In the 1970's and the 1980's, assembling a twelve coin U.S. gold coin type set was an extremely popular challenge for most collectors. Countless twelve coin sets were sold to investors and these dozens coins were often the starting point for in-depth specialized collections. As collecting habits became more focused in the late 1980's and the 1990's, the twelve coin set became less popular. But with the increasing difficulty of collecting by date, the type set is back and is becoming a very popular way to be introduced to numismatics. The basic twelve coin United States gold type set consists of the following issues:
Type One Gold Dollar, 1849-1854
Type Two Gold Dollar, 1854-1856
Type Three Gold Dollar, 1856-1889
Liberty Head Quarter Eagle, 1840-1907
Indian Head Quarter Eagle, 1908-1929
Three Dollar Gold Piece, 1854-1889
Liberty Head Half Eagle, 1840-1908
Indian Head Half Eagle, 1908-1929
Liberty Head Eagle, 1840-1907
Indian Head Eagle, 1907-1933
Liberty Head Double Eagle, 1850-1907
St. Gaudens Double Eagle, 1908-1933
Generally speaking, a twelve coin type set features coins that grade Mint State-60 or better. The most common issues are typically represented by coins in the Mint State-63 to Mint State-65 range while the scarcer issues grade Mint State-60 to Mint State-63. Since this is a type set, most collectors choose the more common dates of each design.
I have assembled a number of these sets over the years and would like to offer a few suggestions:
1. Type One Gold Dollar: This is an easy issue to locate in any Uncirculated grade up to Mint State-65. Type One gold dollars are currently a very good value and I would suggest purchasing at least a Mint State-64 example. A nice MS-64 is currently priced in the $1,250-1,500 range while an MS-65 can be obtained for $2,750-3,500. The best dates for type purposes are the 1849 and the 1851-1854 Philadelphia issues. Look for a coin that is well struck with clean surfaces and original color. Avoid coins that have spots or black streaks or those with naturally grainy surfaces.
2. Type Two Gold Dollar: The Type Two gold dollar is the shortest-lived issue in the twelve coin type set. There are only two practical dates for type collectors: the 1854 and the 1855. These are equally rare and are priced similarly. Type Two gold dollars are moderately scarce in the lower Uncirculated grades but are still costly due to their extreme popularity. A type collector on a limited budget should look for a piece that grades at least MS-61 to MS-62. Coins of this quality are available in the $3,500-5,500 range. High quality Type Two gold dollars are expensive but are seen in most major auctions or coin shows. A nice Mint State-64 is generally worth $16,000-18,000 while a Mint State-65 is valued in the $30,000-35,000+ range. When purchasing a Type Two gold dollar, eye appeal is crucial. Look for a coin with pretty original color and sharp detail at the centers. Pieces with excellent frosty luster are sometimes available and these are preferable to the typical dull, grainy example.
3. Type Three Gold Dollar: This is a readily obtainable issue with a variety of dates available to the type collector. A high end Mint State-64 is currently available for around $1,000 while an MS-65 can be obtained for $1,500 or so. Unlike the other two gold dollar types, this design is sometimes seen in extremely high grades. A common date from the 1880's can be found in MS-66 for $2,000-2,500 and MS-67's are currently priced at $3,250-4,250. The best Type Three gold dollar issues for type purposes are the lower mintage issues from the 1880's. These are typically well made and are often found with superb coloration and luster. I personally prefer pieces that have rich frosty luster as opposed to the prooflike examples that are often seen.
4. Liberty Head Quarter Eagle: With a duration of over sixty years, there are numerous dates (and price ranges) for the type collector to consider. Liberty Head quarter eagles are quite common in lower Uncirculated grades and a nice Mint State-64 is currently in the $650-850 range. A Mint State-65 can be easily located in the $1,250-1,500 range while a common date in MS-66 can be purchased for $1,750 to 2,000. Most type collectors focus on the issues produced from 1900 to 1907 as these constitute the majority of surviving high grade Liberty Head quarter eagles. They tend to be extremely well manufactured and the collector can expect a piece that is sharply struck with excellent luster. Coins that are heavily spotted or which are unnaturally bright should be avoided.
5. Indian Head Quarter Eagle: This is an attractive and popular issue which is one of just two U.S. gold coins with an incuse design. There are a number of common date Indian Head quarter eagles and type collectors typically pursue such dates as the 1925, 1925-D, 1926, 1927 or 1928. Coins that grade Mint State-64 are currently valued in the $1,000-1,250 range while MS-65's can be located with minimal effort for $2,750-3,000. This is a very hard type to find in grades higher than MS-65. Collectors should look for coins with nice, rich luster and color and avoid those that have obvious scratches or abrasions.
6. Three Dollar Gold Piece: In most twelve coin gold type sets, the Three Dollar gold is among the centerpieces. It is the second rarest issue and certainly among the most unusual. There are only three relatively common dates in this series: 1854, 1874 and 1878. Every other issue is quite hard to locate in higher grades, even though it may not sell for a high premium. For many collectors a Mint State-62 or Mint State-63 will prove suitable. These are currently valued at $2,500-3,000 and $4,000-5,000 respectively. Gems are hard to find although not impossible. A nice Mint State-65 is currently valued at $8,500-9,500+. The type collector should seek a coin that has very good luster, no major spots and pleasing natural coloration.
7. Liberty Head Half Eagle: This long-lived type offers the collector a variety of options. Pieces struck prior to 1866 are known as the No Motto type and are, for the most part, very hard to locate in higher grades. Type collectors generally focus on the With Motto issues, especially those produced from 1880 onwards. A common date Liberty Head half eagle in Mint State-63 is only $500-600 while an MS-64 is $800-1,000. Gems are not very hard to locate. An MS-65 costs $2,500-3,000 while an MS-66 will run in the $4,500-5,500 range. The "perfect" type coin will be one with above-average luster, choice surfaces and a sharp, even strike.
8. Indian Head Half Eagle: This uniquely designed issue is the third hardest gold type coin in this set to find in high grades, trailing only the Type Two gold dollar and the Three Dollar gold piece. It was struck from 1908 to 1929 and at three mints: Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco. For type purposes, collectors tend to focus on issues such as the 1908, 1909-D, 1910, 1911 and 1912. A Mint State-63 Indian Head half eagle is easily located and generally sells for around $1,000. Mint State-64's are a bit harder to find and are valued at $2,500-3,000. Mint State-65's can prove quite hard to find and are priced in the $10,000-12,000 range. Collectors should pay close attention to the appearance of this type as eye appeal is crucial when evaluating an Indian Head half eagle. Coins should be selected for originality and those with excessive friction on the Indian's cheek should be avoided as should examples with unnaturally bright color or deep, detracting abrasions.
9. Liberty Head Eagles: As with the half eagle of this design, there are two major types: the No Motto (1839-1866) and the With Motto (1866-1907). All No Motto issues are hard to locate in Uncirculated and are very rare in Mint State-63 or above. For type purposes, the post-1879 With Motto coins are more suitable. For the collector on a limited budget, a Mint State-64 is a good option with a number of dates available for around $1,000. A Mint State-65 Liberty Head Eagle can be easily located for $2,500-3,000. The most common Liberty Head eagle in higher grades is the 1901-S and this date will be included in many type sets. The collector might want to consider spending a little more money and purchasing a pre-1900 date to add a little "pizzazz" to his set. Coins with excessive spots or with marks on prime focal points such as Liberty's cheek should be avoided.
10. Indian Head Eagles: Augustus St. Gaudens designed this issue and many collectors consider it to be among the most beautiful gold coins ever issued by this country. Two important types exist: the No Motto issues of 1907-1908 and the With Motto coins struck from 1908 through 1933. There are a number of dates that are available for type collectors seeking an affordable coin in the Mint State-63 to Mint State-64 grade range. These include the 1910, 1910-D, 1911, 1912, 1913 and 1915. But most type collectors will purchase either a 1926 or a 1932 as these are, by far, the most common dates of this type. A Mint State example of either of these two dates is valued at $1,000 or so while an MS-65 is worth around $2,500. Most Indian Head eagles exhibit heavy marks on the surfaces and the collector should seek a coin that does not have these marks in readily visible locations.
11. Liberty Head Double Eagles: The Liberty Head double eagle was produced from 1850 until 1907. There are actually three distinct types but most type collectors focus on the most common: the Type Three that was struck from 1877 through 1907. It is almost a certainty that a type set will include a 1904 as its Liberty Head double eagle selection. This is the only Liberty Head double eagle that is common in higher grades. Mint State-64 examples are priced at $1,000-1,200 while Mint State-65 coins trade for $2,500-3,000. For the collector on a somewhat limited budget, a slightly scarcer pre-1900 issue in Mint State-63 (as opposed to a common 1904 in Mint State-64) might be a good alternative. Many examples of this type are seen with heavily abraded surfaces and the type collector should seek a coin that has reasonably clean fields. It is also important to seek a coin with above-average luster and nice coloration.
12. St. Gaudens Double Eagles: Known to most collectors as the "Saint", this is probably the single most popular United States gold type coin. There are two distinct types known: the No Motto (produced in 1907 and 1908) and the With Motto (made from 1908 until 1933). Most type collectors purchase a common With Motto issue such as a 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927 or 1928. These are extremely common in Mint State-64 and are typically priced around $600 while MS-65 are valued at $900-1,000. In Mint State-66, Saint Gaudens double eagles are easily located and cost $2,500 or so. This is a type that will always be available, so the collector can be picky when deciding which coin to purchase. It is advisable to seek a Saint Gaudens double eagle that has attractive coloration and no major marks in the obverse fields.
Assembling a twelve coin set is an excellent introduction to collecting United States gold coins. Prices for many issues are currently very reasonable and even a collector with a limited budget can complete a set with all twelve of the coins in Uncirculated for $15,000 or less. For more information on assembling a twelve coin set of United States gold coins please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: The prices quoted above are based on values as of December 2002 and are for coins that have been graded by either PCGS or NGC.