and I imagined that it would bring around that much this time; possibly less. It sold for $97,750 which I think is a ginormous amount for the date.

1882 $10.00 PCGS MS61 CAC

My "sleeper" CC eagle in the sale was the 1882-CC in PCGS MS61 CAC. It is one of only two known in Uncirculated and I liked the coin a lot due to its fresh appearance and lack of rub or wear. It brought $27,600 and I was the underbidder.

The worst value in the sale? I'm sorry to pick on the buyer of this coin--and I don't know who it was--but the NGC MS65 1891-CC at $57,500 was just not a savvy purchase.

Double Eagles: While I sold many of the half eagles and eagles to the collector, I was not involved in much of the assemblage of the double eagle collection. I thought the overall quality was nice. I wasn't fond of the 1870-CC (the previous 1870-CC in the collection, which I sold many years ago, was far nicer) and a few of the more common dates in MS62 and MS63 did nothing for me, but there were some great coins available.

The 1871-CC, graded MS64, is a coin that has bounced around for years and I've never understood why it hasn't been more appreciated. It was a little overgraded in an NGC MS64 holder (I like it more as an MS63) but it is easily the finest known and extremely rare in Uncirculated. It last sold in the Heritage 2008 auction for $414,000 and this time it went very reasonably at $322,000.

1872-CC $20.00 PCGS MS62 CAC

One of my favorite coins in the sale was the finest known 1872-CC in PCGS MS62 with CAC approval. I first saw this coin a few years ago in a bid deal at a coin show and it was in an NGC MS62* holder. If I'm not mistaken it sold then for around $100,000. In the Battle Born auction it brought $161,000 which is a very strong, but not unreasonable, price.

1874-CC $20.00 PCGS MS61 CAC

My favorite "sleeper" coin in the double eagles was the PCGS MS61 (with CAC approval) 1874-CC that sold for $28,750 in the Heritage October 2010 auction. This is a common date in circulated grades but it is very rare in Uncirculated. I thought the coin was worth around $20,000 back in 2010 and was willing to pay a touch more today. It brought $24,000 and I was the underbidder.

I don't remember the exact price of what I sold the PCGS MS62 1877-CC for in 2002 when it went into the Battle Born collection, but I'm certain it was less than $20,000. It brought $63,250 today. This is a good indication that nice MS62 and better examples of virtually all CC double eagles have performed extremely well during the past decade, often doubling or even tripling in value.

One coin that I sold to the Battle Born collector (in 2003) that I thought went sort of cheaply was the NGC MS61 1878-CC that was bid up to $48,875. I was expecting it to bring over $50,000 as it is a date that is virtually unavailable finer.

If there was one double eagle in the collection that I expected the owner to lose money on it was the 1882-CC graded MS63 (and approved by CAC). Yes, it is a condition rarity (one of just two in this grade with none better and it is the only one in MS63 with a CAC sticker) but I just didn't care for the coin. It wound-up selling for a whopping $80,500. To me, this shows the strength of the CC double eagle market and it tells me that buyers are very anxious to acquire examples that are very low population.

I was really fond of the 1885-CC graded MS62 and approved by CAC. This exact coin had sold for $37,375 in Stack's Bowers 2011 auction and, just a year later, it realized $57,500 which is easily a record price for the date at auction. Why did it bring so much more this time? I'd attribute it to three reasons: the "hotness factor" of the CC double eagle market, the "frenzy factor" of the Battle Born sale and the "comfort factor" of it now having CAC approval.

1889-CC $20.00 PCGS MS62 CAC

From a quality standpoint, the 1889-CC in PCGS MS62 with CAC approval was one of my favorite double eagles in the sale. It was really nice for the grade with good color and luster and choice surfaces. I thought it had no chance whatsoever to upgrade but thought it was a textbook example of a "real" MS62 CC double eagle. The last three auction records for this date in this grade were $20,125, $25,300 and $20,700. The coin in this sale brought $27,600.

A few more thoughts on the sale. Kudos are certainly in order for Stack's Bowers who did a great job promoting the sale and certainly proved that they are a formidable competitor to Heritage in the specialized gold coin market. The catalog itself was extremely well done with great information and lovely graphics. I was pleased to see that my name was totally Stalinized out of the pedigrees as I expected it to be. The overall price realized for the collection was just shy of $10 million (including the silver coinage) and I would have to think that the owner was pleased with the results.

How, then, would I rate the overall health of Carson City gold after the most important sale in this in close to a decade? I would, in a nutshell, make the following observations: the half eagle market is fairly weak and this sale would have been a great time to begin a serious collection of ultra-high quality pieces. The eagle market is extremely strong and there is far greater depth in the high end than I expected. I already knew the CC double eagle market was smoking hot, and this sale just confirmed it.

For more information on Carson City gold coinage, please feel free to contact me via email at

all images appear courtesy of Stack's Bowers

Ten Things I'm Looking Forward to Doing/Seeing at the Philly ANA

The annual Summer ANA show is a highlight on any collector's or dealer's calendar. This is my 30th in a row to attend and I am very much looking forward to the show, especially as it appears to be the last ANA that will be held on the east coast for many years. Here's a list of at least ten things that I'm excited about doing and seeing next week in Philadelphia: 1. Having a Mystery Guest Sighting: Without fail, every year at ANA always brings out at least one "mystery guest." Typically, it's a dealer who left the market and have been unseen for years or it's a collector who I haven't seen since the late 1980's who has decided to wander in because he heard that the ANA show was close to his house. I wonder who it will be this year?

2. Attending the Battle Born Sale. I'm very interested in this sale for a number of reasons. I sold many of the coins to the owner and am curious to see how they do at auction. I am excited to go "head to head" with the sharpest rare date gold buyers in the business as we compete to buy coins for clients and for stock. In the not so distant past, it wasn't uncommon to have big specialized sales like this that all the big players attended in person. I'm hoping that during this sale I'm able to see who I am bidding against, and it will go a long way to answering my questions about the State of the Market for Carson City coinage.

3. Having Something Great Walk Up to My Table: Every dealer hopes this will happen at an ANA show: a well-dressed man walks up to the table with a run of 19th century proof sets that he wants to sell for his elderly parents or a little old lady walks up with an original roll of Saints. These things DO happen from time to time and the fact that we are in Philadelphia, the cradle of American numismatics, bodes well for something exciting walking into the show. So if you are reading this blog, great-grandson of James Longacre, please come to tables 805-807 first and ask for me by name!

4. Wearing Nice Clothes in the 95 Degree/100 % Humidity Philly Summer As excited as I am to spend a week in Philadelphia, I'm going to miss the nearly perfect summer we've had so far in the Northwest. It's been under 80 degrees nearly every day here and I haven't had the air conditioner on once. While I'd like to attend the ANA show in my typical Portland Summer Uniform of polo shirt, shorts and sneakers, I feel this wouldn't be appropriate and will, instead, be suited-up every day. Sigh...

5. Viewing the ANA Exhibits. One of my favorite things to do at the show every year is to take thirty minutes off and go view the competitive and non-competitive exhibits. I still am eager to learn about areas of numismatics I know little about, and to see great U.S. coins that I haven't viewed before. It is always fun for me to do this and I always learn which dealers are true coin weenies when I get a text(s) during the show telling me "you have to see (such and such) coin at the Smithsonian or ANS exhibit."

6. Going to The Barnes Museum. Is it wrong for me to admit that I'm actually more excited to see this art museum than I am to attend the coin show? If you have a teeny iota of interest in great 19th and 20th century art, you need to go.

7. Eating Breakfast and Lunch Every Day at Reading Market. Two words: Amish Breakfast. And I can already taste the Italian sammies I'll be chowing down on every day. Sure beats typical coin show food! (Let's not even begin to talk about Philly cheese steaks, South Philly noodles and gravy, the Belgian mussels and frites place I went to the last time I was in Philly, cheap and good Chinese food, etc. etc.)

8. Restocking My Depleted Inventory. Back in the day, I would save coins for the ANA show because June and July were typically dead months. Now, with the internet 24/7/365 having taken over all retail businesses, I typically go to ANA with very few fresh coins due to the fact that there is essentially no summer break for the coin market any more. I had an atypically busy July and am now in dire need to buy coins. As are, I would assume, most other dealers. That fact, combined with strong metals prices and a great east coast location, lead me to think that this year's show will be a very good to excellent one.

9. Experiencing the ANA Buzz. To use a sports metaphor, the ANA is the Super Bowl of coin shows. It's a whole lot more exciting for a dealer to be at the ANA for a week than its is to spend three days trapped in the purgatory of a slow regional show where you've realized within thirty minutes that there is nothing to buy but your airline wants $1,000+ to change to an earlier flight. (Note to self: continue to pay the change fees and chalk it up to mental health benefits...). Even though I've been doing this show for 30 years and it has becoming a bit of grind, it is still exciting for me every day to walk in, see the hundreds and hundreds of tables and wondering what will happen, good or bad, on this particular day.

10. Leaving the Show. As I hinted above, the ANA is a lot of work, especially when you are doing the majority of the buying/selling/bidding/schmoozing/running around/answering calls/scheduling...let's just say I stay busy pretty much every minute of the day from 8am until 10pm (or later on some of the big auction nights). I like the action and I love the up-side, but it is very tiring and I have to tell you that when my plane lands in Portland, I might be doing the Pope-kissing-the tarmac routine. Except for the fact that the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday after the show are all 12+ hour days...

See you in Philadelphia!