What Can CAC Population Figures Tell Collectors About Quality and Rarity?

Now that CAC has become an integral part of the rare date gold market, there are certain things that their database of coins that have been approved can tell collectors. This wasn’t necessarily true as recently as a year to a year and a half ago, but I believe that enough coins have been seen by CAC that their numbers have gained a degree of legitimacy. This is especially true for expensive and/or truly rare coins.

One thing that CAC data can tell a savvy collector is how rare a coin is with good eye appeal. In other words, if the combined PCGS/NGC population of a certain date/mintmark is 15 coins in EF, how many of these are choice and original?

How do these figures look in a series which is notorious for having numerous condition rarities? I decided to analyze the increasingly popular Liberty Head eagle series using CAC population data from their most recent report (September 2013) and compare it to research which I published a few years ago.

In 2008 I published an article entitled The Ten Rarest Ten Libs. I based this research on my 25+ years of specializing in this denomination, consulting auction records from the past two decades, and looking at current PCGS and NGC population data. My Top Ten list was concerned more with absolute rarity (i.e., the total number of coins known in all grades) versus condition rarity (the number of coins known in higher grades).

1844 $10.00

 According to my research, here are the ten rarest Liberty Head eagles:

  1. 1875
  2. 1864-S
  3. 1873
  4. 1863
  5. 1865-S Normal Date
  6. 1860-S
  7. 1883-O
  8. 1844
  9. 1839, Head of 1840
  10. (tie) 1858, 1859-S, 1864, 1866-S With Motto, 1876, 1877

Looking back on this list five years later (!), I basically still agree with it - except for one glaring omission: the 1855-S. I’m not sure why I didn’t include this date in my Top Ten; I very possibly might have forgotten it. Today, I would certainly include it and place it as high as #8 on the list. I would also eliminate the 1858 from the #10 grouping, and quite possibly the 1859-S and 1864 as well.

Before I delve into the CAC populations, there are a few caveats which I think are important to better understand this blog.

Firstly, we are assuming that at this point in time a good number of rare date gold coins get sent to CAC. However, I happen to know at least four major collections of Liberty Head eagles which have never been seen by CAC, and which contain many coins currently “unbeaned” by CAC which should be nice enough to qualify if and when they are sent in.

Secondly, we are making an assumption that “CAC quality” coins really are nice for the date and grade. I personally don’t think that is a stretch, but I clearly have seen some better date Liberty Head eagles with CAC stickers that weren’t all that nice and, conversely, have sent some coins to CAC which I thought were very nice and, for whatever reason(s), didn’t get blessed.

Thirdly, I think making assumptions about the rarity of coins like Liberty Head eagles based solely on CAC data would be a mistake. Instead, I would view the CAC data as a component of determining high grade rarity.

Let’s look at the Liberty Head eagles which, as of October 2013, have yet to see a single example approved by CAC:

  • 1844
  • 1863
  • 1864
  • 1865
  • 1865-S Normal Date
  • 1866
  • 1866-S No Motto and 1866-S With Motto
  • 1872
  • 1873
  • 1875
  • 1876-S

There are no huge surprises here. This group of 12 coins is well represented on my Top Ten rarest list. The 1864 is a bit of surprise as I have handled a few nice pieces in the last few years and the same is true with the 1866-P and the 1866-S No Motto.

Now, how about the dates in this series with only 1 coin approved by CAC. Along with the dates, I’m going to list the grade of the sole CAC-approved coin.

  • 1839 Head of 1840 (EF40)
  • 1858-S (AU50)
  • 1859-S (AU50)
  • 1867-S (AU55)
  • 1870-CC (EF45)
  • 1877 (AU55)

This is an interesting group. All five are rare, and at least one (the 1839 Head of 1840) is on the Top Ten rarest list. The other four are dates which are a bit more available but which seldom come with nice surfaces and natural color; two elements which are rewarded by CAC. In this instance, the CAC results hold pretty true to form; more so than what I expect from NGC or PCGS results.

As a final list, let’s look at the dates in this series with just 2 coins approved by CAC. Again, along with the dates I’m going to list the grades in which CAC has approved these.

  • 1855-S (EF45, AU55)
  • 1859-O (EF45, AU53)
  • 1860-S (VG8, AU55)
  • 1862-S (EF45, AU55)
  • 1864-S (VF30, EF45)
  • 1870 (AU50, AU55)
  • 1871 (AU55, AU58)
  • 1876  (AU53, AU55)
  • 1895-S (EF45, AU53)

To me, this is the most interesting list, for two reasons. The first is the dates (1859-O, 1862-S, 1864-S) which I didn’t expect to see two of, let alone one. The second is the presence of the 1895-S, a date which gets little respect from even the most ardent specialist and which only two reasonably low grade pieces have been approved by CAC to date. Sleeper alert!!

I’m going to revisit this topic in the near future, as I think it is a good way of determining the true rarity of certain coins in high-end “PQ” grades. By the same token, it also has relevance for lower grade coins like VF and EF when it comes to determining how nice a really rare coin is for its respective grade.

For more information on CAC and on Liberty Head eagles—with or without CAC approval—please feel free to contact me by email at dwn@ont.com.

America's Forgotten Rarities: The 1863 Eagle

Beginning with this article, I'm going to focus, from time to time, on issues that I regard as "forgotten rarities." These are coins that are truly rare but which, for a variety of reasons, do not get the fanfare that they deserve. I plan on featuring a selected gold rarity once every month or so. The first issue that I want to discuss is the 1863 eagle. I'm going to try to avoid "condition rarity" issues in this series. In other words, I'm featuring coins that are rare in the most absolute sense of the word. And I think the 1863 eagle has this concept of rarity absolutely nailed.

There were only 1,218 eagles produced at the Philadelphia mint in 1863. For all denominations other than the double eagle, mintages were extremely low this year, which makes sense given the economic conditions of the Civil War (at the beginning of the year it was still not readily known if the Union forces would prevail). The low mintage of this issue, combined with a generally low survival rate for gold coins of this era, meant that the 1863 eagle was a rarity from the time it was struck.

I regard the 1863 as the third rarest business strike issue in this entire series, trailing only the 1875 and the 1864-S. I believe that there are around 30-35 known in all grades. As of March 2010, the combined total of coins graded at PCGS and NGC was 37 but this figure is clearly inflated by resubmissions; NGC, as an example, shows eight coins alone in AU58.

The surviving examples tend to be in the VF-EF grade range. Eagles of this era were clearly used in commerce and those that were not later melted tend to show numerous abrasions and signs of rough handling. I can't recall having seen more than three to five 1863 eagles that had original color and reasonably clean surfaces. Many have been cleaned or processed and properly graded AU examples are very rare.

Since 2000, there have been only six auction records for 1863 eagles that have not been damaged, harshly cleaned or ungradable by PCGS and NGC. The most recent record of note was Heritage 1/05: 30496, graded AU58 by NGC, that realized $28,750. This coin was not choice for the grade, in my opinion, yet it was still a bargain given its rarity and comparatively high degree of preservation.

1863 $10.00, courtesy of Heritage

The finest known 1863 eagle is a coin that has been graded MS63 by both PCGS and NGC and it appears in both firms population reports as such. The coin was last sold as Bass IV: 683 for $52,900 in 2000. Harry Bass purchased it out of the 8/91 Mid American sale where he paid a then-strong $104,500. It is one of the very few coins in the Bass collection that was sold at a significant loss and, in retrospect, it was one of the single best values in any of the four Bass sales conducted between 1999 and 2000.

There is a second Uncirculated 1863 eagle. It has been graded MS62 by NGC and it was uncovered in the treasure of the S.S Republic.

The valuation of the 1863 eagle is way off the mark, in my opinion. The most recent Trends shows values of $9,000 in EF40, $12,000 in EF45, $17,500 in AU50, $25,000 in AU55 and $32,500 in AU58. Given the paucity of recent trades, it is hard to state with certainty exactly what this issue is worth. But it seems to me that $12,000 for an EF45 example of a coin as rare as this is very good value, especially when compared to other less rare eagles of this era.

One of the ways that I can determine the true rarity of a coin is by how many that I have handled in the last few years. After checking my records, I see that I have not handled an 1863 eagle since 2005 and I've only had a total of two in the last dozen years. Considering the fact that I've handled probably a dozen 1870-CC eagles in the last decade (if not more), this shows me that the 1863 eagle is an incredible rarity.

I'd love your suggestions about which gold coins are "forgotten rarities." If you have any suggestions for future pieces in this series please email them to me at dwn@ont.com.