I finally found an 1888 for a price I could afford and which I was comfortable paying.
I have eBay send me emails whenever things pop up that could potentially be a match for this set. The search is deliberately broad so most of the items that pop up aren't of interest but it helps make sure I know it when something good pops up.
Last week an 1888 came up for sale in MS65 graded by NGC. The seller had great feedback and is an NGC and PCGS member/submitter. Everything looked great.
This is a very hard coin to find. Only 35,585 were made 130 years ago. Only 20 are graded by NGC and only 6 of those are graded MS-65 or better. In the years I've been building this set I've only seen 1 other 1888 come up for sale and it was an MS-62 that the seller wanted $875.00. At the time I tried to offer the seller about $650 - more than reasonable, but they still wanted over $800, counter offering with $825, so I passed. That coin sat on eBay for years and cost them who-knows-what in listing fees but didn't sell because the coin wasn't worth what they were asking. It finally disappeared off eBay. I don't know if someone finally bit the bullet or they just gave up.
This MS-65 was an auction, not a BIN, and it started at $400 + $7 shipping, so this was a true chance for the coin to sell for what it was worth and not some inflated price that someone was hoping for. I did a bit of pleading and convinced my wife to let me bid on it. The timing was good. My long streak of unemployment ended several months ago and we've made it past the worst of our financial hard times. A few months ago this purchase would have been unthinkable. As it is, I wasn't really looking to pick up a gold coin this month but when an opportunity like this comes along you can't pass it up. No telling when you'll see another for sale at a reasonable price.
I watched the auction closely all weekend. Finally got to Monday and it was still going for just a bit over the $400 starting bid. I was watching it obsessively on Monday.
After we got our son to bed I sat down on the bed with my wife, turned on some Breaking Bad, flipped open the laptop and settled in. I put in my final bid with about 1.5 minutes left, cringing slightly and hoping it wouldn't go as high as I was bidding but willing to do it if it got me the coin. I was beating the other bidder with a price of $493 - a steal for this coin IMO. I watched the final seconds tick down almost afraid to breathe. 8 people were watching the coin but only 3 had bid. I was sure there would be a last second bid that would run it up or maybe take it from me but the bid never came. I won the coin for $500 after shipping.
I know it's sometimes hard to put much stock in price guides - especially for coins that come up for sale so rarely - but the NGC price guide lists the coin at $550 in MS-63. An 1875 in this series in MS-65 usually goes for $380-450. They minted 4.1 million of them this year and compared to the low-mintage 1888, the 1875 is as common as sand on the beach. You always see some of them up for sale, usually several. To me, getting this coin for barely $100 over the most common date in the series is a major win.
I've paid for the coin and can't wait for it to get here and add it to my set. It is estimated to arrive on Friday - a day I have off as it happens because of the 9/80 schedule I work. I think it could be a very good day.