During the last year or so, I have been working on a series of articles that discusses the ten rarest individual issues in each of the Liberty Head denominations. I haven’t done one of these articles since October 2008 when I wrote about the ten rarest Liberty Head quarter eagles. Gold dollars are a series that is on my mind right now, especially considering I am selling a wonderful group of Type Three Proofs known as the Tri-Star Collection. This seems like a good segue into this article.
The gold dollar coinage was produced from 1849 through 1889. These are the smallest gold coins struck by the United States mints, both in terms of value and size. Coins were produced at the following mints: *Philadelphia: 1849-1889 *Charlotte: 1849-1853, 1855, 1857, 1859 *Dahlonega: 1849-1861 *New Orleans: 1849-1853, 1855 *San Francisco: 1856-1860, 1870
There are three varieties of gold dollar. The first, known as the Type One, was struck from 1849 to 1854. It is easily recognizable by the use of Longacre’s Liberty Head obverse. The Type One dollars have a diameter of 12.7 millimeters and weigh 1.67 grams. The second variety, known as the Type Two, was made in 1854, 1855 and 1856. It features an Indian Head obverse design with a small head. It has a diameter of 15 millimeters. The final variety, known as the Type Three, was produced from 1856 until this denomination was abolished in 1889. It has another variation of the Indian Head design, this time with the portrait larger in size. It is the same size and weight as the Type Two design.
As a series, gold dollars are more popular than many non-specialists realize. The natural inclination that most people have is that since these coins are so small, they are not readily collectible. I have found this to be untrue and I am aware of a number of people who either collect all the gold dollars by date or they specialize in one or two of the mints (usually Charlotte or Dahlonega).
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the ten rarest gold dollars.
1. 1849-C Open Wreath: This is not only the rarest gold dollar, it is the third rarest regular issue Liberty Head gold coin of any denomination, trailing the 1861 Paquet Reverse $20.00 and the 1854-S $5.00. There are either four or five 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollars known. The finest is an NGC MS63PL that sold at auction in July 2004 for $690,000 which is, by far, a world record for a gold dollar of any date. This same coin is said to have later traded in excess of $1 million. The lowest graded is an NGC F15 which has signs of having been mounted at one time but which is slabbed by NGC nonetheless. I have handled two of the 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollars and I believe that if this issue were better known (and larger in size) it would easily be a million dollar plus coin.
2. 1861-D: This is not only the rarest Dahlonega gold dollar, it is the single most popular issue of this denomination from any date or mint. Much of the 1861-D gold dollar’s popularity has to do with the fact that it is known with certainty to have been produced by the Confederacy. It is believed that around 1,000-1,500+ were originally struck of which an estimated 60-80 exist today. The survivors tend to be divided between low-quality damaged pieces and examples that are relatively high grade and nicer than one might expect. There are two known in PCGS MS64 (the Ullmer/Miles/Pierce coin and the Duke’s Creek coin) and a grand total of ten to fifteen in Uncirculated grades. The 1861-D is one of the few gold dollars that has strong demand from non-specialists and as a result, it is one of the most expensive issues in the entire series.
3. 1855-D: The 1855-D is a one-year type coin with a tiny original mintage figure of 1,811. It is the only Type Two dollar from the Dahlonega mint and its status as a one-year issue makes it extremely popular among date and type collectors. There are between 75 and 100 known and it is the rarest Dahlonega gold dollar in terms of availability in higher grades. At one time I felt that as few as three Uncirculated pieces were known. Today, I believe that this number is a bit higher but this is due to gradeflation and not the discovery of new examples. When available, the typical 1855-D grades VF to EF and is characterized by weakly struck digits in the date. Examples do exist with full dates but these are quite scarce. This is one of my very favorite gold dollars and it is an issue that I believe will always remain in high demand in virtually all grades.
4. 1875: Due to its tiny mintage of just 400 business strikes, the 1875 is among the best known gold dollars outside of the specialist community. As one might expect, this is a very scarce coin but examples appear to have been saved by contemporary collectors and dealers with an estimated 75-100 known today. All business strike 1875 dollars are prooflike but can be easily distinguished from their Proof counterparts by the presence of a thorn that protrudes from the lower portion of Liberty’s jaw into the field. The 1875 dollar is not often found in grades below AU55, indicating that this issue did not see much circulation. There are some extremely nice Uncirculated pieces known and I have personally handled three or four Gems that had great eye appeal. PCGS has graded two in MS66 with none better while NGC has graded one in MS66 with none better. One of these is almost certainly Brand I: 51 that was sold by Bowers and Merena in November 1983 and which I still remember being the best example that I have seen. The auction record for a business strike 1875 dollar is $33,350, set by Heritage 2007 ANA: 1814, graded MS66 by NGC.
5. 1856-D: Assuming that the mintage figure for the 1861-D was in the 1,000-1,500+ range, there is a chance that the 1856-D has the smallest number struck of any gold dollar from this mint. Even if this is not the case, the 1856-D is a rare issue with just 1,460 produced. My best estimate is that around 80-100 are known today. The 1856-D is usually found in the EF40 to AU50 range and it is quite rare in properly graded AU55 to AU58. (Both the PCGS and NGC population figures for AU55 and AU58 examples are greatly inflated by resubmissions. The 1856-D is extremely rare in properly graded Uncirculated with an estimated four to six known. NGC has graded a single coin in MS63 but the best I have personally seen is the PCGS MS62 Green Pond: 1009 coin sold by Heritage in January 2004 that brought $47,150. All known 1856-D gold dollars show a weak U in UNITED.
6. 1863: Many people reading this article will be surprised to see the 1863 listed as the sixth rarest gold dollar, ahead of dates like the 1854-D and the 1860-D. It is an issue that has long been a favorite of mine and even though prices have risen significantly for the 1863 dollar over the years it is still a “sleeper.” There were 6,200 business strikes produced but unlike the dates from the later Civil War years, not many were saved. My best guess is that there are around 100-150 known including three dozen or so in Uncirculated. There are a few really superb pieces including a remarkable PCGS MS68 and a single NGC MS67. The 1863 is usually seen in the middle AU grades. Uncirculated coins tend to come in the MS62 to MS63 range and are characterized by heavy die striations on the surfaces. This is an issue that is only now coming into its own and a strong case can be made for it being the rarest Philadelphia gold dollar in Uncirculated.
7. 1854-D: The 1854-D is the fourth rarest Dahlonega gold dollar with an estimated 100-150 known from the original mintage figure of 2,935. It has a very distinctive quality of strike with the obverse typically much better detailed than the reverse. The 1854-D is not often seen in grades lower than EF and many of the examples that have been slabbed are in AU holders. Properly graded AU55 and better pieces are very rare and this is an issue that is extremely rare in Uncirculated with around nine or ten known. The best I am aware of is the Reed Hawn coin that was graded many years by NGC as MS63. PCGS shows a population of five in MS61 and six in MS62 but this seems inflated by resubmissions. There have been a number of auction records in the $13,000-15,000 range but the single highest price that I know of is $17,250 for a PCGS MS62 set by Heritage 4/06: 2209 in April 2006. The low mintage of this issue and its status as the final Type One gold dollar from Dahlonega make it an intriguing date.
8. 1860-D: The 1860-D is another rare gold dollar from Dahlonega with a very low mintage figure. There were just 1,566 produced and around 100-150 are known today. This date is similar in overall and high grade rarity to the 1854-D despite the fact that the 1860-D is generally valued quite a bit higher. The quality of strike seen on this date is the worst of any Dahlonega gold dollar; even more so than the 1861-D. All 1860-D gold dollars show a very weak U in UNITED and some pieces have the N weak as well. The obverse has a flat overall appearance while the reverse shows weakness on the lettering and the date. There are around a dozen known in Uncirculated. The highest graded by either service is an NGC MS64 (formerly in a PCGS MS63) that was last in the Duke’s Creek collection. It holds the all-time auction record for the date at $57,500 when it was sold as Heritage 4/06: 1492; the same coin brought $48,875 a year later when sold as Heritage 8/07: 1811.
9. 1850-D, 1852-D (tie). Both issues have total populations in the area of 150-200 coins and it is hard to determine which is rarer in terms of the total number extent. In higher grades, the 1850-D is the rarer of the two. It is unlikely that more than a dozen accurately graded Uncirculated pieces are known and the best is the Duke’s Creek coin that has been graded MS64 by NGC and MS63 by PCGS. All 1850-D dollars have a flat appearance but this is a much better made issue than the 1852-D. Speaking of which, the 1852-D is probably a bit more available in lower grades than its counterpart the 1850-D but it is a very rare coin in full Mint State. There are two NGC MS63 coins and one graded as such by PCGS. The best of these is the Duke’s Creek coin, graded MS63 by NGC (ex Heritage 4/06: 1484) that sold for $27,600. The 1852-D has an extremely distinctive appearance with most coins showing heavy roughness in the obverse fields as the result of multiple clashmarks.
10. 1865: The 1865 gold dollar is not as scarce as the 1863, despite the fact that it has a much lower mintage. There were 3,720 business strikes made of which around 150-200 (or perhaps a few more) exist. In spite of this date scarcity, it is easily the most affordable date in the Top Ten list and I have seen nice AU’s trade for less than $1,500 which seems like great value to me. While very scarce in Uncirculated, there are a few amazing 1865 gold dollars known including two graded MS67 by PCGS and the finest known, a PCGS MS68, that sold for $34,500 in the Heritage March 2008 auction. This date is usually seen with clashmarks and all have mint-made die striae in the fields. Examples are usually frosty and original pieces tend to show excellent multi-hued coloration.
The gold dollar series contains a number of rare issues but, excluding the virtually uncollectible 1849-C Open Wreath, it is a set that can be completed. What I like about these coins is that many of the issues have a very distinctive “character” due to the way that they were produced. For more information about gold dollars, please feel free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org