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.

New Orleans Gold Coins: A Date by Date Analysis

PART TWO: EAGLES - DOUBLE EAGLES The first part of this study looked at the gold dollars, quarter eagles, three dollar gold piece and half eagles from the New Orleans mint. This part looks at the eagles and double eagles from this mint.

I. Eagles DATES OF ISSUE: 1841-1860, 1879-1883, 1888, 1892-1895, 1897, 1899, 1901, 1903-1904, 1906 TYPES: Without Motto (1841-1860), With Motto (1879-1906)

1841-O: Only 2500 struck and desirable both as a genuinely rare coin and a historically significant first-year-of issue. Usually very low grade with extremely heavy abrasions and a soft strike. Unknown above AU-55 and very rare in AU with around six-seven known. One of my favorite New Orleans gold coins of any denomination.

1842-O: Fairly common in lower grades; becomes scarce in the lower AU grades and rare in AU-55 and above. A very rare coin in Mint State with around a half dozen known. The best I've seen was a coin sold by Stack's in a 1996 and later graded MS-63 by PCGS.

1843-O: Among the more obtainable New Orleans eagles from the 1840's; rather easy to locate in lower grades but scarce and underrated in AU and very rare in Mint State. Often seen weakly struck and with scruffy surfaces. The few known Mint State coins are in the MS-60 to MS-62 range.

1844-O: Similar in overall rarity to the 1843-O and more obtainable than the 1842-O. This date comes well struck for an eagle of this era but most seen are heavily abraded. The typical coin is well worn and an 1844-O eagle in choice AU is quite rare. The finest business strike I have seen is the Byron Reed coin which was graded MS-62 by NGC. A single Proof is known. It traces its pedigree to the Woodin and Parmelee collections and was "rediscovered" at the end of 1994.

1845-O: Comparable in rarity to the 1842-O but a bit rarer in the upper circulated grades. Around four or five are known in Mint State including a very choice example that was in the Eliasberg sale. A number of interesting varieties are known including a dramatic doubled date and a repunched date. The Eliasberg: 674 coin (now owned by Harry Bass) is by far the finest known.

1846-O: The most undervalued N.O. Eagle from the 1840's and another of my favorite coins from this mint. Usually seen in VF-EF grades; rare in AU and extremely rare in Mint State. The grading services are nearly always wrong in designating examples as "Overdates" or "Normal Dates."

1847-O: The most obtainable No Motto eagle from this mint. Relatively common in all circulated grades but rare in Mint State with around 15-20 known; mostly in the MS-60 to MS-61 range. The best I've seen is the MS-64 Warren Miller coin that brought $26,000 + 15% in the Heritage 10/95 sale.

1848-O: A very hard coin to grade as most have a peculiar sunken appearance; use the amount of intact luster as an accurate guide. Scarce in any grade and rare in AU; very rare in Mint State although one absolutely superb piece (ex Stack's James Stack sale, 10/94) exists.

1849-O: The second rarest New Orleans eagle from the 1840's. Usually seen in VF-EF and flatly struck with poor luster, bagmarked surfaces and distinctive deep green-gold color. AU's are very rare and I have never seen an unequivocally Mint State example.

1850-O: A scarce and underrated date in all grades; usually seen in VF-EF grades and rare in full AU. The only fully Mint State piece I know of is the superb MS-65 example that was originally in the Eliasberg collection. Another date that is notorious for weakness of strike and poor quality surfaces.

1851-O: More eagles were struck at the New Orleans mint in 1851 than in all the other years during this decade put together. Common in all circulated grades although nice AU coins are harder to locate than one might imagine; around 13-16 exist in Mint State with the best of these a Gem from the Eliasberg collection.

1852-O: The second rarest issue from this decade. Most known are well worn with flat centers and weak stars. Scarce in choice EF, rare in the lower AU grades and extremely rare in Mint State. The Byron Reed coin is the best I have seen, followed by the example in the 1999 ANA sale.

1853-O: One of the more common Without Motto eagles from this mint but surprisingly rare in higher grades; I have never seen a strictly Mint State example although I am sure a few exist. A supposed Branch Mint Proof was in Auction 79.

1854-O Small Date: A bit less rare than the next overall but probably more rare in high grades. Most are not well struck at the centers; the surfaces are usually bagmarked and slightly reflective. A very rare coin in Mint State with four to six known.

1854-O Large Date: An interesting variety that uses a silver dollar date logotype. It is not as rare as generally believed in lower grades but very tough in AU grades and very rare in Mint State. Many are seen with a sunken appearance that can be mistaken for wear.

1855-O: Like the 1855-O half eagle, this issue is rare and underrated. It is usually seen in VF-EF grades and an AU is quite rare. The only Mint State example I have seen is the coin in the 1999 ANA sale; another six to eight pieces are known in the AU-55 to AU-58 range.

1856-O: Another rare and very underrated issue that is most often seen in low grades. Hard to find with a good struck and often very heavily abraded. I have never seen or heard of an Uncirculated coin; around ten are known in the AU-55 to AU-58 range.

1857-O: Better known than the 1855-O and 1856-O eagles due to its small mintage figure of 5,500 pieces yet still underappreciated. Most are in the EF-40 to EF-45 range with slightly below average strikes and dull, abraded surfaces. The best I know of is the 1999 ANA/James Stack coin.

1858-O: More common than its mintage figure of 20,000 would suggest due to a number of pieces found in the Jackson, TN, hoard in the mid-1980's. Not hard to find in the EF-40 to AU-53 range; scarce in the higher AU grades and rare in Mint State. The best I have seen grade MS-62 but it is rumored that some gem quality pieces from the aforementioned hoard exist.

1859-O: The second rarest New Orleans eagle; only 2,300 struck with 50-60 known. Most of the pieces that have been graded AU-50 by the services are no better than EF-40 to EF-45 and real AU's are very rare. I have never seen an 1859-O eagle that I graded higher than AU-50 to AU-53.

1860-O: The final Without Motto eagle from New Orleans and a very overlooked coin. Softly struck, well worn pieces are the rule and this date is very rare in AU -55 or better. I have seen just one or two that were Mint State.

1879-O: The first With Motto eagle from this mint and popular due to its low mintage of 1,500. A bit less rare than generally believed; often found in EF with very heavily abraded surfaces. Becomes rare in AU-55 and extremely rare with just one or two real Mint State examples known.

1880-O: The most common of the popular 1880-1882 date run; fairly obtainable in grades up to AU-53 but scarce in the higher AU grades and very rare in Mint State with around eight to ten known. Often seen slightly prooflike and with heavily marked surfaces.

1881-O: The scarcest of the three dates in the 1880-1882 run; mostly seen in the EF-40 to AU-50 range and very scarce in the higher AU grades. Mint State examples are very rare with five to seven known and none of these above MS-60 to MS-61. NGC supposedly graded an MS-63 many years ago but it has never surfaced; perhaps it is a data entry error and represents an 1881-O silver dollar.

1882-O: Usually seen in baggy EF-40 to AU-55; scarce in the higher AU grades and rare in Mint State with a dozen or so known. I have never seen a Mint State 1882-O eagle that I thought was better than MS-60. At current price levels, Uncirculated examples of the 1880-O to 1882-O issues are superb values.

1883-O: The rarest New Orleans eagle. I love this issue for a number of reasons: only 800 were struck (making it the only N.O. Gold coin with a mintage of less than 1000), fifth lowest mintage figure for the entire type, etc. Usually seen flatly struck and prooflike with heavy abrasions and orange-gold color. 30-40 are known with fewer than ten AU's; I have never seen a real Uncirculated piece and just two or three AU-58's.

1892-O: Beginning with this issue, the rarity of the With Motto N.O. Eagles takes on an entirely different complexion: somewhat available in low end, baggy Mint State, very scarce in MS-62 and rare above this. I have never seen an 1892-O that I graded better than MS-62.

1893-O: Scarcer than the 1892-O in terms of overall rarity but very similar in Uncirculated. Usually seen well struck and lustrous with nice color but with numerous deep, detracting bagmarks. Again, I have never seen one I graded better than MS-62.

1894-O: At one time, a very rare coin in Uncirculated but a hoard of 50-100 Mint State pieces entered the market in the mid-1990's. These were nearly all in the MS-60 to MS-62 range and examples that grade MS-63 and above are very rare. No gems are known, unlike for most of the post-1895 New Orleans eagles.

1895-O: Nearly all examples are flatly struck and have slightly subdued luster. Around 100-150 Mint State pieces entered the market in the mid-1990's. While now available without great difficulty in MS-60 to MS-62, this date is still very rare in MS-63 and all but unknown above this.

1897-O: Many are found with soft strikes and very baggy surfaces. Usually seen in the AU-55 to MS-62 range; scarce in MS-63 and rare in any grade above this. Two superb gems are known: the Eliasberg coin and the James Stack coin.

1899-O: Less rare than once believed but still very tough in MS-62 and rare in MS-63 or better. This issue seems to have seen little circulation as it is almost never seen below AU-55. The finest known is the incredible MS-68 from the Eliasberg collection which is one of the two single finest New Orleans gold coins of any denomination that I have seen or heard of.

1901-O: Another date that went from rare in Mint State to reasonably available after a hoard of 100-200 entered the market in the mid-1990's. Harder to find with nice surfaces than the other dates from this decade. The finest known is an MS-66 gem from the Eliasberg collection.

1903-O: One of the most available New Orleans eagles in Mint State. 200-300 Uncirculated pieces entered the market in the mid-1990's. A good type coin due to the fact that many are very well struck and have great rose and yellow-gold color. The finest known is the MS-66 from the Eliasberg collection.

1904-O: The most common New Orleans eagle in very high grades with as many as a dozen known in MS-64 to MS-66. Many are found with very sharp strikes and great luster. The finest known is an MS-68 coin (ex Marty Haber) that is the closest thing to a Proof I have seen on a With Motto branch mint eagle. I believe it is some sort of presentation piece.

1906-O: The final Eagle struck at the New Orleans mint and another date that became far more available after a few hundred Mint State examples entered the market in the middle part of the 1990's. A good number of MS-63 to MS-65 pieces are known.

II. Double Eagles DATES OF ISSUE: 1850-1861, 1879 TYPES: Type One (1850-1861), Type Three (1879)

1850-O: This date is nearly always seen well worn, poorly struck and excessively abraded. Most known are in VF-EF and properly graded AU's are rare, especially at the 55 to 58 level. I've never seen an unquestionable Mint State example and just one or two AU-58's.

1851-O: The most common N.O. Double eagle. Plentiful in lower grades; becomes scarce in the middle AU grades. Mint State examples are very rare with around a dozen known. There is a gem in the Dallas Bank collection and another that was sold by Stack's in their 9/85 auction.

1852-O: A bit more rare than the 1851-O in lower grades but more available in AU and a touch less rare in Mint State. Sometimes found prooflike but most often frosty; pieces exist that are well struck and very appealing. The finest known is the superb gem in the Dallas Bank collection 1853-O: Considerably rarer overall than the 1850-1852 issues but not as rare as the 1850-O in AU. Very rare in Mint State with seven to nine known; the finest is a PCGS MS-63 in a midwestern collection. Usually found better struck than the 1850-1852 issues.

1854-O: The second rarest New Orleans gold coin and one of the rarest Double Eagles of any date or mint. There an estimated 25-30 pieces known with most of these in the VF-EF range. An extremely hard coin to find with any degree of eye appeal due to soft strikes, rough handling and considerable wear. The best known is in the Dallas Bank collection and it would probably grade MS-60 to MS-62 by today's standards.

1855-O: Not anywhere as rare as the 1854-O or the 1856-O but still a very scarce coin in any grade. Around 65-75 are known with most of these very well worn. A very rare coin in AU. I have only seen one or two with claims to a Mint State grade. Nearly every example is heavily abraded and most have been cleaned at one time.

1856-O: The rarest New Orleans gold coin and, in my opinion, the rarest regular issue Double Eagle. Fewer than two dozen are known (more likely 15-20 pieces) with at least half of these well worn. There is an incredible MS-63 in a Texas collection that is a specimen striking. At the present time, this coin appears on more want lists than any other Liberty Head gold coin that I can think of.

1857-O: Both this date and the 1858-O are definite sleepers in the series. The 1857-O is scarce in all grades and very seldom seen above AU-50. In the higher AU grades it is very rare and the only Uncirculated coin that I am aware of is the superb example in the bass collection.

1858-O: Like the 1857-O, this date is usually seen with a below average strike, very baggy surfaces and slightly prooflike fields. I consider it a bit more rare overall the 1857-O, especially in AU-55 and above. I have never heard of or seen one in Mint State.

1859-O: This is the rarest collectible New Orleans double eagle (many collectors overlook the 1854-O and 1856-O issues because of their high price levels), narrowly eclipsing the 1860-O. There are 50-60 known and most are weakly struck VF-EF coins with semi-prooflike fields and very extensive abrasions. There are four or five known that grade AU-55 to AU-58 and just one piece (from the Fairfield collection) with claims to Mint State.

1860-O: A bit less rare than the 1859-O but probably even a bit more rare in higher grades. The finest known is an NGC AU-58 in a Midwestern collection that is ex Superior 2/92: 2965. Nearly always found weakly struck, slightly prooflike, well worn and extensively abraded.

1861-O: The most historic double eagle from New Orleans due to the fact that 5,000 (out of the total mintage figure of 17,741) were struck by the Confederacy. Usually seen in VF-EF grades and probably the single worst produced Liberty Head double eagle of any date. Rare in the lower AU grades, very rare in the higher AU grades and currently unknown in Mint State.

1879-O: An extremely popular coin due to its low mintage, proven rarity and its status as the only Type Three double eagle from New Orleans. Not as rare overall as its low mintage would suggest but extremely scarce above AU-50. There are three to five known in Mint State with the best of these an MS-63 that was first sold in the Spink's December 1995 auction.

OVERALL ANALYSIS: The New Orleans double eagles are a short series but they are very difficult to complete. There are only two relatively available issues in higher grades (the 1851-O and the 1852-O) and even these are very rare in Mint State. To complete this set, a collector must have deep pockets and a lot of patience.