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.
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.
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.
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.
In my opinion, the 1826 is one of the rarest and most underrated early quarter eagles. Most every “fact” that is traditionally associated with this issue is incorrect. I recently purchased a lovely PCGS AU55 example (see the photo below) from the Bowers and Merena Baltimore auction acting as an agent for a collector who is attempting to put together a high quality date set of early quarter eagles. It had been quite a while since I had owned a nice 1826 quarter eagle and this inspired me to gather some facts about this issue.
For many years, the 1826 quarter eagle has been called an “1826/5” overdate. This is clearly wrong and there is a very easy way to prove this. The 1825 obverse die employs large stars while the stars on the 1826 are far smaller. In addition, there is no evidence of an overdate when the date is examined with light magnification. I believe there is either some minor recutting or a small die defect. This issue should more properly be called an 1826/6.
The mintage figure has long been reported to be just 760 coins. Given the fact that around thirty or so exist, I feel that this figure is incorrect. It is probable that some of the quarter eagles struck in early 1827 were dated 1826. The actual mintage figure is more likely in the area of 1,250-1,500; possibly as many as 1,750.
One thing that is certain about this date is its rarity. It is the third rarest early quarter struck after 1797, trailing only the extremely rare 1804 13 Stars and the 1834 No Motto. As I stated above, there are an estimated thirty pieces known. Most are in the lower AU grades, indicating that this issue did not see much actual circulation. I am aware of two or three Uncirculated pieces and none of these, with the possible exception of one coin, appears to be finer than MS61.
The finest known 1826 quarter eagle is in the Harry Bass core collection at the American Numismatic Association. It has an incredible pedigree (Garrett 2: 746, ex Appleton, Mickley) and it sold for $75,000 back in 1980 which remains an auction record for this issue. I estimate this coin’s grade to be at least in the MS61 to MS62 range. The second highest price that I am aware of is $69,000 for a PCGS AU58 sold by Stack’s in their November 2008 auction.
I have personally handled one Uncirculated example, a PCGS MS61 that I sold to a specialized early gold collector around three or four years ago. In all, PCGS has graded fifteen 1826 quarter eagles including three in Uncirculated (an MS60 and two in MS61). NGC has only graded seven in all including six in AU58. It is very likely that this includes a number of resubmissions.
To put the rarity of this issue in better perspective, the 1826 quarter eagle is a considerably scarcer coin than the 1796 No Stars or the 1808. It is clearly not a more valuable coin as both the 1796 and the 1808 are distinctive one-year types that are very desirable as such. The 1826 is clearly the rarest of the five Capped Bust Large Size quarter eagles produced between 1821 and 1827. But, the type collector is likely to select one of the more available dates (like the 1825) which means that the 1826 will probably remain undervalued for the foreseeable future.
As you no doubt know, I am pretty obsessive when it comes to "original" gold coins. I like coins that have an appearance that suggests that they haven't been fooled with. I recently bought and sold an early gold coin that, in my opinion, was the epitome of an original piece and I'd like to share a photo and some descriptive information. The coin in question was an 1814/3 half eagle graded MS62 by NGC and later approved by CAC.
There are a few things about the color of this coin that are a give-away for its originality. The first is the glow that this particular hue of coppery-orange shows. It is the result of over a century's worth of toning and mellowing of the surfaces. This sort of color just can't be reproduced by artificial means. When chemicals are applied to gold coins in an attempt to recapture a reddish-orange hue, the result is usually a shade that I refer to as "Cheeto Orange." In other words, the orange is just too intense to look real and there is no gradiation or seperation of the hues.
You may also note that the coloration is different in hue in terms of configuration and intensity on the obverse and reverse. On this early half eagle, there are areas in the obverse fields that are dark and somewhat discolored. I'm not exactly certain what caused this but if I had to guess it would be contact with another source like a coin album or some other sort of sulphur-impregated display. Most recolored coins look similar on the obverse and reverse.
Another thing that I have noticed on original early gold coins is that the color seems to become deeper towards the edges. This isn't always the case but this color scheme is hard to reproduce and many of the coin doctors who play with early gold are not sophisticated enough to know that this is the sort of color that develops of a long period of storage in an album. If you pay particular attention to the reverse of this coin, you will note that the golden-orange hue at the center changes to a deeper reddish-orange at the border. If you experienced at looking at early gold you will recognize this pattern as being "right."
Note as well the underlying surfaces on both sides. There is a good deal of luster and the luster still exists in a circular pattern. When a coin has been cleaned, the luster is generally broken and the natural cartwheel that is found on unadulterated coins disipates. When this 1814/3 half eagles is rotated, the luster swirls and it does not "break up" like it would on a coin that has been cleaned and later recolored. A good giveaway for artificial color is when there is a splotch of deep color in a specific area on the surfaces. This is often applied in an attempt to hide a problem in this specific area.
How unusual is it to find an early gold coin with color like this 1814/3 half eagle? Obviously if this were an everyday experience, I would not be writing a blog about it and showing the image of the coin as a textbook illustration for originality. There are an estimated 100-125 known examples of this date and if I had to guess, I'd say there are maybe ten known that fit my standards of "originality." The number of coins with the degree of eye appeal that this shows is another story and I'd be surprised if more than two or three existed.
For many collectors, the decision to focus on early United States gold coins is an easy one. These are some of the rarest, most historic and aesthetically appealing pieces ever produced by the United States mint. Once the decision has been reached to begin a collection of these coins, how do you start? This article seeks to focus on the steps required to begin an early gold collection, offers some suggestions on how to collect these coins and charts a course to help new collectors avoid some of the common mistakes that are often made with early purchases. The term “early gold” refers to those issues struck between 1796 and 1834. There are three denominations: the quarter eagle, half eagle and eagle. Breaking these down further, the following types are known:
Quarter Eagles: Capped Bust Right (1796-1807), Capped Bust Left Large Size (1808), Capped Head Left Large Size (1821-1827), Capped Head Left Reduced Size (1829-1834). Total of four types.
Half Eagles: Capped Bust Right Small Eagle (1795-1798), Capped Bust Right Heraldic Eagle (1795-1807), Capped Bust Left (1807-1812), Capped Head Left Large Size (1813-1829), Capped Head Left Reduced Size (1829-1834). Total of five types.
Eagles: Capped Bust Right Small Eagle (1795-1797), Capped Bust Right Heraldic eagle (1797-1804). Total of two types.
In all, there are a total of eleven major types of early United States gold.
Before we discuss suggestions on ways to collect early gold, there are a few important points that I would like to address.
The first is, not surprisingly, budget. Collecting early gold is not for the collector on a shoestring numismatic budget. Just about any decent quality early gold coin is going to cost in the $7,500-12,500 range. Many of the types listed above start at around $25,000 and quickly shoot upwards. If you are not able (or comfortable) spending this sort of money, than early gold is probably not for you.
The second is quality. As someone who has looked at a lot of early gold, I can tell you that only a small percentage of surviving coins are choice and original. I think it is hugely important to assemble an early gold collection that is oriented towards coins with choice, original surfaces. This is not always going to be possible. There are certain individual rare dates that are virtually impossible to locate with original surfaces and other very expensive issues that the collector may have to compromise his standards. That said, it is my belief that an early gold collection with a small number of lovely original pieces is more inherently desirable than a large collection full of mediocrity. This is one area where CAC certification is important as CAC- approved early gold coins tend to be well above average for the grade and, in most cases, represent what I would consider to be collector quality.
One last thing to mention is the “reality factor” of your collection. As I mentioned above, collecting early gold is not for the faint of heart. These coins are expensive and if you are collecting by date or by series, once you buy the “easy” issues, you’ll have to step up to the plate for some serious wallet busters. If you are not a patient, meticulous collector you won’t have the right mindset for early gold. Even a collector with an unlimited budget is going to have to wait a few years to find a very rare issue like a 1797 Small Eagle half eagle and if the collector is picky, the wait could be three, four or even five years. Collecting early gold is not like Peace Dollars where you can race willy-nilly through a set in thirty days; even if you have an ultra-aggressive dealer helping you through the process. If the thought of working on a challenging set for ten+ years gives you the Numismatic Willies, then stop reading here!
Now that we’ve gotten the warnings out of the way, let’s look at some suggested ways to collect early gold. I’m going to make a few suggestions and list the pros and cons for each.
1. Collecting By Type: For many collectors, the best way to collect early gold is to acquire one nice example of each of the major eleven types. Clearly, the stoppers here are the 1808 Capped Bust Left quarter eagle and the 1829-1834 Capped Head Left half eagle. The former is a one-year type with an original mintage of just 2,710 and a surviving population that is estimated to be in the area of 125-150 coins. Compounding this situation is the fact that attractive comparatively “affordable” examples are very rare and the few that do exist do not trade frequently. The Capped Head half eagles struck from 1829 to 1834 are rare not because of low mintages but due to wholesale melting in 1834 after the weight of gold coins was reduced. All six of the half eagles that feature this design are rare and most of the coins that exist are in comparatively high grades.
The other types in this set are fairly easy to acquire. The set can, of course, be made considerably more difficult to complete if the collector is seeking very high grade coins. But most of these types are comparatively affordable in the lower Uncirculated grades and most are within the reach of collectors of average means in circulated grades.
PROS: It is exciting to think that every coin in this set is different in design. There are only eleven coins and this makes it a realistic project for many collectors. Most of the types are available in higher grades.
CONS: Type collectors may not study early gold in enough depth to become experts. Collectors will have to purchase an 1808 quarter eagle which is an issue that some experts feel is overvalued.
2. Collecting By Denomination: As mentioned above, there are just three denominations of early gold: quarter eagles, half eagles and eagle. Many collectors decide to collect a specific denomination. There are pros and cons for each. For some collectors, the quarter eagles are too small and they prefer a larger, heftier coin. For nearly all collectors, the half eagles are extremely challenging as there are a number of extremely rare and expensive coins and at least one issue (the 1822) is unlikely to become available in our lifetime. The eagle denomination is short-lived but it contains a total of fourteen distinct issues produced from 1795 to 1804.
An early gold set that specializes in a specific denomination is generally focused on quality. It can prove difficult to be consistent with grades in such a set due to the rarity of many individual coins. As an example, in an eagle set most collectors will be able to purchase a 1799 in Uncirculated. But the rare 1798/7 issues are not only very expensive in Uncirculated, they are exceedingly rare. My advice when specializing in a specific denomination is to stretch on the key issues and not to overdo it on the more common dates. In other words, buy the nicest possible 1798/7 but don’t go crazy when it comes to the 1799 or 1801.
PROS: Focusing on a specific denomination allows a collector to become very well-acquainted with an area of the market and this will allow him to become a more informed buyer of coins. Most of the early gold denominations include a number of different types so this collection will have a good deal of variety over the course of time.
CONS: Collecting by denomination can prove to be very costly due to the extreme rarity of many early gold coins.
3. Collecting by Date: Perhaps the most ambitious way to collect early gold is to choose a denomination (or denominations) and to assemble a set that includes one example of each date that was produced. Depending on the resources and ambitions of the collector, this can include prominent varieties for each year as well (such as a Pointed 6 and Knobbed 6 half eagle from 1806).
I just mentioned that resources are a key when it comes to a date collection of early gold. This is especially true for the half eagle; a denomination that includes a host of coins that will run in the six figure range. However, what is interesting about this denomination is that if the collector pretends that the impossibly rare 1822 “doesn’t exist,” this set is actually completable. It isn’t easily completable, mind you, but it can be completed by the collector with lots of money and lots of patience. The other two denominations are easier to finish. The quarter eagle denomination has some rare individual issues but nothing that is impossible. The eagle denomination could even be completed in a reasonably short period (less than a year) if the collector gets lucky and finds the two rare 1798/7 issues.
PROS: A date set is a great way to carefully assemble a well-matched set. I believe that a complete or virtually complete date collection would gain value as a set and it could be well-marketed by a dealer or an auction house.
CONS: There really aren’t any cons except if the collector gives himself an incompletable project. If you are set on completing a date run of half eagles from the 1820’s and 1830’s you need to be wealthy and patient.
4. Exotic Collecting: There are some other ways to collect early gold that are a bit more on the “exotic” side. Some suggestions include a first/year last year set, an 18th century set, a pedigree set and a best-available-coin set. Here are brief descriptions of each.
A first year/last year set has coins made in the first and last years of each denomination and/or type. As an example, a first year/last year date set for quarter eagles would have a 1796 No Stars and an 1834. This could be expanded and it could include a 1796 With Stars and an 1807 to represent the first and last issues of the Stars Obverse type of 1796-1807.
An 18th century set would, obviously, focus on those issues produced prior to 1800. It might include a number of denominations and not be limited to just quarter eagles or half eagles.
A pedigree set would focus on early gold coins with important pedigrees. It might include coins from famous early gold collections sold within the last few decades (Eliasberg, Bass, Norweb, Ed Price, etc) or it might have coins that, through plate matching, can be shown to be from famous older collections from the 1950’s and earlier.
A best-available-coin-set is a group of coins that the collector buys just because he likes them. It might feature an assortment of early gold chosen for their originality or for their outstanding coloration.
PROS: These exotic sets are fun because they are unique to a specific collector. The parameters behind assembling them are not as rigorous as for some of the more clearly defined sets described above.
CONS: Don’t make a set so exotic that you are the only person that “gets” it. Run your idea(s) by your dealer and see what they think.
Collecting early gold is one of the really great areas in American numismatics. I would love to help you assemble a great set of early gold and have lots of experience in this area. For more information please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s been a longstanding tradition of mine to write a What’s Hot/What’s Not blog a few times a year. The last time I did this was, I believe, around the beginning of 2009. A lot has changed since then and, as we head into the summer, I’d like to share my thoughts about the coin market in general and United States gold coins to be more specific. In the past, it was always very easy to discuss those areas of the market that were “hot.” But with the current economic situation, it probably makes more sense to discuss what’s “not in meltdown mode” instead of what’s doing well.
I’ve been pretty surprised at, all things considered, how well the market has held up. When you consider that most people’s 401k plans are down 50-60% since September 2008 and that many people’s homes have lost 50% or so in value....the losses that we’ve seen in many parts of the coin market aren’t looking quite that bad.
Let’s take a look at a few specific areas and see how they are holding up and what my forecast is for them in the immediate future. The first is early gold. I would have to say that the early gold market has held up far better than most other areas in the coin market. Prices are down around 10-20% for the most part but demand for early gold remains strong and many early gold coins remain quite liquid. The biggest change I’ve noticed in this area of the market is related to quality. If an early gold coin is very nice (nice enough, in this case, to have received a CAC sticker) it is a reasonably easy sale even in this market. I think this is especially true with coins in the $5,000-20,000 range. The more expensive early gold issues are harder to sell right now, even if they are very nice and/or very exotic.
One area of the early gold market that seems to be experiencing a noticeable price correction is the Capped Bust Right Heraldic Eagle ten dollar gold type. I think this is very understandable when you consider that these coins got very pricey in the past few years and that many of the ones in third-party holders are just awful.
I’d have to call the Charlotte and Dahlonega market pretty spotty right now. In their February Long Beach sale, Heritage had a massive amount of C+D gold coins and many prices were very cheap. But unless you really understand the market (and saw the coins in the sale) it is hard to make bold declarations. My take on the C+D market is that there are a lot of truly wretched coins on the market right now and the bottom feeders are either out of money or able to buy the schlock so cheaply that they are dragging prices down for the decent coins. As far as really nice (or really rare) C+D gold goes, this is an entirely different market altogether. Coins like 1855-D gold dollars or 1856-D quarter eagles in wholesome Extremely Fine and better grades are doing just fine and I’m not sure they’ve dropped in value at all since September 2008.
Proof gold is another area that has clearly dropped but I’m not really certain exactly how much. It is clear that the not interesting, bright-n-shiny pieces are off at least 20% or in some cases even more. But it is hard to figure out what really nice Proof gold is worth right now since so little of it has sold in the past six months. My guess is that a high quality, low mintage issue from the 1860’s or 1870’s would bring around 10-15% less than it might of a year ago. The areas that seem hardest hit by the current Numismatic Malaise include Matte Proofs and smaller denomination Proofs from the late 19th century.
20th century gold has been hit harder by the economic downturn than 19th century gold. Expensive coins in the Indian Head series (quarter eagles, half eagles and eagles) are clearly weak. These areas were actually slumping even before September 2008 and for a variety of reasons. The Indian Head quarter eagle series had its major market maker pull way back with purchases, causing a significant drop in demand. Better date Indian Head half eagles and eagles have always been rather thinly traded and, as been the case for as long as I can remember, by happenstance both happened to be at low ebbs in their typical up and down flow. Saints had been very active until early 2007 but the market slowed down after a number of major collectors either sold their coins or cut back on their purchases. Ironically, the generic issues in these four series have been very solid performers in this market.
Two areas that seem to be holding up rather well are New Orleans gold and Type One double eagles. These are markets that are dominated by collectors and there is almost always strong demand for the limited number of choice, interesting coins that are offered for sale. I am noting a softening in the very high end of both of these areas (i.e., issues such as 1866-S No Motto double eagles) but the low to upper-mid price range of both areas seems pretty liquid right now. Coins that are in demand right now include better date New Orleans half eagles and eagles in the EF40 to Uncirculated range, Type One Philadelphia double eagles that are priced in the $2,000-7,000 range and anything in these two areas that is “exotic.” (an example of this would be a No Motto New Orleans eagle in Uncirculated that is one of fewer than four-five known).
From my own personal experience, I am noting a resurgence of interest in the last 45-60 days. I am selling considerably more coins now than I was a few months ago. But, there is a clear difference in the market. Collectors are much more selective than they were before and expensive coins (in my case, $20,000 and above) take longer to sell than they did in the past.
I expect the next few months to be pretty quiet. There are only two significant shows between now and the Summer ANA and at least one (the Baltimore show in June) is likely to have much lower attendance than the other editions of this convention. I think prices will hold firm between now and ANA with occasional spikes up and down that are mostly related to bullion movement.
Douglas Winter Numismatics is proud to announce that we have been chosen to sell yet another high quality collection of United States coins. This assemblage, formed by an astute specialist in Texas, is known as the Liberty Cap Collection of early United States coins. It features exactly twenty different coins (plus one early American medal) ranging in value from a few hundred dollars to over $50,000. The collection is being imaged and cataloged by DWN and is expected to be posted on the www.raregoldcoins.com website around November 18, 2008. The collection is known as the Liberty Cap Collection because of the fact that a number of the coins have designs that feature a prominent Liberty Cap. Examples of coins in this collection with a prominent Liberty Cap design include a rare 1783 Libertas Americana medal in Copper (Betts-615) graded MS62 by NGC, an 1836 Pattern Gold Dollar (Judd-67) graded PR66 Ultra Cameo and an extensive date run of branch mint Classic Head quarter eagles and half eagles.
There are many highlights in this collection but I’d like to focus on three that I think are especially worthy of attention. Please note that full descriptions and images of each will be available on my website within a few days.
1838-C Half Eagle, Graded MS60 by NGC. The 1838-C is the most historically significant half eagle from the Charlotte mint. It is the only Classic Head design for this denomination and it is the very first half eagle produced in Charlotte. It is not really a rarity from the standpoint of total known but it is very rare in the higher AU grades and excessively rare in Uncirculated. Only two or three are known in Uncirculated. The finest is the superb PCGS/NGC MS63 example formerly in the Bass collection and now owned by the Pogue family. The second finest known was the NGC MS62 coin formerly owned by Paul Dingler but this coin was improperly cleaned and is no longer in a Mint State holder. This leaves two 1838-C half eagles in Uncirculated holders: an NGC MS61 that I have never seen in person and the NGC MS60 in the Liberty Cap collection.
In addition to this impressive rarity, the collection also contains a choice, original NGC MS62 example of the rare but slightly less well-known one-year type: the 1839-C half eagle.
1824/1 Quarter Eagle, Graded MS62 by PCGS. The Capped Head Left quarter eagle type was made from just 1821 to 1827. Only five single issues are known and each is very scarce. The 1824/1 is among the rarest of these with an estimated 60-70 known from the original mintage of 2,600. In fact, PCGS has only recorded twenty-one in all grades including a single example in MS61 and just three better. The finest known business strike is a single MS64 at PCGS and it is unlikely that more than ten or so exist in the various Uncirculated grades. The coin in this collection is probably within the tail end of the Condition Census and it is one of the best that I have seen with excellent color, surfaces and luster.
I have long been an advocate of the early quarter eagles as I think they represent exceptional value in the arena of early United States gold coinage. The owner of the Liberty Cap collection agreed with me and purchased some exceptional pieces in his years of collecting. Also included in the collection (and available for sale) are an 1831 in NGC MS60, an 1832 in NGC AU58 and a choice NGC AU58 1833.
There aren’t many silver coins in this collection (just one that is being sold at the present time) but it’s a doozy: a lovely 1836 Gobrecht Dollar in PCGS PR63.
1836 Gobrecht Dollar Original, Graded PR63 by PCGS. The lovely and enigmatic Gobrecht dollar has been a favorite with collectors for over a century and with good reason. The design is among the most attractive ever created on a United States coin (especially the famous starless obverse of 1836) and the limited number of coins struck has always ensured a strong demand.
After many years of speculation, research has shown just which Gobrecht dollars were made as originals in 1836 and which were restruck. In my opinion, this has made the 400 Originals produced in late 1836 the most desirable of the Gobrecht dollars.
These Originals are easily detectable by the alignment of the dies (the head of Liberty is aligned opposite the O in DOLLAR) and the lack of a die scratch above the top wing on the reverse.
In my experience, Proof 1836 Gobrecht Dollars generally come one of two ways: either dipped-out and Impaired or well-preserved but with funky and/or unappealing coloration. The coin in the Liberty Cap Collection is remarkable in that it is exactly how you’d want a PR63 Gobrecht Dollar to look: fully reflective, attractively (and originally) toned and free of significant numismatic or non-numismatic impairments. The collector who assembled the Liberty Cap collection was extremely picky and particular when it came to acquiring a Gobrecht Dollar and his patience paid off when it came to this lovely piece.
If you’d like more information on the coins in the Liberty Cap Collection, please feel free to call me before the collection is posted on my website around November 18, 2008. I can be reached at (214) 675-9897.
It’s another depressing, rainy day in Portland. What better way to share the love than to touch on some miscellaneous topics which while interesting are probably not “deep” enough to write a full blog on. A friend of mine recently made an interesting observation. In the six years since the final Bass sale, there has been any number of great specialized gold coin collections offered for sale at auction. This includes but is not limited to the Duke’s Creek collection of Dahlonega gold, the Old West and Morgan collections of Carson City gold, the Kutasi collection of Indian Head gold, the Lang collection of Carson City gold, etc. But in this time period, there have been no great specialized collections of early gold coinage, particularly quarter eagles and half eagles (specifically from 1813 to 1834).
Clearly, these coins are popular. And they have doubled or tripled in price in the past six years so you’d think that the new price levels would have brought a collection or two on the market. So where are these coins? If you look through most typical auctions these days you might find decent examples of the 1813, 1814, 1818 and 1820 half eagles. But where are the rarer dates?
I’m not certain that I know the answer but my guess is that a) these coins are rare enough that even if a relative “flood” were to come on the market you’d still only be talking about two or three examples of dates like an 1827 quarter eagle or an 1826 half eagle every year and b) the collectors who own coins like this tend to be deep-pocketed and the sort of people who once they buy a nice quality 1827 quarter eagle or 1826 half eagle keep it in their collection indefinitely with no intention to sell it. Option C, which I subscribe to a bit less, is that there are really no “collections” or coins like this in the first place, given their rarity and the high price per coin that collecting these series entails.
In the past month I’ve had no less than four or five clients mention to me that they really dislike NGC holders, particularly when it comes to small-sized coins. Before I start in on this point, let me make myself clear as I realize what I just said is a bit ambiguous and it could be misinterpreted. These people were commenting on the aesthetics of the NGC holder itself and not on the ability of NGC to grade coins.
After carefully looking at a few of the gold dollars and quarter eagles in my inventory which are in NGC holders, I think I can see their point. Small sized coins don’t look good in NGC holders. The coins look jammed into their openings and the rims are often lost. Many pieces wind up tilted at a rakish angle because they don’t fit properly. My suggestion to NGC would be to enlarge the openings for smaller coins. In PCGS holders, these coins appear to “float” and look more spacious because of the fact they are placed in a membrane which gives them more space.
I’m sure that NGC has more important items on their plate but when a number of sophisticated collectors all complain to me about their dislike for these holders (and voice their complaints completely independently of one another) it makes me think that NGC might have a big problem with small coins (sorry, couldn’t resist that pun…)
I recently read in a numismatic book dealers catalog (of all places…) that it was time to retire the auction catalog and have all coin auction catalogs appear on-line or on CD’s. While this sounds like a great theory in practice and it makes me feel all Jetsons-like to think that I could live my coin life paper-free, I do not agree with this idea.
There are two reasons that I like auction catalogs. The first is their tangibility. I may be showing my age here but I’m the sort of person who likes spending an hour every morning reading actual newspapers and not waking up with my cups of joe and the New York Times online. There is something visceral about having a newspaper in my hands that gives me pleasure. The same is true with a coin auction catalog.
The other reason I like the auction catalog format is that I can make notes in a paper catalog when I view the coins. If I’m perusing the latest Heritage or Stack’s sale online, I can’t make notes unless I print out pages. And if I have to resort to doing this, why not just have a catalog?
One thing I would suggest to the auction firms is to give their bidders a chance to custom design their catalogs. Customization is a huge new trend in retailing and it allows someone, as an example, to design a pair of Nike sneakers online according to their personal specifications. I would personally prefer that I get a Heritage catalog in the mail that contained only the series which interest me. This would reduce the bulk of the typical catalog and it would make me feel a bit more “green” knowing that I saved a few hundreds pages of paper every month. Given the technology which is ready available in the area of printing and customization, I would suggest that specialized catalogs are something that could be done easily and cheaply.