What's Up in the Carson City Gold Market?

What's Up in the Carson City Gold Market?

My CC interest is still strong but a few factors have made my interest wane a bit in recent years. The market has become very pricey—especially for double eagles—and coins which I would happily write a check for $15,000 back in 1992 I have trouble with at $30,000 or $40,000 today. Most of the coins I see in the marketplace today are very low-end (not all but most) and when I see pieces in AU53 holders which are not only overgraded but which are processed, I have trouble playing at current numbers. Finally, to be honest, the market has become a little too competitive for me.

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Are 1870-CC Eagles Undervalued in Comparison to their Double Eagle Counterparts?

Without a lot of fanfare, we have seen the dispersal of one of the most amazing collecting of Western branch mint gold coins in the history of numismatics. So far in 2014, the various sales of the Bently/Nob Hill Collection(s) of US Gold Coinage has seen no less than six examples each of the rare 1870-CC eagle and double eagle with the promise of more to come.

The sale of this quantity of 1870-CC eagles and double eagles has made me reconsider the rarity and price structure of both issues. It has not only allowed me to get an excellent idea of exact valuations for both issues in a variety of grades, it has led me to ask an important question: is the 1870-CC eagle undervalued in comparison to its double eagle counterpart?

Before I attempt to answer this question, let’s take a quick look at both issues.

A total of 5,908 1870-CC eagles were struck. This is the rarest Carson City eagle (although the 1879-CC makes a strong claim to the rarest coin in the series) and there are an estimated 50-60 pieces known with most in the VG-VF range.

There were 3,789 1870-CC double eagles struck. It is the rarest CC gold coin of any denomination and I feel that there are 35-45 known in all grades; mostly in the VF-EF range.

Let’s look at the current PCGS population figures for each issue:

$10.00 G-VF : 23; EF: 18; AU: 10; UNC: 0; Total: 51

$20.00 G-VF : 6; EF: 22; AU: 5; UNC: 0; Total: 33

These numbers tell us a few things. First, as expected, the 1870-CC double eagle is around twice as rare as its counterpart the 1870-CC. Interestingly, the eagle is seen more often in lower grades (the average example grades VF) while the average grade for the double eagle is EF. Both issues are extremely rare in properly grade AU and are unknown in anything close to Mint State.

We might make the quick conclusion that based on rarity alone, the 1870-CC double eagle should be worth around 2x what an 1870-CC eagle is worth in VF, EF and AU grades.

Based on the sales of so many 1870-CC eagles and double eagles in 2014, I’d suggest the following valuations for each denomination:

1870-CC $10.00 PCGS EF45


  • VF: $25,000-40,000 (depends on grade/grading service)
  • EF40: NGC $40,000-45,000; PCGS $45,000-50,000
  • EF45: NGC $45,000-50,000; PCGS $50,000-55,000
  • AU50: NGC $60,000-65,000; PCGS $70,000-75,000
  • AU55: NGC $125,000-135,000; PCGS $150,000-175,000

1870-CC $20.00 PCGS EF45


  • VF: $175,000-225,000 (depends on grade/grading service)
  • EF40: NGC $235,000-250,000; PCGS $250,000-265,000
  • EF45: NGC $260,000-280,000; PCGS $275,000-290,000
  • AU50: NGC $285,000-295,000; PCGS $310,000-330,000
  • AU55: NGC $325,000-350,000; PCGS $400,000-425,000

Assuming that the price structure for the 1870-CC double eagle is “correct” (and I think it is, based on the number of coins which have sold over the last few years), why is the 1870-CC eagle not priced at around half the level of its counterpart?

I think there are a few answers to this. The 1870-CC double eagle is a more famous coin with a lower mintage. It is larger in size and it is part of a set (Carson City double eagles) which ranks as among the most avidly collected in all of upper-echelon American numismatics.

Double eagle rarities have multiple levels of demand, and the 1870-CC is a coin that often sells to a collector or investor who might not be a tried and true specialist.

I think we are beginning to see a strong shift in the eagle market and this denomination is now gaining in popularity and price. CC eagles aren’t as popular (yet) as double eagles, but the metrics for these series is clearly changing.

My conclusion is that the 1870-CC eagle is undervalued. If a nice quality EF45 1870-CC double eagle is worth in the $275,000-295,000 range, an 1870-CC eagle at $50,000-55,000 seems substantially undervalued. Given that the 1870-CC eagle in EF is pretty similar in rarity to the 1870-CC double eagle (see the chart above), it is hard to believe that it is worth only 1/5th as much. I can easily see the 1870-CC eagle in EF and AU grades doubling in price in the next five years; I’m not sure I can say the same for the 1870-CC double eagle.

What are your thoughts about the price and rarity of the 1870-CC eagle and double eagle? I would love for you to comment below.


Do you buy rare gold coins?

Do you have coins to sell?

Would you like to have the world’s leading expert help you assemble a set of coins?

Contact me, Doug Winter, directly at (214) 675-9897 or by email at dwn@ont.com.

The Carson City Double Eagle Market: An Analysis

It’s been a while since I’ve done an in-depth article on any Carson City gold coins and, as they are the most popular issues from this mint, I thought this would be a good time to write about the double eagles from Carson City. Before we get into date-by-date mode, let’s look at some big picture issues which concern collectors of these coins.

  1. Popularity levels have clearly risen. CC double eagles have always been popular with collectors. But they have become an investor favorite as well. I am aware of at least three large marketing firms who are selling CC double eagles and not just mundane common dates in VF and EF. This has pushed interest up for all dates in virtually all grades.
  2. Prices have risen. Without a statistical study, I can say intuitively that prices for most CC double eagles have risen between 10 and 50% in the last five years. I used to be able to buy quantities of nice EF coins for less than $2,000; today, these same coins cost me closer to $3,000. This seems to be even more so with higher grades coins. As an example, an MS61 1875-CC was a $7,500 coin around five years ago and not always an easy sale at that level. Today, I get $12,000 or more for one and they disappear as soon as I list them on my website.
  3. Fewer coins seem available. My intuition tells me this is true based on what I am able to buy. At a typical big show five years ago I would return with anywhere from five to ten nice CC double eagles. I’d see them in dealer’s cases and I’d see them offered not only by the usual suspects but by smaller mom-n-pop dealers. This is clearly not the case in 2013 and I might come back from a show like Long Beach with no more than one or two CC double eagles in my newps.
  4. CAC has had an impact. At first, CAC approved examples of CC double eagles didn’t seem to have a big impact on the market. This has changed and even common dates in EF sell for a premium. The coins with potentially big CAC impact are the rare dates which don’t typically come nice. As an example, I have seen virtually no AU50 examples of the 1870-CC which I thought were choice original coins. Currently, CAC has never approved an 1870-CC in grades above EF40 (and just two at that level). If an average quality 1870-CC in AU50 is worth, say, $325,000 what is one worth with CAC sticker? $350,000? $375,000? Maybe even $400,000?

Let's now take a quick look at each date and see what's happening on a coin-by-coin basis.


Between 2005 and 2010, there were two or three examples of this date per year appearing at auction. This has slowed done considerably and in the last three years, only one non-no grade 1870-CC has sold at auction. This doesn’t mean this date has stopped selling; I know of a Nevada-based specialist dealer who owned multiple examples of the 1870-CC at one time and I believe he has sold them all via private treaty in the last year. This date cratered at around $200,000-225,000 for a typical quality EF coin a few years ago and prices have risen, slowly but surely. To own a decent 1870-CC today, you are going to have to write a check for at least $250,000 to $275,000. There are two above average examples in the Heritage 2014 FUN sale and it will be interesting to see what these bring.


1871-CC $20.00 NGC AU55

For most collectors, this date remains the single most expensive coin in their set, given that they won’t purchase an 1870-CC. I recently sold an NGC AU55 for well over $50,000 which is a record for me. Demand for the 1871-CC continues to increase and a choice PCGS EF45 could bring over $30,000 if available.


The pattern of availability for this date has changed over the last few years. It used to be an issue that I handled regularly in EF45 and these sold well for me. Today, these same coins now grade AU50 or even AU53 and seem more available than before. Properly graded AU55 to AU58 1872-CC double eagles remain rare to very rare and other than the fantastic Battle Born coin, no Mint State pieces have been sold in some time.


The finest known 1873-CC, variously graded MS62 and MS63, sold five different times between 2004 and 2008. Since then, not much in the way of exciting high grade 1873-CC double eagles have sold but Stacks Bowers 1/13: 13337, graded MS61 by NGC, brought a record-breaking $55,813 earlier this year. Prices for this date in all grades have risen as well.


1874-CC $20.00 PCGS AU55 CAC

I was recently offered an NGC MS60 example of this date for $20,000 and, gulp!, I almost pulled the trigger. After years of being undervalued, the 1874-CC is a sleeper no more an even nice AU58’s are selling at close to the $10,000 mark. This brings us to a quick rhetorical question: is it is possible for there to be a sleeper in an extremely popular series such as Carson City Liberty Head double eagles? My take…yes there is but only a very few and only in the specific instance where the holder means nothing. In other words, population figures for AU58 1874-CC double eagles would suggest it isn’t rare. But real world experience shows that properly graded CAC-caliber examples are in fact very scarce if not actually rare.


I mentioned in the beginning of this article how MS61 1875-CC double eagles have soared in price in the last few years. This is true with examples of this date in AU grades as well. I think nice 1875-CC double eagles will remain popular and in demand due to this issue being the only quasi-affordable Type Two issue from this mint.


It’s been at least two years since I’ve handled an 1876-CC $20 in a grade higher than MS60 and this is surprising as nice MS61 and MS62 pieces used to be around. This, to me, is another good indication that CC double eagles are truly a collector-oriented series. The nice coins seem to be going off the market into long-term holdings unlike in the past when they would be held for a year or two and then flopped.


The comments I made for the 1872-CC (see above) are pretty much the same for the 1877-CC. AU50s and AU53s seem a touch more available than in the past but that is primarily the result of gradeflation. The Battle Born: 11046 coin, graded MS62 by PCGS, is the only Uncirculated 1877-CC to come on the market for at least two years and I have handled just one Uncirculated piece myself (a PCGS MS61) in this time frame. Just as an FYI, if you can find a nice EF example for anywhere near $4,000, I think this is still a great value.


This was a date that was always appreciated by collectors due to its small mintage but the lack of decent examples in the last few years is, to me, a tribute of the 1878-CC’s true scarcity. I like the value that this date offers in EF grades (still less than $10,000) assuming that you can a) actually find one and b) it isn’t dreadful.


Ditto. Here’s another date which has seen almost no nice pieces sold since Battle Born: 11048. I have privately placed an AU58 and an MS60 and for both coins I had to pay what I believe were record prices.


I’ve never been a huge fan of this date, so what I have to say might show an anti-1882CC bias. But I have noticed a pretty healthy supply of examples this year, including a few decent to choice Uncirculated pieces. I still think the 1882-CC is fairly valued in AU50 to AU55 grades (especially if the coin is CAC quality) but I’m going to officially go on record and state that Mint State 1882-CC double eagles are spendy. I still can’t get over the fact that the PCGS MS63 in Battle Born brought over $80,000.


If I were assembling a CC double eagle set for friends or family, I’d look at a PQ AU58 with CAC approval at around $7,000 or a touch more. That seems like better value, to me, than a so-so MS60 or MS61 at $12,000-14,000.


1884-CC $20.00 PCGS MS61 CAC

Along with the 1883-CC, this is one of my favorite CC dates for type purposes. It tends to come well made and if you can find an example with original color and surfaces, the visual appeal for this issue tends to be better than average. Uncirculated 1884-CC double eagles are no longer affordable for most collectors as a nice MS61 will cost you around $12,500 and if you can find an MS62 you are looking at $20,000 or more.


When I first started making a market in CC double eagles, this date seemed to be more of a “key” than it does now. Not to cast aspersions on the 1885-CC and its friends and family but this date just doesn’t feel like a rarity anymore. Sure, it’s a better date in the series but it seems more plentiful than it was back in the day. One quick observation: this date used to be priced in tandem with the 1878-CC and 1879-CC in higher grades but it now lags both of these issues. The last nice coin to sell, ex Stacks Bowers 4/13: 1401 and graded PCGS MS61, at $35,278, actually seems like a good value to me within the context of this series.


I just sold a nice PCGS AU58 example for over $8,000 to a savvy wholesaler and this was sort of a “gulp!” moment for me. I looked at my old records and saw that I was selling the same date in this grade for around $5,000 around three years ago. The gulp wasn’t so much that I thought these were now overvalued at $8,000; I leave that to the market to decide. The gulp was more that I wistfully thought “why didn’t I just put four or five of these away for a few years and sell into a market I knew was going to be strong.” Sigh…


I’m now pretty certain that this is the most available date in the series in lower grades. I still see 1890-CC double eagles coming out of Europe and even some pretty decent EF45 to AU55 examples from these sources. This is one of the few CC double eagles that are still comparably affordable in AU58. I have sold a few nice examples in the last couple of months for around $6,000. Not cheap but not as pricey as some of the other common dates in this series.


This date has proven itself to be scarcer than the 1885-CC and it seems far less available in the current strong CC double eagle market. No Uncirculated examples have sold at auction since the nice MS62 in Battle Born (it sold for a reasonable $48,875) and I don’t think I’ve handled more than two or three nice AU’s this year. Presentable AU’s at less than $20,000 seem like good value to me in the context of this market.


Let’s say you bought a nice PCGS MS62 1892-CC in 2008. You probably paid around $16,000-18,000 for it. Fast forward to today. You send your coin to CAC and since it was nice for the grade, it is approved. If you go to sell the coin, the chances are good you’ll get around $25,000 for it and possibly more if someone like me thinks it has a chance to upgrade to MS63. Not a terrible return, especially given the fact that many non-CC Type Three double eagles have had spotty price performance during this five year period.


1893-CC $20.00 PCGS MS63 CAC

The rumor about this date used to be that there was a bag of them and someone was quietly selling them two or three at a time. True? I doubt it but there were certainly a lot of similar looking Uncirculated 1893-CC double eagles on the market a few years back. There are still some nice coins around but they tend to have a bleached-out look as they have been processed to remove the deep peripheral color you used to find on this date.

Do you collect Carson City double eagles? If so, I would be pleased to help you assemble a great set. Feel free to contact Doug Winter by email at dwn@ont.com.

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 dwn@ont.com

all images appear courtesy of Stack's Bowers

Some Further Thoughts on Carson City Double Eagles

I've been working on a third edition of my book on Carson City gold coins. For some odd reason, I've been working from back to front, meaning that I've done the new research of double eagles before following this with eagles and half eagles. I've been able to uncover some really eye-opening new information on the rarity and price levels of Carson City double eagles and I'd like to share a few tidbits. The last Carson City book that I produced was published in 2001, so almost a full decade has passed. My first impression about the market for Carson City double eagles is that it has become far, far more active than ever. Prices have risen significantly since 2001, especially for rarities and for high grade pieces.

In 2001, the five rarest Carson City double eagles in terms of overall rarity (i.e., total known) were the 1870-CC, 1891-CC, 1871-CC, 1878-CC and 1879-CC (these last two issues were tied for fourth rarest). In 2010, the five rarest Carson City double eagles in terms of overall rarity are the 1870-CC, 1871-CC, 1891-CC, 1879-CC and 1885-CC (these last two issues were tied for fourth rarest).

The 1870-CC has remained an extremely rare coin, despite a surprisingly high frequency of auction appearance in the middle part of this decade. I had previously thought 35-45 were known. Today, I think that number is around 40-50. This includes a number of low grade coins and at least five or six that are either damaged or cleaned to the point that can not be graded by PCGS or NGC.

The rarity of the 1891-CC seems to have diminished quite a bit. I think there are two reasons for this. The first is that I overestimated its rarity in 2001. The second is that a significant number of examples have been found in Europe and other overseas sources. This date hasn't become plentiful in higher grades but it is far more available in AU50 to AU55 than I ever remember it being before.

The 1871-CC seems more available as well. In 2001, this issue was very hard to find in any grade and it was almost never seen above AU50. Today it is more available and the number of coins graded AU53 to AU55 has risen dramatically. I would attribute much of this to gradeflation as the majority of the 1871-CC double eagles that I see in AU53 and AU55 holders are "enthusiastically" graded, to say the least. In properly graded Mint State, the 1871-CC remains exceedingly rare.

A date whose rarity has become more apparent is the 1885-CC. In the 2001 edition of my book, this date was not even listed in the top six rarest Carson City double eagles. I now rank it as being tied for fourth along with the 1879-CC.

Everyone loves a sleeper, right? The dates that I believe are underrated (and undervalued) in the Carson City double eagle series include the 1872-CC, 1877-CC, 1882-CC and 1892-CC.

In higher grades (AU50 and above), the rarity scale of the Carson City double eagle series has remained remarkably consistent. In 2001, I stated that the 1870-CC, 1871-CC, 1879-CC, 1878-CC, 1891-CC and 1872-CC were, in that order, the six rarest issues. In 2010, I believe the six rarest are the 1870-CC, 1871-CC, 1878-CC, 1879-CC, 1872-CC and 1891-CC. In other words, the same six dates are still the keys in higher grades but there are now some minor changes in the order.

How much more available have high grade Carson City double eagles become since 2001? In some instances, population figures have doubled or even tripled. This tends to be primarily in the MS61 and MS62 range and I think there are a few good reasons for this. The first is gradeflation. Some coins that were nice, high end AU55 to AU58 pieces in 2001 are now MS61 or even MS62 by today's more liberal standards. The second is resubmissions of existing coins. For many Carson City double eagles there is a significant price increase from MS61 to MS62 and submitters may send in a high end coin many, many times in attempt to get a higher grade. The third reason is that some very impressive coins have been found in Europe since 2001. I know that I have been able to buy dozens of fresh-to-the-market Uncirculated CC double eagles that trace their origins to overseas sources and I would imagine that other dealers have handled numerous choice, fresh Mint State pieces as well.

If you purchased Carson City double eagles in 2001 and have held them since, you have done very nicely. Obviously, one of the main reasons for this is the fact that gold has gone from around $400 to close to $1300 in the past decade. I can remember buying common date CC Twenties in lower grades (VF and EF) in the early part of this decade for $750 or so. Today, the basal value of any CC double eagle is around $1,750-2,000.

Prices of high grades coins are interesting to study. One date that I looked at carefully was the 1893-CC, mainly because it is more available in MS63 than any other CC double eagle. In 2001, you could buy an 1893-CC in MS63 for around $10,000-12,000. In 2005-2006, the same coin would have probably cost you between $15,000 and $20,000. Today, if you can find an 1893-CC in MS63 it will run in the $25,000-30,000 range and a really choice PCGS example with a CAC sticker might even bring $35,000.

I'll continue to tease you with updates on my Carson City book in the coming months and I'm hoping that it will be ready for publication sometime in the Spring of 2011.

Carson City Double Eagles: An Introduction and Overview

Carson City twenty dollar gold pieces, or double eagles, are the most available gold coins from this mint. Only one date in the series, the 1870-CC, can be called truly rare, although a number of other dates are very rare in high grades. Amassing a complete collection with an example of each date is an enjoyable pursuit. And if you decide not to include the 1870-CC because of its prohibitive cost, don’t despair; many collections do not include this date. A collector of average means can put together a nice set of Carson City double eagles with the average coins in the Extremely Fine and About Uncirculated range. The collector will soon learn that only the 1870-CC presents a great challenge in terms of availability. There are an estimated 40-50 examples known in all grades. This means that no more than four dozen or so complete collections of Carson City double eagles could possibly exist. In comparison, the maximum number of Carson City half eagles that could exist is around five dozen while around three dozen (or a few more) eagle sets from this mint might be formed. In each series, the 1870-CC is clearly the “stopper” or key date.

The completion of an average quality Carson City double eagle set is somewhat easier than a comparable half eagle or eagle set, provided that the collector is willing to accept coins that do not grade Mint State-60 or better. There are just 19 dates required to form a complete set. Carson City double eagles are without a doubt among the most popular United States gold coins. Their large size, combined with their romantic history, makes them irresistible to many collectors. This fervent collector base is most evident when one examines the great popularity of the 1870-CC. This issue has increased dramatically in price and popularity since the last edition of my Carson City gold coins book was published in 2001. As this is being written (2010) there are a few examples actually available to collectors but a few years back it was nearly impossible to locate an 1870-CC double eagle at any price.

As with the other Carson City gold series, it is very challenging to pursue the double eagles in higher grades; in this case About Uncirculated-55 and higher. It becomes even more of a challenge when the collector demands clean, original coins with a minimum of bagmarks and abrasions. As a rule, CC double eagles are less rare in high grades than their half eagle and eagle counterparts (at least the issues from the 1870’s and 1880’s). This means that locating really choice coins is not as difficult as with the half eagles and eagles from the first decade of this mint’s operation.

More than most other Liberty Head double eagles, the Carson City issues have tended to remain popular and increase in value over the course of time; regardless of their bullion value. One of the major reasons for this has to do with the great story behind these coins. CC double eagles are reasonably easy to promote due to their relative availability (especially in lower grades) and their wonderful history. These coins have long proven easy to sell to non-collectors and pure investors. Interestingly, the Japanese were major buyers of Carson City double eagles in the past and this is due to their interest in the legends and history of the Old West. I am aware of several American dealers who sold a number of Carson City double eagles to the Japanese and other Asians.

At the present time it remains impossible to assemble a complete set of Uncirculated Carson City double eagles. At least one of the nineteen dates is unknown in Uncirculated. However, more dates in the double eagle series exist in full Mint State than in the half eagle and eagle series, both of which contain a number of issues that are either unknown or excessively rare in Mint State.

The 1870-CC is unknown above the AU53 to AU55 range while the 1871-CC and 1872-CC has just three to five and five to six, respectively. The 1878-CC and 1879-CC are extremely rare in Uncirculated as well with fewer than ten pieces believed to exist. The 1873-CC and 1891-CC are very rare in Uncirculated and almost unobtainable above the MS60 to MS61 range. The 11874-CC, 1877-CC and 1885-CC are considered to be quite rare in full Uncirculated as well. Conversely, a few Carson City double eagles are very plentiful in Uncirculated. These dates include the 1875-CC, 1890-CC and 1893-CC of which hundreds are known in the MS60 to MS62 range. It should be stressed that well over 90% of all Uncirculated Carson City double eagles are in the MS60 to MS62 range and any date in extremely rare and desirable in properly graded MS63 or above. I have still never seen or heard of a Gem and have only seen one piece (an 1875-CC) that I regarded as being close to MS64.

High grade Carson City double eagles are in very high demand by date collectors and type collectors. I doubt if there are as many as twenty Carson City double eagles that are true MS63 coins by today’s standards. CC double eagles are essentially unknown in high grades because of the rough way in which they were handled and if a Gem is to ever show up it is likely to be an Assay coin or a piece that was given special treatment by a VIP or prominent local family.

There was probably not a single coin collector alive in Nevada at the time these coins were produced. The few MS63 to MS64 coins that do exist were preserved by good fortune or sheer happenstance. Many were stored in the vaults of European, Central American and South American banks after they had been shipped there as payment for international debts. While stored in these banks they were protected from the American gold recall of 1933 and the wholesale meltings that took place during this period. Many of these coins have worked their way back to America since the 1960’s as their numismatic value increased. Despite the fact that literally thousands have been repatriated, more Carson City double eagles are still being found in Europe, Central America and South America.

An examination of the series reveals some interesting rarity trends. Survival statistics depend, to some extent, on the original mintage figures. But they vary widely according to the year of issue.

The rarity trends for CC double eagles do not break down as neatly as they do for the half eagles and eagles from this mint. Unlike these two other denominations, the double eagles do not always get characterized as “rare early dates” and “common late dates.” One of the rarest double eagles is the low mintage 1891-CC while the most common is the 1875-CC. After studying the half eagles and eagles from this mint, I feel that the rarity of the Carson City double eagles are based less on mintages and actual use than on mintage values and subsequent shipment overseas. The collector who studies the rarity tables that I included in my 2001 book on CC gold will note the following very general trend: the lower a coin’s mintage and the older its date, the rarer it tends to be in terms of pieces known today.

The 1870-CC double eagle had the lowest mintage figure of any Carson City double eagle: a scant 3,789 coins. In the entire 57 coin Carson City gold series, only the mintages of the 1877-CC, 1878-CC and 1879-CC eagles were lower. As with the other 1870-CC gold issues, the comparably high survival rate of the double eagle (on a percentage basis) is most probably due to a few pieces being saved as first-year-of-issue keepsakes. The fact that no AU-55 or better specimens exist implies that these coins went directly into circulation and saw active use.

The next rarest dates are the 1871-CC and the 1891-CC. The 1871-CC is rare due to a low original mintage figure (just 17,387 coins) and the fact that this issue saw active commercial use. The 1891-CC is rare more because of the fact that only 5,000 were produced. It is also interesting to note that the similarly dated half eagle and eagle are extremely common by the standards of Carson City gold and can be found with no difficult even in the lower Uncirculated grades.

The next rarest issues are the 1885-CC, 1879-CC and 1878-CC. All three have low mintages and tend not to be found in groups of CC double eagles located in overseas sources.

The 1875-CC, 1876-CC, 1884-CC, 1892-CC and 1893-CC appear to have been saved and then shipped overseas. A decent number of these coins are still being brought back to the United States, including examples in the lower Uncirculated grades. The 1892-CC and 1893-CC, in particular, are less rare in Uncirculated than their comparatively low mintages would suggest.

As with other gold denominations, a general rule is that the older a coin is, the lower the average grade of surviving specimens. This intuitive statement is not nearly as easy to predict in the double eagle denomination. As an example, the 1872-CC is the third rarest Carson City double eagle when it comes to high grade rarity but it is only the eighth rarest in terms of overall rarity. This suggests that this coin was released into circulation and used in commerce; not stored in banks and shipped overseas like the 1892-CC and 1893-CC.

Carson City double eagles served two primary functions. They were meant to circulate but they were also meant as a storehouse of value. The large $20 denomination was the most convenient form in which to coin, transport and trade the large quantities of gold that had recently been mined in Nevada. During the western gold rushes, paper money was viewed with suspicion. This made gold coins an important factor in daily commerce, which quickly became the accepted mode of payment in the Old West. Thus, it is not surprising to learn that Carson City double eagles can be found in comparatively low grades today. These low grade coins (Very Fine and Extremely Fine) are often heavily abraded from years of use in commerce. Conversely, most of the known Uncirculated coins are also heavily marked, the result of loose coins striking against each other while being transported in bags. It is not uncommon to see CC double eagles with no real wear but with such extensive abrasions that they are downgraded in the commercial marketplace to About Uncirculated.

The greatest challenge for the collector of these coins is not finding specific dates but, rather, locating clean problem-free coins. As mentioned above, the typical Carson City double eagle, whether it grades Very Fine-30 or Mint State-61, tends to have negative eye appeal due to excessive marks, scuffing or mint-made spotting. Coins which have truly good eye appeal are quite rare and deserve to sell for a strong premium over average quality specimens. The collector is always urged to “stretch” for exceptional pieces with high quality eye appeal.

Most of the pieces struck from 1870 through 1875 are not sharply impressed. This is most evident in the central portion of the coin where the greatest amount of pressure is needed to raise the metal of the planchet and bring out the details. On the obverse, the weakest area is usually on the hair. On the reverse, this weakness is most often seen on the neck feathers of the eagle, the radial lines in the shield and on E PLURIBUS in the motto. This weakness of strike is often confused with wear. Still, Carson City double eagles of this era tend to be sharper (and easier to grade) than their half eagle and eagle counterparts.

The survival estimates in my new book are based on information current as of 2010. Since the last edition of the book in 2001, a number of new coins have surfaced. This has included some reasonably significant hoards. Populations for Uncirculated have increased due to relaxed grading standards. Some coins that I considered to be About Uncirculated in 2001 and now Mint State.

Due to the sheer number of Carson City half eagles that exist, I have always found it difficult to estimate surviving populations; especially with the more common issues. I anticipate that my current overall population figures will prove to be conservative, just as they were in 2001 (and in 1994 when I wrote the very first Carson City gold book).

To reach these conclusions, I study auction data, population reports, dealer ads and websites as well as my own personal records of sale. In an average year, the number of 1870-CC double eagles might be as low as one or two coins. For other dates, such as the 1871-CC and 1891-CC, the number might be around one per month; possibly less. Obviously, the rarer the date and the higher the grade desired, the harder it will be for the collector to locate an acceptable example. Finest known or Condition Census examples may stay in specific collections for many decades.

As I mentioned earlier, the collector with a budget can form a complete (or near-complete) set of CC double eagles excluding the 1870-CC in the VF and EF grades. A number of the dates in the series can still be found in lower grades for less than $2,500 per coin and they would appear to have very little downside risk at these levels.

The collector with a larger budget is likely to focus on coins grading AU50 and above. With the exception of the 1870-CC, no Carson City double eagle is prohibitively expensive or unobtainable in this range. Such a set could probably be assembled in two years or less.

A connoisseur with a large budget will focus on coin that grade About Uncirculated and Uncirculated. For the 1870-CC, a coin grading EF45 to AU50 will prove satisfactory. The collector of such coins should focus on pieces with minimal marks and original color. Since many of the early issues are so rare in full Mint State, finding even properly graded AU55 to AU58 pieces is very difficult. Given normal market conditions, a collection of this magnitude might be assembled in three to five years.

An even more impressive collection would be one in which all the coins except the 1870-CC were MS60 or finer. Such a collection might take decades to assemble.

Collecting Carson City double eagles is a very enjoyable pursuit and the number of serious collectors currently working on sets will attest to this.

The Evaporation of the Premium Factor in the Carson City $20 Market

One of the many interesting facts about the rare coin business at this point in time is that the focus in the gold market is clearly on generics and semi-numismatic items and, at least for the time being, off many rare coins. How has this shift of focus affected the Liberty Head double eagle market and, more specifically, the market for common date Carson City issues? I look at common CC double eagles as a sort of bellwether for the dated gold market. The most common Carson City issues (such as the 1875-CC, 1876-CC, 1883-CC, 1884-CC, 1890-CC and 1892-CC) are affordable, exist in enough quantity that they are subject to occasional promotional activities and have a good enough background story that they are easy to sell to beginning collectors.

Traditionally, the price ratio for Extremely Fine and About Uncirculated Carson City double eagles versus generic common dates of this design was around two to one for XF coins and around three to one for AU coins.

A year ago, well before the current soaring gold market, a common 1904 double eagle in Extremely Fine was worth in the area of $700-800 and not an easy issue to sell. The same coin in About Uncirculated was worth just a bit more; say $750-850. At the same point in time, an 1890-CC double eagle was worth around $1,400-1,600 in EF and $2,000-2,250 in AU. This meant that the price ratio for the two issues was approximately 2x in EF and 3x in AU.

Today, this premium ratio has changed, primarily due to the fact that the price of gold has risen to nearly $1,200 per ounce and the demand for nondescript bullion-related double eagles is at an unprecedented high. Right now, a 1904 double eagle in Extremely Fine is worth around $1,500-1,600 while an AU is worth around $1,550-1,650. The market for an 1890-CC in these grades has risen as well, just not as dramatically as a seemingly mundane common date.

In Extremely Fine the current market value for an 1890-CC double eagle is around $2,000 while an AU50 is worth in the area of $2,500-2,750. This means a price ratio of about 1.3x for an Extremely Fine and in the area of 1.7 to 1.8x for an AU.

Why have the premiums for the Carson City double eagle(s) evaporated as much as they have? The answer is simple: the demand for double eagles is at unprecedented levels but the buyers of these coins tend to be unsophisticated investors who want anonymous, cheap coins with as small of a numismatic premium as possible. Even the most Carson City double eagle, like an 1890-CC, is still a numismatic coin and it is hard to convince a dispassionate investor that he should pay a 1.3 to 1.8x premium for two little “C’s” on the reverse.

If the price of gold continues to stay at its current level and demand for common issues remains as strong as it currently is, I do expect a small amount of this frenzy to spill over into coins such as Carson City double eagles. It is likely that the marketers who are selling bulk lots of 1904 double eagles in EF and AU are likely to attempt to “up sell” new investors into the rare coin market as these coins provide greater markups and more profit.

At this point in time I would have to say that common date CC double eagles are a pretty good value and if the price of gold continues to rise, it seems like they are a pretty good “double play” that incorporates the value of nearly an ounce of gold with some real numismatic scarcity. It will be interesting to see where the market premium factor for these coins are in another year.

Baltimore Collection Shows Strength of Double Eagle Market

To paraphrase that esteemed numismatist Mark Twain, the reports of the death of the coin market seem greatly exaggerated. That is, at least, if you take a look at the prices that Heritage got for a nearly complete set of Liberty Head double eagles that was sold at their Dallas auction on October 24. As anyone who even remotely follows the dated gold market knows, Liberty Head double eagles have been one of the most solid performers in the coin market during the bull market run-up of the past few years. This market has proven to have more depth than I would have ever imagined and there are, clearly, more advanced collectors assembling comprehensive specialized sets of these coins than in probably any other area of the 19th century gold market.

The question I was asking myself a few days ago, though, was: would these collectors still play in this market after the Economic Malaise of the past month? The Type One, Type Two and Type Three sets are full of many big, macho “stoppers” and I was very interested to see how these coins would do.

The two key collectible Type One double eagles are the 1854-O and the 1856-O. These have appreciated in value more than virtually any other United States gold coin in the last five to seven years and, certainly, the New Market wouldn’t be able to continue its frantic pace when it came to these two issues, would it? The 1854-O in the sale was a PCGS AU55 and it sold for $603,750 which is an all-time auction record for the date. The 1856-O was graded AU58 by NGC. I thought it was comparable in quality and appearance to the PCGS AU55 example that I had sold earlier this year and the Heritage coin brought $576,150 which is the second highest price ever at auction for this rarity.

The second-tier New Orleans Type One issues were extremely strong as well. An 1859-O in PCGS AU58 brought $97,750 which is a record price at auction while the 1860-O in PCGS AU58 sold for an identical price and, again, set what I believe to be a record at auction. One coin that I thought would be a real litmus test for the O mint double eagle market was the 1861-O in NGC AU55. This is a date that seems to have really come out of the woodwork in recent years and Heritage had sold a comparable coin in their January 2008 sale for $46,000. The one in the Dallas sale was bid all the way up to $57,500; a price that I thought was pretty remarkable.

My single favorite Type One double eagle in the sale was a PCGS MS65 1854-S. As I have written in the past, this date is very rare and much undervalued in Gem and the example in the Baltimore Collection was one of the two best I had ever personally seen. This was a coin that I felt certain I would buy, and I was willing to stretch quite a bit in order to procure it. I stretched and stretched and still came up short as it sold for a staggering $115,000.

Even the boring dates in the Type One series did quite well and most of the lots sold for levels exceeding what I would regard as “retail” numbers for these dates.

The Type Two double eagles in this collection were relatively uninspiring as it appeared that the Baltimore collector focused most of his energies on the Type One and Three issues. A not especially nice 1870-CC in VF30 with a large natural planchet flaw on the reverse sold for $230,000. I think this is a pretty reasonable amount for this in-demand rarity but I think it was more a reflection of the coin’s lack of eye appeal than it was a softening of the market. Many of the other scarce Carson City issues in the sale did well, including an 1871-CC in NGC that was bid to $66,125, an 1872-CC in PCGS AU58 that brought $23,000, an 1878-CC in PCGS AU58 that hit the $25,300 mark and an 1879-CC in NGC AU58 that brought $21,850. My take on these prices is that they were pretty much exactly what I would have expected these coins to sell for before the economy went south and that I would have expected them to sell for 10-20% less in these Troubled Times.

The Type Three rarities in the Baltimore Collection were impressive but I was unsure if the market for these issues would remain as strong as it had been. The first test was the 1879-O in PCGS AU58. I expected it to bring in the $50,000-55,000 range but it raced up to $74,750. The very rare 1881 was a PCGS MS61 that I did not like as a result of its funky color and surfaces but it brought $138,000 which is exactly the same price it sold for when offered as Heritage 1/07: 3203. An 1882 that was graded AU58 by ICG but which appeared to have a problem on the cheek of Liberty that was not mentioned by the grading service still managed to garner a bid of $63,250.

For many years, the 1885 was the most affordable of the very rare Type Three dates. The NGC AU58 in the Heritage sale brought $48,875 which I am reasonably sure is an all-time record price for a circulated example of this date. The 1886 in PCGS AU55 sold for $86,262.65. This exact coin had brought $24,150 when it was offered as Lot 7437 in the Heritage 2004 FUN sale. The previously-overlooked 1891 appears to have captured the attention of most specialists in this area and the PCGS AU58 in the Heritage sale realized $48,875.

There are three very rare Proof-only dates in this series and the Baltimore Collection was missing the very rare 1883. It did, however, have an 1884 graded PR64 by PCGS. This coin had sold for $126,500 when it was last offered as Heritage 6/04: 6376. Four years later, it was bid up to $207,000 which I thought was an exceptionally strong price. The 1887 was a PCGS PR64 Deep Cameo and it sold for $155,250. This is almost the same amount as the far superior Heritage 1/07: 3145 (graded PR65 Deep Cameo) realized a year and a half ago.

All in all, I would say that prices were anywhere from 10-30% higher than I would have expected. I was really surprised at the prices that the dozen top coins in the collection brought, given that the economic climate doesn’t dictate large purchases right now and given that Heritage conducted this sale without the benefit of a concurrent convention to attract much floor action.