Ten Underappreciated Early United States Gold Coins

I’ve written numerous articles about Liberty Head gold coins that I think are clearly undervalued or underpriced. I’ve never really written one that’s focused on early United States gold coins for one simple reason: it’s hard to brand coins that trade for $10,000 and up (in most cases) as “undervalued.” That said, there are a number of issues whose price levels do not make sense given their rarity. I’d like to thank my good friend Paul Nugget, from Spectrum East Numismatics, who helped me prepare this list and whose expertise in the area of pre-1834 gold is unrivalled.

Before we start, the basic question to answer here is why are these coins undervalued or underappreciated or “underwhatever?” I think the answer has to do with collecting patterns in the early gold series. Because of price considerations, most collectors who do focus on early gold do it from the standpoint of type collecting. This makes sense, especially in a denomination like half eagles that contains a number of spectacularly rare (and expensive) issues. Also, I have noted that many more early gold collectors focus on the pre-1807 issues by date (or even die variety) while the issues struck from 1808 to 1834 tend to less actively pursued as such.

Here is my list of ten underappreciated early US gold and the reasons why I think they qualify as such:

1. 1827 Quarter Eagle. The short-lived Capped Head Left quarter eagle type was produced for only five years from 1821 to 1827. All five issues are scarce but pricing guides typically lump the 1821, 1824/1, 1825 and 1827 together and accord them similar values in virtually all grades. I think that the 1827 deserves to be priced at least 10-15% higher than the 1825.

As of October 2009, PCGS shows a total of 26 1827 quarter eagles having been graded in all grades versus a total of 52 for the 1825. The population for the latter seems rather inflated but that said, the 1827 is still much scarcer. I don’t think it is as scarce as the 1821 (and it doesn’t have the 1821’s cachet as being a first-year-of-issue) but it is comparable to the 1824/1 in terms of overall rarity.

The 1827 has a reported mintage of 2,800 but it is believed that this figure includes some coins dated 1826. There are an estimated four to five dozen known in all grades.

2. 1833 Quarter Eagle. The quarter eagles struck from 1829 through 1833 are always lumped together to form a sort of “generic” Fat Head type. All five dates are priced exactly the same. In my experience, the 1833 is quite a bit scarcer than these other issues and it should be given at least a 10% premium in all grades, if not more.

PCGS has graded just 35 examples of the 1833 in all grades. Compare this to the 1829 with a total of 51, the 1830 with a total of 70, the 1831 with a total of fifty-two and the 1832 which has 50. I understand that very few people collect this design by date but I think that the 1833 is so clearly scarcer than the other dates mentioned that it should be accorded a 10% premium.

There were 4,160 quarter eagles produced in 1833. There are around five to six dozen known with the majority in the AU53 to MS62 range. In my experience, I see this date far less often than any other of the 1829-1832 issues and, for some reasons, when I do find an example it almost never is choice and/or original.

3. 1834 With Motto Quarter Eagle. This is an issue whose extreme rarity I have mentioned in previous articles on my website. Pricing data remains way too low and should be increased immediately to reflect recent auction sales. As an example, in the Heritage 2009 August Pre-ANA sale, I purchased an 1834 in an NCS “AU details” holder for $25,300. Trends for an 1834 in AU50 is only $28,500 so I paid close to 90% of this amount for a coin that had been cleaned.

PCGS has graded just nine examples of the 1834 With Motto and it is likely that fewer than twenty exist in all grades. The original mintage of 4,000 is misleading as nearly all were melted soon afterwards when the weight of all United States gold coins were lowered.

I wouldn’t have a problem with the current numbers in Trends for the 1834 With Motto quarter eagle being doubled in all grades.

4. 1805 Bust Right Half Eagle. The Capped Bust Right/Heraldic Eagle reverse series is popular with collectors and there is enough date collecting that a coin like the 1805 should get some kind of a premium over the more available 1802/1, 1803/2 and 1806 Round 6. In my experience, I would price it at around 10% more than a common issue in all grades.

The most recent PCGS population figures show that there have been 229 1805 half eagles recorded in all grades. Compare this to the total of 264 for the 1802/1, 334 for the 1803/2 and 463 for the 1806 Round 6. In my personal experience, the 1805 is quite a bit harder to find than the other three “common” dates of this type that I mentioned, especially in AU55 and higher grades.

5. 1806 Pointed 6 Half Eagle. It’s interesting to note how the respect accorded this variety tends to change almost every year. At some points in time, the 1806 Pointed 6 sells for a significant premium over the common 1806 Round 6 and at other times, the premium is very small. In my opinion, the 1806 Pointed 6 is a scarce and undervalued issue with enough of a naked-eye “coolness factor” that it should sell for at least a 15-20% premium over a common date.

This is supported by the PCGS population data for this variety which shows just 58 examples recorded in all grades. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that this variety was not always designated by PCGS and some of the 1806 half eagles in PCGS holders that are this variety are not marked as such. Nonetheless, this variety is many times scarcer than the more common issues of this type.

I personally find the 1806 Pointed 6 half eagle to be a fascinating coin. There are no less than five die varieties which is even more impressive when one considers that the original mintage was probably well under 20,000.

6. 1808/7 Half Eagle. The Capped Bust Left type probably generates less interest than any other of the early half eagle designs. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that the only rarities in the series (1810 Small Date, Small 5 and the 1810 Large Date, Small 5) are very esoteric and most people can’t easily remember which of the 1810 varieties are rare and which are common.

The 1808/7 is a sleeper issue in this series. It is the only true overdate of this design and it is a coin that is far scarcer than most people realize. There were an estimated 10,000-15,000 produced and as few as 100-150 are known today. PCGS has only graded fifty-two versus, for example, 211 for the common 1808 Normal Date.

The 1808/7 half eagle currently gets a decent premium over the common dates of this type but I feel this premium should be increased another 15-25% given its scarcity.

7. 1810 Small Date, Tall 5. As I mentioned in my description of the 1808/7, the half eagle varieties of 1810 are confusing and it’s hard to remember which of the four major ones are very rare and which are common. The 1810 Small Date, Tall 5 (BD-1) is the second most available of the four with an estimated 150-250 known. The most common is the 1810 Large Date, Large 5 (BD-4) which has as many as 750 known in all grades. This is confirmed by the PCGS population data which shows a total of 80 graded for the former and 236 for the latter.

Despite the fact that the 1810 Small Date Tall 5 is clearly much scarcer than the 1810 Large Date Large 5, the latter gets a 10-15% premium in Trends. I’m assuming that this is a clerical error (?) as the exact opposite should be the case

8. 1828/7 Half Eagle. Here’s an example of a coin whose current published values have suffered due to its extreme rarity. There are an estimated four to six examples known and the last to sell at auction was all the way back in May 1999 when the Goldbergs offered an NGC MS63 that brought $159,500. Despite this fact, the current Coin Values shows a price of just $100,000 for an 1828/7 in AU58. If you own one and would like to sell it to me for anywhere near this price, don’t bother calling; just ship today for an immediate check!

The pricing of this coin brings us to a quick point of discussion: how does one price issues that are this rare? Given the fact that it has been a decade since an 1828/7 half eagle has sold, the last auction price realized isn’t terribly relevant. In this case, I think I would put a blank through any price for this issue as a reflection of an unknown (current) valuation. If one does trade in the near future, this one transaction will represent the “market” for the issue. I don’t generally advocate establishing a value for a coin based on one trade, but when there are only four to six known, this is the only way to create a realistic value level.

9. 1829 Large Planchet and Small Planchet Half Eagles. Both varieties of 1829 half eagles are exceedingly rare. There are just seven to eight known of the former and fewer than a dozen of the latter.

As you can imagine, there have been very few examples of either variety that have traded publicly or privately in the last decade. The last Large Planchet 1829 half eagle to have sold at auction was the fantastic Bass II Gem that brought $241,500 in 1999. In the same sale, an 1829 Small Planchet realized $80,500.

The current Trends value for the 1829 Large Planchet is $150,000 in MS60 with no other values listed in grades above or below. I’d suggest, in this case, that the value is way, way too low and should either be raised considerably or left blank. In the case of the 1829 Small Planchet, values are listed in Fine, Very Fine, Extremely Fine and About Uncirculated grades. All are far too low and all should probably be deleted.

10. 1834 Plain 4 Half Eagle. The current Trends value for an AU50 and an AU58 of this variety is exactly the same: $50,000. I would assume that this is a typo. I don’t want to seem nit-picky but this is an important, rare issue and this mistake should be fixed.

I think that the overall pricing information on early gold is pretty good, especially when one considers how hard it is to price these coins. As with all series of US gold coins, there are some issues whose prices are a bit off and need to be tweaked. Hopefully, this list will motivate the Pricing Powers that Be to make some of these changes.