Monday, February 8, 2010

Coin Monday: The 1904 Double Eagle, Playing to Type

February 8, 2010
Written by John Dale

One of the broad styles or modes of collecting coins, type collecting consists of acquiring and owning a series of coins, each representative of a subset, or “type” of coin. A type set of double eagles, for example, would include coins exemplifying its various designs over the years, both long-lived (such as the “Type Three” Liberty double eagle with denomination spelled out as TWENTY DOLLARS, struck from 1877 to 1907) and short-lived (the High Relief Saint-Gaudens double eagle was made only briefly in the latter year). The High Relief double eagles are worthy of their own blog post, so I won’t go into them today, but consider this coin from the upcoming March 2010 Official ANA Auction in Fort Worth a sneak preview.

The High Relief double eagles of 1907 are the only ones of their type, so the collector by type has to get one or do without. Longer-lived types, on the other hand, have a variety of issues to choose from, and usually type collectors will aim for more common dates, often known as “type coins,” well-suited to that style of collecting. Since type coins are more available than rarer dates, they are usually less expensive than their peers, letting the type collector acquire a higher-graded coin for the same price.

For the “Type Three” Liberty double eagle design I mentioned earlier, there are several dates that appeal to type collectors. Most famous is the 1904 double eagle, struck at Philadelphia. The official mintage of coins for circulation: 6,256,699 pieces. Over six million coins at twenty dollars face value each—and 1904 dollars, no less—that’s a lot of money, even for Mark Cuban. Which reminds me, I should go to another Mavericks game one of these days...

Anyway, there were a lot of 1904 double eagles made, and many of them have survived. In the Fort Worth auction, there are examples in a variety of Mint State grades, suitable for a broad range of budgets. Go ahead and check out the price information on this MS63 example. Those “Population in All Grades” numbers? In the six figures, and no joke. NGC has graded a 1904 double eagle as MS63 64,496 times. That’s not a typo. Suffice it to say, if you want an example in MS63, you can find usually find one to your liking, and quickly.

Same for MS64, and even MS65, though as the quality increases, so does the price. There’s a dramatic drop-off in availability from MS65 to MS66, though, and the example we’re offering in that grade looks every bit the five-figure coin it is. As for finer examples, NGC and PCGS combined have graded three total. Even Heritage hasn’t offered one. If you’re holding out for an MS67, expect a long wait. If an MS66 will do for you, though, the coin coming up in late March might be just your type.

-- John Dale Beety

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