This is the first of potentially many articles which focus on rarity and Condition Census information in the Liberty Head eagle series. The first sub-group I’m going to focus on is the 11 Civil War issues. These coins are, with one exception, rare in all grades and a number of them are either unknown or excessively rare in Uncirculated.Read More
The No Motto type of Liberty Head eagle was produced at the New Orleans mint from 1841 through 1860. By using CAC population figures, we can get an idea of which dates display condition or appearance rarity. CAC is a service which is rewards good eye appeal, unlike the grading services which are grading more from a technical standpoint.Read More
Now that CAC has become an integral part of the rare date gold market, there are certain things that their database of coins that have been approved can tell collectors. This wasn’t necessarily true as recently as a year to a year and a half ago, but I believe that enough coins have been seen by CAC that their numbers have gained a degree of legitimacy. This is especially true for expensive and/or truly rare coins.
One thing that CAC data can tell a savvy collector is how rare a coin is with good eye appeal. In other words, if the combined PCGS/NGC population of a certain date/mintmark is 15 coins in EF, how many of these are choice and original?
How do these figures look in a series which is notorious for having numerous condition rarities? I decided to analyze the increasingly popular Liberty Head eagle series using CAC population data from their most recent report (September 2013) and compare it to research which I published a few years ago.
In 2008 I published an article entitled The Ten Rarest Ten Libs. I based this research on my 25+ years of specializing in this denomination, consulting auction records from the past two decades, and looking at current PCGS and NGC population data. My Top Ten list was concerned more with absolute rarity (i.e., the total number of coins known in all grades) versus condition rarity (the number of coins known in higher grades).
According to my research, here are the ten rarest Liberty Head eagles:
- 1865-S Normal Date
- 1839, Head of 1840
- (tie) 1858, 1859-S, 1864, 1866-S With Motto, 1876, 1877
Looking back on this list five years later (!), I basically still agree with it - except for one glaring omission: the 1855-S. I’m not sure why I didn’t include this date in my Top Ten; I very possibly might have forgotten it. Today, I would certainly include it and place it as high as #8 on the list. I would also eliminate the 1858 from the #10 grouping, and quite possibly the 1859-S and 1864 as well.
Before I delve into the CAC populations, there are a few caveats which I think are important to better understand this blog.
Firstly, we are assuming that at this point in time a good number of rare date gold coins get sent to CAC. However, I happen to know at least four major collections of Liberty Head eagles which have never been seen by CAC, and which contain many coins currently “unbeaned” by CAC which should be nice enough to qualify if and when they are sent in.
Secondly, we are making an assumption that “CAC quality” coins really are nice for the date and grade. I personally don’t think that is a stretch, but I clearly have seen some better date Liberty Head eagles with CAC stickers that weren’t all that nice and, conversely, have sent some coins to CAC which I thought were very nice and, for whatever reason(s), didn’t get blessed.
Thirdly, I think making assumptions about the rarity of coins like Liberty Head eagles based solely on CAC data would be a mistake. Instead, I would view the CAC data as a component of determining high grade rarity.
Let’s look at the Liberty Head eagles which, as of October 2013, have yet to see a single example approved by CAC:
- 1865-S Normal Date
- 1866-S No Motto and 1866-S With Motto
There are no huge surprises here. This group of 12 coins is well represented on my Top Ten rarest list. The 1864 is a bit of surprise as I have handled a few nice pieces in the last few years and the same is true with the 1866-P and the 1866-S No Motto.
Now, how about the dates in this series with only 1 coin approved by CAC. Along with the dates, I’m going to list the grade of the sole CAC-approved coin.
- 1839 Head of 1840 (EF40)
- 1858-S (AU50)
- 1859-S (AU50)
- 1867-S (AU55)
- 1870-CC (EF45)
- 1877 (AU55)
This is an interesting group. All five are rare, and at least one (the 1839 Head of 1840) is on the Top Ten rarest list. The other four are dates which are a bit more available but which seldom come with nice surfaces and natural color; two elements which are rewarded by CAC. In this instance, the CAC results hold pretty true to form; more so than what I expect from NGC or PCGS results.
As a final list, let’s look at the dates in this series with just 2 coins approved by CAC. Again, along with the dates I’m going to list the grades in which CAC has approved these.
- 1855-S (EF45, AU55)
- 1859-O (EF45, AU53)
- 1860-S (VG8, AU55)
- 1862-S (EF45, AU55)
- 1864-S (VF30, EF45)
- 1870 (AU50, AU55)
- 1871 (AU55, AU58)
- 1876 (AU53, AU55)
- 1895-S (EF45, AU53)
To me, this is the most interesting list, for two reasons. The first is the dates (1859-O, 1862-S, 1864-S) which I didn’t expect to see two of, let alone one. The second is the presence of the 1895-S, a date which gets little respect from even the most ardent specialist and which only two reasonably low grade pieces have been approved by CAC to date. Sleeper alert!!
I’m going to revisit this topic in the near future, as I think it is a good way of determining the true rarity of certain coins in high-end “PQ” grades. By the same token, it also has relevance for lower grade coins like VF and EF when it comes to determining how nice a really rare coin is for its respective grade.
For more information on CAC and on Liberty Head eagles—with or without CAC approval—please feel free to contact me by email at email@example.com.
A trend that I have noted in recent years is that a subset of gold issues which have what I refer to as Multiple Levels of Demand (MLD). These are coins with more than one potential set of buyers competing for them. As an example, a coin such as an 1838-D half eagle is sought not only by Dahlonega specialists but by Classic Head half eagle collectors, first-year-of-issue collectors, one-year type collectors and collectors who just appreciate cool coins.
An 1844-D half eagle, in contrast, has a smaller pool of potential buyers which includes Dahlonega specialists and type collectors looking for a single nice half eagle for their set. MLD coins have increased significantly in value in the last five to ten years and this makes sense. Coin values are largely the result of a basic supply and demand relationship: the greater the demand, the more prices increase.
In this blog, let’s take a look at coins which are already stellar MLD’s and also at issues which might be the next wave of multiple level of demand coins.
If I had to choose the one single issue in this denomination which had the highest overall level of demand among collectors it would be hands-down the 1861-D. This scarce, low mintage issue is popular for a host of reasons: it is a coin with verifiable provenance from the Confederacy, it is the final issue from this mint (along with the similarly-dated half eagle) and the rarest gold dollar from any source. These facts (and others) have made it extremely popular and prices have soared as a result.
Other gold dollars which have a high degree of MLD include the Type Two issues: 1855-C, 1855-O, 1855-D and 1856-S. These four coins range from rare (1855-D) to relatively common (1855-O and 1856-S) but they have interesting stories attached to them and, in most cases, they are relatively affordable in circulated grades.
What are the gold dollars which are most likely to become MLD issues in the future? I would suggest that the 1849-C, 1849-D and 1849-O will due to their status as first-year-of-issue from their respective branch mints (side thought: this would make a great three coin set in AU for the collector of average means). I could see the 1870-S becoming an MLD due to it being the final year of issue from the SF mint for gold dollars, its low mintage and the sexiness of this date in general. The 1875, due to its mintage figure of just 400 business strikes, is another possibility as well.
As with many of the multiple level of demand coins, the list is dominated by Classic Head issues. The 1838-C and 1839-C have proven popular with collectors in the last decade as has the 1839-D. Of the three, the 1839-C tends to have the least MLD but this is partly due to the fact that many of the EF and AU examples which appear for sale are grossly overgraded and have problems. The 1838-C and 1839-D are both first year of issue with comparably low mintages and the latter is a one-year type.
A coin which is probably better classified as a Classic Rarity but which is also an MLD issue is the 1854-S. It has a tiny original mintage (246 pieces), very low survival rate and it is the first quarter eagle produced at the San Francisco mint. But this is already a solid six-figure coin and, thus, is not a realistic purchase for most collectors.
Other quarter eagles I regard as having a high MLD include the 1796 No Stars and the 1808; both are popular one-year types. The 1848 CAL is another obvious choice due to its status as a Gold Rush issue and as the first American commemorative issue.
What are the quarter eagles most likely to become MLD issues in the future? I’d look at the four 1840 issues (P, C, D and O) as they would make a fun set to assemble, the 1845-O due to its status as the rarest issue of this denomination from New Orleans, and the rare Civil War issues from 1864 and 1865.
THREE DOLLAR GOLD PIECES:
I think there are really only two dates in this series right now that have MLD status: the 1854-O and the 1854-D and one of these (the 1854-O) has had a lot of its appeal ruined by blatant overgrading by the services.
The 1854-D is the clear MLD favorite right now. It is scarce in all grades but available enough to be a target for Dahlonega specialists, Three Dollar collectors, low mintage fans, and people who just like great coins with a real story to tell.
If I had to choose the dates most likely to have MLD status in the future, they would be the 1855-S (due to its status as the first Three Dollar from the San Francisco mint), the Civil War issues from 1861-1865 (all are collectible and could be turned into interesting subsets) and maybe the 1873 Closed 3 (very low mintage).
There are more issues of this denomination with high multiple levels of demand than nearly any other and this includes coins from the 18th, 19th and 20th century.
The first issue I’d place in the MLD category would be the 1795 Small Eagle. It’s available enough to be realistically obtainable by advanced collectors and it has a high “cool factor” as a first-year-of-issue with a great design.
Nearly any sub-$10,000 early half eagle has a high MLD factor, especially if the coin is choice and original. The reasons are obvious: old, gold, semi-affordable and very appealing from an aesthetic standpoint.
The 1838-C and 1838-D have oodles of demand due to their first-year and one-year type status. The 1839-C and 1839-D do as well but to a slightly lesser extent; both have, however, shown nice price increases in collector grades over the last decade.
The 1861-D certainly receives consideration as an issue with lots and lots of MLD and its counterpart the 1861-C has suddenly become quite popular as well. Both of these issues have demand that far exceeds the Southern branch mint box which other C and D half eagles are trapped within.
The 1870-CC, desirable as the first half eagle from this mint, is a coin with a high MLD. The same is true for the 1909-O as it is the only half eagle from New Orleans with the Indian Head design and it is a final year of issue. The 1929 Indian Head half eagle has become very popular in recent years due to its being the very last half eagle made.
Which half eagles have a good shot as showing high MLD in the next few years? A few of my choices might surprise you. Due to its status as the only semi-affordable date of its type, the 1813 could have MLD. The same goes with the 1834 Crosslet 4 which is the key issue in the Classic Head half eagles; a set which is beginning to see appreciation by date collectors. The 1839-P is a neat, affordable one-year type coin which has lagged the market as has the first-year-of-issue 1840-O. The rare to very rare Civil War era half eagles from Philadelphia and San Francisco have new-found, widespread appeal and increased price levels to match.
The first-year-of-issue 1795 has to be considered one of the most desirable eagles of any date or design. As with the similarly dated half eagle, it isn’t a really rare coin but it is an issue which “checks the boxes” for a host of collectors and has strong MLD as such. To a lesser extent, this is true with the 1799 as it is an 18th century-dated “big coin” which is still within reach of many advanced collector’s budgets.
The 1838 eagle has become exceptionally popular in recent years and it has soared in price. It is a first-year-of-issue with a low mintage and a very cool design which appeals to many different collectors. To an extent, the 1839 Head of 1838 has a degree of MLD but not as much as its earlier counterpart.
Many of the rare Civil War Liberty Head eagles have a high degree of appeal might they are probably not quite yet what I would consider MLD coins. An issue that clearly does have multiple levels of demand, though, is the 1870-CC which is desirable for a number of reasons. There are a few Indian Head eagles which have a strong MLD profile. The first is the 1907 Wire Edge, a coin of unparalleled beauty which has a great back story and which is rare but not impossibly so. The second is the rare and high valued 1933 which is the only American gold coin of this date which is legal to own.
I can think of numerous eagles which could have expanded levels of demand in the coming years. The key New Orleans issues, 1841-O, 1859-O, 1879-O and 1883-O, are beginning to show demand which exceeds the specialist community. The ultra-low mintage Philadelphia issues from 1873, 1876 and 1877 are becoming very popular as is the 1879-CC which has the lowest mintage of any Carson City gold coin.
You can make a case that many Type One Liberty Head double eagles have some degree of MLD as they are pursued by general collectors, specialists and “double play” investors. If I had to select one specific Type One issue as having the most widespread appeal, my experience would suggest the 1861-S Paquet Reverse. The Philadelphia issues from the Civil War years (1861-1865) are quite popular as well.
The rarest Type Two double eagle is the 1870-CC but this doesn’t have the widespread appeal that the similarly dated half eagle and eagle do because it is very expensive and tends to be found with poor eye appeal.
You can also make a good case that virtually all Carson City doubles eagles, from both the Type Two and Type Three series, have multiple levels of demand. This is especially true with the more common dates in collector grades.
An obvious MLD issue is the 1907 High Relief. Yes, it’s probably overvalued but there are few American gold coins which have a higher level of demand from a more varied group of potential buyers.
Which double eagles have the potential to be added to this list in the coming years? Two which come to mind (and some observers might state that they already have MLD) are the 1861-O and 1879-O. The same probably holds true for the low mintage Philadelphia issues from 1881-1887 and 1891.
As coins become more expensive and harder to locate, buyers want an item which is special and which justifies what they are spending money on. Coins which have a nice design, a fascinating back-story, a very low mintage figure or some association with an historic event are the exact sort of piece(s) which people are now seeking and this is likely to continue in the coming years.
Do you want to purchase coins with multiple levels of demand? I specialize in such coins. Please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss how you can become a collector of these coins.