The Big Five Carson City Double Eagles

The Big Five Carson City Double Eagles

Carson City double eagles can be neatly divided into three tiers of rarity. The first tier—or what I like to call the Big Five—consists of the 1871-CC, 1878-CC, 1879-CC, 1885-CC, and the 1891-CC. If we assume that most collectors will never buy an 1870-CC due to its rarity and cost, these five issues are the keys to the set.

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The Newbie's Lament: What Should I Collect?

The Newbie's Lament: What Should I Collect?

For new collectors of vintage United States gold coins, one of the most puzzling questions to ask is: what should I collect. The answer, of course, depends on your budget, but it also depends on which sort of collection you are going to build: a set with a focused beginning, middle, and end, or a more random approach.

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So...You've Decided to Collect Liberty Head Double Eagles...

So...You've Decided to Collect Liberty Head Double Eagles...

The decision to collect this series should not be made lightly as Liberty Head double eagles have the distinction as being among the most difficult and longest-lived series in all of 19th/early 20th century American numismatics.

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The With Motto New Orleans Eagle "Short Set"

The With Motto New Orleans Eagle "Short Set"

I’d like to propose a set that checks most collectors’ boxes. This set contains larger-sized coins, it is easily completable but can be made challenging, it appeals to collectors with reasonably low budgets, it contains both 19th and 20th century issues and these coins were produced at a popular Southern branch mint.

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Collecting New Orleans Gold Dollars

For many collectors New Orleans gold dollars are a perfect set to assemble. They are within reach of nearly any budget and with only six pieces required to assemble a complete set they do not require years and years of patience to complete. The New Orleans mint produced six different gold dollars between 1849 and 1855. Two design types are found in the series. The first five issues employ the familiar Type One design while the final (1855) one uses the popular Type Two or Indian Head design.

The keys to the series are the 1850-O and the 1855-O. The beauty of these two dates are that while both are popular and desirable, neither is so rare or expensive that they can not be obtained by the collector of average means.

The 1849-O is a favorite among collectors due to its status as a first-year-of-issue. It is common in circulated grades and a nice AU example can be obtained for under $500. Many collectors try to purchase an MS60 to MS62 piece which is typically valued in the $1000-2000 range. This date does not really get expensive until the higher MS grades and a Gem will run in the $13,000-16,000 range.

The 1850-O is the rarest date in the series and it is much undervalued in my opinion. I typically sell nice AU pieces in the $1500-2000 range and an Uncirculated piece in the MS60 to MS62 range should be available for $3000-5000. This date becomes rare in MS63 and it is very rare above this. The best pieces I have handled are a pair of MS64’s and I am not currently aware of a Gem.

The 1851-O is one of the more common dates in the series. It is very easy to find in AU grades and a nice piece can be purchased for under $500. A collector seeking a nice entry-level Uncirculated coin can purchase a solid MS62 for $1200-1400 and an MS63 will run around $2100-2300. Due to a small hoard some Gems do exist and I have sold some pieces graded MS65 in the $13,000-16,000 range.

The 1852-O is the second scarcest New Orleans gold dollar and it is the hardest Type One to find with a good strike. A high quality circulated piece can be obtained for under $1,000 while an MS60 to MS62 example will cost $1,250-2,500 depending on the quality. This date becomes scarce in MS63, rare in MS64 and extremely rare in MS65.

The 1853-O is the most common date in the series and a very nice AU is easily located at less than $500. A very presentable Uncirculated piece can be found with some searching for $600-1,200 and even an MS63 is a good value at $2,500-3,000. This date is much harder to find in MS64 and higher than typically assumed and a Gem, if available, will sell for as much as $15,000.

The 1855-O is the only Type Two gold dollar from this mint and it is an exceptionally popular issue. It has appreciated quite a bit in price in the last few years but it is still a good value. The collector searching for a nice AU example should be prepared to pay between $2,000 and $5,000 while an MS60 to MS62 will require an outlay of between $7,000 and $18,000. In any grade above MS62, the 1855-O is rare and expensive but is always an easy issue for a specialist-dealer such as myself to sell.

In my opinion, an ideal beginner’s set of New Orleans gold dollars would contain AU55 to AU58 examples of the 1850-O and the 1855-O plus MS61 to MS62 examples of the other four dates. The more advanced collector should shoot for a set with all six coins grading Uncirculated. The former set could be completed for under $10,000 while the latter could require as much as $100,000+ depending on the quality of each piece.

Indian Head Quarter Eagles

In the past few years, Indian Head quarter eagles have been very successfully promoted. A not-as-well-known but equally successful promotion has doubled the price of common date MS65 Indian Head half eagles in the past year. I have recently witnessed an interesting trend that I think might foretell the next price run-up in the 20th century gold coin market. A few dealers are starting to quietly accumulate better date Indian Head eagles, especially issues such as the 1908-D With Motto, 1909-D, 1909-S, 1912-S, 1914-S and 1915-S. The desired grade range for these coins is MS63 to MS65 with most of the activity seen in the MS64 range as this is a “sweet spot” from the standpoint of price (most MS65’s are expensive) and rarity (many of these dates are nearly impossible to find in Gem).

It makes sense to me for a lot of reasons that this series is due for a promotion. The coins are beautiful (I personally like the design even better than the St. Gaudens double eagle), the set is relatively short (only thirty-six coins including the 1907 Wire Edge and Rolled Edge varieties) and, unlike Saints, it can realistically be completed. Most importantly, this series is a sort of final frontier in 20th century gold as it is really the only denomination left that hasn’t been promoted and seen significant price run-ups.

This is a great set for a collector to assemble but it takes deep pockets, especially in MS64 and higher grades. How can the collector of more modest means take advantage of what could become an interesting market play in the coming years? I would suggest purchasing a few slightly better dates in MS64 or MS65. There are only two truly common issues in this series: the 1926 and the 1932. They are currently valued in the $2250-2500 range in MS64 and around $5000-5250 in MS65. I’d suggest the collector look for marginally scarcer dates such as a 1908 With Motto, 1912, 1913, 1914 or 1914-D. These currently sell for modest premiums in MS64 and MS65 despite the fact that they are many times rarer than the 1926 or 1932.

A few buying tips: avoid coins with heavily spotted surfaces as they are hard to sell (a few small, unobtrusive spots are OK), be careful for coins with deep, detracting marks (especially on the face of Liberty) and watch out for coins with funky color (yes, they are even in NGC and PCGS holders).