Key Date Coins in All Series
By Doug Winter
I had an
interesting conversation with another coin
dealer the other day. We were discussing what we
are buying (and not buying) right now and he
mentioned to me that, for the last few years, he
has been primarily focused on buying only the
key date coins in all series, even in such
esoteric areas as Charlotte and Dahlonega gold.
Focusing on keys has been a great strategy in
mainstream series such as Barber coins or Morgan
dollars. Issues like the 1901-S quarter and the
1893-S dollar have clearly outperformed the rest
of the market during the last six to nine years.
This got me to thinking: is this performance
also the same in the market areas in which I
specialize? To determine this I decided to
select a small group of key dates from each
series and to then compare them with a “generic”
date as a baseline. The results are interesting.
The first item I chose was the ever-popular
1861-D gold dollar. As a generic comparison, I
selected an 1859-D gold dollar. The former is
the key Type Three issue from this mint while
the latter is one of the more common dates.
In June 2000 Heritage auctioned a PCGS AU55
example of the 1861-D gold dollar for $12,075.
Today, a similarly graded 1861-D would probably
fetch over $30,000. I think it’s a safe bet to
say that this issue has at least doubled—if not
tripled—in value since the beginning of the
In comparison, an AU55 example of the 1859-D
gold dollar in AU55 would bring around
$3,750-4,000 at auction today. In looking back
at auction records from the 2000-2002 era, I
noted at least three AU55 coins selling for
$3,000-3,300. The price growth of the 1859-D
gold dollar has been marginal at best. This does
not totally surprise me, given that the
Dahlonega market is very collector-oriented and
that this sort of market is generally skewed
towards rare dates or “neat” specific coins.
(NOTE: An important factor that I am not going
to delve deeply into here is gradeflation. Even
though the 1859-D gold dollar in AU55 appears to
have experienced little price growth in the last
decade, it is likely that coins sold as AU55 in
2002 are, by today’s standards, at least AU58;
if not better. Gradeflation is, for many more
common coins, what has caused the greatest
amount of price increases).
The second item I chose was the 1842-C Small
Date half eagle. This is the rarest collectible
gold coin from Charlotte. As a generic
comparison I selected an 1849-C half eagle. It
is one of the more common issues from this mint.
Heritage sold a pair of comparatively high grade
1842-C Small Date half eagles in their June 2008
auction. A PCGS AU58 brought $43,125 while an
NGC AU55 realized $31,050. Looking back, I noted
that Heritage sold a PCGS AU58 in April 2002 for
$55,200 and a PCGS AU55 in January 2003 for
$35,650. The price performance of this key issue
has been poor in the last five years and the
1842-C Small Date in AU is clearly worth less
today than it was in the past.
In AU55, an 1849-C half eagle is currently worth
$3,500-4,000. Looking back at auction records
from around 2002, the same coin was worth
basically the same.
What I think this shows is that in an area like
Charlotte gold that hasn’t been very popular
during recent years, even though a coin is a key
issue (like the 1842-C Small Date half eagle)
this doesn’t mean it will rise in value. It
seems obvious to say this but, no matter how
rare a coin is, if it isn’t part of a popular
series then it is unlikely to increase in price.
How about Carson City double eagles; an area of
the market that was popular in 2002 and is even
more popular today? I chose the 1871-CC as my
key date and the 1892-CC as its generic
Current values for About Uncirculated 1871-CC
double eagles are as follows: AU50=
$32,500-35,000; AU53= $40,000-45,000 and AU55=
$50,000-55,000+. Looking back to early 2003,
Heritage sold a PCGS AU50 example for $14,950 in
their January 2003 auction and an NGC AU55 in
the same auction for $17,250. Clearly, levels
for this date in AU have almost tripled in the
last five years.
How about the common 1892-CC in AU grades?
Heritage recently sold an NGC AU55 in their June
2008 auction for $3,450. Going back to June
2004, they sold a PCGS AU55 in the same grade
for $1,840. A more detailed examination of
auction records from this era shows that the
typical AU 1892-CC double eagle in AU has
doubled in value in the last five years.
This is a fairly interesting case study. CC
double eagles have performed really well in the
last few years due to their popularity and just
about every coin has doubled in value. But the
key issues in the series (1870-CC, 1871-CC,
1873-CC, 1878-CC, 1879-CC, 1885-CC and 1891-CC)
have outperformed their more common
counterparts. The one exception to this rule
tends to be in the area of high grade coins.
Even the common CC double eagles in high grades
(in this case MS62 and better) have performed
exceptionally well in the last few years due to
The one problem with the strategy of buying only
key dates is that in most gold series, these
issues are very expensive. With entry level
undamaged 1861-D gold dollars now exceeding
$20,000, only elite collectors can realistically
look to purchase such coins. And maybe this
amount would be more rewarding if spent on three
or four nice common date Dahlonega coins in AU
instead of one