By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com ……
CoinWeek Content Partner
Stack’s Bowers sold another group of Liberty Head half eagles sourced from the Fairmont Collection in their recent March 2021 Las Vegas auction. There were numerous nice collector-grade coins but no rarities, and virtually no coins that would sell for over $10,000. All the coins were graded by PCGS and a sizable percentage were approved by CAC. How did these coins do? Let’s break down some of the coins by mint and try to make sense of the prices.
The Fairmont coins have been selling now for around three years and for those of us who specialize in Liberty Head gold, this hoard has been a revelation. I was talking to a good client a few weeks ago and the subject of these coins came up. He said, basically, that in his mind, “Fairmont” signified exceptional quality with most of the coins from this source displaying lovely original color and premium eye appeal. It is interesting to note that very few of these Fairmont coins have traded in the aftermarket, confirming that most of the coins from this source have reached end-users and have not bounced around from dealer to dealer. I’ll confess that I’ve bought a few of the Fairmont half eagles for myself as they are so exceptional.
Philadelphia Half Eagles
Lot 5763: 1857 $5.00 PCGS AU58 CAC. Images courtesy PCGS
There were no better-date Philadelphia half eagles in this group, and the Fairmont Collection has lacked examples of most of the scarce low-mintage Civil War and Reconstruction era half eagles from this facility. The pre-Civil War coins in the March 2021 auction were mainly in the $1,000-3,000 USD range and prices were generally 10-30% over “typical” offerings. The inexpensive P mints deserved this premium as they were very choice. As an example, Lot 5763 as a nice PCGS/CAC 1857 graded AU58 which brought $1,440. The last PCGS/CAC AU58 to sell brought $1,151 as Scotsman 11/2020: 272. The Fairmont coin sold for a 20% premium and, in my opinion, it was well worth the extra $300.
Lot 5758: 1854-O $5.00 PCGS AU53 CAC
There were just a small handful of New Orleans half eagles in the March 2021 sale but they generally brought strong prices. Lot 5735, a very common 1844-O in PCGS AU55 brought $3,840. A similarly graded but not nearly as nice example (also approved by CAC) sold for $1,357 as Scotsman 11/2020: 265, and there are auction records as low as $900 for NGC AU55 examples from as recently as May 2020. A coin which surprised me was Lot 5758, an 1854-O graded AU53 and approved by CAC. This date is much scarcer than most collectors realize and CAC quality pieces are seldom offered. The Fairmont: 5758 coin brought a very strong $3,840. Interestingly, another Fairmont 1854-O in PCGS/CAC AU53 brought $2,160 in Stack’s Bowers 8/2020 auction.
Charlotte and Dahlonega
The C+D mint half eagles in all of the Fairmont offerings have been in lower grades than one might expect; they certainly have been nowhere near the quality of the coins which were sold by Kunker Auctions in Germany in September 2020 as those were mostly AU and low-end Uncirculated. But the Fairmont coins have been reasonably nice and in a grade range (mostly VF and EF) which appeals to collectors.
In a non-auction venue, I can typically buy nice quality common date VF Charlotte and Dahlonega half eagles for $1,400-1,800. This was not the case with these Fairmont coins which brought strong premiums. A few examples are an 1848-D in PCGS/CAC VF25 for $2,640, a PCGS/CAC EF40 1849-C for $3,600, a PCGS/CAC VF30 1852-D for $2,280, an 1855-D in PCGS/CAC VF35 for $3,480, and a PCGS EF40 1859-C for $3,480. All of these prices are at least 25-50% over what I typically sell nice comparably graded C+D half eagles for.
Lot 5757: 1854-C $5.00 PCGS EF45 CAC
One coin really stood out: Lot 5757, an 1854-C in PCGS/CAC EF45. This is a really rare issue with original color and surfaces and a sharp mintmark. The Fairmont coin was among the nicest collector grade examples of the date which I had ever seen and I could see this coin upgrading to an AU50. But it sold for $6,600 which is strong AU money. As a comparison, the only CAC approved PCGS EF45 to ever sell at auction brought $3,525 in June 2016 which in and of itself is a strong price.
If this sale is any indication, the Carson City half eagle market is on fire. I don’t usually get absolutely smoked at auction when bidding, but I did at the March 2021 Stack’s Bowers sale.
Lot 5779: 1871-CC $5.00 PCGS VF30 CAC
Here are some of the prices realized for Carson City half eagles at this sale. Note that the coins, while very nice for the grade, were not undergraded (at least, not in my opinion):
- Lot 5779: 1871-CC PCGS/CAC VF30, $8,400. Last auction record, Heritage 1/2020: 5325 for the same grade (with CAC) at $4,560.
- Lot 5789: 1875-CC PCGS VG8, $3,840. Last auction record for a PCGS VG10 was $1,998 by Stack’s Bowers 8/2012: 435.
- Lot 5795: 1879-CC PCGS/CAC VF30, $4,560. Last auction record, Heritage 4/2019: 4794 for the same grade (with CAC) at $2,370.
- Lot 5797: 1880-CC PCGS/CAC AU55, $6,600. Last auction record, Heritage 3/2017: 2434 for the same grade (with CAC) at $4,465.
- Lot 5807: 1883-CC PCGS/CAC AU50, $10,800. Last auction record for an AU50 (without CAC) was $3,360 in May 2019.
- Lot 5808: 1884-CC PCGS/CAC AU55, $9,000. Last auction record for a PCGS AU55 (without CAC) was $6,463 in March 2017.
Lot 5807: 1883-CC PCGS AU50 CAC
Also worth noting is that none of these dates are “rare” by the standards of Carson City half eagles nor were they anywhere close to being Condition Census for the issue.
In my opinion, these prices represent extremely high numbers for these issues and it appears that price guides will have to be updated for virtually all Carson City gold coins due to across-the-board-strength at recent auctions.
In my opinion, it’s been the San Francisco half eagles which have been the nicest coins of this denomination in the Fairmont offering. The depth and quality of these issues would lead me to believe that this hoard originated on the West Coast. This observation is also true for Double Eagles, although the Philadelphia coins in this hoard were much nicer in the double eagles than in either Eagles or Half Eagles.
Lot 5764: 1857-S $5.00 PCGS AU58 CAC
A few coins really stood out to me. One was probably the single nicest AU58 1857-S I’ve ever seen. Offered as Lot 5764, it sold for $5,760. This was actually not a bad deal at all as Heritage 9/2020: 3313, a low end non-CAC PCGS 58, still brought $4,080.
A really nice PCGS/CAC EF45 example of the popular 1865-S sold for $6,300. Another example, in the same grade and with CAC approval but not as nice in my opinion realized $5,640 as Legend 7/2020: 93.
Lot 5785: 1873-S $5.00 PCGS AU58 CAC
A coin that really intrigued me was Lot 5785, an 1873-S graded AU58 by PCGS/CAC. This is a somewhat esoteric issue and the fact that two nice ones from the Fairmont hoard have sold recently (a 58 for $9,600 in November 2020 and a 61 for $34,000 in October 2020) scared off some bidders; myself included. However, the coin still brought $12,000.
Last but certainly not least were a run of the conditionally scarce San Francisco half eagles which form many of the dates struck after 1890. If any San Francisco half eagles seem poised to be “Fairmont-ed” (i.e. have their populations greatly increased by coins from this hoard) it is these. However, the results in the March sale were stronger than I expected, especially the PCGS/CAC MS63 1894-S at $8,700. The only other PCGS MS63 example of this date to sell at auction brought $7,475 back in early 2011.
My overall impression of this (and all the other sales conducted by Stack’s Bowers during their week in Las Vegas) was that prices were strong across the board but especially so for choice, fresh gold issues; especially if graded by PCGS and approved by CAC.
Would you like world-class auction representation in any upcoming US rare coin sale? Please contact me via phone at (214) 675-9897 and we can discuss this.
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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 the 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 “Redbook”) 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.