Coins I Never See With Good Eye Appeal Part One: Gold Dollars

As I was viewing auctions lots for Heritage's 2012 FUN sale in Dallas the other day, I got to thinking about a topic that I think most gold coin collectors will find interesting: which issues are really hard to find with good eye appeal. I've decided to begin a multi-part study of this and the first featured series is gold dollars. Eye appeal is a combination of factors that makes a coin visually pleasing. These factors include strike, luster, color and surface preservation. For some collectors, original color is the key component; for others it is a sharp strike. But no matter which component is deemed most important, most sophisticated collectors will be able to agree if a coin has good overall eye appeal or not.

The concept of eye appeal doesn't necessarily go hand in hand with rarity. You can have a rare or very rare coin that, when available, tends to come with good overall eye appeal (an example of this would be an 1828 half eagle). Or, you can have a coin that is merely scarce but which, for a variety of factors, is seldom seen with good eye appeal (an example of this is a 1796 eagle).

Let's take a look at some of the gold dollars that, in my experience, are very difficult to find with good appeal.

In the Type One issues (produced from 1849 through 1854) there are a number of coins that are seldom seen with good eye appeal. The first that comes to mind is the 1852-D. Due to die clashing, this issue is frequently seen with multiple clashmarks that develop into a very "busy" area in the left obverse field. In addition to this phenomenon of strike, most 1852-D gold dollars have been cleaned or processed. I can't recall having owned more than a handful of 1852-D dollars that were cosmetically appealing.

Another Dahlonega issue that is very hard to locate with good eye appeal is the 1854-D. In the case of this issue it is not so much strike as it seems that nearly all known examples have been cleaned or dipped. I would be surprised if as many as ten nice examples were known and I have seen just a few in the last decade.

The Charlotte and New Orleans Type One gold dollars are easier to locate with good eye appeal than their counterparts from Dahlonega. The hardest Type One dollar to locate from Charlotte with good eye appeal is the 1850-C. While relatively well struck and well made, it seems that nearly every piece that I see offered either has inferior luster, "chewy" surfaces and poor color from having been recently cleaned or dipped.

The New Orleans Type One dollars tend to be well made and boldly detailed. Locating examples of virtually all the dates isn't a problem although finding a choice, orignal 1850-O with very good eye appeal can be somewhat of a challenge.

While issued only from 1854 to 1856, the Type Two issues tend to be hard to locate with good eye appeal. This is more true for the branch mint pieces than for the Philadelphia coins.

The 1855-D is the rarest Type Two gold dollar from a rarity standpoint but I have actually seen more nice 1855-D dollars in all grades than I have the 1855-C. The 1855-C is typically found with numerous planchet imperfections, poor strike and bright surfaces from dipping. In the Heritage sale, I saw a nice PCGS AU58 example (which was, in fact, sort of the impetus for the theme of this series of blogs...) and it got me to to thinking how long its been since I'd seen a nice, crisp, wholesome example. I'm not certain I have the exact answer but I do know that the 1855-C dollar in any grade with truly good eye appeal is a rare coin indeed.

The Philadelphia coins of the final type of this denomination (known to collectors as the Type Three) are generally seen with good eye appeal. There are a few issues, though, that can prove to be tricky to find as such.

The 1863 is an issue that was melted extensively. When found in circulated grades, survivors almost always seem to have poor eye appeal. There are a small number of really superb pieces known (around a half dozen Gems that grade MS65 to MS67) but these are off the market in tightly held collections.

While not as well known or as highly valued as the 1863, the 1865 is another issue that is not readily encountered with good eye appeal. As with many of the smaller denomination gold issues of this era, the 1865 typically comes either really nice or really wretched and coins that fall into the latter category seem to be what's available to collectors these days.

The 1875 is a date that most collectors believe is very rare and, from the standpoint of availability (or lack of it) I couldn't argue. But this is an issue that tends to have good eye appeal when it is available. Due to its low mintage figure of just 400 business strikes, all 1875 dollars are seen with prooflike surfaces. If an 1875 dollar hasn't been harshly cleaned or mishandled, it will have great eye appeal due to the depth of its reflectiveness and bold details.

The hardest Type Three issues to find with good eye appeal are, as one would expect, the coins from Charlotte and Dahlonega.

Only two Charlotte gold dollars were struck during this era (the 1857-C and the 1859-C) but both are hard to find with good eye appeal. This is especially true for the former as this is an issue that is typically seen with planchet waviness, roughness as made and really bad overall eye appeal. I recently sold an NGC AU58 with CAC approval to a collector and, as I told him, it was just about the only really attractive example of this issue that I could recall having seen.

Nearly all of the Type Three gold dollars from Dahlonega are hard to find with good eye appeal but I think the two that are the hardest are the 1857-D and the 1860-D. The former is hard to find due to a combination of quirky strike and hard commercial use. The latter is a much scarcer coin but it is almost always found softly struck and with poor, unnatural coloration.

The San Francisco Type Three issues are short-lived but do not lack for difficultly to locate with good eye appeal. I personally find the 1857-S and 1858-S to be the two hardest dates to find with good eye appeal. Both are typically found with a fair amount of wear and seldom show good color. I haven't seen or handled a nice Uncirculated example of either date in years.

Unlike other series, there are no impossible coins to find in the gold dollar denomination (not counting, of course, the excessively rare 1849-C Open Wreath), there are a number of specific issues that are extremely hard to find with good eye appeal. I'd say that the five toughest to find, in chronological order, are as follows:

-1850-D -1852-D -1854-D -1857-C -1860-D

The next article in this series will focus on Liberty Head quarter eagles. Pre-1834 and Classic Head issues will be covered in another article that focuses on early gold in all denominations.

Any questions about eye appeal and gold dollars? I can be reached via email at dwn@ont.com

The Ten Rarest Gold Dollars

During the last year or so, I have been working on a series of articles that discusses the ten rarest individual issues in each of the Liberty Head denominations. I haven’t done one of these articles since October 2008 when I wrote about the ten rarest Liberty Head quarter eagles. Gold dollars are a series that is on my mind right now, especially considering I am selling a wonderful group of Type Three Proofs known as the Tri-Star Collection. This seems like a good segue into this article.

The gold dollar coinage was produced from 1849 through 1889. These are the smallest gold coins struck by the United States mints, both in terms of value and size. Coins were produced at the following mints: *Philadelphia: 1849-1889 *Charlotte: 1849-1853, 1855, 1857, 1859 *Dahlonega: 1849-1861 *New Orleans: 1849-1853, 1855 *San Francisco: 1856-1860, 1870

There are three varieties of gold dollar. The first, known as the Type One, was struck from 1849 to 1854. It is easily recognizable by the use of Longacre’s Liberty Head obverse. The Type One dollars have a diameter of 12.7 millimeters and weigh 1.67 grams. The second variety, known as the Type Two, was made in 1854, 1855 and 1856. It features an Indian Head obverse design with a small head. It has a diameter of 15 millimeters. The final variety, known as the Type Three, was produced from 1856 until this denomination was abolished in 1889. It has another variation of the Indian Head design, this time with the portrait larger in size. It is the same size and weight as the Type Two design.

As a series, gold dollars are more popular than many non-specialists realize. The natural inclination that most people have is that since these coins are so small, they are not readily collectible. I have found this to be untrue and I am aware of a number of people who either collect all the gold dollars by date or they specialize in one or two of the mints (usually Charlotte or Dahlonega).

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the ten rarest gold dollars.

1. 1849-C Open Wreath: This is not only the rarest gold dollar, it is the third rarest regular issue Liberty Head gold coin of any denomination, trailing the 1861 Paquet Reverse $20.00 and the 1854-S $5.00. There are either four or five 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollars known. The finest is an NGC MS63PL that sold at auction in July 2004 for $690,000 which is, by far, a world record for a gold dollar of any date. This same coin is said to have later traded in excess of $1 million. The lowest graded is an NGC F15 which has signs of having been mounted at one time but which is slabbed by NGC nonetheless. I have handled two of the 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollars and I believe that if this issue were better known (and larger in size) it would easily be a million dollar plus coin.

2. 1861-D: This is not only the rarest Dahlonega gold dollar, it is the single most popular issue of this denomination from any date or mint. Much of the 1861-D gold dollar’s popularity has to do with the fact that it is known with certainty to have been produced by the Confederacy. It is believed that around 1,000-1,500+ were originally struck of which an estimated 60-80 exist today. The survivors tend to be divided between low-quality damaged pieces and examples that are relatively high grade and nicer than one might expect. There are two known in PCGS MS64 (the Ullmer/Miles/Pierce coin and the Duke’s Creek coin) and a grand total of ten to fifteen in Uncirculated grades. The 1861-D is one of the few gold dollars that has strong demand from non-specialists and as a result, it is one of the most expensive issues in the entire series.

3. 1855-D: The 1855-D is a one-year type coin with a tiny original mintage figure of 1,811. It is the only Type Two dollar from the Dahlonega mint and its status as a one-year issue makes it extremely popular among date and type collectors. There are between 75 and 100 known and it is the rarest Dahlonega gold dollar in terms of availability in higher grades. At one time I felt that as few as three Uncirculated pieces were known. Today, I believe that this number is a bit higher but this is due to gradeflation and not the discovery of new examples. When available, the typical 1855-D grades VF to EF and is characterized by weakly struck digits in the date. Examples do exist with full dates but these are quite scarce. This is one of my very favorite gold dollars and it is an issue that I believe will always remain in high demand in virtually all grades.

4. 1875: Due to its tiny mintage of just 400 business strikes, the 1875 is among the best known gold dollars outside of the specialist community. As one might expect, this is a very scarce coin but examples appear to have been saved by contemporary collectors and dealers with an estimated 75-100 known today. All business strike 1875 dollars are prooflike but can be easily distinguished from their Proof counterparts by the presence of a thorn that protrudes from the lower portion of Liberty’s jaw into the field. The 1875 dollar is not often found in grades below AU55, indicating that this issue did not see much circulation. There are some extremely nice Uncirculated pieces known and I have personally handled three or four Gems that had great eye appeal. PCGS has graded two in MS66 with none better while NGC has graded one in MS66 with none better. One of these is almost certainly Brand I: 51 that was sold by Bowers and Merena in November 1983 and which I still remember being the best example that I have seen. The auction record for a business strike 1875 dollar is $33,350, set by Heritage 2007 ANA: 1814, graded MS66 by NGC.

5. 1856-D: Assuming that the mintage figure for the 1861-D was in the 1,000-1,500+ range, there is a chance that the 1856-D has the smallest number struck of any gold dollar from this mint. Even if this is not the case, the 1856-D is a rare issue with just 1,460 produced. My best estimate is that around 80-100 are known today. The 1856-D is usually found in the EF40 to AU50 range and it is quite rare in properly graded AU55 to AU58. (Both the PCGS and NGC population figures for AU55 and AU58 examples are greatly inflated by resubmissions. The 1856-D is extremely rare in properly graded Uncirculated with an estimated four to six known. NGC has graded a single coin in MS63 but the best I have personally seen is the PCGS MS62 Green Pond: 1009 coin sold by Heritage in January 2004 that brought $47,150. All known 1856-D gold dollars show a weak U in UNITED.

6. 1863: Many people reading this article will be surprised to see the 1863 listed as the sixth rarest gold dollar, ahead of dates like the 1854-D and the 1860-D. It is an issue that has long been a favorite of mine and even though prices have risen significantly for the 1863 dollar over the years it is still a “sleeper.” There were 6,200 business strikes produced but unlike the dates from the later Civil War years, not many were saved. My best guess is that there are around 100-150 known including three dozen or so in Uncirculated. There are a few really superb pieces including a remarkable PCGS MS68 and a single NGC MS67. The 1863 is usually seen in the middle AU grades. Uncirculated coins tend to come in the MS62 to MS63 range and are characterized by heavy die striations on the surfaces. This is an issue that is only now coming into its own and a strong case can be made for it being the rarest Philadelphia gold dollar in Uncirculated.

7. 1854-D: The 1854-D is the fourth rarest Dahlonega gold dollar with an estimated 100-150 known from the original mintage figure of 2,935. It has a very distinctive quality of strike with the obverse typically much better detailed than the reverse. The 1854-D is not often seen in grades lower than EF and many of the examples that have been slabbed are in AU holders. Properly graded AU55 and better pieces are very rare and this is an issue that is extremely rare in Uncirculated with around nine or ten known. The best I am aware of is the Reed Hawn coin that was graded many years by NGC as MS63. PCGS shows a population of five in MS61 and six in MS62 but this seems inflated by resubmissions. There have been a number of auction records in the $13,000-15,000 range but the single highest price that I know of is $17,250 for a PCGS MS62 set by Heritage 4/06: 2209 in April 2006. The low mintage of this issue and its status as the final Type One gold dollar from Dahlonega make it an intriguing date.

8. 1860-D: The 1860-D is another rare gold dollar from Dahlonega with a very low mintage figure. There were just 1,566 produced and around 100-150 are known today. This date is similar in overall and high grade rarity to the 1854-D despite the fact that the 1860-D is generally valued quite a bit higher. The quality of strike seen on this date is the worst of any Dahlonega gold dollar; even more so than the 1861-D. All 1860-D gold dollars show a very weak U in UNITED and some pieces have the N weak as well. The obverse has a flat overall appearance while the reverse shows weakness on the lettering and the date. There are around a dozen known in Uncirculated. The highest graded by either service is an NGC MS64 (formerly in a PCGS MS63) that was last in the Duke’s Creek collection. It holds the all-time auction record for the date at $57,500 when it was sold as Heritage 4/06: 1492; the same coin brought $48,875 a year later when sold as Heritage 8/07: 1811.

9. 1850-D, 1852-D (tie). Both issues have total populations in the area of 150-200 coins and it is hard to determine which is rarer in terms of the total number extent. In higher grades, the 1850-D is the rarer of the two. It is unlikely that more than a dozen accurately graded Uncirculated pieces are known and the best is the Duke’s Creek coin that has been graded MS64 by NGC and MS63 by PCGS. All 1850-D dollars have a flat appearance but this is a much better made issue than the 1852-D. Speaking of which, the 1852-D is probably a bit more available in lower grades than its counterpart the 1850-D but it is a very rare coin in full Mint State. There are two NGC MS63 coins and one graded as such by PCGS. The best of these is the Duke’s Creek coin, graded MS63 by NGC (ex Heritage 4/06: 1484) that sold for $27,600. The 1852-D has an extremely distinctive appearance with most coins showing heavy roughness in the obverse fields as the result of multiple clashmarks.

10. 1865: The 1865 gold dollar is not as scarce as the 1863, despite the fact that it has a much lower mintage. There were 3,720 business strikes made of which around 150-200 (or perhaps a few more) exist. In spite of this date scarcity, it is easily the most affordable date in the Top Ten list and I have seen nice AU’s trade for less than $1,500 which seems like great value to me. While very scarce in Uncirculated, there are a few amazing 1865 gold dollars known including two graded MS67 by PCGS and the finest known, a PCGS MS68, that sold for $34,500 in the Heritage March 2008 auction. This date is usually seen with clashmarks and all have mint-made die striae in the fields. Examples are usually frosty and original pieces tend to show excellent multi-hued coloration.

The gold dollar series contains a number of rare issues but, excluding the virtually uncollectible 1849-C Open Wreath, it is a set that can be completed. What I like about these coins is that many of the issues have a very distinctive “character” due to the way that they were produced. For more information about gold dollars, please feel free to contact me via email at dwn@ont.com

How To Collect Charlotte Gold Coins

There are many ways to collect Charlotte gold. Some people have only a mild interest in these coins and may buy just one or two pieces. Other people are more serious and they have a large number of Charlotte issues in their collection. A small number of Charlotte collectors are obsessives who focus exclusively on these pieces and do not collect anything else. I would like to make some suggestions on how to collect Charlotte gold. In my experience, all of these ideas have merit and none is “better” than the other. It depends on the tastes and budget of an individual collector to determine which one(s) is right for him. I. THE INTRODUCTIORY THREE COIN SET

The most basic way to collect Charlotte gold is to purchase a single example of the gold dollar, quarter eagle and half eagle denominations. This is a very good way to collect for the individual who has a limited budget or who is not certain how deep his interest lies in Charlotte gold.

A basic three coin set of Charlotte gold should consist of nice, problem-free pieces. It would make sense to focus on the more common dates although some collectors might prefer to include some scarcer issues. The grade range for these coins is likely to fall in the Extremely Fine-40 to About Uncirculated-58 range.

The 1851-C is the most logical choice for the gold dollar in this set as it is the most common and affordable date. A pleasing Extremely Fine can be obtained for $1,500 or so. About Uncirculated pieces range from $1,750 to $3,500 depending on quality.

The optimum quarter eagle for this set is the 1847-C as it is the most common date of this denomination from Charlotte by a large margin. A nice Extremely Fine example costs around $2,000 while About Uncirculated coins range from $2,500 to $4,000. It is possible to upgrade to a much scarcer date without paying a substantial premium. As an example, the 1843-C Large Date sells for around the same price in Extremely Fine as does the 1847-C but it is much harder to locate.

In About Uncirculated, the 1847-C used to be much less expensive than all other Charlotte quarter eagles but the price spread has diminished in the last few years. This, in my opinion, makes dates such as the 1843-C Large Date, 1848-C and 1858-C very interesting alternatives, especially in the lower range of the About Uncirculated grades.

There are many dates in the half eagle series that would work well in this type set. These include the 1849-C, 1852-C, 1853-C and 1858-C. Any of these can be purchased in nice Extremely Fine for around $2,500 while About Uncirculated coins are priced in the $3,000-6,000 range.

An alternative to the standard three coin set would be to purchase the same date for all three denominations. This is feasible for issues dated 1849-C, 1850-C, 1851-C and 1852-C. A set from 1855 could also be assembled but the gold dollar and the quarter eagle from this year are quite expensive in higher grades.

II. THE BASIC AND EXPANDED TYPE SETS

A type set of Charlotte gold coins includes one example of each major type struck at this mint. Such a set includes the following:

  • Type One gold dollar (1849-1853)
  • Type Two gold dollar (1855 only)
  • Type Three gold dollar (1857 and 1859)
  • Classic Head quarter eagle (1838-39)
  • Liberty Head quarter eagle (1840-1860)
  • Classic Head half eagle (1838 only)
  • Liberty Head, obverse mintmark half eagle (1839 only)
  • Liberty Head, reverse mintmark half eagle (1840-1861)

A total of eight types were struck at the Charlotte mint. This includes three that were struck only in one year. A complete eight piece type set is an excellent display item. The various designs used in striking these coins provide a graphic illustration of the artistic and historic record of the Charlotte mint.

Most collectors who assemble an eight piece Charlotte type set do so in grades ranging from Extremely Fine-40 to About Uncirculated-58. This set could be completed in Uncirculated but it would be very difficult to do given the rarity of the 1838-C Classic Head half eagle in Mint State.

The coins that are included in a Charlotte type set are generally the more common dates. Some collectors use better dates in order to make their sets more interesting and potentially more valuable. I would strongly recommend that the collector include at least a few better dates.

A nicely matched Extremely Fine set should cost approximately $25,000-30,000. The most expensive coins in the set are the 1838-C half eagle, the 1839-C half eagle and the 1855-C gold dollar.

A set that consists of all eight coins in About Uncirculated-50 to About Uncirculated-58 can be assembled for approximately $50,000-100,000+. The cost could be significantly reduced if the Type Two gold dollar and the 1838-C and 1839-C half eagles were nice Extremely Fine coins as opposed to About Uncirculated-50 or better.

III. COLLECTING BY DENOMINATION

Each of the three denominations struck at the Charlotte mint are popular with collectors. For various reasons, some of which will be discussed below, some collectors feel an affinity towards a specific denomination.

Collectors generally love or hate the gold dollar. The small size of this coin (13 or 15mm. depending on the type) sharply divides the collecting community. Some collectors find it hard to fathom paying thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars to pay for a coin that is the size of an average adult’s thumbnail. Another negative factor about Charlotte gold dollars is the crudeness with which they were struck. If you are not a specialist it may be tough to “get” a coin that is this crude.

The reasons that cause some people to dislike gold dollars are the same reasons that other people like them. Their crudeness has an odd allure and their small size gives them a distinct charm.

Collectors also like gold dollars because of their low mintage figures. With the exception of the 1851-C, each issue from Charlotte has an original mintage figure of 14,000 or less. Four of the eight have mintages lower than 10,000.

On a coin by coin basis the Charlotte gold dollar series is relatively affordable. A set of eight coins in Extremely Fine should be completable for approximately $20,000. Every Charlotte gold dollar can be found in About Uncirculated grades without great difficulty. The only obstacles to completing a set in this range are available funds and the level of fussiness that a collector brings to the set. Figure on spending $35,000-40,000+ for a mid-range About Uncirculated set and double this amount for a very high end About Uncirculated set.

A complete set in Uncirculated could be assembled but it would be difficult due to the rarity of the 1855-C and 1857-C. Assuming that these two issues are available, a complete set in Mint State-60 to Mint State-63 could be assembled for $100,000-150,000+.

The Charlotte quarter eagles are the most challenging of the three denominations. Assembling a set of these requires patience and dedication. Many are very rare in higher grades. Others have peculiarities of strike that make it hard to find pieces with good eye appeal. The rarest Charlotte quarter eagles are the 1842-C, 1843-C Small Date, 1846-C and 1855-C. These are hard to find in all grades and rare in properly graded About Uncirculated.

There are a total of twenty issues in the Charlotte quarter eagle set. This includes two varieties from 1843: the Small Date and the Large Date. No quarter eagles were produced at this mint in 1845, 1853, 1857 and 1859.

It is a realistic goal to complete this set in Extremely Fine grades. The cost of such a set would be in the area of $55,000-65,000. In About Uncirculated this set is still realistically completable but assembling an attractive, well-matched set requires time and patience. It is not unrealistic to set aside a budget of as much as $250,000 for a world-class About Uncirculated set for choice, high end coins with original surfaces. Completing a set of Charlotte quarter eagles in Uncirculated is possible but exceptionally difficult. There are a number of issues such as the 1839-C, 1842-C, 1848-C, 1849-C and 1856-C that have extremely few truly Mint State pieces known to exist.

A complete set of Charlotte half eagles consists of twenty-four coins. This includes two varieties struck in 1842 (the Small Date and the Large Date) and none in 1845.

The half eagles are the most popular denomination from this mint. One of the reasons for this has to do with the relatively large size of these coins. Another has to do with the fact that every issue except for one (the rare 1842-C Small Date) is reasonably easy to obtain in the higher circulated grades.

A set of nice Extremely Fine Charlotte half eagles should cost in the neighborhood of $100,000-125,000 with a good chunk of this set aside for the 1842-C Small Date. A complete set in About Uncirculated is challenging but less difficult than for the quarter eagles. A set of well-matched, original Charlotte half eagles in About Uncirculated would require a budget of approximately $200,000-250,000+. Completing a set in Uncirculated is very difficult but not impossible. The stoppers in this set include the 1838-C, 1840-C, 1842-C Small Date, 1846-C and 1854-C.

IV. ASSEMBLING A COMPLETE SET OF CHARLOTTE GOLD

Some collectors get hooked on Charlotte gold and decide to assemble a complete set. A complete set of Charlotte gold is generally understood to contain the following:

  • Gold Dollars: A total of nine issues struck between 1849 and 1859. One of these, the 1849-C Open Wreath, is excessively rare with just four or five known to exist. Because of its rarity, it is not included in most sets but it is still regarded as an important member of the Charlotte series.
  • Quarter Eagles: A total of twenty issues produced between 1838 and 1860.
  • Half Eagles: A total of twenty-four issues struck between 1838 and 1861.

The final cost of assembling a complete set of Charlotte coinage (minus the excessively rare 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar) is within the reach of many collectors. A set that focuses on nice Extremely Fine coins would cost approximately $200,000. A set that consists of nice About Uncirculated coins would cost anywhere from $600,000 up to $800,000+.

Due to new discoveries and relaxed grading standards it is now possible for a collector to assemble a complete set of Charlotte coins in Uncirculated grades.

To the best of my knowledge, no collector has assembled a totally complete set of Charlotte gold in Uncirculated. I know of at least two or three collectors who have assembled the complete set (including the extremely rare 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar) but none of these have contained Uncirculated examples of this variety.

The finest collections ever assembled of Charlotte coins include the Stanley Elrod collection (sold privately in 1994 and now, unfortunately, split into numerous parts), the Paul Dingler collection (which included the only known complete set of Mint State Charlotte quarter eagles and half eagles; it was purchased by Heritage Coin Galleries and myself a few years ago) and the William Miller collection (sold by Heritage at auction in 1999).

Carolina Circle Collection of Charlotte Gold Coinage

I recently completed cataloging the Carolina Circle Collection of Charlotte gold coinage for Heritage. This collection, which was primarily formed in the 1970’s and 1980’s, is going to be sold by Heritage during their 2008 FUN auction. It is a virtually complete collection, missing only the 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar and it contains some of the nicest—and freshest—coins from Charlotte that I have seen in some time. I have known the owner of this collection for a number of years and when he made the decision to sell, I suggested that he place the coins in the 2008 FUN auction. About 40% of the collection is housed in very old PCGS and NGC holders and I suggested to this individual that he keep the coins in these old slabs; despite the fact that many of them appeared to be significantly undergraded by today’s standards.

What I really like about this collection is the originality of many of the coins. Almost all of them are in the EF40 to AU58 range and a number are notable for their superb original color and unadulterated surfaces. There are a few individual coins that I think rank as among the most attractive Charlotte gold coins I have ever seen; regardless of date or denomination.

My two favorite gold dollars in this collection are an 1849-C Closed Wreath and an 1850-C. Both are in old PCGS AU58 holders and both, in my opinion, grade considerably finer by today’s standards. I think both coins have great eye appeal and would make excellent additions to a date or type set. I also like the AU55 1857-C gold dollar in this collection. It, too, is in an old green label holder and it seems very choice for the date and grade.

The quarter eagles in the Carolina Circle Collection are outstanding and include a number of Condition Census pieces. Even though it “only” grades NGC AU53, the 1839-C Repunched Date is a lovely original coin and is housed in an old “fatty” holder certain to attract attention. There are PCGS AU55 examples of the 1840-C and 1844-C, both in old green label holders, that are also extremely choice for their designated grade levels. The 1846-C and 1849-C quarter eagles are both also graded AU55 by PCGS.

There are two quarter eagles in this collection that I think are absolutely wonderful coins. The 1852-C is in an old green label PCGS AU58 holder but it appears far choicer than this. I absolutely love this coin’s coloration and I personally regard it as the third finest known for the date, trailing only the Bass II and Elrod coins.

I also really like the 1855-C in this collection. I had never seen or heard of this coin before I went to examine this group a few months ago and I’m sure I let out a big gasp when I first saw it. It is currently in a PCGS MS61 holder but I personally feel it is nicer than this. What I like best about this coin is its freshness as evidenced by its glowing frosty luster, lovely rose-gold color and extremely clean surfaces. It is probably the third finest known example of this rare date and it is the nicest 1855-C I have seen since the incomparable Bass coin was first sold in 1999.

The half eagles in this collection are complete and include a number of important and choice pieces. One that is certain to capture a lot of viewer attention is an 1838-C in PCGS AU58. While reasonably common in lower grades, this date is rare in AU and the current PCGS population is just three in AU58 with a single example higher.

The 1840’s half eagles in the Carolina Circle collection are, for the most part, very nice coins and this includes solid AU examples of the 1840-C, 1841-C, 1844-C and 1846-C. There is an 1842-C Large Date in an old green label PCGS AU55 that seems extremely choice for the grade, in my opinion.

The half eagle in this collection that will probably generate the most interest is the 1842-C Small Date. It is currently housed in an old ANACS AU50 holder but it appears to be considerably nicer than this. As you may or may not know, this is the rarest collectible issue from this mint and the typical piece is well worn with poor eye appeal. The example in this collection is lightly marked, well struck and original with good color and a very pleasing naked-eye appearance.

There are other less glamorous but very attractive half eagles in the Carolina Circle collection as well. An 1847-C in an older PCGS holder has superb color and great eye appeal. The 1851-C, graded AU50 by PCGS many years ago, seems to be way undergraded and it has an exceptional strike for the issue as well as superb deep yellow-gold color. The 1853-C, housed in a green label PCGS AU58 holder, is also attractively toned in rich, natural shadings.

If you follow the rare gold coin market you know that Charlotte coinage has been somewhat out-of-favor for the last few years. I predict that this collection will help to jumpstart this market. It’s been a number of years since this many fresh, attractive pieces have been offered for sale and, typically, when collection like this are sold, new collectors become interested in getting a set started.

For more information on this collection, feel free to contact me and I also suggest that keep an eye on Heritage’s website. I expect that the lots for the FUN sale will be posted sometime around the middle of December.

The Contrarian Opportunity of Charlotte Gold Coinage

Charlotte gold coinage is about as unpopular right now as at any time I can recall in the past two decades. Why are the coins from Charlotte getting no love when their Southern counterparts from Dahlonega and New Orleans are as popular as they’ve been in some time? Read on for a few suggestions. There’s no exact, scientific reason(s) which I can point to which “prove” why Charlotte coinage currently seems to be lagging Dahlonega and New Orleans when it comes to popularity. I can think of at least six possible reasons which, when taken together, have conspired to make these coins currently out of favor with collectors.

1. I’ve written two books on Charlotte gold coinage. The second—and most current—was published in 1997. This book is not only out of print and hard to find, it is out of date as well. Until I get around to publishing a third edition of this book (and I plan to get to work on this sometime in 2007 and hope to have it available by the end of the year) new collectors will not have access to current information. In my experience, whenever I publish a new (or revised) book on gold coinage, the popularity of that series tends to surge immediately. I anticipate that this will happen again by the end of this year or the beginning of 2008.

2. No significant new players for Charlotte coins at the top end of the market have come around in the past few years. In the 1970’s, it was Harry Bass, while the 1980’s saw Stanley Elrod and the 1990’s were dominated by Paul Dingler. Each of these individuals built world-class sets of Charlotte coinage that focused on very high grade pieces. During this time period, other collectors like Ed Milas could be counted on to purchase significant, high grade issues as well. The Charlotte market needs a new “Mr. Big” to step up and take some of the very high end pieces off the market.

3. There are no significant dealers in the Charlotte area who are building a local collecting base. One of the reasons why Dahlonega gold coinage has always had such a strong local following is that Georgia dealers like Hancock & Harwell, Al Adams, John Hamrick and Larry Jackson have loyally supported the market for Dahlonega coinage for three decades. Despite its status as the undisputed #2 city of the New South, Charlotte still does not have the solid dealer community that characterizes Atlanta.

4. Many of the Charlotte coins currently on the market, especially those in the AU50 to MS61 range, are overgraded, unoriginal and genuinely ugly. It’s hard to get collectors or dealers enthusiastic about coins with minimal eye appeal. One reason why the VF and EF segment of the Charlotte market is comparatively strong is that the coins tend to be decent and collectors are more active. If a fresh deal of attractive, original Charlotte coinage came onto the market in the next year or so, it might act as an excellent jumpstart.

5. A number of the telemarketers who have always been an outlet for the not-so-nice-for-the-grade Charlotte gold coinage have stopped selling these coins. I can think of at least two marketers who I’ve sold hundreds of thousands of dollars of Charlotte gold coinage to over the years who are currently out of the market because their sales forces are tired of selling Charlotte coins or they strongly believe that point #4 I made above is true.

6. In the coin market, tastes are cyclical. After years of neglect, New Orleans gold is currently popular. For years, no one liked early quarter eagles, but now everyone wants them. The market for Charlotte coinage is cyclical as well and happenstance dictates that we are currently in a down cycle. It is very possible that an up cycle of popularity could begin again very soon.

OK, so what has to happen for these coins to get popular again? First we need a new Charlotte book. Then, we need a couple of dealers (myself included) to fall in love with Charlotte coins all over again and start spreading the love. Then we need a couple of wealthy guys from North Carolina to discover how neat these coins are and for them to make a decision that they want to be the Paul Dingler or the Stanley Elrod of the 2000’s. Assuming that at least one or two of these three things happen, I think we can look forward to a renaissance of interest in this area of the market in the coming years. Until then, can you say “contrarian opportunity?”

Charlotte Gold Coinage

While doing some research for a new article on the State of the Market of Charlotte Gold (which will be posted on my website on either the 5th or the 6th of September), I thought of an interesting question which applies to any buyer of rare date gold coins. What area of the market has been the best investment in the past decade? As those of you who know me realize, I am not a big advocate of rare coins as an investment. But I am enough of a pragmatist to realize that it is important for any person, no matter how much of a true collector he is, to feel that his rare coin purchases are going to appreciate in value over the course of time.

So, I decided to do a little research project, of which the parameters are as follows: A collector had $10,000 to spend on Charlotte gold coinage in 1996. Would he have done better buying a number of cheaper coins or should he have put all of his eggs in one basket and bought a single big-ticket item? To conduct this project, I’ve decided to use the Redbook as my pricing guide (don’t turn up your nose; the Redbook is actually a surprisingly good pricing source—take a look at the list of contributors and see whose input is being used for gold coinage). I’ve also decided that only PCGS/NGC graded coins can be used in the sample, for the sake of ease and consistency.

Hypothetical collector #1 decided that he was going to purchase coins graded EF40 and EF45 in 1996. According to the 1997 edition of the Redbook (which would have been the most current available edition in 1996), common date Charlotte quarter eagles were valued at $900-1,100 in EF40. So let’s use an average price of $1,000 per coin and say that our collector bought 5 coins with an aggregate cost of $5,000.

This collector also decided to purchase some common date Charlotte half eagles. According to the Redbook, these were valued at $1,200-1,500 in EF40. Let’s use an average price of $1,300 and say that our collector bought four coins with an aggregate cost of $5,200. This would have brought the total cost of his holdings to $10,200.

Hypothetical collector #2 decided to purchase one single “big coin” and focused on a common date Charlotte half eagle in MS60. According to the 1997 Redbook, an 1847-C (the most common date of this denomination in higher grades) had a value of $10,000.

Both collectors put their coins away for a decade and in 2006 decided they were ready to sell. Who did better?

According to the 2007 edition of the Redbook, a common date Charlotte quarter eagle has a value of $2,200 in EF40; a figure which is very accurate in today’s market, in my opinion. This makes our collector’s five coins worth an estimated $11,000. An EF40 common date Charlotte half eagle has a value of $2,500. Our collector owns four of these and the quartet is now worth an estimated $10,000. This brings the total value of his $10,000 investment to an estimated $21,000.

(There is, of course, one other factor to consider. The chances are reasonably good that if he purchased his nine coins in 1996 from a reasonably good dealer, at least half of the coins would upgrade in today’s more liberal grading environment. Factoring in another 30% for these upgrades—a number which might actually be conservative—this collector’s holdings are now valued at around $27,000).

The 2007 Redbook states that the value of an 1847-C half eagle in MS60 has risen to $13,000. But, unlike the Redbook’s EF40 valuations which are quite accurate, this figure seems pretty high to me. I think the actual value of an 1847-C half eagle in MS60 is more like $8,000.

Let’s assume that this collector bought a nice MS60 back in 1996 and he gets his coin upgraded to MS61 when he resubmits it to PCGS or NGC. In my opinion, an MS61 1847-C half eagle is worth $8,500-9,500; possibly a little bit more if it is a nice coin for the grade.

So which collector did better from a financial standpoint? Clearly, it was the person who purchased the group of nine EF coins. His investment of $10,000 at least doubled and possibly tripled if he was lucky with his upgrading. The collector who purchased the one MS60 half eagle did very poorly. In fact, his original investment of $10,000 is probably worth less than this today.

I think that a few conclusions can be reached from this somewhat unscientific price study.

1. In the area of branch mint gold, the best performers in the past decade have been the collector-quality issues. By collector quality, I am referring to affordable coins in the VF and EF grade range. These have the strongest level of demand because they are the most affordable examples of these coins.

2. Not all high grade branch mint gold performed poorly in the past decade but off quality pieces (and most branch mint gold graded MS60 is generally on the low end of the eye appeal spectrum) are actually worth less today than they were in 1997.

3. Making a decision to start an EF set of Charlotte or Dahlonega gold coinage is much more difficult in 2006 than it was a decade ago. The reasons for this are fairly simple. Firstly, most of the “real” EF coins are now in AU50 or AU53 holders. Secondly, many of the nice EF coins are currently owned by active collectors who do not wish to sell them, given the fact that they know such coins are very hard to replace.

The Charlotte Gold Market, 1987-1997: A Decade Brings Radical Changes

In 1987, my book "Charlotte Mint Gold Coins: 1838-1861, A Numismatic History and Analysis" was published by Bowers and Merena Galleries. In the ensuing decade, the changes in the Charlotte market have been so radical that I have been compelled to rewrite and totally update this book. In preparing my new book on Charlotte gold coins (to be published in 1998 by DWN Publishing), I have been amazed at the breadth of the changes which have characterized this market in the past decade. My first book on Charlotte has become so out-of-date that when people inquire as to its availability, I tell them not to buy it and to wait for the revision.

As I have been researching the various Charlotte issues, I have made some interesting observations. The following areas represent, in my opinion, the biggest changes which have pervaded the Charlotte market (many of these changes can also be applied to the "rare date gold" market as a whole).

I. The Advent of Certified Grading

The population and Condition Census data in the 1987 edition of my book was based on research done in the mid-1980's. This was before the creation of PCGS and NGC. Needless to say, the changes brought about by these two services have had profound effects--both good and bad--on the Charlotte market and on numismatics as a whole. Some of the changes are obvious. After ten years of grading Charlotte coins, enough pieces have been seen by the services to create a useful population and grade distribution database. Everyone knows that the numbers in the PCGS Population Report and the NGC Census Report are skewed due to resubmissions, crossovers, etc. However, this data is far more advanced than anything available in 1987. For the first time, it is possible to get meaningful comparative rarity data. As an example, the population reports are best used in determining how rare an 1840-C half eagle in Extremely Fine-45 is relative to an 1850-C half eagle in the same grade. In 1987, this data was far more speculative and open to interpretation. Today, the collector can easily find out if the information he is being told about a specific coin or date is accurate.

II. An Increase in the Population of High Grade Coins

For a variety of reasons, the number of important high grade Charlotte gold coins has dramatically increased in the past decade. Some of the reasons for this include the following: rising prices have brought new coins into the market, many old collections have been sold and some previously unknown hoards or accumulations have quietly entered the market. Population "explosions" for a few dates are readily noticeable. One example of this is the 1838-C quarter eagle. When the 1987 edition of my book was released, I estimated that only three to four were known in Mint State. In the 1998 edition, my estimate of Mint State examples has been revised upwards to seven or eight coins. In 1987, I estimated the number of Mint State 1844-C half eagles to be two or three; today, I can account for five separate pieces. These numbers may not sound significant when compared to very common coins but in a narrow, tightly traded field such as Charlotte gold, these increases are dramatic.

III. An Increase in Prices

Many series of coins have seen dramatic downward movement in prices when viewed as a whole from 1987 to 1997. Collector-based series such as Charlotte gold, on the other hand, have seen very solid increases. The following chart takes the most common dates in all three denominations from this mint and compares the 1987Redbook prices with those in the 1997 edition of this book.

DATE/DENOM. 1987 REDBOOK PRICES 1997 REDBOOK PRICES
EF-40 AU-50 MS-60 EF-40 AU-50 MS-60
1851-C $1.00 500 825 2,000 700 1000 2,500
1847-C $2.50 450 900 2,500 900 1,900 5,750
1847-C $5.00 750 1,000 3,000 1200 3,000 10,000

As this chart shows, the prices for even the most common Charlotte coins rose considerably in the past decade. Many coins doubled in price and one, the 1847-C half eagle in MS-60, tripled. These prices are even more dramatic when one examines the levels for rarer dates or for extremely high grade coins (i.e., Mint State-62 and above). Simply put, high grade examples of Charlotte gold have proven to be an excellent investment during a coin market which has seen a lot more downswings in price than upward movement (at least since 1990).

IV. A Change In Grading Standards

The most important thing to remember about grading is that, despite claims to the contrary, it remains highly subjective. It is hard enough to get a group of experts to agree on Mint State common date Morgan Dollar grades; let alone complex issues such as Charlotte coins. In the late 1980's/early 1990's, PCGS and NGC began grading significant amount of Charlotte gold coins. For the most part, the grading standards of that era tended to be very conservative. Today, standards have relaxed considerably. In my opinion, the EF-45 of the late 1980's is an AU-50 (or even an AU-53) today. And the AU-55 of the late 1980's is an MS-60 (or even an MS-61) today. The primary effect of this is to provide an unrealistic picture of availability for certain issues. As an example, as of September, 1997, PCGS had graded 41 1849-C half eagles in the various About Uncirculated grades. In the forthcoming revision of my Charlotte book, I estimate that the total number of 1849-C half eagles known to exist in all AU grades is 35-37. It is my opinion that many of the 17 coins graded AU-50 by PCGS (as well as some of the 10 coins graded AU-53 by this service) are coins which would have graded Extremely Fine a decade ago.

V. The Fall and Decline of "Crust"

I am a fan of original surfaces on gold coins. To my eyes, there is nothing more attractive than a Charlotte piece with layers of old "crust." (I define "crust" as original toning over a heavy layer of natural "skin" on a coin's surface which develops over the course of time). To me, originality provides great eye appeal. Unfortunately, the two grading services have unwittingly contributed to the destruction of a great number of gold coins by penalizing them for originality. It is my experience that if you submit a "crusty," original AU-50 coin, it is invariably graded EF-45. But, if you take the same coin, scrub off the crust and make it bright, it will grade AU-50 to AU-55. Ironically, the financial incentive for submitters is to destroy their coins in order to maximize their value. This is especially true in a market such as Charlotte gold where the difference between an EF-45 and an AU-50 can be thousands of dollars. As time passes, I think the number of truly original Charlotte coins will continue to shrink. The few remaining coins with original surfaces will invariably trade for strong premiums among knowledgeable buyers and unwitting new collectors and investors will get stuck with the overgraded, unnaturally bright dregs.

VI. A Shift in the Supply and Demand of Charlotte Gold

One of the major reasons why common coins have dropped significantly in price in the 1990's is the fact that more and more come onto the market while fewer collectors, investors and dealers are around to absorb them. Charlotte gold coins are one of the few series where the supply/demand ratio has been such that enough new collectors have come into the market to absorb the coins which have come onto the market. A typical "common date" Charlotte half eagle has a surviving population of 150-200 pieces. At least half of these coins are in very low grades and, therefore, are of little interest to collectors. Another large group are either in museums or tightly-held private collections and are off the market. Suddenly, an original population of 150-200 may now have shrunk to twenty or fewer coins which are of the quality which an advanced collector will find acceptable. If there are 50-100 serious collectors of Charlotte gold (and my guess is that the actual number is greater than this), than there exists a demand for coins which is two to five times greater than the actual supply. The result is that prices for Charlotte gold coins have risen and should continue to do so as fewer and fewer coins are chased by more and more collectors.

VII. Many Major Collections are Sold and ManyNew Players Enter the Market

In the decade from 1987 to 1997, many of the finest collections of Charlotte gold coins ever assembled have been sold. Important collections sold at auction include Norweb (Bowers and Merena, 1987-1988), Willard Blaisdell (Stack's, 3/90), Billy Fuller (Heritage, 7/93) Reed Hawn (Stack's, 10/93), James Stack (Stack's, 10/94), R.T. Wilder (Stack's, 11/94) Ed Milas (Stack's, 5/95 and Stack's/RARCOA/Akers, 11/95) and the forthcoming Pittman sale (Akers, 10/97). In addition, the Stanley Elrod collection, which is recognized by experts as the final complete set of Charlotte coins ever assembled, was sold intact and then broken-up and sold individually from 1995 to 1997. Coins from these sales now dominate the revised Condition Census listings for Charlotte gold coins and this will be reflected in my forthcoming book.

At the same time, there has been a change of leadership in the Charlotte market; both from the standpoint of the sellers and the buyers. Of the ten leading dealers in Charlotte gold in the current market, at least half of them were not active in 1987 and others, such as myself, have only recently had the financial resources available to compete in the higher end market. Of the ten leading collectors of Charlotte gold in 1987, at least half of them are either deceased or no longer active. Many of the most significant buyers had never seen a Charlotte gold coin in 1987, not to mention the fact that they were unable or unwilling to spend serious money on their current passion a decade ago.

VIII. Summary

Collectors of Charlotte gold who have been active since the mid-1980's are, no doubt, marvelling at the tremendous changes that they have seen in the past decade. The number of high grade rare coins which have been made available to them, especially in the 1990's, has been nothing short of incredible. As one collector recently said to me, half-jokingly, "it's like they reopened the Charlotte Mint for a few years and decided to give us a second chance at the really nice, rare pieces we needed for our collections. Conversely, the prices which these same collectors now have to pay for choice pieces makes the prices of 1987 seem very, very reasonable. In 1987, the collector of average means could afford to put together a nice Extremely Fine to About Uncirculated set. Today, this set is out of the price range of the lower budget collector.

Nearly all of the major collections which have been formed since 1987 have been built around slabbed coins. Unless a Charlotte coin is from an old-time collection and is being sold at auction, the chances are good that it if it is unslabbed, it has a problem.

In my opinion, the future for collector-oriented series such as Charlotte gold coins looks very bright. Assuming that my new book creates even a moderate number of serious new collectors, the supply/demand ratio will become even more skewed. If three or four major players decide to assemble high grade sets of Charlotte gold in the next two or three years, the supply will noticeably dwindle. This will lead to further price increases and, perhaps, even more radical market changes than the ones discussed above.