Instead of the tired “what was hot/what was not” end-of-the-year articles that I typically hammer out, I’d like to try a new approach. What series sold best for my firm Douglas Winter Numismatics in 2019 and what were some of the gold coins specific dates—and even the grades—which tended to sell best during the recently-concluded year?
1. New Orleans Gold Coins
Part of my master plan for 2019 was to place a strong emphasis on New Orleans gold coinage. This made sense considering the recent release of my updated third edition book Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint, 1839-1909.
The big task for me was finding interesting New Orleans gold coins to sell alongside the new book and this was solved with two impressive sets which were offered via concierge sales: the Cajun Collection (a complete set which included a number of impressive Condition Census pieces), and the Blue Hill Collection (which lacked double eagles and a few other individual coins that were held back by the owner for eventual sale to me in early 2020).
1856-O $20.00 PCGS AU55. Images courtesy Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN)
In addition to these sets, I was able to purchase a number of significant New Orleans gold coins in 2019. This included the sale of two 1856-O double eagles, one 1854-O double eagle, three 1883-O eagles, and four 1859-O eagles just to name a few of the more expensive issues.
My sales of New Orleans gold in 2019 were not limited to expensive key dates. Through my contacts in the wholesale market I was able to buy small hoards of interesting (and affordable) No Motto eagles and Type One double eagles, with many of these sold via my popular e-Specials (which are made available only to collectors who have signed up as a DWN Preferred Client; click here to sign up today).
I expect 2020 to be another strong year for this area of the market. The series that show the greatest demand are half eagles and No Motto eagles, and these have a number of collectors who are focused on these types by date.
2. 18th-Century Gold Coins
If an American gold coin has the digits 17 at the front of its date, it’s likely to be popular. If it’s quasi-affordable (priced at under $30,000), choice and original, and if it has CAC approval, then it becomes a coin that I know will make one collector happy and a number of collectors upset that they missed out on it when it appeared on my site in 2019.
The trouble with this segment of the market is that there are very few coins available that fulfill the parameters I just listed. There are essentially no quarter eagles, and only one date in the eagle denomination (the 1799) checks these boxes.
1795 SMALL EAGLE $5.00 NGC AU53 CAC
This leaves us with half eagles. I sold a few really nice lower grade 1795 Small Eagle $5 gold pieces in 2019 and I only wish I could have cloned these as every appearance was met with multiple orders on my site. I handled an equally small number of 1798 and 1799 half eagles this year and while these weren’t quite as popular as their 1795-dated counterparts, they saw considerable demand.
Where does the high price (and the scarcity of DWN-quality pieces) of 18th-century gold coinage leave the collector? As I see it, there are two options.
If you really want to collect 18th-century American coins and your budget is under $10,000 per coin, you can still purchase great quality silver and copper from this era. As an example, $8,000-9,000 will buy you a really nice Extremely Fine 1795 Flowing Hair silver dollar and for half this amount, you can purchase an equally choice 1798 or 1799.
Or, you can focus on half eagles dated 1800-1812. These have risen in price over the last decade but there are still pleasing circulated (Extremely Fine and About Uncirculated) coins available in the $8,000-13,000 range.
3. Condition Census Gold Coins
I was originally going to expand this category to include Finest Known coins, but I handled so few of these in 2019 that it made more sense to stick with Condition Census pieces.
A Condition Census coin is one that ranks as one of the finest known for a specific issue. The definition of Condition Census differs from expert to expert, but most numismatists agree that it constitutes the five to 10 best examples of a specific issue. It is difficult to construct a Condition Census listing for a common date such as a 1924 Saint-Gaudens double eagle. But it is an easier task to formulate a Condition Census for a rare issue such as an 1847-O half eagle.
1847-O $5.00 PCGS MS61 CAC
In 2019, I handled dozens of coins that qualified as Condition Census for their respective issue(s). The majority of these were quarter eagles and half eagles. This was more or less happenstance; I didn’t specifically search for these but they became available and I felt they represented good overall value.
There were certain factors about the Condition Census coins I sold in 2019. Most of the coins were really nice with original color and choice surfaces and most were from popular series. This is why I bought (and continue to buy) coins of this sort and this is why these types of coins sold well in 2019 (and will in 2020 and beyond).
4. Interesting Liberty Head Quarter Eagles
I’ve written this before but around 2015-2016, quarter eagles shifted from not-especially-popular to very popular. I can’t really pinpoint why this is so other than the fact that this is a completable series with numerous interesting issues that offer a lot of bang for the buck. I can think of at least seven or eight collectors I deal with who are either working on a full set or have taken a deep dive into quarter eagles specialization.
I handled some terrific quarter eagles in 2019 but, alas, no 1841 or 1854-S (the two key dates). I did, however, handle two rare Proof-only 1863 and numerous other key dates.
1863 $2.50 PCGS PR63 CAM CAC
There was one date I didn’t handle in 2019 that I could have sold a number of despite its hefty price tag: the 1864. When I begged people to buy this date from me at $10,000-20,000 a pop for a solid middle-grade circulated example, no one wanted one. Now that this date is $75,000-100,000 for one that is just so-so, everyone wants one.
I anticipate that this series will remain popular in 2020. I also expect to see a bit more activity in the pre-1834 issues. These are pretty flat right now from a price standpoint but I make this statement with an asterisk as very choice PCGS/CAC coins sell for large premiums over typically scrubby examples and this market will continue to bifurcate.
I describe a one-year type or an especially historic issue with a good story as a “one-off”. Issues that I sold in 2019 that qualify as the best-selling one-offs include the 1855-D and 1861-D gold dollars, the 1838-C and 1839-D quarter eagles, the 1854-D three, the 1838-C and 1838-D half eagles and the 1838 eagle. During 2019, I tried as valiantly as possible to include as many nice examples of these issues as I could in the DWN inventory.
1838-C $5.00 NGC AU55
Of all these issues, the two one-offs that I sold the most were the 1838-C and 1838-D half eagles. I love both of these coins. They are not really rare but they are desirable as first-year-of-issue and one-year types. I handled them in grades as low as VF20 and as high as PCGS MS63+.
One of my favorite series of events in 2019 occurred early in the year when I bought a PCGS AU53 from a small coin shop based on a blurry cellphone image. When the coin arrived, I was thrilled to discover that it was exceptionally nice. I sold the coin to a collector who, in turn, sold me his current 1838-D, a nice PCGS/CAC AU50. I sold that coin to another collector who then sold me his current coin, a nice PCGS/CAC EF40. And, I quickly sold that coin to yet another collector who sold me his PCGS VF25. Which I then sold. This string of sales took just over a month and everyone who participated left happy.
6. Dahlonega Gold
The tale of the ’38-D Fives is a good segue to our sixth and final strong area for 2019: the gold coinage of Dahlonega.
1838-D $5.00 PCGS AU58 CAC, EX BASS
As I’ve been saying for going on five++ years, the availability of nice D-mint gold has been greatly reduced over previous decades. Notice that I said “nice”. You can go through a large auction catalog and see dozens of scrubby specimens but if you are a fussy buyer (and if you buy coins from DWN the chances are good that you are…) you are lucky to find more than a few.
I’ve probably over-analyzed the reasons why this is so but, in a nutshell, the two things to remember are that the majority of Dahlonega gold coins have been over-scrubbed and that most of the nice coins which still remain are in very tightly-held collections.
I sold some nice Dahlonega coins in 2019 with seemingly more quarter eagles of note than in the previous three or four years. But I can look back nostalgically at the days when I’d buy small stacks of choice Dahlonega at shows. Those days seem over.
As 2019 draws to an end and a new decade begins, I’d like to thank each and every one of you for your business and for your support during this year (and this decade as well). 2020 is going to be a great year, and I hope that we can do business with each other.
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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.