When completing a set, many gold coin collectors reach a point where they are waiting on extremely expensive and/or difficult-to-locate issues. A good solution for the collector who wants to remain active in the market is to start on a short, completable set that can be worked on while waiting on the big ticket items for their #1 set. There are numerous short, completable sets of United States gold coins that they can pursue in addition to their major interest. Listed below are some examples, along with pertinent comments.
NOTE: The values listed below are for average quality coins. Very high-end or premium quality coins can add a considerable amount of cost to any of these sets. The "completability factor" is based on a scale of 1 to 5 with one being easy and five being very hard. In the comments listed below, "2/5" would mean two out of five which equates to being "relatively easy" to complete.
Obverse Mintmark Issues, 1838-1839: During these two years, an interesting group of coins were struck. These are notable for being the very first gold branch mint issues and they are readily distinguishable by the use of mintmarks on the obverse. This set includes the following:
Quarter Eagles: 1838-C, 1839-C, 1839-D, 1839-O Half Eagles: 1838-C, 1838-D, 1839-C, 1839-D
Comments: These eight coins include a number of issues that are found in set #3 below. This is an extremely popular group. The dual popularity of these with type and date collectors mean that they are somewhat fully valued in relation to other branch mint issues. However, their extreme popularity makes them relatively "safe" places to park your numismatic dollars.
Cost: In Extremely Fine grades this set would cost in the area of $30,000-35,000. In About Uncirculated, this set would cost $75,000-100,000. The rarity of the 1838-C half eagle in Uncirculated (there are only two known) make this set essentially impossible to complete in Uncirculated.
Completability: 2/5. This is a fairly easy set to assemble, especially in Extremely Fine grades. In About Uncirculated it will prove to be more of a challenge given the rarity of the half eagles and the popularity of each issue.
First Year of Issue Set: For the sake convenience (and cost), it is best to focus this set on Classic Head and Liberty Head issues. This is a collecting theme that is already very popular in other areas of the market. As an example, first year of issue sets in 18th century coinage have been avidly sought by many generations of collectors. As it relates to gold coinage, this set contains one example each of the various United States gold types produced between 1834 and 1907.
This set includes the following:
Gold Dollars: 1849 (Type One), 1854 (Type Two), 1856 (Type Three) Quarter Eagles: 1834 (Classic Head), 1840 (Liberty Head) Three Dollars: 1854 Half Eagles: 1834 (Classic Head), 1839 (First Liberty Head), 1840 (Modified Liberty Head, No Motto), 1866 (With Motto) Double Eagles: 1850 (type One), 1866 (Type Two), 1877 (Type Three)
Comments: There are sixteen coins in this set. None are really rare but the 1866 issues and the 1838 and 1839 eagles will prove to be elusive, particularly in higher grades. The grade range of this set is hard to formulate as their are some very common issues (such as the Type One and Type Three gold dollars) and others that are nearly impossible to locate above About Uncirculated-55. A good average grade range for this set is About Uncirculated-50 to About Uncirculated-55.
Cost: An About Uncirculated set will cost $50,000-60,000. An Uncirculated set is possible but it will take deep pockets and a good deal of patience as a number of the coins are very rare.
Completability: 2/5. In About Uncirculated this is a fairly easy set to complete.
One Year Varities: There are numerous gold coin varieties that were produced for one year only. For this collection we are specifically referring to, as an example, an issue that was made at a certain mint for just one year. A coin that qualifies is the 1855-C gold dollar as it is the only Type Two gold dollar made at the Charlotte mint. A list of coins that qualify as such include the following:
Gold Dollars: 1855-C, 1855-D, 1855-O, 1856-S Quarter Eagles: 1839-D, 1839-O Three Dollars: 1854-O, 1854-D Half Eagles: 1838-C, 1839, 1839-C, 1839-D, 1909-O Double Eagles: 1879-O
Comments: All of these issues are very popular and relatively scarce but all are available without a huge degree of difficulty. Probably the hardest issue of the dozen listed is the 1855-D, especially with a sharp strike.
Cost: In Extremely Fine grades, this set would cost in the area of $55,000 to $65,000. In About Uncirculated, this set would cost in the area of $135,000 to $160,000+.
Completability: 2/5. The hardest issues to locate are the 1855-D gold dollar and the 1879-O double eagle, especially in higher grades.
New Orleans Quarter Eagles: The New Orleans mint produced thirteen quarter eagles between 1839 and 1857. If both varieties of 1843-O are included, this number is increased to fourteen. This is a great set for collectors as each issue has interesting peculiarities of strike and appearance. As an example, the 1840-O and 1842-O typically look completely different, despite the fact that they were produced within two years of each other. A complete set of New Orleans quarter eagles contains the following:
1839-O, 1840-O, 1842-O, 1843-O Small Date, 1843-O Large Date, 1845-O, 1846-O, 1847-O, 1850-O, 1851-O, 1852-O, 1854-O, 1856-O, 1857-O.
Comments: If a collector is not very particular about quality, this set could be assembled relatively quickly. If he is sensitive to quality of strike and originality, this will be a much harder set to complete. The key issue is the 1845-O. The other tough coins are the 1840-O, 1842-O, 1843-O Large Date and 1856-O.
Cost: In Extremely Fine grades, this set would cost between $15,000 and $20,000. In About Uncirculated it would cost $55,000-65,000. In Uncirculated it would be extremely hard to complete due to the rarity of the 1845-O (only two or three Uncirculated examples are currently known).
Completability: Completability: 1/5. An easy and interesting set to assemble.
Seven Mint Set of Liberty Head Half Eagles: Liberty Head half eagles are the only type of United States coin that were produced at seven mints. Back in the 1970's and 1980's, the so-called seven-mint set was very popular with collectors. It seems likely that it is poised for a comeback, especially now that NGC (and probably PCGS in the near future) are making holders that house multiple coins.
This set includes one coin from the Carson City, Charlotte, Dahlonega, Denver, New Orleans, Philadelphia and San Francisco mints. Generally speaking, most collectors purchase the common coins in Uncirculated and the rarer issues in About Uncirculated.
Comments: This is the most conventional of the sets discussed in this article and probably the most popular. I would suggest purchasing the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco coins in Mint State-64 (each should cost under $1,000), the Carson City coin in Mint State-62 to Mint State-63 (look for an 1891-CC in this grade range and expect to spend $1,000-2,500), a New Orleans coin in Mint State-61 or Mint State-62 (look for an 1893-O or 1894-O and expect to spend $1,000-2,000) and the Charlotte and Dahlonega issues in About Uncirculated-55 to About Uncirculated-58 (expect to spend $3,000-5,000+ per coin).
Cost: A really nice set as described above could be assembled for around $20,000. A slightly lower grade set could be assembled for slightly less than $10,000.
Completability: 5/5. An easy set to complete.
Transitional Issues: A Transitional issue is defined as one in which two distinct varieties were produced in the same year. As an example, in 1866 there are No Motto and With Motto issues.
The following gold coins are included in a Transitional Set:
Dollars: 1854 Type One and Type Two (Total: 2 coins) Quarter Eagles: 1796 No Stars and With Stars; 1834 With Motto and No Motto (Total: 4 coins) Half Eagles: 1795 Small Eagle and Heraldic Eagle; 1797 Small Eagle and Heraldic Eagle; 1807 Bust Right and Bust Left; 1834 No Motto and With Motto; 1866-S No Motto and With Motto; 1908 Liberty Head and Indian Head (Total: 12 coins) Eagles: 1797 Small Eagle and Large Eagle; 1839 Large Letters and Small Letters; 1866-S No Motto and With Motto; 1907 Liberty Head and Indian Head; 1908 Philadelphia and Denver No Motto and With Motto (Total: 12 coins)
Comments: If the 18th century coins are included, then this set is very expensive and hard to complete. If these eight coins are removed, the cost is significantly reduced. However, there are still a number of very tough coins including the 1834 No Motto quarter eagle and half eagle and the 1866-S No Motto double eagle.
This is unquestionably the most complex of the six sets listed and it may be a bit too esoteric for the beginning collector. However, it does include some very interesting issues and would be a great accomplishment if completed.
Cost: If all thirty-six coins listed above are included, this set will cost well into six figures and if high grade pieces are included then it could easily eclipse $1 million. If the 18th century issues are not included, the price becomes more realistic but it is still not "cheap." You can count of spending at least $150,000-250,000+ for a set with coins in the Extremely Fine-40 to About Uncirculated-50 range.
Completability: With all the coins listed above included, this set is a 5/5. With just the 19th and 20th century coins it is a 4/5.
These are just a few of the completable short sets of United States gold coins that come to mind. There are certainly many others that are possible which range from very basic to extremely exotic.