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 Bently Effect

As I have discussed in prior blogs, a paradigm shift has occurred in the rare date gold markets in the last two-three years. Formerly unpopular areas of the market such as San Francisco half eagles and eagles and No Motto Philadelphia eagles (and others) have gone from “cool but hard to sell” to “top of the food chain” in a short period of time. There are a number of reasons why this has happened; some obvious and some not-so-obvious. What I find interesting is that the two collections responsible for this Tipping Point weren’t great old-school holdings like Eliasberg and Bass.

In January 2012, the San Francisco stamp auction firm of Schyler Rumsey sold the Broadus Littlejohn collection of US gold coins. This little-known collection hinted that something was afoot in the rare date gold market. Instead of focusing on traditional bellwether rare date gold items like Charlotte and Dahlonega quarter eagles and half eagles (of which there were extensive date runs in the sale), the strength was in the eagle date run, especially the rare San Francisco coins from the 1860’s and the rare low mintage Philly coins from the 1870’s.

The Littlejohn sale was off the radar for many collectors and dealers, and even though I wrote a detailed analysis about the prices realized, I don’t think its impact was felt at the time.

What most dealers didn’t know (confession: myself included) was that there had been an all-consuming rare date gold buyer way off the grid. The Bently Collection, which focused on Western rarities from San Francisco and Carson City, was being quietly amassed, and it contained quantities which seem borderline unimaginable.

The Bently collection was a strange amalgam of coins ranging from no-grades to Condition Census pieces. Mr. Bently was a voracious consumer of certain issues (as an example, he appears to have had a “thing” for 1870-CC double eagles, and he owned more of them at one time than any other collector in history) and if he liked an issue, he’d buy it in “VG details” or MS65.

Which brings me to the gist of this story: the Bently Effect. How ironic is it that a little-known uber-accumulation of coins is probably more responsible for impacting the rare date gold market than once-in-a-lifetime master collector like Harry Bass? How much of it is the coins themselves, and how much is it the timing of the sale(s)? How much of it is the impact and reach of the internet? How much of it is just pure blind luck and changing trends within the market?

While I have been dazzled by the scope and breadth of the collection, I have been mostly underwhelmed by the coins themselves. For every nice, original coin in the Bently holdings, there are numerous coins that are either damaged or heavily processed. Bently was, I doubt, a bottom feeder and I doubt he was buying solely with price in mind. From what I know about Mr. Bentley, he was an older gentleman who sold his company and decided to enjoy his final years enjoying nice things. His primary supplier was faced with the age-old dilemma with this sort of numismatic supernova: do I sell my super-secret mega customer a few nice coins every week or do I sell him everything I can get my hands on? I would have chosen the former, but some dealers would choose the latter… (And who’s to say that this isn’t the better strategy from a business standpoint?)

A very curious set of circumstances happened while the Bently coins were being accumulated. Carson City double eagles became extremely popular and rose significantly in price; not as a result of Mr. Bently’s purchases but rather as a consequence of new collectors in the market and two large wholesale promotions. That Mr. Bentley had hundreds and hundreds of CC double eagles ranging from common dates in VF to rarities in Uncirculated was understandable given his interest in double eagles and western coins. That his estate came on the market at exactly the perfect time is one of those delightful coincidences that seemed to follow Mr. Bently around; a smaller version, perhaps of his life story.

A sophisticated collector recently asked me an interesting question about this collection; would Bently have been better off buying two or three nice 1875-CC double eagles (say MS62 to MS63) than twenty marginal (EF40 to AU50) examples? Possibly. But for many rare issues in the first three Bently auctions, the appearance of the coins themselves has had little consequence to their prices realized.

If you accept my statement that market areas such as rare San Francisco eagles are currently very hot, and you accept my premise that many buyers of such coins don’t really know the difference between a nice original coin and a processed but commercially acceptable one, you’ll suddenly understand why I have been pretty awed at the prices that a lot of the Bently coins have brought. As a dealer who has lived through decades of malaise for coins like 1860-S half eagles, to suddenly not be able to buy an AU58 after bidding close to $20,000 seems mystifying.

But we live in an era of Instant Numismatic Expertise and any collector can suddenly be armed with the same rarity and price information that an expert collector or dealer has taken years to accumulate. (Of course, accumulating this information and actually being able to make sense of it are two entirely different things…)

Looking back at the remarkable Bass sales of 1999-2001, one thing that instantly hits me is that could just as easily have been conducted by the Chapman Brothers in 1899-1901. I remember that the insanely great Bass II sale in 1999 was essentially carved up by ten or so bidders with no internet and almost no mail bidding. Imagine something like this happening today.

The Bently Effect is a set of circumstances that have come together to create the Perfect Wave in the history of the dated gold market. A market hungry for rare coins like 1864-S half eagles and eagles. A lack of availability of these coins (partly due to the fact that Mr. Bently had bought nearly every available example in the last 5+ years). A shift in taste in the dated gold market with Big and Western suddenly being the new “in” coins. The ability of Heritage to properly catalog, market and sell these coins (Kudos to whoever is managing the Bently collection and resisting the temptation to sell too many duplicate coins at once, as have other ultra-comprehensive sales in the past). And, last but not least, the power of the new Internet-driven market which has forever changed the coin business, in ways in which we still do not (in 2014) totally understand.

 

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.

1870-CC:

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:

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.

1872-CC:

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.

1873-CC:

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:

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.

1875-CC:

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.

1876-CC:

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.

1877-CC:

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.

1878-CC:

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.

1879-CC:

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.

1882-CC:

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.

1883-CC:

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:

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.

1885-CC:

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.

1889-CC:

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…

1890-CC:

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.

1891-CC:

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.

1892-CC:

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:

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.

1892-CC $20.00 NGC MS60

This coin is absolutely "new" with no wear noted on the high spots or rubbing but it is a bit on the baggy side from a sojourn in a mint bag. From the standpoint of luster and body, the coin approximates an MS62 but I think the MS60 grade is accurate given the scuffs that can be seen on both sides. That said, this coin has pleasing overall eye appeal with a slightly Prooflike finish and very attractive reddish-gold color on the central obverse. It is not uncommon for this date to be extensively abraded but it is rare for examples to be as flashy and vibrant as this. A very solid coin for the grade and good value as the 1892-CC becomes very expensive (and hard to locate) as one travels up the grading scale.

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.