In the last few decades, specialized (and highly specialized) collecting has become all the rage in numismatics. But back in the day, anyone who was anyone collected coins by type. I believe that the type method of collecting still applies well to United States gold; especially those coins produced from 1838 through 1933. I wrote an article in March 2000 in which I coined the phrase “Best Value Grade.” This concept (if not this phrase...) seemed to have a big impact on the people who read it and to this day I still have people refer to it when discussing individual coins with me.
In case you’ve forgotten what Best Value Grade or BVG means (and I accept your apology if you have forgotten) I described it as follows back in March 2000: “every U.S. coin has a price point above which it no longer makes economic sense to purchase it.” Let me give you a quick example of the BVG.
Let’s say you can buy a nice MS64 1899-S double eagle for around $3,000-3,500. Seems like a pretty reasonable price for a coin that is relatively scarce in this grade, is probably quite attractive and which has a very limited range of popularity. The same coin, if you can find it, costs around $20,000 in MS65. My belief is that unless you are a large-budget collector who absolutely has to have the best of everything, it makes more economic sense to buy this coin in MS64 and use the saved money for other more interesting items.
My BVG theory applies really well to gold type collecting. Let’s take a look at the various major gold types produced between 1838 or so (the introduction of the Classic Head design) and 1933 (the abolishment of gold issues for circulation).
I. Gold Dollars
There are three gold dollar types that are included in all type sets. The first, known as the Type One, was struck between 1849 and 1854. I personally feel that MS65 coins are the best value in this type. Given the small size of these coins, many collectors have a tough time determining the difference between an MS65 and an MS66 and the former is about half the price of the latter. At the present time, you can find a really nice MS65 Type One gold dollar for under $5,000. I’d pay a small premium and choose an 1849 as this is a neat first-year-of issue.
Type Two gold dollars were produced from 1854 through 1856 and they are among the more expensive coins in a gold type set. Even though MS65 examples have dropped quite a bit in price from a few years ago, I think a nice high end MS64 is a really good value right now. I have seen examples selling in the $15,000 range and this price point makes sense to me. For type purposes, either an 1854 or 1855 will suffice.
Type Three gold dollars were produced from 1856 through 1889. This is one type that as a collector I might splurge a bit on. Very high quality pieces are more available than one might expect and they often have exceptional eye appeal. I would select an MS67 for my type set and these coins are now available for around $4,000. I’d try and pick a date from the early 1880’s as these are a bit scarcer than the late 1880’s issues, yet sell for essentially the same price.
II. Quarter Eagles
Some type collectors begin their quarter eagles with the Liberty Head type but I would suggest adding a Classic Head as well. Produced from 1834 to 1839, this type is attractive, historic and highly collectible. Gem examples of this type are rare and expensive but MS63 and MS64 pieces are available. I would be inclined to go with an MS64. An 1834 or 1836 are the two relatively available dates of this type and a nice MS64 should be available in the $15,000-17,500 range.
The next quarter eagle type is the Liberty Head that was made from 1840 through 1907. I would personally choose an MS66 example for my type set. These had been in a price slump and had dipped well below the $3,000 level. With the current strength in the generic gold market they are back up to around $4,000 but are still good deals at this level. If possible, I’d choose a coin made in the 1890’s as opposed to one made in the early 1900’s.
The third and final quarter eagle type in this set is the popular Indian Head. This is another issue that has seen some price declines in the past few years in higher grades. I’d suggest a nice, handselected MS65. This is going to cost in the $3,500 to $4,000 range and it seems to me to be better value than an MS66 at more than double the price. I’d select a 1908; again, due to its first-year-of-issue status. III. Three Dollar
The charismatic Three Dollar gold piece was struck from 1854 to 1889. This is one of my personal favorite types in this set. The type collector has a number of options here. He can choose a common date in MS65 and probably find a really exceptional coin for less than $20,000. Or, he might choose a common date in MS64 for around $8,000-9,000. Due to the scarcity and uniqueness of this denomination, I might splurge and go for the MS65. The most common dates in high grades are the 1854, 1874, 1888 and 1889.
IV. Half Eagles
The first design type in our set is the Classic Head. It was made from 1834 through 1838. Gems are quite scarce and very expensive so most type collectors will focus on coins graded MS63 or MS64. The former should be available in the $12,500-15,000 range while the latter will cost $20,000 and up. I can see the argument for both sides when considering an MS63 or an MS64 for a BVG gold type set. I think I’d opt for a nice MS63 and I might try and look for any date other than the common 1834. Even though the 1839 is a distinct one-year type, most collectors include it in along with the standard Liberty Head design. There are two major subtypes: the No Motto issues of 1840-1866 and the With Motto issues of 1866-1907. I’ve become a pretty big fan of No Motto half eagles over the years and this is one type that I feel is worth stretching for. For the BVG type collector, the best options are an MS63 or an MS64. A nice example of the former can be found around $6,000-8,000 while the latter will cost $12,500 or so. The Philadelphia issues from the 1840’s and 1850’s are the logical choice for a type set. With Motto Liberty Head half eagles are an easy type to find even in very high grades. For this set, I’d go with a nice MS65 and expect to spend in the area of $4,000-5,000. I would look for a date struck in the 19th century versus one from the 20th century and would expect to pay little—if any—premium for this. The final half eagle type for this set is the Indian Head. The BVG for this type is kind of a no-brainer, given the fact that an MS65 costs around four times more than an MS64. I would look for a nice, high end MS64 and expect to find one in the $4,000-5,000 range.
The first Liberty Head design type of 1838-1839 constitutes a distinct design but most collectors do not include this as a separate type in their set. Instead, they begin their set with the No Motto Liberty Head issues produced between 1840 and 1866. This is an extremely rare type in Gem and most collectors will be content to add an MS63 or an MS64. As far as the Best Value Grade goes, I’d be inclined to suggest a nice, high end MS63 in the $15,000-20,000 range but could also see the benefits of an MS64; in spite of the healthy $30,000++ price tag and the difficulty in finding such a coin. For most collectors, a Philadelphia coin from the 1847-1856 era is going to be included in their type set.
The With Motto Liberty Head eagles were made from 1866 to 1907 and they are substantially easier to find in high grades than their No Motto counterparts. I would recommend an MS65 and such a coin will cost around $5,000-6,000. As usual, I’d look for a 19th century date versus a 20th but the most important thing to consider for such a coin is the appearance and surface preservation as opposed to the date of issuance.
The final eagle for this type set is the Indian Head. These were issued from 1907 through 1933. This is an interesting design and it features dates that range from very common to very rare. For our BVG set we would focus on one of the common dates and would probably select anything other than the ultra-available 1926 or 1932. An MS65 will cost in the area of $5,000-6,000 and this should suffice.
VI. Double Eagles
There are two distinct designs that exist for this denomination. The first is the Liberty Head. These coins were struck from 1850 through 1907 and are found with three important subtypes.
The first Liberty Head type is the Type One, which was issued from 1850 through 1866. Until the discovery of a number of shipwrecks, this type was extremely rare in higher grades. Now, these coins are plentiful in higher grades. For a BVG type set I would be inclined to go with either an MS64 which will cost around $8,000-9,000 or an MS65 which will cost $12,500 or a bit more. The best issue for a type set is the 1857-S from the S.S. Central America shipwreck.
The Type Two Liberty Head double eagles were made from 1866 until 1876. They are extremely rare in high grades and for most collectors, a nice MS63 is about the best quality that is realistic. For a piece in this grade, we are looking at an expenditure of around $12,500 or so as opposed to $40,000++ for an MS64. The most available dates for a type set include the 1873 Open 3, 1875, 1876 and 1876-S.
The third and final Liberty Head issue is the Type Three. These coins were made from 1877 through 1907 and they are exceedingly common in higher grades. Most BVG collections will feature a nice MS65 and such a coin can generally be purchased for less than $5,000. There are many good dates to choose from but I would suggest, if possible, finding one made in the 19th century as opposed to the 20th century.
The final major gold type is the popular St. Gaudens, struck from 1907 through 1933. Some collectors include a 1907 High Relief in their type set but, for most collectors, a common date in high grades will suffice. I would recommend a very attractive MS66. For well under $4,000 the BVG collector should be able to purchase an outstanding example.
Assembling a high grade set of gold type coins produced from 1834 through 1933 is a good challenge for the beginning, intermediate or advanced collector. By using the Best Value Grade theory, the collector should be able to assemble a very high quality set without overreaching on any of the specific coins.
I would be happy to answer any questions about gold type coins or the theory of Best Value Grade and can be reached by email at email@example.com.