Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Mapes 1870-CC Double Eagle

1870-CC $20
Extremely Fine

This 1870 Type II double eagle ($20 gold piece) was struck at the Carson City mint, and it is the rarest and therefore the most desirable of the double eagles. The CC mint mark is here located over the N of TWENTY on the reverse. Of the 3,789 double eagles minted that first year in Carson City, most were presumably melted down in later years and only between 35 and 45, or about one percent, are believed to remain in existence. This particular one has been off the market for fifty years. It was purchased in February of 1961 by Charles Mapes, Jr. who built the Mapes Hotel and Casino, now defunct, in Reno.

Here's the original listing for this "excessively rare" coin from 1961:

The current estimate is somewhat higher!  

Bonhams Sale 19251 - Coins and Medals, 4 Sep 2011 California, Los Angeles 

Lot No: 1213

Estimate: US$150,000 - 180,000 
September 4, 2011:  Sold for US $243,500 inclusive of Buyer's Premium

Yes, I understand how the rarity of the coin makes it valuable, but it certainly isn't the prettiest double eagle out there, is it? If the rate of inflation since 1961 were the only factor affecting price, the low estimate today would be around $34,000. So if we take $4,500 to be the low estimate in 1961 and if we take the current published estimate to be a true one, then this rare coin has appreciated at about five times the rate of inflation, despite the fact that twice as many examples of it are now thought to have survived.

One reason for this increase in perceived worth might be that our overall affluence has increased and therefore more wealth is chasing this rarity, regardless of the increased number of known examples. Another reason could be that this rare coin has become more famous. As knowledge about extremely sought-after dates and mint marks becomes more widely-disseminated, more collectors might become interested in adding such coins to their collection. Such an acquisition would automatically render any coin collection as "world class" and would increase interest in the entire collection if and when it should come time to sell.

Bonhams states in their listing that turnover of this sort of coin is quite low because such impossibly scarce items go to connoisseurs rather than to mere investors, but I'm not so sure this will be born out in the future. If the economy weakens, even connoisseurs may have a hard time holding on to their treasures, and, as I suggested, having such a piece in one's collection will guarantee publicity for the entire sale.

On the other hand, a struggling national or global economy can limit the funds available to chase after such fanciful items, no matter how desired they may be. By necessity, that estimate of $150,000 - $180,000 had to be made without the foreknowledge of where the stock market would be on September 4. The stock market has been extremely volatile of late. Whatever reserve was set--the reserve is the undisclosed minimum price below which the item will not be sold--it had to be done without the certain knowledge of what price the market would support.

Bonhams will not accept bids below 40% of the low estimate. My personal policy, if I have something to sell, is to set the reserve at half the low estimate and let the proverbial chips fall where they may. I'm a strong believer that the market should set the price, and sometimes you have to accept less money than you want rather than be left holding something that failed to sell. Still, if I ever had to sell something with this high an estimate, I might break my rule and set the reserve just a bit higher, say at $120,000 or 80% of the low estimate. After all, one has to eat!

Here's the listing:


No comments:

Post a Comment