As I was viewing auctions lots for Heritage's 2012 FUN sale in Dallas the other day, I got to thinking about a topic that I think most gold coin collectors will find interesting: which issues are really hard to find with good eye appeal. I've decided to begin a multi-part study of this and the first featured series is gold dollars. Eye appeal is a combination of factors that makes a coin visually pleasing. These factors include strike, luster, color and surface preservation. For some collectors, original color is the key component; for others it is a sharp strike. But no matter which component is deemed most important, most sophisticated collectors will be able to agree if a coin has good overall eye appeal or not.
The concept of eye appeal doesn't necessarily go hand in hand with rarity. You can have a rare or very rare coin that, when available, tends to come with good overall eye appeal (an example of this would be an 1828 half eagle). Or, you can have a coin that is merely scarce but which, for a variety of factors, is seldom seen with good eye appeal (an example of this is a 1796 eagle).
Let's take a look at some of the gold dollars that, in my experience, are very difficult to find with good appeal.
In the Type One issues (produced from 1849 through 1854) there are a number of coins that are seldom seen with good eye appeal. The first that comes to mind is the 1852-D. Due to die clashing, this issue is frequently seen with multiple clashmarks that develop into a very "busy" area in the left obverse field. In addition to this phenomenon of strike, most 1852-D gold dollars have been cleaned or processed. I can't recall having owned more than a handful of 1852-D dollars that were cosmetically appealing.
Another Dahlonega issue that is very hard to locate with good eye appeal is the 1854-D. In the case of this issue it is not so much strike as it seems that nearly all known examples have been cleaned or dipped. I would be surprised if as many as ten nice examples were known and I have seen just a few in the last decade.
The Charlotte and New Orleans Type One gold dollars are easier to locate with good eye appeal than their counterparts from Dahlonega. The hardest Type One dollar to locate from Charlotte with good eye appeal is the 1850-C. While relatively well struck and well made, it seems that nearly every piece that I see offered either has inferior luster, "chewy" surfaces and poor color from having been recently cleaned or dipped.
The New Orleans Type One dollars tend to be well made and boldly detailed. Locating examples of virtually all the dates isn't a problem although finding a choice, orignal 1850-O with very good eye appeal can be somewhat of a challenge.
While issued only from 1854 to 1856, the Type Two issues tend to be hard to locate with good eye appeal. This is more true for the branch mint pieces than for the Philadelphia coins.
The 1855-D is the rarest Type Two gold dollar from a rarity standpoint but I have actually seen more nice 1855-D dollars in all grades than I have the 1855-C. The 1855-C is typically found with numerous planchet imperfections, poor strike and bright surfaces from dipping. In the Heritage sale, I saw a nice PCGS AU58 example (which was, in fact, sort of the impetus for the theme of this series of blogs...) and it got me to to thinking how long its been since I'd seen a nice, crisp, wholesome example. I'm not certain I have the exact answer but I do know that the 1855-C dollar in any grade with truly good eye appeal is a rare coin indeed.
The Philadelphia coins of the final type of this denomination (known to collectors as the Type Three) are generally seen with good eye appeal. There are a few issues, though, that can prove to be tricky to find as such.
The 1863 is an issue that was melted extensively. When found in circulated grades, survivors almost always seem to have poor eye appeal. There are a small number of really superb pieces known (around a half dozen Gems that grade MS65 to MS67) but these are off the market in tightly held collections.
While not as well known or as highly valued as the 1863, the 1865 is another issue that is not readily encountered with good eye appeal. As with many of the smaller denomination gold issues of this era, the 1865 typically comes either really nice or really wretched and coins that fall into the latter category seem to be what's available to collectors these days.
The 1875 is a date that most collectors believe is very rare and, from the standpoint of availability (or lack of it) I couldn't argue. But this is an issue that tends to have good eye appeal when it is available. Due to its low mintage figure of just 400 business strikes, all 1875 dollars are seen with prooflike surfaces. If an 1875 dollar hasn't been harshly cleaned or mishandled, it will have great eye appeal due to the depth of its reflectiveness and bold details.
The hardest Type Three issues to find with good eye appeal are, as one would expect, the coins from Charlotte and Dahlonega.
Only two Charlotte gold dollars were struck during this era (the 1857-C and the 1859-C) but both are hard to find with good eye appeal. This is especially true for the former as this is an issue that is typically seen with planchet waviness, roughness as made and really bad overall eye appeal. I recently sold an NGC AU58 with CAC approval to a collector and, as I told him, it was just about the only really attractive example of this issue that I could recall having seen.
Nearly all of the Type Three gold dollars from Dahlonega are hard to find with good eye appeal but I think the two that are the hardest are the 1857-D and the 1860-D. The former is hard to find due to a combination of quirky strike and hard commercial use. The latter is a much scarcer coin but it is almost always found softly struck and with poor, unnatural coloration.
The San Francisco Type Three issues are short-lived but do not lack for difficultly to locate with good eye appeal. I personally find the 1857-S and 1858-S to be the two hardest dates to find with good eye appeal. Both are typically found with a fair amount of wear and seldom show good color. I haven't seen or handled a nice Uncirculated example of either date in years.
Unlike other series, there are no impossible coins to find in the gold dollar denomination (not counting, of course, the excessively rare 1849-C Open Wreath), there are a number of specific issues that are extremely hard to find with good eye appeal. I'd say that the five toughest to find, in chronological order, are as follows:
-1850-D -1852-D -1854-D -1857-C -1860-D
The next article in this series will focus on Liberty Head quarter eagles. Pre-1834 and Classic Head issues will be covered in another article that focuses on early gold in all denominations.
Any questions about eye appeal and gold dollars? I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org