US Gold Coins: The Carson City Double Eagle Market: An Analysis
It’s been a while since I’ve done an in-depth article on any Carson City gold coins and, as they are the most popular issues from this mint, I thought this would be a good time to write about the double eagles from Carson City. Before we get into date-by-date mode, let’s look at some big picture issues which concern collectors of these coins.
- Popularity levels have clearly risen. CC double eagles have always been popular with collectors. But they have become an investor favorite as well. I am aware of at least three large marketing firms who are selling CC double eagles and not just mundane common dates in VF and EF. This has pushed interest up for all dates in virtually all grades.
- Prices have risen.Without a statistical study, I can say intuitively that prices for most CC double eagles have risen between 10 and 50% in the last five years. I used to be able to buy quantities of nice EF coins for less than $2,000; today, these same coins cost me closer to $3,000. This seems to be even more so with higher grades coins. As an example, an MS61 1875-CC was a $7,500 coin around five years ago and not always an easy sale at that level. Today, I get $12,000 or more for one and they disappear as soon as I list them on my website.
- Fewer coins seem available. My intuition tells me this is true based on what I am able to buy. At a typical big show five years ago I would return with anywhere from five to ten nice CC double eagles. I’d see them in dealer’s cases and I’d see them offered not only by the usual suspects but by smaller mom-n-pop dealers. This is clearly not the case in 2013 and I might come back from a show like Long Beach with no more than one or two CC double eagles in my newps.
- CAC has had an impact. At first, CAC approved examples of CC double eagles didn’t seem to have a big impact on the market. This has changed and even common dates in EF sell for a premium. The coins with potentially big CAC impact are the rare dates which don’t typically come nice. As an example, I have seen virtually no AU50 examples of the 1870-CC which I thought were choice original coins. Currently, CAC has never approved an 1870-CC in grades above EF40 (and just two at that level). If an average quality 1870-CC in AU50 is worth, say, $325,000 what is one worth with CAC sticker? $350,000? $375,000? Maybe even $400,000?
Let’s now take a quick look at each date and see what’s happening on a coin-by-coin basis.
Between 2005 and 2010, there were two or three examples of this date per year appearing at auction. This has slowed done considerably and in the last three years, only one non-no grade 1870-CC has sold at auction. This doesn’t mean this date has stopped selling; I know of a Nevada-based specialist dealer who owned multiple examples of the 1870-CC at one time and I believe he has sold them all via private treaty in the last year. This date cratered at around $200,000-225,000 for a typical quality EF coin a few years ago and prices have risen, slowly but surely. To own a decent 1870-CC today, you are going to have to write a check for at least $250,000 to $275,000. There are two above average examples in the Heritage 2014 FUN sale and it will be interesting to see what these bring.
For most collectors, this date remains the single most expensive coin in their set, given that they won’t purchase an 1870-CC. I recently sold an NGC AU55 for well over $50,000 which is a record for me. Demand for the 1871-CC continues to increase and a choice PCGS EF45 could bring over $30,000 if available.
The pattern of availability for this date has changed over the last few years. It used to be an issue that I handled regularly in EF45 and these sold well for me. Today, these same coins now grade AU50 or even AU53 and seem more available than before. Properly graded AU55 to AU58 1872-CC double eagles remain rare to very rare and other than the fantastic Battle Born coin, no Mint State pieces have been sold in some time.
The finest known 1873-CC, variously graded MS62 and MS63, sold five different times between 2004 and 2008. Since then, not much in the way of exciting high grade 1873-CC double eagles have sold but Stacks Bowers 1/13: 13337, graded MS61 by NGC, brought a record-breaking $55,813 earlier this year. Prices for this date in all grades have risen as well.
I was recently offered an NGC MS60 example of this date for $20,000 and, gulp!, I almost pulled the trigger. After years of being undervalued, the 1874-CC is a sleeper no more an even nice AU58’s are selling at close to the $10,000 mark. This brings us to a quick rhetorical question: is it is possible for there to be a sleeper in an extremely popular series such as Carson City Liberty Head double eagles? My take…yes there is but only a very few and only in the specific instance where the holder means nothing. In other words, population figures for AU58 1874-CC double eagles would suggest it isn’t rare. But real world experience shows that properly graded CAC-caliber examples are in fact very scarce if not actually rare.
I mentioned in the beginning of this article how MS61 1875-CC double eagles have soared in price in the last few years. This is true with examples of this date in AU grades as well. I think nice 1875-CC double eagles will remain popular and in demand due to this issue being the only quasi-affordable Type Two issue from this mint.
It’s been at least two years since I’ve handled an 1876-CC $20 in a grade higher than MS60 and this is surprising as nice MS61 and MS62 pieces used to be around. This, to me, is another good indication that CC double eagles are truly a collector-oriented series. The nice coins seem to be going off the market into long-term holdings unlike in the past when they would be held for a year or two and then flopped.
The comments I made for the 1872-CC (see above) are pretty much the same for the 1877-CC. AU50s and AU53s seem a touch more available than in the past but that is primarily the result of gradeflation. The Battle Born: 11046 coin, graded MS62 by PCGS, is the only Uncirculated 1877-CC to come on the market for at least two years and I have handled just one Uncirculated piece myself (a PCGS MS61) in this time frame. Just as an FYI, if you can find a nice EF example for anywhere near $4,000, I think this is still a great value.
This was a date that was always appreciated by collectors due to its small mintage but the lack of decent examples in the last few years is, to me, a tribute of the 1878-CC’s true scarcity. I like the value that this date offers in EF grades (still less than $10,000) assuming that you can a) actually find one and b) it isn’t dreadful.
Ditto. Here’s another date which has seen almost no nice pieces sold since Battle Born: 11048. I have privately placed an AU58 and an MS60 and for both coins I had to pay what I believe were record prices.
I’ve never been a huge fan of this date, so what I have to say might show an anti-1882CC bias. But I have noticed a pretty healthy supply of examples this year, including a few decent to choice Uncirculated pieces. I still think the 1882-CC is fairly valued in AU50 to AU55 grades (especially if the coin is CAC quality) but I’m going to officially go on record and state that Mint State 1882-CC double eagles are spendy. I still can’t get over the fact that the PCGS MS63 in Battle Born brought over $80,000.
If I were assembling a CC double eagle set for friends or family, I’d look at a PQ AU58 with CAC approval at around $7,000 or a touch more. That seems like better value, to me, than a so-so MS60 or MS61 at $12,000-14,000.
Along with the 1883-CC, this is one of my favorite CC dates for type purposes. It tends to come well made and if you can find an example with original color and surfaces, the visual appeal for this issue tends to be better than average. Uncirculated 1884-CC double eagles are no longer affordable for most collectors as a nice MS61 will cost you around $12,500 and if you can find an MS62 you are looking at $20,000 or more.
When I first started making a market in CC double eagles, this date seemed to be more of a “key” than it does now. Not to cast aspersions on the 1885-CC and its friends and family but this date just doesn’t feel like a rarity anymore. Sure, it’s a better date in the series but it seems more plentiful than it was back in the day. One quick observation: this date used to be priced in tandem with the 1878-CC and 1879-CC in higher grades but it now lags both of these issues. The last nice coin to sell, ex Stacks Bowers 4/13: 1401 and graded PCGS MS61, at $35,278, actually seems like a good value to me within the context of this series.
I just sold a nice PCGS AU58 example for over $8,000 to a savvy wholesaler and this was sort of a “gulp!” moment for me. I looked at my old records and saw that I was selling the same date in this grade for around $5,000 around three years ago. The gulp wasn’t so much that I thought these were now overvalued at $8,000; I leave that to the market to decide. The gulp was more that I wistfully thought “why didn’t I just put four or five of these away for a few years and sell into a market I knew was going to be strong.” Sigh…
I’m now pretty certain that this is the most available date in the series in lower grades. I still see 1890-CC double eagles coming out of Europe and even some pretty decent EF45 to AU55 examples from these sources. This is one of the few CC double eagles that are still comparably affordable in AU58. I have sold a few nice examples in the last couple of months for around $6,000. Not cheap but not as pricey as some of the other common dates in this series.
This date has proven itself to be scarcer than the 1885-CC and it seems far less available in the current strong CC double eagle market. No Uncirculated examples have sold at auction since the nice MS62 in Battle Born (it sold for a reasonable $48,875) and I don’t think I’ve handled more than two or three nice AU’s this year. Presentable AU’s at less than $20,000 seem like good value to me in the context of this market.
Let’s say you bought a nice PCGS MS62 1892-CC in 2008. You probably paid around $16,000-18,000 for it. Fast forward to today. You send your coin to CAC and since it was nice for the grade, it is approved. If you go to sell the coin, the chances are good you’ll get around $25,000 for it and possibly more if someone like me thinks it has a chance to upgrade to MS63. Not a terrible return, especially given the fact that many non-CC Type Three double eagles have had spotty price performance during this five year period.
The rumor about this date used to be that there was a bag of them and someone was quietly selling them two or three at a time. True? I doubt it but there were certainly a lot of similar looking Uncirculated 1893-CC double eagles on the market a few years back. There are still some nice coins around but they tend to have a bleached-out look as they have been processed to remove the deep peripheral color you used to find on this date.
Do you collect Carson City double eagles? If so, I would be pleased to help you assemble a great set. Feel free to contact Doug Winter by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.