Coins That I Never See With Good Eye Appeal, Part Three: Three Dollar Gold

In the third installment of this multi-part article, I'm going to delve into a series that has its share of issues that are not often seen with good eye appeal: three dollar gold. As a series, there are not many individual issues that are rare from an absolute sense. But I can think of a number of issues that are hard to find with a good overall appearance. I. 1854-O and 1854-D: These two issues are inexorably linked due to their status as the only three dollar gold pieces made at southern branch mints. The first is a common coin in nearly all circulated grades with a relatively high mintage figure of 24,000. The latter is regarded as among the rarest issues in the series with only 1,120 produced.

The 1854-O has a reputation among collectors as a condition rarity. There are hundreds and hundreds of pieces known in the VF-EF range and even a decent quantity in the lower AU grades. It becomes rare in properly graded AU55 to AU58 and it remains a very rare issue in Uncirculated with probably no more than five or six known.

But of the hundreds and hundreds of examples known, very few have good eye appeal. This is for a number of reasons. The first has to do with the fact that most 1854-O threes are struck from a late state of the dies that show lapping and re-polishing. This has removed some detail and made the reverse appear to be weakly struck, even on higher grade coins. In addition, the vast majority of 1854-O threes have been cleaned or dipped. It is possible to find a reasonably nice, original EF40 to EF45 example but choice, natural AU coins are quite scarce.

The 1854-D is another issue that is not well made. While this might add to the charm of the issue, it also makes it frustrating for collectors who seek well-detailed, "fresh" appearing coins. This is compounded by the fact that the vast majority of surviving 1854-D threes have been cleaned or dipped and many have been repaired or subtly altered as well. My best estimate is that out of the 125 or so examples that exist, less than 10% are "original" in the strict sense of the word. These coins should command a significant premium versus the typical quality for the issue. In my opinion, a choice, original 1854-D three dollar gold piece with good color and choice surfaces should command at least a 20% premium.

2. 1855-S and 1860-S:

With the exception of the 1856-S, none of the San Francisco three dollar gold pieces are frequently encountered with good eye appeal. This is due to a number of factors. The first is that none of these issues had especially high original mintage figures and the survival rate is low. Secondly, these issues were used in commerce in Gold Rush era San Francisco and as a result were not handled with care. A lack of collector interest meant, of course, that there was no one around to save coins and even the usual "save a few for souvenirs" scenario doesn't apply to them.

The 1855-S is comparable to the 1854-D from the standpoint of overall rarity. It is extremely scarce in properly graded AU55 to AU58 and extremely rare in Uncirculated. I think that no more than three or four Uncirculated examples are known. The finest appears to be the PCGS MS62 in the Great Lakes collection; the second is the ex Pittman 2: 1889 coin, graded MS61, in the South Texas collection. Despite the rarity of this date with good eye appeal, it is surprisingly affordable. I have sold two nice EF examples this year for around $3,000.

The 1860-S is an interesting issue for a number of reasons. It is the last obtainable three dollar gold pieces from this mint and it is rarer than the original mintage figure of 7,000 suggests; it is believed that as many as 2,592 were found to be underweight and later melted. I believe that only 100-125 are known today and examples with original color and surfaces are really hard to find.

The 1860-S is actually a tiny bit more available than the 1855-S in Uncirculated with as many as five or six known. The best of these include Eliasberg: 285, Bass II: 672 (graded MS62 by PCGS) and the Great Lakes coin which is in a PCGS MS61 holder. Most of the AU coins that I have seen are bright, heavily abraded and not appealing. The few Choice AU's that have sold in recent years have not realized significant premiums over typical examples and the savvy collector should consider this the next time he sees a pleasing 1860-S three dollar gold piece.

1865 and 1877:

One of the things about collecting this denomination is that the Philadelphia issues tend to be well made and they are generally available in relatively high grades. But there are clearly a few issues that are not only rare from the standpoint of total known but which are seldom seen with good eye appeal. In my experience, the two that stand out are the 1865 and the 1877.

The 1865 has a tiny mintage of 1,140 and it is likely that not more than 75-100 are known. This date tends to come two ways: really nice or really not nice. The finest known is a superb NGC MS67* from the Jewell Collection that sold for $57,500 in May 2005. Two PCGS MS66's exist as well. The five or six Gem 1865 three dollar gold pieces have great color, luster and eye appeal and are among the nicest Civil War era gold coins of any denomination. But these are locked away in tightly-held collections and the typical example is apt to grade EF45 to AU55 with very abraded semi-prooflike surfaces and clear signs of recent cleanings and/or processing.

The 1877 also has a small mintage; just 1,468 in this case. It is a bit more available than the 1865 in terms of overall rarity but it is harder to find in high grades. The finest known is a PCGS MS64 in the Great Lakes collection that is ex Heritage 6/11: 4602 at $80,500; it was earlier ex Bass II: 696 where it went reasonably in 1999 for $32,000. This is the only really choice 1877 three dollar gold piece known. There are an additional five or six coins in the MS60 to MS62 range This date is generally seen with prooflike surfaces that are very abraded and frequently show hairlines from mishandling.

There are other dates that I certainly could have added to this list. The 1858, 1867 and 1869 are three issues that are seldom found with good eye appeal. And the 1873 Closed 3 is an extremely hard date to find in any grade, let alone with natural color and surfaces.

For more information on three dollar gold pieces that are seldom seen with good eye appeal, please feel free to contact me at

Five Rare Date Gold Coins With Broad Appeal

As I’ve written before, I like coins with what I call “multiple levels of demand.” What this means is a coin that is sought by a number of different sorts of collectors. As an example, the typical Dahlonega half eagle is likely to appeal mostly to a Dahlonega specialist whereas a coin like an 1838-D half eagle might appeal to a broader range of collectors due to its status as a one-year type and a first-year of issue. There are not all that many gold coins that have such widespread appeal that they might be tempting to, say a Lincoln Cent specialist. But the coins that I am going to list below are pieces that in my experience have strong cross-collector appeal. I have sold a High Relief, as an example, to collectors who have never bought another St. Gaudens double eagle and probably never will. But I have never sold a rare date Saint (let’s say a 1929 in MS65) to a collector who specialized in Charlotte gold and wanted a rare date like the 1929 just “for grins.”

There are a number of rare gold coins with multiple levels of demand. For the sake of brevity, I am going to just list five. I can think of another five very easily. I’d like your input in case I decide to write another of these articles, so please feel free to list your five and send them to me by email at

Without further ado, here’s my Fave Five Rare Date Gold Coins with broad levels of demand.

1. 1861-D Gold Dollar: This is a coin that I could probably sell a dozen of if I had them available. The 1861-D gold dollar appeals to a broad number of people for many reasons. It has a great historical perspective as it was issued by the Confederacy. It appeals to Dahlonega collectors as a key issue and to gold dollar specialists as well. It is rare in all grades and it has a crudeness about it that appeals to collectors who like “neat” coins. I’ve never had a hard time selling one and it is a coin that I would buy in nearly any grade, providing it wasn’t damaged or harshly cleaned.

2. 1845-O Quarter Eagle: Every coin dealer (and collector) has a few “pet” dates and, for me, the 1845-O quarter eagle is very high on the list. It probably doesn’t have the high level of demand among non-specialists that the other four coins in this group have but I think this issue is so rare, so undervalued and so historic that it belongs in any favorite’s list that I write. What do I like most? How about the mintage of just 4,000? The fact that this date was essentially unknown until the 1890’s? That a presentable VF to EF can be purchased for less than $5,000 makes it seem even more cool to me.

3. 1854-O Three Dollar: This isn’t a really rare coin and that’s one of the things that appeals to me about the 1854-O. I recently sold a nice, evenly worn EF for less than $3,500 and I’ve sold examples that cost over $50,000. What I like about this issue is the fact that it is the only three dollar gold piece from New Orleans. Unlike the 1854-D (another one-year issue) it is inexpensive enough that a collector who has no interest in Three Dollar gold pieces would buy one; unlike the 1854-D that is expensive and which might cause many collectors to think twice before an impetuous purchase.

4. 1838-C Half Eagle: This is another first-year of issue. It is traditionally linked with the very popular 1838-D half eagle (another first-year issue that is a one-year type as well). What I like more about the 1838-C is while it is probably a bit less scarce than the 1838-D in terms of overall rarity, it is far rarer in high grades. I regard the 1838-C as an extremely scarce coin in properly graded AU50 to AU53 and it is genuinely rare in choice, original AU55 to AU58. In all my years of specializing in Charlotte gold, I’ve only handled two legitimately Uncirculated 1838-C half eagles and only four or five that I regarded as true AU55 to AU58 pieces. Despite this coin’s rarity, it is still affordable in VF and EF grades.

5. 1838 Eagle: Here’s another first-year-of-issue that has gone from mostly unknown to very popular in the past few years. It is the first eagle produced after a thirty-four year hiatus and it is a rare, low mintage date with just 7,200 struck. It isn’t technically a one-year issue (a number of 1839 eagles have the same design) but it is a coin that is held in very high accord by collectors who do not care for the Liberty Head eagle series on the whole. Unlike the other dates listed above, the collector contemplating an 1838 eagle will have to consult various pricing sources as both Trends as the Greysheet do not reflect the levels that this date has brought at auction and via private treaty of late.

The Ten Most Popular New Orleans Gold Coins

To get you ready for my forthcoming book on New Orleans gold coinage I am planning a series of articles on these coins. Look for these to run between February and May 2006 and look for the new book to be available around June. These ten coins are, in my opinion, the most popular gold coins struck at the New Orleans mint. They are interesting for one or more of the following reasons:

    Low Mintage Figures

    Unique Design

    Interesting historical association


If a coin possesses more than one of these attributes, it is, obviously, very popular. Simply put, the better the story a coin has to tell, the easier it is to explain to a potential buyer. As a dealer it is much easier for me sell a “self explanatory” coin than one that requires a long, drawn-out story.

Without further adieu, here is the list of the Ten Most Popular New Orleans Gold Coins:

1. 1849-O Gold Dollar: With an original mintage figure of 215,000 the 1849-O gold dollar is probably the most available of the ten coins on this list. It is also one of the most affordable with pleasing AU examples currently selling for well under $1,000. The most obvious reason for the popularity of this issue is that it is the first Gold Dollar produced at the New Orleans mint. Some of the less obvious—but still legitimate—reasons for the popularity of the 1849-O include the fact that it is a very well produced issue and that it can be combined with the 1849-C and 1849-D gold dollars to create a very interesting first-year-of-issue set. We recommend purchasing examples that grade MS62 or better.

2. 1855-O Gold Dollar: Coinage of the Type Two gold dollar began in 1854 and lasted until 1856. During this three year period, the New Orleans mint produced Type Two gold dollars only in 1855. A total of 55,000 examples were struck and survivors are plentiful in lower grades. This issue is scarce in MS60, rare in MS62 and very rare in MS63 or better. In recent years, prices for many high grade Type Two gold dollars have dropped as these coins have proven to be less rare than formerly believed. But prices have risen for the branch mint issues due to their unique design and one-year type status. We strongly recommend purchasing nice original examples in AU50 and above.

3. 1839-O Quarter Eagle: The short-lived Classic Head design was created in 1834 and it lasted until 1839. The only Classic Head quarter eagle was struck in 1839. Coincidentally this happens to be the first year of issue for any New Orleans coin of this denomination. First year of issue, one-year type, unique design…can you say popular coin? Only 17,781 were struck and an estimated 350-400 are known. Most 1839-O quarter eagles are found in VF and EF grades and nice AU’s are scarce. Fewer than two dozen remain in Uncirculated with most of these in the MS60 to MS61 range. We love this date in nearly any grade but recommend examples that grade AU50 and above.

4. 1854-O Three Dollar Gold Piece: Can the story get any better than this: the only Three Dollar gold piece, one of only two Southern issues of this denomination (and the other, the 1854-D is priced out of the range of most collectors) and a coin issued during the first year of this denomination. The 1854-O is common and overvalued in lower grades but it is very scarce in properly graded AU55 and above. This is an issue that is typically overgraded by PCGS and NGC and most pieces in slabs are unoriginal with poor surfaces and unappealing color. Early die state examples which show a full date and mintmark and strong wreath detail deserve to sell for a strong premium over typical later die states.

5. 1893-O and 1894-O Half Eagles: With few exceptions the No Motto New Orleans half eagles produced between 1840 and 1857 are extremely rare in Uncirculated. The With Motto issues produced in 1893 and 1894 are more available in higher grades and more within the budget of most collectors. Of the two, the 1893-O is the more common but this issue is surprisingly scarce in properly graded MS61 or better. The 1894-O is quite rare in Uncirculated and seems undervalued at current price levels. We recommend purchasing nice original pieces graded MS60 and above. Watch out for coins graded MS60 and MS61 that are excessively abraded.

6. 1909-O Half Eagle: After discontinuing production of half eagles in 1894, this denomination was resurrected in 1909. The 1909-O half eagle production was relatively small (just 34,300 pieces) and this issue has an immediate appeal for a number of reasons: it is a one-year type, it is the only 20th century half eagle produced at a Southern branch mint and it was the final gold coin of any denomination produced at the New Orleans mint. In the EF40-AU53 grade range this issue is fairly common and arguably a bit overvalued. But it is a very rare coin in properly graded Uncirculated and examples that grade MS62 or better are among the most coveted 20th century American gold coins. We recommend PCGS graded examples in AU55 and above.

7. 1892-O through 1906-O Eagles: Instead of choosing a specific date from this era, I chose the entire date run of ten coins. These are the most available New Orleans gold coins in higher grades (in this case MS60 or above) due to the fact that substantial numbers of coins were shipped overseas to Europe and did not circulate domestically. The availability of these dates in higher grades is exactly the opposite of the pre-Civil War issues which are nearly unobtainable above MS60. Most of the 1892-O through 1906-O eagles can be found in the lower Uncirculated grades for under $2,000 and these are often attractive coins with good color and luster. Occasionally, dates such as the 1901-O, 1904-O and 1906-O can be found in MS63 or even MS64. Despite the scarcity of these coins they can still be purchased for under $5,000 in some cases. We love the values of all these dates and strongly recommend coins graded MS62 and above.

8. 1850-O Double Eagle: In the past few years, the popularity of New Orleans double eagles has increased tremendously. The formerly-underrated 1850-O has become one of the more popular issues in the series. The major reason for this issue popularity is obvious: it is the first New Orleans double eagle. It is also an issue that is reasonably common in lower grades and has been readily available at auction and via private treaty to new collectors. Most people are still not aware of exactly how scarce the 1850-O is in higher grades. We doubt if more than two or three Uncirculated examples are known and properly graded AU55 to AU58 pieces are very rare. It is still possible to acquire a nice circulated 1850-O in the $5,000-10,000 range but most pieces in PCGS and NGC holders are way overgraded. Minimally abraded pieces with good color are very rare and worth a strong premium over typical examples.

9. 1861-O Double Eagle: There may not be another New Orleans gold coin with the historical significance of the 1861-O double eagle. At various times during 1861, New Orleans double eagles were produced by the Federal mint and by the Confederacy. (Shameless plug: the mystery behind these coins is unraveled in my new book on New Orleans gold due out this summer). Most of the survivors from the original mintage figure of 17,741 are very well worn and this is compounded by the fact that the 1861-O double eagle is a poorly produced issue. In AU, the 1861-O is quite rare and it is extremely rare in Uncirculated with just two to four known. Price levels have increased significantly for the 1861-O double eagle in recent years and we can no longer include this in lists of undervalued issues as we did in the past. However, original EF and AU examples are seldom seen and would make a great addition to any advanced collection of New Orleans gold coins.

10. 1879-O Double Eagle: The 1879-O double eagle is another coin that is desirable for a multitude of reasons: it is the only Type Three issue from this mint, it is the final New Orleans issue of this denomination and it is a very low mintage date with just 2,325 struck (the second lowest figure of any New Orleans double eagle). As with the 1861-O double eagle, the level of popularity (and prices) for this issue have soared in recent years. Any 1879-O with good eye appeal and clean surfaces is very rare and very desirable.