The Bass 1855-C Quarter Eagle

2009 isn’t even two months old and I’ve already had the good fortune to handle some pretty special coins. I’d have to say that one of the very best that I’ve handled so far is the Bass 1855-C quarter eagle, graded MS65 by NGC, which is shown below. Let’s take an in-depth look at this specific coin and analyze where it fits into the Pantheon of Great Charlotte Quarter Eagles.



I regard the 1855-C as the second rarest Charlotte quarter eagle, trailing only the 1843-C Small Date. Of the 3,677 coins originally produced, an estimated 85-105 are known. This date tends to be found in the EF-AU grade range and it does not appear to have circulated with the intensity of other dates from this era which are more often found with considerable wear. At one time, the 1855-C was exceedingly rare in Uncirculated and when I wrote the first edition of my Charlotte book back in the 1980’s I was not aware of a single Mint State piece.

Due to gradeflation and new discoveries, the 1855-C has become a more available coin in Uncirculated and today there are as many as six or seven known. There are two really great pieces accounted for: the Bass coin and an example in a private collection graded MS64 by NGC and owned by dealer Harry Laibstain back around 2000-2001.

The Bass 1855-C is unquestionably the finest known 1855-C quarter eagle and it is one of just a handful of Gem quarter eagles from this mint (more on this later...). I had no idea that this coin even existed until I saw it when I viewed the Bass III sale in October 1999. Bass had supposedly obtained the coin via private treaty on August 31, 1977. When it made its initial auction appearance it was graded MS64 by PCGS but, according to my comments in the catalog, I graded it MS65 and described it as follows: “GEM!!!” After the sale, the owner cracked it out of its PCGS holder and sent it to NGC where it, rightfully, was upgraded to its current MS65 holder.

When viewing this coin, there are a few things that really stand out. The first is this coin’s amazing luster. I doubt that the image above will capture the subtleties of this coin’s incredible hybrid frosty/reflective texture. This issue is sometimes seen with good luster but on this example it is so dynamic that it gives the coin a unique “crisp” appearance that very, very few branch mint coins of any era possess.

There is some weakness of strike seen on the stars at the top and on the eagle’s right leg. This weakness is typical for the issue and, in fact, the overall detail seen is better than average. The surfaces are exceptionally clean with a virtual absence of marks. There are some raised die striations in the obverse fields and some mint-made roughness around the eagle on the reverse that add character to the overall appearance. Both sides have some light to medium rose and orange-gold color that is attractive as well.

When this coin was last sold at public auction in October 1999, it realized $41,400. It was later sold to a North Carolina collector and it has been off the market for close to a decade. I just sold it to an anonymous collector who specializes in Charlotte coins and it is regarded as one of the current highlights of his collection.

There are four Charlotte quarter eagles known to me that are decidedly better than all the other surviving examples from this mint. These are the only four Charlotte Liberty Head quarter eagles that I regard as Gems and it is pretty remarkable to think that out of the 217,833 pieces produced between 1840 and 1860 that only three Gems exist.

The Charlotte quarter eagle that I regard as the unquestionable finest known of any date is the Elrod 1842-C, graded MS65 by PCGS. This piece sold for $90,850 back in February 1999 and it is now owned by a Southern collector who is well-known for his discerning eye. The coin has also been graded MS65 by NGC. What is even more impressive about this coin is the fact that the 1842-C is an extremely rare coin in high grades and the Elrod coin is the finest of just three known in Uncirculated.

The 1843-C Large Date is among the more available Charlotte quarter eagles in Uncirculated and there are two Gems known. The first is currently graded MS66 by NGC and it was earlier in a PCGS MS65 holder. What is remarkable about this coin (besides its grade) is the fact that it was once in an ANACS MS64 holder and it sold at auction for a paltry $5,500 back in September 1997. The second Gem 1843-C Large Date is a PCGS MS65 that is currently owned by a North Carolina specialist. I have had the chance to view this coin and it is a bona-fide Gem with superb luster, color and surfaces. The fourth and final Gem Charlotte quarter eagle is, of course, the Bass 1855-C.

Are there other Gem Charlotte quarter eagles known? It is possible that a few pieces might exist in shipwrecks, hoards or old collections but I would be surprised if many turn up in the coming years. It is more likely that one or two of the very nice MS64’s will “morph” into MS65’s.

View our inventory.

How To Collect Charlotte Gold Coins

There are many ways to collect Charlotte gold. Some people have only a mild interest in these coins and may buy just one or two pieces. Other people are more serious and they have a large number of Charlotte issues in their collection. A small number of Charlotte collectors are obsessives who focus exclusively on these pieces and do not collect anything else. I would like to make some suggestions on how to collect Charlotte gold. In my experience, all of these ideas have merit and none is “better” than the other. It depends on the tastes and budget of an individual collector to determine which one(s) is right for him. I. THE INTRODUCTIORY THREE COIN SET

The most basic way to collect Charlotte gold is to purchase a single example of the gold dollar, quarter eagle and half eagle denominations. This is a very good way to collect for the individual who has a limited budget or who is not certain how deep his interest lies in Charlotte gold.

A basic three coin set of Charlotte gold should consist of nice, problem-free pieces. It would make sense to focus on the more common dates although some collectors might prefer to include some scarcer issues. The grade range for these coins is likely to fall in the Extremely Fine-40 to About Uncirculated-58 range.

The 1851-C is the most logical choice for the gold dollar in this set as it is the most common and affordable date. A pleasing Extremely Fine can be obtained for $1,500 or so. About Uncirculated pieces range from $1,750 to $3,500 depending on quality.

The optimum quarter eagle for this set is the 1847-C as it is the most common date of this denomination from Charlotte by a large margin. A nice Extremely Fine example costs around $2,000 while About Uncirculated coins range from $2,500 to $4,000. It is possible to upgrade to a much scarcer date without paying a substantial premium. As an example, the 1843-C Large Date sells for around the same price in Extremely Fine as does the 1847-C but it is much harder to locate.

In About Uncirculated, the 1847-C used to be much less expensive than all other Charlotte quarter eagles but the price spread has diminished in the last few years. This, in my opinion, makes dates such as the 1843-C Large Date, 1848-C and 1858-C very interesting alternatives, especially in the lower range of the About Uncirculated grades.

There are many dates in the half eagle series that would work well in this type set. These include the 1849-C, 1852-C, 1853-C and 1858-C. Any of these can be purchased in nice Extremely Fine for around $2,500 while About Uncirculated coins are priced in the $3,000-6,000 range.

An alternative to the standard three coin set would be to purchase the same date for all three denominations. This is feasible for issues dated 1849-C, 1850-C, 1851-C and 1852-C. A set from 1855 could also be assembled but the gold dollar and the quarter eagle from this year are quite expensive in higher grades.

II. THE BASIC AND EXPANDED TYPE SETS

A type set of Charlotte gold coins includes one example of each major type struck at this mint. Such a set includes the following:

  • Type One gold dollar (1849-1853)
  • Type Two gold dollar (1855 only)
  • Type Three gold dollar (1857 and 1859)
  • Classic Head quarter eagle (1838-39)
  • Liberty Head quarter eagle (1840-1860)
  • Classic Head half eagle (1838 only)
  • Liberty Head, obverse mintmark half eagle (1839 only)
  • Liberty Head, reverse mintmark half eagle (1840-1861)

A total of eight types were struck at the Charlotte mint. This includes three that were struck only in one year. A complete eight piece type set is an excellent display item. The various designs used in striking these coins provide a graphic illustration of the artistic and historic record of the Charlotte mint.

Most collectors who assemble an eight piece Charlotte type set do so in grades ranging from Extremely Fine-40 to About Uncirculated-58. This set could be completed in Uncirculated but it would be very difficult to do given the rarity of the 1838-C Classic Head half eagle in Mint State.

The coins that are included in a Charlotte type set are generally the more common dates. Some collectors use better dates in order to make their sets more interesting and potentially more valuable. I would strongly recommend that the collector include at least a few better dates.

A nicely matched Extremely Fine set should cost approximately $25,000-30,000. The most expensive coins in the set are the 1838-C half eagle, the 1839-C half eagle and the 1855-C gold dollar.

A set that consists of all eight coins in About Uncirculated-50 to About Uncirculated-58 can be assembled for approximately $50,000-100,000+. The cost could be significantly reduced if the Type Two gold dollar and the 1838-C and 1839-C half eagles were nice Extremely Fine coins as opposed to About Uncirculated-50 or better.

III. COLLECTING BY DENOMINATION

Each of the three denominations struck at the Charlotte mint are popular with collectors. For various reasons, some of which will be discussed below, some collectors feel an affinity towards a specific denomination.

Collectors generally love or hate the gold dollar. The small size of this coin (13 or 15mm. depending on the type) sharply divides the collecting community. Some collectors find it hard to fathom paying thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars to pay for a coin that is the size of an average adult’s thumbnail. Another negative factor about Charlotte gold dollars is the crudeness with which they were struck. If you are not a specialist it may be tough to “get” a coin that is this crude.

The reasons that cause some people to dislike gold dollars are the same reasons that other people like them. Their crudeness has an odd allure and their small size gives them a distinct charm.

Collectors also like gold dollars because of their low mintage figures. With the exception of the 1851-C, each issue from Charlotte has an original mintage figure of 14,000 or less. Four of the eight have mintages lower than 10,000.

On a coin by coin basis the Charlotte gold dollar series is relatively affordable. A set of eight coins in Extremely Fine should be completable for approximately $20,000. Every Charlotte gold dollar can be found in About Uncirculated grades without great difficulty. The only obstacles to completing a set in this range are available funds and the level of fussiness that a collector brings to the set. Figure on spending $35,000-40,000+ for a mid-range About Uncirculated set and double this amount for a very high end About Uncirculated set.

A complete set in Uncirculated could be assembled but it would be difficult due to the rarity of the 1855-C and 1857-C. Assuming that these two issues are available, a complete set in Mint State-60 to Mint State-63 could be assembled for $100,000-150,000+.

The Charlotte quarter eagles are the most challenging of the three denominations. Assembling a set of these requires patience and dedication. Many are very rare in higher grades. Others have peculiarities of strike that make it hard to find pieces with good eye appeal. The rarest Charlotte quarter eagles are the 1842-C, 1843-C Small Date, 1846-C and 1855-C. These are hard to find in all grades and rare in properly graded About Uncirculated.

There are a total of twenty issues in the Charlotte quarter eagle set. This includes two varieties from 1843: the Small Date and the Large Date. No quarter eagles were produced at this mint in 1845, 1853, 1857 and 1859.

It is a realistic goal to complete this set in Extremely Fine grades. The cost of such a set would be in the area of $55,000-65,000. In About Uncirculated this set is still realistically completable but assembling an attractive, well-matched set requires time and patience. It is not unrealistic to set aside a budget of as much as $250,000 for a world-class About Uncirculated set for choice, high end coins with original surfaces. Completing a set of Charlotte quarter eagles in Uncirculated is possible but exceptionally difficult. There are a number of issues such as the 1839-C, 1842-C, 1848-C, 1849-C and 1856-C that have extremely few truly Mint State pieces known to exist.

A complete set of Charlotte half eagles consists of twenty-four coins. This includes two varieties struck in 1842 (the Small Date and the Large Date) and none in 1845.

The half eagles are the most popular denomination from this mint. One of the reasons for this has to do with the relatively large size of these coins. Another has to do with the fact that every issue except for one (the rare 1842-C Small Date) is reasonably easy to obtain in the higher circulated grades.

A set of nice Extremely Fine Charlotte half eagles should cost in the neighborhood of $100,000-125,000 with a good chunk of this set aside for the 1842-C Small Date. A complete set in About Uncirculated is challenging but less difficult than for the quarter eagles. A set of well-matched, original Charlotte half eagles in About Uncirculated would require a budget of approximately $200,000-250,000+. Completing a set in Uncirculated is very difficult but not impossible. The stoppers in this set include the 1838-C, 1840-C, 1842-C Small Date, 1846-C and 1854-C.

IV. ASSEMBLING A COMPLETE SET OF CHARLOTTE GOLD

Some collectors get hooked on Charlotte gold and decide to assemble a complete set. A complete set of Charlotte gold is generally understood to contain the following:

  • Gold Dollars: A total of nine issues struck between 1849 and 1859. One of these, the 1849-C Open Wreath, is excessively rare with just four or five known to exist. Because of its rarity, it is not included in most sets but it is still regarded as an important member of the Charlotte series.
  • Quarter Eagles: A total of twenty issues produced between 1838 and 1860.
  • Half Eagles: A total of twenty-four issues struck between 1838 and 1861.

The final cost of assembling a complete set of Charlotte coinage (minus the excessively rare 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar) is within the reach of many collectors. A set that focuses on nice Extremely Fine coins would cost approximately $200,000. A set that consists of nice About Uncirculated coins would cost anywhere from $600,000 up to $800,000+.

Due to new discoveries and relaxed grading standards it is now possible for a collector to assemble a complete set of Charlotte coins in Uncirculated grades.

To the best of my knowledge, no collector has assembled a totally complete set of Charlotte gold in Uncirculated. I know of at least two or three collectors who have assembled the complete set (including the extremely rare 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar) but none of these have contained Uncirculated examples of this variety.

The finest collections ever assembled of Charlotte coins include the Stanley Elrod collection (sold privately in 1994 and now, unfortunately, split into numerous parts), the Paul Dingler collection (which included the only known complete set of Mint State Charlotte quarter eagles and half eagles; it was purchased by Heritage Coin Galleries and myself a few years ago) and the William Miller collection (sold by Heritage at auction in 1999).

Carolina Circle Collection of Charlotte Gold Coinage

I recently completed cataloging the Carolina Circle Collection of Charlotte gold coinage for Heritage. This collection, which was primarily formed in the 1970’s and 1980’s, is going to be sold by Heritage during their 2008 FUN auction. It is a virtually complete collection, missing only the 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar and it contains some of the nicest—and freshest—coins from Charlotte that I have seen in some time. I have known the owner of this collection for a number of years and when he made the decision to sell, I suggested that he place the coins in the 2008 FUN auction. About 40% of the collection is housed in very old PCGS and NGC holders and I suggested to this individual that he keep the coins in these old slabs; despite the fact that many of them appeared to be significantly undergraded by today’s standards.

What I really like about this collection is the originality of many of the coins. Almost all of them are in the EF40 to AU58 range and a number are notable for their superb original color and unadulterated surfaces. There are a few individual coins that I think rank as among the most attractive Charlotte gold coins I have ever seen; regardless of date or denomination.

My two favorite gold dollars in this collection are an 1849-C Closed Wreath and an 1850-C. Both are in old PCGS AU58 holders and both, in my opinion, grade considerably finer by today’s standards. I think both coins have great eye appeal and would make excellent additions to a date or type set. I also like the AU55 1857-C gold dollar in this collection. It, too, is in an old green label holder and it seems very choice for the date and grade.

The quarter eagles in the Carolina Circle Collection are outstanding and include a number of Condition Census pieces. Even though it “only” grades NGC AU53, the 1839-C Repunched Date is a lovely original coin and is housed in an old “fatty” holder certain to attract attention. There are PCGS AU55 examples of the 1840-C and 1844-C, both in old green label holders, that are also extremely choice for their designated grade levels. The 1846-C and 1849-C quarter eagles are both also graded AU55 by PCGS.

There are two quarter eagles in this collection that I think are absolutely wonderful coins. The 1852-C is in an old green label PCGS AU58 holder but it appears far choicer than this. I absolutely love this coin’s coloration and I personally regard it as the third finest known for the date, trailing only the Bass II and Elrod coins.

I also really like the 1855-C in this collection. I had never seen or heard of this coin before I went to examine this group a few months ago and I’m sure I let out a big gasp when I first saw it. It is currently in a PCGS MS61 holder but I personally feel it is nicer than this. What I like best about this coin is its freshness as evidenced by its glowing frosty luster, lovely rose-gold color and extremely clean surfaces. It is probably the third finest known example of this rare date and it is the nicest 1855-C I have seen since the incomparable Bass coin was first sold in 1999.

The half eagles in this collection are complete and include a number of important and choice pieces. One that is certain to capture a lot of viewer attention is an 1838-C in PCGS AU58. While reasonably common in lower grades, this date is rare in AU and the current PCGS population is just three in AU58 with a single example higher.

The 1840’s half eagles in the Carolina Circle collection are, for the most part, very nice coins and this includes solid AU examples of the 1840-C, 1841-C, 1844-C and 1846-C. There is an 1842-C Large Date in an old green label PCGS AU55 that seems extremely choice for the grade, in my opinion.

The half eagle in this collection that will probably generate the most interest is the 1842-C Small Date. It is currently housed in an old ANACS AU50 holder but it appears to be considerably nicer than this. As you may or may not know, this is the rarest collectible issue from this mint and the typical piece is well worn with poor eye appeal. The example in this collection is lightly marked, well struck and original with good color and a very pleasing naked-eye appearance.

There are other less glamorous but very attractive half eagles in the Carolina Circle collection as well. An 1847-C in an older PCGS holder has superb color and great eye appeal. The 1851-C, graded AU50 by PCGS many years ago, seems to be way undergraded and it has an exceptional strike for the issue as well as superb deep yellow-gold color. The 1853-C, housed in a green label PCGS AU58 holder, is also attractively toned in rich, natural shadings.

If you follow the rare gold coin market you know that Charlotte coinage has been somewhat out-of-favor for the last few years. I predict that this collection will help to jumpstart this market. It’s been a number of years since this many fresh, attractive pieces have been offered for sale and, typically, when collection like this are sold, new collectors become interested in getting a set started.

For more information on this collection, feel free to contact me and I also suggest that keep an eye on Heritage’s website. I expect that the lots for the FUN sale will be posted sometime around the middle of December.

Scarcity of Branch Mint Issues

When examining surviving populations of branch mint gold coins it is easy to forget just how scarce some of these issues are in higher grades. I’d like to demonstrate a little numismatic “magic trick” and turn 200 into 20 (or less) right in front of your very eyes. Let’s take a random issue and play around with survival numbers. How about the 1848-C quarter eagle?

The 1848-C is a date that doesn’t get much attention. It’s certainly no big deal, rarity-wise, in lower grades but it is scarce in the lower AU grades, very rare in the higher AU grades and exceedingly rare (and overlooked) in Uncirculated.

A total of 16,788 1848-C quarter eagles were produced. As with most Charlotte quarter eagles, it has a survival rate of around 1%-2% of the original mintage figure. I estimate that 150-200 are known, although this figure does not take into account what are probably a number of low grade and/or damaged specimens. Of these 150-200 coins, I estimate that at least 70-100 grade VF or below by my standards (which, by the way are not necessarily the same as NGC’s or PCGS’) and another 56-70 grade EF40 to EF45. All of a sudden the population of higher grade 1848-C quarter eagles has shrunk considerably.

I believe that 22-26 examples of this date are known in the various AU grades. That seems like a reasonably decent number of coins; certainly a large enough pool of coins for the casual collector to choose from, right? This number does not take into account that many of the 22-26 coins have problems. Certainly at least half of these two dozen or so coins have been cleaned, processed or unnaturally brightened. Suddenly, the available population of nice higher grade 1848-C quarter eagles has been reduced to maybe a dozen coins.

But these dozen coins include another potential monkey wrench which might thwart the collector seeking a nice 1848-C quarter eagle. If you read my book on Charlotte quarter eagles, you’ll learn that this issue is notorious for poor strikes and that a number were produced from severely swollen dies which leave the coins looking like a mess. So now these dozen coins might now be reduced down to as few as seven or eight nice, original (or “original-ish”) AND decently struck 1848-C quarter eagles. Assuming that there are at least four or five collectors assembling circulated Charlotte quarter eagle sets by date, this means as few as three or four pieces might become available in, say, a two or three year period. I’d say that qualifies as a pretty rare coin.

These numbers do not apply to all branch mint gold issues. There are certain dates that, for a variety of reasons, have a much higher overall survival rate or because of hoards have a higher percentage of high grade coins among the survivors.

A few examples of branch mint dates that have uncommonly high survival rates include the 1854-D $3.00 (I estimate that as much as 10% of the original mintage figure exists) and the 1838-D $5.00. There are generally pretty obvious reasons why issues like these have higher survival rates than usual. In the case of the 1854-D $3.00 it is because this is a one-year type coin and the novelty factor of a Dahlonega Three Dollar gold piece probably caused a number to be saved as souvenirs by curious locals. The same is probably the case with the 1838-D $5.00. This is a first-year-of-issue and it seems almost certain that a few were saved as curiosities by Dahlonegonians. (By the way, I just made up that word. I wonder if the correct expression isn’t actually Dahlonegites??)

There might also be another reason to consider in regards to high grade rarity for certain branch mint issues. A few dates have had their populations of higher grade pieces swelled by the (possible) existence of hoards. I surmise this to be the case with issues such as the 1857-D and 1858-C quarter eagles and the 1841-D half eagle and know this to be a fact for issues like the 1856-D half eagle.

The bottom line is that many branch mint issues are much, much scarcer in higher grade (say AU55 and above) than their certified populations might suggest. As a rule of thumb, even the “common” issues such as 1849-D gold dollars or 1847-C quarter eagles are far less available in choice AU than one might expect and these issues are certain to get scarcer in the coming years.

The Contrarian Opportunity of Charlotte Gold Coinage

Charlotte gold coinage is about as unpopular right now as at any time I can recall in the past two decades. Why are the coins from Charlotte getting no love when their Southern counterparts from Dahlonega and New Orleans are as popular as they’ve been in some time? Read on for a few suggestions. There’s no exact, scientific reason(s) which I can point to which “prove” why Charlotte coinage currently seems to be lagging Dahlonega and New Orleans when it comes to popularity. I can think of at least six possible reasons which, when taken together, have conspired to make these coins currently out of favor with collectors.

1. I’ve written two books on Charlotte gold coinage. The second—and most current—was published in 1997. This book is not only out of print and hard to find, it is out of date as well. Until I get around to publishing a third edition of this book (and I plan to get to work on this sometime in 2007 and hope to have it available by the end of the year) new collectors will not have access to current information. In my experience, whenever I publish a new (or revised) book on gold coinage, the popularity of that series tends to surge immediately. I anticipate that this will happen again by the end of this year or the beginning of 2008.

2. No significant new players for Charlotte coins at the top end of the market have come around in the past few years. In the 1970’s, it was Harry Bass, while the 1980’s saw Stanley Elrod and the 1990’s were dominated by Paul Dingler. Each of these individuals built world-class sets of Charlotte coinage that focused on very high grade pieces. During this time period, other collectors like Ed Milas could be counted on to purchase significant, high grade issues as well. The Charlotte market needs a new “Mr. Big” to step up and take some of the very high end pieces off the market.

3. There are no significant dealers in the Charlotte area who are building a local collecting base. One of the reasons why Dahlonega gold coinage has always had such a strong local following is that Georgia dealers like Hancock & Harwell, Al Adams, John Hamrick and Larry Jackson have loyally supported the market for Dahlonega coinage for three decades. Despite its status as the undisputed #2 city of the New South, Charlotte still does not have the solid dealer community that characterizes Atlanta.

4. Many of the Charlotte coins currently on the market, especially those in the AU50 to MS61 range, are overgraded, unoriginal and genuinely ugly. It’s hard to get collectors or dealers enthusiastic about coins with minimal eye appeal. One reason why the VF and EF segment of the Charlotte market is comparatively strong is that the coins tend to be decent and collectors are more active. If a fresh deal of attractive, original Charlotte coinage came onto the market in the next year or so, it might act as an excellent jumpstart.

5. A number of the telemarketers who have always been an outlet for the not-so-nice-for-the-grade Charlotte gold coinage have stopped selling these coins. I can think of at least two marketers who I’ve sold hundreds of thousands of dollars of Charlotte gold coinage to over the years who are currently out of the market because their sales forces are tired of selling Charlotte coins or they strongly believe that point #4 I made above is true.

6. In the coin market, tastes are cyclical. After years of neglect, New Orleans gold is currently popular. For years, no one liked early quarter eagles, but now everyone wants them. The market for Charlotte coinage is cyclical as well and happenstance dictates that we are currently in a down cycle. It is very possible that an up cycle of popularity could begin again very soon.

OK, so what has to happen for these coins to get popular again? First we need a new Charlotte book. Then, we need a couple of dealers (myself included) to fall in love with Charlotte coins all over again and start spreading the love. Then we need a couple of wealthy guys from North Carolina to discover how neat these coins are and for them to make a decision that they want to be the Paul Dingler or the Stanley Elrod of the 2000’s. Assuming that at least one or two of these three things happen, I think we can look forward to a renaissance of interest in this area of the market in the coming years. Until then, can you say “contrarian opportunity?”

Charlotte Gold Coinage

While doing some research for a new article on the State of the Market of Charlotte Gold (which will be posted on my website on either the 5th or the 6th of September), I thought of an interesting question which applies to any buyer of rare date gold coins. What area of the market has been the best investment in the past decade? As those of you who know me realize, I am not a big advocate of rare coins as an investment. But I am enough of a pragmatist to realize that it is important for any person, no matter how much of a true collector he is, to feel that his rare coin purchases are going to appreciate in value over the course of time.

So, I decided to do a little research project, of which the parameters are as follows: A collector had $10,000 to spend on Charlotte gold coinage in 1996. Would he have done better buying a number of cheaper coins or should he have put all of his eggs in one basket and bought a single big-ticket item? To conduct this project, I’ve decided to use the Redbook as my pricing guide (don’t turn up your nose; the Redbook is actually a surprisingly good pricing source—take a look at the list of contributors and see whose input is being used for gold coinage). I’ve also decided that only PCGS/NGC graded coins can be used in the sample, for the sake of ease and consistency.

Hypothetical collector #1 decided that he was going to purchase coins graded EF40 and EF45 in 1996. According to the 1997 edition of the Redbook (which would have been the most current available edition in 1996), common date Charlotte quarter eagles were valued at $900-1,100 in EF40. So let’s use an average price of $1,000 per coin and say that our collector bought 5 coins with an aggregate cost of $5,000.

This collector also decided to purchase some common date Charlotte half eagles. According to the Redbook, these were valued at $1,200-1,500 in EF40. Let’s use an average price of $1,300 and say that our collector bought four coins with an aggregate cost of $5,200. This would have brought the total cost of his holdings to $10,200.

Hypothetical collector #2 decided to purchase one single “big coin” and focused on a common date Charlotte half eagle in MS60. According to the 1997 Redbook, an 1847-C (the most common date of this denomination in higher grades) had a value of $10,000.

Both collectors put their coins away for a decade and in 2006 decided they were ready to sell. Who did better?

According to the 2007 edition of the Redbook, a common date Charlotte quarter eagle has a value of $2,200 in EF40; a figure which is very accurate in today’s market, in my opinion. This makes our collector’s five coins worth an estimated $11,000. An EF40 common date Charlotte half eagle has a value of $2,500. Our collector owns four of these and the quartet is now worth an estimated $10,000. This brings the total value of his $10,000 investment to an estimated $21,000.

(There is, of course, one other factor to consider. The chances are reasonably good that if he purchased his nine coins in 1996 from a reasonably good dealer, at least half of the coins would upgrade in today’s more liberal grading environment. Factoring in another 30% for these upgrades—a number which might actually be conservative—this collector’s holdings are now valued at around $27,000).

The 2007 Redbook states that the value of an 1847-C half eagle in MS60 has risen to $13,000. But, unlike the Redbook’s EF40 valuations which are quite accurate, this figure seems pretty high to me. I think the actual value of an 1847-C half eagle in MS60 is more like $8,000.

Let’s assume that this collector bought a nice MS60 back in 1996 and he gets his coin upgraded to MS61 when he resubmits it to PCGS or NGC. In my opinion, an MS61 1847-C half eagle is worth $8,500-9,500; possibly a little bit more if it is a nice coin for the grade.

So which collector did better from a financial standpoint? Clearly, it was the person who purchased the group of nine EF coins. His investment of $10,000 at least doubled and possibly tripled if he was lucky with his upgrading. The collector who purchased the one MS60 half eagle did very poorly. In fact, his original investment of $10,000 is probably worth less than this today.

I think that a few conclusions can be reached from this somewhat unscientific price study.

1. In the area of branch mint gold, the best performers in the past decade have been the collector-quality issues. By collector quality, I am referring to affordable coins in the VF and EF grade range. These have the strongest level of demand because they are the most affordable examples of these coins.

2. Not all high grade branch mint gold performed poorly in the past decade but off quality pieces (and most branch mint gold graded MS60 is generally on the low end of the eye appeal spectrum) are actually worth less today than they were in 1997.

3. Making a decision to start an EF set of Charlotte or Dahlonega gold coinage is much more difficult in 2006 than it was a decade ago. The reasons for this are fairly simple. Firstly, most of the “real” EF coins are now in AU50 or AU53 holders. Secondly, many of the nice EF coins are currently owned by active collectors who do not wish to sell them, given the fact that they know such coins are very hard to replace.

The Charlotte Gold Market, 1987-1997: A Decade Brings Radical Changes

In 1987, my book "Charlotte Mint Gold Coins: 1838-1861, A Numismatic History and Analysis" was published by Bowers and Merena Galleries. In the ensuing decade, the changes in the Charlotte market have been so radical that I have been compelled to rewrite and totally update this book. In preparing my new book on Charlotte gold coins (to be published in 1998 by DWN Publishing), I have been amazed at the breadth of the changes which have characterized this market in the past decade. My first book on Charlotte has become so out-of-date that when people inquire as to its availability, I tell them not to buy it and to wait for the revision.

As I have been researching the various Charlotte issues, I have made some interesting observations. The following areas represent, in my opinion, the biggest changes which have pervaded the Charlotte market (many of these changes can also be applied to the "rare date gold" market as a whole).

I. The Advent of Certified Grading

The population and Condition Census data in the 1987 edition of my book was based on research done in the mid-1980's. This was before the creation of PCGS and NGC. Needless to say, the changes brought about by these two services have had profound effects--both good and bad--on the Charlotte market and on numismatics as a whole. Some of the changes are obvious. After ten years of grading Charlotte coins, enough pieces have been seen by the services to create a useful population and grade distribution database. Everyone knows that the numbers in the PCGS Population Report and the NGC Census Report are skewed due to resubmissions, crossovers, etc. However, this data is far more advanced than anything available in 1987. For the first time, it is possible to get meaningful comparative rarity data. As an example, the population reports are best used in determining how rare an 1840-C half eagle in Extremely Fine-45 is relative to an 1850-C half eagle in the same grade. In 1987, this data was far more speculative and open to interpretation. Today, the collector can easily find out if the information he is being told about a specific coin or date is accurate.

II. An Increase in the Population of High Grade Coins

For a variety of reasons, the number of important high grade Charlotte gold coins has dramatically increased in the past decade. Some of the reasons for this include the following: rising prices have brought new coins into the market, many old collections have been sold and some previously unknown hoards or accumulations have quietly entered the market. Population "explosions" for a few dates are readily noticeable. One example of this is the 1838-C quarter eagle. When the 1987 edition of my book was released, I estimated that only three to four were known in Mint State. In the 1998 edition, my estimate of Mint State examples has been revised upwards to seven or eight coins. In 1987, I estimated the number of Mint State 1844-C half eagles to be two or three; today, I can account for five separate pieces. These numbers may not sound significant when compared to very common coins but in a narrow, tightly traded field such as Charlotte gold, these increases are dramatic.

III. An Increase in Prices

Many series of coins have seen dramatic downward movement in prices when viewed as a whole from 1987 to 1997. Collector-based series such as Charlotte gold, on the other hand, have seen very solid increases. The following chart takes the most common dates in all three denominations from this mint and compares the 1987Redbook prices with those in the 1997 edition of this book.

DATE/DENOM. 1987 REDBOOK PRICES 1997 REDBOOK PRICES
EF-40 AU-50 MS-60 EF-40 AU-50 MS-60
1851-C $1.00 500 825 2,000 700 1000 2,500
1847-C $2.50 450 900 2,500 900 1,900 5,750
1847-C $5.00 750 1,000 3,000 1200 3,000 10,000

As this chart shows, the prices for even the most common Charlotte coins rose considerably in the past decade. Many coins doubled in price and one, the 1847-C half eagle in MS-60, tripled. These prices are even more dramatic when one examines the levels for rarer dates or for extremely high grade coins (i.e., Mint State-62 and above). Simply put, high grade examples of Charlotte gold have proven to be an excellent investment during a coin market which has seen a lot more downswings in price than upward movement (at least since 1990).

IV. A Change In Grading Standards

The most important thing to remember about grading is that, despite claims to the contrary, it remains highly subjective. It is hard enough to get a group of experts to agree on Mint State common date Morgan Dollar grades; let alone complex issues such as Charlotte coins. In the late 1980's/early 1990's, PCGS and NGC began grading significant amount of Charlotte gold coins. For the most part, the grading standards of that era tended to be very conservative. Today, standards have relaxed considerably. In my opinion, the EF-45 of the late 1980's is an AU-50 (or even an AU-53) today. And the AU-55 of the late 1980's is an MS-60 (or even an MS-61) today. The primary effect of this is to provide an unrealistic picture of availability for certain issues. As an example, as of September, 1997, PCGS had graded 41 1849-C half eagles in the various About Uncirculated grades. In the forthcoming revision of my Charlotte book, I estimate that the total number of 1849-C half eagles known to exist in all AU grades is 35-37. It is my opinion that many of the 17 coins graded AU-50 by PCGS (as well as some of the 10 coins graded AU-53 by this service) are coins which would have graded Extremely Fine a decade ago.

V. The Fall and Decline of "Crust"

I am a fan of original surfaces on gold coins. To my eyes, there is nothing more attractive than a Charlotte piece with layers of old "crust." (I define "crust" as original toning over a heavy layer of natural "skin" on a coin's surface which develops over the course of time). To me, originality provides great eye appeal. Unfortunately, the two grading services have unwittingly contributed to the destruction of a great number of gold coins by penalizing them for originality. It is my experience that if you submit a "crusty," original AU-50 coin, it is invariably graded EF-45. But, if you take the same coin, scrub off the crust and make it bright, it will grade AU-50 to AU-55. Ironically, the financial incentive for submitters is to destroy their coins in order to maximize their value. This is especially true in a market such as Charlotte gold where the difference between an EF-45 and an AU-50 can be thousands of dollars. As time passes, I think the number of truly original Charlotte coins will continue to shrink. The few remaining coins with original surfaces will invariably trade for strong premiums among knowledgeable buyers and unwitting new collectors and investors will get stuck with the overgraded, unnaturally bright dregs.

VI. A Shift in the Supply and Demand of Charlotte Gold

One of the major reasons why common coins have dropped significantly in price in the 1990's is the fact that more and more come onto the market while fewer collectors, investors and dealers are around to absorb them. Charlotte gold coins are one of the few series where the supply/demand ratio has been such that enough new collectors have come into the market to absorb the coins which have come onto the market. A typical "common date" Charlotte half eagle has a surviving population of 150-200 pieces. At least half of these coins are in very low grades and, therefore, are of little interest to collectors. Another large group are either in museums or tightly-held private collections and are off the market. Suddenly, an original population of 150-200 may now have shrunk to twenty or fewer coins which are of the quality which an advanced collector will find acceptable. If there are 50-100 serious collectors of Charlotte gold (and my guess is that the actual number is greater than this), than there exists a demand for coins which is two to five times greater than the actual supply. The result is that prices for Charlotte gold coins have risen and should continue to do so as fewer and fewer coins are chased by more and more collectors.

VII. Many Major Collections are Sold and ManyNew Players Enter the Market

In the decade from 1987 to 1997, many of the finest collections of Charlotte gold coins ever assembled have been sold. Important collections sold at auction include Norweb (Bowers and Merena, 1987-1988), Willard Blaisdell (Stack's, 3/90), Billy Fuller (Heritage, 7/93) Reed Hawn (Stack's, 10/93), James Stack (Stack's, 10/94), R.T. Wilder (Stack's, 11/94) Ed Milas (Stack's, 5/95 and Stack's/RARCOA/Akers, 11/95) and the forthcoming Pittman sale (Akers, 10/97). In addition, the Stanley Elrod collection, which is recognized by experts as the final complete set of Charlotte coins ever assembled, was sold intact and then broken-up and sold individually from 1995 to 1997. Coins from these sales now dominate the revised Condition Census listings for Charlotte gold coins and this will be reflected in my forthcoming book.

At the same time, there has been a change of leadership in the Charlotte market; both from the standpoint of the sellers and the buyers. Of the ten leading dealers in Charlotte gold in the current market, at least half of them were not active in 1987 and others, such as myself, have only recently had the financial resources available to compete in the higher end market. Of the ten leading collectors of Charlotte gold in 1987, at least half of them are either deceased or no longer active. Many of the most significant buyers had never seen a Charlotte gold coin in 1987, not to mention the fact that they were unable or unwilling to spend serious money on their current passion a decade ago.

VIII. Summary

Collectors of Charlotte gold who have been active since the mid-1980's are, no doubt, marvelling at the tremendous changes that they have seen in the past decade. The number of high grade rare coins which have been made available to them, especially in the 1990's, has been nothing short of incredible. As one collector recently said to me, half-jokingly, "it's like they reopened the Charlotte Mint for a few years and decided to give us a second chance at the really nice, rare pieces we needed for our collections. Conversely, the prices which these same collectors now have to pay for choice pieces makes the prices of 1987 seem very, very reasonable. In 1987, the collector of average means could afford to put together a nice Extremely Fine to About Uncirculated set. Today, this set is out of the price range of the lower budget collector.

Nearly all of the major collections which have been formed since 1987 have been built around slabbed coins. Unless a Charlotte coin is from an old-time collection and is being sold at auction, the chances are good that it if it is unslabbed, it has a problem.

In my opinion, the future for collector-oriented series such as Charlotte gold coins looks very bright. Assuming that my new book creates even a moderate number of serious new collectors, the supply/demand ratio will become even more skewed. If three or four major players decide to assemble high grade sets of Charlotte gold in the next two or three years, the supply will noticeably dwindle. This will lead to further price increases and, perhaps, even more radical market changes than the ones discussed above.