In this strong market one of the areas that has performed best are first-year-of-issue gold pieces. Coins like the 1839-O quarter eagle, the 1854-D and 1854-O Three Dollar gold, the 1838 eagle and the 1850 double eagle have appreciated greatly in price. But there are a few first-year-of-issue gold coins that have fallen through the cracks. Three of these are the 1840 quarter eagle, the 1839 half eagle and the 1839 Type of 1840 eagle. All three are scarce and important issues that I feel are undervalued. The 1840 quarter eagle is the first Philadelphia mint Liberty quarter eagle. There were a total of 18,859 examples produced of which an estimated 70 to 80 coins exist. This date is typically seen with a considerable degree of wear and probably 75% of the known examples are in the Fine to EF45 range. In AU, the 1840 quarter eagle is scarce and it is quite rare in Uncirculated. Until a few years ago, this date was essentially unknown above AU but a small group of nice Uncirculated coins were found around 1993-94 and were subsequently sold in a Superior auction a few years later. The 1840 quarter eagle can sometimes be found in nice AU for under $5,000. I recently purchased a lovely NGC MS64 example, which is among the finest known, for a touch over $17,000 and this seemed to me to be a great deal. Interestingly, PCGS has only graded 51 examples of this date in all grades compared to 88 examples of the 1840-C and 63 of the 1840-O. The very highly regarded 1840-D, with a tiny original mintage of 3,532, has a total population of 47 and it is generally priced at two to three times more than the 1840 quarter eagle in EF and AU grades.
I’ve always really liked the 1839 half eagle. It’s not a really rare coin given that the original mintage is 118,143. But it has a great design and it is historically significant as the only Liberty Head half eagle from this mint struck in the 1830’s. It is generally very well made and can be found with nice color, luster and surfaces. There are probably 200-300 pieces known and they can be found without a great deal of effort in VF and EF grades. Nice AU’s are moderately scarce and I would estimate that somewhere in the area of 15 or so are known in Uncirculated including four or five in MS63 and better. You can sometimes find nice AU pieces for sale for under $4,000 and I think this is a very attractive price for a coin that is as scarce and historically significant as the 1839 half eagle.
Two types of eagle were struck in 1839. The first (and more common) shows the same obverse as the 1838 eagle. The second has the same design as the 1840. The so-called 1839 Type Of 1840 eagle is an extremely scarce coin and one of my favorite sleepers in the entire Liberty Head eagle series. Of the 12,447 produced, only 45-55 are known and most grade EF40 and below. This coin is extremely scarce in AU and I can not recall having seen more than five or six properly graded AU pieces in the last two decades of specializing in 19th century gold. In Uncirculated this is an excessively rare coin with perhaps three known, the finest of which is the incredible Pittman coin which is now in an NGC MS64 holder. Of the three coins mentioned in this article, the 1839 Type of 1840 eagle is the most expensive but it probably has the most upside potential for the future.
I could easily have chosen another three (or more) examples of first-year-of-issue dates that are much undervalued. You’ll note that the ones I selected are all from the Philadelphia mint but I can think of a number from San Francisco (the 1854-S eagle comes to mind) and New Orleans (the 1841-O eagle is an obvious selection). With a little research, the collector should be able to figure out some pieces that offer excellent future potential and which will be nice additions to a collection of 19th and 20th century United States gold coinage.