Battle Born Results, Part 2: Carson City Gold

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #122 …..

On August 9th, in Philadelphia, Stack’s-Bowers Galleries (SBG) auctioned the “Battle Born” collection of Carson City, Nevada Mint coins. It was the only time that a complete collection of Carson City Mint coins was sold at one event. In part 1, I analyzed results for Carson City silver coins, and provided some general commentary. The topic here, in part 2, is auction results for gold coins in this set.

In Feb., I discussed the overall importance of the “Battle Born Collection,” along with a featured discussion of the amazing 1876-CC Half Eagle ($5 gold coin). In July, I devoted an article to the unique 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ Liberty Seated Dime. (Clickable links are in blue.) I analyzed the $1.84 million price realized for this dime in part 1. In early August, I covered the “Battle Born” 1870-CC silver quarter.

There were fifty-seven gold coins in the “Battle Born Collection,” including Half Eagles ($5 coins), Eagles ($10 coins) and Double Eagles ($20 coins). I cannot discuss all of them here. I am focusing on many Eagles and putting forth detailed comments on several Half Eagles.

I. 1876-CC Half Eagle ($5 gold coin)

The prize gold coin of the “Battle Born Collection” is the 1876-CC Half Eagle. It is widely believed to be the finest known Carson City Mint gold coin of any date or denomination. It is PCGS graded MS-66 and has a CAC sticker.

1876-cc Half Eagle PCGS-66 CACThe “Battle Born” 1876-CC five brought $477,250. To the best of my recollection, this is an auction record for a Carson City Mint gold coin. In March 2009, Spectrum-B&M auctioned an NGC graded AU-55 1870-CC Double Eagle ($20 coin) for $414,000. The “Battle Born,” NGC graded AU-53 1870-CC in this sale realized $345,000, a moderate price.

As for the “Battle Born” 1876-CC five, John Albanese was expecting it to sell for from $373,750 ($325k+15%) to $402,500 ($350k+15%). Richard Burdick made a similar, though lower, prediction, $345,000 to $373,750. Burdick found the $477,250 result to be “extremely strong, but extremely understandable. This is a magnificent coin.” Al Adams was the successful bidder.

II. General Conclusions

I conclude that market prices for relatively high quality Carson City Mint gold coins have significantly fallen over the last few months, or perhaps in a matter of weeks. Many of the most highly certified CC Half Eagles were in this sale and this collection was especially well promoted. The staff at Stack’s-Bowers brought the whole 111 piece “Battle Born” set to every major coin convention so far in 2012, including conventions in Orlando, Los Angeles County, Baltimore, and the Chicago area. Moreover, there was formal lot viewing in Orange County California, New York City and Philadelphia. It seems that this one set of 111 coins was promoted and made available to the maximum extent that was practical.

Regarding CC Half Eagles, some widely used price guides are wrong. Market values for many Carson City Half Eagles in relatively high grades have been over-estimated. While the “Battle Born” Half Eagles did not bring really strong prices, these brought moderate prices, on average.

Prices for the “Battle Born” Double Eagles were slightly strong. No one price really stood out as being very strong or very weak. So, I am not itemizing Double Eagles in this discussion.

Adam Crum, of Monaco Rare Coins, was the successful bidder for a few Double Eagles, and an underbidder for others. He attended in person and was clearly a force in this segment of the sale.

Although many coins, especially quite a few Eagles, brought strong prices in this auction, my research indicates that prices for highly certified, Carson City gold coins in general have recently dropped by five to eight per cent, Half Eagles more so than the other two denominations. There were more buyers pursuing these during 2010 and 2011.

Yes, prices for CC gold, on average, are higher now than prices were in 2005 or 2006. Even so, markets for CC gold had more depth during the period from 2005 to 2007 or so.

On the whole, volume in the rare coin business has been slower in 2012 than in 2011. When both demand and supply drop, prices can stay the same, or move in either direction. So, a drop in demand does not necessarily lead to a drop in prices, and the lessening of supply does not always lead to higher prices. When demand and supply both drop during the same time period, prices may not substantially change.

In the rare coin business as a whole, prices seem to be staying the same. Fewer rare U.S. coins traded in the first eight months or so of 2012, then during the same periods in 2010 and 2011. In the category of Carson City gold coins, market prices have certainly gone down. Such prices may rise again in the near future.

As will be made clear with several examples, many Eagles in the “Battle Born Collection” brought strong or very strong prices. A few Half Eagles did as well.

In an auction setting, a moderate price is around the border between a wholesale price and a retail price. A strong price is well within a retail range, and thus significantly above wholesale levels. A very strong price is above the middle of the retail range, more or less. (For some categories of coins, these terms are defined differently.)

The bidding for Half Eagles in the “Battle Born Collection” was very competitive. I know a number of the bidders, including some who were not physically present. Most bidders do not wish to be identified. The bidding for the Eagles ($10 gold coins), however, was much more exciting and the gold portion of the “Battle Born Collection” will be best remembered for Eagles. So, before mentioning specific Half Eagles, I discuss individual Eagles.

III. 1870-CC Eagle ($10 coin)

The “Battle Born” 1870-CC Eagle is PCGS graded AU-55. When I examined it, I was reminded of 1870-CC Double Eagles, which naturally feature darker, dirtier colors than later CC issues, and tend to be characterized by a large number of routine contact marks, gashes, and scratches.

1870-CC Eagle is PCGS graded AU-55When this same 1870-CC Eagle was auctioned by DLRC as part of the epic Richmond Collection, it was NGC graded AU-53, which I regard as a more applicable grade than 55. It brought $50,600 in July 2004.

The cataloguer for DLRC noted that “NGC and PCGS report a combined population of sixty-two coins” in early 2004. The current Stack’s-Bowers catalogue lists such a combined population of eighty-four. It is unlikely that more than three, never certified 1870-CC Half Eagles have entered coin markets since 2004. The increase from sixty-two to eighty-four is largely due to the upgrading of already certified coins, as many of these are re-submitted.

The PCGS and the NGC have probably certified about thirty-five different 1870-CC Eagles. I estimate that fewer than sixty exist, including the ungradable. There may be less than fifty! The “Battle Born” 1870-CC Eagle grades AU-50+ or -53, in my view.

On August 9th, it went for $126,500. John Albanese finds this amount to be “a very strong price.” Albanese is the founder and president of the CAC. John is also the leading authority on U.S. gold coins.

IV. 1871-CC Eagle

The “Battle Born” 1871-CC brought the exact same price, $126,500, as the 1870-CC. It is a higher quality coin, though 1871-CC Eagles are not nearly as rare as 1870-CC Eagles.

1871-CC PCGS 62+ $10This 1871-CC is PCGS graded MS-62+ and has a CAC sticker. This coin has a massive number of contact marks. While the “62+” grade is debatable, it may be the only truly uncirculated 1871-CC Eagle in existence. There is no doubt that this coin merits a ‘mint state’ grade. Plus, it is somewhat attractive, much more so than most CC Eagles of the early 1870s. The $126,500 result is moderate to strong. This is an extremely important coin; all 1871-CC Eagles are very rare.

V. 1872-CC Eagle

The “Battle Born” 1872-CC is one of three that is PCGS graded AU-58 and these three are the highest certified 1872-CC Eagles. Only one of the three has a CAC sticker, this one. John Albanese was surprised by the $63,250 result for this coin. His “first guess would have been $40,000,” and John finds this price realized to be “very strong.”

I was even more surprised by the result than Albanese. I was not overwhelmed by this coin and I am not convinced that it is the finest known 1872-CC Eagle.

VI. 1873-CC Eagle

The Stack’s-Bowers catalogue makes clear that the “Battle Born” 1873-CC was earlier in the Heritage pre-ANA auction of July 31, 2009. This catalogue does not make clear that the “Battle Born” 1873-CC upgraded from being NGC certified “AU-55*” in 2009 to being currently NGC graded AU-58. (Will it be graded MS-61 in the future?) It sold for $63,250 in 2009 and for $92,000 on Aug. 9, 2012.

It is a better coin than I thought it would be. It does not have any serious problems. Indeed, its imperfections are minor. It has been extensively lightly cleaned, less so than most Carson City Eagles. Most of the surfaces are a brownish-russet-gold color, with greenish inner fields, not an unusual appearance. I grade it as 55, not 58, though the assigned 58 grade is understandable.

To interpret the $92,000 result, I would need to examine some of the other highly certified 1873-CC Eagles. If I ever saw the Harry Bass 1873-CC, which is also NGC graded AU-58, I do not remember it now and I have not had a chance to search for notes about it.

Is this the finest known 1873-CC Eagle? If so, $92,000 may be a moderate price. It is an extremely rare coin. If, however, there are two that are of higher quality than this one, $92,000 would be more than a little high, given current market conditions.

VII. Eliasberg-Bass 1874-CC Eagle

For a Carson City Mint Eagle, a pedigree that includes the Eliasberg and Bass Collections is especially noteworthy. This 1874-CC is PCGS graded MS-63. Although it is an attractive coin, long, substantial scratches prevent a 63 grade, in my view. It was PCGS graded MS-63, however, when Bowers & Merena auctioned this same coin in 2000. Many of Bass’s gold coins have since upgraded.

This time, it garnered $195,500, which Albanese regards as “a very strong price.” I interpret this amount as an extremely strong price.

VIII. 1875-CC to 1879-CC Eagles

The 1875-CC is a much rarer than the 1874-CC Eagle. The “Battle Born” 1875-CC is PCGS graded AU-58.  While Albanese tentatively suggests that the $63,350 realization “sounds reasonable,” I find it to be strong. Albanese and I are in agreement that the $57,500 price for the “Battle Born” 1876-CC Eagle is very strong.

This 1876-CC is PCGS graded AU-58 and has a CAC sticker. While a ‘mint state’ piece may not exist, there are quite a few in the AU-53 to -58 range.

The 1877-CC is an extremely rare coin. For this issue, the data published by the PCGS and the NGC include multiple counts of many of the same coins, some of which have been resubmitted five or more times. I doubt that as many as seventy-five 1877-CC Eagles exist.

The “Battle Born” 1877-CC turned out to be much better than I thought it would be, before I inspected it. It is PCGS graded AU-53. The moderate cleaning, scratches and gashes are all consistent with an AU-53 or -53+ grade. Clearly, the “Battle Born” 1877-CC merits a numerical grade; many surviving 1877-CC Eagles are not gradable. Moreover, this coin’s light russet, beige and green colors are attractive. This coin must place highly in the condition rankings for this issue. I wonder how many 1877-CC Eagles, which are certified at higher levels, are truly superior to this one.

The “Battle Born” 1877-CC went for $40,240. Albanese maintains that this price is “very strong.”

The 1878-CC is not as rare as the 1877-CC Eagle, though it is extremely rare, fewer than one hundred exist in total. The “Battle Born” 1878-CC is NGC graded AU-58. I like the AU-53 1877-CC much more than the “Battle Born” 1878-CC, which is one of only three that are NGC graded AU-58. A ‘mint state’ 1878-CC is not available to collectors and probably does not exist.

The “Battle Born” 1878-CC sold for $80,500, a result that Albanese regards as “a lot of money for this coin, extremely strong.”

The “Battle Born” 1879-CC is also NGC graded AU-58 and is somewhat superior to the “Battle Born” 1878-CC.  At $41,688, the “Battle Born” 1879-CC is a much better value than the “Battle Born” 1878-CC at $80,500. Indeed, as emphasized in the auction catalogue, the 1879-CC Eagle is an extremely rare coin, probably rarer than the 1877-CC!

IX. Eliasberg 1881-CC

Although it is debatable as to whether 1881-CC Eagles are rare in all grades, the “Battle Born”-Eliasberg 1881-CC may be the finest known and is a pleasing coin overall. It is NGC graded MS-64 and has a CAC sticker. It is one of the nicer coins in this set. Certainly, it is excellent for a CC gold coin.

This coin has a mostly original, standard gold color with typical greenish and russet tints. It is more than attractive. If not for some gashes, it would easily grade MS-65.

Louis Eliasberg built the all-time greatest collection of U.S. coins. His U.S. gold coins, including this one, were auctioned by Bowers & Ruddy in October 1982, in New York.

On Aug. 9, 2012, the “Battle Born”-Eliasberg 1881-CC sold for $97,750. This exact same coin brought $74,750 in the ANR auction of Aug. 11, 2006. In that event, however, many rare U.S. coins realized prices that were then considered to be very strong to extremely strong. It was an enormously successful auction in a very ‘hot’ market environment. This $97,750 result is strong now, in my view.

Although this coin’s grade is solidly in the middle of the 64 range, it is not close to being a gem and 1881-CC Eagles are not very rare.  I am reminded of the stunning sums that are paid for some better date Morgan Silver Dollars in MS-64 and -65 grades, even though these are nowhere near rare, in all grades. Morgans, however, will always be much more popular than Carson City Eagles.

X. 1883-CC Eagle

The 1883-CC Eagle issue is very rare, fewer than 250 exist. Being NGC graded MS-61, the “Battle Born” 1883-CC was the sole highest certified, until the PCGS recently upgraded an 1883-CC to “MS-61.” That 1883-CC was probably previously graded AU-58 or MS-60. Others may upgrade as well. Besides, I found the “Battle Born” 1883-CC to grade MS-60, not 61.

The “Battle Born” 1883-CC brought $32,200, exactly twice as much as it brought in the Heritage FUN auction of Jan. 2003. It was then NGC graded MS-61 as it is now, though there were then much fewer 1883-CC Eagles certified as grading in the AU-50 to -58 range.

As for the current result, Albanese regards it as “a lot of money for that coin.” It does seem to be a strong price, well within the retail range.

Some of the “Battle Born” Eagles that I have not mentioned brought strong prices as well. I now mention a few Half Eagles.

XI. 1870-CC Half Eagle

The “Battle Born Collection” 1870-CC Half Eagle is PCGS graded MS-61 and has a CAC sticker. The grade of this coin is very high in the 61 range, and may exceed it. This could very well be the finest known 1870-CC Half Eagle.

1870-CC Half Eagle is PCGS graded MS-61 and has a CAC stickerAnother 1870-CC Half Eagle is NGC graded MS-62. It was previously PCGS graded MS-61.

When ANR auctioned a PCGS graded AU-58 1870-CC, on Aug. 11, 2006, the prize realized of $80,500 was then considered to be extremely strong. Plus, rare coin markets in general were ‘very hot’ in August 2006. An 1870-CC that is PCGS graded above AU-58 had not been auctioned in ten years, until Aug. 9, 2012.

For the PCGS graded MS-61 “Battle Born” 1870-CC Half Eagle, bidding at the auction entered uncharted territory. The new record for an 1870-CC Half Eagle is $103,500.

Given current market conditions, I find $103,500 to be a very strong price for this coin. John Albanese calls it a “strong price.”

While someone who has a sophisticated understanding of 19th century gold coins would appreciate the relative originality and other positive characteristics of this 1870-CC five, beginning collectors and non-collecting investors probably would not understand it.

XII. Top Ranked 1875-CC Half Eagle

I really like the 1875-CC Half Eagle that was in the “Battle Born Collection.” This is a very rare coin, in all grades. The “Battle Born Collection” 1875-CC is the second highest certified. It is PCGS graded MS-61 and has a CAC sticker. I would have to see the NGC graded MS-63 1875-CC to consider whether it is of higher quality than this one.

For CC Half Eagles, this is a relatively original coin. This 1875-CC has only been lightly to moderately dipped, and lightly cleaned. Indeed, the hairlines are faint, and are consistent with a 62 grade rather than a 61 grade. The reverse (back) is of even higher quality than the obverse (front), and is characterized by a pleasing orange color. This is a coin that really should be seen to be appreciated; it is hard to describe it.

John Albanese finds the $37,375 result to be a “wholesale price,” rather than a retail price. He suggests that it might have “gone to a dealer.” I find it to be a weak to moderate price.

XIII. 1880s Half Eagles

The Half Eagles of the 1880s were among the most disappointing pieces in the “Battle Born Collection. The PCGS graded MS-63 1880-CC brought just $40,250, probably because the coin has some significant issues. I have some doubts about the assigned grade.

Although the 1881-CC, with a “63+” grade, is the third highest certified of this date, I am not completely comfortable with it. The $43,125 result is, unsurprisingly, weak to moderate.

The PCGS graded MS-62 1882-CC is ‘low end,’ at best, for its certified grade. The price of $13,800 is understandable.

I like the “Battle Born” 1883-CC Half Eagle. It is PCGS graded MS-63 and has a CAC sticker. The hairlines and contact marks are minor. It is a mellow, somewhat brilliant coin, with pale russet and green areas. This 1883-CC is attractive overall. It would not be surprising if it is eventually demonstrated that this is the finest known 1883-CC. The $43,125 result is weak.

The $8812 result for the PCGS graded AU-58 1884-CC seems to be weak to moderate. It is debatable, however, as to whether this coin merits any numerical grade. Experts who saw the coin may find the $8812 price to be strong.

In order to determine whether an auction result is weak, moderate, or strong, it is often necessary to examine the coin. There are some coins that are ‘high end’ for their respective certified grades and others that are ‘low end’ or even severely problematic.

Someone who is focused on the certified grades may believe that the “Battle Born” Half Eagles of the 1880s realized weak to moderate prices. An expert who has actually viewed the coins would know that the coins fared better.

XIV. “MS-65” Half Eagles

In the “Battle Born Collection,” there were three Half Eagles dating from the 1890s that are certified as grading “MS-65.” In the coin collecting community, coins that grade “65” or higher are typically referred to as being of gem quality.

The 1890-CC Half Eagle is one of my favorite gold coins in this set. It is PCGS graded MS-65 and has been approved by the CAC. The overall look of this coin is excellent. Moreover, it scores extremely high in the category of originality. It is a coin that I would be glad to view for an hour.

Yes, there are a few very light scratches in the obverse left field, particularly from near the neck to the second and third stars. Plus, there are a few scattered, very small contact marks. If it were not for these marks and scratches, this coin would probably be graded MS-66.

The $46,000 price is not really weak, though it is less than I expected. The 1890-CC is a better value than the 1891-CC five.

The “Battle Born” 1891-CC Half Eagle is NGC graded MS-65. The PCGS price guide value is (or was) $45,000. The retail value, which relates more to NGC certified coins than to PCGS graded coins, is “$34,760.” This 1891-CC sold for $20,700.

The “Battle Born” 1891-CC looks nothing like the just mentioned 1890-CC. This 1891-CC appears to be a ‘very dipped orange’ color, and it has issues. Maybe it should be graded 64.

“I did not like it,” Richard Burdick declares. “I could not even grade it 64. The coin sold for what it is really worth, not for the grade on the holder.”

I sympathize with Richard’s perspective. Given the characteristics of this coin, $20,700 is a strong price.

The “Battle Born” 1893-CC  is also NGC graded MS-65. It, though, brought a very strong price, $18,400, well within the retail range.

It is important to remember that CC gold coins tend to be rare. A few are just scarce. Many are very rare. Indeed, CC Half Eagles and Eagles of the 1870s and 1880s tend to be very rare or even extremely rare. Most interested collectors would feel fortunate to just own one.

During the 1870s and 1880s, there were not advanced coin collectors in or near Carson City, Nevada. These coins were battered in commerce. It is not surprising that many of them have issues or even serious problems. In my view, CC gold coins in grades from Extremely Fine-40 to AU-53 are good values, provided that they have naturally toned and are above-average in a technical sense.

©2012 Greg Reynolds

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