How to Collect Classic US Gold Coins in a Bull Market

By Doug WinterRareGoldCoins.com ……
 

CoinWeek Content Partner
 

If you are like most circa 2022 coin collectors, you’ve never experienced a true bull market.

You may have some experience with market segments that have increased in price over time in an orderly fashion, or you may have had the ideal scenario of being able to patiently choose the right coins at fair prices over the course of an extended time period.

But unless you are an old-timer with collecting roots that date back to the late 1980s, you’ve not likely seen a market in which prices have risen as quickly and with such intensity as we are seeing at the start of 2022.

Here are some random thoughts.

Many High-Grade Rare Date Gold Issues Were Grossly Undervalued

When you are looking at areas like high-grade Charlotte and Dahlonega quarter eagles and half eagles and Carson City half eagles and eagles, you must take into account that in most cases these are legitimately rare coins that not only do not trade often but saw flat prices for over two decades.

Let’s look at an example.

I selected an 1857-C half eagle graded MS63 by PCGS. As a date, the 1857-C is quite scarce in Uncirculated and it is very rare in MS63. In July 2021, an example sold for $33,600 which is a record for the issue. This seems like a solid price but if we drill down more, some interesting conclusions can be reached.

First, the coin itself. Offered as Heritage 7/2021: 3116, this piece was not CAC-approved and, in my opinion, it was not especially choice for the grade. That said, it is just one of three graded MS63 by PCGS with none finer. So, while not a high-end coin, it was still a rare one.

Second, the price history of the coin. The last auction price record for an 1857-C half eagle in PCGS MS63 was all the way back in January 2014 when the very same piece sold for $22,325. If we look at NGC APRs, there was a record of $25,300 in January 2004 for a coin that was nicer than the PCGS MS63 mentioned above. This same coin sold for $23,100 in May 1995

While this is a small sample size, it should be noted that this is a very rare issue that actually decreased in value between 1995 and 2014.

We have a new wave of rare date gold buyers who see a rare coin like an 1857-C half eagle in MS63 and they think “this is an undervalued coin.” And you know what? They are absolutely correct.

What if the coin had been nicer and was approved by CAC? There are actually two MS63 examples of this issue that have stickered, and I believe that if one of them were offered for sale in late January 2022, it could bring more than $50,000.

So, is this a bad value at the new market price of $50,000? I don’t think it is. As I stated earlier, prices for this coin in MS63 were based on a single coin trading in 2014 and with no other records for PCGS coins dating all the way back to the 1990s.

In a market such as what we are witnessing in 2022 (and beyond) prices that are based on a single transaction that occurred almost eight years ago have to be adjusted for numismatic inflation; even more so if the issue in question is a very rare piece which is PCGS/CAC.

Should You Sell Your Collection?

This is a pertinent question that any collector who owns high-quality, rare, better-date gold coins is likely asking right now.

There is no “one size fits all” answer to this. If you are like most collectors, you love your coins and have no real intention of selling them until you absolutely have to. But what if you could realize significant profits?

If you specialize in a very difficult series your decision to sell should include the realization that you are unlikely to be able to re-assemble a comparable—or even better—set after the current bull market slows down. There have been a few collectors in my experience who were able to do this but if you specialize in, say, early gold, you’ll quickly learn that even reasonably common issues that you were able to locate without great effort in 2015 are far more difficult to locate in 2022. This is especially true if you care about originality. In this instance, a collector who sells his early gold but who wishes to remain active might have to follow up with Liberty Head or even 20th-century issues.

It might make more sense to sell coins that either don’t fit into your core collection or coins that were mistakes.

Every collector accumulates coins that, in retrospect, aren’t essential. They might be coins that were bought as a stop-gap while waiting for more important pieces or they might be outright mistakes that look worse every time you examine them. In a strong market such as we are seeing in 2022, your mistakes may still turn out to be profitable and you can always use the funds you raise from moving them to acquire better coins.

Does a Rising Tide Lift All Boats?

In early 2022, one of the hottest areas in the dated gold market is Carson City eagles. A number of dates have seen record prices for the finest known or Condition Census issues. Has the strength in the high-end of the market translated to the lower end?

In the recent Heritage 2022 FUN Sale, there were a number of important high-grade CC eagles offered. Some of these were as follows:

  • Lot 3711, 1870-CC PCGS/CAC EF45, $132,000
  • Lot 3714, 1873-CC PCGS/CAC AU53, $99,000
  • Lot 3717, 1876-CC PCGS/CAC AU58, $192,000
  • Lot 3723, 1882-CC PCGS/CAC AU58, $24,000

These were all record prices for these dates in the specific grade listed, and in the case of the 1873-CC and the 1876-CC, they were auction records for the date (the 1870-CC was the second-highest price ever realized for the issue, trailing only an NGC AU55 that brought $135,125 in March 2014).

In the Heritage 2022 FUN auction, there were lower-grade examples of three of these four issues. An 1870-CC in NGC VF25 brought $63,104 which is easily a record for this date/grade, while an NGC EF40 1876-CC brought $14,400–which isn’t a great price until one looks at the actual coin and sees that was significantly overgraded and badly scrubbed. The price realized for the AU58 1882-CC was also a record for this date in this grade.

In the case of Carson City eagles, we clearly see that nice PCGS/CAC are driving this market segment but even low-end NGC coins are seeing significant increases in price due to greater demand.

I won’t waste your time with an analysis of another segment of the dated gold market, but suffice to say in most (but not all) series, the record-setting prices for coins at the top of the market are having a significant impact even on the lower graded/lower priced item.

How Much is Too Much?

In every auction, we are now witnessing prices that leave even savvy veterans shaking their heads in disbelief. These can be for high-profile coins, such as the (in)famous 1870-CC double eagle that sold for $1.62 million in 2021, or as innocuous as the NGC/CAC EF45 1856-D quarter eagle, which brought $66,000 in the January 2022 FUN sale.

If you’ve been collecting dated gold for a long time, then you were spoiled from the standpoint of flat prices for over two decades. While I can make absolutely no sense about the 1870-CC $20, I can make a case for the 1856-D quarter eagle having been way underpriced at its previous market level of $20,000 to $30,000 for nice EF examples; especially given that there are just two CAC EF45s and only five finer with a sticker—all of which are likely in tightly-held collections.

What many collectors have trouble with is a coin like the 1856-D rising so strongly in value. The most relevant APR is Heritage 1/2015: 4241 at $18,800; this was for a decent non-CAC PCGS EF45.

I totally get why at least two bidders felt this was a $60,000+ coin. After all, it has a mintage of just 874 and it is the key issue in the Dahlonega quarter eagle series. If you are a new collector who is focusing on D-mint quarter eagles, you are aware of how rare this coin is and how unlikely you are to find another one with a CAC sticker. If you’ve been working on a D-mint quarter eagle set for years, you either consider yourself lucky you bought the PCGS AU53 from DWN for $35,000 in 2018, or you kick yourself for not having bought the key to the series when you should have.

It remains to be seen if the market has been set at $66,000 for a CAC approved EF45 1856-D quarter eagle and what a PCGS/CAC AU55 will bring if and when such a coin is available for sale.

Pick Your Spots

Not every nice coin which sells in 2022 is going to be record-smashing. There are plenty of solid-for-the-grade legitimately scarce pieces which will be available for prices that make sense.

Everyone talks about the exceptional prices in the recent Heritage 2022 FUN auction and there were plenty of stunning results. But if you worked the sale really hard, there were good values to be had.

Lot 3984 was an extremely nice NGC AU58 1839 quarter eagle, which sold for $5,280. In my opinion, this coin would cross into a PCGS 58 holder and it has a good chance to sticker at CAC. The coin had really nice color and it is far above-average for the issue. As a PCGS/CAC AU58, it is worth at least $7,500; if not more.

Lot 4712 was a lovely PCGS/CAC MS62 1883-CC half eagle, which I purchased for $50,400. It’s the single best 1883-CC $5 I’ve ever handled and it’s likely the third-finest-known after a single PCGS MS62+ and a single PCGS/CAC MS63 that sold for $43,125 back in the summer of 2012. The coin certainly wasn’t “cheap” but it was certainly good value, especially when you look at the prices that the CC eagles in this sale brought.

I could pick a dozen more coins but the point I’m making is that there are values to be had in this wacky market.

As a buyer, you’ll have to adjust your pricing so that it reflects the current market as well as your beliefs in coin values. If you felt that a PCGS AU55 1854-C half eagle was bad value at its old $6,000 level, you certainly aren’t going to like it at its new $7,500 level.

Here’s a hint at how to search for value in this market. Currently, PCGS/CAC gold coins are in strong demand. Perhaps a better alternative, for now, is nice non-CAC NGC coins, which typically sell at a considerable discount.
 

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

Get Your Copies of Doug’s Books from CoinWeek Supplies for 25% off.

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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 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.

 

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