For a collector who is new to branch mint gold coins, assembling a set of Charlotte half eagles is an excellent place to begin. New collectors tend to like half eagles more than the other denominations produced at this mint. These coins are larger in size than their gold dollar and quarter eagle counterparts and they tend to be more available in higher grades. Due to the fact that Charlotte half eagles are currently somewhat out of favor with collectors, many nice half eagles from this mint are currently available. In other words, this is a good time to start a Charlotte half eagle collection due to the fact that a new collector will have less competition than usual and will find a greater assortment of desirable pieces available.
In my opinion, there are basically three tiers of collections that the Charlotte half eagle collector can tackle. For the sake of classification, we can identify these as follows: beginner level, intermediate and advanced.
A beginner level set consists of 24 coins, generally in the EF40 to AU50 grade range. (NOTE: On all three of these sets, if the collector chooses not to include the 1842-C Small Date, the number of pieces he needs to purchase decreases by one). The five key issues in the beginner set are the 1842-C Small Date, 1840-C, 1844-C, 1846-C and 1838-C. With the exception of the 1842-C Small Date, all of the other key issues can be found in nice Extremely Fine for under $5,000.
A few pieces of advice for the collector who decides to work on a beginner level set of Charlotte half eagles:
Take your time. This set can be completed in a few months but a rushed set will include many low end coins. A set that is assembled over the course of a few years will be more fun and it will include nicer coins.
Whenever possible, throw in a few higher grade coins. Right now it is possible to buy nice AU53 to AU55 examples of common dates for just $1,000 or so more than an EF40. While this might slow up completion of your set, in the long run a collection with some higher grade coins will be a better investment than one with just EF40’s.
Try and learn what choice, original coins look like and then become fixated on buying only coins with the “right” look. Whenever possible, avoid bright-n-shiny, processed pieces.
An intermediate level set consists of all AU coins. Most collectors will probably look for the key issues in the AU50 to AU53 range and the more common dates in AU55 to AU58. This is clearly more difficult to assemble than a beginner set, not to mention (obviously) a more expensive one. The dates that will prove to be the most difficult to locate in this grade range include the 1838-C, 1842-C Small Date, 1840-C, 1844-C and 1846-C.
A few pieces of advice for the collector who decides to work on an intermediate set of Charlotte half eagles:
You are going to be confronted with a seemingly endless array of AU Charlotte half eagles in auctions and dealer’s inventories. Try to make your first decision the right one and don’t buy a coin that you will regret purchasing a few years later.
Many dates that have seemingly high population figures in the PCGS and NGC population reports are actually quite scarce with original color and surfaces. If you see a nice, original example of a date like an 1838-C or an 1861-C, do whatever it takes to buy it, even if this means your budget is decimated for six months or more.
In my opinion, it makes more sense to stretch and splurge on the rarer dates in the series than it does on the common ones. While the Charlotte market is in its current slump, this is a great time to be looking for the scarce issues and not worrying about common dates.
An advanced set of Charlotte half eagles consists of coins that grade MS60 and above. If the 1842-C Small Date is not included in this set, every issue is obtainable in Uncirculated; some in grades as high as MS63 to MS64. This is a set that requires a formidable amount of patience and deep pockets to complete. It would take at least $500,000 to form a set of Uncirculated Charlotte half eagles and a truly world-class set could run closer to $1 million.
A few pieces of advice for the collector who decides to work on an advanced set of Charlotte half eagles:
Whenever possible, buy coins with good pedigrees. High quality Charlotte half eagles from collections formed by such men as Harry Bass, Stanley Elrod, Paul Dingler, Louis Eliasberg, Ed Milas and others are generally characterized by choice, original surfaces and are regarded with high esteem by knowledgeable collectors and dealers.
Buy the right coin the first time. If you already own a very nice MS63 1852-C half eagle, it usually does not make sense to upgrade this to an MS64. The only time such an upgrade would make sense is if you can sell your existing coin for a good price and the new coin is considerable nicer in appearance when you put the two coins side-by-side.
Carefully research the price history of expensive Charlotte half eagles. If you are going to spend $20,000++ on a coin, make certain you have a good idea how much other comparable coins have sold for at auction and via private treaty. Avoid dealers who do not help you readily access such information.
As I mentioned above, this is a great time to start a collection of Charlotte half eagles. After the new third edition of my book on Charlotte coinage is released (hopefully by the end of 2007 or early in 2008) I would expect to see renewed interest in this area of the market. This will make it harder to buy nice coins, especially at the currently favorable market levels.