In many series, collectors are slaves to the holder. By this, I mean, they make purchases which aren’t always prudent based on what a PCGS or NGC holder says. This is most prevalent in Registry-oriented 20th century series such as Lincoln Cents and Washington Quarters (amongst others) - series in which a single grading point can inflate the value of a coin by 5, 10 or even 20 times.
This tends not to be the case with classic 19th century gold coins, but every now and then a situation arises in which a coin which is theoretically the highest graded may not be the best purchase for an advanced collector.
A situation involving this scenario emerged at the recent Baltimore Stacks Bowers auction and I’d like to share my thoughts.
Please note that this is not meant to be a negative rant about the following coin, and the buyer of this coin is, no doubt, happy with his or her purchase.
The 1876-S eagle has long been a favorite issue of mine. It has a small mintage of just 5,000 coins, and I think five or six dozen exist, with most in the VF to EF grade range. I have never seen an 1876-S which grades higher than AU53 to AU55, and my best estimate is that there are around six or seven properly graded AU examples known. Until recently it was an unloved and generally undervalued coin.
In the recent Stacks Bowers Baltimore show, a newly graded PCGS AU55 example of this date was offered. In theory, this is the “finest known” example as it is a population one, none finer, coin. It sold for $22,325. I examined the coin and, in my opinion, it was sub-par for the grade. (Had it been a very choice coin for the grade, I think it would have brought closer to $30,000).
While $10 Libs are not a typical Registry Set series, there are a few advanced, deep-pocketed collectors who are specializing in these coins. And the opportunity to acquire a PCGS finest known coin—with the “points” this would add to such a set—is an unusual opportunity to say the least.
But what if a cheaper example of this same date was actually a “better” coin? What if an 1876-S eagle graded AU50 by PCGS were more original, more appealing (in my opinion), and a fraction of the price?
Back in their 2011 ANA auction, Stacks Bowers sold a PCGS AU50 example of an 1876-S eagle. I didn’t buy it even though, in retrospect, I probably should have.
Take a look at this coin:
I think it compares favorably to the PCGS AU55 shown above. It is a bit less “meaty” but it is more original, less “baggy,” and has comparable—if not better—overall eye appeal.
Most intriguingly, it sold for just $6,325 - or around a quarter of what the AU55 brought.
Here is an instance where Registry-mania caused a so-so coin to sell for a lot of money but didn’t have an impact on a nice, slightly lower grade coin because it wasn’t “the finest known.”
Examples like this are becoming more and more prevalent in the area of 19th century United States gold coins.
The moral of the story? Don’t always trust the plastic you buy to equate with the best value in your series. There is no substitute for knowledge and, in many cases, this knowledge will save you money and provide you with a better overall collection.
Do you buy rare gold coins?
Do you have gold coins to sell?
Would you like to have the world’s leading expert working directly with you when assembling a set?
Contact Doug Winter at 214.675.9897 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Around a year ago, I wrote a blog that discussed original 19th century United States gold coins and used photos of specific coins to illustrate the points I was attempting to make. This was one of the most popular blogs to ever appear on www.raregoldcoins.com and I was pleased to get the positive feedback it generated. At the recent FUN show, I was shown two collections of coins. One consisted of around two dozen Charlotte and Dahlonega coins while the other had around 30 early gold coins. All were graded by PCGS or NGC and in both instances the owner prefaced his show-and-tell by informing me that all the coins were sold to him by dealers who stressed their "originality."
Out of the 50 or so coins I looked at, around five were what I would describe as being "original." This made me realize that most collectors do not understand the concept of originality and that it would be a good time to dust off the old "how to tell originality" blog.
1. 1807 Bust Left $5.00 Graded AU55+ by PCGS
To me, this coin is just about the most perfect piece of lightly circulated early gold that you are likely to find. I think its an AU58 instead of an AU55+ but that's just splitting hairs; what can not be denied is this coin's exceptional color and overall originality.
There are a numbers of factors that make me believe that this piece is original. First is the depth and evenness of its color. Note the "age" of the color and how well it blends. Artificial color looks "newer" and never blends as well as old, mellow natural color. Secondly, note how the underlying luster is still undisturbed and in a perfect cartwheel pattern. This is most clear at the obverse border where there is considerable mint luster at the stars. Thirdly, note the absence of hairlines or other imperfections that might have been caused by a prior cleaning.
2. 1852-C $5.00 Graded AU53 by PCGS
I almost decided not to use this coin as an example. Its sort of like going to the gym, choosing the biggest lunkhead you can find and then holding him up as an example of a fit guy to a bunch of scrawny non-lifters. Just not fair, right?
The first sign that this coin is very original is the depth of its coloration. Note the very deep and very even hues that can be seen on the obverse and reverse. Coin doctors are never able to reproduce this deep green-gold hue and most artificial toning on gold tends to be more of a bright orange or slightly off-kilter red hue. Another sign of this coin's originality is the fact that the few marks on the surfaces are not shiny or bright. On artificially toned or processed coins, the chemical agents used to color the coins tend to break down over time and there is often discoloration or brightness within the recesses of the marks on the surfaces.
3. 1856-O $10 Graded AU53 by NGC
This attractive coin has a few things that lead me to believe that it is original. The first is its deep, even green-gold color. Note that the hues are consistent on the obverse and reverse. The second is that there is no "filminess" atop the surfaces that might be caused by it having been puttied. The third is the presence of dirt deposits in the protected areas of the obverse and reverse. Note around a number of the stars and within the reverse lettering: there are raised black dirt "chunks" which would quickly dissolve if this coin were dipped in a chemical solution or even put into a soap and water bath to lighten it.
4. 1833 Large Date $5.00 Graded MS63 by PCGS
The common theme so far in with these coins have been their deep, dark original coloration. But what about coins that are lighter in hue and higher in grade? Can a coin that is not dark still be original? In the case of this 1833 half eagle, a coin that I bought and sold at the 2011 FUN show, it certainly can. One of the first things of note about this coin is the fact that it is an old green label PCGS holder. This, of course, doesn't mean it is a guaranteed original coin. But what it does mean is that it was graded at least 15 or so years ago and nothing was placed on the surfaces by a coin doctor as a chemical or substance would have broken-down by now and become visible.
This coin is bright and vibrant but it isn't too bright or too vibrant. I'm not sure this makes sense to a new collector but long-term collectors will immediately realize the difference between a coin that is naturally bright and one that has been brightened. The luster on this coin is completely undisturbed and, as is typical for half eagles from this era, it has a sort of "pillowy" texture. Also, note that the color is a rich light yellow and green-gold. This is characteristic of original Fat Head eagles and this is something that is not seen much, anymore, on the surviving coins from this era.
5. 1814/3 $5.00 Graded MS62 by NGC
This is a tricky coin and one that would probably cause the greatest amount of dissent if I showed it to a number of experts. As you can see from the photos, it is very richly toned, in fiery reddish-gold hues. Red is often a color on early gold that has been applied. But in the case of this coin, the hue and intensity of the red is "right" and it has, to the best of my knowledge, never been duplicated by coin doctors. You can also see that the color lies nicely on the surfaces and is variegated with a number of different hues. Artificial color is more monochromatic and does not have the subtle gradations that a natural piece like this displays.
A few other facts about this coin are compelling. First, it is interesting to note that I have handled at least three 1814/3 half eagles in Uncirculated that have had reasonably similar intense reddish-based color. Having seen similar colors on other examples makes me even more certain that the color is genuine. And, the coin is housed in a very old NGC "fatty" holder which means that it was graded nearly two decades ago. If this color wasn't real, it wouldn't look so good after two decades in an NGC holder.
6. 1880 $20.00 Graded PR63 by NGC
Brilliant Proof Liberty Head gold coinage is almost never seen anymore. Most examples have been dipped and/or conserved in an attempt to generate higher grades from the third-party services and in order to receive Ultra Cameo designations.
In the 2011 FUN auction, Heritage sold a number of superb quality Proof gold coins from the Miller collection that were notable for having natural coloration. These coins were purchased in the 1970's and 1980's; back when collectors knew what original proof gold looked like and it was appreciated for what it was. This 1880 double eagle was from that sale and collection.
There are a few things that immediately show this coin is original. As simplistic as this sounds, the first is that it isn't blindingly brilliant. Note, instead, how there is rich copper-orange toning which deepens towards the borders. Also, there is a copper spot on the reverse between the two L's in DOLLARS. Proof gold that has been conserved doesn't have these spots. Finally, there is an even natural "haziness" atop the surfaces that exists on original Proof gold. Note that I did not say "filminess" as in "this coin has been puttied and is now filmy."
Hopefully, this blog has been helpful. There is, of course, no substitute for seeing original coins live and in person but in the absence of doing this, these images and descriptions should be a step in the right direction.
As someone who is pretty attuned to the strengths and weaknesses of the rare gold coin market, I can accurately rate how well (or poorly) a specific series is performing. 2010 was an interesting year for gold coins. We saw tremendous price increases in gold bullion but many areas of the coin market were flat. In the first annual DWN Rare Gold Coin Market Heat Index (cue sizzling sound effect...), I am going to discuss the relative position(s) of the most commonly traded areas of the market. This totally non-scientific study is keyed to the following ratings, which go from 1 to 10:
1. This series is so cold you couldn't give the coins away 2-5: This series ranges from ice cold to moderate strength 6-9: This series ranges from strong to very strong 10: This series is en fuego
And without further ado, let's talk hot or cold gold...
I. Gold Dollars There is pretty solid overall collector support for gold dollars. While there do not appear to be many specialists working on complete sets, there are a number of collectors working on focused subsets; i.e., Dahlonega dollars, Civil War issues, etc. I would say that Type One branch mint dollars are probably the strongest overall segement of this market and the weakest is, clearly, high grade non-branch mint Type Two coins.
In the Type Three series, I am noticing some strength in very high quality Philadelphia issues from the 1870's and 1880's. In most cases, the coins that are the strongest are PCGS graded MS67 and better pieces with great eye appeal. The Charlotte and Dahlonega market is very bifurcated. Top quality original pieces in all grades are very strong while overgraded, non-original pieces are hard to sell even at a serious discount.
OVERALL RATING: 5. This denomination is collector-driven and reasonably strong as of the end of 2010. The coins showing the greatest demand include the very rare Dahlonega issues (1855-D, 1856-D and 1861-D), mintmarked Type Two coins in "collector grades" and Finest Known or high Condition Census Type Three issues graded by PCGS and approved by CAC.
II. Quarter Eagles This is perhaps the most mixed denomination in the entire U.S. gold oeuvre as the heat index ranges from borderline frigid to pretty toasty. Early quarter eagles are showing mixed collector support. These coins are still undervalued when compared to other early gold denominations but they are no longer "cheap." Some weak auction results for overgraded 1796 No Stars and 1808 quarter eagles have lowered Trends but nice examples of these two significant dates are still in demand. Collectors of early quarter eagles are looking for value. They want either very rare issues that are underpriced (such as the 1826/5 or the 1834) or coins that are choice and original.
The Classic Head series seems fairly weak right now with the exception of nice EF-AU grade branch mint pieces which are still popular.
The Liberty Head series is beginning to attract more collectors as people come to realize that there are many legitimately scarce coins from the 1840's, 1860's and 1870's available for $5,000 and less. Branch mint coins from this series have a good following. Dahlonega quarter eagles are very popular and easy to sell as long as they are decent quality (or better) for the grade. Charlotte and New Orleans issues are less popular. Unless these coins are very choice and original, they sell for discounts relative to Trends.
The Indian Head series remains cold although it shows more heat than at this time last year. Prices are inching up for certain issues. The key 1911-D still seems overvalued, even at the new lower level(s) that it has adjusted to.
OVERALL RATING: 4 1/2. Without the Indian Head series I would actually have ranked the quarter eagle denomination a 6 but the weakness of these coins (along with softness in the generic MS65/MS66 common date Liberty Head issues from 1898-1907) drag down the overall score by one to one-and-a-half points. The coins showing the greatest demand include the rarities (1841, 1854-S, 1863 and 1875 in higher grades) and the key issues from Dahlonega (especially the 1856-D). Also in demand are nice pre-1834 quarter eagles in AU55 and above that are choice, original and well-made. I'm noticing some subtle demand (demand-in-the making?) for affordable higher quality Philadelphia and San Francisco coins from the 1860's and 1870's. These have gone from ice cold to moderately strong in 2010.
III. Three Dollars
The Three Dollar gold denomination remained one of the least in-demand areas of the rare coin market in 2010. Despite a strong price increase in gold bullion, values for Uncirculated generic Threes dropped and, in the case of MS65 coins, they dropped fairly precipitously. There is some demand for the popular Civil War issues and exotic later date low-mintage issues occassionally breakout of the sell-for-a-discount box that they have resided in for the last few years.
There is a good supply of nice Threes on the market right now (and this is one of the few denominations that this is so) and a contrarian collector with alot of self-confidence could put together an outstanding collection in the next few years. I'm not certain what it will take to jumpstart this series but, at this time, the patient is on life support.
OVERALL RATING: 2. Three Dollar gold pieces are in the doldrums and they don't appear to have more than marginalized support. There are occasional bright spots in this market. Very rare, low mintage Proofs have brought strong prices at their infrequent auction apperances and any PCGS graded, CAC approved finest known branch mint issue has enough collecor support that it would bring a record price if available. Two iconic branch mint issues are showing mixed results. The 1854-O is weak now due to an oversupply of overgraded examples. The 1854-D is actually showing much more strength than a year or two ago and prices have risen for this popular coin in 2010. A Gem 1875, if available, would be in demand as well.
IV. Half Eagles
If I had to predict which U.S. gold coin is poised for the biggest potential gains in the next few years it would be the half eagle. There is alot of value to be had in this denomination (especially in the Liberty Head series) and I wouldn't be surpised to see a few ambitious collectors attempt to make a splash in this area.
Early half eagles are showing good demand, especially in the EF45 to MS62 range. Any pre-1813 half eagle that is graded by PCGS and NGC and is priced below $7,500 has eager buyers, as long as it is reasonably attractive. The 1795 half eagle has renewed demand after having dropped in price since its peak in late 2007/early 2008. Higher grade (MS63 and above) half eagles struck from 1800-1812 are steady to slightly up in value but the coins must be nice for the grade to sell for published levels. There have been almost no Fat Head half eagles (other than the usual array of 1813's) on the market in the last two or three years. These coins are generally off the market in tightly-held collections and I believe that if any fresh, mega-rare pieces were to become available in the next few months, they would sell for all-time highs.
The Classic Head market is fairly soft with the exception of the 1838-C and 1838-D which are extremely popular in all grades. It's been quite some time since I've seen a nice 1838-D for sale and a choice, original Uncirculated coin could bring alot of money in this market.
As I mentioned above, collectors are beginning to recognize the value inherent in the Liberty Head half eagle series. Nice Uncirculated coins from the 1840's and 1850's are very rare and in the case of the Philadelphia coins, they are affordable in grades up to and including MS63. Charlotte and Dahlonega half eagles are strong as long as the coin(s) are nice for the grade with good surfaces and color. New Orleans half eagles of this era remain popular with collectors and the supply of higher grade examples (AU55 and above) seems to have suddenly dried-up. The rare date No Motto issues from San Francisco remain difficult to sell with a few exceptions; notably the very rare 1864-S. I would rate the No Motto market as strong and getting stronger.
The With Motto market is not as strong. Carson City half eagles seem to be less popular with advanced specialists than in the past and are selling for discounts unless they are exceptional. Better date Philadelphia and San Francisco issues are weak with the exception of the excessively rare 1875 (an AU55 example just sold for $143,750 in the November 2010 Bowers and Merena auction). Generic With Motto Liberty Head half eagles are weak with MS65 and MS66 coins having dropped in price during 2010.
The Indian Head half eagle series is showing a bit of strength in the better-date mintmarked issues from the 1910's. Common dates are weak and prices for MS65's have dropped significantly in the last year; enough to the point that I actually think they are a good value right now.
OVERALL RATING: 5. The half eagle market is solid but not spectacular. The "right" coin can sell for a record price (as witnesed by the AU55 1875 that I mentioned above) but there are enough overgraded, low-demand pieces selling for discounts at auction to keep the overall heat index factor at just a "5." I have had very good success selling early half eagles and No Motto Liberty Head half eagles in the $2,000-25,000 range this year. My gut instinct tells me that some of the overlooked rare dates from the 1855-1875 era could be seeing more demand in the coming years.
For years, I've written that eagles were "the next big thing" and, for once, I was right. This denomination saw a number of record prices in 2010 and Liberty Head eagles led they way due to competition among a small but dedicated number of collectors at the top end of the market.
But not all was rosy in the World of Eagles. Early eagles saw weakness that continued from 2009. This is clearly the result of some truly gross coins in holders. I often see coins graded AU55, AU58, MS61 and even MS62 that are 100% unoriginal and lack any semblance of eye appeal. While pieces of this (low) quality still brought decent prices at auction in 2006-2008, the market has become more selective and now these coins sell for discounts. This has reduced values across the board but, suddenly, I like choice, original examples at 20-25% discounts off of previous market highs. I can't remember any properly graded MS64 or better early eagles selling in the last year and I think a CAC-approved example would still bring a very strong price.
The Liberty Head eagle series did really well in 2010 and this trend should continue for the foreseeable future. Any Finest Known or high Condition Census coins, regardless of date or mint, should do quite well. New Orleans eagles are popular and in demand and interesting high grade pieces (like the record-breaking 1842-O that brought over $70,000 this year at auction) will continue to bring high prices. I think a real value play in this area are common date Philadelphia No Motto coins from the 1840's and 1850's in choice AU to MS63 grades.
With Motto coins of this denomination saw sporadic levels of demand. Carson City eagles sputtered a bit but really high end, choice pieces were actively sought. If a very nice 1870-CC came on the market it would be a potential record-setter. New Orleans eagles were led by the 1883-O which, in a short period of time, has gone from hugely undervalued to hugely priced. Even the formerly undervalued 1880-O saw some love in higher grades. The semi-scarce Philadelphia and San Francisco issues from the 1880's and 1890's remained overlooked and these are undervalued. If the concept of the "short set" were ever applied to With Motto eagles, these dates could appreciate quite a bit.
Indian Head eagles were similar in performance to their half eagle counterparts. There was some interest in AU58 to MS63 better dates from the teens and the rare 1920-S and 1930-S saw slightly increased demand. Common dates in MS65 and above were weak. Proofs were weak unless the coins were PCGS graded and CAC approved. The few original Gem Indian Head eagles that sold in the last year brought very strong prices as collectors have come to realize how few of these coins remain with natural color and surfaces.
OVERALL RATING: 7 Based on the results of the Stack's Johnson-Blue auction this Fall, I might have rated this denomination a "9" but one extremely strong auction doesn't make for a blazing hot market. But that said, the demand for nice eagles has picked up quite a bit. Early eagles will continue to be soft unless the coins are "all there." I think Liberty Head eagles are a great example of what happens when a few collectors begin to compete for nice coins. As I have always said, it doesn't take dozens of new players in a market to drive prices up if the coins are genuinely scarce. I'd look for the middle end of the Liberty Head eagle market to show some appreciation this year as collectors who are priced out of the higher end coins look at pieces in the EF45 to AU55+ range. Quality and originality will remain a key factor in this area of the market.
VI. Double Eagles
If you follow the rare gold coin market just a little, itsy-bitsy bit you probably are aware that double eagles were the unquestioned darling of the market in 2010. I see no reason why this won't continue into 2011--and beyond.
Why are double eagles so popular right now? A combination of factors. Obviously, their size and intrinsic worth helps them. They have a great back story and the presence of shipwreck coins has brought hundreds of serious new buyers into the double eagle market. I also think that it helps that these coins are rare but no so much so that they are unpromotable. You can promote an 1870 quarter eagle in Mint State; there just aren't enough to go around. But most of the popular dates in the double eagle series exist in a large enough quantity that nearly everyone who wants one can have one. maybe not in the ultimate grade(s) but in close to optimal condition. And that's the beauty of this denomination, in a nutshell.
There wasn't a more popular series of coin in all of the numismatic market in 2010 than Type One Liberty Head double eagles. These coins were in demand in all grade and price levels. Even though values rose considerably, there are still at least fifteen to twenty different dates in the series that can be bought in Extremely Fine grades for $3,000 or less. This series did well in both the low end and high end although a few dates like the 1861-S Paquet and 1866-S No Motto are off their 2007/08 historic highs. New Orleans issues did nicely this year as did San Francisco coins. I think the best value play in this market are the Philadelphia coins struck from 1854 to 1860 in AU50 or better.
After a few years of softness, the Type Two market picked up quite a bit. The Philadelphia issues from 1866 to 1872 were popular and the Carson City coins were in strong demand. Speaking of Type Two CC double eagles, the 1870-CC remains a bit of an enigma. Clearly, its price level is off its high of a few years ago but no really nice examples came to the market in 2010. I'd be very curious to see what a high end PCGS AU50 or AU53 brought if available.
The Type Three market was a bit more spotty. The unquestioned leaders from a demand standpoint were the CC issues which are suddenly in very strong demand in all grades. The extremely rare low mintage Philadelphia dates (1881, 1882, 1885, 1886 and 1891) continued to sell for record prices when available. The weakest area were the condition rarity common and semi-scarce Philadelphia and San Francisco issues. But even these coins could occasionally hit a huge home run at auction if they were really choice for the grade, free of serious marks and had population of ten or less with fewer (or none) better.
The Saint Gaudens market did not fare as well. It seems like there are not enough new buyers to keep up with the supply of scarce and rare dates that were available in the last year and prices dropped accordingly. There were exceptions. PCGS graded, CAC examples of genuinely rare dates from the 1920's and early 1930's brought strong prices if the coins were graded spot-on. If they were marginal quality, they often sold at a strong discount. It was possible for a coin like a 1927-S in MS64 to have a value range of $50,000-60,000 for a low end coin and $75,000-85,000 for a high end one. The generic Saint market was, as always, like a numismatic yo-yo with lots of ups and downs. Premiums for MS63 to MS65 coins were high around the middle of the year but shrunk as the price of gold soared. MS66 and MS67 coins with CAC stickers were in strong demand and did well. It seems likely that they will continue to be in demand in the coming year.
OVERALL RATING: 8 1/2. If dated Saints had performed better in 2010, this number would clearly be a "9." Liberty Head double eagles were the top performer in the rare gold market in 2010. The areas that were in the greatest demand included rare Type One issues in all grades, "exotic" shipwreck coins (i.e., non-S mint Central America coins, PL and DMPL pieces, etc.), high end rare date Type Two coins, rare low mintage date Type Threes and virtually all Carson City pieces.
I'd like your comments and feedback about the 2010 Heat Index. Please feel free to send me an email at email@example.com and let me know which areas of the dated gold market were the most sizzlin' in 2010 and which you think will be the hotties of 2011.
During 2009, I wrote a series of “ten rarest” articles on all the major denominations of Liberty Head gold coinage. These articles were well-received and I enjoyed producing them. It’s a logical progression to apply this topic to the early gold series. Except it’s not quite that easy. The eagle denomination is very short-lived (1795-1804) making a ten rarest study impractical. And the ten rarest early half eagles contain a host of issues that are so rare that collecting them becomes impractical. That leaves us, for the sake of practicality, with just early quarter eagles. Five designs of quarter eagle were produced between 1796 and 1834. There are a total of 23 distinct issues and even the most available of these is rare by the standards of American numismatics. Early quarter eagles have always been undervalued and under collected in comparison to their larger-size counterparts. This has changed somewhat in the last few years as price for early quarter eagles have risen; along with most early coins in general.
Each of the ten rarest early quarter eagles is very hard to locate and a few of them are even six-figure coins in most grades. But what is most intriguing about this list is the fact that a collector with a good deal of patience and a solid coin budget could actually assemble a complete top ten list; something that certainly can’t be said for half eagles.
The list of the ten rarest early quarter eagles is as follows: 1. 1804 13 Stars 2. 1834 No Motto 3. 1797 4. 1806/5 5. 1796 With Stars 6. 1798 7. 1826/5 8. 1824/1 9. 1827 10. 1833
1804 13 Stars: The 1804 13 Stars is clearly The Big Kahuna of early quarter eagles. In my opinion, it is the single rarest quarter eagle of any date or denomination, eclipsing such rarities as the 1841, 1854-S and 1863.
Estimates range slightly on the number of examples known but I think it’s safe to say that the low number is around eleven while the high might go up as high as fifteen. Most are in lower grades. There are probably not more than four or five in the various AU grades and none in Uncirculated. There have been ten auction records for this issue in the last twenty years. The two finest are Heritage 7/09: 1209 (PCGS 58) and Heritage 7/08: 1459 (NGC 55). Both brought $322,000. I purchased the PCGS 58 coin as an agent and it is now in an Eastern specialist’s early quarter eagle collection. The other choice example is in the Bass core collection.
Dannreuther and Bass estimate that between 250 and 1,003 examples of this variety were produced. I am inclined to believe that the number is on the low end of this scale; maybe somewhere in the area of 250-500.
1834 With Motto: Viewed strictly as a year, the 1834 is the rarest early quarter eagle (there are specific varieties, such as the 1804 13 stars listed above, that are rarer). There were 4,000 struck but nearly all were melted due to economic conditions and a weight change of gold coins in 1834. Today, it is likely that around 20 or so survive including at least a few Proofs. Most are in the VF to EF range and properly graded AU coins are very rare. I think that there are three or four in Uncirculated as well as three or four Proofs.
This date has always been underrated and not especially well-known outside of the specialist community. My guess is that it is confusing to beginning collectors that the 1834 also exists in the more familiar Classic Head design and that the latter is a common coin even in comparatively high grades.
The all-time auction record for the 1834 With Motto was set all the way back in 1980 when the Garrett II Proof sold for $60,000 (it would bring many times this today if offered for sale).
1797: The 1797 has long been one of my personal favorite dates in the early quarter eagle series. The mintage is reported to be just 427 coins (although Dannreuther and Bass believe it may be as high as 585) and there are probably not more than two dozen or so known to exist in all grades.
All 1797 quarter eagles have a very distinctive obverse die crack in the right field which can be seen even on very low grade coins. This crack does not affect the quality of strike and most are reasonably well-defined on both the obverse and the reverse.
The probable finest known is Superior 11/05: 484, graded MS64 by NGC, that brought $276,000; a record price for this date. I am aware of two other Uncirculated coins: a PCGS MS62 and the Bass coin, which grades at least MS60 if not higher, that is in the ANA Museum.
Given this coin’s rarity and lack of availability, I believe it is undervalued; especially in comparison to such better known (and less rare) issues as the 1796 No Stars and the 1808.
1806/5: Two distinct varieties are known for 1806 quarter eagles. The more common is an 1806/4 overdate with thirteen obverse stars arranged eight by five. The rarer is an 1806/5 overdate with the obverse stars arranged seven by six. Only 480 of the latter were produced and there are around 30 or so known today. This variety is numismatically interesting as it uses the exact dies of 1805 but after they had been annealed and overdated.
When available, the typical 1806/5 quarter eagles grades in the EF40 to AU50 range and has poor overall eye appeal. There are probably around three or so known in Uncirculated and the finest appears to be ANR 6/05: 1004 ($195,500), ex Goldberg 2/03: 1900 ($120,750).
Very presentable examples of this variety are still available for less than $50,000 which, in my opinion, is good value for a coin with such a low original mintage figure and with so few survivors.
1796 With Stars: The 1796 is the fifth rarest early quarter eagle. Surprisingly, it is not even the best known quarter eagle produced in 1796 as the No Stars has, for many generations, received greater acclaim. But the With Stars is considerably rarer.
There were 432 produced and I believe that no more than 40-45 are known. There are as many as five to seven known in Uncirculated including one Gem, graded MS65 by NGC (ex Heritage 1/08: 3059, Heritage 1/07: 3382 and Byron Reed). This coin brought $1,006,250 the last time it sold; the second highest price ever realized at auction for any quarter eagle.
As I mentioned above, the No Stars variety has, for many years, been more highly priced—and prized—than the With Stars. This is due to the fact that the former is a distinct one-year type. The pricing gap has closed considerably and this makes sense as the With Stars is at least twice as rare as the No Stars.
As a specialist in rare United States gold coins, there are few series that I find more interested than the Capped Head half eagles produced from 1813 through 1834. I recently purchased (and quickly sold) a PCGS graded AU53 1823 half eagle. This date, by the standards of the type, is no big deal. But the more I researched the 1823, the more I realized that it is an underrated and enigmatic issue.
The so-called Fat Head series is typically divided into segments: dates that are obtainable (1813, 1814, 1818 and 1820) and those that range from virtually unobtainable to impossible. What's interesting about the 1823 is that it is really the only issue of this type that is clearly rare but which is not an extreme rarity. Let's take a more in-depth peek at this issue.
The 1823 has the lowest recorded mintage of any half eagle made between 1821 and 1834 with only 14,485 having been struck. There are an estimated 70-90 known and nearly all of these are in the AU58 to MS62 range. As with nearly all half eagles from the 1820's, the 1823 saw very little in the way of actual circulation and virtually all of the mintage was melted in 1834 when the weight of gold coins was lowered.
It should be pointed out that mintage figures of half eagles from the 1820's are probably highly inaccurate. I feel that many of the coins struck in 1820 were actually dated 1821, 1822 and 1823. At some point, it may be possible to breakdown these mintages more accurately but it is not currently possible.
There are a few very choice 1823 half eagles known. The finest that I am aware of is the one in the Bass core collection which is ex Norweb I: 774. It sold to Harry Bass for $52,800 all the way back in 1987 which is still an uaction record for this date (!) I grade the coin MS64+ to MS65 and it has superb original luster and color. The second best that I have seen is James Stack: 1069 that sold in October 1994 for $35,200. I grade this coin MS64 or better by today's standards.
NGC has graded one example of this date in MS65 (the Stack coin?) as well as one in MS64. PCGS has never graded an MS65 but does show five in MS64. My hunch is that this number is slightly inflated by resubmissions.
As with all half eagles from the 1820's, the 1823 is a well-produced issue. It is typically fairly sharply struck although I have seen examples that are weak on the curls above Liberty's eyes and a few of the stars lacked their radial lines. High grade 1823's show splendid rich, frosty luster and original uncleaned pieces have lovely rich orange-gold color.
One of the more curious facts about the 1823 half eagle is its current pricing structure. The most recent Coin Values has a value of $13,500 for this issue in AU50 (which seems about right) and a value of $14,500 in AU55. It is hard to imagine that the value of an AU55 would only be $1,000 than an AU50 but I'm assuming that part of this has to do with the fact that so few AU 1823's are known that a small jump in grade doesn't equate to a large jump in value. Right?
Every series has a date or two that fall through the cracks and in the fabulous Fat Head fives from the 1820's and 1830's it seems that the 1823 is (currently) getting the short end of the proverbial stick. This date does not sell for an especially large premium over dates like the 1813, 1814, 1818 and 1820 but it is many times scarcer. Obviously, few people collect Fat Head fives by date so prices for this series are not as carefully scrutinized as Indian Head quarter eagles. That said, it seems to me that the 1823 is a very undervalued issue and it is a coin that I look forward to owning more of in the future.
A good client of mine recently asked me the question “are early gold coins overpriced?” As with most intelligent questions, I don’t think that this one has a pat answer. My feeling is that some early gold coins are poor value at current levels while others are good to very good values. Read on for my take on the current early gold market and my suggestions of where the best values are. Appearance and eye appeal are, obviously, critical factors in determining the desirability of any coin. In the area of early gold, I think these factors are especially important. The reasons are fairly obvious: these are hand-made coins that vary in quality literally from year to year, many survivors have been cleaned, abused or damaged and the third-party services tend to be inconsistent (to say the least) when it comes to grading early gold.
A fairly general statement that I think can be made about the early gold market is that only a small handful of the coins that exist have good eye appeal and a pleasing overall appearance. I personally feel that virtually every early gold coin that is choice and original remains a good value while most every good early gold coin that is low end for the grade and unoriginal is poor value. But this observation is fairly simplistic and needs to be expanded.
As with most markets, early gold issues can generally be divided into three categories: common or “generic” dates, better dates and rarities. And in the case of early gold we might even be able to create a fourth category: the “super-rarity.” How are each of these categories doing?
Even if you know very little about early gold, you might guess that the area most prone to showing weakness in a downward market turn would be the common dates. An example of what I would term a “generic” early gold coin would be an 1806 Round 6 Half Eagle. There are as many as 1,000 examples known of this issue and it is fairly readily available in grades up to and including MS63 to MS64.
If you go to a major national coin show you are likely to see a decent number of 1806 Round 6 half eagles. These would generally be available in the AU55 to MS62 grade range. (Lower grade 1806 Round 6 half eagles are difficult to find because the nice, affordable examples tend to be closely held by collectors; the very high end MS63 to MS64 tend to either show up at auction or they are placed in tightly-held, high end collections and do not trade with frequency). The examples available for sale tend to be low end and unattractive. At current price levels, I think they are not especially good values. Why is this?
As recently as five to six years ago you could buy a nice, fresh AU 1806 Round 6 half eagle for $5,500-6,000. At this affordable level, this coin was a good value, despite the fact that it wasn’t really “rare” in the sense of most early gold. Today, a similarly graded coin will cost you at least twice this amount. The problem is that these coins now tend to not be nice for the grade and the new price range of $11,000-13,000 no longer qualifies as “affordable.” Are coins such as this overpriced? If they are typical low to middle quality coins, the answer is a fairly resounding yes. If they are accurately graded and solid, choice pieces I would say that they are really overpriced but that they are relatively marginal values at these levels.
An example of an early gold coin that I regard as a “better date” would be a 1799 half eagle. This issue is not truly rare but it is available with far less frequency that an 1806 Round 6 half eagle. I think the market for an issue like this has held up rather well; even if a 1799 half eagle in, say AU55 is currently valued at least twice as highly as it was five or so years ago. Collectors still expect an AU55 example of this date to have good eye appeal and ugly examples are harder to sell than they might have been a year ago but I think this area of the market is solid. Are coins like this overpriced? I would say, pretty resoundingly, in fact, that they are not; especially in the solid collector grades of EF40 to AU55.
A “rare date” early gold coin would be, as an example, an 1826 half eagle. This popular Fat Head issue has a surviving population of maybe three dozen and it tends to be offered for sale at the rate of one or two coins per year. This is another issue that has seen significant price increases in the last five years but the fact is that the supply of 1826 half eagles in virtually all grades is nowhere near the (current) demand. Yes, coins like the 1826 half eagle are currently expensive. But given their unquestionable rarity I would have to say that coins like this remain fairly priced.
And what about our fourth and final category—the so-called “super-rarity?” An example of this would be an 1815 half eagle; an issue that is extremely rare in all grades and which typically appears for sale at the rate of approximately once per three to five years. My gut feeling is that these major rarities, in all the various early gold series, are still reasonably priced. There is an 1815 half eagle coming up for sale in the 2009 FUN auction (graded MS64 by NGC and pedigreed to the Garrett collection) that is almost certain to shatter all price records for this date and which could be one of the highlights of the 2009 Numismatic Year.
What about issues like the 1796 No Stars quarter eagle or the 1808 quarter eagles; coins that aren’t “rarities” in the classic sense of the word but which are exceptionally popular and numismatically significant? I think, in theory, that these are overpriced given their big-picture rarity. Given their strong level of demand I would still buy them for inventory. However (and this is a BIG however) I think the market has become far more selective on coins like this. If they are not CAC-quality, they have become hard to sell unless discounted in price. And this scenario is likely to continue as long as decent 1796 quarter eagles command prices in excess of $125,000-150,000+.