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.

Read More

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

$10.00

  • 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

$20.00

  • 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 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

Assembling A Year Set of Liberty Head Eagles, Part Two: 1867-1907

In the first part of this article, I discussed the ins and outs of assembling a year set of Liberty Head eagles from 1838 through 1866. In case you've already forgotten the premise, it's that a collector can purchase one example of each year that this denomination/type was produced in order to save money and still be an active participant in this very interesting (and very long-lived) series. Without further ado, let's go to the videotape, Bob...

1867: Only two mints struck eagles this year. Philadelphia is rarer and less expensive than San Francisco. I'd go with a nice 1867-P eagle and might even stretch a bit as it is undervalued.

1868: Neither the Philadelphia or San Francisco eagle of this year is hugely rare or even all that interesting. Either one, in EF45 to AU53, seems like a good purchase. Look for a coin with nice original surfaces.

1869: The 1869-P is a rare, low mintage date that is still not all that expensive. I'd go with a nice example with original surfaces and would even stretch for a high end (AU50 or better) example.

1870: This is a numismatically significant year as the Carson City mint began operations. The 1870-CC would be a great choice for this set but it is rare and expensive. The P and S mint eagles are both scarce and undervalued. It is hard to choose from one or the other!

1871: The 1871-CC is among the more affordable eagles from this mint produced before 1880 so it would be a good choice for this set. The 1871-P has a mintage of only 1,820 and it is very undervalued in all grades.

1872: The only affordable eagle dated 1872 is the San Francisco coin which is fairly common up to AU55. The 1872-P is very rare as is the 1872-CC. I'd probably settle for a nice AU 1872-S.

1873: For gold collectors, this is a banner year with many interesting issues. I love the 1873-P with its mintage of 800 and the 1873-CC is one of the three rarest eagles from this mint. Even the 1873-S is scarce but it is the most available of the three. Still, I'd splurge and go for a nice 1873-P.

1874: Mintages increased this year and the 1874-CC is the most available CC eagle struck before 1880. I'd look for a nice example in EF45 to AU55.

1875: The stopper this year is the 1875-P which has a mintage of just 100 business strikes and fewer than ten survivors. San Francisco didn't make eagles this year so your only realistic option is the 1875-CC which is very scarce but not impossible like the 1875-P.

1876: Another very interesting year with three possible dates available and all scarce. I personally like the 1876 as just 687 business strikes were made. The 1876-S is a sleeper which is far rarer than its mintage of 5,000 would suggest. A nice example of any of the three issues would be a great addition to this year set.

1877: The Philadelphia eagle is very rare (797 struck) while the CC is very scarce. The 1877-S is fairly common but a bit boring. I'd personally look for a nice AU 1877.

1878: Mintages increase beginning with this year as does availability. While the 1878-CC is very rare, the 1878-S is only semi-scarce in AU and the 1878-P is the first date in this set that is actually available in Mint State for less than $10,000+.

1879: For the first time, four mints struck Liberty Head eagles as the New Orleans mint reopened. I personally love the 1879-O, given its very low mintage (1,500 coins) and its numismatic significance. The 1879-CC is very rare also but much more expensive than the 1879-O.

1880: Another four mint year. Nothing struck this year is rare although the CC and O issues are extremely hard to llocate in AU58 and above. I'd select a nice 1880-O or 1880-CC in AU55 to AU58.

1881: Yet another four mint year. The scarcest issue is the 1881-O while the 1881-CC is actually somewhat available in higher grades. I think I'd pursue a nice 1881-CC.

1882: The second to last of the four mint years and another with no real rarities. I would look for a nice 1882-CC or 1882-CC in the middle to upper AU grades.

1883: The last four mint year of the eagle denomination for many years (until 1906) and one with a notable rarity: the 1883-O which had a mintage of only 800 coins. This issue has become quite expensive so it might make sense to look for a nice AU example of the 1883-CC.

1884: The New Orleans mint stopped making gold coins until 1888 so only three mints made eagles this year. The scarcest is the 1884-CC. The 1884-P is a sleeper and I would look for a nice, original MS62.

1885: Only two mints made eagles in 1885. Both are common and not especially interesting.

1886: Same comments as with the 1885. Look for a nice MS62 to MS63 coin.

1887: Ditto. The 1887-P is slightly scarcer and undervalued in MS62 to MS64.

1888: The New Orleans mint restarted production of eagles in 1888 and I'd suggest an 1888-O in MS62. The 1888-P is scarce and undervalued in Uncirculated.

1889: Of the two issues made this year, the 1889-P is the more interesting with a low mintage of only 4,485. It is very rare above MS62.

1890: Carson City resumed production of eagles in 1890 but San Francisco ceased striking this denomination until 1892. I personally like the 1890-CC in the lower Uncirculated grades as a choice for this set.

1891: Only the Philadelphia and Carson City mint made eagles in 1891. The 1891-CC is common in grades up to MS63 and a nice, original example is sure to add some "oomph" to this year set.

1892: After a three year hiatus the New Orleans mint struck eagles again. The 1892-O is available in MS62 for less than $2,500.

1893: As this is the last year that Carson City struck coins, I'd go with an 1890-CC as a ceremonial sign-off to this mint's coins. It is very rare in Uncirculated but available in AU grades.

1894: For the nest two years, there were three mints making eagles. The 1894-S has a mintage of just 25,000 and it is very underrated.

1895: The same is true with the 1895-S. A nice MS61 to MS62 is a hard coin to find and a good value at current levels.

1896: Now we are back to two issues: Philadelphia and San Francisco. The 1896-S is moderately scarce and probably more interesting than the dirt common 1896.

1897: And now we're back to three as the New Orleans mint resumed eagle production. I would go with an MS62 1897-O.

1898: A ho-hum year with two common issues, the 1898-P and the 1898-S.

1899: This year sees three issues with the 1899-O being the scarcest and most interesting. This is the hardest of the late date New Orleans eagles to find. Look for a nice MS62 to MS63 example.

1900: New century, two issues, both kind of nondescript. I'd go with the 1900-S.

1901: The 1901-S is the single most available Liberty Head eagle in higher grades. Buy a beautiful MS65 coin so that your set has at least one Gem coin.

1902: Two choices, both boring.

1903: New Orleans resumed operations this year and a nice MS62 to MS63 would make a good addition to the set.

1904: Two choices this year with the New Orleans being the more interesting. I would opt with a nice MS63.

1905: New Orleans didn't make eagles this year but San Francisco did. The 1905-S is actually a bit of a sleeper.

1906: We are back to a final four issue year as Denver made eagles for the first time in 1906. While the 1906-D is a common coin, I would include a nice Uncirculated piece as it is numismatically significant.

1907: The last year of issue. Three coins are available with the 1907-S being the scarcest. Your choice here, Mr. Eagle.

Do you have questions about assembling a set of Liberty Head eagles? If so please contact Doug Winter by email at dwn@ont.com.

Assembling A Year Set of Liberty Head Eagles: Part One, 1838-1866

For most collectors, assembling a comlete set of Liberty Head eagles is a daunting task, to say the least. There are 184 different issues (including major varieties) struck from 1838 to 1907. While none of these individual coins is impossible to locate, many are rare to very rare and nearly every issue struck prior to 1878 is rare in higher grades and quite expensive. So how can a collector of more average means approach what, in my opinion, is one of the most interesting and overlooked denominations in all of American numismatics. The answer is to assemble a year set of Liberty Head eagles. This set would include one example of each year that this denomination was produced. Instead of being close to two hundred coins in order to finish the set, it is now only 69 coins. Even better, the savings is immense as it eliminates some of the very costly issues like the 1863, 1864-S, 1870-CC and 1875 and lets the collector replace these with interesting but much less costly alternatives.

Let's take a look at each year from 1838 until 1866 in this set (in Part Two, we'll look at the 1867-1907 issues). I'll list what I think is the best issue for each year in this set along with suggested grades.

1838: Only one issue, from Philadelphia, is available. This issue is very popular and significant as the first eagle produced with the new Liberty Head design and it is the first coin of this denomination produced since 1804. I'd splurge on this and buy as nice a coin as you can afford; certainly at least an EF40.

1839: This is another one-mint year but with two types available: Head of 1838 and Head of 1840. The former is far more available and can be obtained in nice EF without great difficulty. This is another issue I'd splurge on as it is a limited type with a novel design.

1840: The last of the three Philadelphia-only issues at the beginning of the set and a significant first-year coin. I've always liked the 1840 eagle and find it to be underrated. I'd buy a nice AU53 to AU58 for this set.

1841: This is the first year in which more than one mint made eagles as the New Orleans facility began production in 1841. The 1841-O is a really neat issue but it is rare and expensive, so I'd probably go with an 1841 Philadelphia. I'd choose a nice original AU55 to AU58 coin.

1842: Beginning this year, the collector can select from Philadelphia and New Orleans issues. In a year like 1842, both are reasonably common although the 1842-O becomes very rare in higher grades. I'd go with the 1842-O in the AU50 to AU55 range.

1843: Surprisingly, the Philadelphia eagle dated 1843 is scarcer than its high mintage New Orleans counterpart. I'd go with a nice Choice AU 1843.

1844: The little-known 1844 is actually a rare coin in all grades and a real stopper in AU50 and above. Thus, I'd go with the 1844-O and look for a nice mid-range AU that had good color and surfaces.

1845: Again, the Philadelphia eagle is rarer but the 1845 is not nearly as hard to locate as the 1844. I'd look for a nice 1845-P in the lower AU grades as I think this issue is very good value in this range.

1846: This is the last of the tougher date Philadelphia issues for the next decade+. I'd stick with a nice AU50 to AU55 and I'd be patient for one with good color and fewer marks than average. In my opinion, nice 1846-P eagles remain undervalued at current levels.

1847: Both the 1847-P and 1847-O are common issues. I'd go for a nice AU55 to AU58 example of the New Orleans coin.

1848: The 1848-O isn't really rare but it is a tough coin to locate above AU53 to AU55, especially with original color and surfaces. I'd look for a nice example, keeping in mind that all pieces known have weak overall strikes.

1849: I'm a big fan of the 1849-O eagle as a date and believe that nice examples in all grades above EF40 are much harder to locate than generally believed. The Philadelphia issue is affordable in grades up to and including MS61/62.

1850: There are two varieties of 1850-P eagle: the Small Date and the Large date. The former is much scarcer and it is very overlooked. I'd look for a nice mid-range AU example.

1851: Both the Philadelphia and New Orleans eagles from 1851 are fairly non-descript issues. I'd stick with an 1851-P and look for a pleasing AU58.

1852: The 1852-P is very common while the 1852-O is a scarce to rare issue. I like the latter quite a bit and would probably rather have a pleasing EF45 for the same price that I'd be spending on an MS60 to MS61 1852-P.

1853: The most interesting issue struck in 1853 is the 1853/2 overdate from Philadelphia. This is the only confirmed overdate in the entire Liberty Head eagle series and it is an underappreciated coin in all grades. I'd look for a nice AU50 to AU55.

1854: With the opening of the San Francisco mint, the number of facilities coining eagles grows to three in 1854. The 1854-S isn't a really scarce coin but it is a neat date and it is certainly the issue I'd choose to represent this year for my date set. Look for an AU50 to AU55 example with minimal bagmarks.

1855: Of the three eagles struck in 1855, the Philadelphia coin is common, the New Orleans coin is scarce and the San Francisco coin is rare. I would personally choose the 1855-O and I'd look for a coin in the EF45 to AU53 range.

1856: For this year, Philadelphia and San Francisco are common while the 1856-O is scarce to very scarce. I like the 1856-O eagle and would vote to include a choice EF45 to AU53 example in my year set.

1857: The mintage figures for all three issues are lower in 1857 than they were in the previous few years. The 1857-P is a sleeper that is still a good value in circulated grades while the 1857-O is undervalued. But I'd probably go with the 1857-S because of its historic association with the popular S.S. Central America double eagles dated 1857-S.

1858: The 1858-P is a famous rarity with just 2,521 struck. If you can find (and afford) a pleasing EF example, I'd strongly recommend including it in this set. The 1858-S is a rare coin as well. For practical purposes, you might want to pursue the more affordable 1858-O in AU50 to AU55.

1859: As this decade draws to a close, mintages continue to shrink. The 1859-P is fairly common while the 1859-O is very rare and the 1859-S is rare. To keep your powder dry for the rare coins that await in the 1860's, I'd suggest looking for a choice AU 1859-P.

1860: This is the final issue from New Orleans until 1879 so it seems natural to choose the 1860-O. The Philadelphia issue is common while the San Francisco issue is very rare. An 1860-O in AU50 to AU55 is affordable yet historic.

1861: Beginning with this year, we are back to two mints striking eagles: Philadelphia and San Francisco. The former is common while the latter is scarce to very scarce. I'd choose a nice AU58 to MS61 1861-P eagle as it is by far the most affordable Civil War issue.

1862: Until recently the 1862-P was an undiscovered sleeper but prices have risen as collectors learn of its true scarcity. The 1862-S is very rare and seldom seen above EF45. I'd stick with an Extremely Fine example of the 1862-P.

1863: This year is among the most challenging in this set as both issues are very rare. The Philadelphia eagle is a major rarity with just 1,248 examples produced. The San Francisco eagle has a mintage of 10,000 and it is more available. I'd stick with a nice EF example of the 1863-S but if a sensible 1863-P became available I'd consider it strongly as it is still very undervalued.

1864: Think the 1863 eagles were tough? Try the 1864. The 1864-P is rare with 3,580 struck while the 1864-S is one of the great rarities in the series with only 2,500 struck. You really can't go wrong with either coin for your set but as you as more likely to find an 1864-P than an 1864-S, I'd have to suggest going for the former. I'd splurge on this date and buy the nicest quality you can afford.

1865: Things don't get much easier in 1865. The Philadelphia issue is very rare while there are two varieties from San Francisco: the Normal Date and the Inverted Date. I'd choose the latter due to its "coolness factor" and the difficulty of locating the other issues. An EF40 to AU50 is going to be about the best you'll see for this year.

1866: This is a numismatically significant issue as it represents a transitional year. The San Francisco mint struck eagles with and without the motto IN GOD WE TRUST on the reverse while Philadelphia only made with motto coins. I'd opt for the rare 1866-S No Motto which had a mintage of only 8,500. Anything grading higher than EF45 will be very expensive.

So there you have it. A total of 28 issues make up the No Motto part of the Liberty Head eagle set. There are three mints to choose from for some years and only a few dates (the 1863, 1864 and 1865 in particular) that will be hard to find and high priced. Assuming you follow the suggestions for dates and grades that I made above, we are probably talking about an overall average per coin cost of around $4,000-5,000. This translates to a low cost of around $112,000 and a high cost of around $140,000. If you were to pick the most common issue for each date and stick with coins in the EF40 to AU50 range, this would probably lower the cost to less than $100,000.

In Part Two of this article, which will be published in February 2012, we will look at the 1867-1907 dates. We'll see the introduction of the Carson City mint, the resumption of the New Orleans mint, the short duration of the Denver mint...and we'll have a good ol' numismatic time.

State of the Market: Carson City Gold Coins

For our next State of the Market Report, we’re going to take a look at Carson City gold coinage. How have the half eagles, eagles and double eagles from this ultra-popular western branch mint fared in the past few years? I. Overview

The number of serious Carson City gold coin collectors appears to have increased in the last few years. At the same time, at least three major collections have been sold (Old West, “Morgan” and the Washington D.C. collection that I sold privately in 2006). This has meant that some fantastic quality individual coins have been available with some record prices having been achieved. This has been slightly tempered by the fact that a group of significantly overgraded Carson City half eagles (and eagles) have been offered for sale at a number of auctions beginning in 2005. Until the bulk of these are removed from the market, Carson City gold in general will remain highly bifurcated and marked by huge value differences in similarly graded issues. This is truly a market where one AU55 1876-CC half eagle can be worth $17,500 while another can be worth $12,500.

II. Half Eagles

Of the three Carson City gold denominations, I would say that half eagles are probably the least popular right now. Prices for many Carson City half eagles have stayed fairly flat—or even dropped—in the last few years. There are certainly exceptions: choice, high grade examples of nearly any pre-1890 date are strong and even lower grade examples of the key issues (such as the 1870-CC, 1873-CC and 1878-CC) are in great demand in the VG to VF range. With coins that are priced at $20,000 and up, collectors are very fussy and will not generally purchase a coin which they or their trusted advisor(s) do not feel lives up to its stated grade.

I think that the market for Carson City half eagles will remain spotty over the next few years. My gut feeling is that exceptional coins will continue to do quite well and that many of the key issues from the 1870’s will see across the board demand. In my opinion, the most underrated Carson City half eagles right now are the 1877-CC, 1878-CC and the 1881-CC.

III. Eagles

Spectacular Carson City eagles have brought spectacular prices during the last few years. As an example, the finest known 1870-CC, graded AU55 by PCGS, sold for $115,000 in ANR’s August 2006 auction while a PCGS MS64 example of the more common 1890-CC was bid to $80,500 in Heritage June 2006 sale. But results for mediocre or low-end Carson City eagles have been quite soft in the past few years. This is mostly attributable to a group of overgraded, low-end coins (mostly valued in the $15,000-35,000 range) which an investor has had mixed success selling at auction during the last two years. I personally know of at least four or five collectors of high quality Carson City eagles and they are all looking for essentially the same type of coins right now: choice and original with good eye appeal.

I feel that once the last of the inferior quality Carson City eagles mentioned above are finally sold, the market for these coins will heat up. For collectors who enjoy a challenge (and who have an appropriate budget) this is a great series to collect. In my opinion, the most undervalued dates in this series are the 1870-CC, 1873-CC, 1877-CC and the 1883-CC.

IV. Double Eagles

If you had asked me a few years ago if Carson City double eagles were overvalued I would have probably said yes. If you ask me the same question today I would still probably say yes but with less reservation than in the past. When compared to half eagles and eagles from this mint, Carson City double eagles appear to be overvalued. But (and this is a big, big “but”) the double eagles from this mint have a sexiness factor that is greater than nearly any other series of United States coin. Let’s face it: even if you don’t really care about coins, it is pretty hard to resist the allure of a big, attractive gold piece that saw duty in the most romantic era in the history of this country. And because of this fact, Carson City double eagles will always be very, very popular.

My biggest complaint about this series is that while prices have shot up in the past few years, grading standards have decreased. I often see coins like 1871-CC double eagles in AU50 holders that a few years ago would have graded EF45; or even EF40. Given the fact the Trends for an AU50 1871-CC is now $40,000, I have a hard time spending this kind of money on an example for my inventory which has tons of bagmarks and/or a near-absence of luster. The same goes for dates like the 1872-CC, 1873-CC, 1878-CC and 1879-CC. These are now $10,000++ coins in AU50 and higher grades and if a new collector is going to be spending this kind of money on these dates, I would hope he is getting a nice quality coin.

That said, I think there is still some value to be had in this series. I will continue to buy nearly any attractive, original AU55 to MS61 Carson City double eagle I can find for under $5,000. I also like very choice and reasonably original examples of the key dates but, as I said above, I usually pass on examples that I think have inferior eye appeal.

An Analysis of Carson City Eagles Through Recent Major Auction Results: Part Two

Last month we looked at how the sale of the Old West and the Morgan collections of Carson City gold coinage impacted the market for half eagles from this mint. This month, we’ll look at the results as they apply to Carson City eagles. Just a few refreshers before we get right into the number crunching. The Old West collection was sold at auction by ANR in August 2006. It contained a nearly complete set of CC half eagles and a complete set of eagles. I sold all the eagles to this collector in the 2004-2005 time period and I had previously handled many of them from 1995-2000 when they comprised the Orange County collection. The Morgan collection was sold by Stack’s in January 2007. It was a complete set of CC half eagles and eagles and all had been purchased from me between 1990 and 1995. All of the coins were in older PCGS and NGC holders and many were good upgrade candidates based on today’s more liberal standards.

In this article, the Old West Collection will be abbreviated as OW while the Morgan Collection will be abbreviated as MC.

1870-CC OW: PCGS AU55, sold for $115,000 MC: PCGS EF45, sold for $46,000

The PCGS AU55 example in the Old West collection was the finest known 1870-CC eagle and it shattered all price records for this date. The price realized for the Morgan collection coin was reflective of the fact that most viewers graded the coin AU50. It subsequently upgraded to NGC AU50 and is now for sale on a dealer’s website for $52,500. After these two sales I think we will see continued price appreciation for this rare and important date.

1871-CC OW: PCGS AU55, sold for $25,300 MC: NGC AU55, sold for $25,300

I wasn’t personally crazy about either of these coins. I think we can assume with a good deal of certainty that an average quality AU55 example of this date is worth around $25,000.

1872-CC OW: PCGS AU55, sold for $34,500 MC: NGC AU55, sold for $34,500

I liked both of these coins quite a bit and thought that they both had a chance to upgrade to AU58 (although I don’t think either has…yet). Again, after these two sales I think it’s safe to say that a nice AU55 example of this date is worth around $35,000.

1873-CC OW: PCGS AU50, sold for $32,200 MC: PCGS AU50, sold for $43,700

The 1873-CC in the Old West collection was decent but nothing special. The example in the Morgan collection was clearly nicer and I graded it AU53. It sold to a dealer who currently has it listed on his website (in an NGC AU53 holder) for a reasonable markup ($48,500). It is nice to see that this date is finally getting some recognition for its rarity in AU grades.

1874-CC OW: PCGS AU58, sold for $37,950 MC: NGC AU55, sold for $19,550

The Old West coin is the third finest known 1874-CC eagle and its price realized was very strong. It later appeared in the Goldberg February 2007 sale (still in a PCGS AU58 holder) where it failed to hit its reserve and was bought back by its consignor, a California dealer. The Morgan collection coin also realized a strong price for the grade.

1875-CC OW: PCGS AU53, sold for $32,200 MC: PCGS AU53, sold for $29,325

I personally liked the Morgan collection coin better than the Old West piece. Considering that it brought nearly $3,000 less, I think it was a relatively good value. These two auction appearances confirm my belief that a nice quality AU53 example of this date is worth around $30,000-32,500.

1876-CC OW: PCGS AU58, sold for $39,100 MC: PCGS EF45, sold for $12,650

The Old West coin was superb and I purchased it for a collector. The price realized for the Morgan collection example was strong for an EF45. The coin, incidentally, is now in an NGC AU50 holder. Both of these sales show that there is demand for this date but the coins offered were so far apart in quality that one can not make any good conclusions based on comparing them.

1877-CC OW: PCGS AU53, sold for $27,600 MC: NGC AU55, sold for $27,600

I thought that both of these had the potential to upgrade: the Old West coin to AU55 and the Morgan coin to AU58. I would have to say that the Morgan coin was a much better value given the fact that it was nicer yet it sold for the exact same price.

1878-CC OW: PCGS AU55, sold for $39,100 MC: PCGS AU50, sold for $20,700

This was an instance where I thought the Old West coin sold for a little too much while the Morgan coin went a little cheaply. The Old West piece was clearly nicer than its counterpart but I do not think it was worth nearly $20,000 more.

1879-CC OW: PCGS AU55, sold for $32,200 MC: PCGS AU50, sold for $27,600

Here is an example where if you hadn’t seen both of these coins in person, the prices realized might not make sense. The Old West coin was properly graded but it lacked good overall eye appeal. The Morgan coin was clearly undergraded (it is now in an NGC AU58 holder) and it brought a strong price as a result.

1880-CC OW: NGC MS61, sold for $18,400 MC: NGC AU55, sold for $4,140

Due to the difference in quality between these two coins, the prices realized do not really lend themselves to comparison. The 1880-CC in the Old West collection was extremely nice for the grade and it sold for a very strong price. I’m not certain if the coin ever upgraded to MS62 but even if it didn’t whoever purchased it now owns one of the finest known examples of this date.

1881-CC OW: NGC MS64, sold for $74,750 MC: PCGS MS61, sold for $10,350

These are two of the finest known examples of this date (the Morgan collection coin, which I purchased, is now in an NGC MS62 holder) and their strong prices realized reflect this. I was pretty surprised at just how high the bidding went on the Old West coin. I purchased this exact piece in B+M’s July 2002 sale (in an NGC MS63 holder) for $25,300. It had previously brought $6,600 in the 1982 Eliasberg sale.

1882-CC OW: NGC MS62, sold for $41,400 MC: PCGS AU55, sold for $8,625

Here is another instance when the difference in quality between these two coins makes a comparison irrelevant. The Old West coin, which I purchased, is probably unique in Uncirculated and I thought it was good value, given what other Carson City eagles from this era were selling for in the auction.

1883-CC OW: PCGS AU58, sold for $14,950 MC: NGC AU58, sold for $5,750

I think these results are extremely interesting. Same date, same grade yet the coin in the PCGS holder brought more than two-and-a-half times as much. Why? I think part of the reason is the fact that the PCGS coin was clearly nicer. But I also think part of the reason is that because of the PCGS Set Registry, collectors are looking for certain CC eagles in the highest possible grade at PCGS. I wonder if in the future we will continue to see such price disparity based on the brand of the holder?

1884-CC OW: PCGS MS62, sold for $46,000 MC: NGC AU58, sold for $6,038

Reasonably big difference in quality, extremely big difference in price. The Old West coin is probably the second or third finest known 1884-CC eagle and it sold for a price commensurate with its rarity. This was a record price for the date and I’m certain that in the future, other Uncirculated 1884-CC eagles will be compared with this Old West coin.

1890-CC OW: PCGS MS62, sold for $10,350 MC: NGC MS62, sold for $6,900

These were both very nice for the grade but at least two bidders clearly thought the Old West coin was an upgrade. Here’s a bit of sobering thought for those of you who like to calculate risk: if the coin grades MS63, its worth $12,000-13,000. If it stays in an MS62 holder its worth $5,500. What you have here, then, is $5,000 worth of downside risk with around $2,000 of upside. This is why coin dealers are not CFO’s of large companies.

1891-CC OW: PCGS MS63, sold for $7,188 MC: NGC MS64, sold for $17,250

The Old West coin was solid for the grade and it had the added benefit of a Pittman pedigree. With average quality MS63 examples of this date readily available in the $4500-5500 range, perhaps the buyer of this coin thought it might upgrade. Clearly, the buyer of the Morgan collection coin did see his new 1891-CC as a strong candidate to eventually reside in an MS65 holder. I thought it had a pretty decent shot as well but was not willing to gamble $17,250 to find out.

1892-CC OW: PCGS MS63, sold for $41,400 MC: NGC MS61, sold for $4,370

The 1892-CC eagle in the Old West collection was remarkable and its price clearly reflected that a number of bidders thought it would grade MS64 if resubmitted. The Morgan coin was decent for the grade but nothing special. Here is clear evidence, in case you needed more, that collectors of Carson City eagles will pay strong prices for high quality coins which are exceptional for the date and grade.

1893-CC OW: PCGS MS61, sold for $16,100 MC: NGC MS60, sold for $8,625

I bought both of these coins. Take a guess which one I consider to be the better deal. I find it interesting that of the eight or nine known Uncirculated examples of this date that two of them sold within a few months of each other. This is further evidence of how important these two sales were for collectors of Carson City gold.

I’m not certain that we will see comparable collections of Carson City half eagles and eagles sold again for a long period of time. If you are a collector of Carson City gold, 2006 and early 2007 have been important (and expensive!) times for your set.

An Analysis of Carson City Half Eagles Through Recent Major Auction Results: Part One

Two major auctions of Carson City gold coinage have enabled specialists in this series to make some interesting observations regarding the strength of this series. The first of these auctions was the sale of the Old West Collection and it was conducted by ANR in August 2006. The second was recently held by Stack’s in January 2007 and it featured the Morgan Collection. For the sake of convenience, in this article the Old West Collection will be referred to as “OW” while the Morgan Collection will be abbreviated as “MC.” 1870-CC OW: PCGS 58, sold for $80,500 MC: NGC 55, sold for $37,375

In my opinion, the Old West coin was exceptional and its price realized at auction reflected this. The Morgan coin was not as nice but I think it was an extremely good value at less than what the Old West coin brought. Clearly, this date is in strong demand due to its rarity and status as the first-year-issue half eagle from this mint.

1871-CC OW: PCGS 58, sold for $27,600 MC: NGC 45, sold for $10,350

Given the big spread in grade, it is hard to make a valid comparison between these two coins. The Old West example was among the finest known and it brought strong money while the Morgan coin was, in my opinion, a lock AU50 in today’s grading environment. This date remains quite rare in AU.

1872-CC OW: NGC AU58, sold for $29,900 MC: PCGS AU50, sold for $23,000

These coins made for an interesting comparison. In my opinion, the NGC AU58 was more like an AU55 while the PCGS AU50 was an AU55; hence, the similar prices realized. The 1872-CC half eagle appears to be more available in AU than I remember it being in the past and I wonder if a small hoard hasn’t been uncovered in the past few years (?).

1873-CC OW: None present MC: NGC AU50, sold for $28,750

This was one of just two CC half eagles missing from the Old West collection which should tell you how scarce it is. The Morgan coin was definitely an upgrade candidate and its price realized reflected this. I am convinced more than ever that this is the rarest Carson City half eagle and that coins grading AU50 or better with any amount of eye appeal are truly rare.

1874-CC OW: PCGS 58, sold for $27,600 MC: PCGS AU55, sold for $18,400

These were two of the nicer 1874-CC half eagles that I have ever seen. The Old West coin set a record for a circulated example of this date while the Morgan Collection coin was, in my opinion, a piece with a good shot to upgrade to AU58. I think both of these were very solid prices and indicate that collectors will pay strong prices for choice, original coins; even for dates that, by the rigorous standards of 1870’s Carson City half eagles, are somewhat common.

1875-CC OW: PCGS 55, sold for $17,250 MC: NGC 63, sold for $103,500

These two coins are really like comparing apples to oranges, given the extreme difference in quality. What is interesting about the Morgan Collection coin is that I sold this piece to the consignor for around $60,000 over a decade ago. Given how superb-and rare—it was, I think it was an exceptional buy and I expected before the sale that it might sell for as much as $125,000-150,000.

1876-CC OW: None present MC: PCGS 53, sold for $17,825

This is another date that, like the 1872-CC, seems to be more available now in the AU53 to AU58 range than I can remember it being in the past. I think the Morgan Collection example brought a strong price since it was judged to have a good shot to grade AU55 if resubmitted.

1877-CC OW: PCGS 55, sold for $17,250 MC: NGC 55, sold for $18,400

I thought these were both nice coins and very comparable in terms of quality. After these two sales, I think we can safely conclude that a nice quality AU55 1877-CC half eagle is worth somewhere in the range of $17,000-19,000.

1878-CC OW: PCGS 50, sold for $16,100 MC: NGC 45, sold for $12,650

Here is an instance where having some knowledge about these two coins answers some interesting questions; namely, why did an EF45 coin bring nearly as much as one graded AU50? The answer is simple: the AU50 was not very nice and had funky color while the EF45 was original, choice and perceived to have upgrade potential.

1879-CC OW: PCGS 58, sold for $12,650 MC: PCGS 58, sold for $13,800

Two coins, same date, same grade, nearly similar prices realized. End of story, right? In this case, no. In my opinion, the Old West 1879-CC was just gorgeous and I could see it grading MS61 on a good day. I did not care for the Morgan Collection example (disclosure: I sold both of these coins and I clearly missed the fact that the Morgan Collection example had been recolored a number of years ago as attested by the fact that it had turned a deep Cheeto Orange shade…).

1880-CC OW: PCGS 62, sold for $29,900 MC: NGC 60, sold for $12,650

I liked both of these coins a lot and their prices realized indicates that a number of other bidders did as well. Both coins sold in excess of current Trends and/or CDN Bid and the reason is simple: they were really nice, original coins with great eye appeal. Simple lesson: buy nice coins, build an interesting specialized collection, realize strong money when you sell them.

1881-CC OW: NGC 62, did not sell but later resold by Stack’s in their November 2006 auction for $46,000 MC: NGC 63, sold for $57,500

Given the fact that only three or four Uncirculated 1881-CC half eagles exist, it is a wonderful coincidence that two of the better ones sold at auction within a few months of each other. Given their results, I would say that the new owner of the MS63 example from the Morgan Collection got himself an amazingly good deal as he was able to buy a coin which I though was a lot nicer than the Old West specimen for just a 20% premium.

1882-CC OW: PCGS 62, sold for $32,200 MC: PCGS 61, sold for $21,850

I’ve been surprised at the strength of the market for Uncirculated examples of the 1882-CC, given that at least four have sold in the past six months that either grade MS62 or will be in an MS62 holder at some point. As a point of reference, the MS62 in the Old West collection was extremely choice for the grade while the MS61 in the Morgan Collection was clearly believed to be an upgrade candidate.

1883-CC OW: PCGS 58, sold for $9,775 MC: PCGS 58, sold for $12,650

Ah, the magic of the old PCGS holder. The Morgan Collection coin, while not appreciably better than the one in the Old West Collection, brought nearly 30% more. I would have to say that a good reason for this was the fact that it was a fresh coin in a very old PCGS green label holder.

1884-CC OW: PCGS 58, sold for $12,650 MC: PCGS 61, sold for $29,990

These were two of the nicer 1884-CC half eagles that have sold recently and the market seems to have finally recognized the fact that this date is quite rare and undervalued in higher grades. In fact, the example in the Morgan Collection is quite possibly the Finest Known and I thought it was among the most important pieces in this memorable collection of Carson City half eagles.

1890-CC OW: PCGS 64, sold for $9,775 MC: NGC 63, sold for $8,050

The NGC MS64 in the Morgan Collection should probably grade MS64. But here’s why buying coins at auction can be risky. If the coin stays as an MS63 it’s worth $5,500. If it upgrades, it’s worth around $10,000. So the buyer has around $3,000 in downside and $2,000 at most in upside. For most dealers, this upside/downside ratio is acceptable but for many collectors it isn’t.

1891-CC OW: PCGS 65, sold for $43,700 MC: PCGS 64, sold for $13,800

As far as I know, both of these are record prices for slabbed examples of this popular common date. The MS65 in the Old West Collection is probably the finest known 1891-CC and I was impressed by what it sold for. The MS64 in the Morgan Collection was awfully nice for the grade and given that it brought more than twice what the typical MS64 brings, I would guess that at least two people thought it had a good shot to grade MS65.

1892-CC OW: PCGS 63, sold for $5,750 MC: PCGS 62, sold for $4,140

This was an instance where I thought the coin in the lower grade holder (i.e., the Morgan Collection MS62) was nicer than the coin in the higher grade holder. This is why you can’t blindly look at auction records when determining a coin’s value. Clearly, not every 1892-CC half eagle in MS62 is worth $4,140.

1893-CC OW: PCGS 62, sold for $4,600 MC: NGC 63, sold for $8,625

The Morgan Collection coin was in an older holder and was exceptionally nice for the grade (I thought it had a very good chance to grade MS63). Here is another coin that can mislead the new collector. Not every MS63 1893-CC half eagle is worth $8,625. In fact, I recently sold a nice properly graded PCGS MS63 for $6,500.