Is it possible to build an interesting collection of desirable United States gold without having a large per coin budget? I think the answer to this question is a resounding “yes.” There are plenty of extremely interesting pieces that are within the average collector’s price range and this includes a number of coins that are both scarce and in comparably high grades. Here are a baker’s dozen suggested areas for a collector with a budget of $2,500 (or less) per coin. 1. San Francisco Gold Dollars: The San Francisco mint produced seven different gold dollars. These include all three types. The 1854-S is a Type One issue, the 1856-S is a Type Two and the 1857-S, 1858-S, 1859-S, 1860-S and 1870-S are all Type Threes. With the exception of the popular (but somewhat overvalued) 1856-S, any of these dates can be obtained in AU50 to AU55 grades for $1,500-2,500. My personal favorite date in this group is the 1857-S. Did you know that from the standpoint of overall rarity, this date is actually rarer than the 1857-C or the 1857-D? The 1857-S has a current Trends value in AU55 of $2,500 which is very cheap for a coin of this rarity; the 1857-C Trends for $7,000 in this grade, while the 1857-D is listed at $6,500.
2. Reconstruction Era Philadelphia Gold Dollars: The Philadelphia gold dollars produced from 1866 to 1872 all have mintages of 7,100 or below (except for the 1868 which had a mintage of 10,500) and all of these issues are reasonably scarce in all grades. This group of coins is not generally seen in circulated grades but very presentable Uncirculated examples (in this case in the MS62 to MS64 grade range) can typically be purchased in the $1,000-2,500 range. I like the 1865 and 1867 best. The former has a Trends value of $1,700 in MS60 and $2,500 in MS62 and is a great value at anything near these levels. The 1867 is listed at $2,000 in MS63 and if you can find a piece at this level, you’ve just bought a truly scarce coin at a most reasonable level.
3. Classic Head Quarter Eagles: If you have a limited coin budget, you won’t be able to buy any early gold as it has become too expensive. But you can still purchase a really nice AU55 to AU58 common date Classic Head quarter eagle for $2,000-3,000. Classic Head gold coinage is sort of a bridge between the pre-1834 “early gold” issues and the more familiar Liberty Head design which was employed all the way into the early 20th century. I personally like the Classic Head design and have seen some pieces in the AU55 to AU58 range which are really attractive. If possible, buy a date other than the ubiquitous 1834 as these issues are considerably scarcer. My “sleeper” date is the 1839 which considerably scarcer than the mintmarked issues of this year but priced much lower.
4. Philadelphia Quarter Eagles From The 1840’s: This group includes some dates that are well out of the price range of the $2,500 and lower budget but it contains a number of other overlooked issues that fall well within these parameters. Want some suggestions? How about the 1844. This is a low mintage coin with just 6,784 pieces originally produced. There are probably no more than 50-75 pieces known in all grades and this date is considerably scarcer than the mintmarked issues from this era. Despite this fact, Trends lists an AU50 example at $2,250. Other dates from this era that I think are very undervalued include the 1843, 1846, 1847 and 1848. Your $2,500 per coin budget will go a long way in this series and you should be able to buy some nice AU pieces if you are patient.
5. Nice About Uncirculated New Orleans Quarter Eagles: There are a number of scarce New Orleans quarter eagles from the 1840’s and 1850’s that the collector can buy in AU55 to AU58 grades for $2,500 or less. This includes the 1846-O, 1847-O, 1850-O, 1851-O, 1852-O, 1856-O and 1857-O. In this same price range it is also possible to purchase nice MS61 examples of the 1843-O Small Date and the 1854-O. I would strongly recommend that the collector looking at these coins familiarize himself with their peculiarities of strike (these are described in my book “Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint, 1839-1909”) and pay a premium for examples with original surfaces and color.
6. Low Mintage Quarter Eagles, 1880-1899: A collector with a budget of $2,500 per coin could put together a high quality set of Quarter Eagles dated between 1880 and 1899. With just two exceptions, every coin in this set would be Uncirculated and in some cases the coins could grade as high as MS64 or even MS65. What’s great about these coins is that they are well-produced and not hard to find with pleasing original color and surfaces. Some of the dates in this two decade production run are very challenging to find in Uncirculated (1880, 1883 and 1884 come to mind as the stoppers) while others (including nearly all of the coins struck in the 1890’s) are easy to find in Mint State. The real budget-busters in this set are the popular low mintage 1881 and 1885 issues. For $3,500-5,000, the collector will be able to find a nice AU 1881 should cost $4,000-5,000. This is a great set for the collector who wants to own some very high grade yet legitimately scarce gold coins.
7. Scarcer Date Three Dollar Gold Pieces: Three Dollar gold pieces have been a whipping boy in many “experts” recent newsletters but I think there is still great value in this series. For $2,500 you can buy a number of the scarcer issues from the 1860’s and 1870’s in Extremely Fine grades. These coins are not that easy to locate due to the fact that this denomination did not typically circulate enough to get word down to Extremely Fine detail. But when Three Dollar gold pieces are available in EF, they tend to be reasonably attractive and very affordable. All of the Civil War dates (except for the rare 1865) can be purchased in EF40 to EF45 for around $2,500 and a number of the tougher dates from the 1870’s (such as the 1870, 1871 and 1872) can be found in the same grade range for around the same price.
8. Classic Head Half Eagles: I like this series for the exact same reasons mentioned in Item #3, above. I’ve always looked at Classic Head half eagles as the “early gold for collectors who can’t afford early gold.” Think about it. You can still buy a nice Choice AU half eagle that is approaching 175 years in age for less than $3,000. The sleeper date in this series is the 1837 which is many times scarcer than the 1834-1836 issues but which commands just a 20-30% premium in AU. I’d suggest that the collector be fussy when looking at Classic Head half eagles as they are plentiful enough that he can wait for the “right” coin to come around.
9. No Motto New Orleans Half Eagles: This is an area where a collector with a budget of $2,500 per coin will be able to purchase some very scarce and desirable issues. One date that I feel is extremely undervalued is the first-year-of-issue 1840-O. I recently posted an example in NGC AU55 on my website (I priced the coin at $2,350) and received seven orders for it. For $2,500 or less, the collector will be able to purchase nice EF45 examples of such scarce dates as the 1843-O Small Letters, the 1845-O, 1846-O, 1851-O, 1856-O and 1857-O. All six of these dates are much harder to find in this grade than most of the Charlotte and Dahlonega half eagles from this era yet they are priced at between $500-1,000 less per coin.
10. 1890’s Carson City Half Eagles: No, the four half eagles struck at the Carson City mint during the 1890’s are not rare coins. But how can you not be attracted to the history and allure of any gold coin struck at this legendary mint. For $2,500 per coin, you could put together a set that would include an MS62 1890-CC, an MS62 1891-C, an MS61 1892-CC and a high end MS61 1893-CC. Four nice Uncirculated coins with a great story for under $10,000. How can you not like this collection?
11. No Motto New Orleans Eagles: If you have a $2,500 per coin budget, you won’t be able to assemble a complete set of No Motto New Orleans eagles; the 1841-O and the 1859-O will prove just about impossible to find in that price range. But you can buy every other date in Extremely Fine or About Uncirculated grades. On the lower end of the grade range, you’ll probably have to settle for EF45 examples of the scarce 1852-O, 1855-O, 1856-O and 1857-O and on the high end, you might be able to go as high as AU55 on the more common issues like the 1847-O, 1851-O, 1853-O, 1854-O and 1858-O. I personally think this would be an extremely interesting set to assemble and when you are done you can take pride in having assembled a group of coins that is genuinely scarce and, in my opinion, extremely undervalued.
12. Type One Philadelphia Double Eagles: A collector on a limited budget is going to find double eagles to be a frustrating area to collect. A date run of Philadelphia double eagles from the 1850’s can be assembled by the individual with tight budgetary constraints and most of his coins will actually be attractive. With just a few exceptions, nearly every coin in this group can be purchased in AU53 to AU55 for $2,500 or less. This includes the 1856, 1857 and 1858 which I feel are much undervalued. The only two dates that will cost more than $2,500 for nice AU’s are the overvalued but popular 1850 and the rare 1859. For $3,500, the collector will be able to purchase a nice AU55 1850 while an AU50 1859 will run around $4,000 and be a very good value.
13. Type Three San Francisco Double Eagles: If you are on a tight budget, you can forget Philadelphia and Carson City Type Three double eagles…they are too expensive. But a collector of average means could assemble a complete set of San Francisco Type Three issues in Uncirculated for a reasonable amount per coin. In my opinion, I think the best grades for this set are the ones just before big price jumps. In other words, I like an MS62 1889-S for this set at $1,000 as opposed to an MS63 at $6,000. With the exception of the 1878-S, 1879-S, 1880-S and 1881-S, every coin in this set could be at least MS62 (with some MS63 examples of the common later dates thrown in for good measure) while the scarcer early dates would all grade MS61.
So there you have thirteen suggestions of collecting areas for gold coin collectors with a budget of $2,500 per purchase. If your budget is a bit larger (say $3,500-5,000) you could greatly expand this list or take some of the items already discussed and move up a grade or two.