In the first part of this article, I discussed gold dollars, quarter eagles, three dollar gold pieces and half eagles priced below $5,000 that I felt were good values. In the second part, I am going to continue the same format but focus on eagles and double eagles. Given the popularity and high bullion value of these two denominations, you’d think that eagles and double eagles didn’t offer collectors in the $5,000 and under range many good values. This is far from the case. The eagle denomination contains so many exceptional values that I easily could have chosen over a dozen from the Liberty Head type alone. And there are a number of double eagles that are great values as well.
1. 1838 Eagle in VF and EF Grades
If you have a $5,000 and under budget, you won’t have a lot of opportunities to purchase an 1838 eagle. But if you can stretch your budget a bit and you have a chance to acquire a decent-looking example in a third-party holder, I would strongly encourage you to go for it. I absolutely love this issue. It is the first Liberty Head eagle and it has a low mintage figure of just 7,200. I’ve mentioned before that Trends values for this issue are absurdly low. As an example, the current values for an EF40 and EF45 1838 eagle are $2,900 and $4,025, respectively. This date is worth at least double in these grades but I still think it is a good value, given its historic significance and strong collector demand.
2. 1844 Eagle in EF
Since Philadelphia eagles from this era are not avidly collected by date, the 1844 is an issue that does not get a lot of respect. It is actually among the scarcest No Motto eagles. As of December 2008, PCGS had only recorded twenty-seven examples in all grades (including fifteen in EF) while NGC had recorded thirty-eight in all grades (including fourteen in EF). Allowing for resubmissions, I would estimate that there are around a dozen distinct third-party graded EF examples of the 1844 eagle. Heritage shows just three EF’s in their archives sold since 2000 and I have only handled two EF examples in this last decade. This date is still within reach of most collectors, despite its unquestionable rarity. Trends for an EF40 is $3,000 while an EF45 has a suggested value of $4,000. Were this a more popular series, I could easily see an EF 1844 eagle being worth $6,000-8,000.
3. Common Date No Motto Eagles in AU58
Properly graded, cosmetically appealing common date No Motto eagles from the 1840’s and 1850’s are far less available than one might assume, given current population figures. Let’s look at a random date—the 1851—as an example. As of December 2008, PCGS had graded a whopping two (!) in AU58 while NGC had graded forty-nine (including fifteen from the S.S. Republic). Now let’s assume that the thirty-four non-shipwreck AU58’s from NGC include a number of resubmissions as well as some coins that are not nice for the grade. This may leave us with as few as ten or so properly graded AU58’s. Trends for an 1851 eagle in this grade is just $2,500. So, I would contend that an 1851 eagle in nice AU58 at anywhere close to $2,500 is a fantastic bargain. The same holds true with other supposedly common dates like the 1847, 1848, 1850 Large Date, 1854, 1855, 1859 and 1860.
4. 1852-O Eagle in EF
If you have a budget of $5,000 and less per coin, you can get a lot of bang for your buck(s) in the area of New Orleans eagles. Many of the scarcer dates from the 1840’s and 1850’s are pricey in About Uncirculated but are very affordable in Extremely Fine. One of my favorite issues is the 1852-O. I rank this as the fifth rarest No Motto eagle from this mint (it is tied with the 1855-O and 1856-O) and there are probably fewer than 100 known from the original mintage of 18,000. The current Trends values for the 1852-O in EF40 and EF45 are $1,100 and $2,500. I’m guessing that you’ll have to pay more than this for nice, properly graded pieces but the fact that you can buy a very presentable example of this legitimately rare date for less $2,000 makes it an exceptional value, in my opinion.
5. 1855-O Eagle in EF
Another No Motto New Orleans eagle that I think offers the collector a lot of value is the 1855-O. This date is similar in overall rarity to the 1852-O. In fact, the mintage is identical with just 18,000 produced. What I like about the 1855-O is that while it is genuinely scarce in EF grades, it is not impossible to find. Looking through my records over the last five years, I have bought and sold six of them in EF (two in EF40 and four in EF45) and I have never sold an EF for more than $3,250. If this is a coin that interests you, I’d suggest that you look for a piece that has nice original color and surfaces. Strike is not an important factor on this date but eye appeal is and I would always pay a premium for a good looking example.
As an FYI, I would add the 1846-O, 1848-O, 1850-O, 1856-O and 1857-O as other No Motto New Orleans eagles in EF that are affordable but quite scarce.
6. Low Grade 1863 or 1864-S Eagles
These are two of the absolutely rarest dates in the entire Liberty Head eagle series. The 1863 has an original mintage of just 1,248 business strikes while the 1864-S has a mintage of 2,500. The 1863 has a Trends value of just $4,500 in VF while the 1864-S has a Trends value of $5,500 in VF. That’s the good news. The bad news is that you are going to have a pretty tough time finding an affordable example of either date. PCGS has graded just five 1863 eagles in VF and lower grades and just six of the 1864-S in this range. But if you are patient and keep the funds available, these coins do exist and they, in theory, should be available. I generally do not like gold coins in grades below EF but I would make an exception for either of these. In fact, I’d even buy an 1863 or an 1864-S that had been lightly cleaned.
7. 1872 Eagle
Here’s another really rare coin that won’t appeal to everyone who reads this article. Some collectors prefer higher grade coins and they are going to spend their $5,000 budget on a coin (or coins) that are Mint State or thereabouts. Others appreciate true rarity and will like coins like the 1872 eagle. This issue has a mintage of just 1,620 business strikes and a surviving population of three dozen or so. Unlike some of the other dates from this era, the 1872 is sometimes seen in higher grades and I know of two or three Uncirculated examples including a PCGS MS64. So what does five grand buy you in regards to this date? Heritage 6/08: 2150, a nice PCGS VF25 in an old green label holder, brought $4,313. If you are patient you should be able to buy a very presentable VF for around the same price.
8. 1915-S Eagle, MS62
A few years ago, there was a large spread in values between many of the rare date Indian Head eagles in MS62 and MS63. The reason for this was simple: there was a significant difference in visual quality between an MS62 and an MS63. Today, this is not really the case and many collectors have a hard time telling the difference between an MS62 and MS63. Because of this fact, the value spread between these two grades has shrunk. On a percentage basis, the greatest difference between these two grades is seen on the 1915-S. In MS62, a nice example is worth $7,000 or so. In MS63, the price jumps to $15,000+. In my opinion, a nice MS62 is a good value, especially if the coin has a CAC sticker.
9. 1854-S Double Eagle in EF
Unless you are a Type One double eagle specialist, you probably are not aware of the fact that the 1854-S is a scarce and much undervalued issue in all grades. What is confusing about this date is its relative availability in the lower Uncirculated grades as a result of a few small groups found in shipwrecks a few years ago. In circulated grades, however, the 1854-S is a really scarce issue, especially with original surfaces. Another important factor about this date is its strong historic significance. It is, of course, the very first double eagle produced at the San Francisco mint and it has strong Gold Rush association as a result. Trends for an EF40 is just $2,800 while an EF45 is $4,000. I believe that an attractive EF example at anything close to these levels is a great value.
10. 1855, 1856, 1857 and 1858 Double Eagles in AU
I have been a big fan of these four dates for many years. They are probably the most common coins that I have discussed so far in this article but “rarity” is a relative term and they are part of the very popular Type One double eagle series. If you look at a coin like an 1855 in AU58 and compare it to an 1851-O or an 1852-O in a similar grade, you’ll be impressed. As of December 2008, PCGS had graded twenty-one in AU58 as well as another fourteen higher. The figures for the 1852-O are thirty in AU58 with a dozen better. According to these numbers, the 1855 is certainly in the same league as the 1852-O. But look at the Trends values: the 1855 is $5,500 in AU58 while the 1852-O is $20,000. Now granted that the 1852-O is more popular and it is a branch mint coin. Is it worth nearly four times more, though? If I were a collector of double eagles, I’d want to put together a nice little date run of these four Philadelphia issues in AU58 while they were still affordable.
11. 1868 Double Eagle in AU
I first learned about the 1868 double eagle back in the 1980’s when you could buy a really nice example for less than $1,000. This is obviously not the case today but the 1868 remains the best value in the entire Type Two double eagle series. This date is reasonably available in EF grades but it becomes scarce in the medium AU range and it is quite rare in Uncirculated. Today, a nice AU55 can be bought for around $5,000. Given the fact that the Type Two double eagle series is currently out of favor, I think the opportunity factor for this date hasn’t been this good in a few years. When Type Two double eagles become popular again (and I can pretty much guarantee you they will...) I can see the price of the 1868 rising appreciably.
12. CAC Approved Slightly Better Date Double Eagles in MS64
The market for slightly better dates Saints is pretty interesting right now. Due to a number of factors, dates that formerly had a Market Premium Factor of 10-20% can be purchased for little or no premium over a common date. When the market for these coins becomes less out of whack, I would expect them to regain much of their old pricing premium. The key to buying these dates is holding out for solid coins for the grade and this is why I think paying a premium for CAC examples makes sense. The dates that I like most in MS64 are the 1907 No Motto, 1908-D, 1909-S, 1910, 1910-D, 1911-S, 1913-D, 1914-D and 1922. Not all of these can be bought for common date levels (and you are going to have to pay a premium for a nice CAC coin) but if you do some basic research you will note that a number of these can be bought at nice discounts relative to their highs in 2007/2008.
This was a hard article to write as I could have easily mentioned another dozen issues that I thought were good value at the sub-$5,000 level. Something that many new collectors do not realize is that interesting gold coins do not necessarily have to be “expensive” and that you do not have to be a rich person to put together a fine collection of U.S. gold.