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.

An Analysis of Values of Gem Three Dollar Gold Pieces: The Heritage 5/09 Sale of the American Princess Collection

In their recent May 2009 Central States auction, Heritage sold a number of very important high grade Three Dollar gold pieces. These were from the American Princess collection which, to the best of my knowledge, was one of the top collections of business strike Three Dollar gold pieces to ever be assembled. By looking at a few of these coins and analyzing the prices they sold for, we can get a better handle on the state-of-the market for very high grade Three Dollar gold.

Full disclosure notice: I sold a number of these to the owner of this collection between 2003 and 2006. I am familiar with the quality of the coins, the prices that he paid for them and their background. In the interest of confidentiality, I won’t mention what the consignor paid but will, instead, focus on what the coins sold for and try to place this within the context of what I expected them to bring in auction and how this relates to the current market.

1855, Graded MS66 by NGC. Sold as Lot 2681 by Heritage, this coin brought $40,250. There are two Superb 1855 Threes known: a PCGS MS66 in the Great Lakes Collection and the coin in the American Princess collection. This is the best 1855 that I have personally seen and I thought it had a good shot to cross as it was very fresh and had great eye appeal. The last auction record for a comparable example was in the 2000 ANA sale where an NGC MS66 (which I don’t think was this piece but am not certain if it isn’t the Great Lakes coin prior to crossing) sold for $25,875. With common date NGC MS66 three dollar gold pieces currently selling in the area of $25,000 I think that the American Princess coin brought a pretty strong price, all things considered.

1861, Graded MS67 by NGC. Sold as Lot 2685 by Heritage, this coin brought $51,750. This is the single highest graded 1861 three dollar seen by either service. It is certainly one of the best two I have seen. I don’t think the coin would have crossed to MS67 at PCGS but not as much because of the quality as the fact that PCGS just doesn’t like to cross MS67 gold coins. The best comparable was the PCGS MS66 sold as Heritage 1/05: 30639 at $46,000. I felt at the time that this MS66 1861 sold cheaply and it was, as I recall, a coin that was sold without reserve at around 3:30 in the morning after a Platinum Night sale that dragged on and on for what seemed an eternity. I thought that the 1861 in the Central States sale would bring in the area of $55,000 so in my opinion the buyer got a pretty good deal. If the coin does wind-up in a PCGS MS67, he got a great deal, as a “population one, none better” example of this scarcer issue could be worth as much as $75,000 to the right buyer.

1871, Graded MS64 by PCGS. Sold as Lot 2687 by Heritage, this example sold for $13,800. I wasn’t wild about this coin from a quality standpoint but I thought it was acceptable for the grade. Trends for the 1871 in MS64 is a very high $30,000 so, from a value perspective, this coin sold very reasonably. As a comparable, Heritage sold a PCGS MS64 back in their June 2004 auction for $13,800. Given the fact that prices for this series appear to have drifted back to their 2004-2005 level, $13,800 is probably exactly the right amount of money for this coin. That said, the buyer (a very smart dealer from the West Coast) is likely to do very well on this piece given the Trends play.

1873 Closed 3, Graded MS63PL by NGC. This coin was offered as Lot 2689 by Heritage but it failed to meet its reserve and did not sell. Interestingly, the only two major pre-1880 Threes in the American Princess collection that didn’t sell were two examples of the rare 1873 Closed 3. I was personally surprised that the MS63PL example did not hit its reserve. This is the single highest graded 1873 with a PL designation at NGC (PCGS, of course, does not designate gold as PL) and it is among the highest graded. My guess as to why it did not sell is that all of the major collectors of this series have a nice example (the Great Lakes coin is a choice PCGS MS64). I also think that there is still a lot of confusion about the origin of the 1873 Closed 3 and Open 3 issues that needs to be clarified. As an aside, this coin is currently available in the Heritage after-sale for $40,250 which seems like a pretty fair deal to me considering that an NGC MS64 brought the same amount all the way back in January 1998 (Heritage 1/98: 7700).

1880 Graded MS65 by NGC, 1882 Graded MS65* by NGC and 1883 Graded MS65 by PCGS. None of these three coins sold, despite being offered with pretty realistic reserves. I wasn’t totally shocked by the 1880 not selling. It was a solid coin for the grade but it’s not all that rare in Gem and most of the buyers of high quality coins in this series are looking for coins in PCGS holders. The 1882 is a coin that’s a pretty hard sell right now. It’s expensive, it’s not that rare and the look of the coin suggested it has visited the NCS lab. The coin that surprised me, though, was the 1883. The coin was really nice and it was in the “right” holder. Unlike the 1880 and the 1882, Gem 1883 Three Dollars are very rare. In fact, the PCGS population is just four in MS65 with two better. The fact that this coin didn’t sell (despite a pretty realistic reserve) indicates to me that there is real weakness in the upper end of this series right now. If this coin had been offered for sale in 2005 or 2006 (when the Three Dollar series was more active) it would have generated considerable interest.

1887 Graded MS66 by PCGS and 1888 Graded MS66 by PCGS. These two coins were offered as Lots 2698 and 2701. They sold for $23,000 and $24,150 respectively. In my opinion, both of these were very nice coins. In fact, when I sold them to the consignor, they were pieces that I had been very careful about selecting and had passed on a number of other examples of these dates. When the market for Gem threes was stronger, these two coins would have probably brought in the area of $30,000-32,500.

So what conclusions can we draw from this small but exceptional group of coins and the Heritage May 2009 CSNS sale? Here are a few things that come to mind:

1. There is no doubt whatsoever that the Three Dollar series is about as cold right now as at any time in the last decade. There are lots and lots of Threes on the market (though not many like the Gems from the American Princess collection) and the supply clearly outstrips the demand. That said, if I were a contrarian collector and I wanted to start a series where I could become King o’ The World it would probably be Threes.

2. In this series, collectors appear to be oriented more towards PCGS coins that NGC, especially very high grade pieces.

3. For most dates in the Three Dollar series, prices for MS65 and better coins appear to be down 20-30% from a year ago. There are exceptions to this rule but these would be for extremely rare and extremely fresh coins.

4. The market premium factor for semi-rare dates in this series is diminishing. As an example, a date like an 1887 or an 1888 in MS66, which is tons scarcer than an 1878, now sells for a much lower premium factor than it did a few years ago. For type collectors, this a great opportunity.

I’d like to dedicate this article to my friend TL. Hang in there, buddy, things will get better soon!

Baltimore Collection Shows Strength of Double Eagle Market

To paraphrase that esteemed numismatist Mark Twain, the reports of the death of the coin market seem greatly exaggerated. That is, at least, if you take a look at the prices that Heritage got for a nearly complete set of Liberty Head double eagles that was sold at their Dallas auction on October 24. As anyone who even remotely follows the dated gold market knows, Liberty Head double eagles have been one of the most solid performers in the coin market during the bull market run-up of the past few years. This market has proven to have more depth than I would have ever imagined and there are, clearly, more advanced collectors assembling comprehensive specialized sets of these coins than in probably any other area of the 19th century gold market.

The question I was asking myself a few days ago, though, was: would these collectors still play in this market after the Economic Malaise of the past month? The Type One, Type Two and Type Three sets are full of many big, macho “stoppers” and I was very interested to see how these coins would do.

The two key collectible Type One double eagles are the 1854-O and the 1856-O. These have appreciated in value more than virtually any other United States gold coin in the last five to seven years and, certainly, the New Market wouldn’t be able to continue its frantic pace when it came to these two issues, would it? The 1854-O in the sale was a PCGS AU55 and it sold for $603,750 which is an all-time auction record for the date. The 1856-O was graded AU58 by NGC. I thought it was comparable in quality and appearance to the PCGS AU55 example that I had sold earlier this year and the Heritage coin brought $576,150 which is the second highest price ever at auction for this rarity.

The second-tier New Orleans Type One issues were extremely strong as well. An 1859-O in PCGS AU58 brought $97,750 which is a record price at auction while the 1860-O in PCGS AU58 sold for an identical price and, again, set what I believe to be a record at auction. One coin that I thought would be a real litmus test for the O mint double eagle market was the 1861-O in NGC AU55. This is a date that seems to have really come out of the woodwork in recent years and Heritage had sold a comparable coin in their January 2008 sale for $46,000. The one in the Dallas sale was bid all the way up to $57,500; a price that I thought was pretty remarkable.

My single favorite Type One double eagle in the sale was a PCGS MS65 1854-S. As I have written in the past, this date is very rare and much undervalued in Gem and the example in the Baltimore Collection was one of the two best I had ever personally seen. This was a coin that I felt certain I would buy, and I was willing to stretch quite a bit in order to procure it. I stretched and stretched and still came up short as it sold for a staggering $115,000.

Even the boring dates in the Type One series did quite well and most of the lots sold for levels exceeding what I would regard as “retail” numbers for these dates.

The Type Two double eagles in this collection were relatively uninspiring as it appeared that the Baltimore collector focused most of his energies on the Type One and Three issues. A not especially nice 1870-CC in VF30 with a large natural planchet flaw on the reverse sold for $230,000. I think this is a pretty reasonable amount for this in-demand rarity but I think it was more a reflection of the coin’s lack of eye appeal than it was a softening of the market. Many of the other scarce Carson City issues in the sale did well, including an 1871-CC in NGC that was bid to $66,125, an 1872-CC in PCGS AU58 that brought $23,000, an 1878-CC in PCGS AU58 that hit the $25,300 mark and an 1879-CC in NGC AU58 that brought $21,850. My take on these prices is that they were pretty much exactly what I would have expected these coins to sell for before the economy went south and that I would have expected them to sell for 10-20% less in these Troubled Times.

The Type Three rarities in the Baltimore Collection were impressive but I was unsure if the market for these issues would remain as strong as it had been. The first test was the 1879-O in PCGS AU58. I expected it to bring in the $50,000-55,000 range but it raced up to $74,750. The very rare 1881 was a PCGS MS61 that I did not like as a result of its funky color and surfaces but it brought $138,000 which is exactly the same price it sold for when offered as Heritage 1/07: 3203. An 1882 that was graded AU58 by ICG but which appeared to have a problem on the cheek of Liberty that was not mentioned by the grading service still managed to garner a bid of $63,250.

For many years, the 1885 was the most affordable of the very rare Type Three dates. The NGC AU58 in the Heritage sale brought $48,875 which I am reasonably sure is an all-time record price for a circulated example of this date. The 1886 in PCGS AU55 sold for $86,262.65. This exact coin had brought $24,150 when it was offered as Lot 7437 in the Heritage 2004 FUN sale. The previously-overlooked 1891 appears to have captured the attention of most specialists in this area and the PCGS AU58 in the Heritage sale realized $48,875.

There are three very rare Proof-only dates in this series and the Baltimore Collection was missing the very rare 1883. It did, however, have an 1884 graded PR64 by PCGS. This coin had sold for $126,500 when it was last offered as Heritage 6/04: 6376. Four years later, it was bid up to $207,000 which I thought was an exceptionally strong price. The 1887 was a PCGS PR64 Deep Cameo and it sold for $155,250. This is almost the same amount as the far superior Heritage 1/07: 3145 (graded PR65 Deep Cameo) realized a year and a half ago.

All in all, I would say that prices were anywhere from 10-30% higher than I would have expected. I was really surprised at the prices that the dozen top coins in the collection brought, given that the economic climate doesn’t dictate large purchases right now and given that Heritage conducted this sale without the benefit of a concurrent convention to attract much floor action.

A Secret Hoard of No Motto Liberty Head Eagles Revealed

With little fanfare, an important group of half eagles and eagles were sold at the recent Heritage Long Beach auction. I was intrigued by the source of this group of coins and since the Heritage catalog had nothing about their origin, I decided to do a little digging. What I found out is extremely interesting for any collector of No Motto Liberty Head gold. The coins that initially got me intrigued were a small group of eagles produced between 1844 and 1847. The two coins that I thought were especially interesting were an 1846 eagle graded MS62 by NGC (Lot 3852) and an 1846-O eagle graded MS62 by NGC (lot 3858). I am pretty aware of all the high grade examples of these two dates and the two coins in the Heritage sale were unknown to me.
1846 $10 N62
But what really got my interest were some of the secondary coins surrounding these two eagles. Lot 3851 in the Heritage sale was another 1846 eagle. This would also have graded MS62 except for the fact that it had hairlines from a cleaning and also a slight “environmental damage” sort of appearance which, in my opinion, looked liked the result of having been buried at one time. Another odd coin appeared as Lot 3857. This was an 1846-O eagle that had the sharpness and details of an MS62 but which had a dull and very grainy reverse with a very “ED” appearance.

My first reaction was that these coins might have been from shipwreck; specifically from the S.S. New York which contained some high quality gold from this era. But why, I asked myself, would coins from this wreck not be packaged in the special NGC holder that designated these coins as being from the shipwreck? After all, the recent Stack’s 7/08 sale of these coins had conclusively proven that the S.S. New York pedigree added considerable value.

The answer to the mystery was solved when I looked at Lot 3851 in the Heritage sale. This was an 1846 eagle with Uncirculated details but which had reverse rim damage at 2:00. When I saw this damage I thought “backhoe.” And when I thought “backhoe damage” I thought “Jackson, Tennessee hoard.”

Let me explain. Back around 1984-85, while a parking lot was being excavated in the little town of Jackson, Tennessee, a sizable hoard of gold coins was uncovered by workers. Upon the discovery of these coins there was a literal feeding frenzy and dozens of workers ran off with “loot” in their pockets. Because of this fact, there has never been a full inventory of what was in this hoard but as far as I know, there were Philadelphia, Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans coins ranging from around 1843 to as late as 1858.

I have personally owned dozens of coins from this hoard. And once you’ve seen a Jackson, Tennessee coin, it is fairly easy to identify. Most of the coins from this group show some signs of environmental damage; probably from iron oxides in the earth which have attacked the gold in the two centuries in which they were buried.

The quality of the coins in this group has also ranged from the spectacular (the two finest known Dahlonega gold dollars of any date) to the average (a group of 1853 Philadelphia quarter eagles in EF/AU grades that were attractive if not terribly impressive). The eagles (and half eagles) in the Heritage sale from the Jackson hoard seem to fall within the parameters of grade and appearance of coins from this group.

So what coins from Jackson were in the group? As far as I can tell, they included the following:

  • Lot 3649, 1844-O Half Eagle, NGC MS62. NGC #3165682-005
  • Lot 3651, 1845 Half Eagle, NGC MS62. NGC #3165682-007
  • Lot 3653, 1846 Half Eagle (Large Date variety), NGC MS62. NGC #3165682-009
  • Lot 3655, 1846 Half Eagle (Large Date variety), NGC MS63. NGC #3165682-010
  • Lot 3656, 1846 Half Eagle (Small Date variety), NGC AU58. NGC #3165682-008
  • Lot 3658, 1846-D/D Half Eagle, NGC MS62. NGC #3165682-011
  • Lot 3850, 1844-O Eagle, NGC MS60. NGC #3165682-012
  • Lot 3851, 1846 Eagle, NCS "Uncirculated details"
  • Lot 3852, 1846 Eagle, NGC MS62. NGC 3165683-002
  • Lot 3857, 1846/5-O (sic) Eagle, NCS "Uncirculated details"
  • Lot 3858, 1846-O Eagle, NGC MS62. NGC #3165683-005

This list is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, it is clear to note that the coins were submitted in consecutive order on at least two different invoices. And given the numbers of the invoices (the “316” series) I know that they were submitted by Heritage and not by the consignor(s).

Even more interesting is the fact that the next Heritage auction (October 2008 in Dallas) is going to have still more coins from this deal including another 1846 eagle in MS62 (NGC #3165683-001) and an 1846-O graded AU58 by NGC (#3165683-004). There are also high grade but damaged examples of the 1845-O eagle (with reverse rim damage) and the 1846-O eagle (reverse scratches).

It will be very interesting to monitor how many more of these half eagles and eagles appear at auction in the coming months. If I were a collector of Condition census quality No Motto gold, I would watch these offerings very carefully to make certain that the populations of many currently-rare issues such as the 1846 and 1846-O eagles do not take large upward jumps.

Key Date Coins

I had an interesting conversation with another coin dealer the other day. We were discussing what we are buying (and not buying) right now and he mentioned to me that, for the last few years, he has been primarily focused on buying only the key date coins in all series, even in such esoteric areas as Charlotte and Dahlonega gold. Focusing on keys has been a great strategy in mainstream series such as Barber coins or Morgan dollars. Issues like the 1901-S quarter and the 1893-S dollar have clearly outperformed the rest of the market during the last six to nine years. This got me to thinking: is this performance also the same in the market areas in which I specialize? To determine this I decided to select a small group of key dates from each series and to then compare them with a “generic” date as a baseline. The results are interesting.

The first item I chose was the ever-popular 1861-D gold dollar. As a generic comparison, I selected an 1859-D gold dollar. The former is the key Type Three issue from this mint while the latter is one of the more common dates.

In June 2000 Heritage auctioned a PCGS AU55 example of the 1861-D gold dollar for $12,075. Today, a similarly graded 1861-D would probably fetch over $30,000. I think it’s a safe bet to say that this issue has at least doubled—if not tripled—in value since the beginning of the decade.

In comparison, an AU55 example of the 1859-D gold dollar in AU55 would bring around $3,750-4,000 at auction today. In looking back at auction records from the 2000-2002 era, I noted at least three AU55 coins selling for $3,000-3,300. The price growth of the 1859-D gold dollar has been marginal at best. This does not totally surprise me, given that the Dahlonega market is very collector-oriented and that this sort of market is generally skewed towards rare dates or “neat” specific coins.

(NOTE: An important factor that I am not going to delve deeply into here is gradeflation. Even though the 1859-D gold dollar in AU55 appears to have experienced little price growth in the last decade, it is likely that coins sold as AU55 in 2002 are, by today’s standards, at least AU58; if not better. Gradeflation is, for many more common coins, what has caused the greatest amount of price increases).

The second item I chose was the 1842-C Small Date half eagle. This is the rarest collectible gold coin from Charlotte. As a generic comparison I selected an 1849-C half eagle. It is one of the more common issues from this mint.

Heritage sold a pair of comparatively high grade 1842-C Small Date half eagles in their June 2008 auction. A PCGS AU58 brought $43,125 while an NGC AU55 realized $31,050. Looking back, I noted that Heritage sold a PCGS AU58 in April 2002 for $55,200 and a PCGS AU55 in January 2003 for $35,650. The price performance of this key issue has been poor in the last five years and the 1842-C Small Date in AU is clearly worth less today than it was in the past.

In AU55, an 1849-C half eagle is currently worth $3,500-4,000. Looking back at auction records from around 2002, the same coin was worth basically the same.

What I think this shows is that in an area like Charlotte gold that hasn’t been very popular during recent years, even though a coin is a key issue (like the 1842-C Small Date half eagle) this doesn’t mean it will rise in value. It seems obvious to say this but, no matter how rare a coin is, if it isn’t part of a popular series then it is unlikely to increase in price.

How about Carson City double eagles; an area of the market that was popular in 2002 and is even more popular today? I chose the 1871-CC as my key date and the 1892-CC as its generic counterpart.

Current values for About Uncirculated 1871-CC double eagles are as follows: AU50= $32,500-35,000; AU53= $40,000-45,000 and AU55= $50,000-55,000+. Looking back to early 2003, Heritage sold a PCGS AU50 example for $14,950 in their January 2003 auction and an NGC AU55 in the same auction for $17,250. Clearly, levels for this date in AU have almost tripled in the last five years.

How about the common 1892-CC in AU grades? Heritage recently sold an NGC AU55 in their June 2008 auction for $3,450. Going back to June 2004, they sold a PCGS AU55 in the same grade for $1,840. A more detailed examination of auction records from this era shows that the typical AU 1892-CC double eagle in AU has doubled in value in the last five years.

This is a fairly interesting case study. CC double eagles have performed really well in the last few years due to their popularity and just about every coin has doubled in value. But the key issues in the series (1870-CC, 1871-CC, 1873-CC, 1878-CC, 1879-CC, 1885-CC and 1891-CC) have outperformed their more common counterparts. The one exception to this rule tends to be in the area of high grade coins. Even the common CC double eagles in high grades (in this case MS62 and better) have performed exceptionally well in the last few years due to strong demand.

The one problem with the strategy of buying only key dates is that in most gold series, these issues are very expensive. With entry level undamaged 1861-D gold dollars now exceeding $20,000, only elite collectors can realistically look to purchase such coins. And maybe this amount would be more rewarding if spent on three or four nice common date Dahlonega coins in AU instead of one very-rare-but-not-so-aesthetically appealing 1861-D.

Heritage's Charleston Collection Sale

In my last blog I wrote about the Husky sale conducted by Stack’s and how a number of early quarter eagles gave a good representation as to the strength in that market. Another recent auction, this one conducted by Heritage, contained an impressive set of Classic Head quarter eagles. This grouping, I feel, serves as a good look at the current state of the high-end market for this short-lived but increasingly popular type. The collection that was sold by Heritage was called the Charleston Collection. It was not complete (it lacked an 1838-C) and it was a little inconsistent as to grade (the common 1836 was only an MS61 and the 1839-C was an AU58 that could have easily been improved while the collector was actively buying). Nevertheless, there were some impressive coins in this group.

In higher grades (i.e. MS63 and above) the 1835 is rare and very underrated. The Charleston coin was graded MS64 by PCGS. I wasn’t totally wild about the quality but it was in an old green label holder and it is one of just two graded MS64 by PCGS with none better. The last PCGS example to sell at public auction was Superior 5/06: 996 which brought $18,975. Given the fact that the Classic Head quarter eagle seems much stronger today than it was in 2006, I expected this coin to bring around $22,500. It sold for $19,550. Had it been a better quality for the grade, I think it would have brought more.

Perhaps the most interesting Classic Head quarter eagle in the sale was an 1837 in PCGS MS64. This was a very attractive coin for the grade and a condition rarity to boot with a PCGS population of three in this grade and only one better (NGC hasn’t graded a single example higher than MS63).

This exact coin had been sold twice by Heritage within the last few years. In the 2004 ANA auction it brought $18,975 and in the January 2007 sale it realized $26,450. Given these prior records and the interest that I felt certain this coin would generate, I was expecting a very strong price; perhaps as high as $35,000-40,000. The final price realized was an exceptional $48,875; a record price for a business strike of this date. Interestingly, the finest known 1837 (the amazing PCGS MS65 Bass II: 305 coin) had only brought $37,950 back in 1999.

Another interesting Classic Head quarter eagle in the sale was an 1839 graded MS61 by PCGS. This date is a major “sleeper” in high grades and it is actually rarer in Uncirculated than such heralded branch mint issues as the 1838-C and the 1839-D. The Charleston: 1806 coin was attractive for the grade with the eye appeal of an MS62/63 but with some old wipe lines on the surfaces. The last PCGS MS61 example to sell at auction had been the B&M 6/03: 1510 coin that went very cheaply at $6,038. Given the fact that the population of the 1839 in PCGS MS61 is just two (and only one coin, an MS62, is higher) I expected that this coin would bring at least $10,000 and probably a touch more.

The 1839 quarter eagle wound-up selling for $12,650 which is a record price for a business strike of this date but which, in the big picture, is pretty cheap for a Classic Head quarter eagle that is as rare as this. The finest known remains Bass II: 309 (graded MS62 by PCGS) that sold for a very reasonable $10,925 back in 1999.

Another Classic Head quarter eagle of interest in this sale was an 1839-D graded MS62 by PCGS. This is an exceptionally popular coin given its status as the first year of issue from the Dahlonega mint and the fact that it is a one-year type. I did not care for the Charleston: 1808 coin as I thought it had funky color and a dull, lackluster appearance. Nevertheless, I anticipated that this coin would see some strong bidding. The final price realized was $34,500.

In January 2008, Heritage had offered another 1839-D quarter in MS62; this one graded by NGC. I didn’t care much for this coin either but it brought $34,500. Clearly, this is now the standard for this coin in this grade as the Charleston coin brought the exact same amount.

Lot 1809 in the Heritage sale was an 1839-O graded MS64 by NGC. This coin is tied for the highest graded with four others at NGC and four at PCGS. This was an attractive coin with good luster and color and it had been sold by Heritage as Lot 406 in their April 2006 auction for $34,500.

Given the new strength in the market for high quality New Orleans gold (as well as the interest in choice Classic Head issues) I expected that this coin would sell for at least $35,000-40,000. It brought $40,250 which is a record auction price for this date.

So what did I learn from this sale in regards to the Classic Head quarter eagle market? As I expected, the high end of the market is very strong. I thought the price realized by the 1837 in PCGS MS64 was pretty remarkable and I thought the mintmarked coins described above were strong to very strong. My guess is that we will continue to see strong prices in this series for a while although I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see some softening for the more common dates in higher grades as the levels for these have really shot up.

February 2008 Long Beach Show Review

As I left for Long Beach last week, I wondered if this edition would be different from the last few Long Beach shows I have attended. The answer—and some random observations about the market—are included below. Unlike some of my competitors, I have made the decision not to attend the various and sundry pre-Long Beach auctions. I figure that at this point in my life I do not need to be spending an extra three weeks each year at Long Beach sales that are full of mostly uninteresting (to me) coins. This year’s sales did have a few interesting individual consignments including a nice run of Proof Bust Dimes at Superior and some better gold at Goldberg but, again, I was gearing up for the actual show itself.

On the Winter Show Grading Scale (WSGS) I would give the recent Long Beach convention a “B” which is actually better than I thought it would be. I did not bring many coins to sell and was more interested in buying new inventory. It was a struggle to find coins (surprise, surprise...) but some neat material did surface and I was pleased with what I purchased. Some of the highlights are:

-An original, evenly matched 1860 Proof Set graded PR64 to PR66 by PCGS

-An incredible NGC PR67 CAM 1904 half eagle

-A lovely Condition Census 1847-C half eagle graded MS62 by NGC

-An 1857-C gold dollar in PCGS MS61; the highest graded example of this date

-A number of crusty, original Southern gold coins in the $1,500-5,000 range

On at least three occasions I saw really interesting coins in another dealer’s case and asked to see them and a price quote. The price that I was quoted was so over-the-top outrageous that I wasn’t sure if I had been quoted in Dollars or Rupees. When I’m quoted $95,000 on a coin that I think I’d be seriously stretching on at $70,000 this means one of two things: either I am totally out of touch with the market or dealers are very, very proud of their very, very good coins right now and you have to pay very, very dearly at the absolute top end of the market.

Of course I didn’t expect to see many interesting coins just sitting out in dealer’s cases. At this point in time, if you do not have a special relationship with at least a few dealers, you aren’t likely to be offered anything very special. This is as true for a long-time dealer like me as it is for a collector.

My general observations about the market based on the Long Beach show are as follows:

*Many of the interesting coins from the FUN auctions are already gone. It is easy to sell choice, interesting coins right now and most dealers are able to move their best pieces much easier than in the past.

*Most of the recently graded coins I saw were more original in appearance and seemed “fresher” than in the past. I think this is as a result of both NGC and PCGS starting to crack down on coin doctoring. I’d like to think that we can thank CAC for this.

*Speaking of CAC, I saw many more stickered coins than I have before. I am not certain if they are selling better than non-stickered coins but a random inspection showed me that the typical CAC has nicer overall eye appeal than the typical non-CAC coin.

*Early gold is as hot right now as I can ever remember. If you bought nice quality early gold at least two or three years ago, you are currently looking like a genius. My gut feeling is that all the attention being focused right now on early material means that there are some great values in the Liberty Head series.

*When a market area gets hot it is amazing how fast coins disappear. I can’t remember seeing more than a handful of interesting rare Seated Liberty coins at the show and despite an intense search for interesting New Orleans half eagles and eagles, I came up nearly empty-handed.

Heritage had an extremely important specialized collection of Large Cents that brought amazing prices. The Husak Collection could serve as an absolute textbook model on how to properly assemble an in-depth specialized collection. The coins were exceptional, the presentation of the catalog was exceptional and the level of interest generated by the combination of the two was even more exceptional. Collectors realize that they do not have many chances to obtain truly special coins and there were dozens of coins in the Husak collection that, once they were sold, would be essentially impossible to replicate.

The gold coins in the Heritage sale were not quite as exciting but there will still some neat pieces. I loved the 1854 Type Two gold dollar graded MS68 by NGC and it brought a healthy $149,500. I was amazed that the 1863 gold dollar in NGC AU58 brought $6,900 which is almost double AU58 Trends; I assume that collectors have finally learned how rare this coin truly is in all grades.

The supposedly weak Three Dollar series saw some very strong prices. An NGC AU58 1854-D brought $54,625 and an AU58 1854-O in an old green label PCGS holder sold for an exceptional $34,500. A nice run of early Half Eagles saw some very strong prices including $40,250 for an NGC MS63 1804 Small 8 and $71,875 for an 1806 Round 6 in NGC MS64 with a CAC sticker. I really liked the NGC MS65 1810 Large Date and it sold for $92,000. An 1837 Classic Head graded MS66 by NGC sold for $94,875 which I actually thought was pretty reasonable as a PCGS MS66 example of this date brought $97,750 back in 1999 (but was considerably nicer, in my opinion). Some of the more interesting Liberty Head half eagles included a PCGS MS63 1857-O at a record-setting$50,025, an NGC MS61 1879-CC at $21,850 and a superb PCGS MS66 1886 at $21,850. Notable Eagles included an 1882-O in PCGS MS61 for $8,625 and a PCGS MS64 1897-O for $12,650. The two most significant double eagles in the sale were an 1860-O in NGC AU58 that was bid to $80,500 and a nice NGC AU53 1861-O that sold for $48,875. One coin that amazed me from a price standpoint was a nice PCGS EF40 1850-O in an old green label holder that sold for $10,350; if this coin doesn’t upgrade to at least AU53 then the new owner is well upside-down.

With major shows in Baltimore and Phoenix occurring in the next three weeks, it will be interesting to see if the momentum generated at Long Beach continues into the Spring.

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.

May 2006 Long Beach Show Forecast

This should be a very active week for the numismatic industry. The week kicks off with auctions being conducted by both Goldberg and Superior. The Goldberg sale contains an interesting group of high grade Charlotte and Dahlonega gold coinage. The Superior sale is also interesting as it contains some nice fresh early gold (including a splendid 1821 half eagle graded MS62 and pedigreed to the Eliasberg collection) and a run of Proof gold ranging in grade from PR60 to PR65.

Heritage has their usual 5000+ lot sale beginning on Wednesday. There is a considerable amount of gold being offered including some fresh Carson City material, a run of nice Indian Head eagles, a superb set of Commemorative gold plus plenty of other coins in all shapes and sizes.

I do find it interesting that despite the very hot coin market, most of the auctions that are being held these days contains lots and lots and lots of boring, generic United States gold. One really has to wonder, what will it take to get some interesting fresh material out on the market?

The Long Beach show opens on Wednesday. I expect it will be a decent show with some relatively active trading. As usual, most dealers will leave disappointed as they will not be able to buy nearly enough interesting fresh material to satisfy the demands of their customers. A key to the show will be if PCGS and NGC decide to “make” any coins. If the Gods of Grading open the gates, then the show could actually be quite strong. If they are tight, expect much grumbling from dealers.

I have had a very busy past week. I sold two major classic rarities which I will describe in greater detail in the near future. I have also secured a great run of better date Three Dollar gold pieces in circulated grades. If you have a want list for Threes, make sure I know what you need as I expect many (if not most) of these coins to sell at Long Beach.

Someone asked me the other day why the Long Beach shows seem to have lost some of the sparkle they had in the 1990’s. I would have to say the answer is twofold. When California enacted their brutal new tax laws a few years ago, the show seemed to have been dealt a blow from which it has not fully recovered. I also think the whole Long Beach week is too heavily front-loaded. There are just two many auctions that take place before and during the show and this seems to act as a diluting agent. Between Bowers & Merena, Goldberg, Superior and Heritage there are well over 10,000 auction lots being sold in California and this has to take away some of the sizzle.

I am still available for auction representation at the Heritage auction but if you wish to have me bid for you, call me by Wednesday. As I mentioned above, I am looking at the gold lots on Wednesday (and possibly Thursday) and the sale takes place on Friday. The best way to reach me is by email at dwn@ont.com.