When I first got serious about Carson City gold (around 1984-85), I quickly learned how rare the eagles from the 1870s were, especially in higher grades. As I learned the market, it quickly became apparent that the 1870-CC was the rarest eagle in the series and for a long time I regarded it as a rarer coin than the similarly dated double eagle (it’s not…). Coming in second was the 1879-CC, an issue with the lowest mintage figure of any Carson City gold coin and a genuinely scarce issue in any grade.
Fast forward three decades, and the 1879-CC has lost some of the cachet it used to have. Today, collectors regard the 1873-CC and the 1877-CC more highly than the 1879-CC, despite the fact that the 1879-CC is clearly rarer overall.
Let’s look at PCGS populations for the six scarcest Carson City Eagles:
From this chart, we can determine that the 1879-CC lays claim to the rarest CC Eagle, at least in terms of total number graded (there are a number of low grade 1870-CC eagles known which inflates this date’s overall population). The 1873-CC is also almost as rare as the 1870-CC. However, the status of the 1870-CC as a first-year-of-issue piece will always make it a higher-priced coin than the 1873-CC or the 1879-CC.
What I find very interesting are the number of coins graded AU55 or finer for each of these issues. PCGS has graded just two 1873-CC Eagles in very high grades: one each in AU55 and AU58. This makes it narrowly rarer in this range than the 1870-CC (three graded), the 1877-CC (four graded), and the 1879-CC (five graded). But as you can see, very little separates these four issues when it comes to coins graded AU55 and finer.
Now let’s take a look at the PCGS Price Guide for each of these dates in AU55 and in AU58:
One thing that stands out for me about these numbers is the fact that the 1879-CC — with a population of just two coins in AU58 and none finer — appears clearly underpriced in AU58. In 2019, the only known PCGS AU58 example of the 1873-CC eagle was sold in a deal where it exchanged hands for close to $100,000, while an 1877-CC graded “AU58” by an alternative grading service brought slightly over $100,000 in the Heritage February 2018 sale. Given those two prices, I believe an 1879-CC should take closer to $85,000-90,000 in AU58. Based on the condition census, clearly a curious case!