Why Does the 1861-C Half Eagle Get No Love?

Why Does the 1861-C Half Eagle Get No Love?

I recently sold a nice PCGS/CAC AU55 1861-C half eagle and it made me think: why is the 1861-C less than one-third the price of the 1861-D in higher grades and why doesn’t the 1861-C have more of a fuss made over it?

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Are 1870-CC Eagles Undervalued in Comparison to their Double Eagle Counterparts?

Without a lot of fanfare, we have seen the dispersal of one of the most amazing collecting of Western branch mint gold coins in the history of numismatics. So far in 2014, the various sales of the Bently/Nob Hill Collection(s) of US Gold Coinage has seen no less than six examples each of the rare 1870-CC eagle and double eagle with the promise of more to come.

The sale of this quantity of 1870-CC eagles and double eagles has made me reconsider the rarity and price structure of both issues. It has not only allowed me to get an excellent idea of exact valuations for both issues in a variety of grades, it has led me to ask an important question: is the 1870-CC eagle undervalued in comparison to its double eagle counterpart?

Before I attempt to answer this question, let’s take a quick look at both issues.

A total of 5,908 1870-CC eagles were struck. This is the rarest Carson City eagle (although the 1879-CC makes a strong claim to the rarest coin in the series) and there are an estimated 50-60 pieces known with most in the VG-VF range.

There were 3,789 1870-CC double eagles struck. It is the rarest CC gold coin of any denomination and I feel that there are 35-45 known in all grades; mostly in the VF-EF range.

Let’s look at the current PCGS population figures for each issue:

$10.00 G-VF : 23; EF: 18; AU: 10; UNC: 0; Total: 51

$20.00 G-VF : 6; EF: 22; AU: 5; UNC: 0; Total: 33

These numbers tell us a few things. First, as expected, the 1870-CC double eagle is around twice as rare as its counterpart the 1870-CC. Interestingly, the eagle is seen more often in lower grades (the average example grades VF) while the average grade for the double eagle is EF. Both issues are extremely rare in properly grade AU and are unknown in anything close to Mint State.

We might make the quick conclusion that based on rarity alone, the 1870-CC double eagle should be worth around 2x what an 1870-CC eagle is worth in VF, EF and AU grades.

Based on the sales of so many 1870-CC eagles and double eagles in 2014, I’d suggest the following valuations for each denomination:

1870-CC $10.00 PCGS EF45

$10.00

  • VF: $25,000-40,000 (depends on grade/grading service)
  • EF40: NGC $40,000-45,000; PCGS $45,000-50,000
  • EF45: NGC $45,000-50,000; PCGS $50,000-55,000
  • AU50: NGC $60,000-65,000; PCGS $70,000-75,000
  • AU55: NGC $125,000-135,000; PCGS $150,000-175,000

1870-CC $20.00 PCGS EF45

$20.00

  • VF: $175,000-225,000 (depends on grade/grading service)
  • EF40: NGC $235,000-250,000; PCGS $250,000-265,000
  • EF45: NGC $260,000-280,000; PCGS $275,000-290,000
  • AU50: NGC $285,000-295,000; PCGS $310,000-330,000
  • AU55: NGC $325,000-350,000; PCGS $400,000-425,000

Assuming that the price structure for the 1870-CC double eagle is “correct” (and I think it is, based on the number of coins which have sold over the last few years), why is the 1870-CC eagle not priced at around half the level of its counterpart?

I think there are a few answers to this. The 1870-CC double eagle is a more famous coin with a lower mintage. It is larger in size and it is part of a set (Carson City double eagles) which ranks as among the most avidly collected in all of upper-echelon American numismatics.

Double eagle rarities have multiple levels of demand, and the 1870-CC is a coin that often sells to a collector or investor who might not be a tried and true specialist.

I think we are beginning to see a strong shift in the eagle market and this denomination is now gaining in popularity and price. CC eagles aren’t as popular (yet) as double eagles, but the metrics for these series is clearly changing.

My conclusion is that the 1870-CC eagle is undervalued. If a nice quality EF45 1870-CC double eagle is worth in the $275,000-295,000 range, an 1870-CC eagle at $50,000-55,000 seems substantially undervalued. Given that the 1870-CC eagle in EF is pretty similar in rarity to the 1870-CC double eagle (see the chart above), it is hard to believe that it is worth only 1/5th as much. I can easily see the 1870-CC eagle in EF and AU grades doubling in price in the next five years; I’m not sure I can say the same for the 1870-CC double eagle.

What are your thoughts about the price and rarity of the 1870-CC eagle and double eagle? I would love for you to comment below.

 

Do you buy rare gold coins?

Do you have coins to sell?

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

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

10 Undervalued, Affordable US Gold Coins from the Old West

Everyone likes good value when they buy coins, and more collectors than ever opt to buy coins from the two western branch mints located in Carson City and San Francisco. So why not write an article on said topic? And let’s double your enjoyment, dear reader, by selecting affordable coins in the $2,500-7,500 range; coins which are actually available from time to time, so that this guide is actually usable. In fact, let’s go whole hog crazy and even suggest the best value grades (BVG) for each issue!

And away we go….

1870-S $1.00 PCGS MS62 CAC

1. 1870-S Gold Dollar, MS62 to MS63

The 1870-S gold dollar is a numismatically significant coin as it is the final year in which this denomination was produced at the San Francisco mint. It is a low mintage issue with just 3,000 struck, and the coins which survive are pretty evenly spread out between the AU50 to MS63 range.

In MS62 to MS63, the 1870-S is quite a scarce coin but not an impossible one to find. An MS62 currently is valued in the $4,500-5,500 range, while a properly graded MS63 can be found in the $6,500-7,500 range.

I like this coin for a number of reasons. It is a low mintage issue which is one of just seven gold dollars made at the San Francisco mint. It also has “date appeal” due to the extreme rarity of its Big Brother, the unique 1870-S Three Dollar.

1861-S $2.50 NGC AU55

2. 1861-S Quarter Eagle, AU55 to AU58

Despite its status as a Civil War issue, the 1861-S is an overlooked scarcity in the Liberty Head quarter eagle series. Only 24,000 were struck and the survival rate of this issue is extremely low. There are likely fewer than 100 known today with most in the VF-EF range. Properly graded AU’s are very scarce, and this date becomes really rare in AU55 to AU58. I know of just two or three in Uncirculated, the finest of which is a PCGS MS62+ that I purchased for $25,300 in the Heritage 8/11 auction.

In AU55, an 1861-S quarter eagle will cost between $3,500 and $5,000+, depending on the quality. In AU58, the price range will run from around $6,000 to over $8,000 for a very choice piece.

This date is starting to show some signs of life, but I still feel it is much undervalued, especially in the higher AU grades.

3. 1879-S Quarter Eagle, MS61 to MS62

This date has been a favorite of mine for years and, I must admit, it was an issue that I once hoarded (but no longer do). It is numismatically significant as the last year of issue for quarter eagles from this mint, and it is scarcer than its mintage of 43,500 would suggest. While fairly easy to obtain in circulated grades, this issue is rare in Uncirculated with probably no more than 15 or so known. Despite its rarity, this issue remains affordable.

In MS61, the 1879-S quarter eagle can be purchased for $1,750 to $2,250. I’d actually recommend a potential buyer wait for a nice MS62—which is valued at $2,500 to $3,000—as said coin is likely to be nicer despite its small premium over a 61.

I doubt if this coin is likely to ever be regarded as “collectable” as others in this group of ten. But I am including it as I regard it as one of the best values available from the San Francisco mint.

4. 1855-S Three Dollar, AU50 to AU53

I have written about this date extensively and it remains among my very favorite dates in the Three Dollar series. It is numismatically significant as the first San Francisco issue of this denomination, and it is the rarest collectible Three Dollar piece from this mint. There are an estimated 300-400 known with most in lower grades. For the sake of not climbing above the $7,500/per coin limit we set for coins in this article, I am suggesting collectors focus on AU50 to AU53 examples, although I would suggest that an even higher grade coin would be a great addition to a set.

In AU50, an 1855-S three dollar is worth $4,500-5,500. In AU53, an example will sell for $5,000-6,500.

A quick buying hint or two: most 1855-S three dollars have been dipped or processed and naturally toned, choice pieces with good eye appeal are very scarce. Be patient and if you see the “right” coin don’t be afraid to pay a premium.

5. 1858-S Half Eagle, EF45 to AU50

Collectors are finally getting wise to the rarity—and excellent value—of the San Francisco half eagles. But most of their attention has been focused on the Civil War issues, meaning that certain dates struck before 1861 and after 1865 remain very under-priced. I could list a number of these but am going to focus on just one or two to keep this article a manageable length.

I like the 1858-S both in terms of its overall and high-grade rarity. It is unlikely that more than 50-60 are known from an original mintage of 18,600. This issue saw active use in local commerce and most survivors are in the VF-EF range.

If you can find a nice, original EF45 1858-S half eagle (it will be a challenge, I can promise you that!), it will cost in the area of $2,500 to $3,000. An AU50 will cost $4,000-5,000 and will present even more of a challenge.

A quick FYI: the 1859-S and 1860-S are two other San Francisco half eagles which are almost as tough as the 1858-S and both are affordable—and undervalued—as well.

6. 1881-CC Half Eagle, AU50 to AU53

With few exceptions, all of the 1870’s Carson City half eagles are scarce to rare, and most are out of the price range for coins in this article. The five CC half eagles produced during the 1880’s are more available but will prove challenging to the collector who likes choice, original coins.

The 1881-CC is the rarest post-1870’s half eagle from this mint. There are around 125-150 known in all grades, mostly in the EF40 to AU50 range. This issue is well produced and is known for pleasing color and luster. A nice quality AU50 should be buy-able in the $4,500-5,500 range, while an AU53 will set you back $5,500-6,500.

Buying hint: more and more CC half eagles from this era are being dipped-n-stripped, leaving sophisticated collectors with fewer available nice coins. Don’t be afraid to pay a premium for the “right” coin if you see it.

7. 1855-S Eagle, EF45 to AU50

The San Francisco mint began production of eagles in 1854 and many of the early issues are more available than one might think; at least in circulated grades. An exception to this is the 1855-S of which only 75 or so are known from the original mintage of just 9,000. In higher grades, this date is extremely rare and priced far out of the range which we have set. But rich guys shouldn’t have all the fun, right? You can still afford a nice 1855-S eagle even if the upper end of your coin budget is in the high four figures.

A nice EF45 example of this rare date will cost around $3,500 to $4,500 and enough exist to make this a real possibility for the collector. An AU50 will prove much harder to find and is likely to cost as much as $6,500-8,500 depending on the quality.

Another buying hint: virtually any San Francisco eagle struck prior to 1877 is highly undervalued and if you can locate nice pieces in the $2,500-7,500 range I’d buy them aggressively.

8. 1882-CC Eagle, AU53 to AU55

You need a big coin budget if you want to collect the Carson City eagles from the 1870’s as even the most available dates (1871-CC and 1874-CC) are big bucks in EF45 and above. But the issues from the 1880’s, while not as scarce, are still pretty good value and you can purchase a pretty scarce coin in a pretty impressive grade for not a whole lot of scratch.

My favorite later date CC eagle is the 1882-CC. Only 6,764 were made and this date is extremely hard to find in grades above AU55. An AU53 is currently priced in the $5,000-7,000 range while an AU55 will run $6,500-8,500.

Two other later date CC eagles also worth consideration are the 1883-CC and the 1893-CC; the former in AU53 to AU55 grades and the latter in AU55 to AU58.

9. 1895-S Eagle, MS61 to MS62

You take a risk when you buy post-1877 San Francisco gold coins as many were shipped to Europe or South America and are still being repatriated. I would be cautious of coins like the 1895-S but I think nice MS61’s are probably safe, given their current affordability.

Along with the 1894-S, the 1895-S is the key date in the later San Francisco Liberty Head eagles. It is pretty easy to locate in AU55 and AU58, but it is scarce in properly graded MS61, and very rare in MS62 and above. MS61 examples currently sell in the $2,500-3,500 range and given the fact that they have a PCGS population of just six in this grade with seven higher, they seem like great value. An MS62, if you can find one, will cost $5,500-7,500.

Remember, hoards of this date are a possibility so don’t spend your life savings cornering the market on Uncirculated 1895-S eagles.

1884-CC $20.00 NGC AU58 CAC

10. Common Date Carson City Double Eagles, Gem AU58

No area of the U.S. gold market has been more active in recent years than Carson City double eagles. We’ve seen dramatic price increases, especially for common dates in EF and AU grades. I can’t call any CC double eagle “undervalued” at current levels but I think “gem sliders” are the best value in this market.

Before I go further, let me explain what a “gem slider” is. It is a coin graded AU58 that is really choice with nearly no visible luster breaks, clean surfaces and pleasing natural color. Only a small percentage of coins graded AU58 by the services are “gems” for the grade.

Let’s look at a specific issue: the 1884-CC. It is common enough in circulated grades but it is becoming hard to locate in properly graded AU58. A gem slider coin in a 58 holder is currently worth around $7,500. Compare this to an average quality MS61 1884-CC which would easily bring $15,000-16,000 in the current market. Which seems like better value to you?

If you are going to play in the CC double eagle market, I suggest you look at really nice AU58’s (or even top quality AU55’s) as these represent the best value in a series in which your $2,500 to $7,500 per coin budget might no longer go as far as it once did.

 

This list could have easily been twenty or even thirty coins. Which issues did I leave off which you like? Please feel free to add your comments below.

 

Do you buy rare gold coins?

Do you have coins to sell?

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

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

The Best Values in Todays Rare Coin Market

There are many issues that face collectors in the coin market of 2010. A lack of quality coins is driving many collectors to seek new areas of specialization. Both PCGS and NGC have recently added “plus” grades which will no doubt change certain areas of the market as well. More than ever, collectors are gravitating towards areas that offer value. The days of new collectors and uninformed wealthy investors arbitrarily throwing money at plastic rarities are over and we appear to be back to a collector-oriented market. So what are some of the areas in this new market that offer the best value to collectors? I have chosen three price ranges ($1,000-5,000; $5,000-10,000 and $10,000 and up) and included some of the series and/or types that I feel are especially good values. Some are currently popular; some are not. What I have tried to focus on are coins that are actually available in some quantity and issues that I gladly buy to put into my own inventory when they are available.

1. $1,000-5,000

a) Gold Dollars, 1865-1872: The eight year run of gold dollars produced at the Philadelphia mint from 1865 through 1872 doesn’t include any real rarities but nearly all of these coins are scarce and undervalued in MS63 to MS64 grades. Most are priced in the area of $1,500-2,000 in MS63 and $2,000 to $3,000 in MS64 (the 1865 is rarer and more expensive in both grades) and they seem like good value to me. Take the 1872 as an example. Just 3,500 business strikes were made and only a few hundred exist in all grades. In MS64 this coin is worth around $3,000 yet it might take me months to find a decent example in this grade. Yes, gold dollars are small but this is a very collectible series and one with a number of really undervalued issues.

b) Classic Head Quarter Eagles: I’m a big fan of this series in properly graded AU55 to MS62 grades. Note that I stress properly graded as many of the coins that I see are either low end or unappealing due to having been processed. The Philadelphia issues, with the exception of the rare and much undervalued 1839, are affordable in this grade range with pieces valued at $1,750 or so at the lower end and around $5,000 at the higher end. The mintmarked coins are, of course, far more expensive and are not necessarily “good values” although I am an avid buyer of any mintmarked Classic Head quarter eagle in EF40 and better that is choice and original. For collectors at the lower end of this budget range, a nice set of About Uncirculated Classic Head Philadelphia quarter eagles is a fun and challenging endeavor.

c) Three Dollar Gold Pieces: After a few years of collector and investor popularity, this series has recently gone quiet. I don’t necessarily believe that all three dollar gold pieces are good value. In fact, I feel that some formerly undervalued issues are now marginal value at best (primarily due to the fact that many are grossly overgraded and have absolutely no eye appeal). What I do like about this series is that prices are actually down versus where they were five to seven years ago; which is pretty remarkable when one considers that gold has essentially doubled in price since then. Given the lack of collector interest, a new collector can buy PQ quality three dollar gold pieces for a very small premium right now. There are many coins on the market and with some patience, a really nice partial set of Threes could be assembled. The dates I still regard as undervalued include the 1858, 1862, 1864, 1870-72 and the ultra-low mintage issues from the 1880’s.

d) No Motto Half Eagles and Eagles: In the $1,000-5,000 range there are few areas in the United States gold coin market that offer better value than No Motto half eagles from the Philadelphia mint in the higher About Uncirculated grades. As an example, I frequently sell very nice common date AU58 half eagles from the 1840’s for under $750. That might not seem like a big thing until you consider that an ultra common With Motto half eagle in AU58 is worth $350 or so. In the case of the eagles from this era, many of the common date issues from the 1840’s are still available in nice AU58 for less than $1,500. I love the idea of a large size, visually attractive U.S. gold coin that was made well before the Civil War being highly affordable.

e) Crusty Original Charlotte and Dahlonega Quarter Eagles and Half Eagles in Extremely Fine: It will be very interesting to see what percentage of Charlotte and Dahlonega quarter eagles and half eagles receive a “plus” designation from PCGS and NGC in the coming years. If they are strict with their standards I believe that the number could be as low as 10-15% of the total submissions. As someone who is a strong buyer of nice, affordable branch mint gold I can tell you that choice, original pieces with natural color and surfaces have become exceptionally hard to locate. You can still buy nice Extremely Fine Charlotte and Dahlonega quarter eagles and half eagles in EF40 and EF45 for less than $3,000. I think these are wonderful values given their history and rarity.

2. $5,000-10,000

a) Early Half Eagles in Choice, Original About Uncirculated: Given the fact that early half eagles have doubled in price in the last five to seven years, I’m not certain that calling them “undervalued” is the right term. But even at current levels, I like the values that Bust Right (1795-1807) and Bust Left (1807-1812) half eagles offer in the higher AU grades. These are exceptionally historic issues and they are instantly appealing to virtually any new collector or investor who has the resources to afford them. These individuals might not want to assemble a date set of Bust Left half eagles but at $9,000-11,000+ for a high quality About Uncirculated example it is likely that these will become a centerpiece of any new collection. As with the Extremely Fine C+D coins I mentioned above, it will be interesting to see what percentage of early half eagles are given a plus designation by PCGS and NGC.

b) Affordable Uncirculated Dahlonega Half Eagles: If I had to choose the quintessential Dahlonega gold coin for the new collector, I’d select something like an 1847-D or 1853-D half eagle in properly graded MS61 to MS62. These coins are big, rare, attractive and reasonably priced at less than $10,000. What’s even more interesting about coins like this is that they are priced at essentially the same level as they were in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s. Yes, gradeflation has pushed many AU58 coins into MS61 and MS62 holders. But the popularity of Dahlonega half eagles is as high in 2010 as at any point I can remember. If you can locate a few CAC or “plus quality” Dahlonega half eagles in MS61 to MS62 at today’s levels, I’d suggest that you jump on them.

c) No Motto Half Eagles and Eagles in MS62: MS62 is the “sweet spot” for most No Motto gold. The coins in MS60 to MS61 holder are often questionable as to their “newness” but most MS62 gold from this era tends to have a pretty nice overall appearance. What’s most interesting about this grade is its price point. Take, for example, a common No Motto half eagle like the 1847. In MS62 it can be purchased for around $3,000. In MS63, the same issue is going to run at least $6,000. In the eagle series, the price differences are more extreme. An 1847 eagle in MS62 is a $7,500 coin but in MS63, if available, it could cost $20,000 or more. I believe that more collectors will begin to focus on high quality No Motto gold from the 1840’s and 1850’s in the near future and there are still many issues that a $5,000-10,000 per coin budget can secure a piece that is not that far removed from the Condition Census.

d) Type Two Liberty Head Double Eagles: The Type Two series has sort of fallen through the cracks in recent years. Type One double eagles are remarkably popular with collectors and the Type Three series seems to be an area that is a marketer’s delight right now. That has left the Type Two series as a sort of void. There are two areas in this market that I currently like as good values. The first are the scarcer date Philadelphia issues from 1866 to 1872 in About Uncirculated and above. The second are choice, original common dates in MS62 to MS63. The scarce Philadelphia issues have retained most of their value despite not having promoted in the last few years; imagine what an influx of new collectors might do to prices for these coins. Common dates in MS62 and MS63 are scarce and have dropped quite a bit in price from their highs of a few years ago. At $3,500-4,000 for a choice MS62 and $11,000-13,000 for a nice MS63 I like the value that these offer as type coins.

3. $10,000-25,000

1. Capped Head Quarter Eagles: In this price range, it is hard to beat the Capped Head quarter eagles (produced between 1829 and 1834) for value. All of these issues were produced in limited quantity and even the most “common” date (the 1829) has considerably fewer known than the early half eagles and eagles in this price range. After the market highs of 2006 and 2007, prices on Capped Head quarter eagles have dropped around 15-20% but few pieces have been available at the new lower levels. I especially like choice, original examples that grade between AU55 and MS62. In this grade range you are typically getting an aesthetically appealing coin. A nice About Uncirculated pieces will cost in the mid-teens while an MS62 that is properly graded will run in the low to mid 20’s. The “sleeper” date in this series is the 1833 while the 1832 is tougher than many people realize as well.

2. Classic Head Half Eagles in MS63 and MS64. I’ve already mentioned Classic Head quarter eagles in the first part of this article. I also like high grade Classic Head half eagles. In MS63 and MS64 this type is scarce and when these coins are nice they typically have great cosmetic appeal with lovely coloration and surfaces. Classic Head half eagles were made from 1834 to 1838. The commonest issues are the 1834 Plain 4 and the 1835. If you’d like an example of this design for type purposes, you are very likely going to buy an 1834 or an 1835 but the 1836 and 1838 are much scarcer and priced at just a 10-20% premium in the MS63 to MS64 range. Current price levels are around $11,000-12,000 for a nice MS63 and $18,000-20,000 for a nice MS64. Considering that a full Gem MS65, if available, will run around $60,000-65,000+, I think these MS63 and MS64 examples offer really good value.

3. Condition Census No Motto Issues: This area is a pretty narrow focus, I admit, but I think some of the best values in the entire coin market are in the $10,000-25,000+ Condition Census quality No Motto issues. This includes half eagles and eagles produced in the 1839-1866 era. I would throw the quarter eagles from this era into the mix as well. If you can find them, very high grade (in this case MS63 and higher) Philadelphia gold coins from the 1840’s and 1850’s seem like the best values in this area. The coins tend to be very well made, very attractive and genuinely rare in this grade. Given the fact that there are not many date collectors of these coins, they need to be viewed more as type issues. But it is hard to argue with their rarity in high grades, especially due to the fact that most smaller denomination Philadelphia gold coins struck prior to the Civil War are unknown in Gem and excessively rare even in MS64.

The Great Branch Mint Gold Popularity Contest of 2009

I realize that the title of this blog sounds like an outtake from the Dukes of Hazzard but I thought it might be an interesting topic to take each branch mint and analyze it in terms of its popularity. Then, for the icing on the proverbial cake, I thought it would also be interesting to name the five or so most in-demand issues from each mint. Just as an FYI, I am not including Denver among the five branch mints as it is relevant only to 20th century issues and this article is primarily focused on 19th century gold coinage.

1. Dahlonega: At this point in time, I’d have to rank Dahlonega as the single most popular of the branch mints. I am basing this on the following observation. Dahlonega coins, at least for me, seem to be as easy to sell now as they were a few years ago. There are certainly exceptions to this rule; namely overgraded examples priced in the $10,000+ range, high grade common date gold dollars priced at $10,000 and above and virtually any coin in any price or grade range that is not at least fairly original and appealing. But nice, properly graded and fairly priced D mint remains a best-seller for my firm.

I would have to rank half eagles as the most popular coins from Dahlonega right now, followed closely by quarter eagles. The price range that seems most in-demand is $1,500-5,000 but expensive Dahlonega gold will sell if it is a scarce, popular issue or if the coin is very high end. Coins with good pedigrees are popular right now and this is clearly an area in the market where many collectors are searching for CAC-quality coins.

The Five Most Popular Dahlonega Gold Coins in 2009: 1861-D gold dollar, 1854-D three dollar, 1838-D half eagle, 1839-D half eagle, 1861-D half eagle.

2. Carson City: As recently as a year or so ago, I would have placed Carson City as the number-one most popular of the branch mints. I’ve noted a slight slippage in popularity in this mint, especially at the high end. I think the reason for this is that a few of the collectors who were buying the five-figure rarities and condition rarities a few years back are less active. Another thing which has hurt this segment of the market is the number of extremely overgraded higher grade coins that have been floating around from auction to auction for what seems like an eternity. The problem with these coins is that when they do finally sell, they sell cheaply and this drags down the price of nice coins.

Carson City double eagles remain the most popular denomination from this mint, followed by eagles and half eagles in that order. Coins that are attractive and original and priced at $5,000 and under are the quickest movers while expensive Carson City coins, unless they are fresh to the market or really exceptional, tend to be harder to sell right now.

The Five Most Popular Carson City Gold Coins in 2009: 1870-CC half eagle, 1870-CC eagle, 1873-CC eagle, 1870-CC double eagle and any common date or slightly better date double eagle in the AU58 to MS62 range that is choice for the grade and priced below $10,000.

3. New Orleans: There’s no doubt in my mind that New Orleans gold is no longer “up and coming.” It is clearly a very popular segment of the branch mint market and I think there are probably just about as many collectors working on specialized sets of New Orleans gold as there are in any other area of 19th century American gold.

Double eagles were, until recently, the clear favorite among the many gold denominations from New Orleans. I think the popularity of this denomination has faded just a bit in the last year, mostly due to the prohibitively high price of the rarities in the series. That said, these are still the most popular New Orleans gold coins, followed by eagles, half eagles, quarter eagles, three dollars and gold dollars.

There are many New Orleans issues that can still be purchased in relatively high grades (EF and AU) for less than $5,000 and these are increasingly popular. The major rarities from this mint remain in demand, especially in the eagle denomination.

The Five Most Popular New Orleans Gold Coins in 2009: 1839-O quarter eagle, 1841-O eagle, 1883-O eagle, 1856-O double eagle, 1861-O and 1879-O double eagle (tie).

4. Charlotte: In my opinion, demand for most Charlotte gold coins is fairly light right now. There are exceptions to this. Attractive, lower priced half eagles (in the $2,000-4,000) range seem to be selling nicely and very high end half eagles with a great appearance are selling as well. The area that is weak in this end of the market is the bright-n-shiny AU55 to MS62 coins. No surprise, there....

Quite frankly I’m a little perplexed that this area of the market has remained soft for the better part of a decade. There are very few major Charlotte collectors from this part of the country and this was the case even a few years ago when the banking industry was booming in Charlotte. When I released the third edition of my Charlotte book a few years ago this gave a bit of life to the market but it still lacks the overall enthusiasm seen in the Dahlonega market.

The Five Most Popular Charlotte Gold Coins in 2009: 1838-C quarter eagle, 1838-C half eagle, 1839-C half eagle, any very original crusty XF common date half eagle priced below $3,000.

5. San Francisco: Every time I undertake an article like this that ranks the branch mint’s popularity, poor San Francisco always seems to finish last. This doesn’t make total sense to me. The city of San Francisco is by far the most upscale and “art/collectibles-friendly” of the branch mint locales, the coins are interesting and there is some real value for the money within this collecting area.

There are certainly some bright spots in this area. Type Three San Francisco double eagles are very actively collected and many of the Type One and Type Two issues from this mint are still in demand as well. I think two factors have combined to work against this mint in terms of its popularity: the lack of a good standard reference book and the fact that the various shipwrecks found in recent years have scared people away from purchasing high end coins from this mint.

The gold coins from this mint that seem to be in the highest demand right now are 1854-S quarter eagles (a Classic Rarity that has finally been appreciated), choice and rare issues from the Civil War era and better date eagles grading AU50 and above.

The Five Most Popular San Francisco Gold Coins in 2009: 1854-S quarter eagle, 1864-S half eagle, 1864-S eagle, 1854-S double eagle, 1861-S Paquet double eagle.

As you can well see, there is a pretty common theme with each of these mints. In 2009, most of the collectors of branch mint gold are sophisticated and they are back to buying real coins; not just the plastic that houses them. Collectors want coins that are either choice for the grade or rare enough that they know their opportunities to find another will be limited.

Gem Charlotte Half Eagles: The Elite Eight

In my last blog, I wrote about a Gem 1855-C half eagle that I was fortunate to recently handle. A number of readers asked me about some of the other Gem half eagles from this mint and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at each of these. There are a total of eight Charlotte half eagles that have been graded MS65 or better by either PCGS or NGC (or by both services in some cases). Many are very famous coins within the Charlotte gold collecting community. A few are not quite as famous and are not given the full "props" that the others have received in the past. Let's take a quick peek at each of the eight Gem Charlotte half eagles.

1842-C Large Date Graded MS65 by NGC, ex Milas/Eliasberg. This coin has a pedigree dating back to 1920 when John Clapp Jr. purchased it from Elmer Sears. It was later in the Eliasberg collection and it brought $17,600 (a comparably high price) when it was sold at auction in 1982. The coin was later owned by Chicago dealer Ed Milas and was offered in the Stack's May 1995 sale of his superb collection of No Motto half eagles. It is now owned by a North Carolina collector and it has been off the market for close to a decade.

1846-C Graded NS65 by NGC, ex Elrod/Eliasberg. This is one of my all-time favorite Charlotte half eagles. It was purchased by John Clapp Sr. out of the David Wilson sale conducted by S.H. Chapman in March 1907. It was later owned by Louis Eliasberg and it brought a reasonable $13,200 in October 1982. The famous specialist Stanley Elrod then owned the coin and I bought it in the late 1980's/early 1990's when the Elrod collection was being dispersed. I then sold the coin to Paul Dingler and bought it back in 2005. It is now owned by a West Coast collector. Funny story: when I was selling this coin to Paul Dingler, I had a hard time convincing him that this coin was as great as I believed. It turned out that Paul was color-blind and the dark, crusty color that this coin exhibited (at the time) was hard for him to appreciate. He did take my word for it and this 1846-C half eagle became a centerpiece of his fantastic collection.

1847-C Graded MS65 by PCGS, ex: Pittman/Farouk. As far as I know, this is one of only two of the Elite Eight that is currently in a PCGS holder. It has a wonderful pedigree that goes back to the Col. Green collection and it was later in the King Farouk and John Pittman sales. I first saw the coin in the Akers 10/97 Pittman Part One auction where it brought $44,000. It was last sold as Heritage 4/02: 6986 where it brought $47,150. I do not know the current location of this impressive Gem.

1849-C Graded MS66 by NGC. This coin was discovered by Avena Numismatics back around 1997 and was first offered for sale as Bowers and Merena 8/98: 330 where it did not meet its reserve. It finally found a home after appearing in the Bowers and Merena 3/04 auction realizing $70,150. It is clearly the finest known 1849-C half eagle. I am not aware of the current location of this coin.

1852-C Graded MS65 by NGC, ex: Silvertowne Hoard. In 1984 or 1985, a group of five remarkable 1852-C half eagles from a family in Southern Indiana was sold to Silvertowne Numismatics. One of the five (I'm not certain which) was later graded MS65 by NGC after having been graded MS64 by PCGS. Interestingly, the second part of this hoard came on the market in December 2007 when a Florida firm offered them for sale. The 1852-C half eagles from this hoard are notable for their superb original color, great luster and high overall level of eye appeal.

1855-C Graded MS65 by NGC, ex: Elrod. Having just written extensively about this coin, I'd prefer not to be reptetitive and suggest you read my blog dated April 8, 2009 for more information.

1857-C Graded MS65 by NGC, ex Elrod. This coin is from the famous Elrod collection and it was first sold at auction in February 1999 as part of the Heritage William Miller auction where it failed to meet its reserve. It reappeared as Heritage 1/03: 4797, in an NGC MS64 holder, where it sold for $33,350. I saw this coin within the last year in a dealer's inventory.

1859-C Graded MS66 by PCGS, ex Milas/Eliasberg. While not widely-known outside of the specialist community, this incredible coin gets my vote for the single finest Charlotte half eagle in existence. It was purchased by John Clapp, Sr. in 1910 from Elmer Sears and was later in the Eliasberg collection. It sold for just $8,800 in October 1982 and this cheap price can be attributed to the relative unsophistication of the branch mint market at that time. After appearing in a number of auctions in the mid-1980's it wound-up in Ed Milas' set of Gem No Motto half eagles where it sold for $104,500. I haven't seen this coin for many years but I remember it being superb and hope that it has retained its superb original color and luster.

It is remarkable to think that only eight Gem Charlotte half eagles exist, considering that close to 900,000 pieces were struck between 1838 and 1861. The collectors who own any of the Elite Eight have coins that, in my opinion, are truly worthy of the overused designation "world-class."

Scarcity of Branch Mint Issues

When examining surviving populations of branch mint gold coins it is easy to forget just how scarce some of these issues are in higher grades. I’d like to demonstrate a little numismatic “magic trick” and turn 200 into 20 (or less) right in front of your very eyes. Let’s take a random issue and play around with survival numbers. How about the 1848-C quarter eagle?

The 1848-C is a date that doesn’t get much attention. It’s certainly no big deal, rarity-wise, in lower grades but it is scarce in the lower AU grades, very rare in the higher AU grades and exceedingly rare (and overlooked) in Uncirculated.

A total of 16,788 1848-C quarter eagles were produced. As with most Charlotte quarter eagles, it has a survival rate of around 1%-2% of the original mintage figure. I estimate that 150-200 are known, although this figure does not take into account what are probably a number of low grade and/or damaged specimens. Of these 150-200 coins, I estimate that at least 70-100 grade VF or below by my standards (which, by the way are not necessarily the same as NGC’s or PCGS’) and another 56-70 grade EF40 to EF45. All of a sudden the population of higher grade 1848-C quarter eagles has shrunk considerably.

I believe that 22-26 examples of this date are known in the various AU grades. That seems like a reasonably decent number of coins; certainly a large enough pool of coins for the casual collector to choose from, right? This number does not take into account that many of the 22-26 coins have problems. Certainly at least half of these two dozen or so coins have been cleaned, processed or unnaturally brightened. Suddenly, the available population of nice higher grade 1848-C quarter eagles has been reduced to maybe a dozen coins.

But these dozen coins include another potential monkey wrench which might thwart the collector seeking a nice 1848-C quarter eagle. If you read my book on Charlotte quarter eagles, you’ll learn that this issue is notorious for poor strikes and that a number were produced from severely swollen dies which leave the coins looking like a mess. So now these dozen coins might now be reduced down to as few as seven or eight nice, original (or “original-ish”) AND decently struck 1848-C quarter eagles. Assuming that there are at least four or five collectors assembling circulated Charlotte quarter eagle sets by date, this means as few as three or four pieces might become available in, say, a two or three year period. I’d say that qualifies as a pretty rare coin.

These numbers do not apply to all branch mint gold issues. There are certain dates that, for a variety of reasons, have a much higher overall survival rate or because of hoards have a higher percentage of high grade coins among the survivors.

A few examples of branch mint dates that have uncommonly high survival rates include the 1854-D $3.00 (I estimate that as much as 10% of the original mintage figure exists) and the 1838-D $5.00. There are generally pretty obvious reasons why issues like these have higher survival rates than usual. In the case of the 1854-D $3.00 it is because this is a one-year type coin and the novelty factor of a Dahlonega Three Dollar gold piece probably caused a number to be saved as souvenirs by curious locals. The same is probably the case with the 1838-D $5.00. This is a first-year-of-issue and it seems almost certain that a few were saved as curiosities by Dahlonegonians. (By the way, I just made up that word. I wonder if the correct expression isn’t actually Dahlonegites??)

There might also be another reason to consider in regards to high grade rarity for certain branch mint issues. A few dates have had their populations of higher grade pieces swelled by the (possible) existence of hoards. I surmise this to be the case with issues such as the 1857-D and 1858-C quarter eagles and the 1841-D half eagle and know this to be a fact for issues like the 1856-D half eagle.

The bottom line is that many branch mint issues are much, much scarcer in higher grade (say AU55 and above) than their certified populations might suggest. As a rule of thumb, even the “common” issues such as 1849-D gold dollars or 1847-C quarter eagles are far less available in choice AU than one might expect and these issues are certain to get scarcer in the coming years.

The Type Collectors Approach to Branch Mint Gold Coinage

Most branch mint gold collectors focus on a specific mint and then assemble a date set. As an example, a Charlotte collector often decides to specialize in quarter eagles and then attempts to assemble a complete set of twenty issues. This has become more difficult, though, due to the high price of choice coins and the relative unavailability of nice, original affordable medium grade examples. As a result, many date collectors become frustrated and abandon their specialty.

There is a solution to this problem. Collecting coins by type entails acquiring a single representative of a design or variety and supplementing it with other types. There are some variations on this theme which apply well to branch mint gold. These include the following:

I. The Basic Type Set

A basic type set includes a single example of every design that was struck at a specific mint. This will be discussed more specifically below.

II. The Denomination Set

This is one of the simplest and most affordable ways to collect branch mint gold. As an example, a denomination set of Carson City gold would include an example of a half eagle, an eagle and a double eagle.

III. The Decade Set

This set includes an example of a denomination in each decade it was struck. As an example, a decade set of Carson City double eagle would contain three coins: one each from the 1870's, 1880's and the 1890's.

IV. The Year Set

A year set contains an example of each denomination from a specific mint struck during a specific year. An example of this would be an 1878-CC year set which would contain a half eagle, eagle and double eagle from this year.

Let's look at the most popular branch mints (in alphabetical order) and see how these collecting methods apply to them.

A. CARSON CITY GOLD COINS

The prohibitive price of most high grade Carson City gold coins makes them a perfect candidate for type collecting.

A basic type set of Carson City gold coins contains the following four designs:

    With Motto Liberty Head Half Eagle (1870-1893) With Motto Liberty Head Eagle (1870-1893) Type Two Liberty Head Double Eagle (1870-1876) Type Three Liberty Head Double Eagle (1877-1893)

The basic four coin set can be completed for a very reasonable sum if a collector selects common dates in affordable grades. The more affordable coins include the 1891-CC half eagle and eagle, the 1875-CC double eagle and the 1884-CC or 1893-CC double eagle. Or, this could be a small but expensive set if rare dates in high grades are used.

A denomination set of Carson City half eagles consists of just three coins: half eagle, eagle and double eagle. As with the basic type set, this group can be assembled for a reasonable sum or it can be an "over the top" trio with very high grade (in this case, Mint State-63 and Mint State-64) examples of available issues. Another option would be to select rare dates for all three denominations and attempt to purchase them in the best available grade.

Building a decade set of Carson City gold coinage is interesting and challenging. For both the half eagle and eagle denominations, a coin from the 1870's is the most challenging, with the 1880's and 1890's issues progressively easier to obtain in higher grades. A complete nine piece decade set of Carson City gold (containing three half eagles, three eagles and three double eagles) would be a very desirable group.

There are many interesting year set options for the Carson City gold coin collector. The 1870-CC issues are all very rare and are historically important as the first gold issues from this mint. The 1893-CC issues are considerably more affordable but are also interesting as the final Carson City gold coins. Practically speaking, any year set from the 1870's will contain rare but fairly expensive coins while the 1890's issues will be more common but far more affordable. A good alternative is a date from the 1880's. The only years in which all three denominations were produced are 1882 and 1884. Both contain coins that are obtainable in higher grades (in this case up to About Uncirculated-55) but are still reasonably priced.

B. CHARLOTTE GOLD COINS

Charlotte gold coins have many more basic types than their counterparts from Carson City. This makes them an excellent choice to collect in this manner. The basic type set of Charlotte issues consists of the following eight coins:

    Type One Gold Dollar (1849-1853) Type Two Gold Dollar (1855 only) Type Three Gold Dollar (1857 and 1859) Classic Head Quarter Eagle (1838 and 1839) Liberty Head Quarter Eagle (1840-1860) Classic Head Half Eagle (1838 only) Liberty Head Half Eagle, Obverse Mintmark (1839 only) Liberty Head Half Eagle, Reverse Mintmark (1840-1861)

This eight coin set is not hard to assemble as none of the specific types is extremely rare or expensive in average circulated grades. However, this set can become very expensive (and a real challenge) if the collector wants to acquire each coin in as high a grade as possible. A pair of specific issues, the Type Two gold dollar and the Classic Head half eagle, are very rare and expensive in Uncirculated. In fact, I have only seen three or four Uncirculated Type Two Charlotte gold dollars and just two Classic Head half eagles from this mint in over twenty years of specializing in Charlotte coinage.

A three coin denomination set of Charlotte gold coins is an excellent introduction to this mint. If the collector chooses issues such as the 1851-C gold dollar, 1847-C quarter eagle and the 1857-C half eagle he can assemble a set that includes high grade pieces that are quite affordable. Or, he can pick scarcer issues to make this a more numismatically interesting group.

Charlotte coins were struck during four decades: the 1830's, 1840's, 1850's and 1860's. This means, obviously, that a decade set consists of four coins. Since gold dollars were not produced during one of these decades (the 1830's), this four coin decade set would either contain quarter eagles or half eagles; or even a combination of the two.

There were only five years in which the Charlotte mint produced coins from all three denominations: 1849, 1850, 1851, 1852 and 1855. Any one of these years would lend itself well to a challenging three coin year set. The rarity of the quarter eagles struck in each of these years would make this set extremely hard to complete in Uncirculated. A nicely matched About Uncirculated set is a more practical alternative for most collectors.

C. DAHLONEGA GOLD COINS

Dahlonega gold coins are often collected alongside Charlotte issues. As with Charlotte coins, there are a number of interesting Dahlonega types and this makes them another excellent area to collect in one of the following manners. A basic type set of Dahlonega coins consists of the following:

    Type One Gold Dollar (1849-1854) Type Two Gold Dollar (1855 only) Type Three Gold Dollar (1856-1861) Classic Head Quarter Eagle (1839 only) Liberty Head Quarter Eagle (1840-1859) Three Dollar Gold Piece (1854 only) Classic Head Half Eagle (1838 only) Liberty Head Half Eagle Obverse Mintmark (1839 only) Liberty Head Half Eagle Reverse Mintmark (1840-1861)

This nine coin set is quite a bit more expensive to assemble than the Charlotte eight coin set. This is due to the presence of the rare and popular 1854-D Three Dollar Gold Piece. A nice example will cost in the area of $15,000-25,000+ and it is far and away the most expensive single type from any of the Southern branch mints. The collector on a more limited budget might simply elect to not include this coin. The next most difficult issue to obtain in higher grade is the Type Two gold dollar. There are just three Uncirculated examples currently known (all are in tightly-held collections) and even nice About Uncirculated examples are rare and expensive. Figure spending $15,000-25,000 for a well struck, accurately graded About Uncirculated 1855-D gold dollar.

A denomination set of Dahlonega issues includes four coins. As mentioned above, the Three Dollar gold piece is an expensive piece that will constitute a good percentage of the money spent on this set. It is always an option to "forget" that this coin exists and make the denomination set consist of three issues. If a collector wishes to include coins in higher grades In this case About Uncirculated-55 to Mint State-62), he should focus on such relatively available issues as the 1849-D gold dollar, the 1843-D, 1844-D or 1848-D quarter eagles and the 1852-D, 1853-D or 1854-D half eagles.

Assembling a four coin decade set of Dahlonega coins is an interesting approach to collecting issues from this mint. However, if the collector seeks to assemble such a set using only one denomination than he must select half eagles as these were the only coin struck at Dahlonega in the 1830's, 1840's, 1850's and 1860's. This would be a very numismatically interesting set and it could be completed in grades ranging from Very Fine to Mint State-62.

There was only one year in which the Dahlonega mint produced coins in all four denominations: 1854. This would make an extremely interesting year set. The years in which three coins were produced simultaneously are 1849, 1850, 1851, 1852, 1853, 1855, 1856, 1857 and 1859. A few of these years are more practical for the collector on a budget as they do not contain a specific issue that is rare and/or expensive. These "easy" years include 1849, 1850, 1857 and 1859. In the other years, the quarter eagle tends to be the rarest and most expensive coin.

D. NEW ORLEANS GOLD COINS

The New Orleans mint was open for a far greater period of time than Carson City, Charlotte and Dahlonega and more types of gold coins were produced. A basic type set from this mint consists of the following:

    Type One Gold Dollar (1849-1853) Type Two Gold Dollar (1855 only) Classic Head Quarter Eagle (1839 only) Liberty Head Quarter Eagle (1840-1857) Three Dollar Gold Piece (1854 only) Liberty Head Half Eagle Without Motto (1840-1857) Liberty Head Half Eagle With Motto (1892-1894) Indian Head Half Eagle (1909 only) Liberty Head Eagle Without Motto (1841-1860) Liberty Head Eagle With Motto (1879-1906) Type One Liberty Head Double Eagle (1850-1861) Type Three Liberty Head Double Eagle (1879)

This twelve coin set is very interesting in that it contains no less than four one year types. Fortunately, only one of these is rare in any grade (the 1879-O double eagle) and the other three can be obtained in comparably high grades for reasonable prices. The average grade(s) should be higher than for Charlotte or Dahlonega sets due to the affordability of many of the types. In fact, even a collector with a modest budget should be able to purchase About Uncirculated examples of most of the types and Extremely Fine examples of the scarcer issues.

The denomination set from New Orleans is unique among the mints we are discussing as it contains six coins. Unlike the 1854-D Three Dollar Gold Piece, the 1854-O is an affordable issue in most circulated grades. A representative Uncirculated gold dollar, quarter eagle, half eagle and eagle from New Orleans are all very affordable. The most difficult--and expensive--denominations from this mint are the Three Dollar Gold Piece and the Double Eagle. An Uncirculated 1854-O Three Dollar Gold Piece, if available, will cost at least $12,500-15,000 while an Uncirculated New Orleans Double Eagle, most likely an 1851-O or an 1852-O, will cost as much or more than the aforementioned Three Dollar gold piece.

New Orleans gold coins were struck in no less than seven decades: the 1830's, 1840's, 1850's, 1860's, 1870's, 1880's, 1890's and 1900's. This seven coin decade set is reasonably easy to complete. The 1830's must be represented by a Classic Head quarter eagle from 1839 as this was the only gold coin produced at the New Orleans mint during this decade. Luckily, this is a relatively common and inexpensive coin. During the 1860's, coinage was limited to eagles (1860 only) and double eagles (1861). Both of these issues are scarce but are not expensive unless the collector wishes to obtain a coin that approaches the Uncirculated level. In the 1870's, coinage was, again, limited to eagles and double eagles (both in 1879 only). These are both scarce and desirable but nice quality 1879-O eagles and double eagles can be obtained in the $10,000-15,000+ range. In the 1880's, the only denomination struck at the New Orleans mint was the Eagle. The 1888-O is the most affordable of the five Eagles produced during the 1880's.

There was never a single year in which all six denominations produced at the New Orleans mint were struck simultaneously. The closest a collector can come to this is a year set containing five different denominations from New Orleans. The only year this occurred was 1851. Fortunately, none of the 1851-dated New Orleans coins are rare and most are readily obtainable in the higher circulated grades. An ambitious collector with a large budget could even assemble an Uncirculated 1851-O year set as all five denominations exist in Uncirculated grades ranging between Mint State-60 and Mint State-62.

Collecting branch mint gold coins by date is certainly not for everyone and, hopefully, some of the "type-centric" suggestions offered above will be of interest to the new or frustrated advanced collector.