Many of the articles that I have written in the past have focused on expensive, "glamorous" issues. I may have given the unfair impression that collecting United States gold is a rich man's pursuit. This is clearly not the case. There are a number of exciting, undervalued coins that can be purchased for $2,500 or less. I have decided to focus on ten of these issues but I could just as easily made a list of twenty, thirty or even forty undervalued United States gold coins. With a little effort, a collector should be able to compile a list of similar pieces as well.
Please note that Trends prices in this article refer to those listed in the February 19, 2001 issue of Coin World. PCGS populations are based on February 2001 figures.
1856 Upright 5 Gold Dollar, MS-64 1844 Quarter Eagle, AU-50 1883 Quarter Eagle, MS-61 1881 Three Dollar Gold Piece, EF-45 1858-S Half Eagle, EF-45 1863 Half Eagle, EF-40 1844 Eagle, EF-45 1873-S Eagle, Ef-45 1863 Double Eagle, AU-53 1868 Double Eagle, AU-55
I. 1856 Upright 5 Gold Dollar, MS-64
There are two varieties of date style known on 1856 gold dollars. The more common shows a Slanted 5. The Upright 5 is a scarce and very undervalued issue in my opinion. Trends for this variety is $1,800 in MS-64 versus $1,475 for the Slanted 5. Current PCGS populations for the two varieties are forty-two with twelve better for the Slanted 5 and two with three better for the Upright 5. Even if you take into consideration that these figures are skewed by virtue of the Upright 5 being a relatively new addition to the Population Report, this is still a very undervalued coin and a great value in the $1,500-1,750 range.
II. 1844 Quarter Eagle, AU-50
The Philadelphia quarter eagles struck between 1840 and 1849 include some extremely undervalued issues. The 1844 is among the best values in this group. There were just 6,784 produced and 45-55 are known today. In high grades, the 1844 is a major rarity. I have personally only seen one example better than AU-55. In fact, in all grades of AU, there are fewer than ten known. Trends for an AU-50 is $2,250. In this grade, the 1844 is as rare or rarer than the 1844-C quarter eagle and Trends for that date in AU-50 is $6,500.
III. 1883 Quarter Eagle, MS-61
Only 1,920 quarter eagles were produced in 1883. Unlike some of the other low mintage quarter eagles of this era, not many were saved by contemporary collectors or hoarders. As a result, it is rare in all grades and is almost never seen better than Mint State-62. As of February 2001, PCGS had graded five in Mint State-61, four in Mint State-62 and none better. Trends is just $1,900 in MS-60 and $3,250 in MS-62, meaning that a nice MS-61 could be bought for $2,250 - $2,500.
IV. 1881 Three Dollar Gold Piece, EF-45
Four little words best describe the appeal of this issue: "only five hundred struck!" The problem with including this date in our list is that locating an example in Extremely Fine will be very difficult. The 1881 Three Dollar Gold Piece did not actively circulate and most survivors are in the AU-55 to MS-63 range. But with Trends for an Extremely Fine-40 example currently a mere $2,000, you'd certainly add a nice Extremely Fine-45 to your collection if one became available.
V. 1858-S Half Eagle, EF-45
This date has been a favorite of mine for many years. It is considerably rarer than any Charlotte or Dahlonega half eagle from the 1850's yet it has a current Trends value of only $3,300 for an Extremely Fine-45. There are 30-40 known and just four of five grade AU. A nice EF-45 example would be among the finest known and would set you back $2,500-3,000. Compared to other branch mint No Motto half eagles, the 1858-S is an incredibly good deal.
VI. 1863 Half Eagle, EF-40
I once made the mistake of telling another dealer I could find him a nice Extremely Fine 1863 half eagle with minimal effort. It took me over a year and I looked for one at every coin show and major auction I attended. This Civil War issue had a small original mintage of 2,442 and a high attrition rate. Today, there are probably no more than 30-40 known. Around a dozen grade Extremely Fine and six to nine are About Uncirculated. Trends is $3,500 and you might have to stretch and pay as much as $3,000 for a nice EF-40 coin. In my opinion, this would be a very prudent purchase, give the rarity of the 1863 half eagle.
VII. 1844 Eagle, EF-45
The 1844 is the rarest Philadelphia Liberty Head eagle made prior to 1858. There were 6,361 struck and an estimated 40-50 are known today. It is a major rarity in grades above About Uncirculated-50 and most of the survivors are in the VF-35 to EF-45 range. A nice EF-45 is valued at $2,500-3,000 in today's market. If you can find such a coin, you'll be the owner of a near-Condition Census quality example of a truly rare date.
VIII. 1873-S Eagle, EF-45
San Francisco eagles are among the most out-of-favor issues with collectors. But that doesn't mean that there are not some excellent values for the contrarian. There were 12,000 1873-S eagles produced and approximately fifty exist today. Nearly all of the survivors grade EF-40 or thereabouts and this issue becomes a major rarity in About Uncirculated. Current Trends for an EF-45 is $3,250, meaning that a nice EF-45 could be obtained for $2,500 or a touch more. This is a truly rare (and undervalued) coin.
IX. 1863 Double Eagle, AU-53
It is harder to find undervalued issues in the Liberty Head double eagle series that any other 19th century gold type. But the 1863 stands out as a truly underpriced coin. It is almost never seen above AU-55, making an AU-53 surprisingly close to Condition Census quality. If available, an AU-53 should cost $2,500 or a bit more. But be forewarned that you will have a lot of competition for such a coin. If I could somehow find a dozen nice AU-53 1863 double eagles, I could probably sell them all within a few hours.
X. 1868 Double Eagle, AU-55
Type Two double eagles are exceptionally popular. Despite this fact, the 1868 has remained a tremendously undervalued issue. It is the rarest Philadelphia issue of this type and it is almost never seen above AU-55. Current Trends for an AU-55 is $2,875 and if you find such a coin, you'll probably have to pay close to this amount. But an AU-55 1868 Double Eagle would be a great addition to any collection. PCGS has graded just seven better than this (and none of these are higher than MS-60) and I have not personally seen or sold more than a small handful that grade higher.
Conclusion: In closing, I have a word of advice. Don't try to assemble a collection that includes all of the above coins in the exact grades listed. Their lack of availability will prove frustrating. I would rather that this list inspire you to find your own "Top Ten" list of undervalued issues.
If you need help in compiling such a list, or would like to share your own "Top Ten" list with me, feel free to email me.