The Ten Coolest United States Coins Revisited

In June 2000, I wrote an article entitled “The Ten Coolest United States Coins.” Let’s say you were a true Douglas Winter Numismatics cultist and you had decided to follow my advice to the letter. How would your seven year investment have performed? Are there any coins I would have deleted from this list? Some analysis and random thoughts regarding these ten coins follows. In 2000, I suggested purchasing an example of this popular, historic issue in Choice About Uncirculated and stated that an example would cost around $10,000. I think this amount represented a typo as, even back then, a Continental Dollar in AU would have cost at least twice the amount I listed.

My decision to include this coin was prescient, to say the least. This has proven to be among the most popular and in-demand early American issues in the last seven years. And how can it not have been? This issue has everything going for it: size, interesting history, unique design and the magical 1776 date.

Today, a nice AU 1776 Continental Dollar will probably cost in the area of $60,000. And if you had bought a really nice AU55 to AU58 back in 2000, the chances are better than even that this coin would be regarded as an MS61 today with an estimated value closer to six figures. Clearly, this would have been a very good purchase.

I. 1776 Continental Dollar

This is not a regular issue coin but, rather, a proposed or speculative issue. Varieties are known in silver, pewter and brass and with different spellings of the word CURRENCY. For this set, I would suggest a pewter piece with the spelling "CURENCY" and the lack of the designers initials (represented on this coin as "EG FECIT," which is believed to signify that the design was by Elisha Gallaudet).

It is probable that these coins did circulate in colonial America and that they did have a recognized value. This fact makes them a legitimate candidate for the first "dollar" struck in this country as well as the largest coin, in terms of size, issued prior to the establishment of the United States. The magical date 1776 makes them even more desirable, in my opinion. And, finally, the charming design on the reverse (featuring thirteen interlinked rings with the name of each colony and symbolizing unity) is believed to have been suggested by Benjamin Franklin.

For this set, I would opt for a very slightly worn piece; perhaps in the About Uncirculated-55 to 58 range. I like the idea that the coin saw some light circulation during the colonial era but would want it to be lustrous and well struck. Such a coin would cost $7,500-$10,000; making it an exceptional value for such an incredibly historic issue.

II. 1792 Half Disme

This is another coin that seemed much undervalued to me back in 2000. I like this issue for many of the same reasons I mentioned above for the Continental Dollar: great story, interesting design and fascinating history. In 2000 I suggested purchasing a nice AU example and felt it would cost around $10,000-15,000. If you had been able to find a nice half disme back then, you probably would have been able to buy it at the high end of my suggested range.

As with most early coins, this is an issue that has performed fantastically since 2000.

If you can find a good looking AU55 to AU58 half disme (and this will be hard as most real AU coins are now in MS61 and MS62 holders) you are probably going to have to pay around $100,000 for this coin. Even an example which looks like its been run over by a train is going to cost in the mid-five figures.

Without patting myself on the back too much, I’d have to say that this choice was a home run. Of course, I wasn’t smart enough to listen to myself and actually put away any nice half dismes...

III. 1793 Chain Cent

There aren’t all that many coins left that still give me a tingle in the spine when I buy one, but Chain Cents qualify. I love the design and history of these coins and admire the fact that they have been coveted by collectors since the late 1850’s.

In 2000 I recommended buying an EF or an AU Chain Cent and felt that it would have cost in the area of $20,000 to $45,000. It wouldn’t have been easy to find a decent looking example but with some searching you might have been able to buy one with good detail and reasonably choice surfaces.

Today, Chain Cents are not only nearly impossible to find in grades above VF20, they are just about the most overgraded type I have seen in third-party holders. Coins that I personally grade Fine-12 are housed in EF-40 holders and both services seem to conveniently overlook the fact that coins in EF holders are riddled with problems.

Assuming you could find a decent coin in 2007, you’d be looking at spending $60,000-80,000 plus for an EF and at least $100,000 for an AU.

This was a good choice but in retrospect I think I might have selected a 1793 Liberty Cap instead. But, as I recall, I didn’t choose this type in 2000 because I thought it would be impossible to find one that I liked even back then.

IV. 1794 Silver Dollar

This is the first and largest United States silver coin. Any well-heeled collector who couldn’t be sold on the desirability of this coin back in 2000 had to truly have his head in the sand.

In my 2000 article I suggested a nice EF example of this coin and that such a piece might be available in the $75,000-90,000 range. This value range might have been just a touch low and I’m guessing that if anyone did take my advice, they probably had to pay closer to $100,000.

Regardless of what this theoretical collector paid, if he did buy a 1794 dollar, he did very, very well. Early dollars caught fire a few years ago and the 1794 proved to be the ultimate trophy coin in the early dollar series.

A nice EF 1794 dollar today is worth $250,000 to $300,000. Any significant investment made in early dollars around 2000 would have done fantastically well seven years later but the 1794 is the one issue which I believe will continue to show the greatest strength in the future.

V. 1795 Eagle

I selected this coin for my group of 10 because it is the first United States gold coin and it is the sort of big, neat, old gold coin that new and old collectors alike seem to love. Looking back at this choice, I might have changed it to a 1796 quarter eagle or another 18th century issue.

In 2000, a nice About Uncirculated 1795 eagle was available for around $30,000-35,000. Such a coin would have graded AU53 to AU55 (and would grade AU55 to AU58 in today’s looser environment). Today, the same sort of coin would be priced at around $80,000-90,000; possibly a bit more if the coin was original and had nice eye appeal.

I am not as enthusiastic about this issue today as I was seven years ago. I think at close to $100,000 the 1795 eagle in AU is pretty pricey, given the fact that it still somewhat available. More importantly, most pieces in AU holders are really low end for the grade.

Still, a rise in value from $35,000 or so to around $90,000 isn’t too shabby for a seven year hold. This is typical of most early gold during the past seven years.

VI. 1836 Gobrecht Dollar

I didn’t choose a Proof 1836 Gobrecht Dollar as one of my Ten Most Cool Coins because of its history or numismatic significance. I chose this issue because I love the design. There’s just something about the stark cameo-like appearance of the obverse and the eagle flying in the field of stars on the reverse that I’ve always found very appealing. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

Back in 2000, nice PR63 Gobrecht Dollars seemed pretty cheap. They could be bought for around $20,000. Today, the same coin is more likely to cost in the area of $30,000-35,000. So the gain that this coin has shown has been pretty impressive although it pales in comparison to some of the early issues listed above.

Personally, I think PR63 and PR64 1836 Gobrecht Dollars are still a good value and even though the market for these pieces is a bit soft right now, they are a good long-term purchase at current levels. Examples which are too dark should be avoided as should pieces which have been overdipped and which are now bright white.

VII. 1850 Double Eagle

What could I possibly have been thinking when I put this issue on my list of Ten Cool Coins? Sure it’s interesting and it has status as a first-year-of-issue but I’d hardly put it in the same ballpark as the other nine coins on this list.

That said, this issue has performed very nicely since 2000, especially in high grades. In my first article, I suggested purchasing an MS61 and figured that such a piece would be obtainable in the $6,000-9,000 range. Today, a nice MS61 sells for $12,000 or so.

In retrospect, a Liberty Head double eagle collector could have done a lot better from an investment standpoint if he had purchased a few nice New Orleans pieces. As an example, the 1854-O and 1856-O issues have shown spectacular price gains in the past seven years and even the secondary rarities such as the 1855-O, 1859-O, 1860-O, 1861-O and 1879-O have performed exceptionally well.

I’m not going to totally disown this choice but I’m pretty embarrassed to see it alongside such issues as a 1794 Dollar or a Chain Cent.

VIII. 1861-D Gold Dollar

The 1861-D gold dollar remains my favorite Dahlonega coin of any denomination. It’s the most historic southern issue, I love the crudeness of its manufacture and it is, of course, genuinely rare.

Back in 2000, the 1861-D gold dollar seemed to be available on a somewhat regular basis. With a little luck and patience you could find one at auction or in a specialist’s inventory. Today, these coins seem to have disappeared and I have not personally handled an 1861-D in close to a year.

I recommended purchasing a nice AU58 example and suggested that it would cost $17,500-20,000. If you heeded my advice, you did very well as a similar example would probably fetch double that amount today. What makes this all the more remarkable is the fact that the high end of the Dahlonega market has been fairly flat in the past seven years with certain coins actually dropping in value despite what is arguably the most sustained bull market in modern numismatic history.

This is another coin which I would hang on to for the long term if I had one put away right now. Despite its rise in price, it is a coin which is in great demand and which has such a wonderful story that it can’t help but appreciate in value in the coming years.

IX. 1879 Flowing Hair Stella

Unlike the 1861-D dollar, the 1879 Flowing Hair Stella is a truly rare coin. If you check auction records over the past few years, you’ll note that a lot of pieces have sold. But I still think the Stella is a coin that is genuinely cool. It is interesting, has a unique design and history and it really is a perfect “trophy coin” for a well-heeled investor.

In 2000 I suggested purchasing an example that graded PR63 (back then, Stellas existed in this grade. The PR63 of 2000 is now a PR64). A nice example would have been available back then for around $50,000-55,000. Today, the same coin would probably be worth around $150,000.

When nice Stellas were worth $50,000 or so they were a great value. At today’s price level, I don’t really like the value that they represent. But, I can certainly see how coins like this trade for $150,000 given their great story and always high level of demand.

Time to pat myself on the back one final time. This was a great recommendation and if you listed to me you made a ton of money!

X. 1907 High Relief Double Eagle

I can remember struggling with the decision to make this the tenth and final coin on my list. High Reliefs are big, beautiful and “cool” but they are just so...common. I hated to put a coin on this list that I knew could be obtained by the truckful at major auctions and conventions. But this was a list built around cool coins and if a High Relief isn’t a cool coin than what was?

My recommendation was to purchase a nice MS64 and back in 2000 this coin was obtainable in the $14,000 to $17,000 range. For a number of years, the market for High Reliefs stayed pretty flat but this coin was extensively promoted in 2005 and 2006 and it rose in value to a high of around $35,000-40,000. Today, the market for these has softened and a nice MS64 High Relief is more likely to sell in the $26,000-28,000 range.

If I were in the market for a High Relief as an investment, I’d probably consider buying one now, while prices are somewhat depressed. I’m guessing that MS64’s could drop as low as around $22,500-25,000 but at that level there would be enough market support that people would jump in and start pushing up demand.

So there you have it. Ten Cool Coins revisited seven years later. Had you bought some or all of these coins you would have tripled your money and had a pretty neat little coin collection to boot. The best lesson to learn from this list is that cool coins are always what people will want to buy, regardless of what series or price range you are discussing.