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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: Summer FUN Auction, Part 2 – Early Gold

News and Analysis on scarce coins,  markets, and the coin collecting community #61

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds …..
The official auction of the Summer FUN Convention was conducted by Heritage on July 7th and 8th at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. Last week, I wrote about the convention in general and about specific dimes and quarters in this auction. In general, prices were higher than I expected. I was particularly surprised that some mediocre coins, including many that are ‘low end’ for their respective certified grades, did well. The market for rare gold coins is certainly healthy and quite a few gold coins in this auction brought prices above market levels.

The gold coins discussed below do NOT, as a group, represent a fair sampling of the gold coins in this auction and are not intended to be such a sampling. As I did last week, and on many other occasions, I discuss coins that I find to be desirable, interesting, conditionally rare, especially attractive, and/or noteworthy for some other reason. As this is a post-auction review, a couple of coins may be mentioned primarily because they realized strong prices. Moreover, there is not space in reviews to cover a large number of the rare coins in an auction. As pre-1840 gold coins tended to fare especially well in this auction, and I will discuss other types of coins in the near future, pre-1840 Quarter Eagles ($2½ gold coins) and Half Eagles ($5 coins) are the topic here.

Although an extensive collection of better date Liberty Head Double Eagles was consigned, and other Double Eagles came from a number of consignors, I was not impressed with many of them. If gold coins in this auction are analytically grouped by type and time period, the offering of pre-1840 Half Eagles was the main highlight.

Understandably, some collectors and other readers are confused as to the meanings of strong auction results and bewildered by the dynamics of coin auctions. For a discussion of the concept of a strong auction price, please see my column on the Proof Gold in the Winter FUN Auction. For an explanation of auction prices in general, please read my piece on ‘What Are Auction Prices?‘ (As always, clickable links are in blue.)

I. $2½ gold coins

The term ‘early U.S. gold’ usually refers to pre-1840 gold coins, generally defined as gold coins of types that were introduced prior to 1838. Sometimes, though, this same term is erroneously used to refer solely to types that began prior to 1809. This group should be referred to as ‘bust’ gold coins, not as ‘early gold.’ Capped Head and Classic Head types fall into the category of ‘early gold,’ though these are not bust gold coins. There is a difference between a bust and just a head. Also, the term ‘bust’ has a meaning in the fields of coins and sculpture that is different from its meanings in everyday conversation.

For Quarter Eagles ($2½ gold coins) and Half Eagles, bust series were replaced by Capped Head Types in 1813 and 1821, respectively. Capped Head Types, in turn, were succeeded by Classic Head Types in 1834. During the period from 1838 to 1840, Liberty Head Quarter Eagles, Half Eagles and Eagles ($10 gold coins) came into being.

Perhaps the most noteworthy pre-1840 Quarter Eagle in this auction is an 1804 that is PCGS graded AU-58 and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. It brought $34,500, an amount which is appropriate.

I like this 1804, as does Jim McGuigan, who states that it is a “nice coin, light to medium gold, basically problem-free for the grade, dipped or lightly cleaned maybe more than one hundred years ago.” McGuigan is a specialist in pre-1840 U.S. coins of all metals.

This 1804 is a neat light green-gold color and has minimal wear. I do not see how anyone could sharply challenge the 58 grade. Though it is has a few hairlines, which are not bad, it is very attractive for a certified AU-58 early Quarter Eagle, especially for one that has the sharpness of a 58. Sometimes, an early gold coin with the sharpness of an AU-55 grade will get promoted to AU-58 grade because of eye appeal, technical factors and/or surface quality. This coin was not so promoted. It has the level of wear that is generally associated with a 58 grade coin.

The 1805 Quarter Eagle in this auction is worth mentioning, as it is a relatively high grade representative of a rare date. In general, I have always thought that Bust Quarter Eagles are under-appreciated. These are much rarer and more interesting than most collectors realize. There are probably ninety to one hundred gradable 1805 Quarter Eagles in existence and another twenty to fifty that are ungradable.

This 1805 sold for $19,550. It is graded “AU-53” and resides in a relatively old PCGS holder with a green label. While many coins in ‘green label’ holders tend to bring premiums as a consequence of being conservatively graded, this is probably not one of them. It just barely makes the AU-53 grade. Indeed, McGuigan suggests that it may not really merit an AU-53 grade. Furthermore, it has been moderately dipped and more than moderately cleaned, not unusual characteristics for early gold coins. Jim points out that it is a “real light gold” color and he agrees that it has been “dipped.” The $19,550 result is very strong.

An 1836 Classic Head Quarter Eagle grabbed the attention of Matt Kleinsteuber. Matt is lead trader and grader for NFC coins, and is an instructor in grading at ANA Seminars. This 1836 is NGC graded “MS-63.” In Kleinsteuber’s view, “it has beautiful surfaces, with the [initial] appearance of a MS-64. A light scratch on the face is holding it back from a MS-64 [grade]. It is a really nice type coin,” Matt says. This coin realized $8625, which Kleinsteuber regards as “the right level.”

II. Bust Right $5 gold coins

The 1797 Half Eagle with 16 stars on the obverse (front), and a Small Eagle (back) reverse design, is generally collected as a distinct date, in addition to the 1797, 15 Stars, Small Eagle issue. The 1797 Heraldic Eagle issues are a different matter and I mention those in my column on the PCGS Million Dollar Club. Collectors keep in mind the 1797 ‘normal date’ and 1797/5 Heraldic Eagle $5 coins are clearly of a type that is different from the Small Eagle reverse type.

Even IF the two 1797 ‘Small Eagle’ reverse $5 gold coins were considered to be varieties of one date, the combined total extant of both the 15 Stars 1797 and 16 Stars 1797 Small Eagle $5 coins would be less than sixty. The 1797 ‘Small Eagle’ Half Eagle is an extremely rare coin.

The 1797 Half Eagle in this auction has 16 stars on the obverse, and the Small Eagle reverse. It is NGC graded “AU-53.”

For this 1797, the price realized of $132,250 is surprisingly high, in my view. Jim McGuigan and Matt Kleinsteuber agree. Jim states that this price is “pretty high, much more than expected”! Matt declares that this is “definitely aggressive money for this coin.”

I did not expect bidding for this 1797 Half Eagle to reach $100,000. It is true, though, that this 1797 is difficult to appraise because of its extreme rarity and place among other rare dates (and die varieties) in the Bust (facing) Right Half Eagle series.

In this auction, there were two 1798 Heraldic Eagle-13 Star Reverse $5 gold coins. The first, PCGS graded “AU-50” brought a strong price, $21,850, though not an outrageous price.

Jim McGuigan was prepared to pay $19,550 for this 1798. According to Jim, this 1798 Half Eagle is a “lighter gold” in color from a “light dipping, has been “very lightly cleaned [yet] is mostly original.” Further, McGuigan points out that “the reverse [back] easily grades 55.” On the whole, Jim really likes this coin.

Certainly, it is conservatively graded by the PCGS. Matt Kleinsteuber declares that this 1798 will “most likely end up grading AU-58. It is beautiful and lustrous for an early gold coin [despite an] old time light cleaning.”

The second 1798 13 stars-Heraldic Eagle reverse Half Eagle is NGC graded “AU-58” and is “From the MJT Collection.” It brought less than ten percent more, $23,000, than the first 1798, which is PCGS graded “AU-50.” This result of $23,000 is still a strong price, just not nearly as strong as the price for the first. Matt finds that this coin has “nice orange surfaces and a mint state feel. It [could eventually be] graded 61.” Jim, in contrast, was very bothered by U.S. Mint caused imperfections that are especially apparent on the reverse of this 1798 Half Eagle.

A PCGS graded “AU-55” 1799 Half Eagle sold for $17,250, a solid retail price and a strong auction result. McGuigan did not like the “color” of this 1799 Half Eagle and he regards it as “having too many marks. The reverse [was] peppered with little marks all over it.”

I, too, was a little concerned about this 1799 Half Eagle, though I have seen inferior Bust Half Eagles that have been certified as grading “AU-55” by the PCGS or the NGC. This coin is not bad. I was, though, expecting it to sell for $14,000 to $15,000. Bidders who were hoping to buy 18th century Half Eagles in this auction for wholesale prices were surely disappointed.

An NGC graded “MS-60” 1800 Half Eagle is worth mentioning. While it is not a terrific coin, it is better than I expected it to be before I saw it. Frequently, early coins that are certified as grading “MS-60,” rather than 58 or 61, have somewhat serious problems. This coin is tolerable and may be very satisfying to a collector looking for an inoffensive, sharply detailed Half Eagle of the Heraldic Eagle reverse type. The price realized of $12,075 is reasonable. Personally, however, I would prefer to buy a relatively more natural AU-55 grade 1800 Half Eagle for a price in the $10,500 to $12,000 range.

The 1802/1 may be the least scarce date of the Bust Right, Heraldic Eagle type, though it is rare or nearly so. I just glanced quickly at the 1802/1 Half Eagle in this auction. It is NGC graded ‘Extremely Fine-45.’ It seemed to be okay. My initial impression is that is had been moderately cleaned a long time ago and has since naturally retoned. I would have to see it again, however, to form a firm opinion about it. The price realized of $8050 is higher than auction records for other certified ‘EF-45’ grade coins of this type. The PCGS price guide values a PCGS graded EF-45 1802/1 at $7,500 and a 45+ at $7,750.

The sale of an NGC graded “MS-63” 1804 Half Eagle for $27,600 is not really ‘news.’ Given the characteristics of this particular coin, the auction result is moderately strong. McGuigan finds the U.S. Mint caused imperfections on this coin to be “annoying.” These are readily apparent on Miss Liberty’s face, hair and cap.

An 1806 Half Eagle was a good deal for $1,725. It is said by the NGC to have the “details” of an AU grade coin, which it seems to have, and to be ‘plugged.’ Yes, it was plugged. A gradable AU-50 1806 Half Eagle, though, would cost at least $7250 and maybe as much as $10,000. For a coin that has been plugged and is obviously ungradable, this 1806 is very attractive and is an excellent value at $1725. Not everyone can afford to spend more than $5000 for one coin and owning a Bust Right, Heraldic Eagle $5 coin is exciting. It is from “The MJT Collection,” a true collection that was assembled by an avid collector over a substantial period of time.

Another 1806 Half Eagle in this sale is PCGS graded AU-55 with an old ‘green label.’ It sold for $10,925. At the Heritage Long Beach auction in Feb. 2011, a different 1806 Half Eagle, also PCGS graded AU-55 in a holder with an old green label, realized this exact same price. The PCGS price guide value is $11,000 and the Numismedia.com retail value is $11,810. So, these twin $10,925 results are unsurprising. The one that just sold seems average for a certified AU-55 early Half Eagle.

The highest certified 1806 Half Eagle in this sale is NGC graded “MS-64.” It brought a very strong price of $43,125. I grade it as MS-63, although Matt insists that the “light chatter in obverse right field is totally acceptable for a 64 due to the originality and luster. In hand, the coin was beautiful,” Kleinsteuber raves. While this coin is attractive, it did not thrill me.

I agree with Matt’s declaration that “it brought real good money.” In August 2010, Heritage auctioned another NGC graded MS-64 1806 for $27,600 and, at Long Beach in Feb. 2011, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded MS-64 1806 for $40,250. For coins of this type in 64 grade, PCGS graded coins tend to be worth more than NGC graded coins, though this is not always true. Surely, though, $43,125 is a very strong auction result for this particular 1806 Half Eagle.

III. Bust Left $5 gold coins

The first Bust (facing) Left Half Eagle in this auction is an 1807 that is NGC graded “MS-61.” It has mostly original color and some noticeable friction on the highpoints. It realized $12,075, an amount between a wholesale price and a retail price. Actually, this result is quite close to a retail price and is a somewhat strong auction price.

An analyst who reads price guides and does not view the coins in reality, or consult experts who do, might conclude that the PCGS graded “AU-58” 1811 Half Eagle in this auction realized a weak price. It garnered $9775. An expert who carefully examined the coin, however, would probably conclude that this is a strong price for it.

I am not sure about the quality of the second 1811 Half Eagle in this auction. I viewed it for just a few seconds. It is NGC graded “MS-63.” The auction result of $25,300 seems somewhat strong.

Another notable Half Eagle “from the MJT Collection” is an NGC graded “MS-62” 1812. It brought $14,950, a fair price. I very much like the coin, though I personally grade it as AU-58 or maybe MS-61.

IV. Capped Head $5 gold coins

Capped Head Half Eagles were minted from 1813 to 1834. There are two subtypes. This is the most difficult series to even 80% complete. Some of the least scarce dates, however, are often available and eagerly sought after by collectors of type coins.

Though Jim is not completely comfortable with the NGC grade of “MS-62,” McGuigan likes the second 1813 Half Eagle in this sale. The first is ungradable. About this NGC graded “MS-62” 1813, Jim says that it has “nice luster” and is “attractive” overall. McGuigan is not the only one who likes it. This 1813 brought a very strong price of $18,400, much more than the prices realized of each of a few other NGC or PCGS graded “MS-62” 1813 Half Eagles that Heritage auctioned from 2007 to 2010.

I really like the third 1813 Half Eagle in this sale, which is NGC graded MS-63 and is CAC approved. It has only been lightly dipped, has rich luster, and is very appealing overall. Moreover, its grade, in my opinion, is in the high end of the MS-63 range. The price realized of $21,850 is, indisputably, strong for a MS-63 1813 Half Eagle.

In 2009 and 2010, Heritage auctioned five 1813 Half Eagles that are PCGS or NGC graded “MS-63.” The two NGC certified 1813s sold for $17,250 and $17,825, respectively. Two of the three PCGS certified coins realized $19,550 and the other brought $18,975. Though the $21,850 price for the MS-63 1813 in this Summer FUN sale is strong, it is well worth it, in my view.

V. Classic Head $5 gold coins

An 1834 Classic Head Half Eagle with a Crosslet 4, in this auction, is noteworthy. As a crosslet 4 is very apparently part of the set of numerals that indicate the year or “date” of the coin, such an issue is considered to be a distinct date in the way that coin collectors define the term ‘date.’ In another words, the 1834-Plain 4 Classic Head Half Eagle is a ‘date’ that is different from the 1834-Crosslet 4 Classic Head Half Eagle ‘date.’ These should not be confused with Capped Head Half Eagles which were last minted in this same year and are also characterized by Crosslet 4 and Plain 4 dates.

The 1834-Plain 4 Classic Head Half Eagle is a scarce coin, while the 1834-Crosslet 4 Classic Head Half Eagle is a truly rare coin. Indeed, it is probably very rare. The one in this auction is NGC graded ‘Very Fine-35.’ It was light to moderately cleaned long ago and has naturally retoned. The wear is even. If this coin has any serious problems, I missed them. It seems to be an excellent value for $2415.

An 1837 Half Eagle in this auction is appealing. This 1837 is PCGS graded AU-55 and has a CAC sticker of approval. Jim McGuigan remarks, “well struck, nice luster, lightly dipped, accurately graded and worth $1725.”

I agree that it is sharply struck and mostly original. Furthermore, it has very few abrasions. I do not agree that it is accurately graded. In my view, it is undergraded and merits at least an AU-58 grade.

I just do not clearly remember the 1838 Charlotte Mint Half Eagle in this sale. It is NGC graded “AU-53” and it is notable condition rarity in AU and MS grades.

The 1838 Dahlonega (GA) Mint Half Eagle, in this auction, was ruled by the NGC to be ungradable with ‘Extremely Fine’ level “details.” I vaguely remember it as being of significantly better quality than most pre-1840 gold coins that fail to receive numerical grades.

Matt Kleinsteuber remembers this 1838-D Half Eagle more clearly than I do. He also has a positive impression of it, which he says is a “nice pleasing example, would be fine in a raw collection. I like obverse mintmark fives and I think they are a great value for collectors,” Matt states.

Both the 1838-C and 1838-D Half Eagle issues are rare, probably very rare. In this auction, the 1838-C went for $12,650 and the 1838-D sold for $2760. Although this 1838-D Half Eagle has been ruled, perhaps just once, to be ungradable, I suggest that it is a good value at $2760. Consider that this coin is famous, attractive, truly rare, and was minted in Dahlonega, Georgia, in 1838.

©2011 Greg Reynolds

Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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