Coloration and United States Gold Coins

In my article entitled "Five Components of Grading" (November 2001), I touched upon coloration and the role it plays in determining the grade of a gold coin. In this brief article, we'll look at the natural coloration found on gold coins from each of the seven mints that produced gold issues in the 18th and 19th century. Carson City

Carson City gold coins can be neatly packaged into three distinct eras: those struck during the 1870's, the 1880's and the 1890's. Some of the gold used to make these coins was from local Nevada mines and it displays a distinctive natural hue.

The coins from the 1870's are usually seen with extremely heavy wear. Half eagles and eagles from this decade often have a dark green-gold or slightly coppery hue. The coins from the 1880's tend to have richer green-gold or orange-gold color. The coins from the 1890's often have very nice shadings with rich green-gold or orange-gold hues. On a few issues, the borders may show a ring of deeper color that nicely contrasts the lighter shades seen in the center.

It is much easier to find coins from the 1890's with pleasing original color than on issues from the other two decades. Many half eagles and eagles from the 1870's are essentially unknown with fully original color. Issues such as the 1891-CC half eagle and the 1891-CC eagle are relatively easy to find with nice color.

Double eagles tend to be the easiest denomination from this mint to locate with good color. This is primarily due to the fact that more relatively high grade examples of this denomination are known than half eagles or eagles.

Due to the popularity of Carson City gold coinage with collectors, good coloration is an important consideration in determining grade and value.


Much of the gold used at the Charlotte mint was mined in western North Carolina. The natural composition of this gold was rich in copper ore. Thus, many Charlotte gold coins (especially those struck before 1850) have a distinctive orange-gold or reddish-gold coloration. On later issues, this color tends to be a more green-gold in hue. This is due to the fact that more gold from California (with a higher silver content) was used.

For some reason, the Charlotte coins with the best coloration are the Type One gold dollars (1849-1853) and the half eagles produced during the early part of the 1840's. It is very hard to locate any of the quarter eagles from the 1850's with attractive, even coloration.

Well over 75% of all Charlotte gold coins have been cleaned or dipped and no longer show any hint of original color. Charlotte gold coins with attractive original color are beginning to command a premium, although not as much so as their counterparts from Dahlonega.


The gold that was used to make Dahlonega gold coins from 1838 until the early 1850's had a high amount of silver within its natural composition. This provided many of the coins from this era with a distinctive green-gold hue. On issues struck after 1850, more gold from the western deposits was employed and the color tends to show more of a reddish-gold hue.

As with the Charlotte gold coins, Type One Dahlonega gold dollars (1849-1854) and certain half eagles from the 1840's (and even into the 1850's) are more likely to be seen with good color than the other issues from this mint. With a few exceptions (such as the 1857-D), quarter eagles from this mint are very hard to locate with nice color. The same holds true for Type Two Dahlonega gold dollars and three dollar gold pieces. As a rule of thumb, the rarer and more popular a certain date is from this mint, the more likely it is to be found without original color.

Well over 75% of all Dahlonega coins have been cleaned or dipped and no longer show original color. This is a very popular series with collectors and their level of sophistication tends to be higher than other branch mint specialists. Dahlonega coins with pleasing natural color currently command high premiums; more so than from any other branch mint.


The Denver mint produced gold coins from 1906 to 1931, with the majority of the production occurring in the 1910's and the 1920's. They struck half eagles, eagles and double eagles. For the most part, these coins have a fairly consistent natural coloration. Medium to deep yellow gold shadings with pale rose and orange-gold undertones are most often seen on high grade, original pieces.

The Denver issues that tend to show especially nice color include the 1906-D and 1907-D Liberty Head double eagles and the St. Gaudens double eagles from the 1920's. The half eagles and eagles from the 1910's often have a naturally grainy type of luster and their coloration is slightly more subdued.

It is still reasonably easy to locate Denver gold coins with attractive natural color. There are some exceptions, like the 1911-D eagle, which is an issue that is often found cleaned or dipped. At this point, very few people specialize in Denver gold, so there are no real premiums accorded to coins with superb original color.

New Orleans

Unlike its southern counterparts from Charlotte and Dahlonega, this mint had a very long period of operation (1838-1909). New Orleans coins from fall into two neat categories: Without Motto (struck at this mint from 1840-1861) and With Motto (1879-1904).

Without Motto coins are usually seen well worn and have often been cleaned. Coins with original color often have a distinctive deep green-gold hue. Some issues, such as the 1847-O eagle, are found with bright yellow-gold color while others, such as the 1854-O eagle, have a more orange-gold appearance.

With Motto coins from New Orleans are found with less wear than their Without Motto counterparts. Eagles from the 1892-1904 era are sometimes seen with attractive deep natural color, including medium orange-gold and deeper green-gold.

It is very hard to locate New Orleans gold coins with original attractive, especially those struck prior to 1890. When available, these coins tend to bring premiums among knowledgeable collectors.


Due to better quality control and more consistent bullion sources, there is less variation seen in the coloration of Philadelphia gold coins than on the branch mint issues.

All early gold coinage (i.e., those issues made before 1834) were struck exclusively at this mint. Early gold is very hard to find with original color as the majority of pieces have been cleaned or dipped. Coins that are original tend to show medium to deep orange-gold hues. They often trade for strong premiums among specialists and type collectors.

Liberty Head issues from Philadelphia are divided into Without Motto (1838-1865) and With Motto (1866-1907) types. The Without Motto coins are more difficult to locate with original color. When available they tend to show green-gold or light orange hues.

Due to larger mintage figures and hoarding, many With Motto issues from this mint are relatively available in higher grades. There are some extremely attractive Philadelphia gold coins from this era and they show hues ranging from green-gold to rose and light orange.

Collectors tend to be more focused on specific rarities or types from this mint as opposed to putting together date sets. On certain rare, low mintage issues such as the 1881 quarter eagle or the 1863 eagle, coloration is important. On other more common issues, coloration is not as significant factor in determining grade and value.

San Francisco

Despite the publicity of the S.S. Central America and Brother Jonathan shipwrecks, both of which contained thousands of San Francisco double eagles, gold coins from this mint are not as popular as those from the southern mints. This is somewhat ironic, given the fact that the quality of the coins from San Francisco far exceeds those from Charlotte, New Orleans, or Dahlonega.

San Francisco gold coins from the 1850's and the 1860's (with the exception of certain double eagles) are usually seen in lower grades and have often been cleaned. The issues from the late 1870's though the early 1900's are seen more often in higher grades. The natural color on these coins is often outstanding. Hues of rose-gold, green-gold and medium orange are often present.

Indian Head gold from this mint also displays a wide range of color. Half eagles and eagles from San Francisco tend to have granular luster which subsequently shows somewhat subdued color. St. Gaudens double eagles, especially those struck in the 1920's, often have rich frosty luster and attractive vibrant rose and orange-gold hues.

Due to a relative lack of collector support, there is not currently a strong demand for San Francisco gold coins with attractive natural hues. Many of the earlier issues from this mint are exceptionally hard to find with nice color and may command a premium in the future.