The first Proof gold coins were produced in the early 1820's. Mintages remained extremely limited until the late 1850's and, in most instances, never climbed above more than a few hundred pieces. While out of the price range of most numismatists, Proof gold makes a very interesting area to collect. For all but a handful of individuals, collecting Proof gold by date is not realistic. A collector on a more limited budget might consider assembling a type set of Proof gold. This article contains suggestions on how to accomplish this, as well as an overview of the various types of proof gold issues.
The first of two parts, this article focuses on proof gold dollars, quarter eagles and three dollar gold pieces.
a. Type One, 1849-1854
Proof gold dollars of this type are so rare that their very existence is controversial. I have seen a few 1849 gold dollars that I felt were Proofs but cannot recall having seen other dates of this type in Proof. It is a safe assumption that most collectors will never see--let alone own--an example of this type in Proof.
b. Type Two, 1854-1856
An extremely limited number of proof gold dollars were made of the short-lived Type Two design. Interestingly, most of the pieces that exist are quite choice and a few superb gems exist. There are perhaps four to six Proof 1854 gold dollars known plus as many as ten 1855's. When available, these routinely sell for $100,000.
c. Type Three, 1856-1859
For most collectors, the Type Three is the only Proof gold dollar that they will own. The issues produced in the 1850's are all very rare although not extravagantly expensive in Proof-63 or even Proof-64 grades.
The issues from the 1860's and the 1870's were, for the most part, produced in very limited quantities. A typical date from one of these decades has around half of the original mintage figure surviving; usually in Proof-63 to Proof-65 grades. When available, a nice Proof-64 gold dollar from the 1860's or the 1870's costs $6,500-8,500. I think coins such as this are incredibly good values.
The most common proof gold dollars are those produced from 1882 until 1889. A Proof-65 is currently valued in the $7,500-8,500 range while a nice Proof-64 brings $4,500 to $5,500. To my way of thinking, I would spend the extra 50-75% and buy an early date.
II. QUARTER EAGLES
a. Pre-1834 Types
The earliest known Proof quarter eagles date from 1821. During the 1830's extremely limited numbers of Reduced Diameter Capped Bust Proofs were struck. Any pre-1834 quarter eagle is prohibitively expensive and most collectors will not include an example in their holdings.
b. Classic Head, 1834-1839
Proofs are known of all six years of this type with the exception of the 1838. Mintages for each issue appear to be in the range of three to ten coins. There have been some proof Classic Head quarter eagles offered in the Pittman and Bass sales but few others have come on the market for many years. If available, a Proof of this type will grade Proof-63 to Proof-65. A collector can expect to pay $75,000+ for an example.
c. Liberty Head, 1840-1907
Mintages for pre-Civil War era Liberty Head quarter eagles are extremely limited. All dates from the 1840's are extremely rare and, ironically, the most available is the most expensive: the famous Proof-only 1841.
No Proofs are known for any of the dates struck between 1849 and 1855 and the other dates from the 1850's are exceedingly rare as Proofs.
Issues from the 1860's and the 1870's were issued in very limited amounts. With the exception of the 1860 and the 1861, mintage figures ranged from a low of twenty pieces to a high of fifty. As with gold dollars, the survival rate for Proof quarter eagles of this era is generally in the area of 50%. Despite the obvious rarity of these coins, they are still affordable. A Proof-64 is currently worth $10,000-15,000 while a Proof-65 sells for $17,500 to $25,000 depending on the date.
The "common date" Proof Liberty Head quarter eagles begin in the early 1890's and last until the discontinuation of this design in 1907. These issues currently sell for $6,500 to $8,500 for a Proof-64 and $10,000 to $12,500 for a Proof-65.
d. Indian Head, 1908-1915
The Indian Head type has a matte or sandblast finish that is completely different from the brilliant finish seen on earlier issues. Mintage figures and survival rates for Proof Indian Head quarter eagles tend to be greater than on the earlier Liberty Head issues. The most readily available Indian Head issue is the 1908 while the rarest is the 1915. The 1910 is an interesting issue that is available in lower grades but exceedingly rare in Proof-65 or above. It is very important to purchase a Proof Indian Head quarter eagle from a reputable dealer as many pieces have surfaces which have been altered or enhanced. Current price levels for a "common" date are $9,000-11,000 for a Proof-64 and $13,500-16,000 for a Proof-65.
III. THREE DOLLAR GOLD PIECES
This denomination was produced from 1854 to 1889. The 1854 is technically, a one-year type coin as the word DOLLARS is considerably smaller than on other years. Most collectors do not differentiate between the two types and the Three Dollar gold piece is generally viewed as a single type with one coin serving as a representative in a gold type set.
Proof Three Dollar gold pieces from the 1850's are very rare and are usually offered for sale only when major "name" collections appear at auction.
Mintage figures for the issues from the 1860's and the 1870's closely parallel those seen on the quarter eagle proofs of this era. Most dates had original mintage figures between 25 and 50 coins. The survival rate for these is slightly higher than on comparable gold dollars and quarter eagles with 50-70% of the original mintage currently believed to exist. The "typical" date from the 1860-1879 era currently sells for $10,000-15,000 in Proof-63, $17,500-25,000 in Proof-64 and $30,000-40,000+ in Proof-65.
The 1875 and 1876 are especially desirable as they are Proof-only dates with no business strikes produced. The 1875 is a major rarity with sales records exceeding $100,000 for average quality examples. The 1876 is also rare but is not nearly as highly regarded as the 1875.
The Three Dollar gold proofs from the 1880's had higher mintage figures than their earlier counterparts and are much more available. Proof-63 examples are valued at $8,000-10,000, Proof-64 examples are valued at $11,000-14,000 and Proof-65 examples are valued at $20,000-25,000+.
For most collectors, a type set of Proof gold is the most practical way to focus on these issues. Suggested types and grade ranges for gold dollars, quarter eagles, and three dollar gold pieces are as follows:
Type Three Gold Dollar, Proof-64 to Proof-65
Liberty Head Quarter Eagle, Proof-64 to Proof-65
Indian Head Quarter Eagle, Proof-64 to Proof-65
Three Dollar Gold Piece, Proof-64 to Proof-65