A Story of Numismatic Serendipity: DWN and the 1797 Small Eagle Ten Dollar Gold Piece

A Story of Numismatic Serendipity: DWN and the 1797 Small Eagle Ten Dollar Gold Piece

Every now and then, the fates line up… In the case of a wonderful 1797 Small Eagle $10, everything that had to happen, happened, and as a result a great coin came out of hiding at the 2018 ANA show.

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Ten Things I'm Looking Forward to Doing/Seeing at the Philly ANA

The annual Summer ANA show is a highlight on any collector's or dealer's calendar. This is my 30th in a row to attend and I am very much looking forward to the show, especially as it appears to be the last ANA that will be held on the east coast for many years. Here's a list of at least ten things that I'm excited about doing and seeing next week in Philadelphia: 1. Having a Mystery Guest Sighting: Without fail, every year at ANA always brings out at least one "mystery guest." Typically, it's a dealer who left the market and have been unseen for years or it's a collector who I haven't seen since the late 1980's who has decided to wander in because he heard that the ANA show was close to his house. I wonder who it will be this year?

2. Attending the Battle Born Sale. I'm very interested in this sale for a number of reasons. I sold many of the coins to the owner and am curious to see how they do at auction. I am excited to go "head to head" with the sharpest rare date gold buyers in the business as we compete to buy coins for clients and for stock. In the not so distant past, it wasn't uncommon to have big specialized sales like this that all the big players attended in person. I'm hoping that during this sale I'm able to see who I am bidding against, and it will go a long way to answering my questions about the State of the Market for Carson City coinage.

3. Having Something Great Walk Up to My Table: Every dealer hopes this will happen at an ANA show: a well-dressed man walks up to the table with a run of 19th century proof sets that he wants to sell for his elderly parents or a little old lady walks up with an original roll of Saints. These things DO happen from time to time and the fact that we are in Philadelphia, the cradle of American numismatics, bodes well for something exciting walking into the show. So if you are reading this blog, great-grandson of James Longacre, please come to tables 805-807 first and ask for me by name!

4. Wearing Nice Clothes in the 95 Degree/100 % Humidity Philly Summer As excited as I am to spend a week in Philadelphia, I'm going to miss the nearly perfect summer we've had so far in the Northwest. It's been under 80 degrees nearly every day here and I haven't had the air conditioner on once. While I'd like to attend the ANA show in my typical Portland Summer Uniform of polo shirt, shorts and sneakers, I feel this wouldn't be appropriate and will, instead, be suited-up every day. Sigh...

5. Viewing the ANA Exhibits. One of my favorite things to do at the show every year is to take thirty minutes off and go view the competitive and non-competitive exhibits. I still am eager to learn about areas of numismatics I know little about, and to see great U.S. coins that I haven't viewed before. It is always fun for me to do this and I always learn which dealers are true coin weenies when I get a text(s) during the show telling me "you have to see (such and such) coin at the Smithsonian or ANS exhibit."

6. Going to The Barnes Museum. Is it wrong for me to admit that I'm actually more excited to see this art museum than I am to attend the coin show? If you have a teeny iota of interest in great 19th and 20th century art, you need to go.

7. Eating Breakfast and Lunch Every Day at Reading Market. Two words: Amish Breakfast. And I can already taste the Italian sammies I'll be chowing down on every day. Sure beats typical coin show food! (Let's not even begin to talk about Philly cheese steaks, South Philly noodles and gravy, the Belgian mussels and frites place I went to the last time I was in Philly, cheap and good Chinese food, etc. etc.)

8. Restocking My Depleted Inventory. Back in the day, I would save coins for the ANA show because June and July were typically dead months. Now, with the internet 24/7/365 having taken over all retail businesses, I typically go to ANA with very few fresh coins due to the fact that there is essentially no summer break for the coin market any more. I had an atypically busy July and am now in dire need to buy coins. As are, I would assume, most other dealers. That fact, combined with strong metals prices and a great east coast location, lead me to think that this year's show will be a very good to excellent one.

9. Experiencing the ANA Buzz. To use a sports metaphor, the ANA is the Super Bowl of coin shows. It's a whole lot more exciting for a dealer to be at the ANA for a week than its is to spend three days trapped in the purgatory of a slow regional show where you've realized within thirty minutes that there is nothing to buy but your airline wants $1,000+ to change to an earlier flight. (Note to self: continue to pay the change fees and chalk it up to mental health benefits...). Even though I've been doing this show for 30 years and it has becoming a bit of grind, it is still exciting for me every day to walk in, see the hundreds and hundreds of tables and wondering what will happen, good or bad, on this particular day.

10. Leaving the Show. As I hinted above, the ANA is a lot of work, especially when you are doing the majority of the buying/selling/bidding/schmoozing/running around/answering calls/scheduling...let's just say I stay busy pretty much every minute of the day from 8am until 10pm (or later on some of the big auction nights). I like the action and I love the up-side, but it is very tiring and I have to tell you that when my plane lands in Portland, I might be doing the Pope-kissing-the tarmac routine. Except for the fact that the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday after the show are all 12+ hour days...

See you in Philadelphia!

1862 $20.00 PCGS AU53

The 1862 is the rarest Philadelphia double eagle struck up through 1881 (not including, obviously, the exceedingly rare 1861 Paquet reverse). For many years it was an obscure issue that I literally had to beg collectors to buy. Today, when nice examples are offered, they cause considerable excitement. I recently offered a nice PCGS EF40 example of this date and within a day of listing on my website, I had six orders for it. That's why I'm pleased and somewhat amazed to be offering a second example; and in PCGS AU53, no less! This example is very clean for the issue and has far fewer marks than what is typically seen on this usually-baggy date. The color is a light to medium green-gold with orange tinges and there are a few areas of deeper color in the reverse fields. Since 1994, there are only nine auction records for this date in AU53. That's an average of one coin in AU53 every two years or so; proving the difficulty of finding this date in the lower AU grades. If you collect Type Ones or you fancy Civil war gold coins, you know how tough this date is and what an important opportunity this represents.

1810 Large Date $5.00 PCGS AU58 CAC

BD-4, Rarity-2. Large Date, Large 5.. If I had to pick a "sweet spot" for early half eagles (or maybe even for all early gold) it would have to be the AU58 grade. Early gold that is properly graded in AU58 holders can have really nice eye appeal yet it is priced at an amount that is often significantly less than coins in MS60/MS61 holders. Let's look at this 1810 half eagle which is a perfect example. It shows no real signs of having circulated; just what used to be referred to as "cabinet friction" on the high spots. The color is lovely with rich green-gold centers framed by fiery natural reddish-gold at the borders; the reverse has a deeper overall hue than the obverse. Both sides are free of detracting marks and a good deal of luster remains. The last nice PCGS AU58 example of this date to sell at auction was Spink/Smythe 5/11: 11 that brought $12,075. If you need a nice example of the Capped Head Left half eagle type or you collect these by date, this coin will look great in your set!

1861 $20.00 NGC AU58 CAC

The 1861 is, by far. the most common Civil war era Liberty Head double eagle. That said, it isn't easy to locate a lovely "super slider" like the present example. This piece has the luster and appearance of an MS62 to MS63 but it shows a trace of rub on the high spots of the obverse. A small nick on Liberty's chin serves as identification. If I were a date collector of Type One double eagles, I would buy a coin like this as my example of the 1861 and save my bigger expenditures for rarer, more interesting issues.

Collecting 'Transitional' Coins

Throughout the history of gold coin production in the United States there have been a number of instances where two different designs were produced simultaneously, or at least within the same year. I call these “transitional” coins and I think they would make for a very interesting collecting focus for the gold coin specialist.In the gold dollar denomination, the most obvious transitional issue occurred in 1854 when both the Type I and the Type II issues were produced. Both of these are relatively common although the Type Two becomes scarce in the higher grades and rare in MS64 or better. In 1856 two designs were produced: the Type Two and the Type Three. Since the Type Two was only made in San Francisco this year and there are no 1856-S Type Three gold dollars this isn’t a transitional issue in the sense of the 1854. There are some very interesting transitional issues in the quarter eagle denomination. In 1796 both No Stars and With Stars designs were produced. Both of these are rare in all grades and because of price constraints they would be considered one of the stoppers of a transitional set. The next transitional issue occurred in 1834 when both the Capped Bust and the Classic Head quarter eagles were struck at the Philadelphia mint. The former is an extremely rare coin in all grades while the latter is common in grades up to and including MS63.

More transitional issues exist in the early half eagles than in virtually all other denominations combined. The reason for these transitional issues tends to be different than, say, for the 1854 Type One and Type Two dollar when the design was changed to facilitate improved striking.

There are two types of half eagle dated 1795: the Small Eagle reverse and the Large Eagle reverse. The former was actually produced in 1795 and it is relatively common. The latter was struck in either 1797 or early 1798 using a backdated obverse die. Only 1,000 or so 1795 Large Eagle half eagles were made and this clearly would be one of the stoppers to a transitional set.

A similar circumstance exists with 1797 half eagles. Small Eagle reverse coins from this year are known with both fifteen and sixteen stars on the obverse. These are very rare but not impossible to locate. There are also 1797/5 half eagles with the Large Eagle reverse. These are extremely rare and include two die varieties that are presently unique and housed in the Smithsonian.

Another transitional year occurs in 1798. A small number of half eagles (probably no more than 400-500) were made using the Small Eagle reverse. This is a very rare coin today with only seven or eight examples known. The more common 1798 half eagles have the Large Eagle reverse. These are moderately scarce in terms of overall rarity but they can certainly be found with much greater ease than their Small Eagle counterparts from this year.

Yet another transitional year for half eagles occurred in 1807. This is a direct result of a design change. The first issues struck this year had the Heraldic Eagle reverse while the latter issue employed the new Capped Bust obverse and John Reich’s new reverse. Both of these issues are relatively common in all grades up to MS63.

1834 saw another design change in the half eagle denomination and the transitional collector has two issues to focus on: the rare Capped Bust (or “Fat Head”) and the more common Classic Head. The Capped Head is found with two varieties (the Plain 4 and the Crosslet 4) as is the Classic Head. Interestingly, on both design types the Crosslet 4 is significantly rarer.

The next transitional half eagle occurs in 1866 when the San Francisco mint produced coins with and without the motto IN GOD WE TRUST on the reverse. Despite having a much lower mintage, the No Motto coin is actually comparable in overall rarity to the With Motto issue. Both are very rare in the higher AU grades and virtually non-existent in Uncirculated.

The final transitional issue in the half eagle denomination occurred in 1908 when the design changed from the old Liberty Head to Bela Lyon Pratt’s new Indian Head design. Both of these issues are very common and the transitional collector with a virtually unlimited budget could aim as high as MS66.

In the early eagles there is only a single transitional year: 1797. The first 1797 eagles used the Small Eagle reverse. Only 3,615 were struck and around five to six dozen are known. This issue is typically seen in circulated grades and it becomes extremely rare in anything approaching Mint State.

Later in the year, the new Heraldic Eagle design was first used on this denomination. Slightly over 10,000 examples were produced and this is a relatively available coin, although it is very rare in grades above MS61 to MS62.

One of my favorite pair of transitional eagles are the two types of 1839. The first, also known as the Type of 1838, is easily distinguished by Liberty’s neck being very curved and ending over the right side of the final star. It is the more common of the two and while relatively available in most circulated grades, it is very scarce in AU55 and better and rare in Uncirculated. The second variety is known as the Type of 1840. On this issue, Liberty’s neck is less curved and it ends well before the final star. It is very scarce in all grades and rare in AU.

In 1866, the San Francisco mint was not informed of the changeover to the With Motto reverse until they had struck 8,500 pieces with no motto. The 1866-S No Motto eagle is a rare coin in all grades today. The With Motto variety is also rare although it is a bit more obtainable in the AU grade range. Both are unknown in Uncirculated.

1907 saw a changeover from the Liberty head design to the new Indian Head design. The transitional collector has some difficult decisions about which coins to include in his collection as three major variations of the Indian Head eagle from 1907 exist: the rare Wire Edge, the very rare Rolled Edge and the common No Motto.

In 1908 there are no less than two transitional Indian Head eagles. The Philadelphia and Denver mints both struck No Motto and With Motto coins. Luckily for transitional collectors, all four of these are relatively common except in Gem Uncirculated. The 1908-D No Motto is the rarest of the four and this issue is extremely rare in properly graded MS65.

The United States twenty dollar gold coinage contains more interesting transitional coins for the specialist. The first of these is the 1866-S No Motto and With Motto. The former is a very scarce coin in all grades and it remains unknown in Uncirculated. The latter is fairly common in circulated grades and scarce in Uncirculated with nearly all of the two to three dozen known in Uncirculated grading MS60 to MS61.

The termination of the Liberty Head design in 1907 meant that an interesting group of transitional coins from this year are available. The 1907 Liberty Head issues were produced at the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco mints and all three are common in grades up to MS63. The 1907-S is very rare and underrated in Gem Uncirculated.

Augustus St. Gaudens’ redesign of the double eagle was introduced in 1907. Most transitional collections would include one High Relief from this year as well as a 1907 No Motto. Both issues are readily available in Uncirculated grades and the latter is abundant even in MS65 to MS66.

To assemble a complete set of the various Transitional coins that I discussed above would be an amazing accomplishment, given the rarity and prohibitive cost of many of the issues. That said, I think this would be a great set that would be a fun challenge for the collector who is up to it.

12 Undervalued United States Gold Coin Collecting Areas Priced Below $2,500

Sure, every gold coin collector would love to have an unlimited budget. But few do. Is it possible to be an individual of average or slightly above-average means and still be a collector of U.S. gold? I contend that the answer is a resounding "yes" and I'd like to suggest a dozen collecting areas that are priced at $2,500 or less. My basic parameters are that each is undervalued, interesting to collect and they can be found with some patience. Instead of focusing on specific issues (which, for the collector, can be like finding a needle in a haystack) I'm going to be a bit more general and focus on small groups or subsets of coins. Not every date within this group may be of interest to the collector (or fall within the parameters of affordability that we have established) but enough will qualify to make them worthy of serious consideration.

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