By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com ……
CoinWeek Content Partner
In recent years, prices for average (“B” quality) to above-average (“B” to “B+” quality) Charlotte and Dahlonega half eagles have increased due to strong collector demand. I used to be able to come back from a show (remember those?) with four or five very decent Very Fine C and D half eagles with my average cost being around $1,400-1,500.
Today, returning from this hypothetical show, I’d be lucky to have bought two VFs with my average cost being around $2,000-2,200.
This got me thinking: What’s the true market value of a nice VF Charlotte or Dahlonega half eagle? The figure that popped into my mind was $3,000, and then I got to thinking maybe this was actually too low given current market conditions.
In July 2021, the rare coin market is unquestionably very strong. Among the strongest areas is dated gold from the 19th century. This market segment is being driven by Condition Census pieces graded by either PCGS or NGC and approved by CAC. But there is plenty of strength in the more plebian-dated gold areas with very strong demand noted for nice, interesting collector quality coins. These don’t necessarily have to be CAC-approved; although it certainly helps.
By comparing a VF common date Charlotte or Dahlonega half eagle to other areas in the market, I think I can make a strong case that these coins are currently undervalued.
What is a “Nice” Half Eagle?
Let me start by advocating for a nice VF Charlotte or Dahlonega half eagle.
By “nice”, I’m referring to a coin with reasonably original color and surfaces; not all scrubby and marked-up. I’m not referring to a better date nor am I referring to a Fairmont-quality piece; i.e. one with terrific originality and PQ overall eye appeal.
1845-D HALF EAGLE in VF and CAC-approved. Images courtesy Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN)
I’ll be mentioning population figures in the following comparisons, so let’s look at an 1845-D.
In the various VF grades, PCGS has a current population of 58. Factoring resubmissions, this is likely 40 or so actual coins. For the date, the entire population at PCGS is 321. Factoring resubmissions, this is probably in the area of 200 to 225 actual coins. Not a major rarity but certainly not common. And if you factor in CAC numbers, the 1845-D suddenly looks kind of scarce with just four coins in VF having been stickered, and a total of 37 for the date.
What is the Market Like?
What’s the market like for collector-quality C and D mint half eagles? It has always been good but, of late, it has been very good to excellent. Whenever I list a nice VF coin for sale—especially one with CAC approval—it sells quickly and with multiple inquiries.
The first coin type that I’m selecting as my basis of comparison is an MS66 common date Saint Gaudens double eagle. As I write this, an average quality example sells for around $3,000-3,250. With a CAC sticker, you are looking at a $4,500 coin.
To get more specific, let’s choose a 1928 $20 graded MS66 by PCGS. The most recent population report from PCGS shows that 3,284 coins have been graded by this service.
1928 $20.00 PCGS MS66 CAC
An MS66 1928 Saint has a number of things working in its favor. It is big, attractive, and easy for the neophyte collector to understand. But there is no getting around the fact that this is a truly common coin and that hundreds exist in grades higher than MS66. I think it’s safe to say that you aren’t getting much bang for your buck with a 1928 Saint in MS66.
How about the same coin but with a CAC sticker? You are talking about a coin with a population of 347 in this grade with 23 higher (all graded MS67).
There is no denying that this is a neat coin, but is it $4,500 neat? In my opinion, no. I would much rather have a nice VF30 1845-D half eagle at, say, $3,500.
1891-CC $5.00 in PCGS MS62 CAC
The second coin type I’m selecting as a comparison is an 1891-CC $5 in MS62. This is the last affordable grade for the most available Carson City half eagle. A decent non-CAC PCGS example should be available in the $2,500-3,000 range, while a CAC-approved example will run around $3,250-3,500.
There is a lot to be said for an MS62 1891-CC half eagle. It should be a pretty nice coin from a visual standpoint with good luster and just a few noticeable marks. This issue always comes well-struck, and, if you hold out for a PQ example, you’ll get a coin with good color and eye appeal. Plus there is the allure of the CC mintmark, which checks a lot of boxes for most collectors.
But there is a downside to this issue and that is its relative availability. PCGS has graded 379 in MS62 with another 265 finer, while CAC has approved 66 in MS62 with 67 finer. Just about any collector who wants an MS62 1891-CC half eagle should be able to find one with little difficulty; even one which is approved by CAC.
I don’t think the 1891-CC half eagle in MS62 is an overvalued coin. In fact, I think it’s a good value at current levels. However, if a non-CAC PCGS MS62 example is worth $2,500-3,000, surely a nice VF Charlotte or Dahlonega half eagle—a coin which is many times scarcer—should be worth as much, no?
Let’s stretch a little bit and select a common early half eagle as our third and final comparison. The most common early half eagle is the 1806 Round 6. Let’s focus on an Extremely Fine example as this is generally the least expensive option to find a nice straight-graded example. PCGS has graded 63 of these out of a total of 519 for the date. These don’t trade often but when they do they typically bring around $7,000. In my opinion, this is a fair price for a US gold coin that is over 200 years old and which has a strong collector base.
Our hypothetical common date VF C- or D-mint half eagle with a current market value of around $2,000-2,200 doesn’t feel like it should be valued at less than one-third the price of an EF Capped Bust Right half eagle. A case can certainly be made for it being worth half as much given the fact that there are likely more collectors of branch mint half eagles than there are of early gold.
In conclusion, I believe that we will see continued price appreciation for Charlotte and Dahlonega half eagles and that collector-quality pieces may actually outperform their higher-grade peers.
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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 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 “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.