Earlier in 2017, I wrote an article about collecting US gold coins by type. This article generated a lot of feedback; some favorable, some not. I was accused of being an elitist by some collectors, mainly because some of the coins discussed in the article are very expensive.
I don’t disagree with this sentiment and to make up for my numis-snobbery, I am going to focus on a shorter, kinder and gentler set which focuses on “cool coins” struck from 1834 through 1933. This eliminates such costly gold types as the 1796 No Stars and 1808 quarter eagles, and the 1879 Flowing Hair Stella while focusing on the more wallet-friendly issues.
I define a “cool” coin as one which has a numismatic or historical association which differentiates it from other issues in the set. It can be a first-year-of-issue or a one-year type. It can be a super low-mintage coin, or a coin struck at a popular branch mint. Often times, a legitimately cool coin can be bought for the same price as a more traditional type coin, and the point of this article is to motivate type collectors to think outside of the box.
Type One Gold Dollar (1849-1854)
There are a host of cool options to choose instead of the traditional common date (1851-1854) in higher grades. How about an 1849 branch mint which represents a first-year-of-issue and which is surprisingly available and in the case of the 1849-O, downright affordable?
Type Two Gold Dollar (1854-1856)
There are no less than four branch mint issues from this three-year design and all are very “cool” coins. The most affordable is the 1855-O, of which $3,000 will buy a very nice AU while double this amount will purchase a nice AU 1855-C or 1856-S. Any one of these three issues is so much more interesting than a boring 1854 or 1855 Philadelphia Type Two dollar.
Type Three Dollar (1856-1889)
The traditional type set choice is a common 1880’s date in high grades. That’s a boring choice, in my opinion. How about a San Francisco issue (you can buy a nice AU for less than $3,000) or a higher grade Civil War date. A higher budget could buy an ultra-low mintage 1875 or the legendary Confederate-issue 1861-D.
Classic Head Quarter Eagle (1834-1839)
A traditional choice is a common date (1834 or 1835) in the highest affordable grade. I would suggest either a branch mint issue (1839-O/D/C) or a scarcer Philadelphia issue such as an 1837 or—better yet—an 1839.
Liberty Head Quarter Eagle (1840-1907)
In a series replete with oodles of cool issues, why would you want to buy a coin as boring as a 1901 in MS65? For just a bit more money you could purchase an About Uncirculated common date Charlotte or Dahlonega quarter eagle. Or if you are more condition-centric, what about a conditionally scarce date like an 1851 or an 1853 in nice MS64? You could fill your type set slot with a Civil War date or an early San Francisco issue with Gold Rush connotations.
Indian Head Quarter Eagle (1908-1929)
Instead of a very common date in Gem BU, how about a scarcer date like a 1914, or a 1914-D in nice MS64? If you decide to go the common date route, at least try a first-year 1908 or a final-year 1929.
Three Dollars (1854-1889)
There are just a few common dates of this type (in MS64 and higher) but most types sets reflexively opt for an 1854, 1874, 1878, or an 1889. What about a branch mint issue from San Francisco in AU58, or a sub-1000 mintage date from the 1880’s such as an 1883 or an 1885?
Classic Head Half Eagle (1834-1838)
Almost every type set I’ve seen features an 1834 Plain 4 in high grades. Neat coin but…boooring! If you want to stick with a Philadelphia issue, try a scarcer issue like an 1836 or an 1837. An even more interesting choice would be a nice Extremely Fine or About Uncirculated 1838-C or 1839-D. It won’t be as flashy as an MS63 common date but it will be much rarer and much more liquid.
Liberty Head No Motto First Head Half Eagle (1839 only)
This one year type was made at three mints (Philadelphia, Charlotte and Dahlonega) and all three are interesting. I would select the 1839-C or the 1839-D and budget between $7,500 and $15,000 for a nice Extremely Fine to About Uncirculated piece.
Liberty Head No Motto Modified Head Half Eagle (1840-1866)
There’s really no such thing as a bad choice for this type. You can go with a common Philadelphia date but even an issue like an 1852, 1853, or 1861 is tough in MS62 and very scarce in properly graded MS63. You can go with a nice branch mint coin from the Southern mints and $5,000 will get you a really nice AU55 to AU58. Or, you can focus on an early San Francisco issue from the 1855-1860 era and buy a Gold Rush artifact with real numismatic scarcity.
Liberty Head With Motto Half Eagle (1866-1908)
So…I’m thinking a Carson City half eagle would be the perfect Cool Coin for this type. How about a nice, frosty PCGS MS63 1891-CC at less than $4,000? It isn’t a truly rare coin but it’s pretty, it’s historic, and it’s about 100 times more interesting than a common date (1901-S anyone?) in MS64 or MS65.
Indian Head Half Eagle (1908-1929)
The typical type selection involves a nice P-mint in MS64. How about a somewhat better date Denver or San Francisco piece in MS63 as an alternative? If you are stuck on the idea of a Gem (or near-Gem) common date (and I wouldn’t fight you on this) what about a first-year 1908?
Liberty Head No Motto First Head Eagle (1838-1839)
You have two choices with this design: the rare first-year 1838 and the not-as-rare but still cool 1839. The former is rare and it becomes expensive in higher grades, while the latter is more affordable and more available. Personally, I think there is no “wrong” choice here as both issues qualify on the DW Cool Coin list.
Liberty Head No Motto Modified Head Eagle (1840-1866)
There are many interesting alternative choices for this popular type. I would suggest an 1841-O (the first New Orleans issue of this type) or the more affordable 1854-S (the first San Francisco eagle). A Civil War issue would be interesting although most are too rare to be realistic as type coin. Even a traditional common date Philadelphia No Motto issue is interesting and scarce as you climb the grading scale.
Liberty Head With Motto Eagle (1866-1907)
Here is another design with numerous cool options, even the traditional common date (1901-S) in high grade (MS65). I would suggest an MS63 or even an MS64 New Orleans eagle or perhaps an 1891-CC in MS62 to MS63. If these don’t seem cool enough to you, how about one of the sub-1000 mintage Philadelphia issues from the 1870’s (1873, 1876, or 1877). Or, how about an early date San Francisco issue (1866-1872) which is rare and surprisingly affordable?
Indian Head Eagle (1907-1933)
Most type collectors choose a 1926 or a 1932 in MS64 or MS65 for their Indian Head eagle. If you have the required funds, what about an ultra-cool 1907 Wire Rim? If that is too much of a stretch, try the first-year 1907 No Periods.
Some type collectors sub-divide this design into two issues: the No Motto (1907-1908) and the With Motto (1908-1933). If you do this, there are a number of interesting With Motto dates to pursue. I would select a San Francisco date and the most affordable are the 1909-S and the 1910-S.
Liberty Head Double Eagle Type One (1850-1866)
Thanks to shipwrecks, high-grade San Francisco Type One issues are available for type collectors. I would select an 1857-S from the S.S. Central America or an 1865-S from the S.S. Brother Jonathan. If high-grade is not the ultimate goal for this type, you might choose a New Orleans issue (the 1851-O and the 1852-O are the best for type sets) or an 1854-S due to its status as the first San Francisco double eagle.
Liberty Head Double Eagle Type Two (1866-1876)
If you have ever aspired to own a Carson City double eagle, a Type Two dated 1875-CC or 1876-CC is affordable and would make sense in this set. The typical type coins in most sets are the common 1873-1876 Philadelphia and San Francisco issues and to be honest at the current lower price levels, I think these issues are great value in MS62 and MS63.
Liberty Head Double Eagle Type Three (1877-1907)
Even if you bought a Carson City Type Two you could go whole hog and buy a Type Three from this mint as well; $5,000 would buy you a really nice AU example. Or, you could opt for an 1877 or 1877-S first-year date. At the very least, I would opt for a 19th century common date instead of the ubiquitous 1904.
St. Gaudens Double Eagle (1907-1933)
Depending on your perspective, you can collect this type as one, two or three issues. To me, the one coin that epitomizes this design is the 1907 High Relief and this would be the Cool Coin I would select to be my one and only Saint. If this is too much of a stretch, I would select a 1907 No Motto given its first-year status. Another issue I might select is the 1909/8 given its status as the only overdate of this design.
In this era of high-priced US gold coinage, type collecting make sense and for many collectors, working on a modified type set which begins with the Classic Head issues makes even more sense. Hopefully, this article has given you some pause for thought about a collecting avenue you might have toyed with.
Want to work with me on a Cool Coin Type Set? Give me a call at 214-675-9897 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s discuss this.