Certain issues in the various United States gold types struck between 1795 and 1933 have what might best be called a “Wow Factor.” Something about the issue—be it rarity, design, historic association or low mintage—appeals to a variety of collectors. These coins have strong multiple levels of demand and a “wow” coin might be included in a collection which focuses on trophy coins.
The following 50 US gold coins have what I regard as a strong “Wow Factor.” For each coin on this list, I’ve given a quick summation of why I feel it belongs on this list.
NOTE: I’ve excluded coins like the 1822 and 1854-S half eagles because even though they have the Wow Factor in spades, they are just too rare for this list.
1. 1855-D Gold Dollar. This one-year type is arguably the rarest gold dollar from Dahlonega. Look for an example with a full date.
2. 1861-D Gold Dollar. The only U.S. gold coin incontestably struck by the Confederacy. ‘Nuff said….
3. 1875 Gold Dollar. The lowest mintage figure for this denomination with just 400 business strikes made.
4. 1796 No Stars Quarter Eagle. The first year of issue for this denomination and a one-year type with just 963 struck.
5. 1808 Quarter Eagle: A rare one-year type; just 2,710 struck.
6. 1841 Quarter Eagle: Were they all struck as Proofs or were some made as business strikes? Regardless, an important rarity in this series.
7. 1848 CAL Quarter Eagle: The first commemorative American coin and a wonderful Gold Rush relic.
8. 1854-S Quarter Eagle: The first SF quarter eagle and a rarity with around a dozen known from a mintage of just 254.
9. 1856-D Quarter Eagle: With 874, the lowest recorded mintage for any Dahlonega issue. The hardest US gold coin to properly grade, in my opinion.
10. 1863 Quarter Eagle: Only 30 struck, all as Proofs, and a coin made doubly desirable by its Civil War issuance.
11. 1854-D Three Dollar: The only Dahlonega-issued coin of this type and a hugely popular coin.
12. 1875 Three Dollar: A Proof-only issue with a reported mintage of just 20. This was the first US gold coin to eclipse the $100k price barrier, all the way back in the 1970’s.
13. 1879 Flowing Hair Stella: Always in demand as a Trophy coin and an issue with an interesting back story.
14. 1795 Small Eagle Half Eagle: The very first date of this long-lived denomination and an issue which is more available than one might expect.
15. 1798 or 1799 Small Eagle Half Eagles: The two most affordable 18th century US gold coins and available in nice AU for a low five-figure cost.
16. 1813-1834 Half Eagle: The Fat Head type half eagle, probably my single favorite US coin design.
17. 1829 Small Planchet Half Eagle: First year of type and a great rarity in all grades. One of the few coins on this list I’ve never handled.
18. 1838-C Half Eagle: First-year-of-issue from the brand new Charlotte mint and a scarce one-year type to boot.
19. 1838-D Half Eagle: A Wow coin for the exact same reasons as its counterpart the 1838-C half eagle.
20. 1861-C Half Eagle: The final coin struck at this mint and an issue with plausible Civil War associations.
21. 1861-D Half Eagle: The last Dahlonega half eagle and another coin with strong demand from Civil War collectors.
22. 1864-S Half Eagle: The rarest collectible San Francisco half eagle and the rarest business strike Civil War gold coin.
23. 1870-CC Half Eagle: The first year of issue for Carson City half eagles. Available in low grade, rare in higher grades.
24. 1875 Half Eagle: Just 200 business strikes were made and likely under 10 exist. The rarest collectible Liberty Head half eagle.
25. 1887 Half Eagle: A rare Proof-only issue with just 87 coins struck in total. An overlooked date.
26. 1909-O Half Eagle: The only New Orleans half eagle of this type and the final gold coin struck at this mint. Very rare in high grades.
27. 1929 Half Eagle: The last year of issue for this long-lived denomination. A heavily melted date.
28. 1795 Eagle: The first year of issue for this denomination and the largest of the three denominations struck during the early years of the US.
29. 1799 Eagle: The most common and therefore the most affordable pre-1800 date of this type.
30. 1838 Eagle: First year of issue for the Liberty Head design and a short-lived two year type.
31. 1841-O Eagle: The first eagle struck at a branch mint and the first—obviously—from New Orleans.
32. 1863 Eagle: The rarest Civil War eagle and a strong contender for one of the rarest dates in the entire Liberty Head eagle series.
33. 1870-CC Eagle: The first Carson City eagle and a rare, popular issue in all grades.
34. 1875 Eagle: Crazy low-mintage of just 200 business strikes and by far the rarest date in the series with just 7/8 or so known,
35. 1907 Wire Edge Eagle: A beautifully designed, low mintage issue with strong demand from a variety of collectors.
36. 1933 Eagle: The final year of issue for this denomination (first struck in 1795) and the only US gold coin dated 1933 which is legal to own.
37. 1854-O Double Eagle: One of two mega-rarities from this mint and a key issue in the Type One double eagle series.
38. 1856-O Double Eagle: The other very rare New Orleans Type One issue. Unique in Uncirculated and represented by fewer than 40 known in total.
39. 1861-S Paquet Double Eagle: A mysterious but collectible issue with a different reverse designed by Anthony Paquet.
40. 1870-CC Double Eagle: The first double eagle from this mint and the single most valuable gold coin from this mint.
41/42/43. 1883, 1884 and 1887 Double Eagles: Three very rare low mintage double eagles, each struck only in a Proof format.
44. 1907 High Relief Double Eagle: One of the most popular US gold coins and a trophy issue which appeals to numerous collectors.
45. 1927-D Double Eagle: The rarest and most valuable regular issue 20th century US gold coin.
46/47. 1915-S Panama-Pacific Octagonal and Round Fifty Dollars: Massive in size and with lovely, novel designs, these two commemorative gold pieces epitomize the Wow Factor.
48. 1850 Baldwin Ten Dollar “Horseman” Type: My favorite design of any Territorial gold issue with a Vaquero astride a horse on the obverse.
49. 1852 Humbert Fifty Dollar Slug: To me, this is the coin that epitomizes the Wild West. Huge in size and curious in shape, an issue which appeals to a host of collectors.
50. 1860 Clark Gruber Ten Dollar “Mountain” Type: The charming Pikes Peak design, struck for use in Denver and the Colorado Territory.
The final count, denomination by denomination, is as follows:
Gold Dollars: 3
Quarter Eagles: 7
Three Dollars: 2
Four Dollars: 1
Half Eagles: 14
Doubles Eagles: 9
Any list of this nature is going to be controversial and it, of course, has personal bias. Did I leave any coins off which you would have included on your list? If so, please discuss them below in the Comments section or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.