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

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

Imagine, if you will, that the coin market is a sushi bar. You look in the cases and you see the familiar fish: salmon, albacore, mackerel, and regular tuna. Off in the corner, in a special case there is the prized (and pricey) fatty tuna (or Toro) wrapped in special paper and brought out for special customers only. That fish, in our Numismatic Sushi Bar, is Proof Gold: rare, unusual, and very expensive.

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Cool Coins from the 2015 ANA: Part Three

Cool Coins from the 2015 ANA: Part Three

The 1914 eagle has a mintage of just 50 which is the lowest in the series. It seems that a higher percentage of Proofs of this date were saved than in other years, and as many as 30 to 40 are known. Nearly all have been mishandled in some shape or fashion, and my best estimate is that no more than six to eight Matte Proofs of this year are known with original color and surfaces.

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1890 $10.00 NGC PR64 UCAM CAC

A total of 63 Proofs were struck; my best estimate is that around 25 to 30 are known today with most in the PR63 to PR65 range. This piece has the eye appeal and general appearance of a Gem with just a few light hairlines keeping it out of the PR65 mark and a $45,000-50,000 price tag. It is extremely challenging to find accurately graded PR64 gold coins from this era and the majority of nice 64's tend to find their way, sooner or later, into PR65 holders. After I purchased this coin, I gave it some thought and came up with this conclusion: for a touch under $30,000, it would be very hard to imagine a better value in the arena of Proof gold. You can find smaller denomination Proof gold coins that are rarer than this (I have sold some amazing Proof gold dollars and quarter eagles in the last sixty days) but larger denomination Proof gold is very expensive and extremely hard to locate right now. A gorgeous coin and an item that I think makes a lot of sense to salt away as a medium to long term investment.

Ex Heritage 2012 FUN: 4989 where it sold for $29,900.

The Numismatic Versus: Comparing Coin Collecting Methods

Cats versus dogs. Coke versus Pepsi. Good versus evil. You get my point: two camps competing for your heart, your affection or your soul. Its not that far-fetched to stretch this analogy out to some of the basic issues in coin collecting. No, its not the Satanic Verses; its the Numismatic Versus. OK, to be a bit more serious: there are basic issues in numismatics that split collectors down the middle. There is no real right or wrong when it comes to collecting and I am a big advocate of doing what "feels right" for the collector. That said, I think my 30+ years of experience as a dealer qualify me to render an opinion on some of these issues and that's what I'd like to do here.

1. Specialist Collecting versus Type Collecting

I have many customers who are specialists and many who are focused more in a "generalist" fashion. I respect both camps.

A specialist picks a small area of collecting and focuses on this. Dahlonega quarter eagles. New Orleans half eagles. First year and last year of issue coins. All of these are great choices for the specialist.

What I like about specialist collecting is that by having a more narrow focus, the collector can become knowledgeable more easily. As I have written before, if your collecting focus revolves around 25 half eagles from one mint, you are far more likely to learn this series as well as the typical dealer than if you are trying to learn about all the half eagles produced during the 19th century.

But there is something to be said for a more general approach. I love the concept of collecting by type. I love the fact that a type collector buys something different every time he pulls the trigger.

2. Condition Rarity versus Absolute Rarity

A coin that is a "condition rarity" is one whose primary value is based around its grade. An example of this would be an 1887-S eagle in MS65. Such a coin is extremely rare and it would sell for five-figures if available. But the same date in MS60 is extremely common and it sells for essentially no date premium.

A coin that is an "absolute rarity" is one that is rare in all grades and is desirable whether it is quite worn or superb. An example of this would be an 1862-S eagle. This is a low mintage issue with a very low survival rate to its Civil War date of issuance. This coin is desirable if it grades Very Fine or if it grades Uncirculated.

What a collector should always ask himself is "would the coin that I am buying have value if third party grading were to suddenly end?" A coin like an 1887-S eagle in MS65 might not carry a great premium if third-party grading ceased to exist. A coin like an 1862-S eagle in EF45 would still be considered desirable no matter what dictates the future of grading.

The best coins are the ones that combine absolute and grade rarity. If a coin like an 1862-S eagle in Mint State were to be discovered in Europe (I have never seen one close to Uncirculated) it would be very desirable as it combined both types of rarity in one neat package.

3. Business Strikes versus Proofs

Business strikes are coins that were made for circulation. Proofs are coins that were specially made for collectors and VIP's. The coin weenie in me likes business strikes more than Proofs because of the fact that these were coins that were used as coins are supposed to be used.

But the coin snob in me likes Proofs as well. There is no getting around the fact that a Gem Proof Liberty Head double eagle is incredibly impressive. And you have to like the Proof issues that were struck in such tiny quantities during the 1860's, 1870's and 1880's.

I tend to be a more selective buyer when it comes to proofs than business strikes. I vastly favor very rare Proofs (example: an 1878 gold dollar) than a not-so-rare Proof in a mega-grade (example: a 1904 quarter eagle in PR67 Cameo).

Can a collector buy business strikes and Proofs simultaneously? I don't see why not. In certain series, like Type Three Liberty Head double eagles, there are Proof-only issues that are collected side-by-side with business strikes. Like owning a dog and a cat at the same time, I say "yes!" to the collector who buys interesting Proofs and business strikes together.

4. Gold versus Silver versus Copper

You are reading this article on a website whose URL is so you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure which of these three coinage metals I favor.

But let me at least explain why I do.

Gold is a precious metal with strong demand around the world. Egyptian Pharaohs were buried with spectacular gold ornaments. The last time I checked, there were no silver or copper trinkets in the pyramids.

Try to explain to a wealthy Chinese collector why he should spend $100,000 on an Indian Cent. Not easy, right? But don't you think this same individual would more likely "get" the concept of an Uncirculated 1871-CC double eagle at $75,000?

Copper coins are great and I personally collect Liberty Seated silver coins and love them. However, as far as being a dealer goes, I'm pro-gold and more so now than ever.

5. 19th Century versus 20th Century

When I began specializing in United States gold coinage back in the early 1980's, I decided to focus on 19th century coins because they were more affordable and because they seemed like better value. Three decades later I still believe this.

Now don't get me wrong. I think 20th century coins are great. I think St. Gaudens double eagles and Indian Head eagles are the most beautiful regular issue coins that the U.S. Mint ever produced. And the incuse designs of the Indian quarter eagle and half eagle series really appeal to me. But 20th century gold tends to be the ultimate in condition rarity and, as I discussed in #2 above, I have always been more of an absolute rarity kinda guy.

I look at 20th century gold as the Contemporary Art of the numismatic world. Its fairly regularly available, its pretty macho to collect, the market is fluid due to collectors coming and going rapidly and the value levels don't always make sense.

I personally like 19th century gold better as I view it as a more cerebral area to collect. It's clearly not as pretty (there is no doubt that Gobrecht and Longacre couldn't hold a candle to St. Gaudens as far as artistic talent is concerned) and it more monotonous as it goes on and on (and on). But if you have a budget of, say, $5,000 to $10,000 per coin, you can be a big player in 19th century gold while still being pretty much a nobody in the 20th century arena.

What are your takes on the Numismatic Versus that I compared and contrasted above? Email me at and let me know what you think.

Two Cool Proof Civil War Gold Dollars Sold by DWN

Douglas Winter Numismatics recently sold two very rare and very beautiful Proof gold dollars from the Civil War era. These were an 1862 graded Proof-64 Deep Cameo by PCGS, and an 1864 graded Proof-66 Deep Cameo by PCGS. Both coins had also been approved by CAC. I'd like to share some information about these pieces with you and discuss very rare but comparatively affordable Proof gold from this era as well. 1862 graded Proof-64 Deep Cameo by PCGS, CAC approved

The rarity of Proof 1862 gold dollars is not widely recognized, probably due to the fact that business strikes are very common and were minted to the tune of 1.36 million pieces. Proofs are another story with just 35 coins struck for collectors. On the PCGS website, it states that "between 18 and 25 are known," but this number seems high to me given the typical survival rate for small-size gold proofs of this era. I believe that the number known is more likely in the area of 15 to 18, with the average piece grading PR64 to PR65.

As of the end of October 2011, PCGS has graded a total of 17 Proof 1862 gold dollars. This includes seven in PR65 and two in PR66 with no adjectival modifier(s), as well as two in PR64 Deep Cameo and two in PR65 Deep Cameo. NGC has also graded 17 Proofs for this date. Included in this number are four in PR65 and two in PR66 with no modifiers, as well as two in PR66 Ultra Cameo and a single coin in PR67* Ultra Cameo. I believe that these numbers are significantly inflated by resubmissions, especially in PR65.

The finest known Proof 1862 gold dollar is clearly the NGC PR67* Ultra Cameo that was last sold as Scotsman 10/08: 790 ($51,750). It was earlier ex Eliasberg: 50 and it is one of the nicer Proof gold dollars of this era that I have ever seen.

A number of Proof issues of this denomination are challenging to distinguish between Proof and business strike manufacture. This is not the case with the earlier Type Three Proofs. Business strikes from the 1856-1872 era tend to seldom come with the deep, reflective surfaces that are seen on the 1872-1889 issues and these early Type Three Proofs have an overall "look" that is totally different from business strikes of this era.

The 1862 dollar that is illustrated above is a choice enough coin for the grade that I think it merits a paragraph or two to discuss why it is "only" a PR64.

While not necessarily clear on the image, there are a few very light hairlines on the obverse that very narrowly preclude a PR65 grade. How hairlined can a Proof gold coin be to still garner a PR65 grade?

Back in the early days of PCGS and NGC, the grading services were extremely strict when grading Proof gold. A coin with any signs of friction or hairlines (even hairlines that were not from past cleanings) was automatically knocked out of the Gem level and this meant that larger denomination Proofs (specifically eagles and double eagles) were almost never seen in PR65 and were essentially unknown above this.

In today's market, a Proof gold coin can have a few very light hairlines and still grade PR65. But in order to garner a PR66 or higher grade, a coin has to be exceptional. And what about lintmarks or other mint-made features on the surfaces? Lintmarks (which are cause by polishing the blank planchets before striking in order to attain a highly reflective surface) are generally overlooked in the grading process unless they are extensive or they are situated in extremely obvious focal points such as the cheek of Liberty or exposed in the left obverse field.

1864 graded Proof-66 Deep Cameo by PCGS, CAC approved

In 1864, mintages of Proof gold coins actually increased to 50 pieces. Given the severe economic climate of the war-ravaged country, this seems like wishful thinking on the part of the U.S. Mint, and it is likely that at least some of these coins went unsold and were melted.

PCGS estimates that "17 to 22 examples survive." As with many of their estimates, I find them a bit on the high side. My guess for total number known is around 14 to 18, and this is based on the fact that there are only 12 auction appearances for Proof 1864 gold dollars dating back to the early 1990's.

The 1864 gold dollar is rarer than than the 1862 in high grades with at least a few pieces known in the PR62 to PR63 range. It is extremely rare in Gem, and there appear to be around four or five known that grade PR65 and higher grades.

As of the end of October 2011, PCGS had graded seven in all. The best non-cameo was a single PR66, while the best Deep Cameo was the PR66 DC shown above. NGC shows a very inflated population of 16 in all grades. The single highest graded was a PR67 Cameo. They have also graded two in PR66 Ultra Cameo.

The aforementioned NGC PR67 Cameo has never appeared at auction and I have not seen it. The record price at auction is $32,200, set by Heritage 10/11: 4625, which sold for $32,200. This is the exact coin shown above. I bought it for a client in an NGC PR66 Ultra Cameo holder, crossed it to a PCGS PR66 Deep Cameo holder, and received approval at CAC.

This coin has terrific overall eye appeal with deep, reflective fields that are strongly contrasted by the devices. There are a few very small lintmarks (as made), but no hairlines.

It is interesting to note that the collector I purchased this coin for has been working on an 1864 gold proof set for a number of years. The gold dollar was the last coin he needed and the set is now complete. I find this to be a real endorsement of the rarity of the 1864 gold dollar in Proof; given that this collector was able to find the rare (and expensive) eagle and double eagle of this year before he could locate the humble (and more affordable) gold dollar.

Which brings us to the final topic of this blog: it has been said again and again that Proof gold is the "caviar" of American numismatics. There is no question about the fact that Proof gold is an expensive area to collect and that specializing in this area of the market is ambitious, to say the least.

But within the area of Proof Gold, there are pockets of value. I have always liked the smaller-size (dollar and quarter eagle) issues with mintages of 50 or fewer in PR63 to PR65 grades. As an example, the 1862 dollar that I discussed above was a beautiful PCGS PR64 Deep Cameo example with CAC approval. Without knowing the market, would you care to venture a guess of this coin's value? $20,000? $30,000? More?

Surprisingly, I listed and sold this coin in the mid-teens.

Say a collector had a budget of $30,000-40,000 to spend each year on Proof gold. Would he be better off buying a few relatively common coins in exceptional grades (an example of such a piece would be a 1902 quarter eagle in PR67 cameo) or a few very rare coins in choice but not as spectacular grades?

Being someone whose numismatic decisions are typically based around rarity, I'd go with two very rare low mintage coins in the $20,000 range as opposed to one more common but spectacular coin in the $40,000 range. The exception would be if I were putting together a type set of Proof gold and I needed just a single example of each type. Then, I would tend to go with a coin like an 1886 gold dollar in PR66 as opposed to, say, an 1866 gold dollar in PR64.

Do you have questions about Proof gold? Feel free to contact me via email at and I would be happy to answer them for you.

1862 $1.00 PCGS PR64 DCAM CAC

One of only 35 Proofs struck. It is likely that as few as 14-16 examples are known in Proof and this date rivals a number of other better-known, higher-priced issues in this series. This is a wonderfully choice example for the grade with bright, highly reflective fields and full cameo contrast. Both sides are superbly toned in deep natural orange-gold hues and there are just a few wispy hairlines (not from cleaning) seen on both sides. For the sake of identification, a tiny curved mint-made lintmark between DO in DOLLAR is mentioned. I think coins like this are exceptional value and I would strongly recommend putting early Proofs of all denominations away for a long-term hold as they seem to have lots and lots of upside. PCGS has graded just two in PR64DCAM with two better. This is the only example in this grade (with a DCAM designation) to have received CAC approval.

Ex Goldberg 2/06: 874 where it sold for $16,675

1859 $1.00 NGC PR65 Ultra Cameo CAC

One of 80 Proofs struck; most were unsold and later melted. Today there are probably no more than twenty or so known known and this is clearly among the finest of the survivors. This superb fresh-to-the-market Gem has an amazing amount of contrast between the frosted devices and the reflective fields. This contrast gives the coin a full "black and white" appearance that is very impressive to say the least. There is a tiny mint-made "C" shaped lintmark in the left obverse field that serves as identification. Otherwise, this piece is extremely solid for the grade with great visual appeal. As with all pre-Civil War Proof gold, the 1859 dollar is an extremely rare issue and most are seen in the PR63 to PR64 range. There have only been two auction records for comparable examples since the 1990's: Heritage 11/02: 7485 ($17,250; graded PR65 UC by NGC) and Goldberg 9/03: 1057 ($13,225; graded PR65 DC by PCGS). The highest graded example that I have personally seen was Heritage 2010 ANA: 3395 ($32,200; graded PR66 by NGC) and it lacked the contrast or overall eye appeal that this piece shows. A truly rare and very important piece of Proof gold.

Proof-Only Gold Coins

The presence of a number of important Type Three Proof Liberty Head double eagles in the upcoming 2011 FUN auction got me to thinking about Proof-only United States gold coins. What are these coins, why are they important and do they deserve the market premiums they enjoy? A Proof-only coin is an issue that exists only in a Proof-only format where business strikes could have been produced as well. These coins exist in a variety of denominations but for this blog, we'll focus on the ones in various United States gold series.

Some of the most famous Proof-only gold coins are the double eagles from 1883, 1884 and 1887. The mintage figures for these dates are 92, 71 and 121 respectively. I believe that there are around twenty 1883 double eagles known, maybe fifteen 1884's and as many as thirty to thirty five 1887's.

There are two ways to look at these coins. The commonly accepted way is to consider them solely as a date. In other words, even though there are many Proof double eagles that are rarer than these three, there are no other Type Threes that compare to the 1883 and 1884 in terms of the total number known. If a date collector wants to buy an 1883 for his set of Type Three double eagle he has to buy a Proof. This is different than a rare date like the 1881 or the 1882 that exists in dual formats; i.e., as business strikes and Proofs, and thus presents the collector with two options.

Collectors who are new to double eagles might balk at having to pay $150,000-200,000 for a nice 1883 double eagle when they can purchase a Proof of comparable rarity from this era for half as much--or less. Why, they wonder, does a Proof-only issue get such a high premium?

The mistake that they are making is to compare the 1883 to, say, an 1880. They need to look at the rarity of the 1883 on an absolute level. The 1883, from the standpoint of total number known, is even rarer than such celebrated issues as the 1854-O and the 1856-O; two issues that now sell for $300,000-500,000. If the Type Three series were to ever become as popular with date collectors as the Type One series currently is, the current prices for Proof-only issues such as the 1883, 1884 and 1887 could double or triple.

One Proof-only issue that I have always found interesting is the 1863 quarter eagle. Only 30 were made and this is one of the major rarities in the entire quarter eagle series. In the Liberty Head design it is the third rarest issue, trailing only the 1854-S and the 1841. The 1863 is an issue that has alot going for it; most notably its charismatic Civil War issuance. It has been a heralded rarity for well over a century. Values have steadily risen for the 1863 over the last decade and I expect this issue to become more and more sought-after in the future.

Another Proof-only issue is the 1887 half eagle. It has a mintage of 87 and an estimated thirty or so survive. Unlike the 1863 quarter eagle, this is a date that doesn't "feel" like it should be a Proof-only coin; especially given the fact that many of the other Philadelphia half eagles of this era are common in business strike format.

What I think hurts the 1887 most in terms of its appeal is that Liberty Head half eagles are not currently a series that are actively collected by date. The 1887 feels like an overvalued date to me, given that a Gem is worth over $100,000 as compared to less than half this amount for comparable Proofs of this era that aren't Proof-only.

Two of the most interesting Proof-only issues are the 1875 and 1876 three dollars. Both are less rare than their original mintage figures of 20 and 45 would suggest and this is due to the fact that restrikes exist for both issues. I find the 1875 to be a very intruiging issue because of the magic of the date 1875 as a Proof. Every Proof 1875 issue has an exceptionally low original mintage and at least two denominations (the half eagle and eagle) are virtually unobtainable as business strikes.

Back to the Proof-only Type Three issues. When I first became ingterested in US gold coins, these three issues were heralded rarities and they were bringing $25,000 and higher back when 25 grand could buy you some serious rare Liberty Head double eagles. The 1883, 1884 and 1887 have certainly increased in value over the years but not at the pace of the rare Type Ones or, ironically, even at the pace of the formally-overlooked business strike rarities of the Type Three series.

It will be interesting to see how the next appearances of the rare Proof-only gold issues that I've mentioned are met by an increasingly rarfity-driven coin buying audience. My hunch is that we will see very strong prices on most of these coins and that they represent good value for the collector or investor who fancies true blue-chip numismatic items.