Is the Market for Dahlonega Varieties Starting to Heat Up?

For years, I've been commenting on the die varieties of Dahlonega coins. My take has usually been somewhere along the line of "they are neat and they are fun to collect but I'm not sure that I ever see the market for these coins taking off." From time to to time, I talk to a collector who dabbles in Dahlonega varieties and I've even dealt with one or two who have been pretty hard-core. But, with some exceptions, I've never seen prices for these coins reflect this interest. Until possibly now. I'll be the first to tell you that you can't make a declaration about a market based on one auction but, the recent Heritage 2013 FUN sale had a large and varied collection of Dahlonega half eagles by die variety and there seemed to be a trend towards some of the rarer, more obvious varieties selling for premiums. Let's take a look at a few examples and try to make sense of them.

Lot 7189

Lot 7189 was an 1854-D Medium D in an NGC VF30 holder. It was a nice coin, solid for the grade and original. NGC doesn't designate this variety so my brilliant plan was to break it out and send it to PCGS where it would grade, I hoped, VF30 and be designated as a Medium D. I bid $1,600 for the coin which would have put me into it at $1,880 with the buyer's premium. The coin brought $1,998 . The price was around 10% more than I expected. Certainly not a huge price premium but enough to make me raise an eyebrow.

Lot 7193

The next coins that I found interesting were Lots 7193 and 7194; the former was an 1855-D Large D in NGC AU53 while the latter was an 1855-D Medium D also graded AU53 by NGC. In my experience, the Large D is the scarcer of the two (despite the fact that there were two Large D examples in the sale).

Lot 7194

The first coin, lot 7193, sold for $3,182 while the second, lot 7194, sold for $3,290 which sort of disproves my theory that the market for Dahlonega half eagle varieties might be picking up. I partially attribute this to the fact that the Medium D coins are always weakly struck at the centers which means most collectors don't "get" this variety. Had Lot 7193, the Large D, been more attractive, I'm guessing it might have sold for some sort of premium. Clearly, this market is not yet developed enough that collectors are saying "this is a rare variety and even though the coin is kind of ugly I still need to pay a premium for it."

The two coins which were really interesting to me were Lot 7213 and Lot 7214. Both were 1859-D Large D half eagles. These varieties are designated by PCGS, they have very low populations figures and they are clearly visible to the naked eye; sort of the perfect storm for D mint half eagle varieties, if you will.

Lot 7213

The first 1859-D (Lot 7213) was graded EF40 by PCGS and I thought the coin was extremely nice for the grade; maybe an EF45/AU50 on a good day. I figured it at $2,100, which meant a shade under $2,500 all in. The coin sold for $4,700 with the buyer's premium which I thought was remarkable.

Lot 7214

The second 1859-D (Lot 7214) was graded AU55 by PCGS and I liked the coin even though it had an odd area of light toning directly above the head of Liberty at 12:00. I figured the coin at $3,750 or $4,406 with the fees. The coin wound up selling for $5,875 including the premium.

Were these prices strong? Just as a point of reference, an NGC AU58 1859-D half eagle in the same sale (Lot 7212) sold for $3,819 including the premium. The coin was a bit over-graded, in my opinion, but actually pretty decent and certainly an AU55 all day long.

Now, I don't know who bought the two 1859-D half eagles. They could have been bought by break-out dealers or telemarketers who figured the low PCGS populations meant a potential big score. But assuming they were purchased by variety collectors, I think these prices were extremely significant and they could portend an oncoming wave of interest in varieties.

My guess is that if varieties are to become of interest to collectors, they are going to be just the ones that are designated by PCGS/NGC and the ones that are easily seen with the naked-eye. Will someone care about one of the six varieties of 1848-D half eagle because of the position of the date or the placement of the mintmark? I doubt it. But I think they will care about a coin like the 1848-D/D half eagle which is genuinely rare and which can be appreciated by beginning and advanced collectors alike.

Kudos to Heritage for doing a nice job of cataloging these coins and my hats off to the collector who assembled this variety set, especially the two 1859-D half eagles.

Overdated United States Gold Coins

One of the most interesting varieties of United States gold coinage is the many overdated issues that exist. Some are very rare and others are common; some are well-known and some are very obscure. But all share a common trait: a high “coolness factor” that makes them desirable with collectors. What are overdates and how can the collector of United States gold coins focus on these issues? An “overdated” coin is one on which two dates are present. A famous example is the 1942/1 dime. An overdate occurs when one of more digits from the current year is punched into an older working die. Overdates are often intentional creations and they may exist for a number of reasons.

In the early years of the US Mint, steel to make dies was scarce and funds were scarcer. The Mint operated on a shoestring budget and if any dies were leftover at the end of the year, there was good reason to reuse them. There are many overdates from the 1790’s and early 1800’s and many were probably caused by economic reasons.

Quality control at the Mint during the early years was often lax and some overdates appear to have been produced by accident. These accidents occurred when an engraver inadvertently employed a date punch that was not consistent with the die he was working on. This appears to be the case with some of the overdated coins produced during the 1830’s and 1840’s.

Let’s look at some of the more interesting overdates that occur on Liberty Head gold coins. We’ll save overdated early U.S. gold coins for another time as the list and scope of these is very comprehensive.

Gold Dollars: There are no gold dollars that were overdated. It is interesting to note that there are very few varieties of note in this entire denomination. The branch mints, where one would have expected an overdate or two to have occurred, never produced one in this denomination.

Quarter Eagles: The Philadelphia, Charlotte and Dahlonega issues from 1839 have been called 1839/8 overdates in the past but this is incorrect. The only genuine overdate for the Liberty Head type is the 1862/1. This is a clearly visible overdate that was probably caused by the stress involved with producing gold coinage during the most intense year of the Civil War. It was once believed to be extremely rare but now is only regarded as very scarce. In higher grades, the 1862/1 is very rare. I have personally seen two or three in Uncirculated including a PCGS MS62 that was the best of these.

Three Dollars: You would think that this odd denomination contained an overdate or two but it does not. In fact, there are virtually no significant varieties.

Half Eagles: The pre-1834 issues of this denomination are fertile ground for overdate collectors. The Liberty Head issues are not as interesting when it comes to varieties. There are only two legitimate overdates: the 1881/0 and the 1901/0-S.

The 1881/0 is an overlooked issue that I think is undervalued and quite interesting. There are hundreds known in circulated grades and it is available even in the lower Mint States grades without much effort. It is rare in MS63, very rare in MS64 and may not exist in Gem. A very presentable Uncirculated 1881/0 half eagle can be obtained for less than $2,000.

The 1901/0-S half eagle is probably the most common overdated Liberty Head gold coin of any denomination. A total of 3,648,000 half eagles were coined in San Francisco in 1901 and my guess is that a decent percentage of these were overdated. This variety is common in circulated grades and easily located in grades up to and including MS63. It is scarce in MS64 and rare in MS65 or better. In lower grades it sells for virtually no premium over a common 1901-S and it is a good introduction to the world of overdates coins for the neophyte.

Eagles: The first few “overdate” issues in this series are either controversial or simply wrong. This parade of suspects is led by the 1839/8 Large Letters (Type of 1838). As with the similarly dated quarter eagles, what has been described as an overdate is, in fact, a defect in the die which can be mistaken for an “1839/8.”

For many years, the 1846/5-O was believed to be an overdate but this has been disproven by me and other specialists. Some collectors believe that an 1849/1848 overdate exists but the pieces that I have are not convincing and I don’t think this variety exists. Same goes for the 1857/5; a variety that has been claimed to exist but which I am certain is not a true overdate.

The only legitimate overdate in the entire Liberty Head eagle series is the 1853/2. The variety has received some fanfare over the years but it is still underappreciated; especially given its status as the only true overdate in the series. I estimate that there are around 125-150 known with most in the EF45 to AU50 range. This variety is very rare in properly graded AU55 and above and extremely rare in Uncirculated. I have seen only one Uncirculated example, an MS61 graded by PCGS.

The 1865-S/Inverted 186 has been called an overdate but it is not; it is actually a blundered date caused by mis-entering the first date punch.

Double Eagles: There is only one overdated Liberty Head double eagle: the 1853/2. This is a somewhat controversial issue and it is one that I have seen a few prominent numismatists (including Dave Bowers) state that it is not an overdate but a recut date. I am of the belief that it is an overdate but that some of the pieces that have been designated as “overdates” but PCGS and NGC are later die states that are questionable. The real 1853/2 double eagle has a bold oblong obverse die dot below the foot of the R in LIBERTY. It also shows fairly clearly within the bottom loop of the 3 the straight-lined base of a 2. There are an estimated 200-250 known in all grades and the 1853/2 is quite scarce in the AU range. It is very rare in Uncirculated with probably no more than a half dozen known. I have seen three or four that grade MS61 or slightly better.

Putting together a set of overdated Liberty Head gold coinage would be a fairly easy task. It would consist of only five coins and only one—the 1853/2 double eagle—is expensive in higher grades. The really fun and challenging overdates tend to occur on the pre-1834 issues but as I mentioned above these are often expensive and some are extremely rare.