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 final of two parts, this article focuses on proof half eagles, eagles, and double eagles.
a. Capped Head Left (Large and Small Diameter), 1813-1834
A very small number of Proof half eagles were struck in the 1820's and the 1830's. These pieces are easily identifiable as Proofs as they show exceptional detail and deep, fully reflective fields. In most instances, just a few are known for each date and they are very infrequently offered for sale. Two good places to view comparatively large numbers of Proof early half eagles are the Lilly Collection (in the Smithsonian) and the Bass Collection (currently on view at the ANA Museum in Colorado Springs).
If available, a "real" Proof half eagle of this type will cost at least $200,000-300,000 and a gem could easily sell for double this amount.
b. Classic Head, 1834-1838
Mintage figures for Proof Classic Head half eagles are also extremely small. There are approximately eight to ten Proof 1834 half eagles known. Some fully prooflike business strikes are seen from time to time and these are often offered as "Proofs." There are three or four 1835 and 1836 Proofs known while the 1837 and the 1838 appear to be unique. The most extensive offering of Proof Classic Head half eagles in recent years was in the Pittman auctions held in 1997-98.
In today's market, a high quality certified Proof Classic Head half eagle is worth $200,000+.
c. Liberty Head No Motto, 1839-1866
Proof Liberty Head half eagles struck prior to 1859 are extremely rare. Many dates are unknown in Proof and others (such as 1843 and 1845) are represented by no more than three or four examples.
The No Motto issues from 1859 to 1865 are all very rare in Proof format. The issues struck from 1859 to 1863 have an exceptionally low survival rate and most have between six and nine known. The 1864 and the 1865 are slightly more available but are still very rare.
A Proof-64 No Motto half eagle (dated 1864 or 1865) is worth $30,000-40,000 while a Proof-65 is worth $60,000-70,000. Proofs of this type are generally only available when major collections such as Bass or Pittman are offered.
d. Liberty Head With Motto, 1866-1907
Mintage figures for Proof half eagles struck from 1866 to 1881 ranged from 20 to 50 coins. For most of these, the survival rate is around half of the original number struck. The two rarest dates of this era are the 1870 and the 1871, of which five to seven Proofs are known. The most famous (and highest priced) With Motto proof half eagle is the 1875. It is a major rarity in any grade as only two hundred business strikes were produced.
The 1882-1895 proofs are slightly more available than their earlier counterparts. Mintage figures ranged from a low of 48 in 1882 and 1894 to a high of 95 in 1888. The 1896-1907 issues are the most available Proof Liberty Head eagles of this type. They are not hard to locate in Proof-64 and Proof-65 grades, although many have been dipped and now display a somewhat unnatural bright appearance. Any coin that grades Proof-66 or better is, regardless of date, very rare.
The collector who wants to purchase a single Proof for a type set should look for a coin that has nice cameo contrast between the frosted devices and the mirror-like fields. A piece that has medium to deep natural "haze" is preferable to a dipped, bright piece. There have been a number of auctions with nice Proof eagles in the last few years and a coin with a pedigree from one of these name sales would be a good addition to a type set.
As of December 2001, a Proof-64 With Motto Liberty Head half eagle has a value of $13,500-17,500. A Proof-65 is valued at $25,000-30,000.
e. Indian Head, 1908-1915
In 1908, the U.S. Mint switched from the brilliant format to a matte finish. The natural appearance of Matte Proof gold coins is slightly dull with granular surfaces that appear sandblasted.
Proof Indian Head half eagles were struck from 1908 to 1915 in a variety of textures and colors. Those most often seen have either a deep green-gold or rich yellow to orange-gold hue. The Proofs struck in 1908 and 1910-1915 tend to have a coarse sandblast finish while those made in 1909 and 1910 have a finer finish referred to as "Roman Gold."
It is hard to grade Matte Proof gold, due to the fact that its dark coloration and grainy texture tends to mask surface imperfections. It is highly advisable to only purchase PCGS or NGC graded pieces from a highly reputable specialist.
As of December 2001, a Proof-64 Indian Head half eagle is valued at $12,500-15,000 while a Proof-65 is worth $23,500-28,500.
a. Pre-1834 Types
There are no Proof eagles dated 1795-1804 that were actually struck in the year they were dated. There are four Proof 1804 eagles known but these are restrikes that were produced in 1834-35 for inclusion in presentation proof sets that were given to dignitaries. These are the same sets that contained the famous Class I 1804 silver dollars.
b. Liberty Head No Motto 1838-1866
All Liberty Head eagles from 1838 to 1859 are extremely rare in Proof and many of these dates are unknown in Proof. The dates from 1860 to 1865 are very rare but are actually seen with slightly greater frequency than the Proof half eagles of this era. Mintage figures range from 25 pieces in 1865 to 69 in 1861. In most cases, only a small percentage of Proofs have survived and most of these are in the Proof-62 to Proof-64 grade range. The population figures at PCGS and NGC for these dates are greatly swelled by resubmissions. There is a large difference in value between Proof-64 and Proof-65 and this means that many high end Proof-64 pieces will get submitted many times in an attempt to "upgrade" to Proof-65.
A Proof-63 of this type, if available, will cost in the range of $30,000-40,000 while a Proof-64 is valued at $45,000-55,000.
c. Liberty Head With Motto, 1866-1907
With Motto Liberty Head eagles struck between 1866 and 1890 are very rare. Most have original mintage figures in the range of 25 to 50 pieces and survival rates in the area of 25 to 50%. The rarest Proofs of this era include the 1867, 1870, 1874, 1875, and 1877. The 1875 is the most famous and valuable of these dates due to the fact that only 100 business strikes were produced.
The issues from 1890 to 1907 have slightly higher mintage figures and are somewhat less rare. Most of the survivors are in the Proof-62 to Proof-64 range and properly graded gem proofs are very rare.
Proof eagles of this type tend to be well-manufactured. Many show attractive cameo contrast between the devices and the fields. It is not uncommon for a Proof Liberty Head eagle to have small mint-made lintmarks or planchet depressions in the surfaces. These are not considered detriments unless they are extensive or situated in prime focal points.
As of December 2001, A Proof-64 Liberty Head with motto eagle is valued at $17,500-22,500 while a Proof-65 is worth $32,500-37,500. In my opinion, these are very reasonable price levels, especially for coins that are original and have good eye appeal.
d. Indian Head, 1908-1915
The comments made above for Indian Head half eagle apply to the Proof eagles of this design.
Mintage figures for Proofs of this design range from a low of 50 in 1914 to a high of 204 in 1910. The survival rate for this design is slightly higher than for Proofs produced in the 19th century. Most dates have slightly more than half the original mintage figure extent, with most of these pieces in the Proof-63 to Proof-64 range. There are a small number of really superb pieces known in the Proof-66 to Proof-67 range but these are seldom offered for sale.
When looking for a Proof Indian Head eagle for a type set, there are a few factors a collector should keep in mind. It is very important to seek a choice, original coin that has not been "doctored." Always purchase a coin that has been graded by PCGS or NGC and learn what the appropriate color and texture for each date should be BEFORE you make a five-figure purchase.
As of December 2001, a Proof-64 Indian Head eagle is worth $19,000-25,000 while a Proof-65 is worth $35,000-40,000.
III. DOUBLE EAGLES
a) Liberty Head Type One, 1850-1866
The first of three of Liberty Head double eagle types, this is recognizable by the lack of the motto IN GOD WE TRUST on the reverse.
Proofs from the 1850's are excessively rare and for most dates do not exist. The 1860-1865 issues are all very rare with original mintage figures ranging from a low of 25 in 1865 to a high of 66 in 1861. Most were melted or spent, leaving most dates with a surviving population of five to seven coins. The few that exist are generally seen in Proof-62 to Proof-64 grades. Gem Proof Type One Liberty Head double eagles are excessively rare.
For a type set, the two dates that the collector is most likely to see offered for sale are the 1864 and the 1865. A Proof-64 example is currently worth in the range of $70,000-80,000.
b. Liberty Head Type Two, 1866-1876
In 1866, the motto was added to the reverse of the double eagle. This short-lived type is very popular with collectors. Proofs all have very low mintage figures, ranging from just 20 in 1875 to 50 in 1867. All Proofs of this type are very rare. Most dates have between six and nine known with the typical examples grading Proof-62 to Proof-64.
In the past decade, a relatively high number of Proofs of this type have been available to collectors. This is due to the dispersal of such great proof gold collections as Bass, Pittman and Trompeter. Many of these coins have now been absorbed into tightly-held private collections.
The current market value of a Proof Type Two double eagles is $30,000-40,000 in Proof-63 and $50,000-60,000+ in Proof-64. Gem Proofs are extremely rare and, if available, would sell for over $100,000.
c. Liberty Head Type Three, 1877-1907
The third and final type of Liberty Head double eagle was created in 1877, when the value was changed from TWENTY D. to TWENTY DOLLARS.
The 1883, 1884 and 1886 issues were only produced as Proofs. Even though they have higher mintage figures than the other Proofs of this era, they are more valuable. The rarest of this trio is the 1884 which is represented by a scant 12 to 15 examples known.
The Proofs from the 1890-1907 era are the most obtainable double eagles of this type. Their mintage figures range from a low of 52 in 1891 to a high of 158 in 1903. The rarest date of this era is the 1893 while the most common (and best for type purposes) are the 1900, 1903 and 1904. It is possible to locate a nice Proof-63 or Proof-64 example of this type but any piece graded Proof-65 or better is very rare.
The issues struck prior to 1900 tend to have more of a cameo contrast than the post-1900 coins. This contrast gives many of these coins superb eye appeal. Both PCGS and NGC currently award such coins either a cameo or deep cameo designation. I would suggest that the collector not pay a large premium for coins with these designations as it is still too early to tell which dates are rare with cameo contrast and which are not.
A Proof-64 Type Three Liberty Head double eagle is currently worth $27,500-32,500 while a Proof-65 is worth $50,000-60,000.
d. St. Gaudens, 1908-1915
A total of 687 Proof St. Gaudens double eagles were struck between 1908 and 1915. Mintage figures ranged from a low of 50 in 1915 to a high of 167 in 1910. There are approximately 200-250 total examples known of these eight issues. The rarest are the 1909 and the 1915 while the most available are the 1908 and the 1910.
When available, these issues are most often found in Proof-64 and Proof-65 grades. Superb pieces that grade Proof-66 (and even Proof-67) are sometimes available but are quite rare.
Proof St. Gaudens double eagles are currently somewhat out-of-favor with collectors are appear to be very good values in higher grades.
A Proof-64 St. Gaudens double eagle is valued at $25,000-30,000 while a Proof-65 is valued at $40,000-45,000.
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 half eagles, eagles, and double eagles are as follows:
Liberty Head With Motto Half Eagle, Proof-64 to Proof-65
Indian Head Half Eagle, Proof-64 to Proof-65
Liberty Head With Motto Eagle, Proof-64 to Proof-65
Indian Head Eagle, Proof-64 to Proof-65
Liberty Head Double Eagle Type Three, Proof-64 to Proof-65
St. Gaudens Double Eagle, Proof-64 to Proof-65