So...You've Decided to Collect United States Gold Coins by Type...

Many collectors of United States gold want to collect with a purpose and with a goal. However, these collectors don’t necessarily care to be specialized or ultra-specialized. In this case, collecting by type is a perfect fit.

There are literally infinite ways by which to collect by type. I am going to focus on some of the most basic and a few “exotic” methods. If the way in which you already collect (or are thinking of collecting) isn’t mentioned, that doesn’t mean you are “wrong.”

To me, the most enjoyable thing about collecting by type is the fact that essentially every coin you purchase is somehow different. The type collector gets to experience a wide range of dates, designs and denominations. Type collecting ranges from fairly affordable to totally over-the-top.

Let’s look at some of the most basic ways to collect gold by type. I’ll list the composition of the sets and make some suggestions to “beef up” the composition to make them more challenging and more numismatically significant.

1. The Basic 8 Coin Set

This set is the “burger, fries, and a soda” of gold type collecting. It is easy to assemble, it is reasonably affordable, and it represents an excellent way for the condition-oriented collector to dip his toes into the proverbial waters.

The eight coins in this set are the four Liberty Head designs (quarter eagle, half eagle, eagle, and double eagle), the three Indian Head designs (quarter eagle, half eagle, and eagle) and the St. Gaudens double eagle.

1912 $5.00 PCGS MS65 CAC

1912 $5.00 PCGS MS65 CAC

By far, the most conditionally rare issue in this set is the Indian Head half eagle which is comparatively scarce in MS65 and legitimately rare in MS66 and finer. Every other type in this set is currently very affordable in the MS63 to MS65 range.

To spice-up this set I’d offer the following suggestions. The most basic is to buy every coin with CAC approval. This will add cost to your purchases but it will make your coins more liquid when you sell, and this is important as these eight coins are essentially “generics” which makes them fairly un-liquid in the current market unless they are special. I’d also suggest buying slightly better date issues. As an example, most Basic 8 gold type sets contain a 1904 as their Liberty Head double eagle. There are currently close to 34,000 of these graded MS64 at PCGS alone (not factoring resubmissions). For essentially the same price, a savvy collector can buy a 1900 or a 1903 with current PCGS MS64 populations of 6,023 and 3,070, respectively.

2. The 12 Coin Set

This takes the basic 8 coin set and adds the three designs of gold dollars issued between 1849 and 1889, as well as the popular Three Dollar gold piece produced between 1854 and 1889. The 12 coin set was extremely popular back during the heyday of gold type collecting (the mid-1980’s to the late-1990’s) and it features all of the major designs produced after the Classic Head issues (which ended in 1838).

The key coin in this set is the Type Two gold dollar, struck from 1854 to 1856. For type purposes, it is inevitable that the collector will select the 1854 or 1855 from Philadelphia (I’d choose the 1854 due to its status as the first year of issue). I can’t think of many other non-generic major gold types which have declined more in value over the last two decades than this. In today’s market you should be able to find a nice PCGS MS64 for less than $10,000. I can remember selling MS64’s for over $20,000 at various points in time during the 1990’s and early 2000’s. MS65’s have dropped at a similar rate. If the 12 coin set ever comes back into vogue, the Type Two gold dollar could see strong price gains.

1854 $3.00 PCGS MS64

1854 $3.00 PCGS MS64

The other key issue in this set is the enigmatic Three Dollar gold piece, produced from 1854 through 1878. The common date 1878 is the issue most collectors choose for their set (although I would suggest either the more interesting first-year-of-issue 1854 or the last-year-of-issue 1889). This is another important gold type which has been crushed over the years from the price perspective. A nice MS64 1878 Three Dollar gold piece can be had for less than $5,000. A decade ago, a similarly-graded example would have cost in the area of $12,500. An MS65 can now be had for less than $10,000 and this is way off the 2006 market price.

3. The 14 Coin Set

This set takes the 12 coin set and adds the No Motto half eagle and eagle, produced from 1838 (or 1839) through 1866. These are two very challenging types in MS64 and higher but there are a few reasonably available dates (most notably the 1861 for both denominations). For the No Motto half eagle, I would look for an MS63 or MS64 example of a Philadelphia date from the 1840’s. For the eagle, a more realistic candidate would be an MS62 or MS63 Philadelphia issue from the 1850’s.

1843 $5.00 NGC MS62 CAC

1843 $5.00 NGC MS62 CAC

I would strongly recommend spicing-up this set by declaring that all of the Liberty Head issues be 19th century. Another way to add value and liquidity would be to mandate that all coins in the set be CAC approved.

A few other buying tips are in order for the 8/12/14 coin type sets.

  • Right now, the Market Premium Factor for many slightly better dates is non-existent. This means you don’t have to settle for the most common dates for your set.
  • Since your sets are going to include a number of generics (and this segment of the market is really weak right now) try to find coins that are special. As an example, an 1898 quarter eagle just seems more interesting than a 1900 or a 1901.
  • Don’t overbuy very common issues like the Indian Head quarter eagle or the St. Gaudens double eagle.
  • Your biggest purchases—whether you are on a limited budget or an unlimited budget—should be for the truly scarce issues such as the Type Two gold dollar, the No Motto Liberty Head half eagle and eagle and the Indian Head eagle.

If you—like me—think that current price levels on many better type gold coins such as Three Dollar gold pieces and Indian Head half eagles seem really reasonable right now, take a shot on a few of these coins in the highest grade you can afford. Here are some suggestions for the “toughies:”

Type One Gold Dollar: MS64 or MS64+ examples seem like better values to me (especially if stickered by CAC) than many (but not all…) MS65’s.

Three Dollar Gold Pieces: This type is a great value at current levels but I wouldn’t be shocked to see so-so MS64’s drop below $4,000. Pay extra for a nice PCGS/CAC coin and see if you can locate a date other than the common 1878.

Indian Head half eagle: No matter what grade you buy, be patient as there is a broad range of quality available. In other words, there are coins graded MS64 which aren’t especially nice and there are coins graded MS64 which are high end and very choice. I’d strongly recommend paying the premium for a CAC approved example.

No Motto half eagle and eagle: You have a lot of flexibility on these two types. If you are buying strictly on highest grade available, you’ll be looking at a few possible Philadelphia issues, mostly from the 1850’s. If you are buying more with rarity in mind, the half eagle could be a branch mint issue (how about an MS63 1844-O or an MS64 1852-C?).

4. The 36 Or 38 Coin (Give or Take a Few…) Set

If you are really hooked on the concept of gold coin collecting by type and you have a very deep wallet, the, 36 or 38 coin gold type set which features all of the major types struck from 1795 to 1933 is likely to be your ultimate goal.

1799 $10.00 PCGS MS63

1799 $10.00 PCGS MS63

This set features the following:

  • (3) Gold Dollars, 1849-1889
  • (8) Quarter Eagles, 1796-1929
  • (1) Three Dollars, 1854-1889 (note: I consider the 1854 to be a distinct one-year type although PCGS does not. Thus, in my comprehensive gold type set I would have two Three Dollar gold pieces and not one).
  • (2) Four Dollar Stellas, 1879-1880 (note: I consider these patterns and would not include them in my set although PCGS does. These are more easily eliminated if the type set is composed of coins which are business or circulation strikes).
  • (9) Half Eagles, 1795-1929 (note: I consider the 1839 half eagles to be distinct one year types and I also consider the 1840-1843 Small Letters reverse to be a distinct type. This brings the number of half eagles up to 11).
  • (9) Eagles, 1795-1933 (note: this includes the 1907 Rolled Edge which is technically a regular issue, but which I could see argued as not being enough of a “major” type to be included in this set; especially given its cost).
  • (6) Double Eagles, 1850-1933

There are a number of six-figure types in this set and some of these coins could be stretched up to seven-figures if the collector seeks examples in MS65 or finer.

If the advanced gold type collector wants to limit his set to types produced during the 19th century (for circulation), the number of coins required is lowered to 24.

If the collector wants to limit his set to types produced during the 20th century (for circulation), the number of coins required is lowered to 13.

And if the collector wants to limit his set to types produced during the 18th century, the numbered required is 6.

5. Type Sets By Mint

Not everyone who collects, say, New Orleans gold wants to assemble a date set. A novel approach to collecting New Orleans gold would be by type.

A New Orleans gold type set would consist of the following issues:

  • Type One gold dollar (1849-1853)
  • Type Two gold dollar (1855 only)
  • Classic Head quarter eagle (1839 only)
  • Liberty Head quarter eagle (1840-1857)
  • Three Dollar gold piece (1854 only)
  • Liberty Head half eagle No Motto (1840-1857)
  • Liberty Head half eagle With Motto (1892-1894)
  • Indian Head half eagle (1909 only)
  • Liberty Head eagle No Motto (1841-1860)
  • Liberty Head eagle With Motto (1879-1906)
  • Liberty Head double eagle Type One (1850-1861)
  • Liberty Head double eagle Type Three (1879 only)

In total there are 12 coins in this set; 13 if the No Motto half eagle is represented by both a Small Letters (1840-43) and Large Letters (1843-1857) reverse.

1879-O $20.00 NGC MS60

1879-O $20.00 NGC MS60

The beauty of this set is that it is short, sweet, and completable. The key issue is the 1879-O Type Three double eagle followed by the fairly common but still pricey 1909-O half eagle.

There are many things I find appealing about this set. For one, it contains no less than five one-year issues. It contains six different denominations ranging from teeny-tiny to big, and ranging in date from 1839 all the way up to 1909. You get a lot of variety with your 12 or 13 coins and most of these types are available in either About Uncirculated or Uncirculated grades.

The same type set collecting principles can be applied to the other branch mints. A set can be as simple as a three coin Carson City gold denomination type set or as involved as a 15 coin San Francisco gold type set.

I could easily write another 2000 words on type collecting and if enough people ask me to, I will write a Part Two of this article next month. While I have always been a “date guy” I totally see the attraction of collecting by type.

How would you like the foremost expert on United States gold coinage to work with you on your own custom-designed type set? Contact Doug Winter by email at dwn@ont.com and let’s begin working on your set today!