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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A rare five-dollar gold piece and a prized silver dollar each could fetch $10 million or more in upcoming auctions, making the American rare coin market as attractive, though not nearly as glamorous, as fine art.
Sales of rare U.S. coins reached a record of nearly $536 million last year, and now collectors are turning to the D. Brent Pogue Collection, which could boost it higher.
Gathered over more than 30 years by Texas property developer A. Mack Pogue and his son, D. Brent, it is considered the most valuable collection of federal American coins dating from the 1790s to the late 1830s in private hands.
An 1822 Half Eagle five-dollar gold piece, one of only three known to exist, and an 1804 Silver Dollar dubbed the "King of American Coins" are expected to be among the top lots when the collection is sold in a series of auctions in New York beginning in May and continuing into 2017.
"These two coins in particular, we think, have a possibility of being up around that $10 million mark," Brian Kendrella, the president of Stack's Bowers Galleries, told Reuters.
The rare coin and currency auctioneer, which is handling the sales with Sotheby's, believes the coins could shatter the $10 million record set in 2013 for a 1794 Silver Dollar.
Although jaw-dropping prices for contemporary art grabbed headlines in 2014, rare coins also had a banner year and are among the biggest collectibles behind art and antiques.
Coin sales are driven by the economy, but Kendrella said investors and collectors are also lured by the rarity, uniqueness, condition and historical links of coins.
"They are artifacts that speak to what was going on in the United States at the time these coins were made," he said. "That's one of the main draws."
With a dozen coins selling for $1 million or more in 2014 and the first gold coin struck for the United States fetching $4.5 million, the nonprofit Professional Numismatists Guild estimates the overall U.S. rare coin market to be worth about $5 billion.
Walter Husak, a retired aerospace entrepreneur based in California, knows just how lucrative it can be. A collection of 301 rare penny coins dating from 1793 to 1814 that he gathered over more than 13 years sold in 2008 for $10.7 million, about double what he invested in it.
"I never thought it would go up that much," he said. "There are a lot of people getting involved in coins."
Barry Stuppler, secretary of the Professional Numismatists Guild, has seen plenty of changes in his 52 years in the coin business, with buyers increasing in recent years.
"It is a combination of the economy coming back," he said of the market, "and the fact that interest rates are very low."
The Internet also has been "a tremendous, tremendous source of new buyers and sellers of coins that we didn't have 20 years ago," said Stuppler.
Demand for rare, investment-quality coins, graded and certified by the guild and the Florida-based Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, is high and supply is low.
"The rarities do the best, particularly gold and silver coins," said Stuppler. "The Pogue Collection is extraordinary."
Editing by Jill Serjeant and Jonathan Oatis