Is It Still Possible to Put Together A Nice Set of New Orleans Double Eagles?

Is It Still Possible to Put Together A Nice Set of New Orleans Double Eagles?

Let’s say an upscale collector makes a decision to put together a complete 13-coin set of New Orleans double eagles. Putting monetary concerns aside, is it possible in 2018 to even bother to attempt this project?

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Sold by Douglas Winter Numismatics: Condition Census AU58 1860-O Double Eagle

Sold by Douglas Winter Numismatics: Condition Census AU58 1860-O Double Eagle

This regular DWN blog feature looks at some of the rare and interesting coins which we have sold in recent months. Most of these coins never made it to our website, and were quietly sold to collectors who we knew needed specific issues and who we had close personal relationships with.

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The State of the Liberty Head Double Eagle Market: 2011

The level of popularity for the Liberty Head double eagle series, struck between 1850 and 1907, shows no signs of abating. In fact, I think these are the most avidly collected United States gold coins by date. How has the market fared for $20 Libs. in the last three to five years and what does the future portend? Let's take a look at the State of the Market for Liberty Head double eagles. 1. The Impact of Bullion Prices on $20 Libs

At the end of May 2006, the price of gold stood at around $660 per ounce. Five years later, gold hovered near $1,530 and it had reached a high of over $1,600 earlier in the Spring. Obviously, this huge increase has had an impact on the market for twenty dollar gold pieces.

In May 2006, a generic Liberty Head double eagle in MS63 would have cost a collector around $900. Today, the same coin costs around $1800-1900. The first thing that is noticeable from this is that the value of a generic double eagle relative to its gold content has dropped appreciably. In fact, the spread between the spot price and the numismatic value is as low, in May 2011, as I can recall.

While generic prices have dropped, the demand for scarce and rare collector-oriented Liberty Head double eagles has increased considerably. Let's take a look at two examples.

In May 2006, an AU55 example of the popular 1850 double eagle would have cost a collector somewhere in the area of $3,000-3,500. Today, the same coin typically sells for $5,500-6,000. This is interesting as this is one of the few areas in the numismatic market where a rare coin (the 1850) has actually performed as well as the generic issue since 2006.

Let's also look at a common date Carson City issue. In May 2006, an AU58 example of an 1875-CC was likely to sell in the $2,500-2,750 range. Today, the same coin will bring $4,000-4,500. From an investment standpoint, the $20 Liberty Head market has performed well in the past five years. But this is not a blanket statement and certain areas have done better than others. We will explore these later in this article.

2. What's Popular in this Market in 2011?

As someone who buys and sells hundreds of Liberty Head double eagles each month, I have a good feel for what's popular and what's not. In my observation, I can see a strong level of demand in certain areas. These include nearly all Type One issues in the $2,000-5,000 range, most affordable Carson City double eagles, very scarce and rare dates in all three types, shipwreck coins (more on these later), and coins with exceptional eye appeal. If I had to name some of the specific dates that seem to be in particularly strong demand right now, I'd include the following: 1854-S, 1856, 1859, 1862, 1863, 1868, and 1880.

Areas in the market that seem weak include generics, grade rarities (an example of this would be a coin like an 1888-S in MS64 which is a fairly common date in grades up to and including MS63 but a "rare" and expensive one in grades above this), rarities that showed huge price increases in the middle of the last decade, and coins that have poor overall eye appeal.

3. The Market For Rare Date Liberty Head Double Eagles

The top end of the Liberty Head double eagle market showed incredible strength during the 2000's. Let's look at a few examples.

The 1866-S No Motto was an issue that was considered esoteric 10-15 years ago and I can remember literally begging clients of mine to buy nice EF and AU examples as they seemed incredibly undervalued to me at the time. This issue caught fire and prices soared. In the early part of the 2000's, an AU50 1866-S No Motto double eagle could be purchased for $8,000-10,000. By 2007-2008, the same date in this grade would have realized $40,000+ at auction; and probably would have been far less attractive, for the grade, as the example(s) available in 2000. Today, this same coin is worth in the low to mid-30's.

Possibly the most dramatic price swings in the $20 Lib. series have been for the major rarities like the 1854-O, 1856-O, 1861-S Paquet, and the 1870-CC. These coins became very expensive by the 2006-2008 boom years and, quite frankly, they became priced out of range of all but the wealthiest collectors and investors. These four issues have seen drops of 20-30% since their market highs, but I am noticing that they are starting to percolate once again and prices are raising. I think that buyers of these very rare issues are far more particular than they were five years ago and if a coin that is priced at $250,000 and up doesn't have good eye appeal it will prove to be a hard sell.

4. The Strength of the Market in Cool "One of a Kinds"

While the classic rarities in the Liberty Head double eagle series have taken a bit of a hit lately, the upper end of the market is far from weak. In fact, the market for really cool, really nice condition rarities is exceptionally strong and deep. Usually, coins of this sort wind-up at auction. I can think of a number of these; for the sake of brevity let's look at two.

In the recent Heritage Central States sale (April 2011) there was a gorgeous PCGS MS63 CAC 1869 double eagle. The coin had great color and surfaces and was fresh, choice and high end. Its a population four coin with two graded higher at PCGS and it was the second best I'd ever seen. Trends at the time was $28,500 and I expected this coin to bring in the low to mid-30's. It sold for $45,885. A great coin, yes, but a really robust price especially considering that Type Two double eagles are somewhat out-of-favor with collectors right now.

Another interesting "one of a kind" coin was the NGC MS65 1852-O that was sold as lot 5243 in the Heritage 2011 FUN sale in January. While I wasn't absolutely crazy about this coin from a quality standpoint (I graded it MS64 but didn't think it was a Gem) there was no denying it was a special coin for an O mint double eagle. And the fact that it remains the only New Orleans double eagle of any date meant that it was destined to bring a strong price. It sold for $276,000; not "crazy" money but still a heckuva lot for a common date New Orleans double eagle!

What's interesting to note right now is that any double eagle that is either finest known or well up in the Condition Census is destined to sell for a record price while some of the more classic rarities in the Liberty Head series might still be a bit soft.

5. Shipwreck Coins

No denomination of United States gold coinage has been more affected by shipwrecks/hoards than double eagles. The S.S. Brother Jonathan, S.S. Central America, and S.S. Republic hoards have added thousands of interesting Type One double eagles into the market.

For many years the supply of these coins far outstripped the demand. You couldn't wander through a coin show without tripping over a stack of 1857-S double eagles. (OK, a slight exaggeration but...)

As double eagles became more popular, the appeal of the shipwreck coins grew. There are now a number of retailers who actively sell these and the trend appears to be strongest for dates that have low "shipwreck populations."

Here's an example. Let's say you have an 1851 double eagle in AU58 from the S.S. Republic shipwreck. This coin could bring as much as $5,000 if it were put in an auction. The exact same coin without a shipwreck pedigree might bring $3,000 if it were extremely high end; $2,750 or so if it were just "average."

The shipwreck double eagles that seem to be in the greatest demand are the ones that appear infrequently. In other words, if you have a double eagle from the S.S. Central America that isn't a commonly seen issue (i.e., its not an 1857-S) then it is considered "scarce" by shipwreck collectors.

The entire shipwreck double eagle phenomenon is sort of a mixed blessing to me. I like the fact that these coins attract new collectors and I respect their history and pedigree. But I think many are cosmetically unappealing and I have a hard time justifying the premium that some of these coins are getting. Is a $3,000 double eagle worth $5,000 (or more) because its from a shipwreck? To me, no. But to a number of collectors the answer is clearly yes.

6. Tracking the Market by The 1856-O Specimen

Many collectors feel that the single most desirable Liberty Head double eagle is the unique Specimen-63 example of the 1856-O. The coin first surfaced in the late 1970's/early 1980's and it has bounced around quite a bit more than you'd think.

In Heritage 2002 FUN sale, the coin sold for $345,000. The owner held it for two years and then placed it in the Heritage June 2004 sale where it brought $542,800. It was purchased by an investor who, as I recall, had never purchased another Liberty Head double eagle before and he held it for five years, placing it in the Heritage May 2009 sale where it brought a record-smashing $1,437,500.

In just seven years, the price of this special coin has increased by nearly 5x. Given the fact that there are now numerous United States coins that have brought over $1 million at auction or via private treaty, I am not surprised at the value level of the 1856-O. I would have to think that if it appeared for sale again in the near future it would bring over $2 million.

7. Tracking the Middle Market

This article has been more focused on the upper end of the market than the lower and middle end and this is not representative of the $20 Lib market as there are a lot more transactions in the $2,500-5,000 range than in the rarefied air of six figure coins.

I make a strong two way market in Type One and Carson City double eagles in the $2,000-10,000 range and I find this area of the market to be quite strong. I have a few interesting observations to share.

I find the grading of these coins to generally be more consistent than on smaller denomination coins. That said, I still find inconsistencies. I love lustrous, unmarked "sliders" graded AU58, but see coins in 58 holders that range from terrific to terrible. In my experience, really nice AU58 coins with great eye appeal are now bringing at least 10-15% more than average quality coins and I think that this spread will increase in the future.

In the Type One series, there are certain dates that I literally couldn't keep in stock even if I had multiple examples. Collectors love the Civil War dates and the underrated Philadelphia issues from 1854 through 1859 have become very popular as well.

Carson City issues are collected both by date and as type coins. I find that the key issues like the 1878-CC, 1879-CC, 1885-CC, and 1891-CC are very popular in circulated grades and in Uncirculated as well. The more common dates (priced in the $2,500-5,000 range) are extremely easy for me to sell as long as they are attractive, lustrous coins with fewer-than-average bagmarks. Coins with CAC stickers are especially in demand amongst type collectors or collectors who, while not working on date sets, want to buy groups of four, five, or six different pieces to salt away.

8. In Conclusion: What does the Future Hold?

I think the future for collector-quality Liberty Head double eagles is as bright as for any other type of United States gold coin.

As gold continues to go up in value, more investors become aware of gold coins. For various reasons, more wind-up buying double eagles than any other type of numismatic "product" and due to good marketing, more of these will be steered toward Libs than towards Saints.

The beauty of the 20 Lib series is that, marketing aside, the coins themselves are very interesting. They were issued at a tumultuous time in US history and at significant mints such as Carson City, New Orleans, and San Francisco. And they come in a tremendous array of prices; you can buy $2,000 coins or you can buy $200,000 coins.

I think the more affordable $20 Libs have a really bright future; coins in the $2,000-5,000 range that are interesting, reasonably scarce and which contain nearly an ounce of gold are just about irresistible to collectors. The super high end coins will continue to shine as well; coins priced at $50,000 and up that are very rare or that represent the highest available quality for a specific issue.

The real question is what about the middle market? I could sell as many 1859-O double eagles as I could find in choice VF and EF grades and I'm sure I could sell the first, second, and third finest known(s) of this date. But what about the so-so quality AU50 and AU53 coins? How will those fare in the future? Check back in 2014 when I update this article and we'll see!

The Eliasberg 1858-O $20.00

I'd like to share a photo and some information about a really interesting coin that I recently bought and sold. It's a lovely 1858-O double eagle, graded AU55 by PCGS. What makes this coin really special, in my opinion, is its fantastic pedigree. To the best of my knowledge it has the oldest continual pedigree of any 1858-O double eagle, and certainly the best. The 1858-O is the 8th rarest of 13 double eagles produced at the New Orleans mint. You'd think this meant it was a common coin, but this is far from the case. There are an estimated 200 or so known with most in the EF40 to AU50 range. This date becomes quite rare in the medium to higher AU grades and it is extremely rare in Uncirculated with just six or seven known to me.

The finest known 1858-O double eagle is a PCGS MS62 owned by a prominent Midwestern collector. It came from the Bass III sale (May 2000) where it sold for $50,600. Harry Bass obtained it from the Merkin 10/66 sale.

There were four Uncirculated 1858-O double eagles found in the S.S. Republic treasure and this swelled the number of Uncirculated examples. The best of these four was an MS63 (graded by NGC).

I love the freshness of this coin and I think a quick study of it will prove helpful to rare gold coin collectors. It has wonderful soft, frosty luster, and pleasing natural yellow-gold coloration on the obverse and the reverse. This coloration is exactly "right" for the issue and the few 1858-O double eagles that I have seen that haven't been dipped or processed displayed a similar hue.

The Eliasberg 1858-O $20.00, PCGS MS62

This date is not generally seen with a sharp strike and this example is about as well detailed as any I can recall. Note the full radial lines in the obverse stars and the nearly complete detail on Liberty's hair. In both instances, this is very unusual.

The surfaces of this coin are clean for the grade. There are a few scattered scuffs in the fields, which is to be expected from an AU55. That said, I think this coin is as clean as other Type One double eagles that I have seen in AU58 holders.

This coin last appeared as Lot 1948 in Stack's November 2009 auction where it sold for $27,600. Before this it was in the October 1982 Eliasberg sale where it brought $2,640. It was obtained by Eliasberg in the famous Max Mehl June 1946 sale of the Atwater collector where it realized $105.

The Eliasberg 1858-O double eagle is now owned by a Southern collector who specializes in New Orleans gold coinage. He already owns a number of impressive New Orleans double eagles, but I'm willing to bet that this coin will become one of his favorites.

Are you interested in adding coins like the Eliasberg 1858-O double eagle to your collection? If so, please feel free to speak to me at 214-675-9897 and let me know how I can be of assistance to you and your collection.

A Quick Look at the Current Market for Type One Double Eagles

How's the market doing for Type One double eagles? Good question and one that I feel well-qualified to answer, having been a very active participant in this market for over two decades. We've had a lot of interesting external factors shape the Type One market in the last few years. Naturally, the severe economic conditions of 2007-2009 had a profound influence; especially at the high end of the market. And even if the economy had been strong there's a chance that prices for rarities might have slowed down on their own, given the extreme rise in prices we had seen in the Type One market for the previous five years. It was natural that there would be some profit taking; what I didn't expect was some of the forced sales we saw in 2007 and 2008.

And then there is the X factor in the Type One market: the incredible run-up in gold prices that has seen metal prices top $1,200 per ounce, and the associated pressures on supply that this has brought with it.

All that said, I'm pretty amazed at how strong this segment of the market is right now. In my mind, there is no question that most Type One double eagles valued at less than $5,000 are in greater demand than I can ever remember. I also think that prices are about as strong as I can recall for these coins. If you look at recent auction, nearly all decent quality EF45 to AU58 Type One double eagles are bringing in excess of Trends (more on pricing in a second...) and these coins are typically selling at auction to dealers; not necessarily end-user collectors.

The coins priced at $5,000-20,000 are generally quite strong as well, although not as much so as at the lower price point. The key factors for Type One double eagles in this price range are: eye appeal, eye appeal, eye appeal and the "sexiness" of the date. This is clearly a collector-oriented market and really pretty coins (i.e., those that are not excessively bagmarked, those that are not all bright and shiny and those that are well-made) are in great demand. Average and below-average quality coins still sell; especially if they are useful dates. But they do not bring the premium prices that the nice coins bring.

The real weakness in this market a few years ago was with the expensive coins. As I touched on above the reasons for this were twofold. When the world economy seemed to be melting down, people weren't all that crazy about dropping $50,000 on a coin. And prices had risen so much on many of the key issues that many market participants wondered if certain key issues were still good values at the levels they had risen to.

Before addressing some specific areas in the market, I mentioned earlier about difficulties with pricing. Coin World Trends ability to keep up with this area in the market appears to not be as good as it was before and many Type One issues now sell for over Trends. This is particularly true with less expensive coins in circulated grades.

Let's look at how the coins from each of the three mints are doing.

New Orleans: If you bought good quality New Orleans double eagles at any time before 2005, pat yourself on the back. You are in a profit position and, in some cases, you are in a huge profit position. New Orleans Type One coins remain strong but not as robust as they were in 2005-2007. The dates that I see some weakness in right now are the 1857-O and 1858-O and, to a lesser extent, the 1859-O and 1860-O. The former seem a bit weak due to the fact that a number of coins in the AU grades have been available and these are two of the few Type One issues where supply seems able to keep up with demand. The latter have cooled off as a result of the fact that some truly awful AU coins have sold slightly cheaply at auction. Very nice AU55 and AU58 1859-O and 1860-O double eagles are extremely rare and choice, properly graded examples will bring well in excess of what the schlocky auction pieces have realized. It is interesting to note that few 1854-O and 1856-O double eagles have traded in the last year or two. I heard through the grapevine that an NGC AU55 1854-O traded for over $600,000 between dealers at the recent Long Beach show. If this is true then, it appears, the market for this ultra-rarity is just fine, thank you.

Philadelphia: I'd have to say that the better date Philadelphia Type Ones are the coins du jour in this series right now. The specific coins that seem to be in real demand are the 1854 Small Date, 1855, 1856, 1857 and 1858. Nice AU examples of these five issues are still buy-able at less than $5,000 and offer alot of bang for the Type One buck. The 1850 is as popular as ever due to its first-year status and the common 1851-1853 issues are in real demand in Uncirculated due to the fact that they are still reasonably priced and occasionally available. The two key issues from this mint, the 1854 Large Date and the 1859, have really come into there own in the last year. I personally love the latter issue and think it is still hugely undervalued in all grades from Very Fine to Mint State. If I were a betting man (and as a coin dealer, I obviously qualify as such) I would say that the Civil War issues will be exceptionally active in the next few years, given the 150th anniversary of the beginning of that conflict is in 2011. The 1862 is already an expensive, well-recognized issue and the 1863 is well-known but the 1864 and 1865 are affordable in circulated grades and seem like good values right now.

San Francisco: In all other denominations, the San Francisco coins lag the other branch mints in popularity. This is not the case in the Type One series where the San Francisco coins are quite popular. We can attribute this, of course, to the shipwreck coins which have been a blessing to the market and which have have made many new collectors aware of and interested in other San Francisco double eagles of this era. The post-shipwreck dates (1858-S, 1859-S, 1860-S, 1861-S) are very popular right now and appear to be bringing close to or even above Trends in AU55 and AU58. The few sales records for Uncirculated pieces in the last year have been very strong and they seem to be consistently at levels higher than 2006-2008. Two interesting individual dates to look at quickly are the 1861-S Paquet and the 1866-S No Motto. For many years these were greatly undervalued and I can remember imploring collectors to buy them at $10,000-20,000 in the early part of the 2000's. They soared in price then came down quite a bit in 2007 and 2008. After being unobtainable in Choice AU for many years, there were a lot of over graded, marginal pieces for sale. I've noticed that there are two very distinct markets for these two issues: the market for low-end pieces and the market for choice, CAC-quality pieces.

I believe that we will continue to see a very strong market for Type One double eagles in the coming years. These coins are big, they contain nearly an ounce of gold, they have a great story behind them and there are still a lot of different dates that can be bought for under $5,000 per coin. I am as bullish on Type One double eagles as on any coin in the market right now.

The Great RYK/DWN Mashup Part Two: Twelve Overvalued United States Gold Coins

A few weeks ago, I published an article written by collector Robert Kanterman that discussed U.S. gold coins that he regarded as good values. Along with each of selections, I posted my comments. Some of them were in agreement with Robert, others were not. The response to this blog was exceptional and I believe it was among the most popular of the nearly 250 that I’ve written since I began this feature around two years ago.

Robert must have received a Big Box of Motivation for the holidays because he became inspired to write the natural counterpart to the last article: a feature on gold coins that he regards as being “overvalued.” Naturally, I am pleased to publish it and am responding with my comments for each of his selections.

One quick word before we begin. What does “overvalued” mean to the gold coin collector? There is no definite answer to this important question and I’m not 100% certain that if you asked this question to Robert and I independently if we’d agree. My perception is that an overvalued coin is an issue that has a pricing premium that, in the current market environment, is difficult to justify. This parameter is not indelible and it can change, given the conditions of the market and the circumstances of the individual collector.

And away we go....

RYK: Here are my 12 overvalued and/or overpriced rare date gold coins. I would only qualify this group of selections by saying that there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these coins (I have owned several in the past). I just do not agree with how the market values them.  I will be interested in reading DW's rebuttals.

1.  1854 and 1855 Philadelphia Type II Gold Dollars, Especially in MS-62 and Higher

This is actually one of my favorite designs across the U.S. gold series, but just because I like the coin, does not mean I like the value it offers. The MS coins are hardly scarce, yet they sell for several thousand dollars and up. I personally have trouble believing that there are that many people who "need" high grade examples for a type set. I would be happy to settle for a nice AU-58 for under $1000 and use the difference somewhere else.

DW: It’s hard not to agree with RYK on this one. I also love the Type Two gold dollar. I love the design, dig the history and like the fact that it is a short-lived issue. But I have a very hard time justifying the current price levels for examples graded MS62 and higher; even though these levels are significantly reduced from past highs. Currently, a common date Type Two gold dollar (i.e., an 1854 or an 1855) is worth $17,000 in MS64 and around $40,000 in MS65. The current PCGS population figures for Type Two gold dollars are 418 in MS64, 87 in MS65 and another 28 in MS66 and above. Unless there are significantly more collectors assembling high grade gold type sets than I’m aware of, these price levels seem inflated.   2.  1840-D, 1841-D, and 1842-D Quarter Eagles

After the 1855-D and 1856-D quarter eagles, this trio is next in line for scarcity, filling out the top five.  Perhaps unfairly, I tend to group these together when considering them, but I see them with about the same frequency as one another, and there is a significant rise in availability of Dahlonega quarter eagles after this date.  In AU-55, these are $12,000-20,000 coins, which seem like a lot for a series that has as limited an audience as this one does.

DW: I don’t totally agree with RYK on this selection. If you are a date collector of Dahlonega quarter eagles, these are important issues (if you are a type collector, these issues, I realize, are meaningless). Something that’s hurt the reputation of the 1840-D, 1841-D and 1842-D quarter eagles is that there are a lot of lousy examples in third-party holders. In properly graded EF and better, all three are genuinely scarce and in AU55 or better they are very rare. Given the value levels in this series, I don’t think that any of the three are overvalued.

3.  So-Called Better Date Quarter Eagles After 1885

When one looks at the Redbook, there is a string of quarter eagles with very low mintages in the later years of the series. I think that these are often sold to collectors as better dates, but the auction records and the frequency with which these are sold do not support this. With the exception of the 1881 and the 1885, it's probably best to put away the books and consider these as generics.

DW: I agree but not with a lot of enthusiasm. The dates that Robert refers to are a classic example of Market Premium Factor. In a good market, an issue like the 1886 or 1894 gets a significant premium due to its low mintage and relatively small PCGS/NGC population figure(s). In a weaker market, this MPF tends to evaporate and a coin that once sold for a 10-30% premium becomes obtainable at levels closer to common date status. Given the fact that very few people collect late date Liberty Head quarter eagles by date, most of these probably do not merit a premium. In higher grades, however, certain of these are genuinely rare and I would be happy to buy all of RYK’s 1894 quarter eagles in MS64 or MS65 for common date prices!

4.  1911-D $2.50

The 1911-D quarter eagle is the most overrated and overpriced dated gold coin in the US series, bar none. I understand the argument that it is the key date of the most collectible gold series, but I have a very hard time believing that there are enough collectors of the series to support the obscene price of the fairly common issue. (I was going to add that it is the 09-S VDB Cent of U.S. gold coins, but I think that it would give this coin more credibility than it deserves.)

DW: Ouch! Do you have the feeling that Robert isn’t going to be inviting a 1911-D quarter eagle to the prom? But who am I to argue, given the fact that I’ve already accused the 1911-D of being one of the leading Faux Rarities in all of American Numismatics. This is clearly one key date that is priced too high and I would not be surprised to see its price plummet in the coming months. At least until the next time the Indian Head quarter eagle series gets (re)promoted...

5.  1857-S $3   I must admit that I was struggling to pick a selection from the $3 gold series, not because these coins are all undervalued, but because so few stand out from the pack. I chose this issue because I felt that the premium attached to this issue for being a branch mint issue seems out of proportion to its actual scarcity. Stated more succinctly, it's twice as common as the historic 1865 $3 (one of the keys to the series), yet sells for about the same price in AU-55. Look yourself at the population spreads and accompanying prices on the PCGS site, and you will see exactly what I mean.

DW: Here’s another issue which I am in partial agreement with the Good Doctor. (I’ve always wanted to write the expression “the Good Doctor” in a blog!) When you compare it to the 1865, the 1857-S is an overvalued issue but this isn’t totally fair because the 1865 is probably the most undervalued coin in the whole Three Dollar series. Just as with the 1840-D/1841-D/1842-D quarter eagles, the population figures for the 1857-S don’t tell the complete story. Most every 1857-S I see in AU55 is (cough, cough) “enthusiastically graded” and choice, crusty examples in EF45 and higher are awfully scarce. If I had to pick an overvalued issue in the Three Dollar series, I’d select the 1854-O or the 1885. But that’s another story. Or another blog.

6. 1879 Flowing Hair Stella $4   This is a coin that I dreamed of owning as a young collector and one that owes its popularity and high price to its capricious inclusion in the Redbook. There are four offered in the upcoming FUN sale, and I have long said that you can't swing a dead cat at a major show without hitting at least a couple of these. These days, $150,000 buys an ugly, much-too-bright  Stella. So much for my dream coin.

DW: The 1879 Flowing Hair Stella was one of my primary “faux rarities” in my infamous blog of a few months ago, so no one is going to be surprised when I say that I agree fully with RYK on this one. Prices on this issue are going to drop in the coming months and it will be interesting to see where they settle. Maybe RYK will be able to afford his “dream coin” after all!

 
7. 1842-C Small Date $5

I think that Doug has commented on this in the past, and as a devotee of the southern branch mint $5's, this issue always stood out to me as one that was more common than believed and consistently overpriced. When I was active in C and D $5's, the ones that were on the market seemed to stay on the market a very long time (or jump from auction to auction), so I think that the collector market agrees with me.

DW: I still regard this as a rare date. The problem with the 1842-C Small Date, however, is the fact that not everyone regards it as essential for “completeness” in the Charlotte half eagle series. Another problem is that Trends values are way too high for the 1842-C Small Date. This is compounded by the fact that many of the AU examples in third-party holders are pretty gnarly. As a value buyer, I’d still give strong consideration to a crisp, crusty EF example but I’d pass on an AU until levels come down.

8. 1860-D $5   For some reason, the price guides have always treated this Dahlonega $5 as a better date.  Doug ranks it #16 out of 26 Dahlonega $5's in overall scarcity (I rank it 17th), and it warrants no premium over the "common" Dahlonega $5 (i.e. 44-D, 45-D, 47-D, etc.). There is no logical reason why this coin is priced as a better date among Dahlonega half eagles.

DW: I can’t argue with this choice. This issue somehow started selling for a premium a few years ago despite the fact it is no rarer than the 1858-D or 1859-D. I’m not sure that I’d single it out as one of Baker’s Dozen most overvalued U.S. coins but I do think it should be priced as a common date.

9. 1799 $10   This is the most common 18th century U.S. gold coin with large numbers in PCGS and NGC holders and large numbers in lower tier holders and raw (or raw equivalent). They are big and beautiful coins, but they are everywhere. $30,000 for an AU-55 seems like a lot of money when a considerably more scarce 1799 $5 is about half the price in the same grade.

DW: I strongly agree with this choice despite the fact that I really like everything about the 1799 (except its current market valuation). I can remember not so long ago when a nice fresh AU 1799 eagle was an easy coin to find at $13,000-15,000. Today, they are double this amount and the typical coin is apt to be processed and unappealing. If you really want to own a 1799 eagle (and I think a nice early ten is an integral part to any potential collection of U.S. gold) I’d probably wait a while and see if prices retreat back to the levels of five-seven years ago.

10. 1851-O and 1852-O $20   Several years ago, I thought these were really good values, when they could be purchased for a small premium over the majority of the Philadelphia Type I $20's. At $5,000 or so for an AU-50, when a more scarce Philly issue like an 1855 sells for about one-third of the price and a considerably more historic and scarce 54-S sells for about $3,000, the value of these two is no longer apparent.

DW: I have mixed feelings on this choice. Having very much helped to create the market for Type One New Orleans double eagles, I am pretty stunned to see nothing-special examples of the 1851-O and 1852-O selling for $5,000-10,000. This does seem like a lot of money for nothing all that special. In the defense of these two dates, remember that they are the most available double eagles from this popular mint and there is very strong collector demand for said coins. But I do agree with Robert that your $3,000 is better spent on a nice 1855.

11. High Relief Saint   The High Relief Saint is arguably the most beautiful U.S. coin (gold or otherwise) ever struck by the U.S. Mint. One can also make the argument that based on its availability that it is significantly overpriced. I would love to own one but not at these levels.

DW: Agreed. Next....

12. Hoarded 1920's Branch Mint Saints   I was discussing the possible auction purchase of a 1920's branch mint Saint with a wise coin dealer (who happens to be a specialist in rare date gold) when he turned  to me and said, "You have to be careful with these hoard dates—the ones from the 1920's that are being slowly released into the market."  He then rattled off a few of these dates. Sure enough, when one tracks the auction records for these, there appear to be several dates undergoing quiet distribution at prices that are not supported by their level of availability.

DW: I’m going to waffle a bit on my answer to this one, even though I am (I think...) the supposedly wise coin dealer who made the comment cited above. I do think you have to be careful buying many of the mintmarked Saints from the 1920’s. You have to be careful for three reasons. The first is that some dates do exist in hoard quantity and it’s important to pay careful attention to the PCGS/NGC population figures. Secondly, the quality of these coins is all over the map. I’ve seen 1926-S double eagles in MS65 holders that were true Gems and I’ve seen 1926-S double eagles in MS65 holders that I wouldn’t break out of an MS64 holder. Unless you are an expert grader, you need to work with an expert in this area. Finally, the market for dated Saints can change quickly based on the number of active collectors. What seems undervalued today can seem overvalued in a few months (and vice-versa) if the market loses (or gains) participants in the high-end arena.



Bonus:  Anything Overgraded, Especially XF coins, dipped and in AU Holders   It goes without saying that processed and/or overgraded coins are generally not a good buy, especially when they are premium priced. That said, I am going to be a bit of a contrarian. There may be opportunities that arise when the collector can recognize the overgraded coin and pay the appropriate price while others simply pass because the coin is overgraded. One of my best acquisitions was made precisely under these circumstances.

DW: I disagree with Robert here that “opportunities may arise” when it comes to buying overgraded coins and paying the appropriate price. I’m not sure why you’d ever want to buy an overgraded coin. But if a dealer will sell you an EF45 in an AU50 holder for an EF45 price, then I guess this makes sense (huh??)

Bonus II: Many Shipwreck Coins, Especially 1857-S SSCA $20's   For the sake of this discussion, let's limit our focus to the Brother Jonathon, the S.S. Central America, and the S.S. Republic coins. I am a big fan of shipwreck gold coins—I love the history, the exploration, the retrieval, and the science of conservation. I think that there is nothing more fascinating than holding a coin in your hand that sank to the bottom of the ocean in a storm 150 years ago, was found buried in sand in deep water 145 years later, and conserved to look like it did the day it left the Mint. However, the shipwreck premium, in many cases, is well beyond reason. I will concede that for some better dates, there is some logic to the shipwreck premium, but certainly not for the 1857-S $20 from the S.S. Central America. These are readily available in quantity in any major auction or coin show.

DW: In theory, Robert is right. What he doesn’t realize is that there are a number of large retailers who can sell the heck out of these shipwreck coins and that the demand is generally well in tune with the supply. While I agree with Robert that the price levels seem out-of-whack with the populations, what he needs to realize is that these shipwreck coins are, in a way, a distinct “mini-market” within the broader market. The history and neatness factor of these shipwreck double eagles makes them unfair to compare with other, less active segments of the coin market.

So there you have it: the Numismatic Dan Ackroyd and Jane Curtin of this generation (for those of you too young to get this reference, look it up online) have, I hope, given you plenty of numismagrist to chew on this holiday season.

The Market for New Orleans Gold

In many respects, I was one of the primary creators of the market for New Orleans gold. As recently as two or three years ago, I was one of the few dealers who maintained a good inventory of choice and rare gold from New Orleans and was certainly giving this market a bigger “push” than my compatriots. So how has the market fared for New Orleans gold in the last few years? Without a great deal of fanfare, I’d have to say that I did a very good job of helping to jumpstart this market. In some ways, it was maybe too good of a job. By this, I mean that I now have a lot of competition on the wholesale side of the market when interesting New Orleans gold becomes available at a show or at auction. The days that I could negotiate for these coins using the strategy that “no one else cares about this O Mint gold coin so you better sell it to me at my number” are long gone. If I pass on a neat coin, there are three or four other dealers in the wings waiting to swoop.

This is probably both good and bad for collectors as well. If you listened to my pleas to buy New Orleans gold a few years ago, you were probably able to purchase some coins at levels that could not be duplicated today. The bad news, though, is a sudden lack of availability.

If you look at what’s been available at major auctions this year in the area of important New Orleans gold, it’s been pretty slim pickings. There were some important half eagles and eagles in the January Stack’s sale and Heritage has sold its share of Condition Census pieces but impatient collectors have probably found 2007 to be a trying year.

I made a strong effort to purchase New Orleans gold at the recent 2007 ANA show in Milwaukee and came home with little to show for my efforts. What’s really frustrating is that I could have sold about ten times the number of New Orleans gold coins that I bought.

Unless I overlooked some hidden stashes of New Orleans gold, the only items that seemed to be available at the show were either common issues such as 1851-O eagles in grades up to and including AU55 or low-end Uncirculated examples of such uninspiring dates as 1893-O half eagles.

Another thing I noted is that price reporting for New Orleans gold is really out of whack right now. Neat coins tend to bring considerably more than CDN Bid or Trends. Examples? In the recent Heritage ANA sale, an 1882-O eagle in PCGS MS63 brought nearly $38,000. CDN Bid is $14,250. In Bowers and Merena’s pre-ANA sale, a PCGS AU55 1854-O double eagle realized nearly $500,000. Trends is $350,000 in this grade.

Prices are also too low for less spectacular New Orleans coins than these two. Examples? I would be very happy to buy multiples examples of eagles such as the 1849-O, 1852-O, 1855-O, 1856-O and 1857-O in EF40 and EF45 at levels near their current Trends valuations.

Would an increase in values bring some good New Orleans coins out of the woodwork? It might shake a few coins out but I’m guessing that the answer is a resounding “no.” I think the reason for this is that there really aren’t many old-time specialized collections of New Orleans gold that were being formed five, ten or twenty years ago. If someone was collecting branch mint gold in years past, the chances were pretty good that they were focused on Carson City, Charlotte or Dahlonega and they ignored New Orleans issues.

What do I see as future Trends for New Orleans gold coins? Let’s take a quick look at each denomination.

Gold Dollars are becoming more and more popular and the upcoming Dave Bowers book on this denomination is certain to create new collectors. Given the brevity of the New Orleans series, I think we’ll see more collectors putting together sets. I personally like the idea of buying Finest Known or Condition Census examples of any date as well as nice, solid examples of the key 1850-O and 1852-O.

The New Orleans quarter eagle series is seeing some increases in popularity. Collectors are probably misled by inflated populations of Uncirculated and About Uncirculated coins. This is a series that $2,000-4,000 per coin still goes a long way. At the ANA I sold a gorgeous 1852-O in NGC AU58 to a collector for $2,000. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find better value in this series than coins like this. I still like the value level of the key 1845-O in EF and AU grades and also like issues such as the 1847-O, 1850-O, 1851-O and 1852-O in accurately graded MS61 and MS62.

1854-O Three Dollar Gold Pieces seem to be all over the place and most of the coins I see are poorly struck and vastly overgraded. That said, I will still buy an AU50 and better piece I see that I truly like. At the Milwaukee ANA I passed on a really nice NGC MS62 at $52,500 that quickly sold to the next person who saw it (I made a mistake and should have bought it...) In Stack’s pre-ANA Milwaukee auction, an NGC MS63, which is the single highest graded 1854-O $3.00, brought a record $115,000.

It’s become very difficult to find interesting New Orleans half eagles. I handled just one really significant piece at the ANA (an 1842-O in NGC AU58 which I sold almost immediately to a collector) and can’t recall any exciting examples in any of the pre-ANA or ANA sales. My guess is that there are a number of collectors actively working on New Orleans half eagle sets and that the demand for interesting coins far exceeds the supply. I strongly suggest buying nice examples of any of the key issues (1842-O, 1847-O, 1855-O, 1856-O and 1857-O) and I like nearly any choice, original No Motto piece from this mint graded EF40 or better.

For the last few years, I was literally begging people to buy significant New Orleans eagles. It appears that at least a few people listened to me as there now appears to be a number of people building No Motto and With Motto date sets. I still strongly recommend just about any better date No Motto coin and just about any common date With Motto in MS63 and higher grades.

Last but not least: the double eagles from this mint. I’m pretty conflicted at this point in time about New Orleans Twenties. As someone who repeatedly touted what a great value these coins were as recently as a few years ago, I’m happy that I was able to help drive this market upwards. But I wonder how much further it can go. As I mentioned above, an 1854-O in PCGS AU55 just brought close to a half million bucks at auction. That’s a whole lot of money for a fairly esoteric coin. I guess what it boils down to is the number of collectors who are putting together sets of these coins. If there are many very wealthy collectors assembling sets of New Orleans double eagles than I guess I can see basal values for the 1854-O and the 1856-O staying at their currently sky-high levels. But if there aren’t more collectors waiting in the wings to fill these holes in their sets than I wonder what the levels will be like in a few years. One last caveat: if you are working on such a set you absolutely positively need to be working with a knowledgeable dealer. At these kinds of prices, you don’t want to be making many mistakes.

State of the Market Report: New Orleans Gold

On Monday January 22nd, I posted the Pinnacle Collection of New Orleans gold coinage for sale. This superb collection contained seventy-one choice, high grade examples of New Orleans gold coinage. By Tuesday evening, nearly three-quarters of the coins were sold and as I write this, a mere four days after the initial posting of the collection, all but four coins have been sold. From the conversations I had with the over thirty collectors who bought (or attempted to buy) coins from this collection, I think I learned quite a bit about the State of the Market regarding New Orleans gold—and rare date gold coins in general.

My first observation is that the market is always hungry for attractive, fresh deals of coins. It didn’t take an expert to realize that these coins were exceptional for the grade and date. People liked the fact that they were all in PCGS holders and they really liked the fact that virtually every piece in the collection had dark, crusty surfaces; unlike the dipped-n-stripped material that is usually seen in auctions and other dealers’ inventories.

My second observation is that the publication of my book on New Orleans gold coinage a few months go has definitely spurred interest in these issues. One sophisticated collector who called me commented that New Orleans gold seemed really undervalued in relation to gold coins from other mints, especially given the very low population of high grade pieces from this mint. As a basis of comparison, he noted that $10,000 would go a long way towards buying a Condition Census piece in the New Orleans market while the same amount of money in the Carson City gold market would buy you a coin that was not close to Condition Census level. This is a good point.

Another observation is that people always want key date coins, no matter what series you are discussing. As an example, I had numerous people ask me about the 1841-O, 1859-O, 1879-O and 1883-O eagles and I probably could have sold multiple examples of these dates. The same holds true with the 1845-O quarter eagle and the 1842-O and 1847-O half eagles. My gut feeling is that if New Orleans gold continues to become more popular, these key issues are going to be the coins that show the greatest amount of price appreciation. The same holds true with the popular one-year type issues such as the 1855-O gold dollar, 1839-O quarter eagle and 1854-O three dollar, although these have already seen a good amount of price increase in the past three years.

A number of people complimented me on the presentation of the Pinnacle Collection and I believe that the in-depth descriptions, excellent images (and here I must give a shout out to my photographer Mary Winter who I think outdid herself with this project…) and an attractive overall “look” made shopping at the Pinnacle Collection Store a fun proposition.

I also think people liked being able to purchase fresh, interesting coins in a non-auction environment. A number of people told me that they are beginning to tire of the endless cycle of auctions and having to pick through hundreds and hundreds of lots of junk in order to find the occasional kernel.

So, what’s next for the New Orleans gold market? Clearly there are a number of avid collectors, both new and old, who are in this market. The interesting question is will there be enough coins to go around to satisfy them? Yes, I can sell five 1883-O eagles in the next month but am I going to be able to find even one of them? And what about prices—will Trends and Coin Dealer Newsletter show enough in the way of price increases to fuel a possible New Orleans gold fire?