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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: O’Neal Collection of Indian Head $5 Gold Coins

News and Analysis on scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #30

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

I. FUN Auctions

During the Jan. 2011 FUN Platinum Night auction in Tampa, Heritage will offer Jim O’Neal’s set of Indian Head Half Eagles ($5 gold coins). This set is the “All-Time Finest” in the PCGS Registry and contains many individual coins that are at or near the top of the condition rankings for their respective dates. Many other rare U.S. coins, including some Great Rarities, will be auctioned during the Platinum Night event and I will cover those soon.

Since 2005, the Heritage FUN Convention auction has been the leading auction of the year for U.S. coins. Indeed, four of the last six January FUN auctions have been phenomenal.

A few days before the start of the FUN Convention at the Tampa Convention Center, B&M will conduct a pre-FUN auction at a nearby hotel. The Malibu collection will be included. Traditionally, pre-FUN auctions have featured especially choice and rare coins as well.

While the winter Florida United Numismatists (FUN) Convention is typically in Orlando, it was in Fort Lauderdale in 2005 and will be in Tampa in January 2011. The Fort Lauderdale area is a more sensible location, as Southern Florida is densely populated. Fort Lauderdale is close to especially affluent areas in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. Plus, there are many snowbirds in Southern Florida, people who otherwise live in the Northeastern States.

To attain a better understanding of FUN auctions, or at least to get a flavor for them, please see my articles relating to 2009 and 2010 events: The Jan. 2010 Platinum Night, $3,737,500 for a nickel, the O’Neal Collection of Indian Head Eagles, Queller Collection of Patterns, and Jay Brahin’s $20 gold coins.

When the Jim O’Neal collection of Indian Head (or Saint Gaudens) Eagles ($10 coins) was the opening feature of the Jan. 8, 2009 Platinum Night event, the room was packed. Afterwards, a few experts in attendance indicated to me that prices were higher than expected. Prices were much higher than I expected, as I was not overwhelmed by O’Neal’s Eagles. My preliminary impression is that I will be much more enthusiastic about O’Neal’s Indian Head Half Eagles ($5 pieces), which will be sold during the Jan. 6, 2011 Platinum Night event.

II. O’Neal’s Half Eagles

It now seems that Jim O’Neal’s set of business strike Indian Head Half Eagles is the most famous collection that will be auctioned at the Jan. 2011 FUN Convention. For years, this has been the “finest” such set in both the PCGS and NGC registries. Although the PCGS ranks it ahead of the Dr. Thaine Price and Dr. Duckor sets of Indian Head Half Eagles, my belief is that the Duckor collection was finer. I have yet, however, to see most of the coins in the O’Neal set. The Duckor set of Indian Half Eagles was auctioned by the firm of David Akers as part of the Auction ’90 event, in the Chicago area.

Dr. Thaine Price’s collection was also auctioned by Akers’ firm. All of the Price collection was sold on the evening of May 19, 1998, and it was overshadowed by the epic Pittman II event that was held the same week at the same location. In most other situations, the offering of the Thaine Price collection would have been considered an amazing event of epic proportions. Dr. Duckor admits that he takes his Thaine Price catalogue with him on vacations to Hawaii, “probably fifteen times” so far. “Akers did a great job.”

The sets of Thaine Price and Steven Duckor were assembled during an era when grading standards were tougher than standards were in the late 1990s and in the early part of the 2000s. Even so, there is no doubt that this O’Neal set contains some of the greatest and most important Indian Head Half Eagles. (more…)

The Jim O’Neal Collection of $5 Indians readies for auction in Heritage FUN U.S. Coin event

Finest known 1909-O half eagle headlines the Jan. 6 Platinum Night auction of this PCGS Registry Set All-Time Finest in Tampa, FL

DALLAS, TX — The finest collectible 1909-O Indian half eagle, MS66 PCGS, the Mitchelson-Clapp-Eliasberg-Price example – designated by legendary numismatist David Akers as “The Coin” – will provide some New Year’s fireworks on Thursday, Jan 6, 2011, when it comes up for auction as part of Heritage’s Tampa FUN Platinum Night U.S. Coin Auction. This magnificent coin is the principal highlight of The Jim O’Neal Collection of $5 Indians, the #1 All-Time Finest set of its kind graded by PCGS.

“This is the fourth major collection from Mr. O’Neal that Heritage has had the distinct pleasure to handle, starting with his U.S. currency collection in 2005,” said Greg Rohan, President of Heritage Auctions. “ His incredible $5 Indian Registry Set stands alone in terms of quality, and the advance buzz from collectors is considerable, to say the least. A high grade mint state set of $5 Indians is easily the most daunting challenge facing collectors of 20th Century gold.

The O’Neal specimen of the 1909-O Indian half eagle, the only Indian Head gold coin ever minted in New Orleans and the rarest issue in the set, has an unimpeachable provenance from J.C. Mitchelson to John H. Clapp, Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr., Dr. Thaine B. Price before reaching O’Neal. The Clapp Notebook recording acquisitions of coins in that collection indicates that Mitchelson sold the coin to Clapp in June 1909. That means that Mitchelson almost certainly ordered the coin directly from the Mint and, given that it is well-known that the 1909-O half eagles were coined in February or March 1909, this piece may well have been among the first coins minted.

Going one year earlier, among the most luminous of the O’Neal coins is a 1908-S half eagle MS68, PCGS, the single highest PCGS-graded mint state $5 Indian of any date. While specific information about this coin’s origin dates back only five years, it may date back to a small hoard of high-quality pieces once owned by legendary businessman and collector Virgil Brand.

The finest certified example of a 1911-D half eagle, MS65+ PCGS, CAC, one of several famous gold issues bearing that date and mintmark, continues the top offerings of the collection.

“It’s rare to find a 1911-D half eagle with a smooth surface, period,” said Rohan, “let alone one as gorgeous, glossy and appealing as this particular example. It’s the #1 coin of its kind for good reason and we anticipate spirited competition to take it home in Tampa.”

A stunning 1913-S half eagle, MS66 PCGS, the finest known example certified by PCGS and likely the finest of its kind – certainly, in the absolute sense, one of the great condition rarities of the series – rounds out the top offerings in The O’Neal Collection. The coin’s provenance, which includes a long stay in the famous Dr. Thaine B. Price Collection, indicates that this example has only been offered publicly on two previous occasions, in 1998 and 1999.

Which Civil War Gold Coins Will Be Promoted in 2011?

I don’t consider myself to be a real pro when it comes to rare coin promotion but even I know a no-brainer when I see it. 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, you can bet that rare coin promotion gurus who are far more clever than I have been preparing for this event for some time.

So if you are Joe Coin Promoter and you are gearing up for the Civil War Sesquicentennial in 2011, what kind of gold coins can you get enough of to do a promotion? Let’s go denomination by denomination and figure this out.

I. Gold Dollars

Only two mints made gold dollars in 1861: Philadelphia and Dahlonega. The 1861-P is common and cheap; the 1861-D is rare and expensive. The 1861-D is unpromotable; it is too rare to accumulate in quantity and is already too expensive. A clever dealer could probably stealthily buy 40-50 1861-P gold dollars in lower Mint State grades over the course of a year and have enough coins to promote. He could probably find as many 1862-P gold dollars and maybe have as many as 100 coins in total. I would have to wonder, though, if the intended audience for this promotion would get excited about gold dollars as they are small, common and not really “sexy.” As a collector I’d probably avoid stockpiling any Civil War gold dollars to ride the coattails of a promotion.

II. Quarter Eagles

Two mints made quarter eagles in 1861: Philadelphia and San Francisco. The 1861-S is unheralded but scarce and I doubt if you could put together a group of more than three or four over the course of a year. The 1861-P is common in grades up to MS63 and it might be possible to accumulate enough to promote. I like the promotional possibilities of this issue and it might not be a bad idea for a collector to buy a few MS62 to MS63 pieces and see if prices increase in the next few years. None of the other Civil War Philadelphia issues can be found in enough quanity to promote. The San Francisco issues are all rare but it might be possible to put together a rag-tag group of circulated examples.

III. Three Dollar Gold Pieces

You couldn’t promote threes in Uncircirculated as all of the Civil War issues are rare enough and expensive enough to preclude this. But you might actually be able to acculate a few dozen nice circulated pieces. This promotion actually makes sense to me as the three dollar denomination is odd and interesting and it would appeal to non-collectors. It is also out of favor right now so the possibility of buying a fair quantity exists. The 1861-64 dates are all moderately scarce but available in the EF-AU range for less than $4,000 per coin. As a promotion bandwagon jumper, these three dollar gold pieces kind of make sense to me. (more…)

Early U.S. coins, classic proofs headline Houston Auction

Early U.S. coinage and classic proofs, including one of the finest known 1895 Morgan dollars, are the twin strengths of the Heritage Auction Galleries December 2010 U.S. Coin Auction, to be held in conjunction with the Money Show of the Southwest in Houston, TX. Floor sessions are Dec. 2-3.

With Featured Collections such as The W. Philip Keller Collection of U.S. Colonials and The Eagle Harbor Collection, Part Two lined up, we knew this auction was going to be heavy on early U.S. coinage. The many great proof coins we’re going to offer were more of a surprise, though definitely a welcome one.

Perhaps the most surprising lot of them all is an 1895 Morgan dollar graded PR68 Ultra Cameo by NGC. This example from what is arguably the most famous Morgan dollar issue combines great condition with immense popular demand. It is estimated at $90,000+.

For many years, collectors believed that there were business strike 1895 Morgan dollars out there waiting to be discovered, and in the meantime, they collected proof examples to fill the gap. Today, there is growing acceptance that the business strikes may never be found, but this has hardly dampened enthusiasm for the proofs.

Just 880 proof Morgan dollars were struck in 1895 for inclusion in the year’s silver proof sets. Perhaps half that number survive today, but only a handful of those coins are in a condition approaching the PR68 Ultra Cameo level.


On the early coinage side, the most prestigious pedigree belongs to a 1793 Wreath cent with Vine and Bars edge, S-5, B-6, graded MS61 Brown by PCGS. It is estimated at $50,000+.

This coin has been well-recognized and important to collectors for more than a century. It was first highlighted in the auction catalog for the Dr. Charles Clay Collection, sold all the way back in 1871. After that, it passed through a series of famous hands, including W. Eliot Woodward, Lorin G. Parmelee, and Wayte Raymond. We expect another name with plenty of future appeal to add this prestigious and carefully preserved coin to his or her collection. (more…)

The DWN Rare Gold Coin Market Heat Index: 2010

By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com

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. (more…)

Coin Guides: Tips on Buying Precious Metals and Bullion Coins

By Gainesville Coins – www.gainesvillecoins.com

The Advantage of Physical Assets

Precious metals have long been treasured both for their beauty and rarity. As a result, these metals have been used by many civilizations as a store of wealth, and in some cases, a foundation for currency.

Historically speaking, these stores of wealth have not experienced the kind of boom and bust cycles present in other forms of investment. This observed stability exists for several reasons. First, precious metals such as modern bullion have intrinsic value. The fact that precious metals consist of something that actually has value makes them more stable than fiat currency which is made of near-worthless paper.

In addition, these metals in many cases have practical applications. Modern industrial processes make use of metals such as gold and platinum for their unparalleled conductivity and use in manufacturing electronics. Moreover, in the case of economic turbulence, when investors do seek investments other than those vulnerable to market fluctuations, they wisely turn to the stability of precious metals. This increased demand has the effect of increasing their values, making them an even better investment.

Finally, when precious metals are minted as collectable coins such as the popular Gold Eagle or Gold Buffalo, they are sought after not only for their intrinsic value, but for their rarity as a collectable item. Again, because there is a fixed supply of any one coin, increased demand for such an asset increases its value. It is for these reasons that for hundreds of years, gold and silver coins have enjoyed a remarkable history of defining purchasing power and backing international finance. For more on this subject, see our article addressing the superiority of precious metals.

Technology and Precious Metals

The influence of the Internet on the trade of precious metals has been vast. It is no longer necessary for collectors to buy and sell coins only locally. The Internet has several venues through which to vend or purchase these assets to buyers or sellers around the world. (more…)

Coin Profile: Roman Finish 1909 Half Eagle Gold Coin

The proof five dollar coinage of 1907 through 1909 provides quite an object lesson in the evolution of Mint technology and consumer tastes. The 1907 Liberty Head proof, last of the series, was produced in a mostly brilliant or “semibrilliant” proof format that was introduced in 1902; as a result, most proof gold from 1902-1907 lacks much cameo contrast–half eagles or otherwise.

The 1908 gold coins of the new Bela Lyon Pratt and Augustus Saint-Gaudens designs were launched with a new “matte” proof format that was all the rage in European mints of the era. The Robert Loewinger reference, Proof Gold Coinage of the United States, offers this:

“The [matte proof] process originally started in Belgium and was popularized in the Paris Mint. The finish was applied after striking and was made by sandblasting the coins at different forces and speeds with different sizes of grains of sand. Also pickling the coins in a weak acid was another technique that was used on these coins after striking.”

We are unsure how widespread the “pickling” was, but the sandblasting was a well-known, widespread Mint technique that produced a granular (sometimes fine, sometimes coarser), usually dark, subdued finish to the product, a function of the lack of normally reflective surfaces. The matte proof coins of 1908 are usually dark, brownish-gold to olive-brown, and they were extremely unpopular with collectors accustomed to a more brilliant finish.

The Mint in 1909 reverted to a lighter Roman or satin finish for proof gold. The updated Akers Handbook offers these thoughts:

“The proof 1909 introduced the Roman Gold proofing method in the Indian Half Eagle series, although at least one specimen was prepared using the dark matte finish of 1908. Despite having brighter, flashier surfaces than the proof 1908, the proof 1909 still failed to gain wide acceptance among the contemporary public The Mint melted many examples at year’s end. Interestingly, even though most survivors present as overall smooth, the issue has the lowest average grade in the entire proof Indian Half Eagle series.”

A  PR67 piece is being offering in the current 2010 October Stamford Coinfest Signature US Coin Auction #1145, and is one of the nicest survivors of the proof 1909 half eagle mintage, recorded as 78 pieces. It is one of six so graded at NGC, with but two coins finer.

Gold Dominates Coin Market as Records Fall

By Steve Roach
First published in the Nov. 1, 2010, issue of Coin World

Gold is currently the engine that is driving the rare coin market.

It seems that Coin World’s Market Analysis of late has been alternating between gold one week and everything else the next week. However, an emphasis on gold is appropriate as the market has never seen gold hit the levels that it is currently hitting.

On Oct. 11, the price of gold hit a record London PM fix of $1,351 an ounce and at one point during the day hovered at $1,360.

On Oct. 12, the banking investment firm Goldman Sachs raised its gold price forecasts to $1,400, $1,525 and $1,650 for three-, six- and 12-month horizons, citing falling interest rates and a slowdown of the U.S. economic recovery.

Other investment firms are similarly bullish on the prospects of gold to continue rising in value.

Gold is up nearly 25 percent in 2010, and if trends continue, gold will be heading for its tenth consecutive annual gain.

The U.S. Mint’s release of Proof 2010-W American Eagle gold coins in early October has taken pressure off the secondary market for earlier 1-ounce issues.

At an issue price of $1,585, the 2010 1-ounce coins are trading at the same level as older issues in the wholesale markets, where several dealers are paying up to $1,600 an ounce for coins available for immediate shipment to fill orders from wholesalers who still have customers demanding these coins for inclusion in Individual Retirement Accounts.

As of Oct. 12, the Mint’s Web site posts an expected delivery date of Oct. 27 for new orders of Proof 2010-W gold American Eagles.

The recent announcement that the Mint will produce Proof 2010-W American Eagle silver coins has also cooled off the market for earlier coins tremendously.

Immediately after the news about the Proof 2010-W silver coins broke, market makers reduced their buy prices for Proof silver American Eagles from $55 to $45, in line with the Mint’s $45.95 price of the Proof 2010-W coins when they go on sale Nov. 19 at noon with a household limit of 100.

The Mint has not given any indication of how many Proof 2010-W American Eagles silver coins may be produced.

US Gold Coins: AU58 New Orleans Eagles – A Case Study

By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com

Take two 1842-O Liberty Head eagles in NGC AU58. One is worth $11,500 and gets multiple orders on my website within hours of being posted. The other sells in an auction for $6,325 and is a marginal value. Why is one coin worth nearly twice as much as the other despite the fact that they are the same date in the “same” grade?

The coin(s) in question is, as I stated above, an 1842-O eagle in AU58. A little background information on this issue is appropriate to help better understand the issue at hand. A total of 27,400 examples were produced. This issue saw extensive use in commerce and it is essentially the first available eagle from this mint given the rarity of the 1841-O (only 2,500 were produced). When available, the 1842-O tends to be in VF and EF grades and it is scarce in the lower AU grades. It becomes rare in properly graded AU55 and it is very rare in AU58. This issue is an extreme rarity in Mint State with just two or three known. The second finest of these, graded MS61 by PCGS, just brought $74,750 in the August 2010 Stack’s auction.

I bought the NGC AU58 example illustrated below at the recent Philadelphia coin show sponsored by Whitman and it was among my best purchases at the show. I paid a strong price for this coin but was happy to do so (and would do so again).

1842-O $10.00 NGC AU58

What makes this a special coin? I was really attracted top this coin by its originality. It has superb deep original coloration on the obverse and reverse which suggests that it has never been cleaned or dipped. Notice the depth of the color and how even it is on both sides. I also like how clean the surfaces are. This is an issue that is typically found with densely abraded surfaces and even the MS61 piece that I mentioned above had considerable marks on the surfaces. This example, however, was immaculate. The luster of this coin, while a bit subdued as a result of the intensity of the color, is undisturbed; a result of its not having been cleaned, dipped or processed. This coin has wonderful overall eye appeal and this sort of “look” is much appreciated by connoisseurs of U.S. gold coins. (more…)

Gold’s astounding ride

By Steve Roach – Rare Coin Market Report Blog
First published in the Oct. 18, 2010, issue of Coin World

Gold continues to astound as it broke the $1,300 ounce level for the first time on Sept. 28, closing in New York at $1,306.60 an ounce.

The next day, gold hit a high of $1,313.20 before closing at $1,308.50.

In a nice contrast to the previous week’s House Subcommittee hearings focused on fighting fraud in the sale of gold coins, the Sept. 29 Wall Street Journal featured a front-page story that was overwhelmingly positive about gold’s potential to top $1,500 next year.

It focused on investors’ growing desire to hold actual gold in the form of coins and bars.

Reports by numerous analysts and banks seem to share a bullish view for gold, evidenced by a Sept. 28 report by Deutsche Bank that stated that $1,600 an ounce gold would not be surprising for 2012 and that gold would not be in a “bubble” until hitting $2,000.

The recent bull run-up in gold prices has been attributed to many things: continued uncertainty in the real estate market; concern about the value of currencies, especially China’s; low consumer confidence in the United States; and general concern about large central banks’ ability to control the money supply adequately.

But to collectors, one thing is clear: gold coins are much more expensive than they were in 2000, in large part due to the price of gold rising 353 percent over that time.

The increased threat of intrusive federal regulations in the coin industry, such as the recently introduced Coin and Precious Metal Disclosure Act (H.R. 6149) have done little to dampen the public’s appetite for gold coins.

But dealers have responded vocally to fight multiple pieces of legislation that could affect the coin market, forming political action committees aimed at fostering better communication between the coin community and legislators.

Many dealers reported that gold was the lone bright spot in the market at the recently completed Long Beach Coin, Stamp & Collectables Expo, where several market-makers elected to stay home, instead budgeting to attend the Whitman Coin and Collectibles Philadelphia Expo, another major show, scheduled for the following weekend.

Bullock 1856-O double eagle brings $345,000 to headline $13.4 Million Heritage Long Beach Auction

Gold remains in high demand as it reaches world record $1,300 an ounce high

The recently discovered Bullock specimen of the 1856-O double eagle, XF45+, NGC, was the unabashed star of the Sept. 23-26 Heritage Auctions September Long Beach, CA Signature® U.S. Coin Auction, as it soared to $345,000 amidst spirited bidding. The auction realized an impressive $13.4 million total, with almost 5,000 bidders vying for the 7,385 lots, translating into a 93% sell-through rate by value and 96% by total number of lots.

Overall the auction affirmed the continued strength of gold in an up-and-down global market – with spot gold prices reaching $1,300 and on Friday, Sept. 24 – with fully seven of the top 10 lots coming in the form of the precious metal.

“We were all quite impressed overall with how these coins performed,” said Greg Rohan, President of Heritage Auctions. “Collectors continue to respond enthusiastically to the best and rarest examples, as evidenced by the heated competition for the Bullock 1856-O double eagle. We don’t expect to see a drop-off in gold demand as the year comes to a close and we hold our last few auctions of 2010.”

The 1856-O $20 XF45+ NGC, Ex: Bullock, one of perhaps 20 or fewer commercially available examples, made front-page news in the July 26, 2010 Coin World, with a headline proclaiming “1856-O gold double eagle surfaces in Ohio.” The coin was part of a “small accumulation of gold coins held by a family in Ohio for nearly 100 years,” and is now further distinguished by its $345,000 and its spot at the top of the roster in the Long Beach Auction.

Always popular when they come to auction, Kellogg & Humbert S.S. Central America gold ingots continued to capture collector imaginations, and superb final prices realized, at Long Beach when an astounding 114.65 ounce (9 pounds) “Very Large Size” Kellogg & Humbert Gold Assayer’s Ingot, 114.65 Ounces , brought $253,000 from an advanced collector, while a 23.35 Ounce Kellogg & Humbert S.S. Central America Gold Ingot, considered “small to medium-sized,” captured great attention at a final price of $80,500.

Nineteenth century gold continued its dominance at the top of the auction, with the single finest 1891 Carson City $10 MS65 NGC bringing $74,750. The same final price was realized by a spectacular 1848 $2-1/2 CAL. MS61 NGC, a sublime quarter eagle gold coin made from some of the earliest gold mined during the California Gold Rush.

Further highlights include, but are not limited to:

1796 50C 16 Stars VF25 PCGS. O-102, High R.5.: Realized $69,000.

1895 $1 PR64 Deep Cameo PCGS: Realized $60,375.

1876 $3 PR64 Cameo NGC: Realized $54,625.

1886 $20 XF45 NGC: Realized $54,625.

1874-CC 10C Arrows AU50 PCGS. CAC: Realized $50,313.

Heritage Auctions, headed by Steve Ivy, Jim Halperin and Greg Rohan, is the world’s third largest auction house, with annual sales more than $600 million, and 500,000+ registered online bidder members. For more information about Heritage Auctions, and to join and gain access to a complete record of prices realized, along with full-color, enlargeable photos of each lot, please visit HA.com.

Coin Rarities & Related Topics: 1856-O Double Eagles and other Great Rarities that I have seen

News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #19

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

This week, I wish to focus upon the topic of viewing Great Rarities. This topic relates to several key concepts:

(1) To understand and appreciate Great Rarities, there is a need to see them.

(2) Viewing Great Rarities is important for coin enthusiasts, especially for those who cannot afford them. At a major art museum, most of the people viewing paintings cannot afford to buy such paintings or commensurable ones. They may still learn a great deal by seeing and interpreting works of art. Coin enthusiasts can and should learn about coins and examining Great Rarities is part of a learning process.

(3) Of course, I realize that many coin enthusiasts do not have the time or the resources to travel to view many Great Rarities. I hope that this is a reason, among other reasons, why coin enthusiasts read my columns and articles. Indeed, I hope that readers care about my interpretations of important coins, as I have devoted innumerable hours to viewing, analyzing, and writing about Great Rarities.

(4) I strongly maintain that, to be qualified to analyze coins, there is a need to carefully examine them. Further, to become an expert, there is a need to direct questions to experts, and I often do so. Certainly, viewing coins and asking questions are not the only criteria to qualify someone to analyze Great Rarities. These activities, though, are crucial to attaining knowledge in the field of rare U.S. coins.

(5) Though digital images of coins are sometimes wonderful, and imaging technology, along with its implementations, continues to improve, there is a great deal about many coins that cannot be seen in pictures. It is necessary to view actual coins to understand them. This will always be true.

(6) My comments below regarding many of the Great Rarities that I have seen are not meant to be boastful. Rather, such discussions relate to my qualifications and I wish to share my enthusiasm for Great Rarities with others.

Why discuss the topic of viewing Great Rarities now? While viewing the 1856-O Double Eagle ($20 gold coin) that Heritage will auction in Long Beach, I thought about the number of 1856-O Double Eagles that I have personally examined and then about some recent open discussions among coin enthusiasts regarding the “coolest” coins that each has held in his or her hands. I have seen at least seven different 1856-O Double Eagles.

I. 1856-O $20 Gold Coins

In the official auction for the Sept. Long Beach (CA) Expo, Heritage will offer a recently discovered 1856-O Double Eagle that is NGC graded “EF-45+.” In regards to how circulated, early New Orleans Mint Double Eagles are typically graded by the NGC, the “45+” grade is fair. I must admit, though, that there are several 1856-O Double Eagles that I like more than this one. Even so, this coin is sharply struck for the 1856-O issue and has minimal noticeable contact marks. It may not be easy to find a better one. All 1856-O Double Eagles, which I have seen, have been cleaned and/or dipped at one time or another. Type One (1850-66) Double Eagles have surged in popularity over the last ten years, and prices for rare dates of this type rose dramatically from 2003 to 2008.

“The two key collectible Type One Double Eagles are the 1854-O and the 1856-O. These have appreciated in value more than virtually any other United States gold coin in the last five to seven years,” declared Doug Winter in Oct. 2008.

In 2007, I wrote an article about 1856-O Double Eagles and I then focused upon a PCGS certified 1856-O that B&M auctioned in March 2007. On July 31, 2009, Heritage sold two 1856-O Double Eagles in one Platinum Night event. One of the two very much appealed to me. It is PCGS certified EF-45 and has a CAC sticker of approval. It has nice color and a great overall look. It scores particularly high in the category of originality.

Just weeks earlier, also in Los Angeles County, Heritage sold the special striking, ‘Specimen-63′ 1856-O in the official auction of the Spring 2009 Long Beach Expo. For years, I had dreamed about viewing that coin, and I was not disappointed. It is truly astounding. It is perhaps the most memorable and important of all New Orleans Mint gold coins. (more…)

Some Further Thoughts on Carson City Double Eagle Gold Coins

By Doug Winter – www.RareGoldCoins.com

I’ve been working on a third edition of my book on Carson City gold coins. For some odd reason, I’ve been working from back to front, meaning that I’ve done the new research of double eagles before following this with eagles and half eagles. I’ve been able to uncover some really eye-opening new information on the rarity and price levels of Carson City double eagles and I’d like to share a few tidbits.

The last Carson City book that I produced was published in 2001, so almost a full decade has passed. My first impression about the market for Carson City double eagles is that it has become far, far more active than ever. Prices have risen significantly since 2001, especially for rarities and for high grade pieces.

In 2001, the five rarest Carson City double eagles in terms of overall rarity (i.e., total known) were the 1870-CC, 1891-CC, 1871-CC, 1878-CC and 1879-CC (these last two issues were tied for fourth rarest). In 2010, the five rarest Carson City double eagles in terms of overall rarity are the 1870-CC, 1871-CC, 1891-CC, 1879-CC and 1885-CC (these last two issues were tied for fourth rarest).

The 1870-CC has remained an extremely rare coin, despite a surprisingly high frequency of auction appearance in the middle part of this decade. I had previously thought 35-45 were known. Today, I think that number is around 40-50. This includes a number of low grade coins and at least five or six that are either damaged or cleaned to the point that can not be graded by PCGS or NGC.

The rarity of the 1891-CC seems to have diminished quite a bit. I think there are two reasons for this. The first is that I overestimated its rarity in 2001. The second is that a significant number of examples have been found in Europe and other overseas sources. This date hasn’t become plentiful in higher grades but it is far more available in AU50 to AU55 than I ever remember it being before.

The 1871-CC seems more available as well. In 2001, this issue was very hard to find in any grade and it was almost never seen above AU50. Today it is more available and the number of coins graded AU53 to AU55 has risen dramatically. I would attribute much of this to gradeflation as the majority of the 1871-CC double eagles that I see in AU53 and AU55 holders are “enthusiastically” graded, to say the least. In properly graded Mint State, the 1871-CC remains exceedingly rare.

A date whose rarity has become more apparent is the 1885-CC. In the 2001 edition of my book, this date was not even listed in the top six rarest Carson City double eagles. I now rank it as being tied for fourth along with the 1879-CC.

Everyone loves a sleeper, right? The dates that I believe are underrated (and undervalued) in the Carson City double eagle series include the 1872-CC, 1877-CC, 1882-CC and 1892-CC.

In higher grades (AU50 and above), the rarity scale of the Carson City double eagle series has remained remarkably consistent. In 2001, I stated that the 1870-CC, 1871-CC, 1879-CC, 1878-CC, 1891-CC and 1872-CC were, in that order, the six rarest issues. In 2010, I believe the six rarest are the 1870-CC, 1871-CC, 1878-CC, 1879-CC, 1872-CC and 1891-CC. In other words, the same six dates are still the keys in higher grades but there are now some minor changes in the order. (more…)

September Coin Market Report

By Vic Bozarth – Bozarth Numismatics
Vic is our Newest CoinLink Content Partner. He will be providing Regular Market Reports and articles

As I write this on Labor Day 2010, I can’t help but reflect on the trends I have seen in the coin business over the last 25 years. Generally speaking the coin business during the Summer months, June through August, is flat. Of course, the ANA Show highlights the Summer show schedule, but other than the marathon it has become, the other shows are somewhat sparsely attended and well ‘flat’. With only a couple of exceptions, the Summer doldrums have lived up to their name. People are on vacation, taking time off, and hopefully spending some time with family and friends. Thank goodness Summer is over. Let’s do some business.

Business picks up during the Fall and early Winter months. Folks are done with their vacations, the weather is forcing them inside, and the coin market recognizes this most years and gets more active. We are already starting to see this trend in the bullion markets.

The two big questions you should focus on are: Where is the business going this Fall? How can you best take advantage of the market as it stands right now?

Gold and Silver bullion prices are moving up. While we specialize in rare high grade U.S. coins, we recognize and believe that bullion prices will continue to rise. How can you take advantage of this trend. U.S. gold coins are a great way to both hold and invest in bullion and take advantage of the low premiums that they currently carry in relation to their historic price levels. Let me illustrate this with an example.

During the last couple of months of 2009, gold bullion price levels bounced around $1200 per ounce. The ‘blue’ chip U.S. gold type coins that are most bullion sensitive, $10 and $20 gold coins, were extremely active.

The market peaked in late 2009 and to illustrate this I have listed wholesale price levels for actively traded gold coins then vs. now. Note the difference in the price of gold itself.

2009 Spot Gold $1195/ounce ……… 2010 Spot Gold $1250/ounce

Coin Type & Grade 2009 2010
$10 Liberty Gold MS63: $1500 $1000
$10 Liberty Gold MS64: $2400 $1600
$10 Indian Gold MS63: $1600 $1040
$10 Indian Gold MS64: $2400 $1650
$20 Liberty Gold MS63: $2600 $1800
$20 Liberty Gold MS64: $3300 $2250
$20 Saint Gold MS64: $1900 $1650
$20 Saint Gold MS65: $2600 $2010

What I am trying to illustrate is how ‘demand’ can really affect the wholesale price levels of coins, especially gold. During late 2009 there were some major institutional orders for these type of coins. This pushed demand/prices up and we sold into this peak of the market. Currently U.S. type gold coins are trading for significantly less yet the price for gold bullion is nearly $1250 per ounce. Do you see the disparity? (more…)

Heritage’s Upcoming Long Beach Coin Auction Highlights

The recently discovered Bullock specimen of the 1856-O double eagle, graded XF45+ by NGC, has already generating buzz in the numismatic community as the principal draw at the upcoming Heritage Auction’s U.S. Coin Auction, to be held Sept. 23-26 in Long Beach, CA.

The Bullock 1856-O double eagle is an incredible coin with an even more incredible story. After it was pulled from circulation by James Bullock, a Kentucky farmer, it spent more than 80 years in an Ohio family’s holdings. It was utterly unknown to collectors until John W. McCloskey was asked to examine it earlier this year. McCloskey went through an extensive verification process to reassure himself that this was a genuine 1856-O double eagle, the rarest and most famous gold coin struck at New Orleans. Fewer than two dozen examples are available to collectors, even after the discovery of the Bullock specimen. It is estimated at $300,000+. This is the first time it will be offered at auction.

Another golden treasure from the Old West is expected to bring $60,000+ and is the most important coin in The Dr. Mani and Kay Ehteshami Collection: The Single finest 1891-CC eagle.

“Even in the 21st century, the allure of the Old West remains powerful, and coins from the Carson City Mint are among the most evocative of that time,” said Greg Rohan, President of Heritage. “The Carson City Mint started striking coins in 1870, just six years after Nevada achieved statehood. It was effectively a frontier operation, and keeping it open was a constant struggle. Its minting operations were shut down from 1885 to 1889 and closed for good in 1893.”

The Carson City Mint struck silver and gold coinage. It is most famous for its largest coins, such as silver dollars and ten dollar and twenty dollar gold pieces, otherwise known as “eagles” and “double eagles.”

“Carson City had its highest production of $10 gold pieces in 1891, when just more than 100,000 pieces were struck,” said Rohan. “It never had a six-figure mintage for that denomination before or after. Many examples have survived, including a number of Mint State coins, but at MS65, the Ehteshami example is the best-preserved of all.”

Not only is the Ehteshami example the single finest example of the 1891-CC $10 issue, it is one of just three Carson City $10 coins graded MS65 or better, regardless of date. The others are dated 1874-CC and 1882-CC. While a high mintage or survival rate can create a supply of Mint State coins, the existence of a superior Mint State coin, such as an MS65, is far more random. The rough conditions of Carson City at the time make such a coin’s existence all the more remarkable.

“Careful preservation and the purest chance made the Ehteshami example what it is, and the world of Carson City coin collecting is the better for it,” said Rohan. “Our cataloger called it ‘the 1891-CC eagle that all others wish they could be.’ More than that, it is the 1891-CC eagle that all Carson City collectors wish they could own, but there can be only one winning bidder.” (more…)

Some Observations About the 2010 Boston ANA Coin Show

To be perfectly frank, I hate coin show reports. I hate to write them. I hate to read them. I don’t care what restaurants a dealer went to and what they ate and I don’t really care that Dealer X spent this much money on those coins at the show. That said, I also know that the ANA is the show that everyone who didn’t attend wants to know about. So, with these people in mind, I thought I’d share a few random observations about the ANA.

On a scale of 1-10, I’d rate this show as a solid 6; possibly a 7. Overall, I’d say a was a tiny bit disappointed. I was expecting the show to be an 8 or a 9 because of the fact that it was the first ANA in Boston since 1982 and the fact that Boston is within a few hours of huge numbers of serious collectors.

I go to coin shows primarily to buy and from a buying standpoint I was reasonably pleased. I bought some great coins. These include an 1854-O double eagle in PCGS AU55, the Garrett specimen of the 1808 quarter eagle (graded AU53 by PCGS) and over fifty crusty original 19th century gold pieces, most of which have already found their way onto my website. I would have liked to buy more buy, hey, that’s what I say at every show; even when I’m wondering how I’m going to sell all the great coins I just bought. And, yes, this paragraph is self-promotion.

Attendance seemed good and the mood among dealers and collectors seemed upbeat and positive. I didn’t have any little old ladies walk up to my table with a New England shilling in a cigar box ( a fella can dream, can’t he?) but I was fairly pleased at the number of fresh coins that I was able to purchase on the floor.

I participated in three auctions. The Stack’s sale contained an interesting fresh deal of Liberty Head eagles and prices were amazing (more on this in a future blog). The Bowers and Merena sale was reasonably strong but prices were mainly reflective on the quality of the coins. In other words, nice coins brought good prices while schlock sold cheaply if at all. The Heritage sale was strong although prices didn’t seem as off the charts as in years past. With the exception of the eagles in the Stack’s sale the coins brought basically what they were worth. That sounds trite but, in past ANA sales, many coins brought alot (stress alot) more than they were worth. Alot.

In the area of rare gold, I noticed some definite market trends. Early date (i.e., pre-1834) gold was almost non-existent. Even the low end, overpriced stragglers that had been overhanging the market seemed to have disappeared. I can’t remember an ANA at which I saw fewer early gold coins nor a major show that I purchased fewer.

There was extremely strong demand for Type One double eagles. The coins that nearly everyone seemed to want were common and somewhat better dates in AU50 and up, especially in the $2,000-7,500 price range. Demand was also strong for interesting Type Ones in the $10,000-20,000 range. Its hard to say what demand was like for expensive, really great Type Ones as there were almost none to be seen at the show. (more…)

The Ten Rarest Three Dollar Gold Pieces

top_10_three_dollarIn my continuing series that has focused on the ten rarest coins in each denomination of United States gold coin struck from the late 1830’s to the early 1900’s, I’ve nearly reached the end of the road. The last major denomination to discuss is the enigmatic Three Dollar gold piece.

This denomination was produced from 1854 to 1889. For more details and history behind the series I suggest that you read the book the Q. David Bowers and I wrote in 2005. It is available through Stack’s and fine numismatic booksellers everywhere.

The ten rarest Three Dollar gold pieces are as follows:

1. 1870-S:

The 1870-S is the only unique regular issue U.S. gold coin. The sole example resides in the Harry Bass core collection that is currently housed in the ANA Museum in Colorado Springs. Bass purchased it for $687,500 at the Eliasberg sale in 1982. It had been acquired by private treaty from Stack’s in January 1946 for $11,500. The coin is not visually impressive when you see it in person. It has the details of Extremely Fine/About Uncirculated but it was once used as a watch fob by the former Chief Coiner of the San Francisco mint. It has the numbers “893” scratched on the reverse above the wreath tips at 12:00. Nonetheless, it remains one of the two most desirable regular issue United States gold coins, along with the 1822 half eagle. What would this coin bring if sold in the near future? That’s a hard question to answer. There are not many collectors that specialize in this series and the coin itself, as I mentioned above, is not destined to win any beauty contests. That said, it’s unique and it’s a legitimate regular issue with no mystery or controversy trailing it. I’d set the over/under line at $5 million and probably take the over…if I were a betting man.

2. 1875:

This date has been a celebrated rarity for well over a century and it is the first United States coin to eclipse the $100,000 mark at public auction, all the way back in 1972. The mintage is traditionally said to be 20 pieces, all in a Proof format. We can deduce with certainty that more than this were made to satisfy contemporary demand. Today, there are between two and three dozen known. Ironically, the 1875 is among the least rare Three Dollar proofs from this era, in relation to the total numbers known. But the fact that business strikes do not exist make it a very rare issue from the standpoint of overall availability. Gems continue to sell in the $175,000-250,000+ range and the level of demand for the 1875 continues to be as strong as ever.
(more…)

San Francisco Double Eagles: A Date by Date Analysis Part Three

By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com

Part One
Part Two

In 1877, a third type of double eagle was created when the reverse valuation was changed from TWENTY D to TWENTY DOLLARS. Liberty Head double eagles were produced with just one interruption (1886) from 1877 through 1907. This is a very easy series to complete as all thirty issues are readily available in the lower Uncirculated grades and many of the post-1890 date can even be found in Gem.

I would recommend this series for beginning collectors or advanced collectors who are more interested in grade than absolute rarity. What follows is a date-by-date analysis of each issue.

1877-S: This is the most common Type Three San Francisco double eagle from the 1870’s. It is common in grades up to an including MS62. It becomes scarce in MS63 and is very rare in MS64 and above. Most are seen with good luster and nice color but heavily abraded surfaces. The finest known is Stack’s 1/09: 1420, graded MS65 by NGC, which set a record price for the date at $29,900.

1878-S: The 1878-S is scarcer than the 1877-S but it is still a fairly easy date to find in grades up to an including MS62. In MS63 it is rare and it is extremely rare above this. The finest that I have personally seen is the high end PCGS MS63, ex Heritage 9/06: 4139, which sold for a strong $23,000. This date is characterized by soft, frosty luster and heavy abrasions on the surfaces.

1879-S:
This is easily the scarcest San Francisco Type Three double eagle from the 1870’s and it is one of the harder SF issues of this type to locate. It is scarce even in the lowest Uncirculated grades and it is very scarce in properly graded MS62. In MS63, the 1879-S is very rare and there is but one example graded better than this, a PCGS MS64, ex Heritage 9/07: 3851, which sold for an amazing $63,250. Virtually every known example is marred by excessive bagmarks and many have impaired luster as a result.

1880-S: The 1880-S is only marginally scarce in MS60 to MS61 but it becomes a hard date to find in properly graded MS62. It is rare in MS63 and very rare above this but there are a few very high quality pieces known. The best is a superb NGC MS66, ex Heritage 2004 ANA: 7626, which brought a hefty $92,000 and the second best is an NGC MS65, ex Bowers and Merena 2/06: 603 that was bid up to $54,625. These are the two best early date Type Three San Francisco double eagles that I have personally seen.

1881-S: The 1881-S is much more available in the MS60 to MS62 range than the 1879-S and 1880-S. It is only moderately scarce in MS62 but it becomes rare in MS63 and I have never seen one that graded higher than this. The best I am aware of are a small group of nice PCGS MS63 coins, the last of which to sell was Heritage 4/09: 2763 (at $17,250). As with all of the early S Mint Type Three issues, this date is characterized by good luster and color but heavy surface marks.

1882-S: Beginning with this issue, the Type Threes from San Francisco become more available in the lower Uncirculated grades. The 1882-S is very common through MS62 and slightly scarce in MS63. But it is very rare in properly graded MS64 and I am not aware of any Gems. The best I know of is ex Heritage 7/06: 1714; a PCGS MS63 that brought $23,000.

1883-S:
The 1883-S is very common through MS63 but it becomes very rare in MS64 and it may not exist in Gem. This date is seen with good luster and color but is almost always very heavily abraded. There is a small group of properly graded MS64’s known and the last of these to sell was Heritage 1/10: 2261, graded by NGC, which realized $16,100. (more…)

Stacks to offer a Curious Specimen 1914 Gold Eagle. Is it a Proof Coin without the Matte Finish?

The following is from the Stack’s Auction Catalog description offering this raw 1914 Gold Eagle as Lot 1228 in the upcoming August 8th Boston auction.:

“Here is a most curious coin. The strike is clearly that of a Proof, with a high fin or wire edge around most of the extreme edge and the familiar textured fields (imparted by finely acid etched dies) and bountifully struck devices. However, there is no matte finish that normally is present on Proof eagles of this year, none whatsoever.

Philadelphia Mint records note a mere 50 pieces were produced in Proof in 1914 of the eagle denomination, likely including the present coin. The finish is the Roman style finish that first appeared on the unique 1907 Rolled Edge, Periods example, popping up again on perhaps four of the Proofs of 1908 and on all the Proof eagles of 1909-1910 (aside from a couple of unusual Matte pieces coined in those two years).

Apparently the mint was trying out various finishes through the brief and fleeting run of Proof eagles. As noted in Renaissance of American Coinage 1905-1908 by Roger Burdette the method of Proof manufacture seems to point to a single step being left out on this particular coin; that of course being the matte process which imparts the darker finish to the coin through sandblasting, applied as a final step prior to sale.

Essentially, the gold Proofs of 1908 to 1915 were initially struck as Satin Proofs, using newly hubbed dies that produce lustrous non-mirror surfaces—the so called Roman Finish Proofs seen in 1909-10.

The Matte Proofs have an additional step, the application of a powder which produces the matte finish over the entire coin. Clearly this 1914 was a manufactured Proof struck in the normal Roman finish of 1909-10, but did not have the final matte process applied. Each coin was carefully inspected, and perhaps this particular coin was found faulty for some minor reason and set aside. Reportedly, excess Proofs that did not merit the sandblasting and matte process were placed in circulation. This may be such a coin.

Another possibility is that in 1914 one person requested a satin finish style and this particular coin was struck to fill the order, as this too would account for the present coin. Notice the edge of the coin, the chiseled stars and boldly defined edge characteristics are decidedly different than any Mint State coin, with a precision reserved only for Proofs. The devices and rims are full and sharp, the entire surface has the slightly textured appearance unique to Proofs. Compared with a normal 1914 Proof eagle, this lacks only the microscopic facets and the darker, coarser finish as produced by bronzing matte powder. It would seem unlikely that this unusual finish (for 1914) came about by some casual blunder by the coiner with such a small order to fill of 50 coins, and those being the all important Proofs, presumably this coin would not have escaped unnoticed.

Similar one-off gold Proofs exist for 1907, 1908, 1909 and 1910 for the eagle series, and in the double eagles, multiple Proof finishes are known for 1907, 1908 and 1910 as well as a special striking as late as 1921.

Clearly unusual strikings were anything but unusual during this period. In our modern world the opinions of the third party grading services are highly prized. This particular coin was submitted to both NGC and PCGS in the past and neither service could render an opinion as to what to call it as it did not fit into the normal categories of the other known sandblast Proofs of 1914. (more…)

Coin Rarities & Related Topics: Specimen 1853-O Eagle, Duckor-Price 1893-O and 1895-S Barber Half Dollars

News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #12

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

After covering rarities in the upcoming Boston auctions for weeks, I saved the most awestriking collection for last. Dr. Steven Duckor’s collection of Barber Halves is the greatest of all time for this series. Please read the two part series that I wrote about the importance and depth of this set. Click here to see Part 1, which was published yesterday. Part 2 will be posted soon. As those articles deal with the collection as a whole, with discussion of only a few specific coins, I will mention some additional Barber Halves in the Duckor collection in my columns, including commentary on the 1893-O and 1895-S below.

Just recently, I noticed that one of the most interesting Liberty Head U.S. gold coins will be in the upcoming Stack’s auction, which will be held on Sunday, Aug. 8 at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. It is an 1853-O Eagle that is NGC certified as ‘Specimen-61.’

I. Specially Struck 1853-O $10 Gold Coin

This 1853-O Eagle (U.S. $10 gold coin) is incredibly interesting. I very much enjoyed examining it. I have never seen another coin that very much resembles the texture and other characteristics of this 1853-O Eagle. I wish to thank Adam Crum of Monaco Rare Coins for enabling me to spend considerable time viewing this coin in 2008. It is one of five or so 19th century gold coins that has received a Specimen designation from the NGC, and the only Liberty Head Eagle to be so designated.

As far as I know, the only other Branch Mint gold coin that has received a Specimen designation by the NGC is the 1856-O Double Eagle that has been certified as SP-63 by both the PCGS and the NGC, and has a CAC sticker of approval. It sold privately for $1.8 million in March, as I reported in my inaugural column. It is important to point out, though, that 1856-O Double Eagles are Great Rarities overall, and any 1856-O Double Eagle is worth more than $150,000.

There is a unique Proof 1844-O Eagle, though that coin merits a separate discussion. Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the Proof 1907-D Double Eagle.

The late researcher Breen strongly believed that this 1853-O Eagle is a ‘Branch Mint Proof.’ Breen is probably the foremost U.S. coin expert of all time. In my view, however, it is not a Proof, but is fairly termed a “Specimen” striking.

Breen declared that this 1853-O Eagle is a Proof in two different books, which appeared more than ten years apart. In 1977, is encyclopedia of Proof coins was published, and, in 1988, a giant book was published that covered Proofs and business strikes, and other strikings, of all U.S. coins plus many colonial and territorial issues. Many of the coins that are listed as Proofs in 1977 are not listed as such in 1988. Breen never saw a good number of the coins that he listed as Proofs in 1977. Later, he changed his view of the status of some of these when he actually saw them or when he heard more about them from reliable sources. Moreover, between 1977 and 1988, he may have changed his mind about the Proof status of some coins that he had seen before 1977. Breen certainly did not change his mind about this 1853-O Eagle. He was certain that it is a Proof.

It is true that most experts now have come to believe that some of the coins that Breen labeled as Proofs in 1977 are really just Prooflike. Coins that are clearly not Proofs yet have mirrored surfaces are often termed ‘Prooflike,’ especially if such coins are well struck and/or have extra-smooth fields.

Prooflike coins are usually early business strikes from new dies or later business strikes that were struck from worn dies after they were extensively polished. Even though this 1853-O Eagle clearly has reflective surfaces, Prooflike would not be a correct attribution for it. The dies employed to strike it were not just polished; they were prepared much differently from the ways in which dies were prepared for routine strikings.

This 1853-O is very sharply struck. Quite a few other New Orleans Mint Eagles of the period are sharply struck as well. The characteristics of the design elements of this 1853-O, however, go beyond being sharply struck. Many of the design elements are in relatively higher relief than the corresponding design elements on business strikes. (more…)

The Most Important Coin I’ve Ever Handled

By Mark Borckardt

During 30 years as a full time professional numismatist, I have had the opportunity to examine and handle many of the most important rarities in the American series, including two Brasher doubloons, all five 1913 Liberty nickels, two 1894-S dimes, and four 1804 silver dollars. I have handled 80 of the 100 greatest U.S. coins according to the study published by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth.

Last week I had the pleasure of examining and researching a coin that I believe carries more numismatic and historical importance than any of those coins mentioned above, or any other coin that I have ever handled. It is the 1907 Wire Rim Indian eagle with a plain edge. Only two plain edge specimens were struck, and they were the first Indian eagles ever created, to fulfill the wish of a dying man.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens was near death in the middle of July 1907. Dies for the Indian eagles had already been created, but the collar containing 46 stars was not completed. For that reason, the two plain edge coins were minted, one was sent to President Theodore Roosevelt, and the other was sent to Saint-Gaudens. The sculptor passed away a couple weeks later on August 3.

Roger W. Burdette has traced the issue in his reference Renaissance of American Coinage 1905-1908 (Seneca Mill Press, LLC, 2006), and Michael F. Moran has also examined the issue in his 2008 reference Striking Change — The Great Collaboration of Theodore Roosevelt and Augustus Saint-Gaudens. In a July 28, 2008 Coin World article, P. Scott Rubin writes: “I received an important e-mail from Roger W. Burdette … that this coin was ‘…one of two plain edge pattern pieces struck in July 1907.’ Just as important, he informed me that one of the specimens went to Secretary of the Treasury Cortelyou and the other went to Augustus Saint-Gaudens… I learned that this was the only coin similar to those issued to the public designed by Saint-Gaudens that the artist saw before his death.” While we are unable to say with certainty that the present piece was the coin sent to Saint-Gaudens, it almost certainly is. The coin that went to Cortelyou was forwarded to President Roosevelt who returned it to the Mint. In all likelihood, the Cortelyou-Roosevelt coin was melted, as it does not appear among coins at the Smithsonian Institution.

It is thought that President Roosevelt returned the coin he received, and it is also believed that the coin sent to Saint-Gaudens was retained by the artist. It is my belief that the coin I handled is the exact coin that Saint-Gaudens received. Since all other Indian eagles and all double eagles of his design were minted after his death, this single coin seems to be the only coin of his own design that Saint-Gaudens ever saw in person.

This plain edge 1907 Wire Rim Indian eagle will be offered for sale as lot 3561 in the Platinum Night session of Heritage’s 2010 ANA auction in Boston. The Platinum Night session is scheduled for 6:00 PM EST on Wednesday, August 11. I hope to see many of you there, and hope that those unable to attend will be watching this historic offering on HA.com/live.

UPWARD TREND IN GOLD PRICE DURING SECOND QUARTER 2010 BACKED BY STRONG FUNDAMENTALS, SAYS THE WORLD GOLD COUNCIL

Mixed economic news around the world, concerns over a double dip recession and significant fiat currency weakness meant gold retained its lustre as a protector of wealth during the second quarter 2010, according to the World Gold Council’s (WGC) latest Gold Investment Digest (GID).  The quarter recorded significant net inflows into various gold-backed investment vehicles, as investors sought to harness gold’s investment benefits at a time of weakness and pronounced volatility in other asset classes.

While China has remained resilient, GID also suggests that jewellery demand in other key markets has continued to recover from a weaker 2009.

The report, which was published today, showed:

  • Heightened investor activity supported an upward trend in the gold price throughout the quarter; on several occasions breaking record highs and reaching US$1,261.00/oz on the London PM fix on 28 June, as investors sought out assets offering protection, diversification and liquidity.
  • Investors bought 273.8 net tonnes of gold via exchange traded funds (ETFs) in Q2 2010.  This represents the second largest quarterly inflow on record and brought the total amount of gold held in the ETFs that the WGC monitors to over 2,000 tonnes (worth US$81.6 billion). In particular, SPDR Gold Shares (GLD) surpassed the US$50 billion milestone.
  • In the early part of the second quarter, many currencies around the globe not only fell against the US dollar but also experienced higher levels of volatility as credit woes in Europe had a negative impact on the outlook for the euro and the British pound. While the dollar appeared to fare better, investors sought out gold as a currency alternative as evidenced by large purchases of coins and small bars around the globe.
  • Many assets, including global equities and commodities, experienced a period of pronounced volatility, in some instances surpassing levels seen during the first quarter of 2009.  Gold price volatility, however, remained much lower than many of these assets during the period, meaning gold outperformed versus S&P 500 Total Return Index, the MSCI World ex US Index and S&P Goldman Sachs Commodities Index (S&P GSCI) on a risk-adjusted basis.
  • In Q2 2010, the diversity of gold’s demand base, less driven by industrial uses as many other commodities, meant that gold was one of the best performing commodities.  Oil fell by 9.1% and, similarly, metals with a greater degree of exposure to industrial cycles fell substantially: zinc, nickel and lead dropping by more than 20.0% quarter-on-quarter. Even platinum and palladium posted quarterly losses on the order of 6.7% and 7.9%, respectively.

Juan Carlos Artigas, Investment Research Manager, World Gold Council commented:

“During the second quarter, many financial assets, especially in Europe, suffered losses as risk aversion, credit concerns, and disappointing economic news around the world prompted investors to seek assets with little or no default risk, greater liquidity and lower volatility.  As a result, gold was, once again, one of very few assets that exhibited a positive price performance during the period.  However, it is important to note that while gold continued its upward trend during Q2 2010, its price, relative to the price of various assets is not overvalued by historical standards1 . (more…)

Smart Coin Collecting 101: Is It Ever Right to Buy the Wrong Coin?

By Doug Winter – www.RareGoldCoins.com

In the first installment of Smart Collecting 101 I discussed the “coin churn” and how to avoid it. One reader made a great suggestion for the second topic and I’m going to discuss it at length here. The topic involves buying the “wrong” coin and if there is ever a right time to buy a coin that you clearly know is not optimal for your collection.

The brief answer is yes. It depends on what sort of coins that you collect and what your ultimate goals as a coin collector are. Let’s look at a few scenarios.

If you are a die variety collector there will probably be a number of instances that you’ll be offered a coin that is a major rarity but which is either ugly or damaged or harshly cleaned or maybe even a combination of all three. But you may still have to buy the coin. Let’s say you collect die varieties of early quarter eagles. There are a few varieties that are exceedingly rare and might literally be available once per decade; even once in a generation. In this case, if you aspire to have a truly complete collection, you’ll buy whatever becomes available for the extreme rarities; even if the coin is damaged. And you’ll probably be thrilled just to have the chance.

Let’s say that you are a date collector and you are focusing on a series with major rarities in it. If the series that you are pursuing has some incredibly rare issues (say Fat Head half eagles) it certainly wouldn’t be “wrong” to purchase a decent looking but cleaned example of a coin that you know might not be available again for years or which may exist in decent condition but which might be ungodly expensive if ever offered. My feeling here is that if you are someone who likes high grade coins you should avoid specializing in a series that has certain issues that almost never come in high grades.

This leads me to another scenario. Let’s say you are a person who hates flatly struck coins. You have waited many years to fill a hole in your set and the date in question finally becomes available. The only problem with the coin, and let’s say it’s fairly decent in terms of overall quality, is that it is flat as a pancake at the centers. What should you do?

I’d suggest that you research the series and learn what percentage of the issue in question comes with this sort of strike. If every known example is weakly struck, then you just need to buy it. If some examples do exist with decent strikes, I’d say that you pass and wait for a sharper example.

There are some issues that are just so rare or so popular that I will compromise my standards and purchase problem coins now and then. As an example, if I saw a decent looking but cleaned 1870-CC eagle for sale I think I’d buy it; as long as it were priced fairly. It’s rare, its in demand and its a cool first-year-of-issue. Plus I think its undervalued in comparison to other high profile Carson City issues. But I wouldn’t buy most of the other CC eagles with problems. The reasons for this are simple: they would be hard to sell, they aren’t in great demand and nice examples are available with enough frequency that the wrong coin makes no sense. I would take this even further with scarce but not overly rare issues. I’d be patient and wait for the exact coin I wanted.

My high degree of standards would also slacken on great rarities (notice I didn’t say “expensive coins.” I said “great rarities.”) I would have no interest in a damaged ex-jewelry Stella but I would consider an 1864-S half eagle or an 1875 eagle if it were cleaned, very well worn or heavily abraded. In fact, these two issues are rare AND undervalued so I would probably not only buy one “wrong” example, I’d buy as many as I could find. (more…)

San Francisco Double Eagles: A Date by Date Analysis Part One

By Doug Winter – www.RareGoldCoins.com

It has been a long time since I’ve written anything about the San Francisco double eagles. As these coins have become increasingly popular over the course of time (they are actually the most popular gold coins from this mint by a considerable margin) I think this would be an excellent time to begin a series of articles. It is only natural to divide these coins into three groups and this would be as follows:

*Type One, 1854-1866
*Type Two, 1866-1876
*Type Three, 1877-1907

This first article is going to deal with the very popular Type One issues that were produced, as stated above, from 1854 through 1866.

1854-S:

After years of neglect, this historically significant date has finally come into its own. The survival pattern of the 1854-S is different than for any other SF double eagle. Examples are likely to be found either very well worn (in VF35 to EF45 grades) or in Uncirculated (MS61 to MS63). This is because of the fact that this issue saw considerable circulation in the booming local Gold Rush economy and that a hoard of 100 or so Uncirculated pieces with seawater surfaces exists. The 1854-S is extremely rare in high grades with natural surfaces. I have only seen two in Uncirculated not from the shipwreck and just a handful of non-seawater AU pieces. A new price record was set for the date by Heritage 10/08: 3013, graded MS65 by PCGS, which brought a remarkable $115,000. Despite this, published pricing information for the 1854-S is way too low and a solid AU55 or AU58 with natural surfaces is worth well over current levels.

1855-S:

For many collectors, the 1855-S is the earliest date SF double eagle that is added to their collection. This issue remains reasonably available in the lower to medium About Uncirculated grades but it is scarce in Uncirculated and much undervalued in my opinion. I believe that there are as many as 150-200 known in Uncirculated with many of these either in the lower range of this grade or sourced from the S.S. Central America or S.S. Republic shipwrecks. As with the other double eagles from this date, the 1855-S is characterized by very heavily abraded surfaces and choice, original pieces are worth a premium. At less than $3,000 for a pleasing, high end AU example, I think that the 1855-S remains an outstanding value in the Type One market.
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The Top Ten Rarest $10 Liberty Head Gold Coins

Top Ten Rarest Liberty Head Eagles

By Doug Winter – www.RareGoldCoins.com

This article is about the Ten rarest Liberty Head eagles. Notice that I didn’t say “the ten most popular” or “the ten most expensive.” Readers may be surprised that this top ten list does not include any Carson City issues (although I was tempted to include the 1870-CC) and just one from New Orleans.

In looking over the list you will note that six of the ten coins are from Philadelphia and at least one or two are probably not all that familiar to even the most advanced collector of Liberty Head gold. Most of these dates have very low original mintage figures (one, the 1875, has a mintage of just 100 business strikes!) and nearly all have remarkably low survival rates. To qualify for this list, an issue requires a total population of under 50-60 coins.

Liberty Head EaglesIn order of their rarity, here is my list of the ten rarest Liberty Head eagles.

1. 1875:

The Philadelphia gold coinage of 1875 includes a number of issues with exceedingly low mintages. Only 400 examples of both the gold dollar and quarter eagle were produced but the survival rate is higher than expected. The three dollar is a Proof-only issue that has sold for over $100,000 since the 1970’s while the half eagle is a major rarity with probably no more than 10-12 known from the original mintage of 200. I believe that the 1875 eagle, however, is the rarest of all these impressive Philadelphia issues. I have seen it stated that as many as 12-15 are known but I believe that this figure is on the high side and that the actual number is more likely seven to nine. I have personally seen two or three that I would grade AU including Superior 6/97: 1541 and B&M 3/98: 2207 that were graded AU53 and AU50, respectively, by PCGS. The all-time auction record is $74,750 for an NGC AU55 sold as Lot 2102 in DLRC’s Richmond I auction in 2004.

Every business strike 1875 eagle (and I haven’t seen once since Heritage offered a PCGS VF35 in January 2006) is characterized by excessively abraded surfaces and inferior eye appeal. Some of the coins that have been certified as business strikes by both services are actually Impaired Proofs. Proof 1875 eagles have a different date position than business strikes and use a different reverse with the top of the second vertical stripe in the shield incomplete.

I believe that this is an extremely undervalued issue and if it were part of a more popular series it would be a $100,000++ coin. (more…)

A Look at the Current Market for Type One Gold Double Eagles Coins

By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com

How’s the market doing for Type One double eagles? Good question and one that I feel well-qualified to answer, having been a very active participant in this market for over two decades.

We’ve had a lot of interesting external factors shape the Type One market in the last few years. Naturally, the severe economic conditions of 2007-2009 had a profound influence; especially at the high end of the market. And even if the economy had been strong there’s a chance that prices for rarities might have slowed down on their own, given the extreme rise in prices we had seen in the Type One market for the previous five years. It was natural that there would be some profit taking; what I didn’t expect was some of the forced sales we saw in 2007 and 2008.

And then there is the X factor in the Type One market: the incredible run-up in gold prices that has seen metal prices top $1,200 per ounce, and the associated pressures on supply that this has brought with it.

All that said, I’m pretty amazed at how strong this segment of the market is right now. In my mind, there is no question that most Type One double eagles valued at less than $5,000 are in greater demand than I can ever remember. I also think that prices are about as strong as I can recall for these coins. If you look at recent auction, nearly all decent quality EF45 to AU58 Type One double eagles are bringing in excess of Trends (more on pricing in a second…) and these coins are typically selling at auction to dealers; not necessarily end-user collectors.

The coins priced at $5,000-20,000 are generally quite strong as well, although not as much so as at the lower price point. The key factors for Type One double eagles in this price range are: eye appeal, eye appeal, eye appeal and the “sexiness” of the date. This is clearly a collector-oriented market and really pretty coins (i.e., those that are not excessively bagmarked, those that are not all bright and shiny and those that are well-made) are in great demand. Average and below-average quality coins still sell; especially if they are useful dates. But they do not bring the premium prices that the nice coins bring.

The real weakness in this market a few years ago was with the expensive coins. As I touched on above the reasons for this were twofold. When the world economy seemed to be melting down, people weren’t all that crazy about dropping $50,000 on a coin. And prices had risen so much on many of the key issues that many market participants wondered if certain key issues were still good values at the levels they had risen to.

Before addressing some specific areas in the market, I mentioned earlier about difficulties with pricing. Coin World Trends ability to keep up with this area in the market appears to not be as good as it was before and many Type One issues now sell for over Trends. This is particularly true with less expensive coins in circulated grades. (more…)

Park Avenue Numismatics Sells Classic Key Date US Gold Coin: 1854-O Double Eagle in AU-55

[CoinLink News] June 10, 2010 – Park Avenue Numismatics is pleased to announce the acquisition and sale of the one of the Finest Known examples of the rare and elusive 1854-O $20 Liberty Type 1 Double Eagle graded AU55 by NGC.

The coin, worth an estimated $650,000, was sold to a Collector attempting to complete a set of $20 Liberty Head Double Eagles. This 1854-O, Green says, “was sold to a client as an upgrade to his complete set.” Green has “handled two other 1854-O deals with him over the past decade. Moreover, his set is fast becoming one of the finest complete $20 gold sets known.” If it were registered, “it would compete with the best sets out there,” Bob declares.

“We are fortunate to be able to handle major rarities such as this and our clients’ rely upon us to continue to aggressively pursue and locate key date gold coins and assist them in completing sets and series, stated Bob Green, President of Park Avenue Numismatics.

“This example was fresh to the market and when it surfaced I went after the coin without hesitation,” Green continued. “This is the finest I’ve seen.”

Of the 3,250 originally minted only 4 have been graded AU55 by NGC with only 2 graded finer in AU58. The 1854-O Liberty Double Eagle is one of the most important rarities in U.S. numismatics and is the second rarest New Orleans Mint Double Eagle (Only behind the 1856-O) .

There are no 1854-O Double Eagles that grade MS-60 or higher, with only a handful of AU specimens available. As such demand for properly graded 54-O’s is intense according to Green. The coin is listed as one of the TOP 100 Greatest US Coins.

Park Avenue Numismatics, a Miami based rare coin firm established in 1987, specializes in Ultra Rarities, and has handled this date before including examples grading V35, XF45, AU50 and AU53 in the past decade. “Collectors contact us regularly with Key Date gold coins because of our stellar reputation in this specialized area of the market,” Green continued. Other numismatic rarities acquired recently include a 1907 $10 Indian MS67 NGC, and a collection of Pre-1908 MS68 United Stated gold coins (more…)

Transitional US Gold Coins

By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com

Throughout the history of gold coin production in the United States there have been a number of instances where two different designs were produced simultaneously, or at least within the same year. I call these “transitional” coins and I think they would make for a very interesting collecting focus for the gold coin specialist.

In the gold dollar denomination, the most obvious transitional issue occurred in 1854 when both the Type I and the Type II issues were produced. Both of these are relatively common although the Type Two becomes scarce in the higher grades and rare in MS64 or better. In 1856 two designs were produced: the Type Two and the Type Three. Since the Type Two was only made in San Francisco this year and there are no 1856-S Type Three gold dollars this isn’t a transitional issue in the sense of the 1854.

There are some very interesting transitional issues in the quarter eagle denomination. In 1796 both No Stars and With Stars designs were produced. Both of these are rare in all grades and because of price constraints they would be considered one of the stoppers of a transitional set. The next transitional issue occurred in 1834 when both the Capped Bust and the Classic Head quarter eagles were struck at the Philadelphia mint. The former is an extremely rare coin in all grades while the latter is common in grades up to and including MS63.

More transitional issues exist in the early half eagles than in virtually all other denominations combined. The reason for these transitional issues tends to be different than, say, for the 1854 Type One and Type Two dollar when the design was changed to facilitate improved striking.

There are two types of half eagle dated 1795: the Small Eagle reverse and the Large Eagle reverse. The former was actually produced in 1795 and it is relatively common. The latter was struck in either 1797 or early 1798 using a backdated obverse die. Only 1,000 or so 1795 Large Eagle half eagles were made and this clearly would be one of the stoppers to a transitional set.

A similar circumstance exists with 1797 half eagles. Small Eagle reverse coins from this year are known with both fifteen and sixteen stars on the obverse. These are very rare but not impossible to locate. There are also 1797/5 half eagles with the Large Eagle reverse. These are extremely rare and include two die varieties that are presently unique and housed in the Smithsonian. (more…)