By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com ……
CoinWeek Content Partner
Stack’s Bowers recently sold at auction a United States gold coin that I think really sums up the new, ultra-robust market for this area of the market. The coin was an 1888 half eagle graded PCGS/CAC MS65. The coin was exceptional (I graded it 66, if that even matters), and it was by a mile the best example of this unheralded date that I’ve ever seen. Offered as Lot 4121 in the Rarities Night portion of this firm’s post-Baltimore sale, the coin sold for a stronger-than-expected $78,000 USD. It had been off the market since the Superior 2/1992 sale, where it sold for $12,650.
1888 $5 Gold Half Eagle PCGS MS65 CAC, Old Green Holder. Image courtesy Stack’s Bowers Galleries
Viewed as a date, the rarity profile of the 1888 as a business strike resembles other Philadelphia and San Francisco issues of this era. It is common in grades through MS62, slightly scarce in MS63, and truly rare in MS64 as evidenced by the fact that the current PCGS population in that grade is a scant five coins. Yes, it is possible that a few rolls of these exist in Europe but no, they aren’t Gems; if they exist, then they are more likely ultra-abraded MS61 and MS62 coins. Other than for John Clapp Sr., no collector in 1888 had the foresight to purchase Gem business strikes of this date to put away, and the few collectors who bought Liberty Head half eagles focused on Proofs. The Gem 1888 in the Stack’s Bowers sale was the very epitome of a condition rarity and it had it all: old holder, fresh to the market (last sold in 1992 as I mentioned above), and incredibly appealing from a cosmetic perspective.
But here’s the thing.
For years and years, I would buy esoteric coins like this and they would sit and sit and sit in my inventory until I finally found someone who “got” the essence of this coin. In other words, it was really rare but the collector for it was even rarer.
Fast forward to 2021 and we have a market that is driven more by rarity than grade, and even more by rarity and grade tied up in one neat little package. It didn’t matter that this coin was an 1888 half eagle and that no Liberty Head half eagle specialists whom I am aware of care much about P-mint issues struck after 1877 (except for the Proof-only 1887). What attracted potential buyers to this coin was the fact that it was a population 1/0 coin at both PCGS and CAC.
Today’s new breed of collector couldn’t care less that this exact coin might have brought $30,000-$40,000 pre-pandemic. To be honest with you, I thought I might even have a chance to acquire it in this price range until I saw that it was opening at over $50,000 (including the 20% buyer’s premium).
For the new owner of this coin, $78,000 is likely chump change and I would be the first to admit that it actually doesn’t sound crazy at $78k; unlike the recent sale of a PCGS AU53 1870-CC $20 for $1.62 million, which I would be the first to admit doesn’t just sound crazy – it screams insane.
The new owner couldn’t care less that, until very recently, almost no one other than a small cadre of coin weenie dealers (I’m looking at you, DW) would have bought this coin for real money and even then, would likely have placed it in his or her “put away coin stash”.
What the new owner cares about is that they now own a gorgeous pop 1/0 unquestionable-finest-known coin that is virtually certain to remain unique in Gem.
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About Doug Winter
Doug has spent much of his life in the field of numismatics; beginning collecting coins at the age of seven, and by the time he was 10 years old, buying and selling coins at conventions in the New York City area.
In 1989, he founded Douglas Winter Numismatics, and his firm specializes in buying and selling choice and rare US Gold coins, especially US gold coins and all branch mint material.
Recognized as one of the leading specialized numismatic firms, Doug is an award-winning author of over a dozen numismatic books and a recognized expert on US Gold. His knowledge and an exceptional eye for properly graded and original coins have made him one of the most respected figures in the numismatic community and a sought-after dealer by collectors and investors looking for professional personalized service, a select inventory of impeccable quality, and fair and honest pricing. Doug is also a major buyer of all US coins and is always looking to purchase collections both large and small. He can be reached at (214) 675-9897.
Doug has been a contributor to the Guidebook of United States Coins (also known as the “Red Book”) since 1983, Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Coins, Q. David Bowers’ Encyclopedia of United States Silver Dollars and Andrew Pollock’s United States Pattern and Related Issues.
In addition, he has authored 13 books on US Gold coins including:
- Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint: 1839-1909
- Gold Coins of the Carson City Mint: 1870 – 1893
- Gold Coins of the Charlotte Mint: 1838-1861
- Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint 1838-1861
- The United States $3 Gold Pieces 1854-1889
- Carson City Gold Coinage 1870-1893: A Rarity and Condition Census Update
- An Insider’s Guide to Collecting Type One Double Eagles
- The Connoisseur’s Guide to United States Gold Coins
- A Collector’s Guide To Indian Head Quarter Eagles
- The Acadiana Collection of New Orleans Coinage
- Type Three Double Eagles, 1877-1907: A Numismatic History and Analysis
- Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint, 1838-1861: A Numismatic History and Analysis
- Type Two Double Eagles, 1866-1876: A Numismatic History and Analysis
Finally, Doug is a member of virtually every major numismatic organization, professional trade group and major coin association in the US.