In my 25+ years of specializing in United States gold coins, I have noticed some interesting trends as far as collector preference goes. One of these preferences is what I call "multiple levels of demand" or MLD. A coin that has multiple levels of demand is popular with multiple layers of collectors. As an example, a certain coin may have interest only to a date collector within a specific series. But another coin might be of interest not only to a date collector but a type collector or a low mintage collector or a design collector or even just to a generalized collector who prefers coins that are "cool."
Let's take a look within various denominations of U.S. gold coins and try to determine which issues have MLD and why.
Gold Dollars: I would contend that just about and Charlotte or Dahlonega dollar that is choice, problem-free and priced in the $1,500-3,000 range is a coin with multiple levels of demand. This sort of coin would certainly appeal to a date collector or a type collector. I frequently encounter collectors looking for a single affordable C and/or D dollar who want one just because it is a cool coin.
A case could be made for the 1849-C and 1849-D dollars as they are affordable, generally well-produced and are first-year-of-issue pieces. A stronger case can be made for the 1855-C, 1855-D and 1855-O dollars as well as the 1856-S as they are one-year types.
Clearly, the 1861-D dollar has the strongest MLD of any gold dollar. It is a rare, historic issue that has the strongest across-the-board level of demand of any date in this series. Interestingly, even as its price has soared in recent years, the level of demand for the 1861-D dollar has grown along with it.
One last issue that has some element of multiple demand is the 1875. This tends to be because of the fact that it has the lowest mintage figure for any business strike in the series with just 400 produced.
Quarter Eagles: Although they are expensive, the 1796 No Stars and the 1808 are both coins that have stronger demand than other early quarter eagles. In the case of the 1796 No Stars, it is a one-year type and the very first quarter eagle ever struck. The 1808 is a one-year type as well with just 2,710 examples produced.
The 1838-C, 1839-D and 1839-O quarter eagles are all first-year issues from popular branch mints and they are as popular now than I can ever recall. I also note that nice, affordable C+D mint quarter eagles in the $1,500-3,000 range remain popular with collectors who aren't specialists in Southern gold but merely want an affordable example to include in their collection.
The 1848 CAL may not be the rarest 19th century quarter eagle but it has a great story and it is often purchased by collectors who own no other Liberty Head issues of this denomination.
There really aren't any other Liberty Head quarter eagles with true MLD. The 1841, 1854-S and 1863 are classic rarities that all rank in the list of the 100 Greatest American Coins but they aren't necessarily that widely known outside of the quarter eagle specialist community. The 1875 is popular due to its mintage of just 400 business strikes.
Three Dollars: There are not a lot of three dollar gold pieces that have true multiple levels of demand. The one issue that comes to mind as having MLD is the 1854-D; the only date of this denomination made at the Dahlonega mint. The 1854-O is in the same boat but it is far more available and not as popular as its Georgia counterpart.
A number of the threes dated 1880 and later have mintages of 1,000 and less and they are still affordable. These have become popular with collectors who have no interest in putting together a set of threes but who like interesting, affordable low mintage gold coins.
Half Eagles: The 1795 Small Eagle half eagle is certainly an issue that has a high level of demand outside of the specialist community. The same can be said for nearly any early half eagle, especially those dated prior to 1800. The 1800-1812 issues are also popular with non-specialists but more typically in the $5,000-10,000 per coin range.
The 1838-C and 1838-D are extremely popular with myriad collectors. These are both first-year issues and one year types with the added "oddness factor" of having the mintmark on the obverse.
As I've mentioned with the other denominations discussed above, affordable C+D half eagles have a level of demand that extends out of specialist collecting. This seems especially true with coins in the $1,500-3,000 range.
The 1854-S is the rarest Liberty Head half eagle with just three known. None has been available since 1982 and my guess is that if one did become available, it would sell to a collector who didn't specialize in this series or denomination.
The 1870-CC half eagle always seems to be a popular coin with a variety of collectors as it is the very first half eagle produced at the Carson City mint. It certainly has a wider range of demand than, say, an 1873-CC which is, ironically, a scarcer coin but one with a more specialized type of demand.
I often see collectors purchase affordable common date Carson City half eagles (such as the 1891-CC) more for their "coolness" factor than for a need to include one in a date set. The 1891-CC, in fact, is popular with non-specialists in grades as high as MS63 to MS64 due to its affordability and the fact that it is well-made and can be very attractive.
Eagles: I've seen even jaded, long-term collectors get excited when they see a nice 1795 eagle. What's not to love: big coin, first-year of issue, low mintage and, all things considered, really not that expensive in the EF-AU grade range.
While not as popular as the 1795, the other 18th century eagles always seem in demand amongst non-specialists. This is the case even with the 1799 which is actually a relatively common date and which can be purchased in the higher circulated grades for less than $20,000.
The 1838 eagle has developed a little bit of a cult following due to its status as a first-year issue and the last three that I've owned have all sold to non-specialists.The 1854-S is a date with strong across-the-board demand as it is the first eagle from San Francisco and it has great Gold Rush connotations.
As with the 1870-CC half eagle, the eagle of this year is rare and in demand by various collectors. In my opinion, it is a decidedly undervalued coin in all grades and this has been noted by collectors who look for value as well.
I'm not totally certain why prices for the 1883-O eagle have exploded in the last five years but this ultra low mintage issue (only 800 struck) has gained widespread acceptance amongst collectors of all stripes.
Affordable CC eagles remain popular as well. It amazes me that even in this market, it is possible to buy a really nice 1891-CC for $2,500 or less.
Double Eagles: With the price of gold racing towards $1,500 you can say that every double eagle now has some degree of MLD. I find this to be especially true with Type One issues that sell in the $1,750-3,000 range. You can still buy a nice EF45 to AU55 Type One that is dozens of times rarer than a common Type Three for a small premium.
In the Type One series, the dates that seem to me to have the highest degree of non-specialist demand include the 1850 (first year of issue), the 1861-S Paquet and the Civil War issues.
After years of market indifference, the shipwreck double eagles from this era have developed a strong secondary market. Many collectors who could otherwise care less about Type Ones want to own an S.S. Central America, Brother Jonathan or S.S. Republic coin.
Another double eagle that has quietly developed a strong demand level is the 1854-S. This is the very first coin of this denomination to be produced at the San Francisco mint and it has wonderful Gold Rush association.
The demand for Carson City double eagles is great with specialists and non-specialists alike. The ultra-rare 1870-CC is an issue that has long been craved and even the more common dates, in the $2,500-5,000 range, have found an appreciative audience with collectors who like the gold content and great history in one package.
Gold coins with multiple levels of demand have out-preformed their more esoteric counterparts in the last decade as date collecting has become less practical. I would expect that as the market develops in the next decade, you'll see other coins added to the MLD list. Which ones do you think deserve to be placed in this group? I'd love to hear your comments.