So...You've Decided to Collect Dahlonega Gold...

So...You've Decided to Collect Dahlonega Gold...

If I had to select the Most Popular Branch Mint it would likely be Dahlonega. These gold coins have become an avidly-sought after area of the market with collectors from all over the country building sets...

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How Rare are High-Grade Dahlonega Quarter Eagles?

How Rare are High-Grade Dahlonega Quarter Eagles?

The Dahlonega mint began production of quarter eagles in 1839 and discontinued this denomination in 1859. There are a total of 20 issues and two major types: the popular one-year Classic Head (1839 only) and the Liberty Head (1840-1859).

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Undervalued U.S. Gold Coins in the $1,500-3,500 Range

 An article of mine was recently published by a content partner   and a reader left a comment about how my subject was elitist and  I am only concerned with selling $50,000+ coins. Hey, I LOVE selling $50,000 coins but I probably sell ten times more $1,500-3,500 coins every year than I do big ticket items. So to placate my angry reader, I thought I'd give some brief suggestions. Steven Mlaker, this one's for you!      1.  Type Three San Francisco Gold Dollars, EF45 to AU58

     There are only five San Francisco gold dollars of this type (1857-S, 1858-S, 1859-S, 1860-S and 1870-S) and all are of basically similar rarity. When available, these issues are seen in the EF45 to AU55 range and all can be had for $750 on the low end to $2,500+  for a nice AU58.

     What I like about these issues is that they are all low mintage and all are rare to very rare in Uncirculated. If I had to choose one date as the real "sleeper" it would probably be the 1870-S with a mintage of just 3,000.

     I like the concept of doing an evenly matched set of five coins, all grading AU55 to AU58. It can be done for around $10,000. To make the set a real challenge, make sure every coin is CAC quality with natural color and nice surfaces.

     2.  Properly Graded EF45 Dahlonega Quarter Eagles.

     Of the three main denominations from the Dahlonega mint, the quarter eagle is the hardest to find in choice, original Extremely Fine grades. Despite the rarity of these coins (and they are not easy to find with natural color and surfaces, no matter what the population reports say!) they are still priced in the $2,000-3,000 range.

     There are many dates in this series which are rare and expensive even in EF grades but I can think of at least ten (1843-D, 44-D, 45-D, 46-D, 47-D, 48-D, 49-D, 50-D, 51-D and 57-D) which can be bought for less than $3,000 in presentable grades.

     When buying these coins, look for pieces with deep, rich natural color and surfaces that are not overly abraded. Strike shouldn't be a major concern; if it is try idea #3, below.

    3.  Philadelphia and San Francisco Quarter Eagles, 1865-1876.

     Many of the quarter eagles made from 1865 through 1876 at the Philadelphia and San Francisco mint are scarcer than their southern counterparts at half the price.

     My favorite sleeper dates are the 1867, 1869, 1870, 1870-S, 1872 and 1876. Not a single one of these will cost you more than $2,000-3,000 in nice AU grades and the beauty of these dates is that, when available, they tend to be quite well made and reasonably attractive.

     Are these coins good "investments?" I doubt it, unless you move up the ladder and buy nice Uncirculated pieces (which, as Mr. Mlaker will remind me, is an elitist sentiment...) which seem like very good value to me.

     4.  Nice AU Classic Head Half Eagles.

     With the exception of the 1834 Crosslet 4, none of the Philadelphia half eagles made from 1834 through 1838 are scarce but they are extremely popular and when I have a nice, original AU55 to AU58 on my website, it typically sells within a few hours.

     What's not to like about these coins? They are very old, the design is cool and in the middle to higher AU grades, they look great; if original.

     A five coin 1834-1838 year set in AU55 to AU58 could be assembled for $10,000-15,000. For more of a challenge, you could add some of the major die varieties which are known.

     5.  Philadelphia No Motto Liberty Head Eagles

     After years of neglect, the Liberty Head eagle series became popular in 2008-2009 and, today, it is one of the more in-demand U.S. gold series. But collectors are mainly buying the key low mintage dates or the mintmarked coins and nice AU55 to AU58 Philadelphia coins from the 1840's and 1850's can still be bought in the $1,000-3,000 range.

     If your budget won't go higher than, say, $3,000 per coin, you can still come pretty close to completing a date run from 1840 through 1861.

    Sleepers? How about the 1840,  1842 Small Date, 1845, 1850 Small Date, 1857 and 1859. Collecting suggestions? Stick with coins which grade AU55 or better if possible and look for nice dark green-gold pieces with rich, frosty luster and light, even wear.

     6.  Mid-AU Grade Type One Philadelphia Double Eagles.

     The "play" with these coins is that they contain $1,500+ worth of gold (at current spot) but can be bought, in very presentable grades, for less than double melt. Are they rare? Not really. But they are popular as anything, they are a good "double play" hedge and they don't appear to have been adversely affected by shipwrecks like their San Francisco counterparts.

     I like nearly any 1850's Philadelphia double eagle in AU53 and better as long as it is choice, original and lesss marked thaan usual. The dates I like best are the 1855, 1856, 1857 and 1858 and $3,000 or so will get you a really presentable example of any of these four.

     7.  Early Type Three Double Eagles From San Francisco.

     My logic on these coins is the same as for the Philadelphia double eagles listed above but with one difference. These are "jump grade" coins in which a tiny difference in quality (say MS61 to MS62) can mean thousands of dollars.

     The dates I like are the 1877-S, 1878-S, 1880-S, 1881-S and 1882-S in MS60 to MS61. They aren't tremendously expensive and if you are very patient and very selective you might find an MS61 example of any of these that looks almost identical to an MS62 of the same date; at a greatly reduced price!

     Just so you know I'm not pay lip service to Mr. Mlaker, I have handled numerous examples of nearly every coin on this list during 2012 and will continue to make an active two way market in undervalued sub-$3,500 coins in 2013 and beyond.

     For more information on undervalued U.S. gold coins (in any price range, even over $50,000!) please feel free to call me at 214-675-9897 or email me at dwn@ont.com.

Greatest. D Mint Quarter Eagle. Ever.

Unlike their gold dollar and half eagle counterparts, high grade Dahlonega quarter eagles are very rare. This denomination is extremely hard to find in Uncirculated grades and there are a number of dates, especially the rarities, that are virtually non-existent. That's why a recent purchase of mine so excites me. Here's some information about the coin and my take on why it lays claim as the single most significant quarter eagle of any date from this mint. (Please note that this coin is not currently for sale and that this isn't an ad masquerading as a blog in order for me to sell this piece)

There are essentially six rarities within the Dahlonega quarter eagle series: 1840-D, 1841-D, 1842-D, 1854-D, 1855-D and 1856-D. Each of these dates has fewer than 100 known in all grades and most of them are High R-7 to R-8 in Uncirculated (meaning that around one to three properly graded Mint State pieces are known).

The two rarest Dahlonega quarter eagles from the standpoint of high grade rarity are the 1855-D and the 1856-D. These have the two lowest mintage figures for any quarter eagle from this mint. The total numbers struck are 1,123 for the 1855-D and 874 for the 1856-D, respectively.

Both of these dates are major rarities in Uncirculated. Before the recent discovery of the 1855-D in PCGS MS63 (more on this in a second), the 1855-D was more or less unknown in Uncirculated. I say "more or less" because while a few examples had been graded in the MS60 to MS61 at PCGS and NGC, none of these were coins that I think had unanimous approval as being truly Uncirculated. The same holds true for the 1856-D.

The story behind this newly discovered 1855-D is interesting. It was part of a collection of coins, with an emphasis on Charlotte and Dahlonega gold, put together by William and Beuelaress ("No, I can't pronounce this either...") Hemel from Orlando, Florida.

1855-D $2.50 PCGS MS63, courtesy of Goldberg

I know nothing about the Hemels from the standpoint of collecting. They flew well under the radar and from the look of their recently-sold collection, they appeared to be hole-fillers who primarily bought cheaper, more affordable C+D coins including many cleaned or damaged pieces. But they had a few great coins in their collection and the 1855-D quarter eagle was clearly the best piece that they owned.

From the scant pedigree information that the Goldberg sale contained, it seemed that the Hemels were most active with their coin buying in the 1970's. They bought a few coins out of auction but a quick perusal of Stack's and Paramount sales from this era shows no 1855-D quarter eagles that fit the description of the coin in the Hemel sale. We'll probably never know where this coin came from but perhaps it was from a local dealer that the Hemels had contact with or maybe even an accumulation of coins from a Southern family that had put the 1855-D away a century before.

I have handled virtually every higher grade 1855-D quarter eagle that is known and I have never seen a truly nice one. The strike of this issue is irregular, to say the least, and a significant number of the coins that I have seen in higher grades have planchet irregularities and/or have been processed in an attempt to hide these surface problems.

The coin in the Goldberg sale was truly special. It was extremely well made with a great quality planchet and it had, by far, the best luster that I have ever seen on this date. In fact, now that I think of it, I'm not sure that I've ever seen an 1855-D with enough luster remaining to really know for certain what the "right" texture for this issue actually is. The look of the coin was really exceptional as well with lovely natural yellow-gold color. It was clearly an original piece and, as I said above, this is unusual for a date that is nearly always found with "improved" surfaces.

When I was figuring what to pay for this coin, I thought that the best comparable was the 1854-D quarter eagle graded MS63 by PCGS that Heritage sold as Lot 4690 in their October 2011 sale. That coin brought $86,250. But, and this is a huge but, that coin had something "interesting" lurking in its past. The very same piece, as recently as 2004, had been graded MS62 by PCGS and had brought just $34,500 in the Heritage June Long Beach sale of that year. So, in my opinion, the 1855-D in the Goldberg sale was clearly a "better" coin.

I wound up purchasing the 1855-D for $86,250; a record price for the date but, I think, a very good value.

After the sale, I starting thinking: what are the greatest single Dahlonega quarter eagles? If I made a Top Ten list, which coins which I include on it? And after I made this list, where would the 1855-D place?

In chronological order, here is my Top Ten list of D Mint quarter eagles along with some comments:

1. 1839-D PCGS MS64, ex James Stack. Finest Known Classic Head D Mint.

2. 1840-D NGC MS62, ex Duke's Creek/Bareford. Unique in Mint State.

3. 1841-D PCGS MS63, ex Green Pond. Finest known of four in Mint State.

4. 1842-D NGC MS62, ex Duke's Creek/Norweb. Finest known of 2 or 3 in Uncirculated.

5. 1847-D NGC MS65, ex Duke's Creek. One of two known D Mint quarter eagles in Gem.

6. 1850-D NGC MS65, ex Duke's Creek/Eliasberg. The other Gem D mint quarter eagle.

7. 1854-D NGC MS64, ex Duke's Creek. Finest known.

8. 1854-D PCGS MS63, ex Heritage 10/11: 4690. Record price at auction for any D mint quarter eagle.

9. 1855-D PCGS MS63, ex Goldberg 1/12: 1209. Tied for record price and finest known of the date.

10. 1856-D NGC MS61, ex Duke's Creek. Finest known of the rarest D mint quarter eagle.

After thinking about the coins on this list, I think a few can be eliminated for being "common coins in uncommon grades" while others can be knocked off for "only" grading MS61 or MS62. I think the best candidates for the Best D Mint Quarter Eagle of All Time are the 1839-D in MS64 and the 1855-D in MS63. The 1855-D wins my vote for the better of the two given the relative availability of the 1839-D in MS60 to MS62 grades.

For more information on this 1855-D quarter eagle or on any other Dahlonega gold coinage, please feel free to contact me at dwn@ont.com.

Rare Liberty Head Quarter Eagles in the Heritage October 2011 Sale: An Analysis

In their recent October 2011 Pittsburgh auction, Heritage Auctions sold a comprehensive collection of Liberty Head quarter eagles. This collection contained many of the rarities in this series and I'd like to take this time to analyze the coins themselves and the results that they garnered. One of the rarest collectible Liberty Head quarter eagles is the 1841. It has now been decided with near-certainty that this issue, formerly believed to have been Proof-only, was struck in both Proof and business strike formats.

I am of the opinion that the 1841 quarter eagle is still an undervalued coin. There are fewer than 20 known, and it is clearly among the rarest individual dates in this series. If the Liberty Head quarter eagle series were to become more collected by date, I could see a nice example in the PR50 to PR60 range range having a base value of $250,000+, given what other less rare U.S. gold coins are currently selling for.

It was hard to determine if the 1841 in the Heritage sale (graded PR55 by NGC) was a business strike or a Proof, as it had been fairly harshly cleaned at one time and most of the original surface had been stripped away. I actually thought the coin might have been a Proof but would need to see the coin out of its holder to be more certain.

This coin sold for $132,250 including the buyer's premium. I thought that this was a reasonably strong price, considering that the coin was really not attractive. The last example to sell was Heritage 7/09: 1230, graded NGC PR58, which was considerably nicer.

There were some interesting Dahlonega quarter eagles in the sale. The most interesting was a really nice 1854-D graded MS63 by PCGS. It is the second finest known of around five or so in Uncirculated, and this is a date that is scarce in all grades with an original mintage of just 1,760.

This exact coin had appeared in Heritage's June 2004 Long Beach sale (as Lot 6200, in a PCGS MS62 holder) where it brought $34,500. It then appeared as Bowers and Merena 3/10: 3623, in a PCGS MS63 holder, where it sold for $63,250.

I was bidding on this coin in the Heritage sale for a client and before the sale began, I estimated that it would bring around $50,000-55,000. Shortly before the sale began, I realized that this range was too low and I raised my bid accordingly.

I wound-up being the underbidder on the coin, and it sold for a record-setting $86,250. The previous high for this date was $80,500, set by the Duke's Creek: 1511 coin (which I purchased), graded MS64 by NGC and the finest known.

The Heritage sale showed me that the market for very high quality Dahlonega quarter eagles is quite strong. But the market is also very discerning and more sophisticated than in the past. An 1844-D quarter eagle in NGC MS63 was impressive if you look at the numeric grade assigned the coin, but it was softly struck and over-graded in my opinion. It sold for just $18,400; a far cry from the $30,800 it had brought back in May 1998 when it sold raw in the Pittman auction.

I also thought that the nicer New Orleans quarter eagles in the sale did well. A sharply struck 1840-O graded MS62 by PCGS realized $17,250, a softly struck but fresh-looking 1846-O in an NGC MS64 holder was bid to $23,500 and a decent quality but not especially choice 1847-O in PCGS MS63 brought $14,950.

Another major rarity in the collection was a PCGS VF35 1854-S. This coin has the distinction of being the rarest regular issue Liberty Head quarter eagle with an estimated 12-15 survivors. Unlike other very rare issues, the 1854-S is nearly always seen in low grades with only one known in AU (an NGC AU53 that is ex Bass II; 472) and two or three in EF.

I spoke with a number of knowledgeable dealers about the 1854-S in the sale and the reaction was mixed. Nearly everyone agreed that the coin wasn't attractive, and that if it weren't a rarity like an 1854-S quarter eagle it might not have been graded by PCGS. But I think they are missing an important point: very rare coins have always been given certainly allowances by collectors and dealers alike, and in the world of 1854-S quarter eagles, this coin was better than most.

The coin in the October 2011 Heritage sale brought $253,000. This is almost exactly what I expected it to bring.

A damaged "no grade" 1854-S in the Stack's Bowers 2011 ANA sale had just brought $201,250, which meant that the coin in the Heritage sale was a shoo-in to sell for more than this. The best comparable result for an 1854-S was the Heritage 2009 ANA: 224 coin, graded VF35* by NGC, which was sold for $253,000.

If the Heritage 10/11: 4692 coin had been a nicer piece for the grade and still in a PCGS holder holder, I think it would have sold for over $300,000. Its scratched surfaces and lack of overall eye appeal held back the final price realized but, as I said, above this is such a rare coin that eye appeal is not as big a factor as on more common issues.

That said, the NGC EF45 Lee coin (ANR 9/05: 1128) that I purchased six years ago for $253,000 is now looking like a very, very good value.

One final rarity in the sale that I though was interesting was Lot 4716: an 1864 graded AU58 by NGC. For years, the 1864 was perhaps the single major "sleeper" issue in the Liberty Head quarter eagle series. Only 2,824 were made, and business strikes are extremely rare with fewer than three dozen known.

I didn't like the coin in the Heritage sale. In fact, I thought it was an Impaired Proof that had been misidentified as a rarer business strike. The coin brought $40,250 which I thought was a pretty lackluster result, given that Heritage had sold another NGC AU58 for $46,000 as Lot 5333 in their April 2011 auction.

Their were a few other things I noticed about the sale. The first was that the CAC coins typically brought significant premiums over the non-CAC coins. The coins that had CAC stickers were generally nicer than their non-CAC counterparts, and assuming that Heritage sent all the coins to CAC, it wasn't hard to figure which coins were the "best." There were exceptions to this. The aforementioned 1854-D, which should have been stickered as it was really a nice coin, did fantastically and some of the rarities mentioned above (1841 and 1854-S) did just fine without them.

But there some examples of coins in this collection whose value was greatly improved by the presence of a CAC sticker. I'll give you a few examples. Lot 4714 was an 1862-S graded AU58 by PCGS and approved by PCGS. This coin sold for $8,625. In their October 2010 sale, Heritage sold the same date in the same grade but without a CAC sticker for $6,900.

Another strong CAC-generated price was realized by Lot 4715, an 1863-S graded AU58 by NGC. It sold for $9,775. Compare this to the $6,900 that Heritage 12/10: 4325 brought (it was non-CAC stickered) and you'll see the value of the "green bean" to certain buyers.

My overall take on the sale was it did well but was not a "run-away." There were some coins that flew under the radar but very few bargains were to be had. The coins that appeared to sell for low prices weren't very nice. What I found surprising what that some of the coins that were nice but which were "hard sells" seemed to do just fine, even though there are not all that many end-users for them.

"Stick With The Keys..."

Strategy For Collecting Rare Gold Coins

When I was a kid just beginning to get serious about coins, an older local dealer made a comment that has stayed with me for years. When discussing his buying philosophy he said, "Stick with the keys, kid, you'll never go wrong." What he meant, of course, was that if you bought the rarest, most desirable coins in a specific series, you would do well over time.

His advice was sound, and key date coins in nearly all series have performed brilliantly during the last decade. This was even further reinforced this morning by a key date that I had just purchased at a show.

I listed an 1854-D quarter eagle in PCGS AU58 CAC on my website this past weekend. Within one day I had no less than six people inquire about it (all the more impressive when you consider I was asking $18,000 for it) and this got me to thinking about a hypothetical situation involving buying key date rare gold coins.

Let's say a collector had around $100,000 to spend over the course of a few years on Dahlonega quarter eagles. Would he be better off trying to assemble a complete (or near-complete) set in the EF grades or trying to spend all the money on as many nice 1854-D, 1855-D, and 1856-D quarter eagles as he could find?

I'm not certain that there is a "right" or a "wrong" answer for this. He could spend his $100,000 on processed, over-graded examples of these three dates and have a group of coins that, while rare, will prove hard to sell when the times comes to do so. In this case, I'd rather see the collector purchase thirty nice $3,000-3,500 coins.

But assuming our collector friend was patient, savvy, and well-connected and was able to acquire a few nice key dates would he have a "better" collection? I'm not certain that a small group of key dates actually constitutes a collection per se but as someone who buys a lot of Dahlonega quarter eagles, I'd personally be more interested in a small group of rarities than an assortment of more common examples.

Let's talk about "key" dates.

There are key dates that aren't especially popular (the 1842-C Small Date half eagle comes to mind) and there are key dates that seem fully priced at current levels (some would say the 1870-CC double eagles fits this category although I wouldn't necessarily agree with this). The three Dahlonega quarter eagles that I mentioned above fall into the category of key dates that are popular and priced at levels that make sense.

What makes one specific key date more desirable than another? In the area of rare date gold, I'd list a few specific factors.

The first is the overall collectibility of the series a coin is a key in. If a series is actively collected by date (say St. Gaudens double eagles) than a key date within that series is likely to be highly prized--and priced. If a key date is part of a series that is not terribly popular (say San Francisco quarter eagles) than a key issue might not be in strong demand.

Certain key issues aren't necessarily rare but they are in strong demand due to the nostalgia factor. When you were a kid, you were probably obsessed with the 1909-S VDB Cent, right? There was that gaping hole in your blue coin folder that you knew you'd never fill and that pesky S-VDB haunted your dreams for years...until you became successful and could afford a nice one. In its own little way, for a coin geek buying a nice 1909-S VDB Cent is like becoming the starting quarterback for your high school team or dating that hot girl from your 10th grade English class who'd never make eye contact with you.

For a more sophisticated coin collector, the concept of the key date has other ramifications. Is the coin rare in all grades? What is the "right" grade to buy the specific key date? Is the issue in question historically recognized as a key or is it an issue whose rarity is recently noted?

But I digress...

Getting back to our original hypothetical question, I think I would choose the key threesome Dahlonega quarter eagles if I were presented the question I asked earlier. I'm basing this decision on the fact that whenever I do list any of these three dates on my website they get multiple orders and seem to attract collectors who don't necessarily specialize in the series.

This last point is important. A key issue is iconic if it has multiple levels of support. A coin like a 1795 half eagle or a 1907 High Relief St. Gaudens double eagle isn't truly a "key" issue from the standpoint of true rarity but both are issues that are sought by collectors or investors who aren't specialists in early half eagles or Saints.

I haven't met many gold coin collectors who focus exclusively on key issues and after thinking about this, I'm sort of confused as to why more collectors don't do exactly this. How cool would it be to see a collection of Liberty Head half eagles that contained Condition census examples of the ten rarest issues or a Liberty Head eagle collection that focused on rarities such as the 1858, 1864-S, and 1875?

What are your thoughts on key dates? Please feel free to share them with me in the comment section below.

The State of the Dahlonega Market, 2011

I published the second edition of my book on Dahlonega gold coinage in 2003. A lot of time has passed since then and, as part of the upcoming third edition, I'm going to be including a chapter in the new work that is a sort of State of the Union of the Dahlonega market for 2011. As you are likely someone who is interested in these coins and who is a loyal follower of raregoldcoins.com I'd like to share my thoughts with you. 1. Major Collections Sold Since 2003

In the 1990's and early 2000's, it seemed that a major collection of Dahlonega gold was being sold every year or so. It was an incredibly fertile time for collectors and, in retrospect, I'm not certain that we knew just how good we had it.

Since 2003, the number of major collections of Dahlonega gold that have hit the market have dwindled. In early 2004, Heritage sold the Green Pond collection. This was a collection that I was primarily responsible for assembling, and a number of record prices were set when the coins were sold.

In April 2006, Heritage sold the gold dollar and quarter eagle portion of the famous Duke's Creek collection. Again, many record prices were set; a number of which stand to this day.

But with the exception of these two sales, the auction market for Dahlonega gold has been pretty bleak since 2003. Oh, sure, there have been great individual coins sold. And there have been sales with a few interesting coins here and there. But for the most part, the number of great collections that have hit the market since 2003 can be counted on one hand with a few fingers leftover.

2. Evaporation of Supply

The lack of great collections sold at auction is a nice segue to the second point: the overall lack of supply. I'm not talking about just finest known and Condition Census coins here; I'm talking coins across the board from Very Fine to Mint State.

There are a host of reasons why the supply of nice Dahlonega coins is lower now than I can ever remember. You'll notice that I said "nice." Before we go any further, I think its important to define the term "nice" when it comes to my perspective of Dahlonega coins; and coins in general.

I regard a nice coin as one with a pleasing, natural appearance. It may not necessarily be a coin that is truly "crusty" but it is a coin that I would regard as being above-average and likely to receive approval from CAC if it were sent to that service.

So why is the supply of nice coins so low right now? For a number of reasons. First of, there just aren't that many nice Dahlonega coins left. I feel that the number of coins that have been cleaned and processed in recent years is very substantial; probably more than we realize. So we are looking at a smaller pool of coins that are nice than ever before.

Also, we are looking at a collector base that has expanded and who tend not to sell the nice coins that they have. They are serious collectors, they like their coins and unless a better coin comes along they tend to hold their nice Dahlonega coins for the long term.

So what's in short supply? First and foremost are the keys. The really popular Dahlonega issues like 1861-D gold dollars and half eagles and 1856-D quarter eagles have become ultra hard to find. The same holds true with nice "collector quality" 1838-D half eagles, 1842-D Large Date half eagles, 1855-D quarter eagles and 1854-D threes.

3. Changes in Estimated Populations My population estimates from 2003 proved more accurate than when I estimated population back in the 1990's for my first Dahlonega book. But the numbers still seem low and I have raised them. Typically, an issue now has an overall population that is, in my estimation, 10-30% greater. I've come to the conclusion that "common date" Dahlonega gold coins are more common that I used to think.

The "bell curve" of grade distribution for Dahlonega gold has changed as well. This is, of course, due to a loosening of standards over time. Many issues now appear more common in AU grades than they do in EF but I believe that many slabbed AU50 and AU53 coins offer weak claims to an AU grade.

The number(s) of high grade Dahlonega pieces has stayed remarkably consistent since 2003. Part of this has to do with the fact that not many new Mint State Dahlonega coins have come onto the market since 2003. There have been some MS60 and MS61 coins that are clearly upgrades from AU58's past and other coins that have crossed-over from NGC to PCGS and vice-versa. But mostly I'd attribute this stability to good research by yours truly. High grade 1849-D quarter eagles are a lot easier to track than VF's and EF's, of course.

4. Date Collecting Remains Popular One of the things that interests me most about the Dahlonega market is that it is one of the last bastions of date collecting. Many other branch mint series have lost traction as far as collecting by dates goes and issues that formerly sold for premiums now may be regarded as little more than semi-generic issues. But this is not really the case with Dahlonega coins.

Why is this so? I'd have to say there are a few obvious reasons that spring to mind. The first is that this is a true collector market and collectors like to collect coins by date. The second is that there is a good deal of variation with Dahlonega coins on a yearly basis. In other words, an 1849-D gold dollar tends to look very different from an 1850-D dollar; unlike a Proof Seated half dollar that has a seemingly interchangeable appearance regardless of date. Finally--and perhaps most importantly--there are no gigantic "stoppers" in the Dahlonega series. Nothing is so rare or so overly expensive that it means the average collector can't aspire to complete a date set.

One of the nice things about collecting Dahlonega coins by date is that if you look at them in the popular collector grades (i.e., VF and EF) they are still reasonably affordable. Yes, I realize that an 1854-D $3 and an 1861-D $1 are expensive for the collector of average means. But when you are talking about a set where there are just a few issues north of $10,000 and most are well under $5,000, I would term these coins as affordable.

5. Prices Rise...And Fall Given what I perceive to be a strong market with good supply and demand numbers and an avid collector base, I'm actually surprised that Dahlonega coins are as affordable as they currently are. Let's pick three Dahlonega issues in reasonable grades and see how they have performed since 2003.

The first coin we'll look at is an 1849-D dollar in AU50. This issue is the Dahlonega equivalent of an 1881-S Morgan. It is plentiful, popular, and trades with comparative frequency.

A PCGS AU50 example sold for $2,530 as Heritage 10/10: 4569 and this seems to be a pretty fair current market value for a decent AU50 example. Going back to the Heritage May 2005 sale, a similarly graded 1849-D dollar brought $2,200. Not factoring in possible gradeflation of the AU50 from 2005, this is a pretty unimpressive return.

How about the same issue in higher grade? An NGC MS63 example brought $9,775 in the Heritage February 2010 sale as Lot 1363. In May 2004 an NGC MS63 sold for $9,200 as Lot 329 in the Bowers and Merena sale. Again, not a really glowing price appreciation.

Let's pick a better date issue for the quarter eagle series; say an 1854-D. Heritage 8/10: 3423, graded AU58 by PCGS, sold for $14,950. Back in May 2003, Superior sold a similarly graded example (also slabbed by PCGS) for $17,825.

Why have many Dahlonega gold coins actually dropped in value in the last few years? Let's use this question as a segue to bullet point #6 in this State of the Union address.

6. And What About Grading? When I wrote an overview of the Dahlonega market in the 2003 edition of my book, I was pretty vocal in my dislike for the gradeflation that had characterized higher quality issues in this area of the market. How has grading changed eight years later?

I don't think the grading services did any better grading Dahlonega coins between 2003 and 2008. Too many choice, original coins continued to be dipped, processed, and quite possibly ruined in an attempt to get the best possible grade.

With the establishment of CAC in 2008, the pendulum appears to have swung back towards rewarding originality. CAC-approved Dahlonega coins are liquid and they bring higher prices at auction than non-CAC coins; if only because they just seem to be nicer.

So where am I going with these comments? I think the Dahlonega gold market has been hurt by too many lower end, unoriginal coins in holders. Time and time again, I've seen a really low end AU58 sell at auction for a very cheap price and drag down values as a result.

Since 2003 (if not before), the Dahlonega market has become very two-tiered. There are price levels for the low-end and commercial quality coins and there are price levels for the choice, original coins. In my opinion, for many dates the premium should be 50% for choice coins but this just does not seem to be the case.

7. Certain Issues Remain Undervalued. I mentioned before that I think Dahlonega coins are, for the most part undervalued. I really do believe this to be the case, especially with coins in the $2,500-7,500 that have choice, original surfaces. But there are certain issues that I think remain particularly undervalued.

In the dollars, I continue to like the 1850-D and the 1857-D. Both are not priced at all that much more than common dates but are quite hard to find.

I have always felt that the quarter eagles from this mint were the most undervalued denomination. Nearly all Dahlonega quarter eagles in choice, original AU50 and better and undervalued.

In the half eagle series, the dates that I feel are the most undervalued include the 1846-D Normal Mintmark, 1848-D and 1857-D.

So there you have it: my State of the Union address for the Dahlonega gold market as of the Spring of 2011. This remains an area of the coin market that is near and dear to me, and one that I think is extremely fulfilling for collectors.

Dahlonega Gold Quiz

I'm busy updating my Dahlonega gold book (I hope to be finished with the manuscript in 45 days or so) and in honor of My Dahlonega Obsession, I thought it would be fun, or at least moderately amusing, to share some of my recent findings in the form of a Dahlonega Quiz. Here's how I would interpret your score on the quiz, should you decide to play along:

10 of 10: You are A Dahlonega Guru. Consider becoming a full-time specialist in this area; if you aren't already.

7/8/9 of 10: You are pretty good. Maybe not a Guru but you know your coins.

6 of 10 or below: You are a Dahlona-newb. You need to buy the upcoming third edition of my book, read it carefully, and then read it some more.

OK, are you totally excited and ready to take the quiz? Here we go!

1. What is the most common Dahlonega gold coin in terms of the total number known?

a) 1849-D gold dollar b) 1852-D quarter eagle c) 1854-D half eagle d) 1861-D eagle

2. What Dahlonega gold coin has the most known individual coins in Gem condition (i.e., MS65 and above?)

a) 1858-D gold dollar b) 1847-D quarter eagle c) 1855-D quarter eagle d) 1854-D half eagle

3. Which Dahlonega quarter eagle has an odd grade distribution where more survivors are high grade (AU55 and above) than low grade (EF40 and below)?

a) 1839-D b) 1843-D c) 1857-D d) All the above

4. What Dahlonega coin has the lowest mintage? (And you get extra credit if you know the mintage figure?)

a) 1854-D three dollar b) 1856-D quarter eagle c) 1854-D quarter eagle d) 1841-D quarter dollar

5. What is the rarest Dahlonega coin in terms of overall rarity (i.e., fewest known in all grades combined?

a) 1861-D gold dollar b) 1854-D three dollar c) 1840-D quarter eagle d) 1856-D quarter eagle

6. What is the rarest Dahlonega coin in Uncirculated? (Not the number graded by the services but the number of coins that specialists agree are really, truly "new?")

a) 1859-D gold dollar b) 1840-D quarter eagle c) 1856-D half eagle d) 1842-D Large Date half eagle

7. Which of the following is not a recognized Dahlonega variety?

a) 1842-D Small Date half eagle b) 1843-D Small Mintmark quarter eagle c) 1859/8-D gold dollar d) 1846-D/D quarter eagle

8. Which Dahlonega coin is known to have been produced exclusively by the Confederacy?

a) 1860-D half eagle b) 1861-D gold dollar c) 1861-D half eagle d) 1861-D three dollar

9. What coin holds the all-time auction record for a Dahlonega mint product? (Extra credit if you can name the sale and amount. A lot of extra credit, in fact....)

a) 1838-D half eagle b) 1861-D gold dollar c) 1861-D half eagle d) 1854-D three dollar

10. What collection of Dahlonega gold coinage, sold by Heritage in April 2006, contained many finest-knowns and set many price records?

a) Black and Gold b) Green Pond c) Ashland City d) Duke's Creek

11. Extra Credit: Name every one-year type of Dahlonega coin

So, did that frazzle you or did you find it fun? Here are the answers to the Dahlonega Quiz.

1= A. The 1849-D dollar is easily the most common coin made at the Dahlonega mint. There are as many as 750-1000 known and it is readily available in all grades.

2= A and B. Both of these are acceptable as correct answers. There are at least three Gem 1858-D gold dollars known. There are two or possibly three 1847-D quarter eagles known in Gem.

3= C. There is speculation that a hoard of 1857-D quarter eagles may have existed at one time. This date is almost never seen in lower grades but tends to be available in the AU50 to MS61 range.

4= B. The 1856-D has a mintage of just 874, which is the lowest of any issue from this mint and the only D mint coin with fewer than 1,000 made.

5= D. Again, the correct answer is the 1856-D.

6= D. This is a tough one but most specialists agree that the 1842-D Large Date half eagle is unknown in strict Uncirculated. The same could be said for the 1856-D quarter eagle but I'm tired of giving props to this date...

7= C. There is no such thing as an overdated Dahlonega coin. Of any date. Or denomination.

8= B. If you chose "D" and thought it was the 1861-D Three Dollar, you immediately fail this quiz and aren't allowed to buy any Dahlonega coins until you study my book!

9= C. Heritage 1/08: 3198, graded MS63 by PCGS, sold for a record-braking $207,000. When I sold the coin a number of years earlier, it was the first Dahloenga coin to have ever cracked the $100,000 mark.

10= D. The Duke's Creek collection of gold dollars and quarter eagles was sold in April 2006. The half eagles have yet to hit the market.

11= The one year types are 1855-D gold dollar, 1839-D quarter eagle, 1854-D three dollar, 1838-D half eagle and 1839-D half eagle.

So how did you do on the quiz? You can email me your result and comments at dwn@ont.com

A Numismatically Significant 1859-D Quarter Eagle

I recently bought and sold a seemingly innocuous 1859-D quarter eagle that had a great degree of numismatic significance. Before I explain why, let me give you a little background on the specific coin and on this issue in general. This 1859-D quarter eagle has been graded as Fine-15 by PCGS. It is the single lowest graded example of this date seen by either service. In looking back through my records, I have seen very few that grade below Extremely Fine and certainly can't recall a non-damaged Fine example.

The example I sold is problem-free and actually quite attractive despite its extensive wear. It shows nice natural coloration and the obverse is a full Very Fine from the standpoint of detail.

This is the final quarter eagle produced at the Dahlonega mint. But, for all intents and purposes, the death knell for this denomination at the Dahlonega mint had been spelled as early as 1854 when mintages figures declined precipitously from the 1840's. In 1856, only 874 were struck; making this the lowest mintage figure of any coin ever produced at this branch mint. In 1857-D, the mintage increased to 2,364 but no quarter eagles were made in 1858. 1859 saw a resumption of the denomination but only to the tune of 2,244 coins. None were struck in 1860 and when the mint closed in 1861, no further plans had been made to coin quarter eagles.

The 1857-D and 1859-D are interesting issues among the quarter eagles from this mint. The grade distribution is different for these issues than for nearly all other coins from Dahlonega. The coins from the 1840's and early 1850's have what I regard as a typical distribution of survivors: most are in the VF-EF range with AU coins being scarce to rare and Uncirculated coins being very rare to extremely rare.

But in 1857 and 1859, the distribution curve looks different. These two dates are almost never seen in grades below EF and are most often seen in About Uncirculated. Both are rare in Uncirculated but not as much so as their very low mintage figures would suggest. There are as many as ten Uncirculated 1859-D quarter eagles known as well as another four or five dozen in About Uncirculated. This doesn't seem like a lot of coins but when you consider that there are only 150 or so known from the original mintage, the fact that nearly half grade AU or better suggests that this issue didn't circulate as freely as the quarter eagles from the 1840's.

I had long believed that the 1859-D was an issue that saw very little circulation. The existence of the coin shown above is proof that at least a few examples did circulate. I don't believe that this Fine-15 example was a pocket piece as it shows all the hallmarks of extensive natural circulation. Ironically, it is more rare in this grade than it is in Uncirculated and, to my way of thinking, this is one of the neater Dahlonega quarter eagles to have come up for sale this year: a highly circulated example of a date that was hitherto believed to have never seen extensive circulation. Considering that this coin cost its new owner well under $2,000 I think it is an amazing piece of Southern gold history.