Buy a gold coin for 20 dollars and sell it for half a million dollars. That's what Douglas Winter, a Portland USA coin broker did. He bought a 1856-O Double Eagle, the rarest gold coin struck at the New Orleans mint in November last year and sold it in Dec the 17th for a hearty 542,000 US dollars.
The New Orleans Mint struck only 2,250 of these coins and only 20 to 30 are known about today, according to Douglas Winter, who does business from a Pearl District loft as Douglas Winter Numismatics and wrote "Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint, 1839-1909."
Owning one of these coins, he stated, is like an art collector landing a Raphael painting.
"It is a true classic rarity," agreed Gary Adkins, a coin dealer in Minnesota and president of the selective Professional Numismatists Guild, of which Winter is a member. "If you were a collector, this would be a crown jewel of your collection."
Winter bought the 1856-O -- slightly larger than a half dollar but nearly three times its weight -- for $525,000 from a St. Paul, Minn., dealer. He sold it to a New England collector he declined to identify to honor his privacy.
The coin is well known for its almost perfect appearance. A full strike of the die in all areas of the liberty head and eagle figures, and the satiny luster and shadowing around each star, according to CoinFacts.com. The New Orleans mint started making gold coins in 1839, closed during the Civil War and reopened from 1879 through 1909. The double eagles were the largest denomination of gold coins. The smallest was a gold dollar piece.
The sale underscores interest in these little vessels of American history. Winter and Adkins also said interest in gold coins, especially, is expanding as investors look to diversify in the face of fading real estate and stock markets.
But Winter said his typical customer is a baby boomer guy -- like him -- who grew up collecting Lincoln pennies, could never afford the prized 1909-S Vdb penny, and now has the money to indulge his interest.
Winter, 48, moved from Dallas, Texas, to Portland two years ago for the lifestyle. And while he has, on occasion, obtained and sold coins for more than this double eagle, he said handling this one was a thrill.
"That gave me some goose bumps, to be able to buy and sell a coin that was so rare and at that price level," he said. "It was really one of the highlights of my year."