As I was getting ready to post a coin that will be for sale in today's DWN E-Special (an 1846-D/D half eagle in PCGS VG8), it dawned on me that this piece could be the impetus for an interesting specialized collection: a grading set of Dahlonega half eagles. This set would consist of one Dahlonega half eagle of each grade between AG3 and AU58. In total, this is seventeen different coins. Figuring an average cost of around $2500 per coin, you'd be looking at something like $42,500 for a set.
The coins in the set would encompass the following circulated grades:
About Good 3 Good 4, Good 6 Very Good 8, Very Good 10 Fine 12, Fine 15 Very Fine 20, Very Fine 25, Very Fine 30, Very Fine 35 Extremely Fine 40, Extremely Fine 45 About Uncirculated 50, About Uncirculated 53, About Uncirculated 55, About Uncirculated 58
In theory, this set could be expanded by another few coins, if coins with plus or star grade modifiers were available. I would leave this up to the discretion of the collector.
Why would this be a good set for a collector? Would it be hard to assemble and how long would it take to complete? What are some of the pitfalls that the collector might encounter in working on this set? And what are a few bells and whistles that could be added to make it even more interesting?
Some readers of this blog are going to think that a grading set of Dahlonega half eagles is a hokey idea and would wonder why any collector would waste time or money on it. I disagree.
I like this set for a number of reasons. The first and most important is that it will teach a collecor how to grade circulated half eagles. I am often asked the question "how can I learn to grade coins" and the best answer I can give a collector is that you learn from what you buy. Being able to tell the difference between an EF45 and an AU53 half eagle is an important skill for the collector.
Having third-party graded coins available is, of course, going to make it easier to do this kind of set. In the pre-third party grading days, it would have been nearly impossible to assemble a set that had all the various circulated grades as there would have been so little agreement on the grades among collectors (and dealers).
Would this set be hard to assemble and how long would it take? One of the fun things about choosing an interesting collection is that by its very nature its impossible to race through. This is especially true if the collector is picky and wants coins that are not only accurately graded but which are choice and original with good color and eye appeal. My guess is that a set of seventeen different graded Dahlonega half eagles could take a few years to assemble. It will teach a collector patience and it will teach them how to search for the "right" and "wrong" coin.
Ironically, the higher grade coins in the set are probably easier to find than the lower graded ones. Dahlonega half eagles didn't typically see that much ciruclation and undamaged, naturally worn coins that grade below VF35 or so are not easy to find. Coins that grade AG3, G4, G6 and VG8 are likely to be be very hard to find, especially if eye appeal is an important factor.
My guess is that the collector will encounter some anomalies as he works on the set. As an example, a coin in a VF20 holder might actually be nicer in appearance than a coin graded VF25 or even VF30. Some funny situations might occur when a collector buys, say, a VF25 1845-D half eagle which is nice but a bit overgraded and attempts to downgrade it to a VF20 in order to get it into the set(!)
To make the set even more of a challenge, it might be fun to have all the coins graded by one service (either PCGS or NGC). And finding them all nice enough that they will eventually be approved by CAC would make the set even harder.
Would it be possible to do this set with one specific date of Dahlonega half eagle? I guess this is possible but it might not be realistic. I haven't checked the PCGS or NGC population reports but I'm sure some dates don't have any coins slabbed in the lower grades and many have just one or two in AG3 or G4, making the search for these sort of the proverbial needle in a haystack.
I have a few "bells and whistles" suggestions for collectors thinking about this set. First, choose a "look" you like for your coins and try to remain as consistent as possible throughout the course of buying. Remember that some Dahlonega half eagles come with reddish-gold or orange-gold hues while others come with green-gold color. Remember, as well, that some dates are virtually impossible to find in lower grades. As an example, the half eagles from 1855 through 1861 didn't tend to circulate as extensively as the coins from the early to mid-1840's. It is highly unlikely that you will find an 1858-D in VG10, so focus on dates that are more realistic. As you reach the end of the set, don't get silly trying to fill holes. Just because you need a very low grade coin, as an example, don't pay a big "low ball" premium for an AG3 or a G4.
I have a great idea for a collector who wants to work on this set and who is internet savvy. Buy the domain name www.gradingdahlonegahalfeagles.com and put together a website that shows examples of each coin in each grade and which explains how Dahlonega half eagles are graded. A bit nerdy, yes, but it sounds kind of fun to me.
In my opinion, this collection is best looked at as a secondary pursuit. It might work great for someone who collects something like early half eagles by date and who is at the point in his collection when he is lucky to find one or two coins a year. It is a fun collection that is not absurdly challenging, not too expensive and really educational.
For more suggestions on how to assemble a Dahlonega half eagle grading set or other collections in general, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org