The Dahlonega mint began production of quarter eagles in 1839 and discontinued this denomination in 1859. There are a total of 20 issues and two major types: the popular one-year Classic Head (1839 only) and the Liberty Head (1840-1859).Read More
Since I wrote the first of my three editions of Dahlonega gold books over two decades ago, I’ve sought to constantly remind collectors that truly choice, high-grade (in this instance high-grade equates to coins which grade AU55 and above) Dahlonega half eagles are rare, regardless of how “common” the issue seems to be in terms of overall rarity.Read More
The 1855-D is one of two gold dollars from the Dahlonega mint with multiple levels of demand. It is popular with type collectors who like it for its one-year status (it is the only Type One gold dollar from this mint) and it is also popular with collectors who appreciate truly rare coins. While the 1861-D is the “sexy” D mint gold dollar, the 1855-D is actually a rarer coin in high grades, especially with choice surfaces, original color and a sharp strike. Of the 100 or which are known, most 1855-D dollars grade in the VF-EF range and are characterized by very flat central detail. There are an estimated two dozen known in properly graded About Uncirculated, as well as another four or five in Uncirculated.
A very small number (lower than 10% of the survivors) are known with a full date and collectors appreciate these. Full Date coins typically command strong premium and to qualify as such, an 1855-D needs to be as well defined on the 85 as the present coin; see the photo for more evidence.
This fresh-to-the-market coin is perhaps the nicest circulated 1855-D dollar that I have owned and its eye appeal far exceeds the assigned grade. It is extremely well-struck and is probably one of the very first coins struck from the Winter 7-I die pair. The date shows 100% full detail, and there are only moderate clashmarks at the centers. The surfaces are clean and well made with attractive rich deep russet color seen on both sides. Some dirt in the recesses can be seen as well and it is likely that this is one of only a small number of 1855-D dollars which has not been cleaned or dipped.
This coin was recently sent in for grading by the descendants of an old Southern family, where the coin had resided since the 19th century. I was excited to purchase it, and I sent it to PCGS and later to CAC, hoping it would grade AU55.
Here is an example where a coin in a lower grade holder is clearly worth more than one graded higher. My coin was “competing” with an NGC AU58 which was listed on a West Coast dealer’s website for less money than I was asking for a coin which was “only” an AU53. As I pointed out to the collector who purchased this coin from me, the AU58, based on images, was weakly struck, unnaturally bright, and had rough, processed surfaces.
The new owner of this coin is nearing completion of a set of Dahlonega gold and he has just a few more coins before he is finished. I am pleased that he took a leap of faith and purchased this exceptional 1855-D Full Date dollar as it will make a superb addition to his set.
If you want to purchase Dahlonega gold coins which are choice s this 1855-D dollar, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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For years, I've been commenting on the die varieties of Dahlonega coins. My take has usually been somewhere along the line of "they are neat and they are fun to collect but I'm not sure that I ever see the market for these coins taking off." From time to to time, I talk to a collector who dabbles in Dahlonega varieties and I've even dealt with one or two who have been pretty hard-core. But, with some exceptions, I've never seen prices for these coins reflect this interest. Until possibly now. I'll be the first to tell you that you can't make a declaration about a market based on one auction but, the recent Heritage 2013 FUN sale had a large and varied collection of Dahlonega half eagles by die variety and there seemed to be a trend towards some of the rarer, more obvious varieties selling for premiums. Let's take a look at a few examples and try to make sense of them.
Lot 7189 was an 1854-D Medium D in an NGC VF30 holder. It was a nice coin, solid for the grade and original. NGC doesn't designate this variety so my brilliant plan was to break it out and send it to PCGS where it would grade, I hoped, VF30 and be designated as a Medium D. I bid $1,600 for the coin which would have put me into it at $1,880 with the buyer's premium. The coin brought $1,998 . The price was around 10% more than I expected. Certainly not a huge price premium but enough to make me raise an eyebrow.
The next coins that I found interesting were Lots 7193 and 7194; the former was an 1855-D Large D in NGC AU53 while the latter was an 1855-D Medium D also graded AU53 by NGC. In my experience, the Large D is the scarcer of the two (despite the fact that there were two Large D examples in the sale).
The first coin, lot 7193, sold for $3,182 while the second, lot 7194, sold for $3,290 which sort of disproves my theory that the market for Dahlonega half eagle varieties might be picking up. I partially attribute this to the fact that the Medium D coins are always weakly struck at the centers which means most collectors don't "get" this variety. Had Lot 7193, the Large D, been more attractive, I'm guessing it might have sold for some sort of premium. Clearly, this market is not yet developed enough that collectors are saying "this is a rare variety and even though the coin is kind of ugly I still need to pay a premium for it."
The two coins which were really interesting to me were Lot 7213 and Lot 7214. Both were 1859-D Large D half eagles. These varieties are designated by PCGS, they have very low populations figures and they are clearly visible to the naked eye; sort of the perfect storm for D mint half eagle varieties, if you will.
The first 1859-D (Lot 7213) was graded EF40 by PCGS and I thought the coin was extremely nice for the grade; maybe an EF45/AU50 on a good day. I figured it at $2,100, which meant a shade under $2,500 all in. The coin sold for $4,700 with the buyer's premium which I thought was remarkable.
The second 1859-D (Lot 7214) was graded AU55 by PCGS and I liked the coin even though it had an odd area of light toning directly above the head of Liberty at 12:00. I figured the coin at $3,750 or $4,406 with the fees. The coin wound up selling for $5,875 including the premium.
Were these prices strong? Just as a point of reference, an NGC AU58 1859-D half eagle in the same sale (Lot 7212) sold for $3,819 including the premium. The coin was a bit over-graded, in my opinion, but actually pretty decent and certainly an AU55 all day long.
Now, I don't know who bought the two 1859-D half eagles. They could have been bought by break-out dealers or telemarketers who figured the low PCGS populations meant a potential big score. But assuming they were purchased by variety collectors, I think these prices were extremely significant and they could portend an oncoming wave of interest in varieties.
My guess is that if varieties are to become of interest to collectors, they are going to be just the ones that are designated by PCGS/NGC and the ones that are easily seen with the naked-eye. Will someone care about one of the six varieties of 1848-D half eagle because of the position of the date or the placement of the mintmark? I doubt it. But I think they will care about a coin like the 1848-D/D half eagle which is genuinely rare and which can be appreciated by beginning and advanced collectors alike.
Kudos to Heritage for doing a nice job of cataloging these coins and my hats off to the collector who assembled this variety set, especially the two 1859-D half eagles.
One of the real pleasures to collecting Dahlonega gold coins is the variety of ways that the collector can pursue his avocation. Collecting these coins can range in levels of intensity from a mild flirtation to a complete obsession. As someone who has an abiding interest in these coins and who has helped many collectors with their purchases, I would like to present some suggestions on the way to collect Dahlonega gold coins. The Introductory Three Coin Set
The most basic way to collect Dahlonega coins is to purchase a single example of the gold dollar, quarter eagle, and half eagle. This makes sense for the collector who is on a limited budget or who is not certain how deep his interest in these coins lies.
A basic three coin Dahlonega set should consist of nice, problem-free coins. It also makes sense to stick to the more common dates. The grade ranges for these coins will probably fall between Extremely Fine-40 and About Uncirculated-55.
The 1849-D is a logical choice for the gold dollar in this set, since it is the most common and the most affordable date in the series. A nice Extremely Fine coin can be purchased for $2,000-3,000, while About Uncirculated examples range from $3,000-5,000, depending on quality.
The best quarter eagles for this set are the 1843-D, 1844-D, 1846-D, or 1848-D. A nice Extremely Fine example of any these dates swill cost $2,000-3,000, while an About Uncirculated costs $3,000-5,000+ (since no Dahlonega quarter eagle can be considered “common” in the higher About Uncirculated grades, the collector of more modest means should stick with a coin in the Extremely Fine-45 to About Uncirculated-50 grade range).
There are a number of dates in the half eagle series which would fit well in this set. These include the 1843-D, 1852-D, 1853-D, and 1854-D. Any of these dates can be purchased in nice Extremely Fine for $2,500-3,000, while an About Uncirculated will be in the $3,000-5,000 range.
An alternative to this set would be to buy all three denominations with the same date. This is feasible for the issues dated 1849-D, 1850-D, and 1851-D. Sets from 1852-D, 1853-D, 1857-D, and 1859-D could also be assembled, but least one coin in each of these sets is a scarcer, somewhat more expensive issue.
The basic three coin set can be further expanded by adding an 1854-D three dollar gold piece. Only 1,120 examples of this date were struck, and 1854 is the only year in which a coin of this denomination was produced in Dahlonega. An acceptable Very Fine example of this popular and rare issue can be purchased for $15,000-20,000, while an Extremely Fine will cost between $20,000 and $30,000+.
The Basic and Expanded Basic Type Sets
A type set of Dahlonega gold coins includes one example of each major type struck at this mint. Such a set includes the following:
- Type One gold dollar (1849-1854)
- Type Two gold dollar (1855 only)
- Type Three gold dollar (1856-1861)
- Classic Head quarter eagle (1839 only)
- Liberty Head quarter eagle (1840-1859)
- Three dollar gold piece (1854 only)
- Classic Head half eagle (1838 only)
- Liberty Head, obverse mintmark half eagle (1839 only)
- Liberty Head, reverse mintmark (1840-1861)
A set such as this makes for an extremely interesting display. The various designs employed in striking these nine major types provide a graphic illustration of the artistic and historic record of the Dahlonega Mint.
Most collectors who assemble a nine piece Dahlonega type set do so in grades that range from Extremely Fine-40 to About Uncirculated-55. It would be virtually impossible to complete this set in Mint State as two of these types – the Type Two gold dollar and the three dollar gold piece – are extremely rare in Uncirculated.
The specific coins included in a Dahlonega type set are generally the more common dates. Some collectors, however, use better dates in order to make their sets more interesting and potentially more valuable.
A nicely matched set of Extremely Fine-40 to Extremely Fine-45 coins will cost approximately $80,000 and $100,000. The two most expensive coins in this set would be the Type Two gold dollar and the three dollar gold piece. Together, these coins would account for at least half of the total cost.
A set with all of the coins grading About Uncirculated-50 to About Uncirculated-55 could be assembled for approximately $125,000-150,00. The cost of this set could be significantly reduced if the Type Two gold dollar and the three dollar gold piece were nice Extremely Fine coins, as opposed to About Uncirculated-50 or better.
This set can be further expanded if the Liberty Head, reverse mintmark half eagle is represented by an example with Small Letters on the reverse (i.e., a coin struck from 1840-1842) and by an example with Large Letters on the reverse (i.e., a coin struck from 1843-1861). The addition of this one extra coin would increase the cost of an Extremely Fine set by approximately $2,500-3,500, and an About Uncirculated set by $5,000-10,000.
Collecting by Denomination
Some collectors feel a certain affinity for a specific denomination. All three of the primary denominations struck at the Dahlonega Mint have their pros and cons.
The size of the gold dollar is a major turn-off to many collectors. It is hard to justify paying thousands – or even tens of thousands – of dollars for a coin that is about the size of an average adult’s thumbnail.
Another negative about the Dahlonega gold dollar series is the fact that many are among the most crudely struck coins ever produced in this country. They are certainly not pretty enough that they can be shown to admiring friends, and their crudeness puzzles most non-specialists.
The very reasons that cause some people to dislike gold dollars are the same reasons that others like them. Like the runt of the litter, they are so small and can be so ugly that this gives them a certain charm. Their crudeness adds to their allure as well. Just like a classic New England folk art portrait from the 18th or early 19th century, a Dahlonega gold dollar paints an accurate picture of the harshness and uncertainty of life in North Georgia in the decade leading up to the Civil War.
Another factor which attracts people to the gold dollar series are the small original mintage figures which many of these coins have. Only one of the thirteen has a mintage of over 10,000 coins, and five have mintages of 3,000 or less.
The Dahlonega gold dollar series is the most expensive of the three denominations to collect on a coin-by-coin basis. A complete set of thirteen coins in nice Extremely Fine grades will cost approximately $100,000+.
Every Dahlonega gold dollar is reasonably available in About Uncirculated grades, and the obstacles to completing such a set are available funds and the level of fussiness that a specific collector has. A complete set in grades ranging from About Uncirculated-50 to About Uncirculated-58 will cost approximately $150,000-200,000+. A complete set in Mint State is a formidable but not impossible challenge if the collector is patient, and if he works with a knowledgeable specialized dealer who can assist him in locating such rare issues as the 1855-D, 1856-D, 1860-D, and 1861-D.
The Dahlonega quarter eagles are the most challenging of the three denominations. They can also be the most frustrating. Many collectors seek immediate gratification as they build a set. Assembling a high quality, complete set of Dahlonega quarter eagles requires a great deal of patience. A number of dates in this series (such as the 1840-D, 1841-D, 1842-D, and the 1854-D through 1856-D) are quite rare in any grade, and high quality examples are very challenging to locate. This is further compounded by the fact that many are found with crude strikes and poorly-prepared planchets.
The extreme difficulty of putting together a Dahlonega quarter set is what attracts many collectors. They appreciate the fact that they cannot assemble a set merely by making a few phone calls to dealers or attending an auction or two. They believe, correctly, that the best coins to buy are the ones that do not become available with any degree of frequency.
It is a realistic goal to assemble the complete set of twenty quarter eagles in Extremely Fine-40 to Extremely Fine-45 grades. Such a set should cost approximately $125,000-175,000. In About Uncirculated grades, this set becomes very difficult to assemble. A number of dates (such as the 1840-D, 1841-D, 1842-D, 1845-D, 1855-D, and 1856-D) are rare and costly in the upper ranges of About Uncirculated. The cost of such a set is approximately $200,000-300,000+.
The Dahlonega half eagle set is the most popular of the three denominations. One of the reasons is the relatively large size of these coins. Another is the fact that almost every date is fairly easy to obtain in medium grades. And finally, this is the most affordable of the three sets on a coin-by-coin basis.
A complete set of Dahlonega half eagles includes all twenty-four of the dates struck from 1838 through 1861, as well as the 1842-D Large Date and the 1846-D over D mintmark (for a total of twenty-six coins). A set of nice Extremely Fine coins costs approximately $100,000-150,000.
A complete set of half eagles in About Uncirculated is much more challenging. The 1842-D Large Date and the 1861-D are both rare in any About Uncirculated grade. Other dates, such as the 1840-D, 1846-D Normal Mintmark, and the 1850-D are very scarce, even in the lower About Uncirculated grades, and years may pass before an especially choice piece may become available. A set of Dahlonega half eagles grading About Uncirculated-50 to About Uncirculated-58 costs approximately $200,000-300,000+.
Assembling a Complete Set of Dahlonega Gold
Once people start collecting Dahlonega gold coins, they often get bitten by the bug and decide to assemble a complete set.
A complete set of Dahlonega gold is generally understood to contain the following:
- Gold Dollars: A total of thirteen issues struck between 1849-1861.
- Quarter Eagles: A total of twenty issues struck between 1839-1859.
- Three Dollar Gold Pieces: A total of one issue struck in 1854.
- Half Eagles: A total of twenty-six issues struck between 1838-1861.
For half eagles,this includes both major varieties struck in 1842 (Large Date and Small Date), and both major varieties struck in 1846 (Normal Mintmark and D Over D Mintmark).
This is a grand total of sixty different issues, covering four different denominations.
Assembling a complete set of Dahlonega gold coins is challenging but very popular. Unlike many other mints, there is no single unobtainable issue that is either prohibitively rare, or essentially unobtainable.
I would make the following suggestions to any new collector who is considering putting together a complete set of Dahlonega gold coins:
1. Be patient. You can complete a set in a few months, but the changes are good that by rushing you will make a number of mistakes. Wait for the “right coin” to come along.
2. Stretch for outstanding coins. Truly choice, high end, Dahlonega gold coins are very hard to locate – regardless of date or denomination. Don’t miss the chance to own an important coin merely because you think the price is a little too much. In the long run, the decision to buy high quality coins will pay for itself.
3. Buy the best you can afford. If you are unable to spend $20,000+ on an About Uncirculated 1842-D Large Date half eagle, then wait until you have the chance to purchase a nice quality $10,000 example in Extremely Fine-45. Figure out a budget for each coin, and try to use this as a basis in making your collecting decisions.
4. Buy the rarest coins first. For each denomination, there are certain Dahlonega gold issues that are extremely hard to find. As an example, the 1840-D and 1856-D are often the last two pieces collectors add to their Dahlonega quarter eagle sets. If the opportunity presents itself, try to purchase these coins before the more common issues – such as the 1843-D or the 1848-D. You should always assume the following when assembling a complete set: your opportunities to purchase truly rare coins will be infrequent, while your opportunities to purchase the relatively common issues should be more frequent.
5. Buy with eye appeal in mind. The overall value of a set of coins is greatly enhanced when the individual pieces have good overall eye appeal. As an example, the finest known collection of Dahlonega gold coins (the Duke's Creek collection) was sold to an investor in 2003 for a figure in excess of four million dollars. Every coin in this set was extremely choice and had lovely, original coloration. This resulted in the collective value of the set being at least 15-20% greater than if the coins had been valued on an individual basis.
The final cost of assembling a complete set of Dahlonega gold coins is within the reach of many collectors. A set which has coins ranging from Extremely Fine-40 to Extremely Fine-45 costs in the area of $300,000-500,000+. A set which consists of coins grading from About Uncirculated-50 to About Uncirculated-58 costs approximately $600,000-800,000+.
As stated above, it would be extremely difficult (but not impossible!) to assemble a complete set of Dahlonega coins in Uncirculated grade. But a few people have managed to complete certain denominations in Uncirculated grade and the famous Duke's Creek set was complete in MS60 and above.
Collecting by Die Variety
Certain types of United States coins, such as large cents struck from 1793 to 1814, and half dollars produced from 1794 to 1836, are avidly collected by die variety. There are very few die variety collectors who focus on gold coins. This could possibly change in the future as more information about these varieties becomes available.
There are already some significant die varieties from the Dahlonega Mint that have made their way into the mainstream. Two examples of these are the 1842-D Large Date half eagle, and the 1846-D Over D Mintmark half eagle.
There are a number of other Dahlonega varieties that have yet to become regarded as essential components of a set. Some are very important and will probably be accepted in the near future. They are as follows:
1. 1843-D Large Mintmark Quarter Eagle: Of the 36,209 quarter eagles struck at the Dahlonega Mint in 1843, only 3,537 used the Large Mintmark which was to be found on coins dates 1844 and later. This is a significant and easy to recognize variety, which is many times rarer than the 1843-D Small Mintmark. PCGS and NGC both recognize this variety.
2. 1846 D Near D Mintmark Quarter Eagle: A small number of 1846-D quarter eagles were struck from a reverse which clearly shows traces of an errant mintmark to the left of the “regular” mintmark. This variety has is recognized by PCGS and NGC and is already included by most advanced Dahlonega collectors in their sets.
Are you interested in beginning a collection of Dahlonega gold coins? As the wrold's leading expert, I am well-qualified to assist you. Please contact me directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. 1841-D Medium D Mintmark Half Eagle: Of the 29,392 half eagles struck at the Dahlonega Mint in 1841, only 4,105 used the Medium Mintmark which had been employed on coins dated 1840-D. This variety is quite rare and easy to recognize. It should sell for a significant premium over the 1841-D Small Mintmark. It is recognized by PCGS and NGC.
4. 1843-D Small Mintmark Half Eagle: This variety uses the same reverse as on the 1842-D Small Date half eagle. It is much scarcer than the 1843-D Large Mintmark, and may someday be recognized as such. This is another variety that PCGS and NGC both recognize.
5. 1848-D Over Low D Mintmark Half Eagle: This variety is similar in origin to the better known 1846-D Over D Mintmark half eagle, except that it is much rarer. On many examples, it is hard to see the first mintmark punch. Coins which clearly show the errant first punch are rare and desirable. This variety has recently been recognized by PCGS and is already included by most advanced Dahlonega collectors in their sets.
As you become a more passionate collector, "oddball" items become more appealing. I refer to these as knick-knacks and, as you can guess, this is a pretty broad term. For the coin collector, knick-knacks become more appealing as they become more relevant to your collecting specialty. As an example, a collector of Morgan Dollars will be more excited by a canvas silver dollar bag from the Philadelphia mint dated 1885 then I would. To me, this is a neat item but not one that gets my numismatic juices really flowing. I probably shouldn't admit this but there is one area in numismatics that I love above all else: the coinage of the Dahlonega mint. There is something about the coinage from this southern branch mint that appeals to me a little more than any of the other mints. And as someone who loves Dahlonega gold coins, I am always on the lookout for interesting Dahlonega-related knick-knacks.
The problem is that there just aren't many interesting contemporary items from this mint. Sadly, while the Dahlonega mint has left a fascinating legacy of coins for collectors, there are very few items like patterns or mint records or drawings or items from the original mint left for collectors. Around ten years ago I was able to purchase a bullion receipt dated 1856 from the mint (a very rare item and, until a small group of these was found a few years back, one of just two that I had ever seen) but my Dahlonega knick-knack collection was pretty slim.
Until recently, that is.
At the Dallas ANA show, I purchased an item that I think is extremely cool and probably very rare: a contemporary counterfeit 1842-D Small Date half eagle (shown below) that is the first counterfeit gold coin from this mint that I have ever seen:
The coin was made in brass and later gilt plated. It shows extremely good work, especially on the reverse. It is the proper size and weight (22 mm in diameter and a bit over 8.2 grams) and, as you can see, it appears to have seen a small amount of circulation.
If you think about it, a contemporary counterfeit Dahlonega half eagle makes sense, especially in 1842 which was just the third year in which the new Liberty Head half eagle was produced. For many people, especially those who didn't live that close to Dahlonega, there was not much familiarity with the new coins from this mint and a reasonable facsimile stood a decent chance of entering circulation and staying there.
But, there were other reasons why a coin like this is an amazing anomaly. It was die struck, and someone with real artistic sensibility took the time to create the obverse and reverse dies. A goodly amount of artistic and technological sophistication was required and this doesn't seem to be something that was found in excess in North Georgia in the early 1840's. Also (and I don't know this for sure) the penalties for counterfeiting in the South during this time period had to be excessively harsh. Someone was taking a huge risk to produce counterfeit gold coins in Georgia in the early 1840's, and you have to wonder how many were actually made let alone how many entered circulation.
So, why is this item special to me and why does it now hold a place high in my personal collection of knick-knacks? As someone who is a major dealer in Dahlonega gold, I won't collect the coins from this mint because I don't want to compete against my clients. So this is the closest thing to a "real" piece of D mint gold that I can hope to own. But beyond that, I love the rarity and the history of this piece.
How rare is it? I have never seen another and I'd like to think I've got the inside track on any pieces that would have come onto the market in the past two+ decades. How historic is it? A contemporary counterfeit 1842-D half eagle that is well-designed and which still retains much of its original gilt finish clearly has an incredible story to tell, although I may never know exactly what it is.
Getting back to the original point of this blog, items like this are what make collecting really fun. Regular issue coins are great and there is certainly a huge amount of pride-of-ownership to have a great 1842-D half eagle in your set. But the really esoteric items in the Dahlonega market--or in any other market--really appeal to me. Be they catalogs, original papers, plaster molds...anything that gives me deeper insight into the coins that I love add a lot of value to my personal holdings.
As I was getting ready to post a coin that will be for sale in today's DWN E-Special (an 1846-D/D half eagle in PCGS VG8), it dawned on me that this piece could be the impetus for an interesting specialized collection: a grading set of Dahlonega half eagles. This set would consist of one Dahlonega half eagle of each grade between AG3 and AU58. In total, this is seventeen different coins. Figuring an average cost of around $2500 per coin, you'd be looking at something like $42,500 for a set.
The coins in the set would encompass the following circulated grades:
About Good 3 Good 4, Good 6 Very Good 8, Very Good 10 Fine 12, Fine 15 Very Fine 20, Very Fine 25, Very Fine 30, Very Fine 35 Extremely Fine 40, Extremely Fine 45 About Uncirculated 50, About Uncirculated 53, About Uncirculated 55, About Uncirculated 58
In theory, this set could be expanded by another few coins, if coins with plus or star grade modifiers were available. I would leave this up to the discretion of the collector.
Why would this be a good set for a collector? Would it be hard to assemble and how long would it take to complete? What are some of the pitfalls that the collector might encounter in working on this set? And what are a few bells and whistles that could be added to make it even more interesting?
Some readers of this blog are going to think that a grading set of Dahlonega half eagles is a hokey idea and would wonder why any collector would waste time or money on it. I disagree.
I like this set for a number of reasons. The first and most important is that it will teach a collecor how to grade circulated half eagles. I am often asked the question "how can I learn to grade coins" and the best answer I can give a collector is that you learn from what you buy. Being able to tell the difference between an EF45 and an AU53 half eagle is an important skill for the collector.
Having third-party graded coins available is, of course, going to make it easier to do this kind of set. In the pre-third party grading days, it would have been nearly impossible to assemble a set that had all the various circulated grades as there would have been so little agreement on the grades among collectors (and dealers).
Would this set be hard to assemble and how long would it take? One of the fun things about choosing an interesting collection is that by its very nature its impossible to race through. This is especially true if the collector is picky and wants coins that are not only accurately graded but which are choice and original with good color and eye appeal. My guess is that a set of seventeen different graded Dahlonega half eagles could take a few years to assemble. It will teach a collector patience and it will teach them how to search for the "right" and "wrong" coin.
Ironically, the higher grade coins in the set are probably easier to find than the lower graded ones. Dahlonega half eagles didn't typically see that much ciruclation and undamaged, naturally worn coins that grade below VF35 or so are not easy to find. Coins that grade AG3, G4, G6 and VG8 are likely to be be very hard to find, especially if eye appeal is an important factor.
My guess is that the collector will encounter some anomalies as he works on the set. As an example, a coin in a VF20 holder might actually be nicer in appearance than a coin graded VF25 or even VF30. Some funny situations might occur when a collector buys, say, a VF25 1845-D half eagle which is nice but a bit overgraded and attempts to downgrade it to a VF20 in order to get it into the set(!)
To make the set even more of a challenge, it might be fun to have all the coins graded by one service (either PCGS or NGC). And finding them all nice enough that they will eventually be approved by CAC would make the set even harder.
Would it be possible to do this set with one specific date of Dahlonega half eagle? I guess this is possible but it might not be realistic. I haven't checked the PCGS or NGC population reports but I'm sure some dates don't have any coins slabbed in the lower grades and many have just one or two in AG3 or G4, making the search for these sort of the proverbial needle in a haystack.
I have a few "bells and whistles" suggestions for collectors thinking about this set. First, choose a "look" you like for your coins and try to remain as consistent as possible throughout the course of buying. Remember that some Dahlonega half eagles come with reddish-gold or orange-gold hues while others come with green-gold color. Remember, as well, that some dates are virtually impossible to find in lower grades. As an example, the half eagles from 1855 through 1861 didn't tend to circulate as extensively as the coins from the early to mid-1840's. It is highly unlikely that you will find an 1858-D in VG10, so focus on dates that are more realistic. As you reach the end of the set, don't get silly trying to fill holes. Just because you need a very low grade coin, as an example, don't pay a big "low ball" premium for an AG3 or a G4.
I have a great idea for a collector who wants to work on this set and who is internet savvy. Buy the domain name www.gradingdahlonegahalfeagles.com and put together a website that shows examples of each coin in each grade and which explains how Dahlonega half eagles are graded. A bit nerdy, yes, but it sounds kind of fun to me.
In my opinion, this collection is best looked at as a secondary pursuit. It might work great for someone who collects something like early half eagles by date and who is at the point in his collection when he is lucky to find one or two coins a year. It is a fun collection that is not absurdly challenging, not too expensive and really educational.
For more suggestions on how to assemble a Dahlonega half eagle grading set or other collections in general, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com
For variety collectors, the half eagles struck at the Dahlonega mint are fertile ground. There are a number of very interesting varieties, but currently just a handful of collectors appreciate them. With the upcoming release of the third edition of my Dahlonega book, I feel that this situation may change. In the first two editions of this book, the variety section(s) were not illustrated and, to be honest, had a number of errors and omissions. Thanks to the assistance of Brian Kollar, a cataloger at Heritage Auctions, this has changed. The variety information in the new Dahlonega book is truly "state-of-the art" and I think it will jump-start this area of the market.
Brian spent a lot of time and effort helping me with the varieties. One thing that I have learned from his groundbreaking work--and something I'd like to share with collectors of Dahlonega half eagles--involves the numerous mintmark sizes found on these coins. I think it will be helpful to illustrate each of the three mintmark sizes used and to discuss which years these are found on. I'm also going to discuss the relative scarcity and importance of these varieties.
There are three mintmark sizes seen on Dahlonega half eagles. These are as follows:
Small D: This mintmark is found on 1840-D, 1841-D, 1842-D Small Date, 1842-D Large Date, and 1843-D half eagles. In the new book, the reverses that employ the Small mintmark are lettered as follows: C,D, E and F. It is illustrated below:
Medium D: This mintmark is found on 1843-D, 1844-D, 1854-D, 1855-D, 1859-D, 1860-D, and 1861-D. In the new book, the reverses that employ the Medium mintmark are lettered as follows: G, CC and JJ. It is illustrated below:
Large D:. This mintmark is the most common size and it is found on the 1838-D, 1839-D, 1840-D, 1841-D, 1845-D, 1846-D (both the normal mintmark and the D/D), 1847-D, 1848-D (both the normal mintmark and the D/D), 1849-D, 1850-D, 1851-D, 1852-D, 1853-D, 1854-D, 1855-D, 1856-D, 1857-D, 1858-D, 1859-D, and 1860-D. In the new book, the reverses that use the Large mintmark are lettered as follows: A-B, H-Z, AA, BB and DD-II.
There are six different years in which Dahlonega half eagles are known with more than one mintmark size. Let's take a look at each of these years and discuss the different varieties.
1840-D: There are a total of two different varieties known for this year.
The first is the Large D (Winter Variety 3-B) which is recognized by PCGS as the Tall D. For the sake of consistency I refer to it here as a Large D, but it is sized and configured differently than what is seen in later years. My guess is that this punch was created by Gobrecht and shows his style; the later Large D punch was by Gobrecht and was executed in his distinctive style. The 1840-D Large (or Tall) D half eagle is the more common of the two varieties seen for this year.
The second is the Small D (Winter Variety 4-C) which is recognized by PCGS as the Small D. It is usually seen with a die crack from the rim through the right diagonal of the V in FIVE through the right side of the mintmark and then up onto the shield. This variety is very scarce.
1841-D: There are three die varieties for this year which use two different mintmark sizes.
Winter 5-B uses the Large (or Tall) mintmark first seen on the 1840-D. This is a rare variety and one that is likely to sell for a premium. It is believed that only 4,105 examples were produced early in the year.
Winter 5-D and Winter 6-D use the Small mintmark but it is not the same one as seen on the 1840-D half eagle. Variety 5-D is common; Variety 6-D (which shows repunching on all four digits of the date) appears to be rare.
1843-D: There are two die varieties known for this year.
The first has a Small mintmark as seen on the 1842-D Small Date. Designated as Winter Variety 10-F, it is quite rare and it should sell for a good premium over the other variety of the year.
The second, Winter 11-G, has a Medium mintmark and it is also seen on the 1844-D. Interestingly, it can be best determined by its obverse as it shows a line of three tiny die lumps between the first and second stars which is not present on Variety 10-F. This variety is quite common.
PCGS recognizes two mintmark sizes for the 1853-D half eagle, but this is not correct. All 1853-D half eagles have a Large mintmark. PCGS lists six coins in the population report as having a Medium mintmark.
The next year in which two different mintmark sizes are known for Dahlonega half eagles is 1854.
1854-D: There are a total of four die varieties known.
The two most common varieties of the year, Winter 36-AA and Winter 37-BB, have a Large mintmark.
The rarest of the four varieties is Winter 37-CC, which has a Medium mintmark. This variety should sell for a premium over the Small mintmark but it is less likely to than other years, given how common the 1854-D is as a date.
The most unusual variety of the year, Winter 37-DD, actually has "no" mintmark (!) It was, of course, struck at the Dahlonega mint but the mintmark was so faintly entered into the reverse die that it is sometimes totally impossible to see. Examples do exist, however, with traces of the top of the D.
1855-D: There are two die varieties known for this year.
The more common of the two, Winter 38-CC, has a Medium mintmark. It is appears that this is the same mintmark first used in 1854 to strike Winter 37-CC.
The rarer of the two, Winter 38-EE, has a Large mintmark. It appears to be very scarce and possibly even quite rare.
1859-D: There are two die varieties known for this year.
The first, Winter 43-CC, has a Medium mintmark and it is common. It is the same reverse that was used to strike Winter 37-CC (1854-D) and Winter 38-CC (1855-D).
The second variety, Winter 44-HH, uses a Large mintmark and it is very rare. It uses the same reverse first employed to strike Winter 42-HH (1858-D).
1860-D: There are three varieties known for this year.
The first, Winter 45-HH, has a Large mintmark. It uses the same reverse as on Winter 42-HH (1858-D) and Winter 44-D (1859-D). The second, Winter 45-II, also has a Large mintmark but it is placed closer to the branch than on Winter 45-HH. The former is very rare and the latter is rare.
The third and final variety of the year is Winter 45-JJ. It has a Medium mintmark and is also found on the 1861-D half eagle. It is common.
One can't discuss the mintmark size varieties of Dahlonega half eagles and not discuss the spectacular 1846-D over D and 1848-D over D varieties.
There are actually two different varieties of 1846-D/D half eagle, Winter 17-J and Winter 18-J. The first has a low date and it was also used on the 1846-D Normal Mintmark, Winter 17-I. On the reverse, the mintmark was first punched too high and too far to the right. The second mintmark is lower and further to the left. The second variety of 1846-D/D, Winter 18-J, has a slightly different date punch with the numerals placed a bit higher in the field. The 1846-D/D is common but it is popular due to the fact that it is clearly visible to the naked eye.
A similar but less known variety exists for the 1848-D. The 1848-D/D half eagle, Winter 22-O, shows the original mintmark punched too low and the second punched to the left and then effaced. This variety is much more subtle than the 1846-D/D and unless it is an early die state with both of the mintmark punches visible to the naked eye, it doesn't command a premium.
The mintmark varieties that I have listed here are the ones that I believe to be important and to be the most potentially collectible if and when Dahlonega half eagles become collected in this fashion. There are, of course, dozens of less obvious varieties and this includes some that are very rare.
I published the second edition of my book on Dahlonega gold coinage in 2003. A lot of time has passed since then and, as part of the upcoming third edition, I'm going to be including a chapter in the new work that is a sort of State of the Union of the Dahlonega market for 2011. As you are likely someone who is interested in these coins and who is a loyal follower of raregoldcoins.com I'd like to share my thoughts with you. 1. Major Collections Sold Since 2003
In the 1990's and early 2000's, it seemed that a major collection of Dahlonega gold was being sold every year or so. It was an incredibly fertile time for collectors and, in retrospect, I'm not certain that we knew just how good we had it.
Since 2003, the number of major collections of Dahlonega gold that have hit the market have dwindled. In early 2004, Heritage sold the Green Pond collection. This was a collection that I was primarily responsible for assembling, and a number of record prices were set when the coins were sold.
In April 2006, Heritage sold the gold dollar and quarter eagle portion of the famous Duke's Creek collection. Again, many record prices were set; a number of which stand to this day.
But with the exception of these two sales, the auction market for Dahlonega gold has been pretty bleak since 2003. Oh, sure, there have been great individual coins sold. And there have been sales with a few interesting coins here and there. But for the most part, the number of great collections that have hit the market since 2003 can be counted on one hand with a few fingers leftover.
2. Evaporation of Supply
The lack of great collections sold at auction is a nice segue to the second point: the overall lack of supply. I'm not talking about just finest known and Condition Census coins here; I'm talking coins across the board from Very Fine to Mint State.
There are a host of reasons why the supply of nice Dahlonega coins is lower now than I can ever remember. You'll notice that I said "nice." Before we go any further, I think its important to define the term "nice" when it comes to my perspective of Dahlonega coins; and coins in general.
I regard a nice coin as one with a pleasing, natural appearance. It may not necessarily be a coin that is truly "crusty" but it is a coin that I would regard as being above-average and likely to receive approval from CAC if it were sent to that service.
So why is the supply of nice coins so low right now? For a number of reasons. First of, there just aren't that many nice Dahlonega coins left. I feel that the number of coins that have been cleaned and processed in recent years is very substantial; probably more than we realize. So we are looking at a smaller pool of coins that are nice than ever before.
Also, we are looking at a collector base that has expanded and who tend not to sell the nice coins that they have. They are serious collectors, they like their coins and unless a better coin comes along they tend to hold their nice Dahlonega coins for the long term.
So what's in short supply? First and foremost are the keys. The really popular Dahlonega issues like 1861-D gold dollars and half eagles and 1856-D quarter eagles have become ultra hard to find. The same holds true with nice "collector quality" 1838-D half eagles, 1842-D Large Date half eagles, 1855-D quarter eagles and 1854-D threes.
3. Changes in Estimated Populations My population estimates from 2003 proved more accurate than when I estimated population back in the 1990's for my first Dahlonega book. But the numbers still seem low and I have raised them. Typically, an issue now has an overall population that is, in my estimation, 10-30% greater. I've come to the conclusion that "common date" Dahlonega gold coins are more common that I used to think.
The "bell curve" of grade distribution for Dahlonega gold has changed as well. This is, of course, due to a loosening of standards over time. Many issues now appear more common in AU grades than they do in EF but I believe that many slabbed AU50 and AU53 coins offer weak claims to an AU grade.
The number(s) of high grade Dahlonega pieces has stayed remarkably consistent since 2003. Part of this has to do with the fact that not many new Mint State Dahlonega coins have come onto the market since 2003. There have been some MS60 and MS61 coins that are clearly upgrades from AU58's past and other coins that have crossed-over from NGC to PCGS and vice-versa. But mostly I'd attribute this stability to good research by yours truly. High grade 1849-D quarter eagles are a lot easier to track than VF's and EF's, of course.
4. Date Collecting Remains Popular One of the things that interests me most about the Dahlonega market is that it is one of the last bastions of date collecting. Many other branch mint series have lost traction as far as collecting by dates goes and issues that formerly sold for premiums now may be regarded as little more than semi-generic issues. But this is not really the case with Dahlonega coins.
Why is this so? I'd have to say there are a few obvious reasons that spring to mind. The first is that this is a true collector market and collectors like to collect coins by date. The second is that there is a good deal of variation with Dahlonega coins on a yearly basis. In other words, an 1849-D gold dollar tends to look very different from an 1850-D dollar; unlike a Proof Seated half dollar that has a seemingly interchangeable appearance regardless of date. Finally--and perhaps most importantly--there are no gigantic "stoppers" in the Dahlonega series. Nothing is so rare or so overly expensive that it means the average collector can't aspire to complete a date set.
One of the nice things about collecting Dahlonega coins by date is that if you look at them in the popular collector grades (i.e., VF and EF) they are still reasonably affordable. Yes, I realize that an 1854-D $3 and an 1861-D $1 are expensive for the collector of average means. But when you are talking about a set where there are just a few issues north of $10,000 and most are well under $5,000, I would term these coins as affordable.
5. Prices Rise...And Fall Given what I perceive to be a strong market with good supply and demand numbers and an avid collector base, I'm actually surprised that Dahlonega coins are as affordable as they currently are. Let's pick three Dahlonega issues in reasonable grades and see how they have performed since 2003.
The first coin we'll look at is an 1849-D dollar in AU50. This issue is the Dahlonega equivalent of an 1881-S Morgan. It is plentiful, popular, and trades with comparative frequency.
A PCGS AU50 example sold for $2,530 as Heritage 10/10: 4569 and this seems to be a pretty fair current market value for a decent AU50 example. Going back to the Heritage May 2005 sale, a similarly graded 1849-D dollar brought $2,200. Not factoring in possible gradeflation of the AU50 from 2005, this is a pretty unimpressive return.
How about the same issue in higher grade? An NGC MS63 example brought $9,775 in the Heritage February 2010 sale as Lot 1363. In May 2004 an NGC MS63 sold for $9,200 as Lot 329 in the Bowers and Merena sale. Again, not a really glowing price appreciation.
Let's pick a better date issue for the quarter eagle series; say an 1854-D. Heritage 8/10: 3423, graded AU58 by PCGS, sold for $14,950. Back in May 2003, Superior sold a similarly graded example (also slabbed by PCGS) for $17,825.
Why have many Dahlonega gold coins actually dropped in value in the last few years? Let's use this question as a segue to bullet point #6 in this State of the Union address.
6. And What About Grading? When I wrote an overview of the Dahlonega market in the 2003 edition of my book, I was pretty vocal in my dislike for the gradeflation that had characterized higher quality issues in this area of the market. How has grading changed eight years later?
I don't think the grading services did any better grading Dahlonega coins between 2003 and 2008. Too many choice, original coins continued to be dipped, processed, and quite possibly ruined in an attempt to get the best possible grade.
With the establishment of CAC in 2008, the pendulum appears to have swung back towards rewarding originality. CAC-approved Dahlonega coins are liquid and they bring higher prices at auction than non-CAC coins; if only because they just seem to be nicer.
So where am I going with these comments? I think the Dahlonega gold market has been hurt by too many lower end, unoriginal coins in holders. Time and time again, I've seen a really low end AU58 sell at auction for a very cheap price and drag down values as a result.
Since 2003 (if not before), the Dahlonega market has become very two-tiered. There are price levels for the low-end and commercial quality coins and there are price levels for the choice, original coins. In my opinion, for many dates the premium should be 50% for choice coins but this just does not seem to be the case.
7. Certain Issues Remain Undervalued. I mentioned before that I think Dahlonega coins are, for the most part undervalued. I really do believe this to be the case, especially with coins in the $2,500-7,500 that have choice, original surfaces. But there are certain issues that I think remain particularly undervalued.
In the dollars, I continue to like the 1850-D and the 1857-D. Both are not priced at all that much more than common dates but are quite hard to find.
I have always felt that the quarter eagles from this mint were the most undervalued denomination. Nearly all Dahlonega quarter eagles in choice, original AU50 and better and undervalued.
In the half eagle series, the dates that I feel are the most undervalued include the 1846-D Normal Mintmark, 1848-D and 1857-D.
So there you have it: my State of the Union address for the Dahlonega gold market as of the Spring of 2011. This remains an area of the coin market that is near and dear to me, and one that I think is extremely fulfilling for collectors.