Liberty Head Half Eagles: A Guide for Collectors

Liberty Head half eagles were produced from 1839 until they were discontinued in 1908. This long-lived series is becoming popular with collectors who are attracted to these coins becuase of their history and rarity. This article is an attempt to make sense of the Liberty Head half eagle series for the beginning and intermediate collector. First, let's take a look at some of the historic background of the series and the half eagle denomination. This was one of the original denominations that was authorized by the Act of 1792 and it was one of three struck in gold, along with the quarter eagle ($2.50) and eagle ($10.00). The half eagle denomination was the workhorse of these three and the issues from 1795 to 1813 are far more available than the other gold coins of this era. The half eagles from 1814 through 1833 tend to be extremely rare due to large-scale meltings.

In 1839, the half eagle was redisgned by Christian Gobrecht. The design was modified in 1840 and experimented with through 1843. It stayed unchanged until 1866 when the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the reverse. For most collectors, the following types of Liberty Head half eagle are included in their collection:

1. First Head; mintmark on obverse. (1839 only) 2. Second Head; mintmark on reverse. No Motto. (1840-1866) 3. Second Head; mintmark on reverse. With Motto. (1866-1908)

The Liberty Head half eagle series is unique in that it is the only United States gold type that was struck at seven mints. These are as follows: Philadelphia, Charlotte, Dahlonega, New Orleans, Carson City, San Francisco and Denver. A novel way to collect this series is to assemble a seven-mint set; this will be discussed later in his article.

I can think of at least seven different ways to collect Libeerty Head half eagles. If you are creative, there are probably more but for the sake of brevity, let's focus on these methods.

1. By Mint

Probably the most popular way to collect Liberty Head half eagles is by mint. To do so, a collector generally focuses on one (or two) of the seven mints that produced this series.

The most popular mint to specialize in is Dahlonega. The half eagles from this mint were produced from 1838 to 1861. There are no major rarities in the Dahlonega half eagle series and this is a set that can be completed in grades that range from Very Fine all the way to Uncirculated. One of the things that is interesting about this set is how affordable the coins are. If a collector wanted to put together a set of the twenty-four major issues in the VF-EF range, this could be done for around $70,000-90,000. A set that featured Finest Known and Condition Census coins could run well north of $500,000.

The second most popular mint to collect is Carson City. These were issued from 1870 to 1893. This set is impossible to complete in Uncirculated but it could be done in AU55 and better grades. A collector who had a more limited budget could acquire virtually every date in Fine to Very Fine grades and the more affordable later dates (i.e., those from the 1890's) can be found in higher grades at relatively nominal sums.

Probably the most difficult mint to complete a set from is San Francisco. Virtually every half eagle produced at this mint from 1854 to 1877 is very rare in high grades and most of these are either unknown or extremely rare in Uncirculated. There are very few collectors who specialize in San Francisco half eagles and there are a number of reasons for this. The set is long (coins were issued from 1854 through 1906), full of rarities and it contains coins that are numbingly common (most of the issues from 1879 onwards).

2. By Decade or By Year

An interesting way to collect Liberty Head half eagles is by decade. This type was produced during the 1840's, 1850's, 1860's, 1870's, 1880, 1890's and 1900's. A "by decade" set appeals to many collectors due to the fact that there is a broad range of coins issued.

In my opinion, the 1840's would be the most interesting decade to specialize in. There were four mints that produced half eagles during this decade: Philadelphia, Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans. Virtually all of the coins made during the 1840's are available in circulated grades but most are rare in Uncirculated. What I like about the coins from this decade, besides their historic association, is the fact that many are highly undervalued; moreso, I feel, than any other decade.

Another decade that is full of undervalued, overlooked coins is the 1870's. Nearly all of the coins struck between 1870 and 1876 are rare in all grades (there are a few exceptions such as the 1873) and most of the issues from this decade are very rare to extremely rare in Uncirculated.

An interesting half eagle set is a year set. This would include one example of every year in which Liberty half eagles were produced from 1839 through 1907. The beauty of this set is that in years in which there are rarities, there is always an affordable issue to lessen the cost. As an example, the mintmarked half eagles from 1861 (1861-C, 1861-D and 1861-S) are all scarce and in higher grades they are very expensive. But the 1861 Philadelphia half eagle is common and a very nice example can be obtained for around $1,000. There are only a few years in which all the issues are rare and these tend to be the ones (like 1863 and 1864) in which only a limited number of mints were striking half eagles.

3. By Type

I described the three major types of Liberty Head half eagles earlier in this article. For collectors who choose to focus on these three coins, there are are many options.

The initial type was made only in 1839, at the Philadelphia, Charlotte and Dahlonega mints. None of these issues is rare although the two mintmarked coins are highly sought-after and very expensive in Uncirculated. An 1839 Philadelphia half eagle is more obtainable and a really nice piece can be found for just a few thousand dollars.

The No Motto type, struck from 1840 through 1866 contains issues that run the gamut from common to very rare. Most No Motto half eagles (even the common dates) are very hard to locate in Uncirculated grades and there are very few single coins that exist in MS63 and above. For type purposes, it might make sense to look for a common Philadelphia coin from the 1840's or 1850's in AU58 to MS62. Again, a very nice coin can be obtained for just a few thousand dollars.

The With Motto type was made from 1866 until the end of this design in 1908. There are a number of very rare With Motto issues but most of the pieces struck after 1879 are common, even in the lower Uncirculated grades. For a type coin, I'd recommend a common date from the late 19th century in MS63 to MS65 grades. Depending on the date and grade, you're looking at an expenditure of just a few thousand dollars.

4. Rarities

There are a number of rarities in the Liberty Head half eagles but not nearly as many as in the earlier half eagles that immediately preced this type. First and foremost is the 1854-S of which there are just three known. None has been offered for sale since the Eliasberg coin back in 1982 and, I believe, that if one were to become available today, it could bring as much as $3-5 million.

There are other rare issues in this series but none approach the 1854-S. In the Philadelphia issues, the 1875 is by far the key issue. Only 200 business strikes were made and it is believed that around ten or so are known today. Despite this coin's extreme rarity, examples have traded in the low six figures. After the 1875, the next rarest Philadelphia half eagles are the 1887 (struck only as a Proof) and the 1863.

The aformentioned 1854-S is, obviously, the great rarity from San Francisco. After this, there is a steep drop-off in terms of rarity. The issues from 1859 through 1867 are all scarce in circulated grades and extremely rare in Uncirculated. By far the rarest of these is the 1864-S. In fact, a strong case can be made for this date being the rarest collectible half eagle of this type. Despite this fact, it is not out of the price range of most collectors.

None of the Charlotte or Dahlonega half eagles is a major rarity as far as the total number known to exist. The key Charlotte issues include the 1842-C Small Date, 1844-C, 1846-C and 1861-C while the hardest Dahlonega half eagles to acquire include the 1842-D Large Date and the 1861-D.

Switching focus to the New Orleans issues, the two hardest dates to acquire are the 1842-O and the 1847-O. Both of these are actually affordable in the EF40-AU50 range, scarce but not bdget-busting in the middle to higher AU grades and extremely rare in Uncirculated. The Carson City series contains a number of scarce dates such as the 1870-CC, 1872-CC, 1873-CC and 1878-CC. Again, these are pricey but obtainable in the AU grade range.

In summary, the only Liberty Head half eagle that will prove to be unobtainable is the 1854-S. The other rare dates can be found with patience.

5. Proofs

Proofs of this type are very collectible and range from exceedingly rare to rare-but-collectible.

A type collector might want to acquire one example each of a Proof No Motto and With Motto Liberty Head half eagle. The former is very rare. Proofs were not issued in any sort of quantity until 1859. The Proofs produced in the 1860's are all very rare but can be obtained with patience. For a nice PR63 to PR64 example, a collector is looking at an investmnt in the $40,000- $50,000 range.

The With Motto Proofs were produced continuously from 1875 through 1907 (none were made in 1908). The 1875 and the 1887 are two dates that sell for large premiums; the former due to the rarity of business strikes and the latter due to the fact that it was made only in the Proof format.

As far as I know there are very few--if any--collectors are currently specializing in a date run of Proof Liberty Head half eagles. This would be a challenging and exzpensive set but one that could be completed. It is one that also contains coins that are great values. As an example, the Proofs from the late 1860's and early 1870's are extremely rare (typically fewer than a dozen are known) yet they do not command significnat premiums in PR64 and PR65 over the more available issues from the 1880's and 1890's.

6. Varieties

If you are a collector who fancies varieties, there are more interesting ones present in the half eagles than any other Liberty Head series. These range from significant Redbook varieties to minor, little-known ones.

Some of the better known varieties include the 1840 Broad Mill and Narrow Mill, the 1842 Small Letters and Large Letters, the 1842-C Small Date and Large Date, the 1842-D Small Date and Large Date, the 1843-O Small Letters and Large Letters, the 1846 Small Date and Large Date and the 1846-D Normal Mintmark and D over D Mintmark. From 1850 onwards, there are fewer significant varieties.

There are only two confirmed ovedates in the series and neither is rare. The 1881/0 and the 1901/0-S are both quite affordable in circulated grades and can be located in the lower to middling Uncirculated grades without much effort or expense.

While I have done some fairly extensive research on the varieties of branch mint half eagles, there are probably a number waiting to be discovered. I think the most fertile area is probably the Philadelphia issues from the 1840's. This was an era in which countless blundered dates and other significant varities are already known on silver coins; it seems likely that others await discovery in the half eagle series.

If you are new to the series, one of the real questions you may have is how to price Liberty Head half eagles. For the more common issues this isn't very hard. You will find that many of he post-1880 issues from Philadelphia and San Francisco are regarded as "generics" and sell for little--if any--premium. Pricing the rarities is another story altogether.

If you decide to focus on the southern branch mint coins, you will quickly learn that locating original pieces (i.e., examples with attractive natural coloration) is very difficult. Surprisingly, the premium factor for original coins is often low; in many cases only 5-10% more than a bright, processed example. With many of the Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans pieces, these issues are available in great enough numbers that the collector shouldn't have to settle for a marginal quality coin.

Pricing very rare issues can be a challenge. There are some dates in the series that come on the market very infrequently and the last comparable trade at auction might have occured as long as three to five years ago.

I just mentioned using auction comparables and I think this is a point worthy of a quick discussion. To my way of thinking, seeing what other examples of a coin have been bringing at auction is probably the best way to determine a price for a coin that you have an interest in. Let's say, for example, that you are contemplating buying an 1847-O half eagle graded EF40. Let's say that the last three auction trades are $5,290, $6,350 and $5,750. This gives a clear indication that a decent quality coin is going to be worth around $6,000. How about if you were to go back another two years and you see that there are three more trades; one for $11,500, one for $3,450 and another for $5,750? In the case of the $11,500 sale, I would dismiss this as it probably represents a coin that at least two bidders thought would upgrade. And the cheap sale of $3,450 probably represents a problem coin or one that is extremely low end for the grade.

What are the best values in the Liberty Head half eagle series? That's a hard question to answer as I believe that the entire series is chock full of good value. If I had to focus on a few areas that were the most undervalued I'd suggest No Motto Philadelphia coins in AU58 to MS62 (most are priced in the $1,000-5,000 range and harder to find than one might expect), the New Orleans issues in AU50 and above and the low mintage Philadelphia issues from 1862 through 1877. But it's hard to name just a few areas and I'd honestly say that just about any pre-1900 half eagle that is choice and original is desirable to some extent.

The Liberty Head half eagle series has become more and more popular over the years as people become aware of the challenges it offers collectors. I doubt if its appeal will ever become really widespread due to its longevity and cost but I look for it to become even more collected in the coming years.

Are you interested in the Liberty Head half eagle series? Would you like to form a collection of these coins? Feel free to email me for more information at dwn@ont.com

The Two Varieties of 1840-C Half Eagle

Two newly discovered high grade 1840-C half eagles in the Heritage 2011 Platinum Night session of the FUN auction give interesting insight to the emission sequence and striking characteristics of the rare and popular 1840-C half eagle. Prior to the discovery of these two coins, which were graded MS63 and MS64+ by PCGS, there were an estimated three to five known in Uncirculated. The previous finest known, pedigreed to the Pittman sale, is graded MS64. Ironically, that coin was in the sale also (and how thrilled was the consignor of the Pittman coin when he opened the catalog?) and this gave students of Charlotte half eagles an unprecedented opportunity to study the three finest known examples of the 1840-C in one fell swoop.

The two varieties are designated as Variety 1 and Variety 2. The varieties share a common obverse and one that is characterized by a rather amazing mispunched date with one appears to be the tops of a 1 and an 8 coming up from the denticles. The reverse of Variety 1 has a large mintmark placed closed to the stem that is slightly tilted to the right. On the second variety, the mintmark is tilted more towards the left.

1840-C $5.00 PCGS MS63, image courtesy of Heritage

Here's a photo of Lot 5108 which is a Variety 1 coin in PCGS MS63. There are a couple of interesting things to note about this coin. The first is the poor overall quality of strike. Look at the weakness on the stars, the hair around the ear of Liberty, the neck feathers and the horizontal lines in the shield. Note as well the roughness at the peripheries. This is a characteristic of this variety: considerable roughness at the borders which is, of course, mint-made.

Even more interesting on the reverse are the extensive die cracks that can be seen at 4:00 and 9:00. This is a very late die state and, clearly, there were very few more coins produced before the reverse literally fell apart and was discarded.

Now let's take a look at Variety 2.

1840-C $5.00 PCGS MS64+, image courtesy of Heritage

This Variety 2 coin is graded MS64+ by PCGS and it is easily the finest known. In fact, the coin is really "as struck" but probably didn't grade MS65 because of the roughness at the obverse center, as made.

The first thing you will probably gauge is how sharp the strike is in comparison to Variety 1. The stars have full radial lines, the denticles are complete and separated and the roughness seen at the inner border on the previous coin is lacking. Note, as well, how sharp the details are on the eagle in comparison to the previous coin.

But the most intruguing thing about this coin is the lack of reverse die cracks, except for a small one at the eagle's right wingtip.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the two coins is, in some ways, one of the most subtle. You probably won't be able to tell from these photos but on the earlier use of this obverse (lot 5110) there are small die lines that run in from the border. On the second coin (lot 5108) these lines do not exist and they have been removed by the mint (this process is known as "lapping.")

What does this prove? That the sequence of these coins, as proposed by me, is incorrect and Variety 2 was actually made first. The reason that Variety 1 coins look so worn and weak is that they were made later in the production run, probably after the obverse die was lapped.

Ironically, neither of the two newly discovered 1840-C half eagles sold at the auction. This wasn't the result of a lack of bidder interest (I would have been thrilled to buy both coins) but because the reserves placed on both lots by the consignor were too high.

I can't imagine there will be many other times that collectors will be able to see such fresh, high grade Charlotte half eagles in one place and that each coin will not only be a different die variety but will have an entirely different "look" as a result.

Thanks to Heritage Auctions for allowing me to use the images of the two 1840-C half eagles above.

Gem Charlotte Half Eagles: The Elite Eight

In my last blog, I wrote about a Gem 1855-C half eagle that I was fortunate to recently handle. A number of readers asked me about some of the other Gem half eagles from this mint and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at each of these. There are a total of eight Charlotte half eagles that have been graded MS65 or better by either PCGS or NGC (or by both services in some cases). Many are very famous coins within the Charlotte gold collecting community. A few are not quite as famous and are not given the full "props" that the others have received in the past. Let's take a quick peek at each of the eight Gem Charlotte half eagles.

1842-C Large Date Graded MS65 by NGC, ex Milas/Eliasberg. This coin has a pedigree dating back to 1920 when John Clapp Jr. purchased it from Elmer Sears. It was later in the Eliasberg collection and it brought $17,600 (a comparably high price) when it was sold at auction in 1982. The coin was later owned by Chicago dealer Ed Milas and was offered in the Stack's May 1995 sale of his superb collection of No Motto half eagles. It is now owned by a North Carolina collector and it has been off the market for close to a decade.

1846-C Graded NS65 by NGC, ex Elrod/Eliasberg. This is one of my all-time favorite Charlotte half eagles. It was purchased by John Clapp Sr. out of the David Wilson sale conducted by S.H. Chapman in March 1907. It was later owned by Louis Eliasberg and it brought a reasonable $13,200 in October 1982. The famous specialist Stanley Elrod then owned the coin and I bought it in the late 1980's/early 1990's when the Elrod collection was being dispersed. I then sold the coin to Paul Dingler and bought it back in 2005. It is now owned by a West Coast collector. Funny story: when I was selling this coin to Paul Dingler, I had a hard time convincing him that this coin was as great as I believed. It turned out that Paul was color-blind and the dark, crusty color that this coin exhibited (at the time) was hard for him to appreciate. He did take my word for it and this 1846-C half eagle became a centerpiece of his fantastic collection.

1847-C Graded MS65 by PCGS, ex: Pittman/Farouk. As far as I know, this is one of only two of the Elite Eight that is currently in a PCGS holder. It has a wonderful pedigree that goes back to the Col. Green collection and it was later in the King Farouk and John Pittman sales. I first saw the coin in the Akers 10/97 Pittman Part One auction where it brought $44,000. It was last sold as Heritage 4/02: 6986 where it brought $47,150. I do not know the current location of this impressive Gem.

1849-C Graded MS66 by NGC. This coin was discovered by Avena Numismatics back around 1997 and was first offered for sale as Bowers and Merena 8/98: 330 where it did not meet its reserve. It finally found a home after appearing in the Bowers and Merena 3/04 auction realizing $70,150. It is clearly the finest known 1849-C half eagle. I am not aware of the current location of this coin.

1852-C Graded MS65 by NGC, ex: Silvertowne Hoard. In 1984 or 1985, a group of five remarkable 1852-C half eagles from a family in Southern Indiana was sold to Silvertowne Numismatics. One of the five (I'm not certain which) was later graded MS65 by NGC after having been graded MS64 by PCGS. Interestingly, the second part of this hoard came on the market in December 2007 when a Florida firm offered them for sale. The 1852-C half eagles from this hoard are notable for their superb original color, great luster and high overall level of eye appeal.

1855-C Graded MS65 by NGC, ex: Elrod. Having just written extensively about this coin, I'd prefer not to be reptetitive and suggest you read my blog dated April 8, 2009 for more information.

1857-C Graded MS65 by NGC, ex Elrod. This coin is from the famous Elrod collection and it was first sold at auction in February 1999 as part of the Heritage William Miller auction where it failed to meet its reserve. It reappeared as Heritage 1/03: 4797, in an NGC MS64 holder, where it sold for $33,350. I saw this coin within the last year in a dealer's inventory.

1859-C Graded MS66 by PCGS, ex Milas/Eliasberg. While not widely-known outside of the specialist community, this incredible coin gets my vote for the single finest Charlotte half eagle in existence. It was purchased by John Clapp, Sr. in 1910 from Elmer Sears and was later in the Eliasberg collection. It sold for just $8,800 in October 1982 and this cheap price can be attributed to the relative unsophistication of the branch mint market at that time. After appearing in a number of auctions in the mid-1980's it wound-up in Ed Milas' set of Gem No Motto half eagles where it sold for $104,500. I haven't seen this coin for many years but I remember it being superb and hope that it has retained its superb original color and luster.

It is remarkable to think that only eight Gem Charlotte half eagles exist, considering that close to 900,000 pieces were struck between 1838 and 1861. The collectors who own any of the Elite Eight have coins that, in my opinion, are truly worthy of the overused designation "world-class."

The Elrod 1855-C Half Eagle, Graded MS65 by NGC

In my February 25, 2009 blog I wrote about (and showed pictures of) the fabulous Bass 1855-C quarter eagle in NGC MS65. I recently handled the Big Brother of this coin, the Elrod 1855-C half eagle also graded MS65 by NGC and I thought I’d share some information and images of this amazing coin. First, a little background. The Elrod 1855-C half eagle has been off the market for close to a decade and has been in the collection of a North Carolina businessman. I can trace the pedigree of this coin back to at least the mid-1970’s when it was obtained by the pioneering collector Stanley Elrod of Matthews, N.C. After trading hands a few times, it was obtained by William Miller, a collector from Michigan. It remained in the Miller collection until it was sold as Lot 6284 in the Heritage February 1999 auction. At this sale, it realized $67,725 which remains a record for the date. The new owner of this coin is an anonymous specialist who is working on one of the finest collections of Charlotte gold ever assembled.

1855-C $5.00 NGC MS65 Elrod

The 1855-C half eagle is the twelfth rarest of twenty-four half eagles struck at the Charlotte mint and it is the eleventh rarest in high grades. I estimate that between 175 and 225 are known with just four or five in Uncirculated. The Elrod coin is, of course, the finest. The other two notable 1855-C half eagles are the Bass/Garrett coin (graded MS63 by PCGS) and the Milas coin (graded MS64 by NGC). Only one die variety is known but there are three die states. The first has a perfect reverse. The second has a light crack joining the base of the letters in FIVE and D. The third, which is rare and distinctive, has a full cud below these letters. The Elrod coin is Die State I.

What makes this coin an unabashed Gem? I personally believe that the two best things about the Elrod 1855-C half eagle is its coloration and its fresh, almost glowing appearance. The coin has amazing rich, frosty luster that is accentuated by sensational medium to deep orange-gold and maize color. The surfaces are almost entirely free of marks with the exception of some mint-made roughness in the planchet which is as struck.

How rare are Charlotte half eagles in Gem Uncirculated? I am aware of eight distinct half eagles from this mint that are regarded within the specialist community as Gems. They are as follows:

1. 1842-C Large Date graded MS65 by NGC

2. 1846-C graded MS65 by NGC (ex: Eliasberg)

3. 1847-C graded MS65 by PCGS (ex: Pittman)

4. 1849-C graded MS66 by NGC

5. 1852-C graded MS65 by NGC

6. 1855-C graded MS65 by NGC (ex: Elrod)

7. 1857-C graded MS65 by NGC (ex: Elrod)

8. 1859-C graded MS66 by PCGS (ex: Milas)

If I had to choose one of the coins above as the single finest known Charlotte half eagle, it would be the Milas 1859-C. But that’s another story that we’ll cover in a future blog. As far as I know the sale of the Elrod 1855-C is the first Gem Charlotte half eagle to occur in a number of years. The other Gem half eagles from this mint are off the market in tightly-held collections and may not be available for quite some time in the future.

Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN) specializes in choice and rare branch mint gold and handles many finest known and Condition Census pieces from these mints. For more information regarding the Elrod 1855-C half eagle or any other gold coins from the branch mints, please contact Doug Winter 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).

Eliasberg 1842-C Large Date

Most collectors (and dealers) have never seen a Gem Uncirculated Charlotte half eagle. I recently had the pleasure of handling one of the finest known Charlotte half eagles of any date—the Eliasberg 1842-C Large Date—and thought it would be interesting to readers of this blog. This 1842-C Large Date half eagle has been graded MS65 by NGC. It is one of just a small handful of Charlotte half eagles of any date that have ever been graded MS65 (or better) by the services. In fact, as of March 2008, PCGS had only graded a single Charlotte half eagle in MS65 (1847-C) while NGC had graded four individual coins including this one in MS65 (the others are an 1846-C, 1852-C, 1855-C and 1857-C) plus a single coin in MS66 (1849-C).

Before we discuss the specifics of this coin, let’s look at some of the background about the date. The 1842-C Large Date has an original mintage of 23,589. An estimated 90-110 are known including as many as seven to nine in Uncirculated. The present coin is, obviously, the finest. There are also two graded MS64 by NGC and a pair graded MS63 by PCGS. I rank the 1842-C Large Date as the fifth rarest of 24 Charlotte half eagles in overall rarity and the seventh rarest in high grades.

This particular coin has a long and illustrious pedigree. It last appeared at public auction in Stack’s 1995 Milas Collection sale where it brought $44,000 in an NGC MS64 holder. Prior to being in the Milas collection, it was Lot 421 in the October 1982 Eliasberg sale where it brought $17,600. It has been acquired by Eliasberg from the Clapp collection in 1942 and before this it was sold to John Clapp, Sr. by the dealer Elmer Sears in 1920.

The first question any smart collector should ask about this coin is "is it really an MS65?" Despite the fact that it once resided in an MS64 holder (albeit way back in 1995...) I would resoundingly say "yes, it is unquestionably a Gem by today’s standards."

1842-C $5.00 NGC65

When you look at the photo of this coin, there are a few things that immediately stand out. The first is this coin’s exceptional luster. Yes, I realize that you can not accurately capture the true essence of luster in an image but on a coin like this-that is literally dripping with original mint luster-you can get a pretty decent idea of it. The second thing that is apparent is this coin’s amazing color. Both the obverse and the reverse have fabulous intense yellow gold hues that are accentuated by the full, unbroken frost. Even from an image, you can detect that this coin is original and has never been dipped or "improved."

Some collectors might look at this coin and say that it can’t possibly grade MS65 because it has marks visible in the obverse fields. I would respond to this as follows. First, the current standards of the MS65 grade do not imply that such a coin is perfect. An MS65 will show some light, unobtrusive marks; primarily in the most open part(s) of a coin design. Secondly, some allowance must be made for the fact that this is a branch mint coin from the 1840’s. Sophisticated graders of coins realize that you can’t take the standards of a Philadelphia half eagle from, say, the 1890’s and apply it to a Charlotte coin from 1842. But that said, I honestly believe that even if this exact coin was a common Liberty Head half eagle it would still be assigned an MS65 grade.

The most important thing about grading a coin like this is to consider its overall eye appeal. This 1842-C Large Date half eagle is absolutely beautiful with great detail, superb luster, splendid color and very nice surfaces. These individual factors make it far too nice to assign an MS64 grade to it. Another way of looking at this coin is to ask the question, "would I sell this in an MS64 holder?" If an exact twin of this coin came up to my table at a coin show in an MS64 holder (and it was priced like an MS64) I would write a check in about five seconds and have it cracked out and ready for regrading in about fifteen seconds. And if it didn’t grade MS65 right away, I would continue to try to get this grade.

In my opinion, the Eliasberg 1842-C Large Date is among the best No Motto half eagles of any date that I have seen in many years and it is certainly among the best half dozen half eagles known from this mint. Even a Jaded Dealer such as me gets a tingle out of coins like these and I’m sure it will be a long time before I handle another Gem Charlotte half eagle.

Charlotte Half Eagle Rarity

As I’ve been working on the updated third edition of my Charlotte book, I’ve had the chance to make some interesting observations regarding the rarity of Charlotte half eagles. The overall rarity of most Charlotte half eagles has changed. In nearly every instance, this has meant an increase in the total number known for a specific issue. As an example, I estimated in the second edition that 70-80 examples of the 1840-C half eagle existed. My revised estimate, in the third edition, is 80-100.

The increased populations are a result of a number of factors. After nearly twenty years of grading Charlotte coins, the PCGS and NGC populations represent significantly large percentages of the known total for every specific issue. So, these population figures carry more weight with me than they did ten years ago (and, yes, I have figured regrades/resubmissions prominently as a factor of total populations from both services).

I believe that my second edition estimates were also a bit on the low side when it comes to lower grade coins. While I knew of nearly every high grade 1840-C half eagle that exists (now or when the last edition was written) I tended to underestimate the low grade coins. My new estimates try to take into account these pieces.

There are changes in the population estimates for EF and AU half eagles because, let’s face it, the EF45 of ten years ago is, in most cases, an AU50 (or higher) today. I’ve tried to factor in gradeflation into my estimates and I tend to discount some of the slabbed AU50 or MS60/61 coins as, in my opinion, they do not meet my personal grading standards.

One thing my updated research has reinforced is that really choice Charlotte half eagles (MS63 and better) remain genuinely rare. While many of the coins listed in the Condition Census of my second book have changed owners and, in many cases, holders, they remain coins with pedigrees that I am able to trace back to the 1990’s or earlier. I’ve also noticed that the grading services have done a good job (most of the time) at holding the line on higher grading Charlotte half eagles. While a few MS63’s have become MS64’s or MS64’s have become MS65’s, many of the coins that were grading MS64 or MS65 back in the mid-to-late 1990’s have remained consistently graded.

The Bass sales, held from 1999 to 2001, had a huge impact on the third edition of the book. Many of the coins that I speculated about in the first two editions but were unaware of their location/grades were in the Bass collection. They now appear in the third edition; complete with accurate pedigrees and current grades.

What are a few other things that I have learned about Charlotte half eagles that will be reflected in the new third edition of the book?

* I’ve learned that some of the die variety information for issues such as the 1849-C, 1850-C, 1853-C and 1854-C was wrong and it has been corrected.

* I’ve learned the value of good pictures and the crappy old black and white images that appeared in the first two editions will be replaced by useful color plates.

* I’ve learned that people generally liked the format and design of my second edition of the New Orleans gold book that I published last year and so this format will be adapted to the upcoming Charlotte book.

* Finally, I’ve learned that Charlotte coinage for me is like the numismatic equivalent of “home cooking” and when I’m feeling cranky or burned-out, nothing is more numismatically soothing than a dose of Charlotte half eagles.

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.

Comparing PCGS & NGC Population Statistics

As a dealer, I hear a lot of comments about how PCGS and NGC grade rare gold coins. I thought it would be interesting to compare the population statistics for two commonly traded series, Charlotte half eagles and Dahlonega half eagles, using recent published population figures from the PCGS and NGC databases. Before I get into the numbers themselves, I think a few background tidbits are necessary. I chose Charlotte and Dahlonega half eagles because these are two branch mint series that do not have a lot of problematical issues that are extremely hard to grade (unlike, say, Dahlonega quarter eagles which are especially hard to grade). Also, the market accords relatively similar value levels to Charlotte and Dahlonega half eagles in either services’ holder (unlike, say, high quality Mercury Dimes which are clearly more valuable in PCGS holders). Finally, I chose these two series because they have comparatively high numbers of coins that have been graded, which makes the population sample we are looking at more relevant than more esoteric series that have had few coins graded.

A few more quick points. The Charlotte half eagle series consists of twenty-four coins, including the 1842-C Small Date and Large Date. For both services, I included only these twenty-four issues. For NGC coins only, I also included 1850-C and 1854-C which were designated by that service as “Weak C.” PCGS does not make this differentiation. The Dahlonega half eagle series consists of twenty-six coins, including both varieties of 1842-D, the 1846-D/D and the 1848-D/D. I also included coins designated by NGC as “Weak D.”

I. Charlotte Half Eagles

As of June 2007 PCGS had graded a grand total of 2,626 Charlotte half eagles in all grades. A breakdown of these is as follows:

    Very Fine and lower, 636 (24.21% of the total graded)

    Extremely Fine, 889 (33.85% of the total graded)

    About Uncirculated, 930 (35.41% of the total graded)

    Uncirculated, 165 (6.28% of the total graded)

As of June 2007 NGC had graded a grand total of 2,877 Charlotte half eagles in all grades. A breakdown of these is as follows:

    Very Fine and lower, 288 (10.21% of the total graded)

    Extremely Fine, 750 (26.06% of the total graded)

    About Uncirculated, 1506 (52.34% of the total graded)

    Uncirculated, 321 (11.15% of the total graded)

Before I analyze these numbers, I think there are a few very important points to make. Both PCGS and NGC have an inherent flaw with their population figures: these numbers are inflated (often severely) by resubmissions. PCGS does a recently good job of clearing the deadwood off their report and they offer submitters a “bounty” for each used coin insert that ensures that a decent number of labels will be returned. NGC, unfortunately, does not offer a bounty and this discourages certain large submitters from returning their old inserts. When I look at the NGC population figures for Charlotte half eagles, what strikes me is the large number of coins graded AU55 and higher. I think these numbers are greatly inflated due to resubmissions.

So, what do I deduct from these numbers? First of all, I am struck by the nearly equal number of total coins graded by PCGS and NGC; 2,626 for the former and 2,877 for the latter. I would have predicted that the total number would have been much higher for NGC and much lower for PCGS. Secondly, I find it very interesting that PCGS has graded around 42% of all the Charlotte half eagles submitted to them in AU and higher grades while NGC has graded slightly over 63% in AU and higher. I find it very hard to believe that over six in ten of all Charlotte half eagles grade AU50 and better, even factoring in gradeflation. One final statistic that I think is very interesting is that NGC has graded nearly twice as many Charlotte half eagles in Uncirculated than PCGS. Even factoring in the inflated population figures at NGC due to submitters not returning duplicate tags, I am still intrigued by this disparity.

II. Dahlonega Half Eagles

As of June 2007 PCGS had graded a grand total of 3,355 Dahlonega half eagles in all grades. A breakdown of these is as follows:

    Very Fine and lower, 749 (22.32% of the total graded)

    Extremely Fine, 990 (29.50% of the total graded)

    About Uncirculated, 1329 (39.61% of the total graded)

    Uncirculated, 261 (7.77% of the total graded)

As of June 2007 NGC had graded a grand total of 3,266 Dahlonega half eagles in all grades. A breakdown of these is as follows:

    Very Fine and lower, 313 (9.58% of the total graded)

    Extremely Fine, 781 (23.91% of the total graded)

    About Uncirculated, 1824 (55.84% of the total graded)

    Uncirculated, 338 (10.34% of the total graded)

In looking at these two sets of numbers, there are two areas where great disparity can be quickly noted: with coins graded VF and lower and with coins graded AU. What accounts for this?

In regards to the lower graded coins, my guess is that there are two major reasons. The first is that PCGS tends to be a bit more generous than NGC in terms of what they will or will not encapsulate in this grade range. PCGS will often net grade a lower quality Dahlonega half eagle while NGC will tend to either not grade such a coin or place it in an NCS holder. The second reason is that these lower grade coins tend to appeal more towards pure collectors than investors or speculators and these individuals often prefer to have their coins in PCGS holders.

How can the great disparity between NGC and PCGS for AU grade Dahlonega half eagles be explained? I think there are two important things to consider. The first is that the NGC populations for Dahlonega half eagles graded AU55 and (especially) AU58 are hugely inflated by resubmissions. If NGC were to clean-up their populations figures, I think the number of AU coins would be reduced by at least 200-300+. The second reason is probably due to the fact that the NGC grading line for AU Dahlonega half eagles is a bit looser than PCGS’. In my opinion, a number of AU50 Dahlonega half eagles graded by NGC would not qualify as such at PCGS.

The most important thing to remember about these numbers is that they are subject to any number of interpretations. If you are pro-NGC, you will form your own conclusions while if you are pro-PCGS you will, no doubt, reach another conclusion.