Why I Recommend Numismatic Specialization

When I first started out in the coin business, I assumed I was going to sell everything; Morgan Dollars, Barber Dimes, St. Gaudens double eagles and Charlotte gold, I'd handle it all. But I quickly learned that it would be difficult--and costly--to be an expert in so many areas of the market. I then decided that I'd become really good at just a few things and leave the rest to other people. Nearly three decades later, that's exactly what I've done: I've become a world-class expert in 18th and 19th century U.S. gold. I think my decision to become highly specialized was one of the best things that I've ever done from a career standpoint. And I believe that what I did has practical applications to new and advanced collectors alike.

Becoming a savvy numismatist isn't necessarily a difficult process. But it is an involved one and one that takes a lot of time. If you are like most people, time is one commodity that you do not have an excess of. Given the high value of time in this day and age, I'd suggest that you use the time you spend on numismatics wisely. This is where specialization makes a lot of sense.

I became a specialist in the area of U.S. gold coinage because, as I mentioned above, I realized that the most economically viable approach to numismatics as a career for me was going to be as a specialist. I'd like to share a few thoughts of mine regarding specialization. Its a lot easier to become a competent numismatist who makes good decisions if you are focusing on a narrow range as opposed to a broad range. But I think the concept of specialization is not totally understood. You can be a "broad specialist," a "narrow specialist" or an ultra specialist."

Which one you choose depends on a number of factors including--but not limited to--your budget, your range of interest, availability of coins and opportunity factors. A "broad specialist" is a collector who has a pre-determined focus but not necessarily a constrained one. Let's say, as an example, that you really like crusty original gold coins made prior to the Civil War and have a budget of up to $5,000 per coin. This means that you might purchase coins as diverse as an 1858-S gold dollar in AU58 or an 1846-D half eagle in VF35. Your focus isn't so much a specific series or type as it is a "look." In other words, your collection is focused on attractive, dirty coins. You might not know the relative rarity of an 1858-S gold dollar in AU58 but you know the "look."

A "narrow specialist" is more focused on coins from a specific mint or of a specific denomination. He might buy an 1858-S gold dollar because he is putting together a set of gold dollars or, even more specifically, a subset of San Francisco gold dollars.

I like this sort of specialization because it gives a collector a much more narrow focus or what I would call a "micro focus" as opposed to a "macro focus." If you are assembling a gold dollar set you have around 80 to 90 coins that you ultimately need to purchase and learn about. This is a lot easier than being an indiscriminate buyer of U.S. gold coins with a pool of hundreds--or even thousands--of issues to become familiar with.

A more narrow focus involving gold dollars would be the San Francisco set I mentioned above. There are only six coins to learn about and it wouldn't take much to be accomplished in this area. But I think most collectors aspire to more than being "Mr. San Francisco gold dollar."

Another way to specialize is to collect by die variety. This is a great collecting strategy for certain coins like bust half dollars or large cents but it doesn't apply all that well to U.S. gold.

In my opinion, the ideal way to collect is to have a #1 set and then a secondary set to keep you busy when you can't find coins for set #1. As an example, you could specialize in collecting early half eagles by date and have a secondary collection that is focused on Dahlonega half eagles in perfect, original EF grades.

Becoming a good numismatist is all about knowledge and by not biting off more than you can realistically chew. you stand a chance to be on equal footing with other collectors in your area of specialization. You might not aspire to write the standard reference book on San Francisco gold dollars but wouldn't it be nice to be able to make purchases in this area of the market knowing that you were clued-in about the rarity, price history, appearance and minting history of each issue?

Is Collecting by Date a Thing of the Past?

Is the age of collecting by date or variety over? Have coins become so expensive and collecting so complex that it is inevitable that new collectors will focus solely on type coins? As a dealer who sells rare gold coins to both highly specialized date collectors and to sophisticated type collectors I think numismatics is definitely going through a change but that collecting by date remains (and will continue to be) very popular with a certain type of individual. To collect a series or a mint by date requires a type of mindset. I think of date collectors as being more patient than type collectors and probably a bit more research-oriented. To a generalized, type-oriented collector, there is no difference between an 1848-D and an 1858-D half eagle. To the date collector, there is a significant amount of difference between these two coins; be it strike, appearance, coloration, etc.

I don’t think there is a “right” or a “wrong” way to collect. I admire the highly specialized date collector who takes years to assemble a set of Charlotte half eagles or Liberty Head eagles. During the process, he is probably learning more about the specific series that he is collecting than most dealers. He “gets” the difference between the 1848-D half eagle and the 1858-D half eagle and does not have to have it explained to him.

But I can absolutely see the reason to collect by type as well. Not everyone has the patience to assemble a long set of coins and most series have one or two (or more) stoppers that make completing a set impossible. And there is clearly something cool about the fact that a type collector buys something different every time he makes a purchase. Anyone can tell the difference between an 1838 Classic Head half eagle and a 1910 Indian Head half eagle; most people see an 1848-D and 1858-D half eagle and they see essentially the same coin(s).

To the coin market gurus who emphatically state that collecting by date or variety is a dying endeavor, I would answer that this is not the case. To refute this, one need only look at the fact that in this golden era of numismatic publishing, there continues to be a run of titles that deal with specific series but virtually none that deal with type collecting. In the area of gold coins, in the last few years we’ve seen titles about gold dollars, 20th century issues, three dollar pieces, Charlotte and New Orleans issues, etc.

Not only is collecting by series alive and well, specialization seems to be doing just fine, thanks. In the recent Bowers and Merena Baltimore auction, the seventh known example of the 1795 Liberty Cap with Reeded Edge Cent brought an astonishing $402,500. What’s even more incredible about this figure is the fact that the coin is only graded Good-4 by PCGS and it clearly isn’t going to win any beauty contests. However, it is an extremely rare variety in an extremely popular series (early Large Cents by Sheldon variety). As we all know, it just takes two to tango and if two well-heeled collectors decide to butt heads on a coin that they know they might not get another chance to own, the final price realized is often jaw-dropping. Weak economy or not, many highly specialized collector series remain as strong as ever.

What does the future hold for date collecting? I see a few possible scenarios.

There are some series that are so long and so challenging that they will never attract more than a handful of date collectors. As an example, Liberty Head eagles are so tough that it is hard to imagine more than three to five people at one time competing against each other to form a set. But, on the flip side, when you have as many rare dates as the Liberty Head eagle series does, a sudden onslaught of demand would be untenable.

Other series that were once popular to collect by date are likely to become less popular due to the vicissitudes of taste. A century ago, virtually no one knew what a branch mint gold coin was, let alone collected them; today these are more popular than issues from Philadelphia. What is popular today could become forgotten a generation or two from now.

If well-written reference books on a formerly-overlooked series are released, date collecting can gain appeal. I’d like to think that the publication of my New Orleans gold coin book in 2006 spurred a number of people to collect by date. Newly released books on Colonials/Early American coins and Peace Dollars could have a huge impact in these two markets as well.

Something that we are likely to see in the future is a hybridization of collecting tastes. I wouldn’t be surprised if date and type collecting become more finely synthesized. As an example, someone might decide he doesn’t want to collect a full date set of Charlotte half eagles. But he likes the series enough that he wants to do more than collect the three types. He might become an “advanced dabbler” who doesn’t feel compelled to complete the series but who decides to own five or six or even seven different dates because he feels that Charlotte half eagles are really interesting.

One thing we are destined to see in many series if prices go down is the shrinking of the Market Premium Factor. In series that are not terribly popular, coins that formerly sold for a 10-30% premium over a common date are likely to lose this premium and retract down to a common type coin level. We are already seeing this in some of the 20th century series and I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see this in the early gold and Liberty Head gold markets.

Another point to address: how will key dates fair in series that become less popular with date collectors? The answer depends on whether or not there are multiple levels of demand for this coin. As an example, the 1873 three dollar gold piece is a key date but if the three dollar series becomes less popular, its level of demand will shrink. The 1854-D three dollar is likely to lose less value in a declining market because there are a broader range of collectors who want this coin: not only specialists in the series, but Dahlonega collectors and one-year type collectors as well.

No Motto Half Eagles

I’ve recently had the opportunity to sell some high grade No Motto half eagles and this got me thinking about the rarity of this series in higher grade. I thought it would be interesting to look at the populations of the No Motto half eagle series and to give them a bit of statistical analysis. I also thought it would be interesting to take the No Motto eagle series and compare these numbers as the two series offer a good contrast. The No Motto half eagle and eagle series were produced between 1838 and 1866 with the eagles beginning in 1838 and the half eagles beginning in 1839. The No Motto type includes a one year subtype in the half eagle series (1839) and a two year subtype in the eagle series (1838 and 1839) that are collected alongside the issues produced in 1840 and later and whose numbers have been combined throughout the course of this study.

Mintage figures for both No Motto half eagles and eagles can be somewhat misleading. Some of the Philadelphia issues from the 1840’s and 1850’s have mintages that approach 1 million. All told, 9,114,483 No Motto half eagles were struck as well as 5,259,528 eagles. Given these figures, you would expect No Motto half eagles and eagles to be somewhat common. This is most certainly not the case, however, primarily because of massive meltings that began as early as the Civil War and which continued up through the 1960’s. In my experience, the survival rate for No Motto gold is well below 2% and in the case of high grade coins, it is a fraction of this.

In preparing this analysis, I’ve decided to use PCGS’ figures exclusively. I’m not endorsing one grading service over the other but merely feel that PCGS has a “cleaner” population report with more accurate figures. That said, it should be stressed that the figures used below include a number of resubmissions and they tend to become less accurate as grades increase (and values grow in spread). I will make note of this as we look at the numbers.

I. No Motto Half Eagles

Total Graded: 11,213 Circulated Grades: 9,952 (88.75%) Uncirculated Grades: 1,261 (11.24%) MS60 to MS62: 870 (7.75%) MS63: 230 (2.05%) MS64: 136 (1.21%) MS65: 19 (0.16%) MS 66 and better: 6 (0.05%)

So what can we learn from these numbers? The first thing that I find interesting is that only 11% or so of the No Motto half eagles graded by PCGS are Uncirculated. When we factor in resubmissions, the actual number is probably quite a bit lower; probably around 8% or so of the total coins. Given my experience, this makes sense. In comparison to early half eagles and the later With Motto Liberty Head issues, a very small percentage of the No Motto coinage survived in comparatively high grades.

The next thing that is noticeable is how the numbers drop off once the MS63 level is reached. PCGS has graded 391 No Motto half eagles in MS63 or better (just 3.47% of the total population graded) and my guess is that once you factor in resubmissions and other anomalies, the total number of PCGS graded No Motto half eagles in MS63 or higher is more likely 250 or so pieces.

These numbers get more interesting when we look at them a bit more carefully and note that three dates (the 1847, 1852 and 1861) have a combined population of 137 in MS63 and better. This works out to over 35% of the total population of all higher grade No Motto half eagles. If you remove these three dates from the total population, suddenly all No Motto half eagles in MS63 seem a lot scarcer.

The specific grade that I think is most inaccurate in the PCGS population report is MS64. In looking through the report, I see such figures as eight 1841’s having been graded, eight 1845’s, eight 1858’s and forty (!) 1861’s. Given the fact that a PCGS MS64 1861 half eagle is worth around $12,500 and an MS65 is worth over $30,000 it is no wonder that at least a few very high end coins have been resubmitted over and over in an attempt to graduate to a higher grade. My guess is that the PCGS figure in MS64 (a total of 136) is inflated by at least one-third and that the actual number is more likely in the 75-95 range.

Ironically, I think the PCGS MS65 and MS66 numbers are pretty accurate. Once someone gets a No Motto half eagle in an MS65 or MS66 holder it is clearly to their benefit to get the population figure accurate for a specific date. There are supposedly three 1847 half eagles graded MS66 by PCGS and I think this seems high by at least one but I can account for nearly every other MS66 and most of the 19 coins graded MS65 as well.

Now, let’s look at the figures for No Motto eagles:

II. No Motto Eagles

Total Graded: 7,155 Circulated Grades: 6,832 (95.48%) Uncirculated Grades: 323 (4.51%) MS60 to MS62: 236 (3.29%) MS63: 46 (0.64%) MS64: 34 (0.47%) MS65: 3 (0.04%) MS 66 and better: 4 (0.05%)

Given the ratio of original mintage figures, the total numbers graded for the two No Motto types makes sense. It also makes sense to me that well over 90% of all No Motto eagles are circulated. In fact, I think that once you look at the resubmission factor for this type, the actual number of unique PCGS graded Uncirculated No Motto eagles is less than 250 coins. And when you take this a step further and consider that many of the coins graded MS60, MS61 and even MS62 show rub and may not be considered “new” by conservative specialists, you are probably talking about a pool of 125-150 No Motto eagles in PCGS holders that are unequivocally Uncirculated.

I have long believed that virtually any No Motto eagle is rare in Uncirculated. Take a coin like the 1847. This issue has a mintage figure of 862,258. I personally doubt if more than 1,500-2,000 are known but the great majority are well-circulated. PCGS has graded twenty-six in Uncirculated but five in MS60 and four in MS61 (grades that may or may not be truly Uncirculated) as well as thirteen in MS62 (which is clearly inflated by resubmissions). This supposedly “common” coin is actually quite rare in Uncirculated. I doubt if more than four or five are known that accurately grade MS63 or better.

In MS63 or better, No Motto eagles are very rare; far more so than their half eagle counterparts. My best estimate is that only a few dozen are known in properly graded MS63 and MS64 combined. Gems are incredibly rare. PCGS has graded just two coins in MS65 and another three in MS66 (remarkably, each of these is an actual coin and not just a bunch of resubmissions!). In my experience, No Motto eagles (and half eagles) are rarer in MS63 and higher grades than Heraldic Eagle reverse issues of these denominations.

I also think that high grade No Motto gold coinage is extremely cheap right now, especially when compared to the older half eagles and eagles. As an example, you can buy a nice common date PCGS MS63 half eagle from the late 1840’s or early 1850’s now for around $7,500-8,500. A common date MS64 should be available for $12,500-15,000. No Motto eagles in this grade range are more expensive but they are still not out of the price range of many collectors. A PCGS MS63 “common date” should be available for $15,000-20,000 and an MS64 will run $25,000-30,000+. When you look at what other far less rare types are selling for these days, I think these levels seem very reasonable!

Reconnecting With Collecting

Even though I am a dealer who has a reputation as being very pro-collector, I hadn’t actually collected anything numismatic (with the exception of 19th century books and catalogs) for a number of years. Being a dealer and a collector simultaneously is very difficult and I certainly did not ever want to find myself in a situation where I was debating whether to sell a new purchase or to keep it for my collection. This changed around two years ago when I let myself get talked into collecting National Bank Notes. A dealer friend of mine had been an avid collector of Nationals from his home state for a number of years and his enthusiasm was contagious. I started to dabble and, before I knew it, I was hooked. Two years later, I am a confirmed Natty-holic.

So what have I learned in my reconnection with collecting and what sort of advice can I give to you, the collector? Following are a few ideas. Please note that although I am collecting paper money, I think the gist of what I am saying is applicable to coins as well.

Specialization Works For Me

I’m the sort of collector who would rather be very knowledgeable in a few areas than semi-knowledgeable in many. That’s why I decided to focus on just one specific state for my National Currency collection. I feel the same way about coins. I’ve written this a jillion times before but I am strong believer in the adage that being strongly focused as a collector makes you stronger at assembling a really great collection. Now, I don’t necessarily believe in being ultra-specialized. I could care less about varieties that are impossible to see without strong magnification and I am, in my own way, as much of a type collector within my specialization as I am a date collector. But every time I get bored and think that I should expand my collection to include another state or two, I realize that this is a bad idea and that I’d rather have a great specialized collection that a random group of interesting pieces.



Eye Appeal is Everything

If an object isn’t aesthetically appealing to me I don’t want it in my collection, no matter how rare it is. I’ve already been faced with situations where I have had the chance to purchase a very rare but very ugly note. In every one of these situations, I’ve chosen to pass on the note. Even though I plan on assembling a set that includes at least one piece from every town that issued notes, I am not yet in the mindset that I’ll buy something that’s ugly just because it is very rare. I would assume that, as my collection progresses, I will have to buy some pieces that are duds from the standpoint of appearance. But these will probably be among the last items I purchase and they will be made with a degree of regret. I have also reached the conclusion that, at this point in my collecting career, I would rather have a really pretty duplicate example of an interesting note (or coin) than a single example of a rare but unattractive issue.

Having an Expert In My Corner

While my level of expertise has clearly improved greatly since I’ve started my collection, I will be the first to admit that I am not yet an expert. While I think I have a pretty good eye, I am not yet sophisticated enough to detect very good alterations to notes. That’s why I’ve elected to have a really smart dealer be my representative at auctions. In my opinion, paying him 5% for his expertise is one of the best deals I can imagine. I’m certain he’s already saved me from myself at least a few times and he’s also encouraged me to be more aggressive on items that I should probably be buying but was figuring too cheaply. As a beginner, it’s really hard to collect without someone assisting you and I, for one, can heartily recommend establishing a good working relationship with one or two experts in your chosen specialization.

Older Is Better

In the field of paper money, you can neatly divide the body of all notes issued into two parts: large size and small size. When I first collected, I focused on small size notes. They were cheaper and more available. But as I looked at more notes and became more sophisticated, I gravitated towards large size notes. Using a very basic analogy, I came to see the division in notes as the equivalent of early coins (basically pre-1900) versus modern coins (post-1900). When I was a coin collector, I always preferred older coins and, in fact, never purchased any pieces struck after 1890. At this point in my collecting career I am willing to spend more money on older notes and to have fewer pieces in my collection. That said, I will buy small size notes but they have to have a very strong “coolness factor” for me to give them consideration.

Establishing a Comfort Zone

While I am very comfortable buying notes in the $500-5,000 range for my collection, I still do not feel comfortable enough to buy very expensive notes. A few months ago I was given the opportunity to purchase a small group of very rare (and expensive) notes that would have unquestionably taken my collection to the next level. But they were priced at levels that exceeded my comfort zone and I decided to pass on them. In retrospect, I wish that I had purchased at least one or two of them but, to be frank, I’m just not quite comfortable enough with my new collection to spend this amount of money. In another year or two, I probably will. And I think this is good advice for any collector. Establish a comfort zone for the first few years you collect and don’t exceed it until you feel that you are ready to do so.



Use the Best Resources Available to You

When I first started collecting coins as a child, information was hard to come by. You had to guess at how rare coins were and pricing was essentially a crapshoot. Today, there is a staggering amount of great information available to collectors in almost all areas. I quickly learned that for National bank notes, I had amazing resources available. To learn more about the notes, I bought Don Kelley’s incredible reference book. To get an idea of rarity, I purchased Kelley’s census information. And for pricing, I referred to the CAA/Heritage auction archives and Sandy Bashover’s Track and Price software. For coins, there is comparable—if not superior—price and rarity information available for nearly every series. In my opinion, the accessibility of this information has made collecting more fun than ever.

Make Some Collecting Friendships

Collecting tends to be a solitary pursuit but I’ve found that one of the real benefits from buying any sort of object is the friendships that you make in the pursuit phase. I have two close dealer friends who both happen to be collectors of National bank notes. Whenever a new auction catalog arrives in the mail, I know I can count on getting emails from both of my friends about the notes in the sale that they think I will be interested; just like I send them emails about the notes from their states that I think they will be bidding on. And after the sale is over, we inevitably compare our success from the sale. What’s really funny about this is that the three of us almost never talk about coins, even though we are all extremely successful in this arena. But when we meet up for dinner at a coin show, the talk inevitably turns to our collections. To me, this is an extremely satisfying part of collecting; maybe THE most, in fact.

Think Long Term

When I buy a note, I don’t worry about flipping it for a quick profit. I’m assembling my collection over the long term and hope to have at least fifteen to twenty years worth of effort into it before I even consider selling it. That’s not to say that I won’t at some time in the future analyze my holdings and make a decision to weed out the duplicates and the duds. But I’ve found that buying for the long term makes collecting alot more fun. I’m using funds that I don’t have to worry about for more pressing needs and I look at my collection as a long-term asset that is going to provide my family and I with some nice income when I’m old and no longer interested in it.

As I mentioned above, I’ve really enjoyed my foray back into collecting. I think it’s made me a better dealer and I’m looking forward to expanding my collections in the coming years. And who knows—maybe I’ll even start to buy coins again!

The Ten Coolest United States Coins Revisited

In June 2000, I wrote an article entitled “The Ten Coolest United States Coins.” Let’s say you were a true Douglas Winter Numismatics cultist and you had decided to follow my advice to the letter. How would your seven year investment have performed? Are there any coins I would have deleted from this list? Some analysis and random thoughts regarding these ten coins follows. In 2000, I suggested purchasing an example of this popular, historic issue in Choice About Uncirculated and stated that an example would cost around $10,000. I think this amount represented a typo as, even back then, a Continental Dollar in AU would have cost at least twice the amount I listed.

My decision to include this coin was prescient, to say the least. This has proven to be among the most popular and in-demand early American issues in the last seven years. And how can it not have been? This issue has everything going for it: size, interesting history, unique design and the magical 1776 date.

Today, a nice AU 1776 Continental Dollar will probably cost in the area of $60,000. And if you had bought a really nice AU55 to AU58 back in 2000, the chances are better than even that this coin would be regarded as an MS61 today with an estimated value closer to six figures. Clearly, this would have been a very good purchase.

I. 1776 Continental Dollar

This is not a regular issue coin but, rather, a proposed or speculative issue. Varieties are known in silver, pewter and brass and with different spellings of the word CURRENCY. For this set, I would suggest a pewter piece with the spelling "CURENCY" and the lack of the designers initials (represented on this coin as "EG FECIT," which is believed to signify that the design was by Elisha Gallaudet).

It is probable that these coins did circulate in colonial America and that they did have a recognized value. This fact makes them a legitimate candidate for the first "dollar" struck in this country as well as the largest coin, in terms of size, issued prior to the establishment of the United States. The magical date 1776 makes them even more desirable, in my opinion. And, finally, the charming design on the reverse (featuring thirteen interlinked rings with the name of each colony and symbolizing unity) is believed to have been suggested by Benjamin Franklin.

For this set, I would opt for a very slightly worn piece; perhaps in the About Uncirculated-55 to 58 range. I like the idea that the coin saw some light circulation during the colonial era but would want it to be lustrous and well struck. Such a coin would cost $7,500-$10,000; making it an exceptional value for such an incredibly historic issue.

II. 1792 Half Disme

This is another coin that seemed much undervalued to me back in 2000. I like this issue for many of the same reasons I mentioned above for the Continental Dollar: great story, interesting design and fascinating history. In 2000 I suggested purchasing a nice AU example and felt it would cost around $10,000-15,000. If you had been able to find a nice half disme back then, you probably would have been able to buy it at the high end of my suggested range.

As with most early coins, this is an issue that has performed fantastically since 2000.

If you can find a good looking AU55 to AU58 half disme (and this will be hard as most real AU coins are now in MS61 and MS62 holders) you are probably going to have to pay around $100,000 for this coin. Even an example which looks like its been run over by a train is going to cost in the mid-five figures.

Without patting myself on the back too much, I’d have to say that this choice was a home run. Of course, I wasn’t smart enough to listen to myself and actually put away any nice half dismes...

III. 1793 Chain Cent

There aren’t all that many coins left that still give me a tingle in the spine when I buy one, but Chain Cents qualify. I love the design and history of these coins and admire the fact that they have been coveted by collectors since the late 1850’s.

In 2000 I recommended buying an EF or an AU Chain Cent and felt that it would have cost in the area of $20,000 to $45,000. It wouldn’t have been easy to find a decent looking example but with some searching you might have been able to buy one with good detail and reasonably choice surfaces.

Today, Chain Cents are not only nearly impossible to find in grades above VF20, they are just about the most overgraded type I have seen in third-party holders. Coins that I personally grade Fine-12 are housed in EF-40 holders and both services seem to conveniently overlook the fact that coins in EF holders are riddled with problems.

Assuming you could find a decent coin in 2007, you’d be looking at spending $60,000-80,000 plus for an EF and at least $100,000 for an AU.

This was a good choice but in retrospect I think I might have selected a 1793 Liberty Cap instead. But, as I recall, I didn’t choose this type in 2000 because I thought it would be impossible to find one that I liked even back then.

IV. 1794 Silver Dollar

This is the first and largest United States silver coin. Any well-heeled collector who couldn’t be sold on the desirability of this coin back in 2000 had to truly have his head in the sand.

In my 2000 article I suggested a nice EF example of this coin and that such a piece might be available in the $75,000-90,000 range. This value range might have been just a touch low and I’m guessing that if anyone did take my advice, they probably had to pay closer to $100,000.

Regardless of what this theoretical collector paid, if he did buy a 1794 dollar, he did very, very well. Early dollars caught fire a few years ago and the 1794 proved to be the ultimate trophy coin in the early dollar series.

A nice EF 1794 dollar today is worth $250,000 to $300,000. Any significant investment made in early dollars around 2000 would have done fantastically well seven years later but the 1794 is the one issue which I believe will continue to show the greatest strength in the future.

V. 1795 Eagle

I selected this coin for my group of 10 because it is the first United States gold coin and it is the sort of big, neat, old gold coin that new and old collectors alike seem to love. Looking back at this choice, I might have changed it to a 1796 quarter eagle or another 18th century issue.

In 2000, a nice About Uncirculated 1795 eagle was available for around $30,000-35,000. Such a coin would have graded AU53 to AU55 (and would grade AU55 to AU58 in today’s looser environment). Today, the same sort of coin would be priced at around $80,000-90,000; possibly a bit more if the coin was original and had nice eye appeal.

I am not as enthusiastic about this issue today as I was seven years ago. I think at close to $100,000 the 1795 eagle in AU is pretty pricey, given the fact that it still somewhat available. More importantly, most pieces in AU holders are really low end for the grade.

Still, a rise in value from $35,000 or so to around $90,000 isn’t too shabby for a seven year hold. This is typical of most early gold during the past seven years.

VI. 1836 Gobrecht Dollar

I didn’t choose a Proof 1836 Gobrecht Dollar as one of my Ten Most Cool Coins because of its history or numismatic significance. I chose this issue because I love the design. There’s just something about the stark cameo-like appearance of the obverse and the eagle flying in the field of stars on the reverse that I’ve always found very appealing. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

Back in 2000, nice PR63 Gobrecht Dollars seemed pretty cheap. They could be bought for around $20,000. Today, the same coin is more likely to cost in the area of $30,000-35,000. So the gain that this coin has shown has been pretty impressive although it pales in comparison to some of the early issues listed above.

Personally, I think PR63 and PR64 1836 Gobrecht Dollars are still a good value and even though the market for these pieces is a bit soft right now, they are a good long-term purchase at current levels. Examples which are too dark should be avoided as should pieces which have been overdipped and which are now bright white.

VII. 1850 Double Eagle

What could I possibly have been thinking when I put this issue on my list of Ten Cool Coins? Sure it’s interesting and it has status as a first-year-of-issue but I’d hardly put it in the same ballpark as the other nine coins on this list.

That said, this issue has performed very nicely since 2000, especially in high grades. In my first article, I suggested purchasing an MS61 and figured that such a piece would be obtainable in the $6,000-9,000 range. Today, a nice MS61 sells for $12,000 or so.

In retrospect, a Liberty Head double eagle collector could have done a lot better from an investment standpoint if he had purchased a few nice New Orleans pieces. As an example, the 1854-O and 1856-O issues have shown spectacular price gains in the past seven years and even the secondary rarities such as the 1855-O, 1859-O, 1860-O, 1861-O and 1879-O have performed exceptionally well.

I’m not going to totally disown this choice but I’m pretty embarrassed to see it alongside such issues as a 1794 Dollar or a Chain Cent.

VIII. 1861-D Gold Dollar

The 1861-D gold dollar remains my favorite Dahlonega coin of any denomination. It’s the most historic southern issue, I love the crudeness of its manufacture and it is, of course, genuinely rare.

Back in 2000, the 1861-D gold dollar seemed to be available on a somewhat regular basis. With a little luck and patience you could find one at auction or in a specialist’s inventory. Today, these coins seem to have disappeared and I have not personally handled an 1861-D in close to a year.

I recommended purchasing a nice AU58 example and suggested that it would cost $17,500-20,000. If you heeded my advice, you did very well as a similar example would probably fetch double that amount today. What makes this all the more remarkable is the fact that the high end of the Dahlonega market has been fairly flat in the past seven years with certain coins actually dropping in value despite what is arguably the most sustained bull market in modern numismatic history.

This is another coin which I would hang on to for the long term if I had one put away right now. Despite its rise in price, it is a coin which is in great demand and which has such a wonderful story that it can’t help but appreciate in value in the coming years.

IX. 1879 Flowing Hair Stella

Unlike the 1861-D dollar, the 1879 Flowing Hair Stella is a truly rare coin. If you check auction records over the past few years, you’ll note that a lot of pieces have sold. But I still think the Stella is a coin that is genuinely cool. It is interesting, has a unique design and history and it really is a perfect “trophy coin” for a well-heeled investor.

In 2000 I suggested purchasing an example that graded PR63 (back then, Stellas existed in this grade. The PR63 of 2000 is now a PR64). A nice example would have been available back then for around $50,000-55,000. Today, the same coin would probably be worth around $150,000.

When nice Stellas were worth $50,000 or so they were a great value. At today’s price level, I don’t really like the value that they represent. But, I can certainly see how coins like this trade for $150,000 given their great story and always high level of demand.

Time to pat myself on the back one final time. This was a great recommendation and if you listed to me you made a ton of money!

X. 1907 High Relief Double Eagle

I can remember struggling with the decision to make this the tenth and final coin on my list. High Reliefs are big, beautiful and “cool” but they are just so...common. I hated to put a coin on this list that I knew could be obtained by the truckful at major auctions and conventions. But this was a list built around cool coins and if a High Relief isn’t a cool coin than what was?

My recommendation was to purchase a nice MS64 and back in 2000 this coin was obtainable in the $14,000 to $17,000 range. For a number of years, the market for High Reliefs stayed pretty flat but this coin was extensively promoted in 2005 and 2006 and it rose in value to a high of around $35,000-40,000. Today, the market for these has softened and a nice MS64 High Relief is more likely to sell in the $26,000-28,000 range.

If I were in the market for a High Relief as an investment, I’d probably consider buying one now, while prices are somewhat depressed. I’m guessing that MS64’s could drop as low as around $22,500-25,000 but at that level there would be enough market support that people would jump in and start pushing up demand.

So there you have it. Ten Cool Coins revisited seven years later. Had you bought some or all of these coins you would have tripled your money and had a pretty neat little coin collection to boot. The best lesson to learn from this list is that cool coins are always what people will want to buy, regardless of what series or price range you are discussing.

13 Interesting Gold Coins Priced Below $2,500

Is it possible to build an interesting collection of desirable United States gold without having a large per coin budget? I think the answer to this question is a resounding “yes.” There are plenty of extremely interesting pieces that are within the average collector’s price range and this includes a number of coins that are both scarce and in comparably high grades. Here are a baker’s dozen suggested areas for a collector with a budget of $2,500 (or less) per coin. 1. San Francisco Gold Dollars: The San Francisco mint produced seven different gold dollars. These include all three types. The 1854-S is a Type One issue, the 1856-S is a Type Two and the 1857-S, 1858-S, 1859-S, 1860-S and 1870-S are all Type Threes. With the exception of the popular (but somewhat overvalued) 1856-S, any of these dates can be obtained in AU50 to AU55 grades for $1,500-2,500. My personal favorite date in this group is the 1857-S. Did you know that from the standpoint of overall rarity, this date is actually rarer than the 1857-C or the 1857-D? The 1857-S has a current Trends value in AU55 of $2,500 which is very cheap for a coin of this rarity; the 1857-C Trends for $7,000 in this grade, while the 1857-D is listed at $6,500.

2. Reconstruction Era Philadelphia Gold Dollars: The Philadelphia gold dollars produced from 1866 to 1872 all have mintages of 7,100 or below (except for the 1868 which had a mintage of 10,500) and all of these issues are reasonably scarce in all grades. This group of coins is not generally seen in circulated grades but very presentable Uncirculated examples (in this case in the MS62 to MS64 grade range) can typically be purchased in the $1,000-2,500 range. I like the 1865 and 1867 best. The former has a Trends value of $1,700 in MS60 and $2,500 in MS62 and is a great value at anything near these levels. The 1867 is listed at $2,000 in MS63 and if you can find a piece at this level, you’ve just bought a truly scarce coin at a most reasonable level.

3. Classic Head Quarter Eagles: If you have a limited coin budget, you won’t be able to buy any early gold as it has become too expensive. But you can still purchase a really nice AU55 to AU58 common date Classic Head quarter eagle for $2,000-3,000. Classic Head gold coinage is sort of a bridge between the pre-1834 “early gold” issues and the more familiar Liberty Head design which was employed all the way into the early 20th century. I personally like the Classic Head design and have seen some pieces in the AU55 to AU58 range which are really attractive. If possible, buy a date other than the ubiquitous 1834 as these issues are considerably scarcer. My “sleeper” date is the 1839 which considerably scarcer than the mintmarked issues of this year but priced much lower.

4. Philadelphia Quarter Eagles From The 1840’s: This group includes some dates that are well out of the price range of the $2,500 and lower budget but it contains a number of other overlooked issues that fall well within these parameters. Want some suggestions? How about the 1844. This is a low mintage coin with just 6,784 pieces originally produced. There are probably no more than 50-75 pieces known in all grades and this date is considerably scarcer than the mintmarked issues from this era. Despite this fact, Trends lists an AU50 example at $2,250. Other dates from this era that I think are very undervalued include the 1843, 1846, 1847 and 1848. Your $2,500 per coin budget will go a long way in this series and you should be able to buy some nice AU pieces if you are patient.

5. Nice About Uncirculated New Orleans Quarter Eagles: There are a number of scarce New Orleans quarter eagles from the 1840’s and 1850’s that the collector can buy in AU55 to AU58 grades for $2,500 or less. This includes the 1846-O, 1847-O, 1850-O, 1851-O, 1852-O, 1856-O and 1857-O. In this same price range it is also possible to purchase nice MS61 examples of the 1843-O Small Date and the 1854-O. I would strongly recommend that the collector looking at these coins familiarize himself with their peculiarities of strike (these are described in my book “Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint, 1839-1909”) and pay a premium for examples with original surfaces and color.

6. Low Mintage Quarter Eagles, 1880-1899: A collector with a budget of $2,500 per coin could put together a high quality set of Quarter Eagles dated between 1880 and 1899. With just two exceptions, every coin in this set would be Uncirculated and in some cases the coins could grade as high as MS64 or even MS65. What’s great about these coins is that they are well-produced and not hard to find with pleasing original color and surfaces. Some of the dates in this two decade production run are very challenging to find in Uncirculated (1880, 1883 and 1884 come to mind as the stoppers) while others (including nearly all of the coins struck in the 1890’s) are easy to find in Mint State. The real budget-busters in this set are the popular low mintage 1881 and 1885 issues. For $3,500-5,000, the collector will be able to find a nice AU 1881 should cost $4,000-5,000. This is a great set for the collector who wants to own some very high grade yet legitimately scarce gold coins.

7. Scarcer Date Three Dollar Gold Pieces: Three Dollar gold pieces have been a whipping boy in many “experts” recent newsletters but I think there is still great value in this series. For $2,500 you can buy a number of the scarcer issues from the 1860’s and 1870’s in Extremely Fine grades. These coins are not that easy to locate due to the fact that this denomination did not typically circulate enough to get word down to Extremely Fine detail. But when Three Dollar gold pieces are available in EF, they tend to be reasonably attractive and very affordable. All of the Civil War dates (except for the rare 1865) can be purchased in EF40 to EF45 for around $2,500 and a number of the tougher dates from the 1870’s (such as the 1870, 1871 and 1872) can be found in the same grade range for around the same price.

8. Classic Head Half Eagles: I like this series for the exact same reasons mentioned in Item #3, above. I’ve always looked at Classic Head half eagles as the “early gold for collectors who can’t afford early gold.” Think about it. You can still buy a nice Choice AU half eagle that is approaching 175 years in age for less than $3,000. The sleeper date in this series is the 1837 which is many times scarcer than the 1834-1836 issues but which commands just a 20-30% premium in AU. I’d suggest that the collector be fussy when looking at Classic Head half eagles as they are plentiful enough that he can wait for the “right” coin to come around.

9. No Motto New Orleans Half Eagles: This is an area where a collector with a budget of $2,500 per coin will be able to purchase some very scarce and desirable issues. One date that I feel is extremely undervalued is the first-year-of-issue 1840-O. I recently posted an example in NGC AU55 on my website (I priced the coin at $2,350) and received seven orders for it. For $2,500 or less, the collector will be able to purchase nice EF45 examples of such scarce dates as the 1843-O Small Letters, the 1845-O, 1846-O, 1851-O, 1856-O and 1857-O. All six of these dates are much harder to find in this grade than most of the Charlotte and Dahlonega half eagles from this era yet they are priced at between $500-1,000 less per coin.

10. 1890’s Carson City Half Eagles: No, the four half eagles struck at the Carson City mint during the 1890’s are not rare coins. But how can you not be attracted to the history and allure of any gold coin struck at this legendary mint. For $2,500 per coin, you could put together a set that would include an MS62 1890-CC, an MS62 1891-C, an MS61 1892-CC and a high end MS61 1893-CC. Four nice Uncirculated coins with a great story for under $10,000. How can you not like this collection?

11. No Motto New Orleans Eagles: If you have a $2,500 per coin budget, you won’t be able to assemble a complete set of No Motto New Orleans eagles; the 1841-O and the 1859-O will prove just about impossible to find in that price range. But you can buy every other date in Extremely Fine or About Uncirculated grades. On the lower end of the grade range, you’ll probably have to settle for EF45 examples of the scarce 1852-O, 1855-O, 1856-O and 1857-O and on the high end, you might be able to go as high as AU55 on the more common issues like the 1847-O, 1851-O, 1853-O, 1854-O and 1858-O. I personally think this would be an extremely interesting set to assemble and when you are done you can take pride in having assembled a group of coins that is genuinely scarce and, in my opinion, extremely undervalued.

12. Type One Philadelphia Double Eagles: A collector on a limited budget is going to find double eagles to be a frustrating area to collect. A date run of Philadelphia double eagles from the 1850’s can be assembled by the individual with tight budgetary constraints and most of his coins will actually be attractive. With just a few exceptions, nearly every coin in this group can be purchased in AU53 to AU55 for $2,500 or less. This includes the 1856, 1857 and 1858 which I feel are much undervalued. The only two dates that will cost more than $2,500 for nice AU’s are the overvalued but popular 1850 and the rare 1859. For $3,500, the collector will be able to purchase a nice AU55 1850 while an AU50 1859 will run around $4,000 and be a very good value.

13. Type Three San Francisco Double Eagles: If you are on a tight budget, you can forget Philadelphia and Carson City Type Three double eagles…they are too expensive. But a collector of average means could assemble a complete set of San Francisco Type Three issues in Uncirculated for a reasonable amount per coin. In my opinion, I think the best grades for this set are the ones just before big price jumps. In other words, I like an MS62 1889-S for this set at $1,000 as opposed to an MS63 at $6,000. With the exception of the 1878-S, 1879-S, 1880-S and 1881-S, every coin in this set could be at least MS62 (with some MS63 examples of the common later dates thrown in for good measure) while the scarcer early dates would all grade MS61.

So there you have thirteen suggestions of collecting areas for gold coin collectors with a budget of $2,500 per purchase. If your budget is a bit larger (say $3,500-5,000) you could greatly expand this list or take some of the items already discussed and move up a grade or two.

Importance of Timing When Assembling a Collection

When assembling a collection, timing is truly everything. This goes for when you are in the process of adding to the collection or when you are disassembling it. In this article, I’ll explain how timing will, no doubt, affect you in the assembling of your set. I can’t count the number of times I have said to collectors that their holdings need to be looked at as a long-term endeavor. One of the truly amazing phenomenons of the Internet-driven coin market is that a new generation of collectors believes it is possible to very quickly assemble a set and then, just as quickly, consign it to an auction company and make a nice profit. In a rising coin market this has (sometimes) proven to be possible. But if and when the coin market corrects, I believe that you will see a return to the “old values” of assembling a collection that worked so well for the great collectors of past generations.

If you are assembling a world-class collection, you have to look at your collection as a series of opportunities. By this I mean that you have to be prepared to buy important coins for your set when the right opportunities arise. One of these is what I call the “generational turn.”

A generational turn occurs when an older collector decides that it is time to sell and he puts his coins on the market. This may occur when the collector is alive or his estate may make the decision for him. In a situation like this, it may mean that a number of coins that have not been available for a generation or more are finally up for sale.

For a younger collector, a generational turn may represent the only chance to acquire certain high grade, rare coins. As an example, for many collectors of United States gold coins, the sale of the Harry Bass collection in a series of four auctions from 1999 to 2001 enabled them to acquire a number of very rare coins that had been off the market since the 1960’s or 1970’s. In the ensuing half decade since the conclusion of the Bass sales, many of the coins offered in those auctions have not reappeared. Clearly, these went to serious collectors who were smart enough to know that this generational turn would be their only chance to acquire specific rare issues in high grades.

One reason that it is very important to stay on top of the developments in your field of specialization is to know, in advance, when a generational turn might occur. If you are, for example, very plugged into the demimonde of St. Gaudens double eagle collectors, you might know that Collector X is going to be selling his set of coins in the next six months and that there are at least three or four important rarities in this set that you would really like to own. Having this lead time to prepare yourself financially and mentally to acquire these coins is far preferable to simply picking up a copy of Coin World one day and seeing that this collector’s set is suddenly going to be sold at auction by Heritage or ANR.

Looking at the concept of the generational turn from the other point of view, as an older collector it is always important to pick a time in the market when there are younger, newer collectors clamoring for your fresh material. Now, obviously, no one knows exactly the right time to sell. But common sense dictates that it makes a lot more sense to sell when your area of specialization is “hot” than when no one really cares.

If you go back and study the coin market in the past few decades there are numerous points in time when a seller clearly made a bad decision to liquidate his holdings. An example that comes to mind is the Chestatee collection of Dahlonega gold that was sold in the 1999 ANA auction. There had already been two huge collections of Dahlonega gold sold at auction earlier that year (in the FUN and February Long Beach sales) and by the time the Chestatee coins became available, the market was clearly saturated. As a result, these coins sold very cheaply and the Dahlonega market entered a downward spiral that took a number of years to recover from.

If you have the luxury of deciding on an orderly schedule of dispersal for your collection, choose a point in time when your collection will be appreciated by a younger generation of specialists.

As a buyer, keep your powder dry and make certain that you are ready to be aggressive at the points in time when you are accorded unusual opportunities to acquire rare and/or exceptional items.

Short, Completable Sets of United States Gold Coinage

When completing a set, many gold coin collectors reach a point where they are waiting on extremely expensive and/or difficult-to-locate issues. A good solution for the collector who wants to remain active in the market is to start on a short, completable set that can be worked on while waiting on the big ticket items for their #1 set. There are numerous short, completable sets of United States gold coins that they can pursue in addition to their major interest. Listed below are some examples, along with pertinent comments.

NOTE: The values listed below are for average quality coins. Very high-end or premium quality coins can add a considerable amount of cost to any of these sets. The "completability factor" is based on a scale of 1 to 5 with one being easy and five being very hard. In the comments listed below, "2/5" would mean two out of five which equates to being "relatively easy" to complete.

Obverse Mintmark Issues, 1838-1839: During these two years, an interesting group of coins were struck. These are notable for being the very first gold branch mint issues and they are readily distinguishable by the use of mintmarks on the obverse. This set includes the following:

Quarter Eagles: 1838-C, 1839-C, 1839-D, 1839-O Half Eagles: 1838-C, 1838-D, 1839-C, 1839-D

Comments: These eight coins include a number of issues that are found in set #3 below. This is an extremely popular group. The dual popularity of these with type and date collectors mean that they are somewhat fully valued in relation to other branch mint issues. However, their extreme popularity makes them relatively "safe" places to park your numismatic dollars.

Cost: In Extremely Fine grades this set would cost in the area of $30,000-35,000. In About Uncirculated, this set would cost $75,000-100,000. The rarity of the 1838-C half eagle in Uncirculated (there are only two known) make this set essentially impossible to complete in Uncirculated.

Completability: 2/5. This is a fairly easy set to assemble, especially in Extremely Fine grades. In About Uncirculated it will prove to be more of a challenge given the rarity of the half eagles and the popularity of each issue.

First Year of Issue Set: For the sake convenience (and cost), it is best to focus this set on Classic Head and Liberty Head issues. This is a collecting theme that is already very popular in other areas of the market. As an example, first year of issue sets in 18th century coinage have been avidly sought by many generations of collectors. As it relates to gold coinage, this set contains one example each of the various United States gold types produced between 1834 and 1907.

This set includes the following:

Gold Dollars: 1849 (Type One), 1854 (Type Two), 1856 (Type Three) Quarter Eagles: 1834 (Classic Head), 1840 (Liberty Head) Three Dollars: 1854 Half Eagles: 1834 (Classic Head), 1839 (First Liberty Head), 1840 (Modified Liberty Head, No Motto), 1866 (With Motto) Double Eagles: 1850 (type One), 1866 (Type Two), 1877 (Type Three)

Comments: There are sixteen coins in this set. None are really rare but the 1866 issues and the 1838 and 1839 eagles will prove to be elusive, particularly in higher grades. The grade range of this set is hard to formulate as their are some very common issues (such as the Type One and Type Three gold dollars) and others that are nearly impossible to locate above About Uncirculated-55. A good average grade range for this set is About Uncirculated-50 to About Uncirculated-55.

Cost: An About Uncirculated set will cost $50,000-60,000. An Uncirculated set is possible but it will take deep pockets and a good deal of patience as a number of the coins are very rare.

Completability: 2/5. In About Uncirculated this is a fairly easy set to complete.

One Year Varities: There are numerous gold coin varieties that were produced for one year only. For this collection we are specifically referring to, as an example, an issue that was made at a certain mint for just one year. A coin that qualifies is the 1855-C gold dollar as it is the only Type Two gold dollar made at the Charlotte mint. A list of coins that qualify as such include the following:

Gold Dollars: 1855-C, 1855-D, 1855-O, 1856-S Quarter Eagles: 1839-D, 1839-O Three Dollars: 1854-O, 1854-D Half Eagles: 1838-C, 1839, 1839-C, 1839-D, 1909-O Double Eagles: 1879-O

Comments: All of these issues are very popular and relatively scarce but all are available without a huge degree of difficulty. Probably the hardest issue of the dozen listed is the 1855-D, especially with a sharp strike.

Cost: In Extremely Fine grades, this set would cost in the area of $55,000 to $65,000. In About Uncirculated, this set would cost in the area of $135,000 to $160,000+.

Completability: 2/5. The hardest issues to locate are the 1855-D gold dollar and the 1879-O double eagle, especially in higher grades.

New Orleans Quarter Eagles: The New Orleans mint produced thirteen quarter eagles between 1839 and 1857. If both varieties of 1843-O are included, this number is increased to fourteen. This is a great set for collectors as each issue has interesting peculiarities of strike and appearance. As an example, the 1840-O and 1842-O typically look completely different, despite the fact that they were produced within two years of each other. A complete set of New Orleans quarter eagles contains the following:

1839-O, 1840-O, 1842-O, 1843-O Small Date, 1843-O Large Date, 1845-O, 1846-O, 1847-O, 1850-O, 1851-O, 1852-O, 1854-O, 1856-O, 1857-O.

Comments: If a collector is not very particular about quality, this set could be assembled relatively quickly. If he is sensitive to quality of strike and originality, this will be a much harder set to complete. The key issue is the 1845-O. The other tough coins are the 1840-O, 1842-O, 1843-O Large Date and 1856-O.

Cost: In Extremely Fine grades, this set would cost between $15,000 and $20,000. In About Uncirculated it would cost $55,000-65,000. In Uncirculated it would be extremely hard to complete due to the rarity of the 1845-O (only two or three Uncirculated examples are currently known).

Completability: Completability: 1/5. An easy and interesting set to assemble.

Seven Mint Set of Liberty Head Half Eagles: Liberty Head half eagles are the only type of United States coin that were produced at seven mints. Back in the 1970's and 1980's, the so-called seven-mint set was very popular with collectors. It seems likely that it is poised for a comeback, especially now that NGC (and probably PCGS in the near future) are making holders that house multiple coins.

This set includes one coin from the Carson City, Charlotte, Dahlonega, Denver, New Orleans, Philadelphia and San Francisco mints. Generally speaking, most collectors purchase the common coins in Uncirculated and the rarer issues in About Uncirculated.

Comments: This is the most conventional of the sets discussed in this article and probably the most popular. I would suggest purchasing the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco coins in Mint State-64 (each should cost under $1,000), the Carson City coin in Mint State-62 to Mint State-63 (look for an 1891-CC in this grade range and expect to spend $1,000-2,500), a New Orleans coin in Mint State-61 or Mint State-62 (look for an 1893-O or 1894-O and expect to spend $1,000-2,000) and the Charlotte and Dahlonega issues in About Uncirculated-55 to About Uncirculated-58 (expect to spend $3,000-5,000+ per coin).

Cost: A really nice set as described above could be assembled for around $20,000. A slightly lower grade set could be assembled for slightly less than $10,000.

Completability: 5/5. An easy set to complete.

Transitional Issues: A Transitional issue is defined as one in which two distinct varieties were produced in the same year. As an example, in 1866 there are No Motto and With Motto issues.

The following gold coins are included in a Transitional Set:

Dollars: 1854 Type One and Type Two (Total: 2 coins) Quarter Eagles: 1796 No Stars and With Stars; 1834 With Motto and No Motto (Total: 4 coins) Half Eagles: 1795 Small Eagle and Heraldic Eagle; 1797 Small Eagle and Heraldic Eagle; 1807 Bust Right and Bust Left; 1834 No Motto and With Motto; 1866-S No Motto and With Motto; 1908 Liberty Head and Indian Head (Total: 12 coins) Eagles: 1797 Small Eagle and Large Eagle; 1839 Large Letters and Small Letters; 1866-S No Motto and With Motto; 1907 Liberty Head and Indian Head; 1908 Philadelphia and Denver No Motto and With Motto (Total: 12 coins)

Comments: If the 18th century coins are included, then this set is very expensive and hard to complete. If these eight coins are removed, the cost is significantly reduced. However, there are still a number of very tough coins including the 1834 No Motto quarter eagle and half eagle and the 1866-S No Motto double eagle.

This is unquestionably the most complex of the six sets listed and it may be a bit too esoteric for the beginning collector. However, it does include some very interesting issues and would be a great accomplishment if completed.

Cost: If all thirty-six coins listed above are included, this set will cost well into six figures and if high grade pieces are included then it could easily eclipse $1 million. If the 18th century issues are not included, the price becomes more realistic but it is still not "cheap." You can count of spending at least $150,000-250,000+ for a set with coins in the Extremely Fine-40 to About Uncirculated-50 range.

Completability: With all the coins listed above included, this set is a 5/5. With just the 19th and 20th century coins it is a 4/5.

These are just a few of the completable short sets of United States gold coins that come to mind. There are certainly many others that are possible which range from very basic to extremely exotic.

Rare Coin Purchasing Strategies

In 1996, two collectors decided to assemble a million dollar collection of high grade United States coinage. Seven years later, both decided to sell. One now has a collection that is worth upwards of $2 million while the other individual's coins are worth $600,000. What did collector #1 do that was so much smarter than the other? I'd like to say that the answer was as simple as collector #1 carefully listening to me while collector #2 took his advice from other people. And while this is ultimately true, there were a number of important purchase strategies employed by the first collector that were ignored by the other.

Collector #1 did the following: he was patient, he chose his coins carefully, he was loyal, he was not a slave to published bid levels, he reached for the best available coins and he assembled a true collection as opposed to an accumulation. Collector #2 made rash, impulsive purchases, bought coins from a wide variety of sources (some reputable, some not), would never purchase a coin unless it was priced at a "bargain" level and wound-up with a strange, disconnected assemblage of coins rather than a true collection.

It is a good idea to look at some of these points more carefully to understand why one collector did so well while the other did not.

1. For the collector, patience is a virtue: One of the key reasons for the success of collector #1 was his patience. Instead of wildly charging out into the market and buying whatever looked interesting, he was highly selective. In fact, he typically purchased just a few coins each year. Collector #2 was extremely impulsive and purchased some coins that, in retrospect, made no sense. As an example, he bought at least three five-figure coins that he didn't really like and which he knew, even at the time they were bought, that they would have to be upgraded. And he purchased some other coins that had absolutely no thematic tie-in to what he was collecting. These were quickly jettisoned at a significant loss.

2. Always buy the best coins you can afford: If you care about the financial returns provided by your coins (and if you are buying coins that are more than $1,000 each you should) then it is important to buy the best you can afford. A collection should be centered around quality instead of quantity. This means that you will have to tailor your collection around your budget.

Both collector #1 and collector #2 had the same budget but collector #2 wound-up buying dozens of coins while his counterpart only purchased a few. The result was that the first collector had a small collection of superb pieces with enough of a synergistic tie-in that it was more valuable as a whole than as a sum of its parts. The second collector had an assemblage of expensive coins that, because of the presence of a number of "dogs", would have to be broken-up and sold piece-by-piece.

3. If you find one or two dealers you like, stay loyal to them: Yes, this is a self-serving comment. But in the non-numismatic areas that I personally collect, I have followed this advice and it works. If you establish a good relationship with a knowledgeable expert, you are more likely to get good deals from this person. He will be genuinely concerned about the coins he sells you, especially if he knows that he will have a chance to resell them in the future. Because I knew that collector #1 was loyal (and because we became good friends as a result of the time we spent together pursuing his coins) he purchased great coins at fair prices. I immediately figured out that collector #2, while a very good person as well, would never be a faithful customer and that as hard as I tried to earn his loyalty, it just wasn't going to happen. As a result, this made me less enthusiastic to sell him my very best coins.

Collector #2 made another mistake that I think ultimately cost him alot of money. He gave out his want list to a number of dealers. I know of at least two instances when many dealers were competing against each other for a specific rare coin, all thinking that it was for their "own" customer. In reality, everyone was working for the same collector and this allowed the original owner of the coin to hold out for a higher price. When it comes to rare or expensive coins, it is highly advisable to keep your want list as private as possible.

4. Truly rare and choice coins are seldom offered at "bargain" prices: Truly good items, whether they be houses, paintings or coins, are not cheap. You don't get a "deal" on a museum quality Van Gogh just like you don't get to "rip" a problem-free high grade 1793 Chain Cent. Collector #1 understood this and was willing to pay well over Greysheet, Bluesheet or Trends prices when it came to rare, important coins.

Collector #2 was always looking for a deal and would never pay above published price levels, even for rare, early United States issues. He was told again and again that they were impossible to buy at these levels but never took this advise to heart. As a result, when he did buy a significant early type coin, it tended to be a problem piece that was priced cheaply or which savvy buyers had rejected due to quality considerations.

Novice collectors typically do not understand what these published prices represent. The Bluesheet lists low sight-unseen wholesale bids. In other words, if a dealer I didn't know called me up and offered me a 1795 silver dollar in a PCGS AU-50 holder and explained that it was dark, poorly struck and enthusiastically graded, what would my offer be? While it is not impossible to buy nice coins at bluesheet bid levels, it should be understood that most attractive, desirable coins are generally priced at levels above "sheet."

5. Collections are better than assemblages: Many dealers believe that a collection of coins is worth more collectively than the sum of its parts. I generally agree with this but would offer the following caution. In the case of an expensive, high-powered collection it is likely that it will have to be broken-up when it is sold. But if the coins in the collection are properly connected than they can add value to each other. As an example, collector #1 had a small but outstanding group of early coins that were not only very choice but they were first year of issue pieces. It was a true collection that was worth more as a whole than as the sum of its parts, even if it were not realistic to think that it would sell intact.

Collector #2 also specialized in early coins but his grades ranged widely (from Extremely Fine to Mint State-65) and he typically chose "bargain dates" to represent a specific type (as an example he chose a 1795 half dollar instead of a 1794 because it was "cheaper.") When it became time to sell, his coins seemed to be more of a random accumulation than a true collection.