At the end of my last blog I said that I’d like to hear from collectors about which coins they believe qualify as undervalued sub-$5,000 U.S. gold coins. Robert Kanterman responded with this thoughtful list and I thought I’d publish it along with my comments (which are in italics at the end of each of his paragraphs). Without further ado, take it away RYK... Doug Winter has challenged me to identify 12 gold coins that are under $5,000 that are relatively good values. As a hobbyist, I am not nearly as knowledgeable and up-to-date in pricing, availability, and recent transactions, as Doug is. Most of my information is from sources like Heritage's auction archives, Coin Values, and the PCGS price guide and population reports. Each of these resources has its inherent flaws and weaknesses, yet each represents a sizable block of information, as well. I will also add that as a collector, I am often willing to dip down in grade level to a point that is lower than Doug typically does. This allows me access to some rare coins that I might otherwise not be able to afford. I would also stress that my selections below all are for coins that are original and attractive for the grade. On this website, that goes without saying.
1. 1854-S Gold Dollar in MS-62
I am always attracted to better date coins that have a historic or numismatic significance. The 1854-S dollar is important as it is the first year of operation of the San Francisco Mint, and it is the only SF mint gold coin that can be purchased in MS for under $5,000, with an MS-62 running in the $3,000-4000 range. This is definitely an issue that flies under the radar screen.
DW Comment: Nice choice. I had actually considered this for my list. This is a historically significant issue with a high “neatness” factor. I think a properly MS62 at $3,500-4,000 is a wonderful value. Just as an aside, I think all of the SF gold dollars are exceedingly good values and I have written previous articles on them which detail each issue.
2. 1857-D, 1858-D, or 1859-D Gold Dollar in AU-50 to 55
The combined mintage of these three issues is about 12,000 coins--yes, I said combined--and they can be had in AU-50 for $4,000 or less and a little more for choice AU. These are all charming, scarce, and historic. Within four years of the earliest of the trio, the Dahlonega Mint was overrun by the Confederates, who struck the gold dollars for the last and most famous issue of the series--the 1861-D. Of the three, the 1858-D gold dollar typically comes with the best strike.
DW Comment: Having owned dozens and dozens of each of these three dates I tend to overlook them but I think RYK has raised a good point. All three are scarce in the true meaning of the word. If I were able to choose just one date out of the trio, I would pick the 1857-D as I think it is considerably scarcer than the 1858-D and 1859-D. A caveat: many of the AU50 examples I see in holders are poor quality, so be patient and wait for the right example to come along.
3. 1839-C and 1839-D Quarter Eagles in XF-40+
I do not see much value in the classic head series, in general, but compared to the rest, the branch mint issues from Charlotte and Dahlonega seem to still have some value. Neither is especially rare, but with MS graded coins pushing into the high five figures, a dirty, original mid-circulated grade coin for $5,000, give or take a few, in a very popular series, seems like a pretty fair deal.
DW Comment: Nice choice, RYK. Even though properly graded EF examples of these two dates have probably doubled in price in the last few years, they are still good overall value. I’m not certain I would call them “undervalued” but the important thing to remember is that coins like this are in great demand and many collectors can’t afford the higher grade pieces that seem so readily available. I would personally choose the 1839-D over the 1839-C if I had to buy just one.
4. 1881 Quarter Eagle in AU-55
I hope I do not get bounced for saying this here, but after 1865 or so and with the exception of the 1875, the Liberty coronet $2.50 series becomes a long, boring series with few coins of interest to all but the diehards of the series. 641. What's that number? That's the original mintage of the 1881 quarter eagle for circulation strikes. If I were going to own one late date coronet quarter eagle, this would be the one.
DW Comment: At first I was going to heartily disagree with this choice but the more I got to thinking about it, the more I realized that at $3,500-4,000 for an AU50, this date is pretty good value after all. I do disagree with RYK that the post-1865 quarter eagles are a “long, boring series...” but you don’t expect me to agree with everything he says, do you?
5. 1864 Three Dollar in AU-55 or 58
The Civil War dates in many series are becoming the focus of collectors, and this is no exception for the $3 gold series. The 1865 $3 gets all of the credit for being low mintage (1,140), low pop, and one of the handful or so better dates of the entire series. The 1864 $3, however, has a mintage of 2,630, with a survivorship of a little under twice that of the 1865 and a price tag less than half of the 1865. Additionally, there is no apparent premium when compared to the higher mintage and more common 1861 through 1863 $3's. By all metrics, it is the best value among Civil war date $3's.
DW Comment: This is a really good choice. I probably see three 1861, 1862 or 1863 three dollar gold pieces for every 1864 despite the fact that the latter gets very little price premium in circulated grades. You have to like the history of any gold coin dated 1864 and most Philadelphia coins from this year were extensively melted.
6. Bust Right (or Bust Left) Early Half Eagles in XF-40
This is a personal favorite and may not be right for all collectors, but there is recent auction data to back this selection up. When AU coins are regularly selling for nearly $10,000, a nice original, piece with a bit more circulation in the $5,000-6,000 range seems like a better buy.
DW Comment: I love this choice except for one problem. Finding a crusty, original EF bust right or bust left half eagle is going to be a real chore as most of the real EF45 coins are now in AU50 or AU53 holders. When I do see EF examples they tend to be net graded AU’s—in other words, they have the details of an AU50 but have been cleaned at one time. That said, I agree with RYK that a crusty, attractive EF45 at $6,000 makes more sense for most collectors than a marginal, bright AU55 at $10,000.
7. Dahlonega Half Eagle Varieties in XF or AU
There are a number of scarce, easily recognizable varieties of Dahlonega half eagles (1840-D Small D, 1843-D Small D, 1848-D D/D, etc.) which can be purchased for little and often no premium to the more common variety. The grading services and astute collectors are only starting to recognize them, but they are well-documented and described in Doug's book, “Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint.” Instead of buying the common example for the date in which 150 pieces are known, it makes sense to seek the one in which only 15 or so are known.
DW Comment: On this choice, I believe that RYK was “overthinking.” While I love the concept of buying a very rare die variety for little or no premium over a common one, the problem with these is that only a handful of collectors care. The 1840-D Small D half eagle is, as an example, a truly rare coin but I doubt if more than half a dozen collectors would pay a premium for it. My feeling is that the collector should learn these varieties and try to cherrypick them if possible but that there are just a small handful of Dahlonega half eagle varieties (most notably the 1848-D/D) that (currently) merit a premium.
8. Pedigreed Coins Better Date Gold Coins Under $5,000
I am a big fan of pedigreed coins, and I know that Doug is, as well. When I talk about pedigreed coins, I am generally speaking of the Big Three (Eliasberg, Garrett, and Norweb), but for rare date gold, there are others of significance, including Bass, Milas, Dallas Bank, to name a few. I am not talking about hoards like Wells Fargo, shipwreck coins (because they tend to be overpriced), or dubious pedigrees like Rainy Day. Often, the best way to buy pedigreed coins is to rediscover them yourself. Failing this, dealers like Doug Winter will often sell these with little or no price premium. I have found that while I enjoy owning them, selling them is usually painless as there seems to be quite a few collectors out there who also desire these. I make sure that I do not compromise my standards for quality for the grade and still seek good value.
DW Comment: I love this choice but would change the Big Three to the Big Four as I consider the Bass pedigree to be every bit as important as Eliasberg, Garrett or Norweb. RYK makes a great point when he suggests that the best way to find coins from these sales is to do some leg work. If you collect quarter eagles, make sure you own all of the major quarter eagle sales. If a coin has a distinguishing mark it may be reasonably easy to pedigree it.
9. 1870-CC Half Eagle Up To VF-20
Here is a coin that Doug Winter would not typically purchase for inventory, but I think is good value for the money. 1870 was the first year of the Carson City Mint and the 1870 gold issues are all the rarest in their respective series. The 1870-CC $5 is the most common of the three gold denominations and the only one that can be purchased in any form that resembles a coin for under $10,000. VF-25's have recently sold publicly for $6,000 or so, so it might require a drop in grade to F-15 or VF-20 to acquire this popular, historic, and legitimately scarce coin.
DW Comment: Actually RYK is wrong about me not typically buying a nice VF 1870-CC half eagle (or eagle or double eagle, for that matter...) for my inventory. I have actually owned three or four 1870-CC half eagles in lower grades and have always found them to be popular and readily liquid. On a rare, historically significant issue like the 1870-CC, I know I am willing to compromise my standards a bit. This would be a great addition to any collection.
10. 1838 Eagle in VF
Here's another coin that might be a bit lower in grade than what Doug might purchase for inventory, but when you consider that these coins actually did circulate (like the 1870-CC $5), it make sense to buy one that did circulate. This is a legitimately scarce, first year of issue, with a somewhat different design from the rest of the long series, and the first eagle struck for circulation in 35 years. A crusty, older holder example sold earlier this year in VF-25 for $4,000, which seems like a pretty good deal to me.
DW Comment: I wasn’t planning on including this issue in Part Two of my article but I like this choice. I am generally a big fan of first-year-of-issue coins, especially if they are genuinely scarce like the 1838 eagle. I would warn the potential buyer of this issue that Trends and CDN Bid tend to be unrealistically low in all grades and there are not many that can be bought in the sub-$5,000 range.
11. Any With Motto 1860's Eagles (except 1868-P) in XF-40 Through AU-50
The Liberty $10 series is chock full of scarce dates that fall below the radar screen of most collectors, even those who are active in rare date gold. From 1866 through 1869, there are multiple legitimately scarce dates that can be had in XF to low AU for under $5,000, but they do not come available very often. Omit the 1868 Philadelphia issue, as it is the most common of the group.
DW Comment: I couldn’t agree more with this choice although I might not necessarily single out the 1868 as the one “do not buy” coin from this era. These dates all have low mintages and low survival rates. They tend to be extremely expensive in AU and higher grades bit are surprisingly affordable in VF and EF.
12. 1850 Double Eagle in AU
I generally have difficulty finding good value in the $20 gold series (Liberty and Saints). I chose the 1850 $20 among the 1850's Philadelphia issues because it is the first year of issue, and it often comes nice. If you like the value in this one, you would probably like the some of the other 1850's Philadelphia $20's because they are even less expensive. Big pieces of 150+ year old gold are impressive now and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
DW Comment: I’m going to disagree with RYK on this one. At one time, I was a huge advocate of this date and I even included it in an article I wrote about “A Dozen Cool U.S. Coins” a number of years ago. But that was before prices shot up and population figures in AU soared. While this date has the cachet of being the first collectible double eagle, I think dates like the 1855, 1856, 1857 and 1858 in nice AU55 to AU58 are much better values than the 1850.
I’d like to give a shout-out to Robert Kanterman for his exceptional list of undervalued coins and I hope I haven’t embarrassed him to the point that he’ll never participate in the new interactive raregoldcoins.com blog again. So, who is next??