A Fresh 1864-S Half Eagle

If I had to pick one single Liberty Head gold coin which would generate a whirlwind of interest if posted on my website, it would likely be the 1864-S half eagle. This is the rarest collectible half eagle from this mint (after the ultra-rare 1854-S), and it is clearly one of the four or five rarest gold coins ever struck at the San Francisco mint. In my estimation, there are around 30 examples known with many in the VF-EF grade range.

1864-S $5.00 NGC EF45

This coin is an old friend which I sold to its present owner around 15 years ago. The collector who owns the coin, graded EF45 by NGC, decided he wanted to put together a set of San Francisco half eagles. I told him he should start with the keys first, and for his purposes, the 1864-S was clearly going to be the stopper. I found this lovely example a few months later and it’s been off the market for the better part of two decades.

I don’t have all my old records handy, but if I recall correctly he paid around $10,000 for the coin. Today, it is worth four or five times this amount.

After many years of inactivity, the collector who owns this coin has decided to resume assembling his set of San Francisco half eagles. The beauty of his listening to my advice is that he already owns many of the keys and he doesn’t have to worry about the stopper—the 1864-S—as he owns this beautiful example.

This is one of the few original, uncleaned 1864-S half eagles which exist. This piece has pleasing lemon-gold and rich rose color on the obverse and the reverse, and the surfaces are far less abraded than usual for the issue. The obverse stars show flatness at the centers which is typical for the issue; even the single example known in Uncirculated (an amazing PCGS MS65+) shows this weakness of strike.

For many years, the 1864-S half eagle was an unloved issue with only a small number of collectors who appreciated its grade and absolute rarity. Today, this coin is very popular and I think its level of demand is only going to increase as San Francisco gold coins become more and more avidly collected.

Do you want to put together a set of San Francisco half eagles? I would be happy to assist you, and am available to discuss the process by phone (214-675-9897) or via email at dwn@ont.com.


Do you buy rare gold coins?

Do you have coins to sell?

Would you like to have the world’s leading expert help you assemble a set of coins?

Contact me, Doug Winter, directly at (214) 675-9897 or by email at dwn@ont.com.

The PCGS Set Registry for 19th Century Gold Collectors: Part One

This week the DWN Blog welcomes guest blogger Robert Kanterman.

I'd like to thank long-time DWN client and personal friend Robert "RYK" Kanterman for writing this excellent study on some of the potential avenues for the PCGS Set Registry which are available to collectors of 19th (and early 20th century) gold coinage. Robert's suggestions are followed by some of my own observations/comments. Please note that my comments appear in italics throughout this blog.

As a collector, I am always look for new ways to enjoy coin collecting, new directions to explore, and ideas to share with others who are similarly searching for collecting themes, especially when they are interested in collecting gold coins. In this two-part blog, I will discuss some gold coin collecting ideas offered by PCGS's very successful registry program, some of which are probably unknown to many gold coin collectors.

I will not be discussing the Indian gold series or Saint Gaudens double eagles, but will instead focus on 19th century gold and especially Liberty head series, 1838 through 1908. I am also going to focus on sets that do NOT require the purchase of coins that cost more than my first car (a 1984 Honda Accord - $9,700 in 1984; no 70-CC $20, or even 70-CC $10 or the like).

I will disclose that I have no financial affiliation with DWN or PCGS and that I have active registry sets in some of those that I will be discussing.

I.  Charlotte Basic Type Set: a gold dollar, quarter eagle, and half eagle. This trio can be completed in XF condition, with nice original coins, for much less than the price of my 1984 Honda. If you have deeper pockets or want to go further, expand to the three gold dollar types, two quarter eagle types, and three (or four) half eagle types.

I agree with RYK and think that the simple three coin denominational set from Charlotte is a great place to begin with branch mint gold collecting. For less than $10,000 you can purchase nice AU examples of the three denominations. To "spice up" the set, look for scarcer dates. As an example, instead of the 1851-C for your gold dollar, choose a scarcer but still affordable issue such as the 1853-C.

II. Liberty Head $5 Gold Date Set, Circulation Strikes (1839-1908). The set includes one half eagle from each date (any mint) of this very long series, none of which are real stoppers, unlike the $10 and $20 series. That said, there are a total of 70 coins, and this can take a long time to assemble and significant resources, especially if you demand AU or higher condition examples for the better dates. The 1862-65 and 1875 dates are going to be the toughest.

I'm a huge fan of Liberty Head half eagles and I especially like the pre-1880 dates. To me, the one flaw with RYK's choice of this set is the fact that while the earlier dates of this denomination are interesting, the later dates are sort of monotonous.  You can get around this, to a degree, by focusing on the CC or O mints in the 1880's and 1890's slots but this still leaves you with the task of buying a lot of generic issues for your set. If it existed, I'd rather work on a No Motto date set of half eagles with one from each year, 1839-1866.

III. Liberty Head $5 Gold Mintmark Type Set (1839-1908). Sticking with the popular Liberty $5 series, the Liberty $5 gold coin is the only coin in the US series that was struck at all seven operating US Mints (Philadelphia, New Orleans, Charlotte, Dahlonega, San Francisco, Carson City, and Denver). This set therefore requires inclusion of one coin from each of these seven mints and was a popular collecting challenge in the pre-certification era. It was a stock product for Capital holders, long before anyone heard of PCGS.

I do not completely agree with the weighting (for example why is Philadelphia worth twice Denver?), but it is an enjoyable collecting challenge that can be completed in a variety of grade and price points. To maximize your resources, pick the 1893-O $5, the ubiquitous 1891-CC $5, 1899 and 1901-S $5's, and the 1907-D $5. To make it more interesting and challenging, pick No Motto San Francisco, Philadelphia and New Orleans $5's, a Carson City $5 pre-1879, and the 1906-D $5.

Ah...the seven mint set of Liberty Head half eagles. This may be dating myself but I used to assemble a lot of these in the pre-PCGS/NGC days and sell them, in Capital plastic holders, to marketers. I agree with RYK's suggestions regarding "spicing up" your seven coin set with more interesting dates. You might not be able to afford a nice pre-1880 CC half eagle but don't settle for an 1891-CC; buy a coin like a nice AU55 1882-CC or an 1890-CC in MS61 to MS62

IV. Classic Head $5 Gold (1834-1838). This popular series has a significant following, with some choosing to pursue the minor McCloskey varieties. The basic set, however, has 8 coins - 5 reasonably easy to find and three that are more difficult: 1834 Crosslet 4, 1838-C, and 1838-D. If you stick to EF coins, you can stay under our budgetary requirements. If you wish to compete, you will have to go AU and higher. What I like about this set is that you get a popular Redbook variety (the Crosslet 4) and two great first year southern mint coins.

I'm a huge fan of Classic Head half eagles (and quarter eagles as well). To me, these coins bridge the gap between early gold and the more modern Liberty Head issues and they have a "handmade" charm which the latter issues don't show. As RYK pointed out, the 1834 Crosslet 4 and the 1838-C/1838-D issues can be stoppers for the collector on a tight budget but affordable examples do exist so they are not an unrealistic goal. If you are strict about not buying any coins which are more expensive than RYK's Honda Accord, you might have a problem with the 1838-C and the 1838-D in higher grades as properly graded AU and better coins are probably going to exceed Accord Value.

I can also see collecting Classic Head gold by die variety. A list of all the varieties can be downloaded from the Heritage website and many of these can be cherrypicked from dealers (including myself) who don't take the time to identify the scarce and rare varieties. Collecting gold by die variety has never been popular but if any series were to become the standard for gold coins, it would likely become the Classic Head half eagles.

V. Complete Liberty Head Gold Type Set (1838-1907). I am not sure who came up with this idea, but I really like it! This set requires one coin of each type of the Liberty head gold era. As someone who is prejudiced against smaller coins (sorry, SD!), only requiring two mini coins (Type 1 gold dollar and any Liberty quarter eagle) allows the collector to focus on the bigger coins (three $10's and three $20's). The stopper is the "Type 1" or "Covered Ear" No Motto $10 from 1838 and 1839. I recommend having some fun and sprinkling the set with branch mint gold, if you can. With the exception of the stopper, every coin can be purchased in XF or better condition for under $2,500.

This set seems a little gimmicky to me but, that said, I'm in favor of any sort of set that turns "accumulators" of coins into "collectors."  The stopper which RYK refers to (the 1838-1839 $10) isn't hard to locate and a nice EF40 to EF45 1839 Head of 1838 eagle is affordable and available. And I really like the idea of sprinkling some branch mint coins in this set.

VI. 20th Century Gold Liberty Head sets (1900-1907/8, quarter eagles through double eagles). I am not sure if Doug is going to like this one, and that is why I placed it at the end. Let's tackle each one individually. The quarter eagle set (1900-1907) contains eight coins, all Philadelphia Mint, and probably will not keep the interest long of anyone who has read this far into the blog.

  • The half eagle set (1900-1908) contains 18 coins,  including many common coins, some surprisingly uncommon, and one relative stopper (1904-S). The set could be completed with AU and/or lower MS coins for around $12,000 or less, though better coins will certainly cost more.
  • The eagle set (1900-1907) includes 21 coins with three relative stoppers (1900-S "the silent stopper"--if you don't believe me, I challenge you to find one, 1906-O and 1907-S). This set affords you the opportunity to buy coins from four mints (Philly, Denver, New Orleans, and San Francisco), and even the more common coins can be expensive in higher grades.
  • Last, but not least, is the $20 Lib 20th century set (1900-1907), a total of 18 coins, that range in difficulty, from the most ubiquitous Liberty head gold coin of all, the 1904 $20 to the challenging about AU 1902 and 1905 $20's. Because each coin contains nearly an ounce of gold, the basal value of even the most common coins will approach $2000.

RYK was right about me not really being a fan of these sets. For every interesting issue like the 1900-S eagle (yes, it is a tough coin in Uncirculated,  by the way) there are five which are little more than generics and I think your money is spent better on really scarce or rare issues. For the price of, say, a 1905 double eagle in AU, you could buy a much more interesting (and rare) coin which will perform better and give you more pleasure in the long run (at least in my opinion...)

There you have it, six (or nine) collecting ideas for those interested in starting a US gold collection or those already collecting who wish to move in a new direction.

Part Two will discuss some collecting ideas not in the PCGS registry that I would like to see taken up by PCGS and some collecting ideas offered by the NGC registry. As always, contact Doug at DWN@ont.com, if you would like to talk coins and add some of the coins discussed here to your collections (new or old). Contact me at ryk@blackandgoldcoins.com if you just want to talk coins.


Mintmark Varieties of Dahlonega Half Eagles

For variety collectors, the half eagles struck at the Dahlonega mint are fertile ground. There are a number of very interesting varieties, but currently just a handful of collectors appreciate them. With the upcoming release of the third edition of my Dahlonega book, I feel that this situation may change. In the first two editions of this book, the variety section(s) were not illustrated and, to be honest, had a number of errors and omissions. Thanks to the assistance of Brian Kollar, a cataloger at Heritage Auctions, this has changed. The variety information in the new Dahlonega book is truly "state-of-the art" and I think it will jump-start this area of the market.

Brian spent a lot of time and effort helping me with the varieties. One thing that I have learned from his groundbreaking work--and something I'd like to share with collectors of Dahlonega half eagles--involves the numerous mintmark sizes found on these coins. I think it will be helpful to illustrate each of the three mintmark sizes used and to discuss which years these are found on. I'm also going to discuss the relative scarcity and importance of these varieties.

There are three mintmark sizes seen on Dahlonega half eagles. These are as follows:

Small D: This mintmark is found on 1840-D, 1841-D, 1842-D Small Date, 1842-D Large Date, and 1843-D half eagles. In the new book, the reverses that employ the Small mintmark are lettered as follows: C,D, E and F. It is illustrated below:

Small D

Medium D: This mintmark is found on 1843-D, 1844-D, 1854-D, 1855-D, 1859-D, 1860-D, and 1861-D. In the new book, the reverses that employ the Medium mintmark are lettered as follows: G, CC and JJ. It is illustrated below:

Medium D

Large D:. This mintmark is the most common size and it is found on the 1838-D, 1839-D, 1840-D, 1841-D, 1845-D, 1846-D (both the normal mintmark and the D/D), 1847-D, 1848-D (both the normal mintmark and the D/D), 1849-D, 1850-D, 1851-D, 1852-D, 1853-D, 1854-D, 1855-D, 1856-D, 1857-D, 1858-D, 1859-D, and 1860-D. In the new book, the reverses that use the Large mintmark are lettered as follows: A-B, H-Z, AA, BB and DD-II.

Large D

There are six different years in which Dahlonega half eagles are known with more than one mintmark size. Let's take a look at each of these years and discuss the different varieties.

1840-D: There are a total of two different varieties known for this year.

The first is the Large D (Winter Variety 3-B) which is recognized by PCGS as the Tall D. For the sake of consistency I refer to it here as a Large D, but it is sized and configured differently than what is seen in later years. My guess is that this punch was created by Gobrecht and shows his style; the later Large D punch was by Gobrecht and was executed in his distinctive style. The 1840-D Large (or Tall) D half eagle is the more common of the two varieties seen for this year.

The second is the Small D (Winter Variety 4-C) which is recognized by PCGS as the Small D. It is usually seen with a die crack from the rim through the right diagonal of the V in FIVE through the right side of the mintmark and then up onto the shield. This variety is very scarce.

1841-D: There are three die varieties for this year which use two different mintmark sizes.

Winter 5-B uses the Large (or Tall) mintmark first seen on the 1840-D. This is a rare variety and one that is likely to sell for a premium. It is believed that only 4,105 examples were produced early in the year.

Winter 5-D and Winter 6-D use the Small mintmark but it is not the same one as seen on the 1840-D half eagle. Variety 5-D is common; Variety 6-D (which shows repunching on all four digits of the date) appears to be rare.

1843-D: There are two die varieties known for this year.

The first has a Small mintmark as seen on the 1842-D Small Date. Designated as Winter Variety 10-F, it is quite rare and it should sell for a good premium over the other variety of the year.

The second, Winter 11-G, has a Medium mintmark and it is also seen on the 1844-D. Interestingly, it can be best determined by its obverse as it shows a line of three tiny die lumps between the first and second stars which is not present on Variety 10-F. This variety is quite common.

PCGS recognizes two mintmark sizes for the 1853-D half eagle, but this is not correct. All 1853-D half eagles have a Large mintmark. PCGS lists six coins in the population report as having a Medium mintmark.

The next year in which two different mintmark sizes are known for Dahlonega half eagles is 1854.

1854-D: There are a total of four die varieties known.

The two most common varieties of the year, Winter 36-AA and Winter 37-BB, have a Large mintmark.

The rarest of the four varieties is Winter 37-CC, which has a Medium mintmark. This variety should sell for a premium over the Small mintmark but it is less likely to than other years, given how common the 1854-D is as a date.

The most unusual variety of the year, Winter 37-DD, actually has "no" mintmark (!) It was, of course, struck at the Dahlonega mint but the mintmark was so faintly entered into the reverse die that it is sometimes totally impossible to see. Examples do exist, however, with traces of the top of the D.

1855-D: There are two die varieties known for this year.

The more common of the two, Winter 38-CC, has a Medium mintmark. It is appears that this is the same mintmark first used in 1854 to strike Winter 37-CC.

The rarer of the two, Winter 38-EE, has a Large mintmark. It appears to be very scarce and possibly even quite rare.

1859-D: There are two die varieties known for this year.

The first, Winter 43-CC, has a Medium mintmark and it is common. It is the same reverse that was used to strike Winter 37-CC (1854-D) and Winter 38-CC (1855-D).

The second variety, Winter 44-HH, uses a Large mintmark and it is very rare. It uses the same reverse first employed to strike Winter 42-HH (1858-D).

1860-D: There are three varieties known for this year.

The first, Winter 45-HH, has a Large mintmark. It uses the same reverse as on Winter 42-HH (1858-D) and Winter 44-D (1859-D). The second, Winter 45-II, also has a Large mintmark but it is placed closer to the branch than on Winter 45-HH. The former is very rare and the latter is rare.

The third and final variety of the year is Winter 45-JJ. It has a Medium mintmark and is also found on the 1861-D half eagle. It is common.

One can't discuss the mintmark size varieties of Dahlonega half eagles and not discuss the spectacular 1846-D over D and 1848-D over D varieties.

1846 D/D

There are actually two different varieties of 1846-D/D half eagle, Winter 17-J and Winter 18-J. The first has a low date and it was also used on the 1846-D Normal Mintmark, Winter 17-I. On the reverse, the mintmark was first punched too high and too far to the right. The second mintmark is lower and further to the left. The second variety of 1846-D/D, Winter 18-J, has a slightly different date punch with the numerals placed a bit higher in the field. The 1846-D/D is common but it is popular due to the fact that it is clearly visible to the naked eye.

A similar but less known variety exists for the 1848-D. The 1848-D/D half eagle, Winter 22-O, shows the original mintmark punched too low and the second punched to the left and then effaced. This variety is much more subtle than the 1846-D/D and unless it is an early die state with both of the mintmark punches visible to the naked eye, it doesn't command a premium.


The mintmark varieties that I have listed here are the ones that I believe to be important and to be the most potentially collectible if and when Dahlonega half eagles become collected in this fashion. There are, of course, dozens of less obvious varieties and this includes some that are very rare.

Building a Basic Type Set of Five Dollar Gold Pieces

The half eagle is the very first gold coin to be struck at the United States mint. This denomination was struck without interruption from 1795 to 1929, and it is the only U.S. gold issue to be produced at all eight United States mints. It is very popular with collectors, but the seemingly endless duration makes it very hard to collect by date. Because of this fact, it is an ideal set to collect by type. Let's take at the eight major types that constitute a half eagle set from 1795 to 1929. The beauty of this set is that while it contains some rare coins, it can be completed by most collectors; even in relatively high grades. While probably not realistic in Gem Uncirculated (although certainly feasible, albeit at a significant price), this set is very realistic in Uncirculated. In fact, many of the coins can be purchased in MS63 and MS64 grades for less than the price of far less rare 20th century gold issues.

1. Capped Bust Small Eagle (1795-1798)

1795 $5.00 NGC AU55

While this type is dated from 1795 through 1798, for most collectors the only two realistic dates for type purposes are the 1795 and the 1796/5. The 1797 is very rare and the 1798 is exceedingly rare with just eight known.

If I were going to be putting this set together, there is no doubt that I would select a 1795 as my Capped Bust Small Eagle type coin. Even though the 1796/5 is much scarcer and probably undervalued in relation to the 1795, the latter is a first-year-of-issue which gives it considerable numismatic significance.

A total of 8,707 1795 Small Eagle reverse half eagles were struck. There are hundreds of coins known, in grades that range from VF+ to EF all the way up to Gem. Depending on the collector's budget, I would suggest either looking for a nice AU50 to AU53 coin or a solid MS62 to MS63. A nice AU coin should be available in the $50,000-60,000 range while an MS62 to MS63 will cost $100,000-150,000.

Due to the price and significance of this coin, I regard it as one of the key members of the half eagle type set. Therefore, the collector should be patient and fussy in his quest for the "right" coin. I think it is important to find an example with choice surfaces and original color. Nice, cosmetically appealing 1795 half eagles used to be available with relative ease a decade ago, but they have become hard to find as so many have been dipped or lightened. A high-end, original coin is worth at least a 15-20% premium over a typical example.

2. Capped Bust Right, Heraldic Eagle Reverse (1795-1807)

1798 Large 8, 13 Stars $5.00 PCGS AU58

This is one of my favorite types of half eagle. It can be neatly subdivided into two categories: those issues struck prior to 1800, and those struck afterwards.

For the pre-1800 issues, there are two dates that make sense for a type set: the 1798 and the 1799. There are a number of varieties of 1798, but the most available (and the one that is best for a type set) is the Large 8 with 13 stars on the reverse. The mintage figure for the 1798 half eagle is reported to be 24,867, and it is likely that no more than 500-750 examples survive in all grades. A nice AU example of the 1798 half eagle should be available for under $25,000-30,000. An Uncirculated coin will cost $40,000-80,000+. In my opinion, the best grades for a type set are AU55 to AU58 and MS62.

The 1799 has a reported mintage of only 7,451 and I regard it as a real "sleeper" in the early half eagle series. It isn't that much more costly than the 1798, yet it is at least two times as rare. I recently sold a lovely PCGS MS62 with CAC approval for less than $45,000, and this seems like truly good value to me.

For most collectors, the best coin to seek for their Capped Bust Right Heraldic Eagle reverse type is going to be a half eagle dated from 1800 to 1807. All of these dates are relatively common, and each has its own merits for inclusion in the set.

If you are going to stick with an AU coin, you should be able to purchase a lovely, high-end example in the $10,000-15,000 range. In Uncirculated, an MS62 will cost around $17,500-20,000+, while an MS63 is $30,000+.

A few important factors to consider when buying this type are originality, color, nice surfaces and a lack of detracting marks. This is a common enough coin that you can afford to be quite finicky when pursuing it. If you don't really like a specific coin, wait until you find the "right" one.

3. Capped Bust Left (1807-1812)

1807 $5.00 NGC MS62

In 1807, Reich again redesigned the half eagle. The new design features a Capped Bust Left obverse and an entirely new reverse.

All six years of this design are basically similar in overall rarity. All six issues also tend to be well made and fairly easy to locate in grades up to and including MS63. This makes it among the easier types in this set to acquire.

What year is "best" for this set? I like the 1812, given its historic association with the War of 1812, but I also like the 1807 for its significance as the first-year-of-issue for the Capped Head Left type. But none of these dates is really "better" than any other.

The best buying tips that I can give for this type are similar with the other early types discussed in this article. If you are purchasing a nice About Uncirculated coins, look for a piece that has the appearance of a Mint State coin but just a slight amount of friction on the high spots. On Uncirculated coins, try and stick with those that are original and those that are minimally abraded with good color and good overall eye appeal.

A nice AU Capped Bust Left should be readily available in the $10,000-15,000 range. A nice Uncirculated coin (one that grades MS62 to MS63) will cost in the area of $20,000-35,000+ depending on the date and grade.

4. Capped Head Left (1813-1834)

1813 $5.00 NGC MS60

The half eagles struck from 1813 through 1834 include some of the rarest and interesting issues of this entire denomination. Unlike some of the very rare half eagles from the 1860's and 1870's, these issues tend not to be rare due to low mintages but because of intensive meltings that began in 1834. The weight of the half eagle was lowered during this year, making the old issues worth more intrinsically than their face value. Most of the issues from the 1820's were almost totally wiped out in the process. The most extreme example is the 1822, of which just three survive from an original mintage of 17,796.

But not all the Capped Head Left half eagles are extreme rarities and it is from the small number of more available dates that the type collector will probably make his selection. The most common issues of this design are the 1813, 1814/3, 1818, and 1820. "Common" is a relative term here, though, as some of these dates, like the 1818 and 1820 are quite rare when compared to the last two types that we discussed in this article.

For type purposes, the 1813 is clearly the best date to choose for this set. It is easily the most available date and it tends to come better produced as well. A nice AU example can be found for less than $15,000 and an MS62 to MS63 is available for less than $30,000.

Let's say that you want to add some real "meat" to this set and decide to include a very rare issue. Is this possible? With patience and a large budget, it is. The 1824, 1825, 1826, and 1827 are all very rare coins but they do become available on average of once (or possibly twice) per year. These issues didn't circulate very much so just a few exist in grades below MS60. If a nice AU coin is available, a collector is looking at an expenditure of at least $50,000-60,000+ while a solid MS62 to MS63 will cost in the $80,000-100,000 range.

In 1829, an important change occurred to the design of this type: the diameter was reduced. Design changes that reflect this include smaller date, letter and star sizes. The 1829-1834 subtype could certainly be included in this half eagle set but it is not absolutely necessary. If it is included, this is a challenging hole to fill as all six issues are quite rare due to the wholesale meltings, mentioned above, that occurred in 1834.

5. Classic Head (1834-1838)

1834 $5.00 NGC PR63 Cameo

The size and weight of the half eagle was reduced in 1834 and this is reflected by an entirely new design by William Kneass. The Classic Head type was struck from 1834 through 1838. This is a popular and numismatically significant type as it includes the first branch mint issues for this denomination. The southern branch mints at Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans opened in 1838. The 1838-C and 1838-D issues are scarce and extremely popular, but as they are not readily available in higher grades they are not generally included in a half eagle type set.

Most collectors will select a Philadelphia issue. Due to high original mintage figures, Classic Head half eagles tend to be readily available in circulated grades and are not rare in Uncirculated until you reach the MS64 to MS65 range.

In the highest circulated grades, a common date Classic Head half eagle can be purchased for less than $3,000. Even though these coins are reasonably common, it is remarkable that a classic United States gold coin that is over 175 years old is still so affordable. In MS62 to MS63, a nice coin will cost $6,000-12,000 while an MS64, if it is available, will cost around $20,000+.

Here are some suggestions when buying a Classic Head half eagle. First, if you can, try and buy a date other than the 1834. While interesting as the first-year-of-issue, the 1834 is appreciably more common than dates such as the 1835, 1836, and 1838. Yet in spite of this, these scarcer dates sell for a small premium, even in comparatively high grades. Second, look for a coin with deep, rich natural color. This type is available with good eye appeal and a pretty example is clearly going to add more "oomph" to this set than a washed-out, average quality piece. Finally, try and find a well-struck coin. This design is often weak at the centers so avoid coins that show little central detail.

6. Liberty Head, No Motto Reverse (1839-1866)

1843 $5.00 NGC MS62

The Liberty Head design should be familiar to most collectors as it existed, in this basic format, all the way from 1839 until 1907. The coins struck prior to 1866 did not include the motto IN GOD WE TRUST on the reverse.

Known to collectors as No Motto half eagles, these Liberty Head issues were made at the Charlotte, Dahlonega, Carson City, New Orleans and San Francisco branch mints as well as at Philadelphia.

For most collectors, a Philadelphia No Motto half eagle makes the most sense as a type coin. The more common dates from the 1840's and early 1850's tend to be readily available in the lower Uncirculated grades (MS62 and below) and can be obtained for under $5,000. A collector who wants a nice MS64 will have his choice between a few different dates and should expect to pay around $20,000. Gems of this type do exist, but they are expensive and hard to locate.

1839 $5.00 NGC AU55

The half eagles struck in 1839 are actually a distinct one-year type with a different rendition of the portrait as well as the mintmark on the obverse for the Charlotte and Dahlonega issues. The 1839 half eagle is not rare in circulated grades, but it is scarce in Uncirculated and quite rare in MS62 and above. Expect to pay at least $15,000-20,000 for a higher quality Uncirculated example. A nice AU piece can be found for less than $3,000.

7. Liberty Head, With Motto Reverse (1866-1907)

1893-O $5.00 PCGS MS63

The With Motto Liberty Head is among the more common types in this set. It was produced from 1866 to 1907 in prodigious quantity at the Philadelphia, Carson City, New Orleans, Denver and San Francisco mints.

For type purposes, most collectors will select a common date Philadelphia or San Francisco With Motto half eagle. The lowest grade that should be included in a better-quality set is probably MS63 to MS64 and a really nice coin is going to be readily available for less than $2,000. As a hint, I'd suggest that you look for a date struck prior to 1900, as that adds a "neatness" factor.

This type is actually easy to find in grades up to and including MS66. I'm not certain I'd commit spending a lot more than $10,000 on an example for a type set unless this set involved a "best of everything" mindset.

8. Indian Head (1908-1929)

1909 $5.00 PCGS MS65

The final type in the half eagle set is the attractive and popular Indian Head design. These coins were struck from 1908 to 1929.

This is an easy type to locate in any grade up to and including MS65. An MS64 would be the lowest quality coin I'd recommend for type purposes and these have come down in price to the point where you can buy a nice one for less than $5,000. In MS65, prices have dropped as well and what was once a $20,000-ish coin can now be found for around $12,500.

Here are a few hints when looking for an Indian Head half eagle. First, try to find a slightly better date (like a 1909 or a 1911) that used to sell for a premium, but which is now essentially a type coin. Secondly, be patient and wait for a coin with great color and choice, original surfaces. This is an easy coin to locate so you should wait for a coin that really "speaks" to you.

Assembling this eight (or ten) coin set is a real challenge and quite a bit of fun. Depending on your budget, you could include coins grading from Extremely Fine to Gem Uncirculated. Because of the rarity and cost of the 1795, this is never going to be an inexpensive set, but it is one that I think has the potential to be very desirable in the future.

Where the %$#@ Are All the High Grade Dahlonega Half Eagles?

As I was reviewing my notes on Dahlonega half eagles this morning, I was struck by something very interesting as I updated Condition Census information: many dates haven't had a significant example sold in three, five or even eight years. This, in turn, made me ask out loud where the (naughty word) are all the high grade Dahlonega half eagles? Hence, the topic of this blog. Of the three primary denominations struck at the Dahlonega mint, half eagles are the most popular with collectors. It is easy to see why. The coins are comparatively large, the series is reasonably short and there are no impossible rarities to stop the collector of average means from attempting to complete a set.

As you might expect, even the common date Liberty Head half eagles from Dahlonega are rare in legitimate Uncirculated grades. If you discount the marginally Mint State coins that pop-up and the few higher grade common dates that have been available, the pool of available coins sold during the last few years has been shallow, at best.

Let's look at a few dates.

The 1841-D half eagle is a rare coin in high grades. There are around a dozen known in Uncirculated. Given that number of coins--and given the fact that this isn't an incredibly popular or numismatically significant issue--this would make you think that higher grade 1841-D half eagles should be available from time. Is this true?

Looking back at auction records from the past few years, the last high grade 1841-D to sell was Heritage 6/11: 4626. Graded MS63 by NGC (and approved by CAC) it brought $27,600. To find another high grade 1841-D (not including a few marginal MS61's and an S.S. New York example graded MS61) you have to go back to the Heritage 2008 ANA: 1965, also graded MS63 by NGC, that sold for a reasonable $18,400. And before this, you need to go back another three years to the Bowers and Merena 12/05: 2685, ex Bowers and Merena 1/05: 1554 coin, graded MS63 by NGC, that sold each time for $25,300.

And what if you only bought PCGS coins? How long has it been since a nice PCGS 1841-D half eagle was sold at auction? You'd have to go all the way back to the Green Pond: 1041 coin sold by Heritage in the 2004 FUN auction for $32,200. That's closing in on eight years (!)

Let's look at another date: the 1849-D. There are fewer than a dozen examples in Uncirculated and if you discount the marginal MS60 and MS61 pieces, the number of possible coins a high grade collector could pursue is around five or six.

The last significant 1849-D half eagle to sell at auction was the Bowers and Merena 2/08: 2544 coin, graded MS62 by PCGS, that sold for $24,150. Before this, there were two PCGS MS62 sales in 2004. Three coins in five years seems like a decent amount of availability UNTIL you do a little research and figure out that the 2004 appearances were the same coin and this piece was reoffered in 2008.

Here is one last example: the 1855-D half eagle. This is a tougher date than the 1841-D and 1849-D in higher grades, but it still isn't recognized as a rarity. There are around six or seven in Uncirculated.

There was a flurry of activity for this issue in high grades around 2004-2005. In fact, there were four auction trades for high grade pieces (three in PCGS MS63 and one in MS64) between the 2004 FUN show and the 2005 Summer ANA. That should have been a great opportunity for collectors, right?

Well, not really. You see, all four records are for the same coin and in the final appearance (Heritage 2005 ANA: 10356, at $38,813) the coin had now upgraded to MS64 (and lost its lovely original color in the process, but that's another story...)

But I digress. This blog isn't about coins re-appearing at auction. Its about coins not appearing for sale with much frequency.

So why don't nice Dahlonega half eagles show up for sale more regularly? I have a few suggestions as to why this is the case.

1. With few exceptions, really "new" Dahlonega half eagles are rarer than you think. You can throw-out the numbers in the population reports (especially NGC) as there are many resubmissions of these coins in Mint State. There isn't a single Dahlonega half eagle that isn't truly rare in MS63 and above and most are very rare even in properly graded MS61 and MS62.

2. The few nice coins that exist are in strong hands. The downward trend in the economy since 2008 hasn't brought more than a handful of significant Dahlonega half eagles onto the market. Clearly, these coins are owned by serious collectors who don't plan on owning their coins for a few years and then "flopping" them. And, surprisingly, this appears to be the case for both date and type collectors.

3. No great collections of Dahlonega half eagles have hit the market in at least five years. In fact, unless I'm forgetting something, the last really great collection to hit the market was Green Pond in January 2004. Contrast this with the prior seven to eight years, when you had James Stack, Milas, Pittman, Bass, North Georgia, Chestatee, Miller and others. Looking back at 1995-2003, this was probably the single most fertile time in the history of numismatics for advanced collectors of Dahlonega. Since 2004, we've seen almost nothing in terms of specialized collections.

(Oops. I am forgetting something: the Duke's Creek collection sale in 2006. But this was only dollars and quarters eagles, not half eagles. So my point #3 is still valid, at least as far as half eagles is concerned.)

4. As the supply of great coins has dried up, the number of avid collectors has increased. I can't think of any time that there was more serious collectors of Dahlonega half eagles than there is now. Clearly, the supply is not nearly enough to meet the current demand.

5. Dahlonega gold is one area where the auction companies haven't completely dominated the market since the mid-2000's. I've sold via private treaty considerably more high quality Dahlonega gold coins than what has appeared at auction. But in the case of half eagles graded MS62 and above, this is still isn't a ton of coins.

6. As I've stated countless times, the price reporting mechanism for rare date gold coins is broken and needs to be fixed. In most cases, published prices for higher grade Dahlonega half eagles are down since 2004 despite what most experts believe to be a strong(er) market. This is partly due to certain schlocky, overgraded coins dragging down levels on specific issues and partly due to published references being unable to keep up with the market.

I don't think we're likely to see many changes in the Dahlonega half eagle market, at least not if prices stay unrealistically low. There aren't a lot of good coins around to begin with and I see no hugely compelling reason(s) right now for owners of such coins to sell them.

So what do you do if you are a collector who is specializing in high grade Dahlonega half eagles? Be patient; the right coins will turn up sooner or later. And when they do, be prepared to pay up for them.

Do you have more questions about Dahlonega half eagles? If so, please feel free to contact me via email at dwn@ont.com.

Liberty Head Half Eagles: A Guide for Collectors

Liberty Head half eagles were produced from 1839 until they were discontinued in 1908. This long-lived series is becoming popular with collectors who are attracted to these coins becuase of their history and rarity. This article is an attempt to make sense of the Liberty Head half eagle series for the beginning and intermediate collector. First, let's take a look at some of the historic background of the series and the half eagle denomination. This was one of the original denominations that was authorized by the Act of 1792 and it was one of three struck in gold, along with the quarter eagle ($2.50) and eagle ($10.00). The half eagle denomination was the workhorse of these three and the issues from 1795 to 1813 are far more available than the other gold coins of this era. The half eagles from 1814 through 1833 tend to be extremely rare due to large-scale meltings.

In 1839, the half eagle was redisgned by Christian Gobrecht. The design was modified in 1840 and experimented with through 1843. It stayed unchanged until 1866 when the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the reverse. For most collectors, the following types of Liberty Head half eagle are included in their collection:

1. First Head; mintmark on obverse. (1839 only) 2. Second Head; mintmark on reverse. No Motto. (1840-1866) 3. Second Head; mintmark on reverse. With Motto. (1866-1908)

The Liberty Head half eagle series is unique in that it is the only United States gold type that was struck at seven mints. These are as follows: Philadelphia, Charlotte, Dahlonega, New Orleans, Carson City, San Francisco and Denver. A novel way to collect this series is to assemble a seven-mint set; this will be discussed later in his article.

I can think of at least seven different ways to collect Libeerty Head half eagles. If you are creative, there are probably more but for the sake of brevity, let's focus on these methods.

1. By Mint

Probably the most popular way to collect Liberty Head half eagles is by mint. To do so, a collector generally focuses on one (or two) of the seven mints that produced this series.

The most popular mint to specialize in is Dahlonega. The half eagles from this mint were produced from 1838 to 1861. There are no major rarities in the Dahlonega half eagle series and this is a set that can be completed in grades that range from Very Fine all the way to Uncirculated. One of the things that is interesting about this set is how affordable the coins are. If a collector wanted to put together a set of the twenty-four major issues in the VF-EF range, this could be done for around $70,000-90,000. A set that featured Finest Known and Condition Census coins could run well north of $500,000.

The second most popular mint to collect is Carson City. These were issued from 1870 to 1893. This set is impossible to complete in Uncirculated but it could be done in AU55 and better grades. A collector who had a more limited budget could acquire virtually every date in Fine to Very Fine grades and the more affordable later dates (i.e., those from the 1890's) can be found in higher grades at relatively nominal sums.

Probably the most difficult mint to complete a set from is San Francisco. Virtually every half eagle produced at this mint from 1854 to 1877 is very rare in high grades and most of these are either unknown or extremely rare in Uncirculated. There are very few collectors who specialize in San Francisco half eagles and there are a number of reasons for this. The set is long (coins were issued from 1854 through 1906), full of rarities and it contains coins that are numbingly common (most of the issues from 1879 onwards).

2. By Decade or By Year

An interesting way to collect Liberty Head half eagles is by decade. This type was produced during the 1840's, 1850's, 1860's, 1870's, 1880, 1890's and 1900's. A "by decade" set appeals to many collectors due to the fact that there is a broad range of coins issued.

In my opinion, the 1840's would be the most interesting decade to specialize in. There were four mints that produced half eagles during this decade: Philadelphia, Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans. Virtually all of the coins made during the 1840's are available in circulated grades but most are rare in Uncirculated. What I like about the coins from this decade, besides their historic association, is the fact that many are highly undervalued; moreso, I feel, than any other decade.

Another decade that is full of undervalued, overlooked coins is the 1870's. Nearly all of the coins struck between 1870 and 1876 are rare in all grades (there are a few exceptions such as the 1873) and most of the issues from this decade are very rare to extremely rare in Uncirculated.

An interesting half eagle set is a year set. This would include one example of every year in which Liberty half eagles were produced from 1839 through 1907. The beauty of this set is that in years in which there are rarities, there is always an affordable issue to lessen the cost. As an example, the mintmarked half eagles from 1861 (1861-C, 1861-D and 1861-S) are all scarce and in higher grades they are very expensive. But the 1861 Philadelphia half eagle is common and a very nice example can be obtained for around $1,000. There are only a few years in which all the issues are rare and these tend to be the ones (like 1863 and 1864) in which only a limited number of mints were striking half eagles.

3. By Type

I described the three major types of Liberty Head half eagles earlier in this article. For collectors who choose to focus on these three coins, there are are many options.

The initial type was made only in 1839, at the Philadelphia, Charlotte and Dahlonega mints. None of these issues is rare although the two mintmarked coins are highly sought-after and very expensive in Uncirculated. An 1839 Philadelphia half eagle is more obtainable and a really nice piece can be found for just a few thousand dollars.

The No Motto type, struck from 1840 through 1866 contains issues that run the gamut from common to very rare. Most No Motto half eagles (even the common dates) are very hard to locate in Uncirculated grades and there are very few single coins that exist in MS63 and above. For type purposes, it might make sense to look for a common Philadelphia coin from the 1840's or 1850's in AU58 to MS62. Again, a very nice coin can be obtained for just a few thousand dollars.

The With Motto type was made from 1866 until the end of this design in 1908. There are a number of very rare With Motto issues but most of the pieces struck after 1879 are common, even in the lower Uncirculated grades. For a type coin, I'd recommend a common date from the late 19th century in MS63 to MS65 grades. Depending on the date and grade, you're looking at an expenditure of just a few thousand dollars.

4. Rarities

There are a number of rarities in the Liberty Head half eagles but not nearly as many as in the earlier half eagles that immediately preced this type. First and foremost is the 1854-S of which there are just three known. None has been offered for sale since the Eliasberg coin back in 1982 and, I believe, that if one were to become available today, it could bring as much as $3-5 million.

There are other rare issues in this series but none approach the 1854-S. In the Philadelphia issues, the 1875 is by far the key issue. Only 200 business strikes were made and it is believed that around ten or so are known today. Despite this coin's extreme rarity, examples have traded in the low six figures. After the 1875, the next rarest Philadelphia half eagles are the 1887 (struck only as a Proof) and the 1863.

The aformentioned 1854-S is, obviously, the great rarity from San Francisco. After this, there is a steep drop-off in terms of rarity. The issues from 1859 through 1867 are all scarce in circulated grades and extremely rare in Uncirculated. By far the rarest of these is the 1864-S. In fact, a strong case can be made for this date being the rarest collectible half eagle of this type. Despite this fact, it is not out of the price range of most collectors.

None of the Charlotte or Dahlonega half eagles is a major rarity as far as the total number known to exist. The key Charlotte issues include the 1842-C Small Date, 1844-C, 1846-C and 1861-C while the hardest Dahlonega half eagles to acquire include the 1842-D Large Date and the 1861-D.

Switching focus to the New Orleans issues, the two hardest dates to acquire are the 1842-O and the 1847-O. Both of these are actually affordable in the EF40-AU50 range, scarce but not bdget-busting in the middle to higher AU grades and extremely rare in Uncirculated. The Carson City series contains a number of scarce dates such as the 1870-CC, 1872-CC, 1873-CC and 1878-CC. Again, these are pricey but obtainable in the AU grade range.

In summary, the only Liberty Head half eagle that will prove to be unobtainable is the 1854-S. The other rare dates can be found with patience.

5. Proofs

Proofs of this type are very collectible and range from exceedingly rare to rare-but-collectible.

A type collector might want to acquire one example each of a Proof No Motto and With Motto Liberty Head half eagle. The former is very rare. Proofs were not issued in any sort of quantity until 1859. The Proofs produced in the 1860's are all very rare but can be obtained with patience. For a nice PR63 to PR64 example, a collector is looking at an investmnt in the $40,000- $50,000 range.

The With Motto Proofs were produced continuously from 1875 through 1907 (none were made in 1908). The 1875 and the 1887 are two dates that sell for large premiums; the former due to the rarity of business strikes and the latter due to the fact that it was made only in the Proof format.

As far as I know there are very few--if any--collectors are currently specializing in a date run of Proof Liberty Head half eagles. This would be a challenging and exzpensive set but one that could be completed. It is one that also contains coins that are great values. As an example, the Proofs from the late 1860's and early 1870's are extremely rare (typically fewer than a dozen are known) yet they do not command significnat premiums in PR64 and PR65 over the more available issues from the 1880's and 1890's.

6. Varieties

If you are a collector who fancies varieties, there are more interesting ones present in the half eagles than any other Liberty Head series. These range from significant Redbook varieties to minor, little-known ones.

Some of the better known varieties include the 1840 Broad Mill and Narrow Mill, the 1842 Small Letters and Large Letters, the 1842-C Small Date and Large Date, the 1842-D Small Date and Large Date, the 1843-O Small Letters and Large Letters, the 1846 Small Date and Large Date and the 1846-D Normal Mintmark and D over D Mintmark. From 1850 onwards, there are fewer significant varieties.

There are only two confirmed ovedates in the series and neither is rare. The 1881/0 and the 1901/0-S are both quite affordable in circulated grades and can be located in the lower to middling Uncirculated grades without much effort or expense.

While I have done some fairly extensive research on the varieties of branch mint half eagles, there are probably a number waiting to be discovered. I think the most fertile area is probably the Philadelphia issues from the 1840's. This was an era in which countless blundered dates and other significant varities are already known on silver coins; it seems likely that others await discovery in the half eagle series.

If you are new to the series, one of the real questions you may have is how to price Liberty Head half eagles. For the more common issues this isn't very hard. You will find that many of he post-1880 issues from Philadelphia and San Francisco are regarded as "generics" and sell for little--if any--premium. Pricing the rarities is another story altogether.

If you decide to focus on the southern branch mint coins, you will quickly learn that locating original pieces (i.e., examples with attractive natural coloration) is very difficult. Surprisingly, the premium factor for original coins is often low; in many cases only 5-10% more than a bright, processed example. With many of the Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans pieces, these issues are available in great enough numbers that the collector shouldn't have to settle for a marginal quality coin.

Pricing very rare issues can be a challenge. There are some dates in the series that come on the market very infrequently and the last comparable trade at auction might have occured as long as three to five years ago.

I just mentioned using auction comparables and I think this is a point worthy of a quick discussion. To my way of thinking, seeing what other examples of a coin have been bringing at auction is probably the best way to determine a price for a coin that you have an interest in. Let's say, for example, that you are contemplating buying an 1847-O half eagle graded EF40. Let's say that the last three auction trades are $5,290, $6,350 and $5,750. This gives a clear indication that a decent quality coin is going to be worth around $6,000. How about if you were to go back another two years and you see that there are three more trades; one for $11,500, one for $3,450 and another for $5,750? In the case of the $11,500 sale, I would dismiss this as it probably represents a coin that at least two bidders thought would upgrade. And the cheap sale of $3,450 probably represents a problem coin or one that is extremely low end for the grade.

What are the best values in the Liberty Head half eagle series? That's a hard question to answer as I believe that the entire series is chock full of good value. If I had to focus on a few areas that were the most undervalued I'd suggest No Motto Philadelphia coins in AU58 to MS62 (most are priced in the $1,000-5,000 range and harder to find than one might expect), the New Orleans issues in AU50 and above and the low mintage Philadelphia issues from 1862 through 1877. But it's hard to name just a few areas and I'd honestly say that just about any pre-1900 half eagle that is choice and original is desirable to some extent.

The Liberty Head half eagle series has become more and more popular over the years as people become aware of the challenges it offers collectors. I doubt if its appeal will ever become really widespread due to its longevity and cost but I look for it to become even more collected in the coming years.

Are you interested in the Liberty Head half eagle series? Would you like to form a collection of these coins? Feel free to email me for more information at dwn@ont.com

Is There an Upward Trend in the CC Half Eagle Market?

While I hate to make bold pronouncements based on a small number of auction results, it looks like an interesting trend may be occuring in the Carson City half eagle market. Within two months, three important CC half eagles have sold at auction and brought tremendous prices. Let's take a look at the three coins in question, analyze the results, and try to make some sense of this market. The first of these coins is a PCGS graded Mint State-62 1873-CC half eagle. This is a coin that I am very familiar with, having sold it twice via private treaty within the last five years. In fact, I sold it a few years ago to the collector who consigned it directly to the Heritage 2011 FUN sale, where it became Lot 5118 in the Platinum Night session.

This was a coin I always thought I was a little ahead of the curve on. When I sold it to a good client around five years ago, I told him, "this is going to be a six figure coin someday." But it seemed that "someday" was going to be quite far in the future.

Here's why I've always loved this coin. The 1873-CC is the rarest Carson City half eagle in higher grades. It doesn't have the cachet of the 1870-CC but it is rarer and, in Uncirculated, the 1870-CC, if available, would sell for a minimum of $125,000++. There are two 1873-CC half eagles known in Uncirculated: this example and an NGC MS62. The PCGS MS62 is not only nicer, it has a wonderful pedigree (ex Bass) and it is a solid coin for the grade with good luster and attractive, natural coloration. Unlike the 1870-CC, the 1873-CC is nearly unobtaianble in AU55 or AU58 grades, so if a collector wants to obtain a high quality piece he has very few options. I expected it to bring around $80,000 to $90,000 in the auction.

The 1873-CC sold for $161,000. This was an all-time auction record for this date (by a factor of around three) and it was significantly more than I expected.

Another interesting Carson City half eagle in the Heritage FUN sale was an 1878-CC graded AU58 by PCGS.

This is a very rare date and an issue that is extremely hard to locate in About Uncirculated and Uncirculated grades. I have never seen or heard of a Mint State piece so, for all intents and purposes, an AU58 is as nice an example of this date as you are likely to find.

The 1878-CC sold by Heritage was offered at Lot 5120. To be honest, I wasn't crazy about the coin. While sharply struck, it had color that I felt was questionable and it appeared to have been recently processed. But it was one of just five so graded by PCGS with none better.

It sold for $63,250. This is the exact same price that Heritage 5/08: 4235, the previous record holder for the date, brought a few years ago. The difference between the two coins is that, in my opinion, the piece that sold in 2008 was considerably nicer. The 2011 FUN sale price was extremely strong given the quality of the coin.

The third interesting Carson City half eagle to sell at a Heritage auction was an 1879-CC in a PCGS MS62 holder. This coin was not entirely fresh as it had been placed in a Heritage sale back in October 2010 where it failed to meet its reserve. It was reconsigned by the owner into the February 2011 auction and this time it brought $69,000; by far a record price for this date and considerably more than it would have brought in its earlier appearance had it hit the reserve.

This coin was different than the 1873-CC and 1878-CC. Unlike these other two dates, the 1879-CC half eagle is common in most circulated grades and it can even be found, with just a bit of effort, in nice AU55 to AU58. In Mint State, the 1879-CC has around six to eight survivors but nearly all grade MS60 to MS61. The MS62 in the Heritage sale was the best that I'd ever seen and I'm reasonably certain it was the finest known.

So, three different coins and three strong auction results. What can we deduce from these sales? I think the first thing we can determine is that there are at least two new individuals putting together sets of Carson City half eagles. I'm not certain if they are doing other CC gold coins or Liberty head half eagles from other mints, but they are clearly gaga for CC's. The second thing is that these collectors want coins that are the highest graded. And if they are "pop 1/0" coins, that's even better. The third thing is that they want the coins to be in PCGS holders. I'm not sure if the 1873-CC half eagle mentioned above would have brought anywhere near $161,000 if it had been the exact same coin but in an NGC holder. The fourth and final thing is that these buyers seem to like to purchase their coins at auction. But something tells me that if the right item came up for sale, and it were on a dealer's website, it would find its way into one of these collections.

One thing I've learned from nearly three decades of specializing in branch mint coins: the high end of these markets is very thinly traded and when just one or two new "mega collectors" start a collection of, say, finest known Carson City half eagles then prices can jump upwards in a hurry. And this seems to be exactly what's happening right now with this area of the market. It will be interesting to see if more important coin become available in the next few months and, if they do, what sort of record prices they will bring.