In this economy, everyone likes a good value. If you don’t have the discretionary funds for coins now that you had a year ago, every last dollar counts. This brings us to the question at hand. Are there good values in the rare gold market in the $5,000 and under price range? And if so, what are they? This article is focused on twelve of the better values that come to mind in the gold dollar through half eagle denominations. I think there are dozens of other pieces that could be added to this list.
Part Two of this article, which will appear on my website in January 2009, will cover the eagle and double eagle denominations and will focus on another dozen undervalued issues in the $5,000 and under range.
1. 1865 Gold Dollar
For many years my favorite “sleeper” date in the Gold Dollar series was the 1863. After a long period of neglect, the 1863 has been discovered and it now sells for levels well in excess of current Trends. But there are other Civil War era gold dollars that remain in the budget of the typical collector. My personal favorite is the 1865 which has an original mintage figure of just 3,700 business strikes. Unlike the low mintage gold dollars from the 1880’s, the 1865 was not hoarded and it is unlikely that more than 100-125 are known. Interestingly, the 1865 is almost never seen in lower grades so the range that the collector with a moderate budget should be searching for is MS61 to MS62. In the Bowers and Merena 9/08 auction, an attractive PCGS MS62 1865 gold dollar brought a very reasonable $2,760 and I know of a small number of others in this grade that have sold privately in the $2,500-3,000 range.
To me, this coin is desirable on a number of levels. It is a Civil War issue which gives it historic significance and it is better produced than some of the other gold dollars of this date. It has a low original mintage as well as a modest survival rate. As of December 2008, PCGS has still recorded just forty-four in all grades.
2. 1884 Gold Dollar (MS 64 and above)
I have always thought that with some creative marketing, the gold dollars produced from 1876 through 1889 could be sold as a “short set” akin to the similarly-themed Walking Liberty half dollars of 1941-1947. In this fourteen coin run, the 1884 has always been an issue that I have found to be much undervalued. It is traditionally regarded to be a common date and it seldom gets any sort of premium over the readily available issues such as the 1881, 1883 and 1887-1889. However, it is considerably scarcer and Gems are actually quite rare. The most recent PCGS population figures show forty graded in MS64, twenty-five in MS65 and another thirty-four higher but I believe these figures are inflated by resubmissions.
At current price levels, I like most all gold dollars in MS64 and above but the 1884 seems really reasonable. The patient collector should be able to buy an MS64 in the $1,100-1,300 range and a very nice MS65 for $2,250-2,500.
3. Accurately Graded PR63 Gold Dollars
Most Proof gold is priced well beyond the collector of average means. Generally speaking, if you have a budget of $5,000 or so, you don’t get to play in this market. But there is one exception. Many of the Type Three gold dollars have CDN Bids in PR63 in the $3,900-4,700 range. These are coins that have mintage figures that are often below 100 and even the “common” Proofs struck from 1884 to 1889 have fewer than 100-150 survivors despite comparatively high original mintages in the 1,000-1,700 range.
There are a few caveats that must be thrown in before you run out and try to buy up all the PR63 Type Three gold dollars you can find at CDN Bid. The very low mintage dates from the 1860’s and 1870’s with Bids in the $4,000-5,000 range are basically impossible to find at these prices. It is more likely that the collector with $4,000-5,000 to spend will have to focus on a more available date from the 1883-1889 range. Still, these coins offer a lot of bang for your coin buying buck; especially if you can locate a PR63 with reasonably good overall eye appeal.
4. 1837 Classic Head Quarter Eagle
Classic Head quarter eagles have grown immensely in popularity in the last few years. And with good reason. They are a short-lived, completable set that includes a number of interesting branch mint issues and they form an interesting bridge between “old gold” and the more modern Liberty Head design that was employed all the way up to 1907. Among the Philadelphia issues, I have always had a soft spot for the 1839 but the rarity of this date has become fairly well-known. But the 1837 remains undervalued.
A quick perusal of the PCGS population figures will show that the 1837 is about three times as scarce as the 1834 and 1836 Script 8. If I were going to purchase a single Classic Head quarter eagle for type purposes, I would strongly consider an 1837 and pay the 25%+ premium that this date carries. I would personally be looking for an MS62 as a type coin and if I were specializing in the Classic Head series I’d probably look for a nice AU58.
5. 1842 Quarter Eagle
I wanted to avoid the “needle in the haystack” sort of coins that always drive me crazy when I read other articles of this sort. But I love this date and am still amazed that it is possible that the collector with a budget of less than $5,000 can purchase a very presentable example. In September 2008, I wrote an article about the ten rarest Liberty Head quarter eagles and the 1842 made it onto the list at #10. There isn’t another Top Ten date in this series that is as affordable as the 1842.
Only 2,823 examples were struck and I estimate that between four and five dozen are known. For the collector on a $5,000 or lower budget, I would suggest either an EF40 or an EF45. The former is currently valued at $3,500-4,000 while the latter is worth $5,000-6,000. The only example to sell in recent memory was Heritage 1/08: 3826 (graded EF45 by PCGS) that sold for $4,888; a remarkable value, in my opinion.
6. Uncirculated 1870 Quarter Eagle
There is probably no other 19th century gold series that offers as much value for the collector with a $5,000 or lower budget than Liberty Head quarter eagles. An especially fertile era in the quarter eagle series is the Reconstruction period of 1866-1874. Mintages during this era tend to be very low (in the case of Philadelphia issues, often less than 5,000) and survival rates for higher grade pieces tend to be even lower.
The 1870 is a vastly overlooked issue with an original mintage of just 4,520. There are an estimated 150-200 known but this date is generally seen in EF40 to AU50 and it becomes very scarce in the higher AU grades. In Uncirculated, the 1870 is genuinely rare with an estimated six or seven known. PCGS has only graded three in Uncirculated (MS61, MS62 and MS65). Despite the obvious rarity of this coin, I have sold two Uncirculated pieces in the last year (an NGC MS62 and a PCGS MS61) for less than $7,000 and even though this is a bit of a budget buster for the collector with $5,000 per coin to spend, I believe that this is an issue worth stretching on.
7. 1914 Quarter Eagle, MS63
When it comes to value, I’m not generally a big fan of the Indian Head quarter eagle series. However, I have always liked the 1914 as a date and I think that a solid, high end example in MS63 is a comparatively good value in this series. Here’s my logic. The key date of the series is the 1911-D. The current PCGS population of this date is 321 in MS63 with 331 graded higher. The 1914 has a population of 432 in MS63 with 320 higher. In my experience, the 1914 is not all that different in rarity from the 1911-D until you get up to the MS65 level. The big difference is price. The current CDN Bid for an MS63 1914 is $4,100 while the 1911-D is Bid at $17,500. When it comes to these two dates, I’m of the belief that the 1914 is undervalued and the 1911-D is overvalued. At current levels, I like the 1914 quite a bit.
Assuming that the Indian Head quarter eagle series stays popular with date collectors, there will be a decent level of demand for the 1914. It is, after all, the second scarcest date in the series and it does have recognition as a semi-key. In my experience it can be harder to find an MS63 1914 than a 1911-D (sometimes it seems that there are 1911-D quarter eagles around everywhere you look!).
8. 1884 Three Dollar Gold Piece
This is another date that I’ve touted for many years. It tends not to get the recognition that the 1881 or 1885 get because those two issues have mintages below 1,000 but the 1884 is comparable to the 1881 in terms of overall rarity and it is far rarer than the 1885 in all grades. There were exactly 1,000 business strike 1884 Three Dollar gold pieces produced and an estimated 150-200 are known, mostly in the lower to medium Uncirculated grades.
This is an issue that did not freely circulate and there are just a few dozen extant in circulated grades. Despite this fact, Trends is just $5,000 in AU55 and I have sold very presentable examples in this grade in the $4,000-4,500 range and AU58’s for $5,000-5,500.
9. 1838-C Half Eagle, Choice XF
I wasn’t going to include any Charlotte coins on this list because, quite honestly, I wasn’t sure how many sub-$5,000 pieces I truly consider to be good value. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the 1838-C is an issue that really has everything going for it. Numismatic significance? Check—it’s a first-year-of-issue and a one-year type. Collector demand? Certainly—every time I list one on my website, it sells within a few days. Scarcity? While I wouldn’t call this issue rare from the standpoint of total known, it is very hard to find a nice Extremely Fine with good eye appeal.
While prices have climbed quite a bit for nice EF 1838-C half eagles, I think this is another issue that merits a stretch by our hypothetical $5,000 per coin collector. A properly graded, attractive EF40 can still be had for $5,000 or so although such coins are becoming more and more difficult to find.
10. 1847-O Half Eagle, Choice XF
I’ve been raving about the value of this date for years and still the 1847-O half eagle doesn’t command the respect it deserves. Even though it is part of a relatively popular series (No Motto New Orleans half eagles) and it is clearly the key issue in this set, it is still priced at a fraction of the less rare key date branch mint issues from Charlotte and Dahlonega. As an example, let’s compare the 1847-O to the 1842-C Small Date and the 1842-D; the keys from the Charlotte and Dahlonega mints, respectively. The 1847-O has a PCGS population of thirty-two in all grades and a Trends value of $7,000 in EF40. The 1842-C Small Date has a PCGS population of thirty-eight in all grades and an EF40 Trends value of $25,000. The 1842-D Large Date has a PCGS population of sixty-nine in all grades and it Trends for $7,000 in EF40.
It is still possible to buy a nice EF40 example of this date in the $4,500-5,500 range and if the collector is willing to stretch a bit (a well-deserved stretch, in my opinion...) he may be able to find an EF45 for $6,000-7,000. Given the rarity, popularity and upside potential of such a coin, I would give it my strongest recommendation.
11. 1892-O Half Eagle
Here’s another date that I’ve been foaming at the mouth about for years. People have finally caught on to the fact that the 1892-O is a really scarce half eagle but I think it still ranks as one of the neater mintmarked coins of this denomination that you can purchase for less than $5,000. And for $3,000-4,000 you can still buy a really respectable example that is not far removed from Condition Census quality.
There were only 10,000 examples produced and I believe that there are fewer than 100 known; mostly in the AU50-AU55 grades. In Uncirculated, the 1892-O is rare with 15-20 known; mostly in the MS60 to MS61 grades. If you are offered an 1892-O half eagle it is likely to be heavily abraded and probably not really attractive but unless it has really horrible eye appeal, you want to buy this coin. Maybe even two...
12. 1910 Half Eagle, MS64
I’ll let you in on a little Indian Head half eagle secret: in MS64, the 1910 is much scarcer than many of the common issues in this series but unless this series is hot or being actively promoted, you can generally buy it for little or no premium over a date like a 1908, 1911 or 1912.
In truth, no properly graded MS64 Indian Head half eagle is “common.” And I really like the fact that there is a huge price jump to the next grade. With Gems currently bringing close to $20,000, you have to love a nice MS64 1910 half eagle at $4,500-5,000.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are literally dozens of great values in the rare date gold market. If you have a budget of around $5,000 per coin, there are some exceptional pieces that are available for purchase. In these trying economic times, good value is exceptionally important.
I’d love to hear from you regarding the gold coins in this price range that you feel are great values.