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

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

The gold dollar was made from 1849 through 1889 in three distinct types and was struck at five different mints. This denomination has been popular with many generations of collectors and it lends itself to a host of different collecting methodologies...

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A Dozen Sleeper Dates in Liberty Head Proof Gold

A Dozen Sleeper Dates in Liberty Head Proof Gold

Due to its high per-coin cost, there are not many date collectors of Proof gold coins. This means that a number of amazingly rare dates have fallen through the cracks, and offer great value to well-heeled collectors looking for exceptional individual coins to put away, or for type collectors who want more “bang for their buck” when choosing a specific coin to represent a design type for their set.

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When Is Deep Cameo/Ultra Cameo Proof Gold Worth a Premium?

Having recently handled a considerable number of impressive Proof gold coins, I've been thinking about when a specific coin is worth a premium because of is status as a Deep Cameo (PCGS' modifier) or Ultra Cameo (NGC's modifier). After a brief explanation of these terms, I'd like to use a few examples of the coins I've sold to illustrate scenarios in which I feel a premium is merited. Proof gold coins are struck specially for collectors in very limited numbers. They are made with care using specially prepared planchets and typically struck with multiple blows of the dies. One of the features of most pre-1900 American gold coins in Proof is that they show cameo-like contrast between the devices (which are frosted) and the fields (which are watery and reflective). Collectors appreciate this appearance; as well they should, as a gold coin with deep, strong cameo contrast can have wonderful eye appeal.

The question most collectors ask about cameo proof gold coins is when are such pieces worth a price premium.

Given the fact that most pre-1900 proof gold coins have very low mintage figures, we can assume that nearly every piece is going to show some degree of cameo. But there are a few coins for each year that have extreme cameo contrast. We can assume that these are either the very first pieces produced or they were coins that were made with extra care for their visual appeal.

Let's look at a proof gold coin with an original mintage figure of 30 coins as an example. The typical survival rate for a proof gold coin struck between 1860 and 1880 is around 50% (for large denominations such as eagles and double eagles this figure is probably more like 25-33%). Given this figure, let's say that fifteen or so are known.

Of these fifteen, there are probably at least a few that are either impaired or they have been cleaned and/or processed to the point that they do not have an original appearance. So let's say the number of pertinent coins is around ten. There might be seven or eight that have been graded by PCGS and/or NGC and given the designation "cameo." Then let's say that the other two or three coins have been designated as "ultra cameo" or "deep cameo." How much more are these coins worth?

In my opinion, if these coins have great eye appeal and are not overgraded, they are probably worth a 10-20% premium over a regular cameo example. This is making the assumption that they are significantly rarer than their regular cameo counterparts. In the case or large denominations, where eye appeal is so critical, this premium might even be a bit higher.

I'd like to use two specific coins to illustrate my theory about ultra cameo/deep cameo premiums. These are a pair of gold dollars that I recently sold.

The first coin is an 1862 gold dollar graded PR66 Deep Cameo by PCGS and awarded a sticker by CAC.

1862 $1.00 PCGS PR66 DCAM CAC

This Civil War issue has an original mintage figure of 35 coins of which slightly fewer than half survive. In my experience, the mint did an excellent job of producing proof gold coins in 1862 and the overall quality of most of the gold dollars I've seen has been above average. In other words, Proofs of this year are supposed to come with good contrast and there should be no premium whatsoever for a coin that is a regular cameo.

But if you take even a casual look at this specific coin, you'll see that it has incredible eye appeal. The appearance is "black and white" with the type of contrast that can literally be seen across the room. I felt that this was one of the best looking Proof gold dollars that I had ever viewed and this was a reason that I purchased the coin at the 2012 FUN show.

As I was figuring a value for this coin, I had to decide on what sort of a premium its beauty would compel me to pay. I certainly wouldn't have paid a 50% premium (although in certain silver series, a premium of this sort isn't uncommon) but I felt a 10-20% premium was certainly in keeping with its stunning appearance.

This was an instance where I wasn't so much paying a premium for an ultra cameo coin's rarity (there are a few other 1862 gold dollars known with a deep cameo/ultra cameo appearance) as I was for its beauty. What was even more appealing to me was the fact that this coin has a "natural" deep cameo appearance.

You almost never seen proof gold coins anymore with the old-time, deep, hazy look that you used to see when collections like Norweb, Pittman, Eliasberg or Childs were sold. In fact, I would venture to say that most collectors and dealers who have entered the hobby after 1990 have seen virtually no truly original Proof gold coins (a welcome exception to this was the amazing Henry Miller collection of Proof gold that Heritage sold at their FUN auction in January 2011. While not every coin in this group was original, some were just amazing and it was refreshing to see Proof gold coins that looked like this after so many years of character-free pieces being offered...).

What's even harder to find these days are "old time gem" proof gold coins that aren't so hazy or richly colored that they don't show deep cameo contrast. That's why a coin like this 1862 dollar is special, in my opinion, and it merits a strong premium. It was original yet it was commercially viable for those collectors who don't "get" originality.

The next coin I'd like to discuss is a PCGS PR65 Deep Cameo 1871 gold dollar also awarded approval by CAC. While this coin has a mintage which is close to the 1862 (a total of 30 versus 35 for the 1862) it is rarer due to the fact that it appears that a portion were melted after they went unsold in 1871. It is possible that as few as eight to ten are known and this is actually one of the single rarest Type Three dollars in proof.

1871 $1.00 PCGS PR65 DCAM CAC

One interesting fact about this date is that it is not a year that tends to come as well made as the 1862. In 1871, the amount of contrast wasn't as great and many survivors in all gold denominations show lintmarks or slight planchet irregularities. It is also a date that, as a Proof, tends to be a little rarer than the 1862 in higher grades. I believe that this 1871 is the second finest known, trailing just a single PR68 at NGC.

This coin has nice cameo contrast although not as much so as on the 1862. In the case of this coin, I think its premium is predicated more on rarity than on extreme eye appeal. It is the only PCGS example in PR65 or better to have been designated as a Deep Cameo and this fact, I believe, gives it at least a 10-15% premium over a regular cameo example in the same grade.

In summary, I feel that the two reasons to ascribe a strong premium to any proof gold coin due to its status as a deep cameo/ultra cameo are either extreme eye appeal (or beauty) and extreme rarity (status as the only example of an issue with this designation or else the single highest graded with this designation). Obviously, the best scenario is a proof gold coin that is both extremely rare and extremely beautiful. In this case, the premium could be very high; maybe as much as 25-50%.

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.

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.

The Mystery of the Proof 1875 Gold Dollar

As I have mentioned before, certified population figures can be helpful but they can also be confusing. Take, for instance, the 1875 gold dollar in Proof. This is a coin with a reported original mintage of 20. But it has a combined PCGS/NGC population of 24 (twelve at each service). Something is obviously not right here. But, for once, the fault does not lie with the population reports. Despite being created with the best of intentions, the PCGS and NGC population figures are full of inaccurate information which can be misleading to collectors. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the grading services. It is the fault of dealers (and collectors) who resubmit coins and do not send in their extra inserts. I’ve rambled on (and on) about this in the past and do not plan to offer my two cents this time on how I think that dealers who do this are doing themselves and the coin market a major disservice.

In the case of the Proof 1875 gold dollar the disconnect between the number struck and the number graded has to do with information from the Mint which is not necessarily accurate.

We know for a fact that 20 Proof gold dollars were struck on February 13 as parts of complete gold proof sets. For a number of reasons (some of which will be discussed below), the demand for Proof 1875 gold dollars was higher than expected and it is likely that another 20 or perhaps even a few more were made later in the year and sold to collectors. These appear to have been struck from the exact same dies and cannot be distinguished.

Looking at auction records for Proof 1875 gold dollars over the last few decades, it looks like the actual number known to exist might be as high as 20-25 pieces. Given the fact that survival rates for small denomination Proof gold coins of this era is typically around 50%, this is in line with an original mintage figure of around 40-50 coins.

Striking additional Proof gold coins to satisfy demand is not without precedent. It was clearly done in 1875 and 1876 for the Three Dollar gold piece.

There were a number of times that the Mint engaged in “questionable” practices in order to produce coins as special favors for VIPS or to use as trade bait to acquire coins for their collection. And there were also times that clandestine strikings of certain coins occurred in order for certain Mint employees to make extra money on the side. But in the case of the Proof 1875 gold dollars I don’t think that anything sleazy occurred.

By the mid-1870’s, collecting proof gold coins by date was fairly popular with collectors. This was not necessarily the case with the higher denominations as ten dollars or twenty dollars was an excessive amount of money for all but the wealthiest individual collectors. But the gold dollar, quarter eagle and three dollar denominations were within the range of many contemporary collectors.

My guess is that once the Mint reported that the total number of gold dollars struck in 1875 was so low (only 400 business strikes were made), a certain number of collectors were intrigued enough to buy an example. There were probably also dealers who were willing to speculate on a low mintage issue like an 1875 gold dollar, especially given the fact that a Proof could be obtained from the Mint for a relatively small premium above face value. Since few collectors differentiated between Proofs and business strikes in 1875 and the business strikes may have already been unavailable from the Mint, it seems likely that there was enough demand for the Mint to decide to have a second run of Proofs.

So why then was done in 1875 but not, say, 1876 or 1877 when Proof mintages were also tiny? My guess is that there were enough business strikes made this year to fulfill the demand. Or, maybe the speculators who bought Proof 1875 dollars didn’t make the “killing” they thought they would.

The story of the Proof 1875 gold dollar is an interesting one and one that is likely not yet fully known. It is these little mysteries that make numismatics such an interesting hobby and keep me compelled to learn more about a subject that I have found compelling for the better part of my life.

Douglas Winter Numismatics To Sell the Tri-Star Collection of Proof Gold Dollars

Douglas Winter Numismatics has been chosen to sell the Tri-Star Collection of Proof gold dollars. This collection, which was formed by one of the savviest collectors of gold coins in today’s numismatic market, includes a dozen very rare Type Three Proof gold dollars dated between 1856 and 1878. In a conversation with the former owner of the coins, he stated the following: “My original goal was to assemble a complete set of Proof gold dollars in high grades. Instead of focusing on the dates from the 1880’s which I thought would be easy to acquire, I was more focused on the very rare Type Three coins struck from 1856 to 1879. These dates typically had mintage figures of fifty coins or fewer and many have as few as ten to fifteen survivors.”

This collector added another couple of interesting comments about his collection. ”I tried whenever possible to buy coins that were original and which had not been recently conserved. I also tried to add a few coins that had particularly good pedigrees. The reason that I gave up on the set was that I found it too frustrating to find the dates I needed with the eye appeal that I wanted.”

What this collector did accomplish is still nothing short of amazing. The undisputed highlight of the coins being offered for sale by DWN is an 1856 gold dollar graded PR67 Ultra Cameo by NGC. It is the earliest dated gold dollar graded this high by NGC and it is the finest known of an estimated six or seven that exist.

Remarkably, the collection continues with a nice date run of Proofs dated 1857-1863. The 1857 is an NGC PR65 Cameo, while the 1858 is a stunning NGC PR66 Cameo that is tied with one other coin as the finest known. The 1859, graded PR66 Deep Cameo by PCGS, has amazing eye appeal and is a coin that is notable for its rich original coloration. The 1860 is graded PR65 Cameo and has a pedigree from the famous Harry Bass collection while the popular 1861 is a very high end PR65 that has also been graded by PCGS. The 1862 is an NGC PR66 Ultra Cameo which is among the finest known while the 1863, while “only” graded PR64 Deep Cameo by PCGS, has the eye appeal and appearance of a Gem.

The collector who assembled this set of gold dollars was very interested in coinage from the Civil War and the only issue from this era that was missing was the 1864. His 1865 is a Gem NGC PR65 that has a Cameo designation.

There are just three coins from the 1870’s present in the Tri-Star collection but they are all remarkable and desirable pieces. The extremely rare and much underrated 1874, with an original mintage of just 20 pieces, is represented by a lovely PCGS PR64 Cameo. The extremely rare 1875 is a PR66 Cameo with an incredible pedigree. The coin was last sold as part of the Bass collection and it had been obtained from the Stack’s 1976 Garrett sale where it was part of an original 1875 gold proof set that had been obtained by the Garrett family back in 1883. The other issue from this decade is a PCGS PR65 Cameo 1878. This is another date with an original mintage of only 20 pieces and the present example is clearly among the finest known.

A number of the coins in the collection have been sent to CAC and have received a “green sticker” that indicates that they are acceptable quality for the grade.

It is my feeling that these low mintage Type Three gold dollars represent the best value in the Proof gold market. To wit, there are a host of coins in the collection that are extremely rare as based on their original mintage figure and survival rate but which are priced at a fraction of the amount of less rare large denomination Proofs from the 1880’s and 1890’s in the same grade. Clearly, size does matter when it comes to Proof gold but the dollar denomination has traditionally been popular among collectors and, unlike the larger coins, this set could be completed with patience and a deep pocketbook. If a collector wants to buy a single extremely rare Proof gold coin but he doesn’t have unlimited funds, the gold dollar denomination will prove fruitful.

It is anticipated that the Tri-Star collection will be posted on the DWN website ( within the next week. Subscribers to Winter’s newsletter will be given early notification of the exact date that the coins will go “live.” Each coin will be accurately described and superbly imaged with large views of the obverse and the reverse. For more information about the Tri-Star Collection of Proof Gold Dollars, please contact Doug Winter via email at

12 Great Values in the Rare Date Gold Market Priced Below $5,000 Part One: Gold Dollars Through Half Eagles

In this economy, everyone likes a good value. If you don’t have the discretionary funds for coins now that you had a year ago, every last dollar counts. This brings us to the question at hand. Are there good values in the rare gold market in the $5,000 and under price range? And if so, what are they? This article is focused on twelve of the better values that come to mind in the gold dollar through half eagle denominations. I think there are dozens of other pieces that could be added to this list. Part Two of this article, which will appear on my website in January 2009, will cover the eagle and double eagle denominations and will focus on another dozen undervalued issues in the $5,000 and under range.

1. 1865 Gold Dollar

For many years my favorite “sleeper” date in the Gold Dollar series was the 1863. After a long period of neglect, the 1863 has been discovered and it now sells for levels well in excess of current Trends. But there are other Civil War era gold dollars that remain in the budget of the typical collector. My personal favorite is the 1865 which has an original mintage figure of just 3,700 business strikes. Unlike the low mintage gold dollars from the 1880’s, the 1865 was not hoarded and it is unlikely that more than 100-125 are known. Interestingly, the 1865 is almost never seen in lower grades so the range that the collector with a moderate budget should be searching for is MS61 to MS62. In the Bowers and Merena 9/08 auction, an attractive PCGS MS62 1865 gold dollar brought a very reasonable $2,760 and I know of a small number of others in this grade that have sold privately in the $2,500-3,000 range.

To me, this coin is desirable on a number of levels. It is a Civil War issue which gives it historic significance and it is better produced than some of the other gold dollars of this date. It has a low original mintage as well as a modest survival rate. As of December 2008, PCGS has still recorded just forty-four in all grades.

2. 1884 Gold Dollar (MS 64 and above)

I have always thought that with some creative marketing, the gold dollars produced from 1876 through 1889 could be sold as a “short set” akin to the similarly-themed Walking Liberty half dollars of 1941-1947. In this fourteen coin run, the 1884 has always been an issue that I have found to be much undervalued. It is traditionally regarded to be a common date and it seldom gets any sort of premium over the readily available issues such as the 1881, 1883 and 1887-1889. However, it is considerably scarcer and Gems are actually quite rare. The most recent PCGS population figures show forty graded in MS64, twenty-five in MS65 and another thirty-four higher but I believe these figures are inflated by resubmissions.

At current price levels, I like most all gold dollars in MS64 and above but the 1884 seems really reasonable. The patient collector should be able to buy an MS64 in the $1,100-1,300 range and a very nice MS65 for $2,250-2,500.

3. Accurately Graded PR63 Gold Dollars

Most Proof gold is priced well beyond the collector of average means. Generally speaking, if you have a budget of $5,000 or so, you don’t get to play in this market. But there is one exception. Many of the Type Three gold dollars have CDN Bids in PR63 in the $3,900-4,700 range. These are coins that have mintage figures that are often below 100 and even the “common” Proofs struck from 1884 to 1889 have fewer than 100-150 survivors despite comparatively high original mintages in the 1,000-1,700 range.

There are a few caveats that must be thrown in before you run out and try to buy up all the PR63 Type Three gold dollars you can find at CDN Bid. The very low mintage dates from the 1860’s and 1870’s with Bids in the $4,000-5,000 range are basically impossible to find at these prices. It is more likely that the collector with $4,000-5,000 to spend will have to focus on a more available date from the 1883-1889 range. Still, these coins offer a lot of bang for your coin buying buck; especially if you can locate a PR63 with reasonably good overall eye appeal.

4. 1837 Classic Head Quarter Eagle

Classic Head quarter eagles have grown immensely in popularity in the last few years. And with good reason. They are a short-lived, completable set that includes a number of interesting branch mint issues and they form an interesting bridge between “old gold” and the more modern Liberty Head design that was employed all the way up to 1907. Among the Philadelphia issues, I have always had a soft spot for the 1839 but the rarity of this date has become fairly well-known. But the 1837 remains undervalued.

A quick perusal of the PCGS population figures will show that the 1837 is about three times as scarce as the 1834 and 1836 Script 8. If I were going to purchase a single Classic Head quarter eagle for type purposes, I would strongly consider an 1837 and pay the 25%+ premium that this date carries. I would personally be looking for an MS62 as a type coin and if I were specializing in the Classic Head series I’d probably look for a nice AU58.

5. 1842 Quarter Eagle

I wanted to avoid the “needle in the haystack” sort of coins that always drive me crazy when I read other articles of this sort. But I love this date and am still amazed that it is possible that the collector with a budget of less than $5,000 can purchase a very presentable example. In September 2008, I wrote an article about the ten rarest Liberty Head quarter eagles and the 1842 made it onto the list at #10. There isn’t another Top Ten date in this series that is as affordable as the 1842.

Only 2,823 examples were struck and I estimate that between four and five dozen are known. For the collector on a $5,000 or lower budget, I would suggest either an EF40 or an EF45. The former is currently valued at $3,500-4,000 while the latter is worth $5,000-6,000. The only example to sell in recent memory was Heritage 1/08: 3826 (graded EF45 by PCGS) that sold for $4,888; a remarkable value, in my opinion.

6. Uncirculated 1870 Quarter Eagle

There is probably no other 19th century gold series that offers as much value for the collector with a $5,000 or lower budget than Liberty Head quarter eagles. An especially fertile era in the quarter eagle series is the Reconstruction period of 1866-1874. Mintages during this era tend to be very low (in the case of Philadelphia issues, often less than 5,000) and survival rates for higher grade pieces tend to be even lower.

The 1870 is a vastly overlooked issue with an original mintage of just 4,520. There are an estimated 150-200 known but this date is generally seen in EF40 to AU50 and it becomes very scarce in the higher AU grades. In Uncirculated, the 1870 is genuinely rare with an estimated six or seven known. PCGS has only graded three in Uncirculated (MS61, MS62 and MS65). Despite the obvious rarity of this coin, I have sold two Uncirculated pieces in the last year (an NGC MS62 and a PCGS MS61) for less than $7,000 and even though this is a bit of a budget buster for the collector with $5,000 per coin to spend, I believe that this is an issue worth stretching on.

7. 1914 Quarter Eagle, MS63

When it comes to value, I’m not generally a big fan of the Indian Head quarter eagle series. However, I have always liked the 1914 as a date and I think that a solid, high end example in MS63 is a comparatively good value in this series. Here’s my logic. The key date of the series is the 1911-D. The current PCGS population of this date is 321 in MS63 with 331 graded higher. The 1914 has a population of 432 in MS63 with 320 higher. In my experience, the 1914 is not all that different in rarity from the 1911-D until you get up to the MS65 level. The big difference is price. The current CDN Bid for an MS63 1914 is $4,100 while the 1911-D is Bid at $17,500. When it comes to these two dates, I’m of the belief that the 1914 is undervalued and the 1911-D is overvalued. At current levels, I like the 1914 quite a bit.

Assuming that the Indian Head quarter eagle series stays popular with date collectors, there will be a decent level of demand for the 1914. It is, after all, the second scarcest date in the series and it does have recognition as a semi-key. In my experience it can be harder to find an MS63 1914 than a 1911-D (sometimes it seems that there are 1911-D quarter eagles around everywhere you look!).

8. 1884 Three Dollar Gold Piece

This is another date that I’ve touted for many years. It tends not to get the recognition that the 1881 or 1885 get because those two issues have mintages below 1,000 but the 1884 is comparable to the 1881 in terms of overall rarity and it is far rarer than the 1885 in all grades. There were exactly 1,000 business strike 1884 Three Dollar gold pieces produced and an estimated 150-200 are known, mostly in the lower to medium Uncirculated grades.

This is an issue that did not freely circulate and there are just a few dozen extant in circulated grades. Despite this fact, Trends is just $5,000 in AU55 and I have sold very presentable examples in this grade in the $4,000-4,500 range and AU58’s for $5,000-5,500.

9. 1838-C Half Eagle, Choice XF

I wasn’t going to include any Charlotte coins on this list because, quite honestly, I wasn’t sure how many sub-$5,000 pieces I truly consider to be good value. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the 1838-C is an issue that really has everything going for it. Numismatic significance? Check—it’s a first-year-of-issue and a one-year type. Collector demand? Certainly—every time I list one on my website, it sells within a few days. Scarcity? While I wouldn’t call this issue rare from the standpoint of total known, it is very hard to find a nice Extremely Fine with good eye appeal.

While prices have climbed quite a bit for nice EF 1838-C half eagles, I think this is another issue that merits a stretch by our hypothetical $5,000 per coin collector. A properly graded, attractive EF40 can still be had for $5,000 or so although such coins are becoming more and more difficult to find.

10. 1847-O Half Eagle, Choice XF

I’ve been raving about the value of this date for years and still the 1847-O half eagle doesn’t command the respect it deserves. Even though it is part of a relatively popular series (No Motto New Orleans half eagles) and it is clearly the key issue in this set, it is still priced at a fraction of the less rare key date branch mint issues from Charlotte and Dahlonega. As an example, let’s compare the 1847-O to the 1842-C Small Date and the 1842-D; the keys from the Charlotte and Dahlonega mints, respectively. The 1847-O has a PCGS population of thirty-two in all grades and a Trends value of $7,000 in EF40. The 1842-C Small Date has a PCGS population of thirty-eight in all grades and an EF40 Trends value of $25,000. The 1842-D Large Date has a PCGS population of sixty-nine in all grades and it Trends for $7,000 in EF40.

It is still possible to buy a nice EF40 example of this date in the $4,500-5,500 range and if the collector is willing to stretch a bit (a well-deserved stretch, in my opinion...) he may be able to find an EF45 for $6,000-7,000. Given the rarity, popularity and upside potential of such a coin, I would give it my strongest recommendation.

11. 1892-O Half Eagle

Here’s another date that I’ve been foaming at the mouth about for years. People have finally caught on to the fact that the 1892-O is a really scarce half eagle but I think it still ranks as one of the neater mintmarked coins of this denomination that you can purchase for less than $5,000. And for $3,000-4,000 you can still buy a really respectable example that is not far removed from Condition Census quality.

There were only 10,000 examples produced and I believe that there are fewer than 100 known; mostly in the AU50-AU55 grades. In Uncirculated, the 1892-O is rare with 15-20 known; mostly in the MS60 to MS61 grades. If you are offered an 1892-O half eagle it is likely to be heavily abraded and probably not really attractive but unless it has really horrible eye appeal, you want to buy this coin. Maybe even two...

12. 1910 Half Eagle, MS64

I’ll let you in on a little Indian Head half eagle secret: in MS64, the 1910 is much scarcer than many of the common issues in this series but unless this series is hot or being actively promoted, you can generally buy it for little or no premium over a date like a 1908, 1911 or 1912.

In truth, no properly graded MS64 Indian Head half eagle is “common.” And I really like the fact that there is a huge price jump to the next grade. With Gems currently bringing close to $20,000, you have to love a nice MS64 1910 half eagle at $4,500-5,000.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are literally dozens of great values in the rare date gold market. If you have a budget of around $5,000 per coin, there are some exceptional pieces that are available for purchase. In these trying economic times, good value is exceptionally important.

I’d love to hear from you regarding the gold coins in this price range that you feel are great values.

Proof Gold Coins

We are now on Blog #50 for the year and I’ve just realized that I’ve yet to write anything on Proof gold coinage. It seems to me that a quick overview and a few passing thoughts on the subject are well overdue. Let me begin by saying that I personally love Proof gold, especially Liberty Head issues struck prior to 1900. I love the fact that most of these coins have original mintage figures below 100, I love the dazzling appearance that nicer pieces possess and I love the excellent value that many of these coins represent in today’s market.

The Proof gold market changed radically in the late 1990’s. After the Bass, Pittman and Childs holdings were sold at auction between 1995 and 2000, there was an exceptional amount of Proof gold on the market. I can remember certain dates in the quarter eagle and half eagle series that were really rare (i.e., with surviving populations of fewer than 20 pieces) having multiple examples available simultaneously. This gave the market a somewhat warped perspective. At the end of 2000, I owned three very nice Proof 1886 quarter eagles at the same time. In the ensuing years I haven’t owned a single example and don’t think I’ve seen more than one or two.

A few very major buyers of Proof gold coinage emerged around 2001-2002 and they have quietly put away large amounts of these coins. I can think of at least two buyers that have each taken over 100 pieces of Proof gold off the market and it is likely that these coins will not reappear for quite some time.

Something that has changed considerably in this market since the late 1990’s is the market premium factor. I can remember that during the Childs and Bass sales, it was possible to buy some incredibly rare Proof issues from the 1870’s and 1880’s for just a small premium over the much more available dates from the 1890’s and 1900’s. When a coin like an 1879 half eagle (original mintage: 30) was selling for just 20-30% more than a common date like a 1900 half eagle (original mintage: 230) it was hard not to absolutely love the value that the former represented. Today, a coin like the 1879 now sells for a much greater market premium factor—and deservedly so.

Grading standards for Proof gold coinage have unquestionably changed since the mid-1990’s to early 2000’s. I notice the biggest change in the PR63 to PR64 range. At one point in time, coins in this grade range were actually relatively attractive. They generally showed a few light hairlines in the obverse fields and had Gem quality reverse. Today, many Proof gold coins graded 63 and even 64 show clear signs of having been aggressively cleaned at one time and tend to have dense hairlines on both the obverse and reverse.

As far as finding truly original Proof gold coins…you can just about forget ever seeing these anymore unless “old time” out-of-the-woodwork collections surface at auction. If you go through the Childs and Bass catalogs, you’ll see photos of wonderful, deeply toned Proof gold coins. Today, essentially every Proof gold coin you see looks like it is fresh from the Gallery Mint’s coining press with ultra-bright surfaces.

I think the best value in proof gold right now is in the smaller denomination coins. As an example, I think many Proof gold dollars and quarter eagles are very well priced in relation to the larger denominations like eagles and double eagles. I especially like any Proof gold coin with an original mintage figure of 50 or less in PR63 or higher grades. In the smaller denominations like gold dollars and quarter eagles, it is sometimes possible to purchase truly rare and very attractive coins for below $20,000 and, in some cases, for less than $10,000.