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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com
all images appear courtesy of Stack's Bowers
Liberty Head half eagles were produced from 1839 until they were discontinued in 1908. This long-lived series is becoming popular with collectors who are attracted to these coins becuase of their history and rarity. This article is an attempt to make sense of the Liberty Head half eagle series for the beginning and intermediate collector. First, let's take a look at some of the historic background of the series and the half eagle denomination. This was one of the original denominations that was authorized by the Act of 1792 and it was one of three struck in gold, along with the quarter eagle ($2.50) and eagle ($10.00). The half eagle denomination was the workhorse of these three and the issues from 1795 to 1813 are far more available than the other gold coins of this era. The half eagles from 1814 through 1833 tend to be extremely rare due to large-scale meltings.
In 1839, the half eagle was redisgned by Christian Gobrecht. The design was modified in 1840 and experimented with through 1843. It stayed unchanged until 1866 when the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the reverse. For most collectors, the following types of Liberty Head half eagle are included in their collection:
1. First Head; mintmark on obverse. (1839 only) 2. Second Head; mintmark on reverse. No Motto. (1840-1866) 3. Second Head; mintmark on reverse. With Motto. (1866-1908)
The Liberty Head half eagle series is unique in that it is the only United States gold type that was struck at seven mints. These are as follows: Philadelphia, Charlotte, Dahlonega, New Orleans, Carson City, San Francisco and Denver. A novel way to collect this series is to assemble a seven-mint set; this will be discussed later in his article.
I can think of at least seven different ways to collect Libeerty Head half eagles. If you are creative, there are probably more but for the sake of brevity, let's focus on these methods.
1. By Mint
Probably the most popular way to collect Liberty Head half eagles is by mint. To do so, a collector generally focuses on one (or two) of the seven mints that produced this series.
The most popular mint to specialize in is Dahlonega. The half eagles from this mint were produced from 1838 to 1861. There are no major rarities in the Dahlonega half eagle series and this is a set that can be completed in grades that range from Very Fine all the way to Uncirculated. One of the things that is interesting about this set is how affordable the coins are. If a collector wanted to put together a set of the twenty-four major issues in the VF-EF range, this could be done for around $70,000-90,000. A set that featured Finest Known and Condition Census coins could run well north of $500,000.
The second most popular mint to collect is Carson City. These were issued from 1870 to 1893. This set is impossible to complete in Uncirculated but it could be done in AU55 and better grades. A collector who had a more limited budget could acquire virtually every date in Fine to Very Fine grades and the more affordable later dates (i.e., those from the 1890's) can be found in higher grades at relatively nominal sums.
Probably the most difficult mint to complete a set from is San Francisco. Virtually every half eagle produced at this mint from 1854 to 1877 is very rare in high grades and most of these are either unknown or extremely rare in Uncirculated. There are very few collectors who specialize in San Francisco half eagles and there are a number of reasons for this. The set is long (coins were issued from 1854 through 1906), full of rarities and it contains coins that are numbingly common (most of the issues from 1879 onwards).
2. By Decade or By Year
An interesting way to collect Liberty Head half eagles is by decade. This type was produced during the 1840's, 1850's, 1860's, 1870's, 1880, 1890's and 1900's. A "by decade" set appeals to many collectors due to the fact that there is a broad range of coins issued.
In my opinion, the 1840's would be the most interesting decade to specialize in. There were four mints that produced half eagles during this decade: Philadelphia, Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans. Virtually all of the coins made during the 1840's are available in circulated grades but most are rare in Uncirculated. What I like about the coins from this decade, besides their historic association, is the fact that many are highly undervalued; moreso, I feel, than any other decade.
Another decade that is full of undervalued, overlooked coins is the 1870's. Nearly all of the coins struck between 1870 and 1876 are rare in all grades (there are a few exceptions such as the 1873) and most of the issues from this decade are very rare to extremely rare in Uncirculated.
An interesting half eagle set is a year set. This would include one example of every year in which Liberty half eagles were produced from 1839 through 1907. The beauty of this set is that in years in which there are rarities, there is always an affordable issue to lessen the cost. As an example, the mintmarked half eagles from 1861 (1861-C, 1861-D and 1861-S) are all scarce and in higher grades they are very expensive. But the 1861 Philadelphia half eagle is common and a very nice example can be obtained for around $1,000. There are only a few years in which all the issues are rare and these tend to be the ones (like 1863 and 1864) in which only a limited number of mints were striking half eagles.
3. By Type
I described the three major types of Liberty Head half eagles earlier in this article. For collectors who choose to focus on these three coins, there are are many options.
The initial type was made only in 1839, at the Philadelphia, Charlotte and Dahlonega mints. None of these issues is rare although the two mintmarked coins are highly sought-after and very expensive in Uncirculated. An 1839 Philadelphia half eagle is more obtainable and a really nice piece can be found for just a few thousand dollars.
The No Motto type, struck from 1840 through 1866 contains issues that run the gamut from common to very rare. Most No Motto half eagles (even the common dates) are very hard to locate in Uncirculated grades and there are very few single coins that exist in MS63 and above. For type purposes, it might make sense to look for a common Philadelphia coin from the 1840's or 1850's in AU58 to MS62. Again, a very nice coin can be obtained for just a few thousand dollars.
The With Motto type was made from 1866 until the end of this design in 1908. There are a number of very rare With Motto issues but most of the pieces struck after 1879 are common, even in the lower Uncirculated grades. For a type coin, I'd recommend a common date from the late 19th century in MS63 to MS65 grades. Depending on the date and grade, you're looking at an expenditure of just a few thousand dollars.
There are a number of rarities in the Liberty Head half eagles but not nearly as many as in the earlier half eagles that immediately preced this type. First and foremost is the 1854-S of which there are just three known. None has been offered for sale since the Eliasberg coin back in 1982 and, I believe, that if one were to become available today, it could bring as much as $3-5 million.
There are other rare issues in this series but none approach the 1854-S. In the Philadelphia issues, the 1875 is by far the key issue. Only 200 business strikes were made and it is believed that around ten or so are known today. Despite this coin's extreme rarity, examples have traded in the low six figures. After the 1875, the next rarest Philadelphia half eagles are the 1887 (struck only as a Proof) and the 1863.
The aformentioned 1854-S is, obviously, the great rarity from San Francisco. After this, there is a steep drop-off in terms of rarity. The issues from 1859 through 1867 are all scarce in circulated grades and extremely rare in Uncirculated. By far the rarest of these is the 1864-S. In fact, a strong case can be made for this date being the rarest collectible half eagle of this type. Despite this fact, it is not out of the price range of most collectors.
None of the Charlotte or Dahlonega half eagles is a major rarity as far as the total number known to exist. The key Charlotte issues include the 1842-C Small Date, 1844-C, 1846-C and 1861-C while the hardest Dahlonega half eagles to acquire include the 1842-D Large Date and the 1861-D.
Switching focus to the New Orleans issues, the two hardest dates to acquire are the 1842-O and the 1847-O. Both of these are actually affordable in the EF40-AU50 range, scarce but not bdget-busting in the middle to higher AU grades and extremely rare in Uncirculated. The Carson City series contains a number of scarce dates such as the 1870-CC, 1872-CC, 1873-CC and 1878-CC. Again, these are pricey but obtainable in the AU grade range.
In summary, the only Liberty Head half eagle that will prove to be unobtainable is the 1854-S. The other rare dates can be found with patience.
Proofs of this type are very collectible and range from exceedingly rare to rare-but-collectible.
A type collector might want to acquire one example each of a Proof No Motto and With Motto Liberty Head half eagle. The former is very rare. Proofs were not issued in any sort of quantity until 1859. The Proofs produced in the 1860's are all very rare but can be obtained with patience. For a nice PR63 to PR64 example, a collector is looking at an investmnt in the $40,000- $50,000 range.
The With Motto Proofs were produced continuously from 1875 through 1907 (none were made in 1908). The 1875 and the 1887 are two dates that sell for large premiums; the former due to the rarity of business strikes and the latter due to the fact that it was made only in the Proof format.
As far as I know there are very few--if any--collectors are currently specializing in a date run of Proof Liberty Head half eagles. This would be a challenging and exzpensive set but one that could be completed. It is one that also contains coins that are great values. As an example, the Proofs from the late 1860's and early 1870's are extremely rare (typically fewer than a dozen are known) yet they do not command significnat premiums in PR64 and PR65 over the more available issues from the 1880's and 1890's.
If you are a collector who fancies varieties, there are more interesting ones present in the half eagles than any other Liberty Head series. These range from significant Redbook varieties to minor, little-known ones.
Some of the better known varieties include the 1840 Broad Mill and Narrow Mill, the 1842 Small Letters and Large Letters, the 1842-C Small Date and Large Date, the 1842-D Small Date and Large Date, the 1843-O Small Letters and Large Letters, the 1846 Small Date and Large Date and the 1846-D Normal Mintmark and D over D Mintmark. From 1850 onwards, there are fewer significant varieties.
There are only two confirmed ovedates in the series and neither is rare. The 1881/0 and the 1901/0-S are both quite affordable in circulated grades and can be located in the lower to middling Uncirculated grades without much effort or expense.
While I have done some fairly extensive research on the varieties of branch mint half eagles, there are probably a number waiting to be discovered. I think the most fertile area is probably the Philadelphia issues from the 1840's. This was an era in which countless blundered dates and other significant varities are already known on silver coins; it seems likely that others await discovery in the half eagle series.
If you are new to the series, one of the real questions you may have is how to price Liberty Head half eagles. For the more common issues this isn't very hard. You will find that many of he post-1880 issues from Philadelphia and San Francisco are regarded as "generics" and sell for little--if any--premium. Pricing the rarities is another story altogether.
If you decide to focus on the southern branch mint coins, you will quickly learn that locating original pieces (i.e., examples with attractive natural coloration) is very difficult. Surprisingly, the premium factor for original coins is often low; in many cases only 5-10% more than a bright, processed example. With many of the Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans pieces, these issues are available in great enough numbers that the collector shouldn't have to settle for a marginal quality coin.
Pricing very rare issues can be a challenge. There are some dates in the series that come on the market very infrequently and the last comparable trade at auction might have occured as long as three to five years ago.
I just mentioned using auction comparables and I think this is a point worthy of a quick discussion. To my way of thinking, seeing what other examples of a coin have been bringing at auction is probably the best way to determine a price for a coin that you have an interest in. Let's say, for example, that you are contemplating buying an 1847-O half eagle graded EF40. Let's say that the last three auction trades are $5,290, $6,350 and $5,750. This gives a clear indication that a decent quality coin is going to be worth around $6,000. How about if you were to go back another two years and you see that there are three more trades; one for $11,500, one for $3,450 and another for $5,750? In the case of the $11,500 sale, I would dismiss this as it probably represents a coin that at least two bidders thought would upgrade. And the cheap sale of $3,450 probably represents a problem coin or one that is extremely low end for the grade.
What are the best values in the Liberty Head half eagle series? That's a hard question to answer as I believe that the entire series is chock full of good value. If I had to focus on a few areas that were the most undervalued I'd suggest No Motto Philadelphia coins in AU58 to MS62 (most are priced in the $1,000-5,000 range and harder to find than one might expect), the New Orleans issues in AU50 and above and the low mintage Philadelphia issues from 1862 through 1877. But it's hard to name just a few areas and I'd honestly say that just about any pre-1900 half eagle that is choice and original is desirable to some extent.
The Liberty Head half eagle series has become more and more popular over the years as people become aware of the challenges it offers collectors. I doubt if its appeal will ever become really widespread due to its longevity and cost but I look for it to become even more collected in the coming years.
Are you interested in the Liberty Head half eagle series? Would you like to form a collection of these coins? Feel free to email me for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org
While I hate to make bold pronouncements based on a small number of auction results, it looks like an interesting trend may be occuring in the Carson City half eagle market. Within two months, three important CC half eagles have sold at auction and brought tremendous prices. Let's take a look at the three coins in question, analyze the results, and try to make some sense of this market. The first of these coins is a PCGS graded Mint State-62 1873-CC half eagle. This is a coin that I am very familiar with, having sold it twice via private treaty within the last five years. In fact, I sold it a few years ago to the collector who consigned it directly to the Heritage 2011 FUN sale, where it became Lot 5118 in the Platinum Night session.
This was a coin I always thought I was a little ahead of the curve on. When I sold it to a good client around five years ago, I told him, "this is going to be a six figure coin someday." But it seemed that "someday" was going to be quite far in the future.
Here's why I've always loved this coin. The 1873-CC is the rarest Carson City half eagle in higher grades. It doesn't have the cachet of the 1870-CC but it is rarer and, in Uncirculated, the 1870-CC, if available, would sell for a minimum of $125,000++. There are two 1873-CC half eagles known in Uncirculated: this example and an NGC MS62. The PCGS MS62 is not only nicer, it has a wonderful pedigree (ex Bass) and it is a solid coin for the grade with good luster and attractive, natural coloration. Unlike the 1870-CC, the 1873-CC is nearly unobtaianble in AU55 or AU58 grades, so if a collector wants to obtain a high quality piece he has very few options. I expected it to bring around $80,000 to $90,000 in the auction.
The 1873-CC sold for $161,000. This was an all-time auction record for this date (by a factor of around three) and it was significantly more than I expected.
Another interesting Carson City half eagle in the Heritage FUN sale was an 1878-CC graded AU58 by PCGS.
This is a very rare date and an issue that is extremely hard to locate in About Uncirculated and Uncirculated grades. I have never seen or heard of a Mint State piece so, for all intents and purposes, an AU58 is as nice an example of this date as you are likely to find.
The 1878-CC sold by Heritage was offered at Lot 5120. To be honest, I wasn't crazy about the coin. While sharply struck, it had color that I felt was questionable and it appeared to have been recently processed. But it was one of just five so graded by PCGS with none better.
It sold for $63,250. This is the exact same price that Heritage 5/08: 4235, the previous record holder for the date, brought a few years ago. The difference between the two coins is that, in my opinion, the piece that sold in 2008 was considerably nicer. The 2011 FUN sale price was extremely strong given the quality of the coin.
The third interesting Carson City half eagle to sell at a Heritage auction was an 1879-CC in a PCGS MS62 holder. This coin was not entirely fresh as it had been placed in a Heritage sale back in October 2010 where it failed to meet its reserve. It was reconsigned by the owner into the February 2011 auction and this time it brought $69,000; by far a record price for this date and considerably more than it would have brought in its earlier appearance had it hit the reserve.
This coin was different than the 1873-CC and 1878-CC. Unlike these other two dates, the 1879-CC half eagle is common in most circulated grades and it can even be found, with just a bit of effort, in nice AU55 to AU58. In Mint State, the 1879-CC has around six to eight survivors but nearly all grade MS60 to MS61. The MS62 in the Heritage sale was the best that I'd ever seen and I'm reasonably certain it was the finest known.
So, three different coins and three strong auction results. What can we deduce from these sales? I think the first thing we can determine is that there are at least two new individuals putting together sets of Carson City half eagles. I'm not certain if they are doing other CC gold coins or Liberty head half eagles from other mints, but they are clearly gaga for CC's. The second thing is that these collectors want coins that are the highest graded. And if they are "pop 1/0" coins, that's even better. The third thing is that they want the coins to be in PCGS holders. I'm not sure if the 1873-CC half eagle mentioned above would have brought anywhere near $161,000 if it had been the exact same coin but in an NGC holder. The fourth and final thing is that these buyers seem to like to purchase their coins at auction. But something tells me that if the right item came up for sale, and it were on a dealer's website, it would find its way into one of these collections.
One thing I've learned from nearly three decades of specializing in branch mint coins: the high end of these markets is very thinly traded and when just one or two new "mega collectors" start a collection of, say, finest known Carson City half eagles then prices can jump upwards in a hurry. And this seems to be exactly what's happening right now with this area of the market. It will be interesting to see if more important coin become available in the next few months and, if they do, what sort of record prices they will bring.
Having just acquired one of the two or three finest known examples of this date (a PCGS AU58 that is illustrated below) I thought it would be interesting to share some information about one of my favorite half eagles from this mint.
The 1878-CC is among the rarest Carson City half eagles, both in terms of overall and high grade rarity. It is not nearly as well known as the 1870-CC and it doesn't have the cult following that the rare and undervalued 1873-CC has. That said, it is still a coin that is very well respected by specialists.
A total of 9,054 were struck. When I wrote the second edition of my book "Gold Coins of the Carson City Mint" back in 2001, I estimated that there were just 60-70 known in all grades. A decade later this estimate seems a bit on the low side and I'd probably revise the total number known up to the area of 75-100.
As of May 2010, PCGS has graded a total of 64 examples in all grades with none in Uncirculated and a total of twenty in About Uncirculated including five each in AU55 and AU58. NGC has a total of 48 in all grades with one in Uncirculated (more on this in a second) and nineteen in AU including five each in AU55 and AU58. My previous estimate of just three to five known in About Uncirculated now seems very low but I believe that the PCGS and NGC populations for AU are significantly inflated by resubmissions. My best guess is that there are around ten or so properly graded AU's known today.
A few years ago, an example graded MS63PL appeared on the NGC population report. I have never seen this coin and am assuming it is a data entry error. If it does actually exist, it is one of the most significant Carson City half eagles in existence and it is a coin that I would really like to view in person.
The finest 1878-CC Carson City half eagles that I have seen are a small number (around three or four) that grade AU58 by today's standards. The all-time auction record for this date is Stack's 5/08: 4235, graded AU58 by PCGS, that brought $63,250.
The 1878-CC half eagle has a very recognizable "look" and it is an issue that can be distinguished from the Philadelphia and San Francisco half eagles dated 1878 with relative ease.
The 1878-CC has a somewhat fuzzy strike unlike the Philadelphia and San Francisco half eagles of this year which are very sharply impressed. This fuzziness is most evident around the borders and the denticles on a number of pieces are not fully formed. A number have significant weakness at 4:00 and 7:00 on the obverse border.
This is a hard issue to find with good luster. One of the things about the PCGS AU58 that is special for this issue is the fact that the luster is frosty and visible. This is clearly not the case on most 1878-CC half eagles which are not lustrous and have been stripped by processing. The coin shown above has some scattered marks in the fields bt these are fewer than usual for the issue.
The PCGS AU58 1878-CC half eagle shown in the photo above will be available for sale in a few weeks along with some other remarkable Condition Census CC half eagles from the same collection. For information on any of these coins please contact me via email at email@example.com.
I had very little in the way of expectations for the third and final version of this year’s Long Beach coin show. In my opinion, the show was slightly above average, primarily due to interest caused by the surge in metals price. I thought that set-up (on Wednesday) was a bit perkier than usual for a Long Beach. I sold coins to dealers who I don’t ordinarily do much business with but who are so in need of nice coins that they are, literally, doing everything they can to find material. One dealer, who was working a want list that included a number of scarcer Liberty Head double eagles, was able to find a few scarce dates in my inventory. I also sold virtually all of my generic gold to another dealer.
With auctions being as strong as they are these days, I decided to again focus my buying attention on the bourse floor. I was able to purchase more interesting coins than I would have expected at a Long Beach show. Some of the highlights are as follows:
A nice group of New Orleans gold dollar including a Condition Census PCGS MS63 1850-O
A spectacular 1867 quarter eagle in PCGS MS65, which is the Finest Known
A lovely PCGS VF25 1870-CC half dollar
An NGC NS60 example of the underrated 1882-O eagle
A superb PQ NGC MS62 1837 quarter eagle
Thursday saw a decent number of collectors attending the show, including a couple of new faces. I sold a few nice quality branch mint gold coins to brand-new collectors; something that hasn’t happened at a Long Beach for quite some time.
Friday, on the other hand, was very slow with poor attendance and limited dealer enthusiasm. Clearly, this show is pretty much over by Friday afternoon and most collectors, at this point, are hanging around and waiting for the evening auction session(s).
I can’t say that I’m sorry that I won’t be attending another Long Beach show until the Winter of 2008. None of the three I was at in 2007 were exactly barn-burners. My next two shows, in Atlanta and Baltimore, respectively, are sponsored by Whitman so, at the very least, I know they will be very well attended and professionally run.
I have also acquired a wonderful complete set of Carson City half eagles which I will be breaking up. The coins in this set range in grade from AU50 to MS63 and include a number of Finest Known and Condition Census pieces. If you have a specific want list that includes any of these, please call me or email me and let me know what you are looking for. Most are very high end for the grade with great original color and surfaces.