Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, markets, and coin collecting #357
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds .....
Just seven coins are needed for a regular type set of gold eagles (U.S. $10 Gold eagle coins). The purpose here is to discuss building such a set without spending a fortune, with consideration of fair values for beginning to intermediate-level collectors. There is an emphasis on low- to medium-cost representatives of design types of Gold eagle coins.
To be clear, an "eagle" is not just a type of bird commonly used as a design element on U.S. and World coinage. It is also a denomination of American coinage that was issued as a Gold eagle coin. In May, I put forth suggestions about building a type set of half eagles ($5 coins).
Authorized by the Coinage Act of 1792, production began in 1795 and ended in 1933. None were made between 1805 and 1837, except for a few Proofs struck in 1834 or 1835. Eagles produced from 1795 to 1804 were specified to be eleven-twelfths (91.67%) gold. From 1838 to 1933, eagles were required to be 90% gold and 10% copper.
The ‘Rolled Edge’ and ‘Wire Edge’ manifestations of 1907 $10 pieces are extremely expensive. It is very much debatable, however, as to whether these are regular issue coins. Though ‘Wire Edge’ 1907 pieces differ in multiple ways from their ‘Rolled Edge’ counterparts, the physical characteristics of both varieties are quite different from regular issue eagles.
It might be best to classify ‘Wire Edge’ 1907 $10 gold pieces as patterns and ‘Rolled Edge’ 1907 pieces as representatives of a project that was abandoned. While it could be fairly argued that, for a brief time, the ‘Rolled Edge’ 1907 tens were considered current, regular issue coins, they were never distributed as coins and plans for them were canceled.
Unlike the ‘Wire Edge’ 1907 pieces, which have extremely unusual and distinctive finishes, the ‘Rolled Edge’ pieces have business strike mint luster and could have possibly worked as coins had production continued. Even so, on both ‘Wire Edge’ and ‘Rolled Edge’ pieces, the rims, the banking of the fields and the grooving of the dies are so intricate and complex that these coins should be classified as concepts distinct from regular issues. If ‘Rolled Edge’ 1907 eagles had become coins in the minds of a large number of people, they would have been trailblazing.
In my view, neither ‘Wire Edge’ nor ‘Rolled Edge’ 1907 $10 pieces are required for complete type sets.
Type Set Eagles
The seven, mass-produced design types of U.S. eagles are:
- Bust, Small Eagle (1795-97)
- Bust, Heraldic Eagle (1797-1804)
- Gobrecht (1838-39)
- Liberty Head, No Motto (1839-66)
- Liberty Head, With Motto (1866-1907)
- Indian Head, No Motto (1907-08)
- Indian Head, With Motto (1907-33)
Rather than begin with 18th-century eagles, it is best for ‘type coin’ collectors to start with 20th-century eagles and proceed backwards in time. Collectors should learn while collecting. Also, it may be sensible to begin by spending smaller amounts before spending larger amounts of money.
Four of the seven design types above are partly defined by the presence or absence of the motto “In God We Trust”. This motto first appeared on a U.S. coin when the Two Cent piece was introduced in 1864. In 1866, the motto was prominently included in the obverse design of nickels and was added to the reverse designs of quarters, half dollars, silver dollars, half eagles, eagles and double eagles ($20 coins).
President Theodore Roosevelt was opposed to the idea of this motto appearing on U.S. coins. Most members of Congress in 1908, however, were in favor.
Due to Roosevelt’s influence, early Saint-Gaudens double eagles and Indian Head eagles, which stemmed from designs by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, did not include this motto in their respective designs. In May 1908, Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation that required the motto to be part of the designs of quarters, half dollars, silver dollars, half eagles, eagles and double eagles, while not excluding the motto from any other denomination
President Roosevelt signed this measure into law as he had previously made it clear that, on this matter, he would abide by a majority in Congress and the will of the people. The arguments for and against the appearance of the motto on coins are beside the point of this article.
‘No Motto’ Indian Head eagles were struck during 1907 and for a while in 1908. Because Indian Head eagles of both ‘No Motto’ and ‘With Motto’ types are very common overall, these are classified as generic coins rather than as rare or scarce coins. They are very easy to acquire and are frequently traded in quantity.
Because of issues stemming from grade-inflation and coin doctoring, collectors may wish to purchase Indian Head eagles that have been approved by CAC. Experts at CAC provide an additional interpretation of a grade that has already been assigned by NGC or PCGS. When a green CAC sticker is affixed on a NGC or PCGS holder, two experts at CAC have determined that the grade of the coin inside is at least in the middle of the grade range that is indicated by the numerical grade already assigned by NGC or PCGS.
Indian Head Eagles
All three issues of ‘No Motto’ Indian Head eagles are generics in grades below MS-62. In higher grades, the super-common 1907 is the generic, while the 1908 and 1908-D are relatively scarce.
Last week, on November 2, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded AU-55 1907, with a CAC sticker, for $881.25. CAC has only approved 17 coins of this design type below the AU-58 level and just 60 in total below MS-61.
The ‘No Motto’ 1908-D is much less common than the 1907. Indeed, it may be a scarce coin in absolute terms. In June 2016, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded AU-58 1908-D, with a CAC sticker, for $998.75. In August, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-graded MS-61, and CAC approved, 1907 for $1,292.50.
In November 2015, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded MS-63, and CAC-approved, 1907 ‘No Motto’ eagle for $3,055. A current retail value for this coin would be in the range of this price realized, perhaps a little lower than $3,000.
A CAC-approved MS-64 ‘No Motto’ 1907 Indian Head eagle should retail for less than $5,000 and a MS-65 coin for less than $9,250. Among ‘With Motto’ Indian Head eagles, the 1926 and the 1932 are among the most common of all classic U.S. gold coins. Alternately, a collector may pursue a circulated example of a slightly ‘better date’ for a type set.
On July 31, 2016, the firm called GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded EF-40, and CAC-approved, 1909-S for $722.57. Although there are just a few thousand 1909-S eagles extant, there are at least 175,000 1926 eagles around and more than a half million 1932 eagles.
For the collector who needs just one of the ‘With Motto’ Indian Head eagle type, and is seeking to not spend a large amount, a MS-64 grade coin may be the best value. MS-63 grade coins of this type tend to have a substantial number of noticeable contact marks, though often exhibit rich luster. Some MS-63-grade 1932 eagles are attractive and dynamic.
On October 4, 2016, Heritage sold four NGC-graded MS-64 1932 eagles. All have CAC stickers. Three of the four each realized $1,410, and the fourth went for $1,292.50. In March 2016, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded MS-63 1932, with a CAC sticker, for $910.63. For type sets, many appealing Indian Head half eagles are available for modest prices.
Liberty Head Eagles
The motto was added to Liberty Head eagles in 1866. Early 20th-century Liberty Head eagles are plentiful, clearly generics. As only one ‘With Motto’ Liberty Head eagle is needed for a type set, a collector may just buy a nice MS-64 or MS-63 grade piece, with a CAC sticker, and then focus on earlier types of eagles.
A budget-minded collector may save a few hundred dollars buy acquiring an AU-55 grade ‘With Motto’ Liberty Head eagle. Currently, a PCGS- or NGC-graded AU-55, without a CAC sticker, could probably be purchased for around $775. For not much more, a collector could buy a choice ‘mint state’ coin.
In total, millions of 1907, 1907-D and 1907-S Liberty Head eagles were produced plus more than 200,000 regular 1907 ‘No Motto’ Indian head eagles. This output is further evidence that the 1907 ‘Wire Edge’ and ‘Rolled Edge’ pieces were anomalies, not regular issue coins. Demand for eagles in 1907 was certainly met with the just-mentioned coins, which were produced in vast quantities. The supply of eagles in 1907 probably outweighed the demand with these four regular issues.
On June 1, 2015, the Goldbergs auctioned two PCGS-graded MS-62, and CAC-approved, 1907 Liberty Head eagles. Each realized $705. A PCGS-graded MS-62 1907-D, with a CAC sticker, brought more, $734.
The 1901-S is among the most common of this type. In August 2016, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded MS-64, and CAC-approved, 1901-S for $1,292.50.
Some collectors prefer 19th-century dates. On Sept. 25, 2016, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded ‘MS-63+’ and CAC-approved 1893 for $888.80. Back in March, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded MS-63, and CAC-approved, 1899 for $822.50.
Auctions results are cited to give general ideas as to market prices, and should not be narrowly interpreted. A coin that is mentioned is not necessarily recommended. The aesthetics and technical characteristics of coins vary, even among those with the same numerical grade and with CAC stickers. Besides, the exact same coin may sell for different amounts in different settings, even with a short time.
Overall, ‘No Motto’ eagles are dramatically scarcer than their ‘With Motto’ counterparts. Nonetheless, several dates of the 1839 to ’66 ‘No Motto’ type--including some true rarities--are modestly priced in the current market environment. A coin is a true rarity if fewer than 500 exist in all states of preservation.
The 1850 eagle is certainly a rare coin. Earlier this month, Heritage sold two. A PCGS-graded AU-53 grade 1850, which does not have a CAC sticker, brought $881.25. A CAC-approved, PCGS-graded AU-50 1850 went for $1,292.50.
In August 2016, a NGC-graded EF-45 1856 eagle, with a CAC sticker, was auctioned by Stack’s-Bowers for $881.25. From a logical perspective, this is a reasonable price for a coin that is truly rare or nearly so. There are probably fewer than 500 1856 eagles around in all grades, certainly not more than 600. For each 1856 eagle that survives, there are likely to be more than 1,000 1932 eagles in existence.
As the 1854-S quarter eagle and half eagle are Great Rarities, it might be a fun to own an 1854-S eagle. In May 2015, GreatCollections sold a NGC-graded EF-45 1854-S eagle, with a CAC sticker, for $1,156. Neat ‘No Motto’ tens from the 1840s may be acquired, too.
Although the eagles of 1838-39 are sometimes classified as Liberty Head eagles, these really have an obverse design that is distinct from the obverse design of Liberty Head eagles from 1839 to 1907, and the letters on the reverse are notably different. It is almost certain that Christian Gobrecht designed the obverse of 1838 and 1839. At some point in 1839, the Gobrecht design was modified, very noticeably changed in my view, to bring about the Liberty Head type.
As there are just two dates of this design type, 1838 and 1839, the Gobrecht 1839 eagle is often the choice for type sets. The 1839 Gobrecht eagle is less expensive than the 1838.
Associates at PCGS refer to the Gobrecht 1839 eagle as an overdate, “1839/8”. Experts at NGC do not find it to be an overdate and just refer to it as “1839 - Head of 1838”. In the unlikely event that this issue is an overdate, then the underlying ‘8’ is barely present. More likely, the numeral ‘9’ on the die was recut or tooled before coins were struck. It is really best to refer to this issue as the Gobrecht 1839 eagle.
As CAC has approved just 19 coins in total of this 1838-39 Gobrecht design type, collectors may have to consider coins without stickers. Unfortunately, many certified coins of this design type have undisclosed serious problems. A collector who is not inclined to spend more than $10,000 for a Gobrecht eagle should think about acquiring a coin in a ‘genuine’ or ‘details’ NGC or PCGS holder.
In November 2015, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an 1839 in a “PCGS Genuine” holder, “Cleaning - AU Details - Type of 1838”. Although I have not seen this coin, my best guess is that it is a much better value than some of the purportedly “AU-55” grade eagles that I have seen, some of which are upsetting. A certified “AU-55” 1839 would probably cost more than $8,000. This “AU Details” coin brought $3,818.75.
In March 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-53 1839 Gobrecht eagle, with a CAC sticker, for $10,062. I did not see it, though Jim McGuigan did. In response to my inquiries shortly after that auction, Jim revealed that he found this 1839 to be a true “AU” grade coin with no mentionable issues other than a noticeably large number of normal marks from contact with other coins. “Baggy”, McGuigan said.
Patience may be required during the pursuit of a Gobrecht eagle for a type set. Collectors should ask questions of experts about the precise physical characteristics of specific coins.
It is especially important to consult an expert before spending a large sum on a bust eagle. These are not prohibitively rare. Many survivors, however, have been mistreated over the years. Collectors who have realistic expectations are likely to enjoy seeking bust eagles, as these are neat and historically important coins.
In August 2015, GreatCollections sold a non-gradable 1799 ‘Small Stars’ eagle for just $6,447.50, “PCGS Genuine Tooled - AU Details”. In August 2014, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an 1802 in a “PCGS Genuine” holder with the “details” of an Extremely Fine grade coin. It realized $9,400.
Dozens, though not nearly all, early U.S. gold coins in genuine or ‘details’ holders are good values. In my view, many of the pre-1834 gold coins, especially pre-1808 pieces, that have received numerical grades have serious problems, too. I have carefully examined hundreds of them. The dividing line between gradable early gold coins and non-gradable coins of the same respective types is unclear and not firm. There are more than a few early gold coins that some graders found to be non-gradable that were later assigned numerical grades by other graders.
Back in August 2011, two of the rare CAC-approved coins of the ‘Heraldic Eagle’ type were auctioned by Stack’s-Bowers. A PCGS-graded MS-61 1799 realized $31,625. I found myself in agreement with the grade. A PCGS-graded AU-58 1799 went for $25,875. It showed more evidence of cleaning than the just mentioned “MS-61” 1799, which I liked more. The light green color of this “AU-58” 1799, though, did capture my attention.
As for bust eagles of the first type, 1795 to ’97, there are opportunities for collectors who are not extremely wealthy. In August 2016, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a 1796 eagle, “PCGS genuine - Cleaning - AU Details”, for $25,850. The 1796 is a very rare coin. I saw this 1796, which is not extremely far from being gradable, and is certainly half-decent overall. The price paid was a good value.
On June 1, 2014, GreatCollections sold two 1795 eagles in PCGS Genuine holders. The first with “AU Details” brought $20,350. The second, “Repaired - UNC Details”, went for $23,210. Collectors who can afford a really nice, definitely gradable 1795 should probably budget at least $75,000 for one. I have seen more than a few 1795 eagles, with certified numerical grades, that maybe should not have received numerical grades.
I examined the PCGS-graded AU-55 1795 that Stack’s-Bowers auctioned in August for $64,625. It does not have a CAC sticker and probably would not be approved if submitted. Even so, I find it acceptable. The light dipping and extensive moderate cleaning did not lead to any serious problems. Many early gold coins have been subject to far worse cleanings. Moreover, this coin has naturally retoned over the years to an extent. Further, There are not any severe scratches or contact marks. Yes, there are some issues about which to be concerned. Nevertheless, this coin is better than most certified AU-55 bust eagles and it would be difficult to find a better 1795 without spending far more, from $80,000 to much higher amounts.
When building a type set of eagles, beginning to intermediate-level collectors should not seek the highest certified coins that they can afford. Rather than financially stretching, collectors should buy coins that they can easily afford, attempt to learn about coins, ask questions of experts, appreciate the finer points of individual coins, and enjoy themselves.
© 2016 Greg Reynolds
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