The Type Collectors Approach to Branch Mint Gold Coinage

Most branch mint gold collectors focus on a specific mint and then assemble a date set. As an example, a Charlotte collector often decides to specialize in quarter eagles and then attempts to assemble a complete set of twenty issues. This has become more difficult, though, due to the high price of choice coins and the relative unavailability of nice, original affordable medium grade examples. As a result, many date collectors become frustrated and abandon their specialty.

There is a solution to this problem. Collecting coins by type entails acquiring a single representative of a design or variety and supplementing it with other types. There are some variations on this theme which apply well to branch mint gold. These include the following:

I. The Basic Type Set

A basic type set includes a single example of every design that was struck at a specific mint. This will be discussed more specifically below.

II. The Denomination Set

This is one of the simplest and most affordable ways to collect branch mint gold. As an example, a denomination set of Carson City gold would include an example of a half eagle, an eagle and a double eagle.

III. The Decade Set

This set includes an example of a denomination in each decade it was struck. As an example, a decade set of Carson City double eagle would contain three coins: one each from the 1870's, 1880's and the 1890's.

IV. The Year Set

A year set contains an example of each denomination from a specific mint struck during a specific year. An example of this would be an 1878-CC year set which would contain a half eagle, eagle and double eagle from this year.

Let's look at the most popular branch mints (in alphabetical order) and see how these collecting methods apply to them.

A. CARSON CITY GOLD COINS

The prohibitive price of most high grade Carson City gold coins makes them a perfect candidate for type collecting.

A basic type set of Carson City gold coins contains the following four designs:

    With Motto Liberty Head Half Eagle (1870-1893) With Motto Liberty Head Eagle (1870-1893) Type Two Liberty Head Double Eagle (1870-1876) Type Three Liberty Head Double Eagle (1877-1893)

The basic four coin set can be completed for a very reasonable sum if a collector selects common dates in affordable grades. The more affordable coins include the 1891-CC half eagle and eagle, the 1875-CC double eagle and the 1884-CC or 1893-CC double eagle. Or, this could be a small but expensive set if rare dates in high grades are used.

A denomination set of Carson City half eagles consists of just three coins: half eagle, eagle and double eagle. As with the basic type set, this group can be assembled for a reasonable sum or it can be an "over the top" trio with very high grade (in this case, Mint State-63 and Mint State-64) examples of available issues. Another option would be to select rare dates for all three denominations and attempt to purchase them in the best available grade.

Building a decade set of Carson City gold coinage is interesting and challenging. For both the half eagle and eagle denominations, a coin from the 1870's is the most challenging, with the 1880's and 1890's issues progressively easier to obtain in higher grades. A complete nine piece decade set of Carson City gold (containing three half eagles, three eagles and three double eagles) would be a very desirable group.

There are many interesting year set options for the Carson City gold coin collector. The 1870-CC issues are all very rare and are historically important as the first gold issues from this mint. The 1893-CC issues are considerably more affordable but are also interesting as the final Carson City gold coins. Practically speaking, any year set from the 1870's will contain rare but fairly expensive coins while the 1890's issues will be more common but far more affordable. A good alternative is a date from the 1880's. The only years in which all three denominations were produced are 1882 and 1884. Both contain coins that are obtainable in higher grades (in this case up to About Uncirculated-55) but are still reasonably priced.

B. CHARLOTTE GOLD COINS

Charlotte gold coins have many more basic types than their counterparts from Carson City. This makes them an excellent choice to collect in this manner. The basic type set of Charlotte issues consists of the following eight coins:

    Type One Gold Dollar (1849-1853) Type Two Gold Dollar (1855 only) Type Three Gold Dollar (1857 and 1859) Classic Head Quarter Eagle (1838 and 1839) Liberty Head Quarter Eagle (1840-1860) Classic Head Half Eagle (1838 only) Liberty Head Half Eagle, Obverse Mintmark (1839 only) Liberty Head Half Eagle, Reverse Mintmark (1840-1861)

This eight coin set is not hard to assemble as none of the specific types is extremely rare or expensive in average circulated grades. However, this set can become very expensive (and a real challenge) if the collector wants to acquire each coin in as high a grade as possible. A pair of specific issues, the Type Two gold dollar and the Classic Head half eagle, are very rare and expensive in Uncirculated. In fact, I have only seen three or four Uncirculated Type Two Charlotte gold dollars and just two Classic Head half eagles from this mint in over twenty years of specializing in Charlotte coinage.

A three coin denomination set of Charlotte gold coins is an excellent introduction to this mint. If the collector chooses issues such as the 1851-C gold dollar, 1847-C quarter eagle and the 1857-C half eagle he can assemble a set that includes high grade pieces that are quite affordable. Or, he can pick scarcer issues to make this a more numismatically interesting group.

Charlotte coins were struck during four decades: the 1830's, 1840's, 1850's and 1860's. This means, obviously, that a decade set consists of four coins. Since gold dollars were not produced during one of these decades (the 1830's), this four coin decade set would either contain quarter eagles or half eagles; or even a combination of the two.

There were only five years in which the Charlotte mint produced coins from all three denominations: 1849, 1850, 1851, 1852 and 1855. Any one of these years would lend itself well to a challenging three coin year set. The rarity of the quarter eagles struck in each of these years would make this set extremely hard to complete in Uncirculated. A nicely matched About Uncirculated set is a more practical alternative for most collectors.

C. DAHLONEGA GOLD COINS

Dahlonega gold coins are often collected alongside Charlotte issues. As with Charlotte coins, there are a number of interesting Dahlonega types and this makes them another excellent area to collect in one of the following manners. A basic type set of Dahlonega coins consists of the following:

    Type One Gold Dollar (1849-1854) Type Two Gold Dollar (1855 only) Type Three Gold Dollar (1856-1861) Classic Head Quarter Eagle (1839 only) Liberty Head Quarter Eagle (1840-1859) Three Dollar Gold Piece (1854 only) Classic Head Half Eagle (1838 only) Liberty Head Half Eagle Obverse Mintmark (1839 only) Liberty Head Half Eagle Reverse Mintmark (1840-1861)

This nine coin set is quite a bit more expensive to assemble than the Charlotte eight coin set. This is due to the presence of the rare and popular 1854-D Three Dollar Gold Piece. A nice example will cost in the area of $15,000-25,000+ and it is far and away the most expensive single type from any of the Southern branch mints. The collector on a more limited budget might simply elect to not include this coin. The next most difficult issue to obtain in higher grade is the Type Two gold dollar. There are just three Uncirculated examples currently known (all are in tightly-held collections) and even nice About Uncirculated examples are rare and expensive. Figure spending $15,000-25,000 for a well struck, accurately graded About Uncirculated 1855-D gold dollar.

A denomination set of Dahlonega issues includes four coins. As mentioned above, the Three Dollar gold piece is an expensive piece that will constitute a good percentage of the money spent on this set. It is always an option to "forget" that this coin exists and make the denomination set consist of three issues. If a collector wishes to include coins in higher grades In this case About Uncirculated-55 to Mint State-62), he should focus on such relatively available issues as the 1849-D gold dollar, the 1843-D, 1844-D or 1848-D quarter eagles and the 1852-D, 1853-D or 1854-D half eagles.

Assembling a four coin decade set of Dahlonega coins is an interesting approach to collecting issues from this mint. However, if the collector seeks to assemble such a set using only one denomination than he must select half eagles as these were the only coin struck at Dahlonega in the 1830's, 1840's, 1850's and 1860's. This would be a very numismatically interesting set and it could be completed in grades ranging from Very Fine to Mint State-62.

There was only one year in which the Dahlonega mint produced coins in all four denominations: 1854. This would make an extremely interesting year set. The years in which three coins were produced simultaneously are 1849, 1850, 1851, 1852, 1853, 1855, 1856, 1857 and 1859. A few of these years are more practical for the collector on a budget as they do not contain a specific issue that is rare and/or expensive. These "easy" years include 1849, 1850, 1857 and 1859. In the other years, the quarter eagle tends to be the rarest and most expensive coin.

D. NEW ORLEANS GOLD COINS

The New Orleans mint was open for a far greater period of time than Carson City, Charlotte and Dahlonega and more types of gold coins were produced. A basic type set from this mint consists of the following:

    Type One Gold Dollar (1849-1853) Type Two Gold Dollar (1855 only) Classic Head Quarter Eagle (1839 only) Liberty Head Quarter Eagle (1840-1857) Three Dollar Gold Piece (1854 only) Liberty Head Half Eagle Without Motto (1840-1857) Liberty Head Half Eagle With Motto (1892-1894) Indian Head Half Eagle (1909 only) Liberty Head Eagle Without Motto (1841-1860) Liberty Head Eagle With Motto (1879-1906) Type One Liberty Head Double Eagle (1850-1861) Type Three Liberty Head Double Eagle (1879)

This twelve coin set is very interesting in that it contains no less than four one year types. Fortunately, only one of these is rare in any grade (the 1879-O double eagle) and the other three can be obtained in comparably high grades for reasonable prices. The average grade(s) should be higher than for Charlotte or Dahlonega sets due to the affordability of many of the types. In fact, even a collector with a modest budget should be able to purchase About Uncirculated examples of most of the types and Extremely Fine examples of the scarcer issues.

The denomination set from New Orleans is unique among the mints we are discussing as it contains six coins. Unlike the 1854-D Three Dollar Gold Piece, the 1854-O is an affordable issue in most circulated grades. A representative Uncirculated gold dollar, quarter eagle, half eagle and eagle from New Orleans are all very affordable. The most difficult--and expensive--denominations from this mint are the Three Dollar Gold Piece and the Double Eagle. An Uncirculated 1854-O Three Dollar Gold Piece, if available, will cost at least $12,500-15,000 while an Uncirculated New Orleans Double Eagle, most likely an 1851-O or an 1852-O, will cost as much or more than the aforementioned Three Dollar gold piece.

New Orleans gold coins were struck in no less than seven decades: the 1830's, 1840's, 1850's, 1860's, 1870's, 1880's, 1890's and 1900's. This seven coin decade set is reasonably easy to complete. The 1830's must be represented by a Classic Head quarter eagle from 1839 as this was the only gold coin produced at the New Orleans mint during this decade. Luckily, this is a relatively common and inexpensive coin. During the 1860's, coinage was limited to eagles (1860 only) and double eagles (1861). Both of these issues are scarce but are not expensive unless the collector wishes to obtain a coin that approaches the Uncirculated level. In the 1870's, coinage was, again, limited to eagles and double eagles (both in 1879 only). These are both scarce and desirable but nice quality 1879-O eagles and double eagles can be obtained in the $10,000-15,000+ range. In the 1880's, the only denomination struck at the New Orleans mint was the Eagle. The 1888-O is the most affordable of the five Eagles produced during the 1880's.

There was never a single year in which all six denominations produced at the New Orleans mint were struck simultaneously. The closest a collector can come to this is a year set containing five different denominations from New Orleans. The only year this occurred was 1851. Fortunately, none of the 1851-dated New Orleans coins are rare and most are readily obtainable in the higher circulated grades. An ambitious collector with a large budget could even assemble an Uncirculated 1851-O year set as all five denominations exist in Uncirculated grades ranging between Mint State-60 and Mint State-62.

Collecting branch mint gold coins by date is certainly not for everyone and, hopefully, some of the "type-centric" suggestions offered above will be of interest to the new or frustrated advanced collector.