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Coin Collecting Strategies: The Concept of the Stretch Date


By Doug

CoinWeek Content Partner ……
Unless you are a very savvy collector, it is likely that many of the preconceptions you have about building your set(s) of choice are wrong. One of the most egregious mistakes that I see set collectors make has to do with the decision of what grade to purchase a specific date.

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If you are collecting a long-involved series such as Liberty Head quarter eagles or Liberty Head eagles, you are aware of how daunting the road ahead seems. You have well over 100 date/mint combinations to purchase and many of these are issues which are truly rare (and expensive) in higher grades.

The single biggest mistake I see collectors make is that they overbuy the common dates in their series, and they underbuy the keys. Let’s use the Liberty Head eagle series to illustrate this.

Liberty Head eagles were made from 1838 through 1907 and nearly every date struck prior to 1880 is rare in higher grades. But many of these dates are condition rarities (they are rare only in high grades), while others are absolute rarities (they are rare in all grades).

Unless you have an extremely deep budget, you aren’t going to be able to buy all 175+ in finest available grades. You have to make smart buying decisions — and one of these is figuring which dates are worth “stretching” on to buy.

My point in this blog is that many coins simply aren’t worth stretching for, unless you are assembling an all-time best collection.

Let me give you some specific examples, related to the Liberty Head eagle series.

In this series, the Carson City dates are some of the rarest, most popular and most expensive issues. Many of the pre-1880 dates are worth stretching for, especially ones like the 1870-CC, 1873-CC, 1878-CC and the 1879-CC. The savvy collector has to approach the CC eagles from the 1880s and ’90s differently.

Let’s look at the 1891-CC as this is the closest thing to a “generic” in the area of Carson City eagles.

1891-CC $10 gold eagle. Images courtesy Doug Winter Numismatics

The 1891-CC is scarce in MS63, very rare in properly graded MS64 and exceedingly rare in MS65. The following price chart is an interesting study:

  • PCGS MS63: $5,500-6,500 USD
  • PCGS MS64: $14,000-16,000 USD
  • PCGS MS65: $75,000-100,000 USD (hypothetical; none yet graded)

To me, it seems obvious that the best value grade for the 1891-CC eagle is MS63. An MS64 is probably the right grade for the type collector seeking a single high grade CC eagle. The MS65—if it ever comes available—seems like an incredibly bad value to me. As a serious date collector, it makes sense to me to limit your spending on this reasonably ho-hum date to $5,500-6,500. This will buy you a nice coin and one which shouldn’t pale in appearance when compared to the typical MS64 of this date.

I think every series has a certain percentage of issues which are “stretch dates.” I would estimate that this is in the 15-25% range, meaning that the long, long Liberty Head eagle series (which consists of over 175 issues) has maybe 30-40 dates which the smart collector will stretch on.

What factors constitute a stretch date? These differ from series to series but in the various 18th and 19th century gold series, I’d list these factors as being significant:

  • The coin is an absolute rarity. Ideally, it has a total surviving population of fewer than 100 coins
  • The coin fits into one or more of the following categories: very low mintage, one-year type or first-year-of-issue, has multiple levels of demand
  • The coin isn’t an esoteric variety or a little-known issue. Its rarity is easily evident to even the casual collector

What are the stretch dates for each series? If you want to know the answers, you’ll have to wait for my series of articles about stretch dates which will be published on this site in the coming months. In the meantime, I’d like to hear your opinion about stretch dates in your series of choice.

Doug Winter Numismatics, specialists in U.S. gold coins

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About Doug Winter

Doug_Winter2Doug 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 United States 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 exceptional eye for properly graded and original coins has 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.

Doug Winter
Doug Winter
Doug Winter founded Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN) in 1985. The nationally renowned firm specializes in buying and selling rare United States gold coins. He has written over a dozen books, including the standard references on Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans gold coinage, and Type 1 Liberty Head Double Eagles. Douglas has also contributed to the A Guidebook of United States Coins, 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. He is a member of the PNG, the ANA, the ANS, the NLG, CAC, PCGS, and NGC - among other professional affiliations. Contact Doug Winter at [email protected].

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