So...You've Decided to Collect Dahlonega Gold...

So...You've Decided to Collect Dahlonega Gold...

If I had to select the Most Popular Branch Mint it would likely be Dahlonega. These gold coins have become an avidly-sought after area of the market with collectors from all over the country building sets...

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How Rare Are Choice High-Grade Dahlonega Half Eagles?

How Rare Are Choice High-Grade Dahlonega Half Eagles?

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.

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Which Rare Gold Coins Will Be Demand in 2014?

A few years ago, when my blog was more of a newsletter, I used to write an annual piece entitled “What’s Hot, What’s Not.” I’ve never had the heart to go back and look at these; analyzing my analysis has never had appeal. But these were popular features and I thought I would bring them back - but with a twist. Instead of pondering about what will be “hot” in 2014 and what won’t, I thought it would be more interesting to speculate on what are some potentially in-demand areas.

1. Coins Priced Below $2,500

As I write this, the market for interesting gold coins priced at $2,500 and below is extremely strong. Case(s) in point: I used to run a weekly e-mail based sale of coins I called E-Specials which were two or three interesting gold coins priced in the $750-1,250 range. I used to be able to go to a major show and buy a dozen coins like this so the E-Specials would be pre-set for a month or more. Now, I can’t find many coins like this anymore, and I’ve punted the E-Specials.

So, what qualifies as an “interesting” gold coin in this price range? From my selling experience with E-Specials, I found that the parameters that always met with selling success were: PCGS graded, CAC approved, and dated prior to 1880. The interest factor for coins in this price range was greatly improved when I offered large sized issues; i.e., eagles and double eagles.

If I had to list a few specific coins in the $1,000-2,500 price range that I feel will be in demand in 2014 and may show some appreciation as a result, I’d include the following:

1852-D $5.00 PCGS EF45

  • Dahlonega half eagles in EF40 and EF45. The level of demand for nice D mint half eagles is very strong now, especially if they are choice, original coins. In the last few years values have crept up from around $1,600-1,800 to around $2,200-2,500+, and I see no price resistance to even higher numbers for the right coins.
  • With Motto New Orleans eagles in MS61 and MS62. I’ve written this before but if some clever marketer would quietly assemble a position in common and slightly better date With Motto (1888-1906) eagles from New Orleans, prices could go up 20-40% without anyone batting an eyelash. The possibility exists that set collecting could drive this series as no dates are rare and many are available even in MS63 and MS64.
  • Low grade scarce/rare date issues.  One of the major changes in the rare date gold market in the last three to five years has been the sudden surge in demand for affordable examples of tough dates. As an example, a coin like an 1861-S eagle is too expensive in higher grades for most collectors. But a nice Fine or Very Fine can be bought for a few thousand dollars and if the coin is worn but cosmetically appealing, it has a strong level of demand that didn’t necessarily exist a few years back.

2. Coins Priced in the $5,000-10,000 Range

Coins in the price range are my “bread and butter” but I would say this middle range (“middle” at least in the sense of rare gold coins) is the weakest part of the coin market going into 2014. Collectors who buy coins in this range are far more selective now than they were a few years ago, and a coin has to have an “it” factor to sell for $5,000, $7,500, or $10,000. I’ve invented a term called Multiple Levels of Demand to define what I regard as coins that have “it.”

As with coins priced below $2,500, coins priced at around $10,000 have to be interesting, and they have to have good visual appeal. Here are a few areas that I think will be in strong demand in 2014.

1841-D $5.00 NGC AU58 CAC

  • Properly grade AU58 branch mint quarter eagles and half eagles. Nice slider examples if southern branch mint gold coins remain one of the best values in all of 19th century numismatics. As I’ve explained before, a properly graded AU58 (not a coin that “looks like an MS64;” these don’t exist) is a coin that is being rewarded for positive eye appeal while a typical MS60, MS61 and even an MS62 is a coin with faults which are being punished. Most collectors would rather have a nice, natural AU58 Dahlonega half eagle at $5,000-6,000 than a “rubby” MS61 at $9,000-$11,000 and it is hard to blame them.
  • Better date Three Dollar gold pieces. This is a series that has been out of demand for too long and with a little bit of promoting, I could see some improved level of collector demand in 2014 and beyond. There are some great values in this series right now and, interestingly, there are more nice coins available in the $5,000-7,500 range than in many other comparably priced types.

1915 $10.00 PCGS MS65 CAC

  • MS64+CAC Indian Head gold.  From what I’ve seen, the quality of MS64+ Indian Head quarter eagles, half eagles and eagles is pretty nice and the typical example is visually better than MS64. As long as premium aren’t excessive over an average quality MS64, I can see the market expanding even further for these coins in 2014; especially when the price jump to MS65 is at least double or triple.

3. Coins Priced at $20,000 and Over

At this level, the air gets a lot thinner, but the market for nice quality expensive (notice I said “expensive” and not “trophy”) coins is as strong now as I can recall at any time since 2006-2007. Buyers of expensive coins are very discriminating (as they should be), but in my experience, the “right” coins in the $20,000-50,000 range are selling very well and will continue to do so in 2014.

There are a number of areas which fit into this category which I think have good upside in 2014. Here are a few of them.

  • Really exceptional branch mint gold coins in MS63 and MS64. If you look at auction prices from 1999-2001 and compare the values of a coin like an 1847-C quarter eagle in PCGS MS64 then versus now, you will typically see a slight overall decline. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is that many coins have been graded MS63 or MS64 which are not nice. But in my opinion, a choice, original CAC-quality Dahlonega half eagle in MS63 or a beautiful, naturally toned Charlotte quarter eagle in MS64 is truly rare. These coins may not have date collector demand in these high grades but there are numerous type collectors looking for one or two great coins in all of these series. Watch for demand to increase in 2014 and beyond.
  • Rare date Proof gold in PR64 and PR65. Many of the Proof gold coins from the 1860’s, 1870’s and early 1880’s have tiny original mintages and fewer than half are known. Despite the rarity of a coin like an 1874 quarter eagle in Proof, the focus has been more on large denomination coins (eagles and double eagles) or super-grade pieces in the PR66 to PR68 range. While they are not often available, comparably “affordable” Proof gold dollars, quarter eagles, three dollar gold pieces and even half eagles seem to be increasing in demand and I see no reason that this will not continue through 2014 and beyond.

1863 $5.00 NGC MS60 CAC

  • Truly rare business strikes in Condition Census grades. The level of demand for formerly obscure business strike rarities will increase in 2014 as well. One thing I noticed in 2013 was that when I listed a choice, higher grade example of a truly rare coin on my website, I got multiple inquiries and not just from the “usual suspects.” As an example, I listed two very nice 1863 half eagles on my site in 2013 and I heard from numerous collectors for each of them, including two silver dollar collectors who wanted to buy an 1863 “just because it was cool” and a few dealers who I’ve literally never sold a coin to before.

4. Trophy Coins

In virtually all collectibles areas, the truly great “trophy” items are in huge demand and this will continue in 2014. The NGC MS63 Brasher Doubloon that will be sold by Heritage in a few weeks at the 2014 FUN auction could very well set a record for any coin - and there will be a number of million dollar+ coins in this sale and other auctions immediately afterwards.

A decade ago, the sale of a million dollar United States coin was front-page news; today it is relatively commonplace. As more “big money” discovers the coin market, I look for many exceptional prices realized in 2014, both at auction and via private treaty.

Do you buy rare gold coins?

Do you have coins to sell?

Would you like to have the world's leading expert with you assembling a set of coins?

Contact Doug Winter at (214) 675-9897 or by email at

Is the Market for Dahlonega Varieties Starting to Heat Up?

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

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.

Lot 7193

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).

Lot 7194

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.

Lot 7213

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.

Lot 7214

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.

An Interesting Collecting Idea

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 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

Mintmark Varieties of Dahlonega Half Eagles

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:

Small D

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:

Medium D

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.

Large D

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.

1846 D/D

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.

Where the %$#@ Are All the High Grade Dahlonega Half Eagles?

As I was reviewing my notes on Dahlonega half eagles this morning, I was struck by something very interesting as I updated Condition Census information: many dates haven't had a significant example sold in three, five or even eight years. This, in turn, made me ask out loud where the (naughty word) are all the high grade Dahlonega half eagles? Hence, the topic of this blog. Of the three primary denominations struck at the Dahlonega mint, half eagles are the most popular with collectors. It is easy to see why. The coins are comparatively large, the series is reasonably short and there are no impossible rarities to stop the collector of average means from attempting to complete a set.

As you might expect, even the common date Liberty Head half eagles from Dahlonega are rare in legitimate Uncirculated grades. If you discount the marginally Mint State coins that pop-up and the few higher grade common dates that have been available, the pool of available coins sold during the last few years has been shallow, at best.

Let's look at a few dates.

The 1841-D half eagle is a rare coin in high grades. There are around a dozen known in Uncirculated. Given that number of coins--and given the fact that this isn't an incredibly popular or numismatically significant issue--this would make you think that higher grade 1841-D half eagles should be available from time. Is this true?

Looking back at auction records from the past few years, the last high grade 1841-D to sell was Heritage 6/11: 4626. Graded MS63 by NGC (and approved by CAC) it brought $27,600. To find another high grade 1841-D (not including a few marginal MS61's and an S.S. New York example graded MS61) you have to go back to the Heritage 2008 ANA: 1965, also graded MS63 by NGC, that sold for a reasonable $18,400. And before this, you need to go back another three years to the Bowers and Merena 12/05: 2685, ex Bowers and Merena 1/05: 1554 coin, graded MS63 by NGC, that sold each time for $25,300.

And what if you only bought PCGS coins? How long has it been since a nice PCGS 1841-D half eagle was sold at auction? You'd have to go all the way back to the Green Pond: 1041 coin sold by Heritage in the 2004 FUN auction for $32,200. That's closing in on eight years (!)

Let's look at another date: the 1849-D. There are fewer than a dozen examples in Uncirculated and if you discount the marginal MS60 and MS61 pieces, the number of possible coins a high grade collector could pursue is around five or six.

The last significant 1849-D half eagle to sell at auction was the Bowers and Merena 2/08: 2544 coin, graded MS62 by PCGS, that sold for $24,150. Before this, there were two PCGS MS62 sales in 2004. Three coins in five years seems like a decent amount of availability UNTIL you do a little research and figure out that the 2004 appearances were the same coin and this piece was reoffered in 2008.

Here is one last example: the 1855-D half eagle. This is a tougher date than the 1841-D and 1849-D in higher grades, but it still isn't recognized as a rarity. There are around six or seven in Uncirculated.

There was a flurry of activity for this issue in high grades around 2004-2005. In fact, there were four auction trades for high grade pieces (three in PCGS MS63 and one in MS64) between the 2004 FUN show and the 2005 Summer ANA. That should have been a great opportunity for collectors, right?

Well, not really. You see, all four records are for the same coin and in the final appearance (Heritage 2005 ANA: 10356, at $38,813) the coin had now upgraded to MS64 (and lost its lovely original color in the process, but that's another story...)

But I digress. This blog isn't about coins re-appearing at auction. Its about coins not appearing for sale with much frequency.

So why don't nice Dahlonega half eagles show up for sale more regularly? I have a few suggestions as to why this is the case.

1. With few exceptions, really "new" Dahlonega half eagles are rarer than you think. You can throw-out the numbers in the population reports (especially NGC) as there are many resubmissions of these coins in Mint State. There isn't a single Dahlonega half eagle that isn't truly rare in MS63 and above and most are very rare even in properly graded MS61 and MS62.

2. The few nice coins that exist are in strong hands. The downward trend in the economy since 2008 hasn't brought more than a handful of significant Dahlonega half eagles onto the market. Clearly, these coins are owned by serious collectors who don't plan on owning their coins for a few years and then "flopping" them. And, surprisingly, this appears to be the case for both date and type collectors.

3. No great collections of Dahlonega half eagles have hit the market in at least five years. In fact, unless I'm forgetting something, the last really great collection to hit the market was Green Pond in January 2004. Contrast this with the prior seven to eight years, when you had James Stack, Milas, Pittman, Bass, North Georgia, Chestatee, Miller and others. Looking back at 1995-2003, this was probably the single most fertile time in the history of numismatics for advanced collectors of Dahlonega. Since 2004, we've seen almost nothing in terms of specialized collections.

(Oops. I am forgetting something: the Duke's Creek collection sale in 2006. But this was only dollars and quarters eagles, not half eagles. So my point #3 is still valid, at least as far as half eagles is concerned.)

4. As the supply of great coins has dried up, the number of avid collectors has increased. I can't think of any time that there was more serious collectors of Dahlonega half eagles than there is now. Clearly, the supply is not nearly enough to meet the current demand.

5. Dahlonega gold is one area where the auction companies haven't completely dominated the market since the mid-2000's. I've sold via private treaty considerably more high quality Dahlonega gold coins than what has appeared at auction. But in the case of half eagles graded MS62 and above, this is still isn't a ton of coins.

6. As I've stated countless times, the price reporting mechanism for rare date gold coins is broken and needs to be fixed. In most cases, published prices for higher grade Dahlonega half eagles are down since 2004 despite what most experts believe to be a strong(er) market. This is partly due to certain schlocky, overgraded coins dragging down levels on specific issues and partly due to published references being unable to keep up with the market.

I don't think we're likely to see many changes in the Dahlonega half eagle market, at least not if prices stay unrealistically low. There aren't a lot of good coins around to begin with and I see no hugely compelling reason(s) right now for owners of such coins to sell them.

So what do you do if you are a collector who is specializing in high grade Dahlonega half eagles? Be patient; the right coins will turn up sooner or later. And when they do, be prepared to pay up for them.

Do you have more questions about Dahlonega half eagles? If so, please feel free to contact me via email at

The State of the Dahlonega Market, 2011

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 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.

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