By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com ……
CoinWeek Content Partner
Welcome to the second installment of this new feature (the first one can be found here). My plan is to do these on a fairly regular basis; perhaps two or three times per month. I am always looking for topics, so if you have any suggestions, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are few areas in the rare-date gold market that have seen more price increases and collector interest in the past decade than Civil War gold. Prices began to increase slowly for these coins around 2007 and seemed to hit a peak around 2017.
However, there have been some recent developments in this market segment that have had a profound influence in many areas, including availability, price, Condition Census sales, and overall demand. Here are five brief takes on Civil War gold.
1861-D $1.00 PCGS AU55 CAC. Images courtesy Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN)
The Four Confederate or Quasi-Confederate Issues and Their Price Levels
There are four Civil War issues that were either struck by the Confederacy or were issued by Southern mints during the first year of the war and thus have deep southern roots. These are the 1861-D gold dollar, the 1861-C and 1861-D half eagles, and the 1861-O double eagle. Price levels on three of these issues have risen to the point that they are now unobtainable for all but the wealthiest collectors.
Looking at the 1861-D gold dollar, a record price for the issue was set in September 2020, when Heritage sold among the finest known example, graded MS64+ by PCGS, brought $180,000 USD. The two most recent APRs for this date are also impressive with a PCGS AU55 (with a nasty scratch on the obverse) selling for $72,000 in Heritage’s recent February 2021 event and a PCGS AU58 bringing $73,438 in December 2020. At these levels, the 1861-D gold dollar seems very fully priced to me.
1861-C $5.00 PCGS AU58 CAC
On the other hand, the 1861-C half eagle seems like the only one of these four issues which can still be termed a “good value”. While the most common of these four dates, a nice Extremely Fine can still be had for $10,000-15,000, while a nice AU will run $15,000-25,000.
And what about the 1861-O double eagle? This is a tough issue to comment on price levels as so many examples are just awful quality for the grade. I’d say the typical 1861-O is overvalued based on quality. But really nice pieces (they DO exist!) are probably pretty fair values at current levels.
The 1863 Eagle Remains a Sleeper
In a previous piece, I wrote that this coin “compares favorably to the 1864-S” that is valued at “three times as much.” I took some flak from a few readers who chided me for overstating the rarity of the 1863 eagle, but the fact remains that over the last decade, I have handled twice as many 1864-S eagles (six different coins) than I have the 1863 (just three different pieces).
It is interesting to note that since a cluster of three auction sales in 2016, just two 1863 eagles have sold at auction, a PCGS VF35 and a PCGS 45. The last time a nicer piece was available at auction? You have to go back to January 2014 when Heritage sold a PCGS AU53 in an old green label holder (OGH) for $49,938.
1863 $10.00 PCGS AU53 CAC
Would I rather have an AU55 1861-D gold dollar at $72,000 (see above) or an AU53 1863 eagle at around $50k? The choice seems pretty obvious to me, although I’m willing to bet that most collectors would opt for the 1861-D.
The Super-Secret Sale That HUGELY Impacted the S Mint Eagle Market
The German auction firm of Künker stunned the rare date gold community with their September 2020 offering of US gold issues. Up for sale were dozens of important coins, many graded by NGC. Along with numerous Charlotte and Dahlonega half eagles and Carson City eagles and double eagles were a run of impressive Civil War gold coins. These included the following:
- 1862 half eagle: five pieces with the best graded AU58 by NGC
- 1861-S eagle: four pieces with the best graded AU55 by NGC
- 1862-S eagle: five pieces with the best graded AU58 by NGC
- 1863-S eagle: five pieces with the best graded AU58+ by NGC
- 1865-S Normal Date eagle: two pieces with the best graded MS61 by NGC
- 1865-S Inverted Date eagle: three pieces with the best graded AU55 by NGC
I have had the chance to see (and to sell) a number of these coins and they are, for the most part, exceptional. They have great original color and limited abrasions. Some have been crossed over to PCGS and a number were approved by CAC.
1862-S $10.00 PCGS AU55 CAC
Are there more of these lurking overseas? My best guess is yes; especially given the uniform number of coins per date that were offered. Will it impact the price levels of these issues? So far the impact has not been negative but if there are, say, five more 1862-S eagles then I’d expect prices to drop.
Why Not Some Patterns?
The recent sales of mega-collector Bob Simpson’s pattern coinage have presented Civil War gold collectors with a number of interesting opportunities. There are many issues that might capably serve as an adjunct to the gold coins in such a set.
1865 $5.00, JUDD-446. PCGS PR67BN. Image courtesy Heritage Auctions (HA.com)
As an example, Judd-446, an 1865 half eagle pattern in copper with the reverse of 1866 (motto added) in PCGS PR67 BN sold for $10,800 as Heritage 11/2020: 3142. This coin is a High R-6 on the Sheldon Rarity Scale, which means there are around 13-15 known in total. This is relatively “common” by the standards of off-metal gold patterns and it is almost certain that these were struck to sell to collectors at a profit.
I find this coin to be a spectacularly good deal at $10,800. It’s beautiful and it’s rare. If a similar quality regular issue Proof 1865 half eagle existed, it would be worth $350,000 or possibly even more.
I could go on and on about other patterns, but I’d suggest you buy a copy of the Judd book if you don’t already have one (they are easy to locate through the publisher) and take a run at one the next time a wave of Simpson patterns are sold by Heritage.
The 1864-S Half Eagle Remains an Enigma
There is no doubt that the single-rarest Civil War gold coin (not including the ultra-rare 1861 Philadelphia Paquet double eagle) is the 1864-S half eagle. I rank this date as the third rarest business strike Liberty Head half eagle, after the 1854-S (just three known) and the 1875-P (fewer than 10 known).
1864-S $5.00 PCGS VF30 CAC
It is interesting to note that in the last decade I’ve handled just four examples, and this includes one No Grade and one PCGS/CAC AG03. Since late 2014, there have been no legitimate auction sales of this date, although it should be noted that Dell Loy Hansen acquired, via private treaty in 2020, the former Big Mo Collection coin, graded AU55 by PCGS.
So where are all the 1864-S half eagles; an issue of which at least 30-35 exist? My best guess is that they are being hoarded by at least two shrewd collectors. I know of one, and I’m going to assume he has a fellow stasher.
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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.