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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Coins I Never See With Good Eye Appeal Part One: Gold Dollars

As I was viewing auctions lots for Heritage's 2012 FUN sale in Dallas the other day, I got to thinking about a topic that I think most gold coin collectors will find interesting: which issues are really hard to find with good eye appeal. I've decided to begin a multi-part study of this and the first featured series is gold dollars. Eye appeal is a combination of factors that makes a coin visually pleasing. These factors include strike, luster, color and surface preservation. For some collectors, original color is the key component; for others it is a sharp strike. But no matter which component is deemed most important, most sophisticated collectors will be able to agree if a coin has good overall eye appeal or not.

The concept of eye appeal doesn't necessarily go hand in hand with rarity. You can have a rare or very rare coin that, when available, tends to come with good overall eye appeal (an example of this would be an 1828 half eagle). Or, you can have a coin that is merely scarce but which, for a variety of factors, is seldom seen with good eye appeal (an example of this is a 1796 eagle).

Let's take a look at some of the gold dollars that, in my experience, are very difficult to find with good appeal.

In the Type One issues (produced from 1849 through 1854) there are a number of coins that are seldom seen with good eye appeal. The first that comes to mind is the 1852-D. Due to die clashing, this issue is frequently seen with multiple clashmarks that develop into a very "busy" area in the left obverse field. In addition to this phenomenon of strike, most 1852-D gold dollars have been cleaned or processed. I can't recall having owned more than a handful of 1852-D dollars that were cosmetically appealing.

Another Dahlonega issue that is very hard to locate with good eye appeal is the 1854-D. In the case of this issue it is not so much strike as it seems that nearly all known examples have been cleaned or dipped. I would be surprised if as many as ten nice examples were known and I have seen just a few in the last decade.

The Charlotte and New Orleans Type One gold dollars are easier to locate with good eye appeal than their counterparts from Dahlonega. The hardest Type One dollar to locate from Charlotte with good eye appeal is the 1850-C. While relatively well struck and well made, it seems that nearly every piece that I see offered either has inferior luster, "chewy" surfaces and poor color from having been recently cleaned or dipped.

The New Orleans Type One dollars tend to be well made and boldly detailed. Locating examples of virtually all the dates isn't a problem although finding a choice, orignal 1850-O with very good eye appeal can be somewhat of a challenge.

While issued only from 1854 to 1856, the Type Two issues tend to be hard to locate with good eye appeal. This is more true for the branch mint pieces than for the Philadelphia coins.

The 1855-D is the rarest Type Two gold dollar from a rarity standpoint but I have actually seen more nice 1855-D dollars in all grades than I have the 1855-C. The 1855-C is typically found with numerous planchet imperfections, poor strike and bright surfaces from dipping. In the Heritage sale, I saw a nice PCGS AU58 example (which was, in fact, sort of the impetus for the theme of this series of blogs...) and it got me to to thinking how long its been since I'd seen a nice, crisp, wholesome example. I'm not certain I have the exact answer but I do know that the 1855-C dollar in any grade with truly good eye appeal is a rare coin indeed.

The Philadelphia coins of the final type of this denomination (known to collectors as the Type Three) are generally seen with good eye appeal. There are a few issues, though, that can prove to be tricky to find as such.

The 1863 is an issue that was melted extensively. When found in circulated grades, survivors almost always seem to have poor eye appeal. There are a small number of really superb pieces known (around a half dozen Gems that grade MS65 to MS67) but these are off the market in tightly held collections.

While not as well known or as highly valued as the 1863, the 1865 is another issue that is not readily encountered with good eye appeal. As with many of the smaller denomination gold issues of this era, the 1865 typically comes either really nice or really wretched and coins that fall into the latter category seem to be what's available to collectors these days.

The 1875 is a date that most collectors believe is very rare and, from the standpoint of availability (or lack of it) I couldn't argue. But this is an issue that tends to have good eye appeal when it is available. Due to its low mintage figure of just 400 business strikes, all 1875 dollars are seen with prooflike surfaces. If an 1875 dollar hasn't been harshly cleaned or mishandled, it will have great eye appeal due to the depth of its reflectiveness and bold details.

The hardest Type Three issues to find with good eye appeal are, as one would expect, the coins from Charlotte and Dahlonega.

Only two Charlotte gold dollars were struck during this era (the 1857-C and the 1859-C) but both are hard to find with good eye appeal. This is especially true for the former as this is an issue that is typically seen with planchet waviness, roughness as made and really bad overall eye appeal. I recently sold an NGC AU58 with CAC approval to a collector and, as I told him, it was just about the only really attractive example of this issue that I could recall having seen.

Nearly all of the Type Three gold dollars from Dahlonega are hard to find with good eye appeal but I think the two that are the hardest are the 1857-D and the 1860-D. The former is hard to find due to a combination of quirky strike and hard commercial use. The latter is a much scarcer coin but it is almost always found softly struck and with poor, unnatural coloration.

The San Francisco Type Three issues are short-lived but do not lack for difficultly to locate with good eye appeal. I personally find the 1857-S and 1858-S to be the two hardest dates to find with good eye appeal. Both are typically found with a fair amount of wear and seldom show good color. I haven't seen or handled a nice Uncirculated example of either date in years.

Unlike other series, there are no impossible coins to find in the gold dollar denomination (not counting, of course, the excessively rare 1849-C Open Wreath), there are a number of specific issues that are extremely hard to find with good eye appeal. I'd say that the five toughest to find, in chronological order, are as follows:

-1850-D -1852-D -1854-D -1857-C -1860-D

The next article in this series will focus on Liberty Head quarter eagles. Pre-1834 and Classic Head issues will be covered in another article that focuses on early gold in all denominations.

Any questions about eye appeal and gold dollars? I can be reached via email at

Are Gem Type Two Gold Dollars Underpriced or Overpriced?

I recently bought and sold a coin that I hadn't handled in quite a few years: a Gem Type Two gold dollar. For those of us of a certain age, this is an exciting coin and one that got me to thinking: is this a type that is underpriced or overpriced? My thoughts on this subject follow. Back in the 1980's, my mentor in the rare coin business, Paul Nugget, told me an interesting story about Type Two gold dollars. He said that in the 1970's, Type Two gold dollars were essentially unknown in Gem Uncirculated and were very hard to locate even in what, today, would represent the MS63 to MS64 grade range. I have always found it curious that this once-rare type became so much more available in the ensuing years; a subplot to this story that I'll touch on in a moment.

For those of you who are wondering "what is a Type Two gold dollar," it is a short-lived design type of gold dollar that was introduced in 1854 and replaced in 1856. It features a small Indian Princess portrait on the obverse and it is a type that is notorious for strike-related problems such as clashmarks and weakness at the centers as a result of a flawed design that made it nearly impossible to fully strike up.

The two issues of this design that are seen most often are the 1854 and 1855 Philadelphia dollars. When people refer to "Type Two dollars" as a specific type coin, it is likely that they are speaking about one of these. Type Two dollars were also made, for one year only, in Dahlonega (1855-D), Charlotte (1855-C), New Orleans (1855-O) and San Francisco (1856-S). The branch mint issues are scarce to rare and remain very popular with collectors.

When collecting gold coins by type was in its heyday, the Type Two dollar was the single rarest and most expensive member of the twelve-piece type set. I can remember Type Two gold dollars in MS65 trading for over $50,000; in some cases as much as $55,000 to $60,000.

Today, the same coin is worth $30,000 at most (if the coin is really nice, in a PCGS holder and CAC approved) and more likely around $27,500.

What happened?

As far as I can tell, there were at least four things that occurred, all of which conspired to really hurt this market. The first is gradeflation. When Type Two gold dollars were worth $50,000+, they were superb coins. Today, I see many (if not most) Type Two gold dollars graded MS65 and I go "meh..." The coins range from not-so-nice to decent but very few are what I feel are Gems. This lessening of standards has clearly hurt the market for this type.

The second factor is a change in collector taste. In the 1980's and 1990's, many rare coin firms encouraged new collectors and investors to assemble twelve coin gold type sets. When these sets were in vogue, the Type Two dollar was the key issue. But these firms have stopped selling Gem U.S. gold for type sets and the whole concept has, for all intents and purposes, fallen off the map. When no one is collecting gold type sets, the demand for Gem Type Two gold dollars drops appreciably.

The third factor is an inversion of the classic supply and demand ratio for these coins. A decade ago, there were always people looking for Type Two gold dollars in Gem for their sets but very few coins around. Today, there are few people looking for them but a reasonably large supply. As I write this article, PCGS and NGC have combined to grade 149 Type Two gold dollars in MS65. Even factoring in resubmissions, it is still likely that as many as 90-110 Gem Type Two gold dollars have been graded, not to mention another 37 combined by PCGS and NGC in MS66. Clearly there are not 100 collectors who want Gem Type Two gold dollars.

(Interestingly, the level of demand for branch mint Type Two gold dollars has soared in the last decade. By virtue of being scarce, interesting and numismatically significant due to theit status as one-year types, coins like 1855-C and 1855-D dollars have risen in value--dramatically in the case of the latter--and are far more in demand than high grade examples from the Philadelphia mint).

I think there is one more factor that has hurt the value of this type: its small size. Let's face it, coin collectors are not getting any younger and the typical demographic of collectors who can afford a $30,000 Type Two gold dollar is over 55 and unable to see a coin this small without strong magnification.

Before closing, I'd like to address one point I raised earlier in this article. I mentioned that there is an aura of mystery around Gem Type Two gold dollars. How did a type that was virtually unknown in Gem thirty years ago become a coin that is featured for sale in every major auction these days? Part of it is certainly gradeflation but I think the answer is deeper than this. I don't know for certain but I think there is/was a hoard of high quality Type Two dollars that was quietly and brilliantly released into the market, a few at a time, for years. I don't know the specifics about it but how else can you explain a coin going from virtually unknown to nearly ubiquitous?

So what's my conclusion? Are Gem Type Two gold dollar undervalued or overvalued? Given the current state of the market, I'd have to pick overvalued. At $30,000 or so for a real Gem, they just don't seem like a good buy to me. At $15,000 for an MS65 I am certainly a buyer and maybe even at $20,000 for the right coin. But at $30,000 I'd rather have a nice, well struck 1855-D dollar in Choice AU or a properly graded MS63 1855-O dollar.

Currently Popular Gold Coin Rarities

A reader recently asked me an interesting question: “…can you name some currently popular gold coin rarities that might suffer the same fate as the (once popular but now forgotten) 1858 $10?” This is an excellent question and it got me thinking. I have identified a few potential popular-now-but-potentially-forgotten-in-the future gold issues. Type Two Gold Dollars, MS63 and better. Another dealer (someone whose abilities I really respect) told me an interesting story. Back in the 1970’s, when he was handling every conceivable rare United States gold coin, he never saw nice Type Two gold dollars. Today, they seem to be everywhere. Open any major auction catalog and you’ll see a number of Type Two gold dollars in the higher Uncirculated grades.

Despite the relative availability of these coins (PCGS has graded nearly 500 examples in MS63 and nearly 400 in MS64) prices for these issues remain high. In the most recent issue of Coin World Trends, the suggested price levels for 1854 and 1855 gold dollars are $15,000 in MS63 and $20,000 in MS64. Given the fact that there are nowhere near 900 people assembling sets of high grade gold type coins, I would contend that the supply of MS63 and MS64 Type Two gold dollars far exceeds the supply. Unless this type is actively promoted again, as it was back in the 1990’s, I would not be surprised if price levels dropped appreciably.

1842-C Small Date Half Eagle. The 1842-C Small Date is the key date Charlotte half eagle. It became popular in the 1970’s and prices rose considerably through the 1980’s and the early 1990’s. But the 1842-C Small Date half eagle hit the wall a few years ago. I think there are three reasons for this.

The first is that Charlotte coinage has (temporarily) fallen out of favor. The second is that this coin is, in all honesty, well overvalued in current price guides. Coin World Trends shows values of $55,000 for this issue in AU50 and $100,000 in AU58. A quick perusal of recent sales at auction will show that a number of 1842-C Small Date half eagles have sold for less than half of Trends value. The third is that this date can be filled in a set of Charlotte half eagles by an 1842-C Large Date which is considerably cheaper (around $5,000 for a nice AU). I would not be surprised to see prices and collector interest for this issue to continue to fall in the coming years.

1887 Half Eagle. This is one of a handful of Proof-only 19th century issues. Unlike some of its counterparts like the 1883, 1884 and 1887 double eagles, it suffers from being a member of a relatively unpopular series that lacks the strong collector support of Type Three double eagles.

Despite the fact that only 87 examples of this date were struck there are enough Proofs to go around that the few collectors who focus on Proof Liberty Head half eagles are able to easily locate an example of this date. The 1887 currently has a premium of close to 5x in PR63 and 4x in PR64 (i.e., it sells for around four times the price of a common date Proof Liberty Head half eagle in this grade) but I don’t personally see it having anywhere near four or five times the demand level or collectability of a common date Liberty Head half eagle. I personally like this issue but wouldn’t be shocked if it attains “forgotten rarity” status in the coming years.