Finding Coins, Not Price An Obstacle - Rare Coin Market Remains Extremely Competitive

Posted on 3/8/2012

Demand is ferocious for key date Liberty Gold.

Keeping true to form weather-wise, March roared in like a lion and will most certainly be the scene of some intense numismatic activity this month beginning with the Heritage Signature Auction. Slated for March 8–11 in New York, the diverse March sale offers upwards of 3,700 lots of rare certified coins and hits the auction block at high noon today.

One of the iconic standouts being offered is the famous 1795 “Jefferson Head” Plain Edge Large Cent. This enigmatic early large copper, graded NGC VF 25, is not an official mint issue yet it has been aggressively collected as a part of the regular series. The present example has an impeccable numismatic pedigree with time in Dr. Edward Maris’ cabinet as well as three generations of the famed Garrett family. With only an estimated 40 or so examples remaining in all states of preservation, this coveted chocolate brown specimen is the only example certified by NGC and has been the scene of tremendous online viewing and absentee bidding.

Another prime NGC-certified rarity is the seldom seen 1874-CC With Arrows Seated Liberty Dime. Graded NGC AU 55, this rare although sometimes unheralded Carson City dime is estimated to have fewer than 80 survivors in all grades. In fact, according to the NGC Census, only 11 coins of this date have been graded with only a single Mint State representative—graded MS 62—awarded a higher designation. Listed below is a wealth of high-grade and rare NGC offerings hitting the auction block in the Big Apple:

Heritage NY Signature sale NGC Highlights:

  • 1786 Vermont Bust Left NGC VF 20 BN
  • 1793 Half Cent NGC F 12
  • 1916 Doubled Die Obverse Buffalo Nickel NGC MS 63
  • 1920-S Buffalo Nickel NGC MS 65
  • 1937-D 3-Legged Buffalo Nickel NGC MS 65
  • 1803 Draped Bust Half Dime NGC MS 61
  • 1870-CC Liberty Seated Quarter NGC VG 8
  • 1926-D Standing Liberty Quarter NGC MS 65 FH
  • 1852 Restrike Liberty Seated Dollar NGC PF 64
  • 1854 Seated Liberty Dollar NGC PF 64 Ultra Cameo
  • 1893 Morgan Dollar NGC PF 68
  • 1855-O Type II Gold Dollar NGC MS 62
  • 1882 Gold Dollar NGC PF 68 Ultra Cameo
  • 1859-D Liberty Head Quarter Eagle NGC MS 61
  • 1860 Three Dollar Gold NGC PF 64 Cameo
  • 1812 Wide 5D Capped Bust Half Eagle NGC MS 63
  • 1909-O Indian Head Half Eagle NGC MS 60
  • 1912 Indian Head Half Eagle NGC PF 67
  • 1855-O Liberty Head $20 NGC AU 55
  • 1860-O Liberty Head $20 NGC XF45
  • 1891 Liberty Head $20 NGC AU 53
  • 1910 Saint-Gaudens $20 NGC PF 65
  • 1851 Reeded Edge, .887 Thous. Humbert $50 NGC AU 50
  • 1852 Reeded Edge, .887 Thous. Humbert $50 NGC AU 55

In numismatics, as with most consumer purchases, there is no substitute for quality. Whether it is the fledgling collector who is meticulously building a type set or the advanced enthusiast vying for bragging rights of the finest Registry Set, both factions are searching all venues for the best quality at the best price. Although at present, price doesn’t seem to be as much an obstacle as finding the specific coins to fill the void. A well known California dealer advised me that just in the last three days they have sold over $800,000 in NGC rarities to their anxious and appreciative clients. “I really don’t have time to breathe, it’s literally been that busy. My biggest obstacle right now is buying fresh coins to replace those which have sold and overcoming auction prices realized on coins that are really good deals. It is extremely competitive out there and my customers are very much aware of the situation.” Another dealer advised me, “Demand is ferocious for key date Liberty Gold from quarter eagle to eagle. I have multiple want lists for Charlotte, Dahlonega and Carson City representatives in problem free circ through Mint State.”

Another major market maker advised me that all classic US Proof gold seems to be a great value at present levels. “I have buyers lined up for Cameo and Ultra Cameo US Gold in all denominations–including the Stella! The predominant demand is for the PF 65 to PF 67 material.” A savvy East Coast dealer advised “I love early proof silver rarities (Capped Bust and early Liberty Seated type). Low mintages and miniscule survival rates means some of these coins should be significantly more expensive than they are.” The consensus early into 2012 is that the rare coin market is exceptionally strong for quality material across the board when it is available.

In between major auctions, local regional shows and Internet-only venues the various electronic trading networks have been extremely busy. One of the mainstays on the exchanges, the Double Eagle, continues to soar. Although closing out the month of February with a precipitous 5% fall on spot price, its largest one-day decline since November of 2008, the proud yellow metal has since rebounded early in March and is on the plus side by about 10% in 2012 - on track for its 12th consecutive annual gain.

One area which is no stranger to voracious demand is the Morgan Dollar. Blazing white type coins grading MS 66 and MS 67 are being passionately pursued. These silver cartwheels are trading at mere fractions of their historic highs. As one well-known Morgan Dollar specialist put it “Blazing white Ultra-Gem Morgans are veritable bargains at these levels.” Setting aside eye appealing coins which are solid for the grade is a bit tedious but well worth the effort for the casual collector as well as the serious Morgan specialist.

Although there is still plenty of demand for the famed Walking Liberty Half, common dates from the short set (1941-47) in MS 65 and MS 66 have recently been trading a bit lower. That however is not the case with key dates in mid to high grade within the ever popular Walker series. As an illustration I refer you to the semikey 1918-D. There are 13 examples gracing the NGC Census in MS 65 and in the last month the coin has registered nearly a 4% gain ($970), now quoted at $25,350 in the NGC US Coin Price Guide. Considering there are only two coins graded a single point higher, for the majority of Walker aficionados a splendid Gem example will do quite nicely and is sure to curry considerable activity when one appears at public auction or on the bourse.

Between now and my next installment the always well attended Whitman Expo will be underway in Baltimore, March 22-25, along with the host Stack's Bowers sale. The highly anticipated official Baltimore auction also features the return of the popular Rarities Night. A few of the prime time numismatic icons to cross the auction block include a near mint state example of what is considered by many as the first US coin. The popular and rare 1792 Half Disme makes an appearance as an elegantly toned NGC AU 58 specimen is up for bid. The historic half disme is followed up by a superb first regular Federal issue Half Dime. A glorious NGC MS 66 representative of the 1794 Flowing Hair Half Dime is up for bidder’s consideration. This captivating coin has only one sibling grading a single point higher according to the NGC Census. The last time this coin appeared at public venue was nearly 3 years ago at the ANA sale in Los Angeles in 2009.

Gold coins, as always, will be a mainstay including a fantastic trio of quarter Eagles. The classic rarity 1796 No Stars on Obverse Capped Bust Quarter Eagle, graded NGC MS 62, gets the show rolling. Of the original mintage of just 963 coins it’s estimated that fewer than 10% of that total have survived. Only 39 coins appear in the NGC Census in all grades! A phenomenal 1836 Classic Quarter Eagle graded NGC PF 66 Ultra Cameo follows. The finest known, from the Parmelee, Mills, Woodin and Eliasberg Collections this exquisite and rare coin last appeared seven years ago as a part of the ANR’s “A Gentleman’s Collection” when it captured $247,250. Rounding out the formidable trio is an 1848 CAL. Liberty Quarter Eagle. Graded NGC MS 64 this superb near-Gem “gold rush coin” is one of three graded as such according to the NGC Census and a coin of this caliber has only appeared at public sale four times in the last 15 years. Also a classic silver commemorative half, a 1934 Maryland appears, not your typical mint state coin, but as an NGC PF Matte 64. This example is sure to cause a stir as there are only two coins graded as proof on the NGC Census (this being the finest) and will most probably find an appreciative new owner in its home state of issue.

Several other superb NGC highlights from the Stack’s Bowers sale include:

  • 1864 Indian Cent NGC PF 66 RD Ultra Cameo
  • 1913 Type One Buffalo Nickel NGC PF 68
  • 1914-D Buffalo Nickel NGC MS 67
  • 1832 Capped Bust Half Dime NGC PF 64
  • 1807 Draped Bust Dime NGC MS 65
  • 1856 Liberty Seated Dime NGC PF 66 Cameo
  • 1818 Capped Bust Quarter NGC MS 66
  • 1795 Flowing Hair Half Dollar NGC MS 63
  • 1809 Capped Bust Half Dollar NGC MS 66
  • 1795 3 Leaves Flowing Hair Dollar NGC MS 62
  • 1878-CC Morgan Dollar NGC MS 67
  • 1863 Gold Dollar NGC PF 66 Ultra Cameo
  • 1859-S Liberty Head Quarter Eagle NGC MS 65
  • 1795 13 Leaves Capped Bust Eagle NGC MS-64
  • 1907 High Relief, Wire Rim Saint-Gaudens $20 NGC PF 66

Although winter’s chill is still evident, the numismatic arena remains toasty warm. Until next time, happy collecting.

Jim Bisognani has written extensively on US coin market trends and values and was the market analyst and writer for a major pricing guide for many years. He currently resides in Southern California and frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.

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