20 Popular 19th Century US Gold Coins Priced Below $10,000

There are dozens of United States gold coins that are accorded a high degree of value for various reasons: first-year-of-issue, low mintage figures, beautiful design, strong collector appeal, etc. These are not always the "rarest" coins in a series and when the value-conscious collector looks at the numbers they don't always make sense. But coins like the ones listed below are great additions to any collection. Let's look at a list of 20 gold coins from the 19th century priced below $10,000 that would be welcome in any collection. 1. 1849-D Gold Dollar: The first gold dollar from this mint and an affordable, well-made issue. An easy coin to obtain in the $2,500-5,000 range.

2. 1855-O Gold Dollar: The only Type Two gold dollar from New Orleans and the final issue of this denomination from this mint. $3,000-5,000 will buy you a nice piece.

3. 1875 Gold Dollar: Just 400 business strikes were made, yet this issue is affordable.

4. 1838-C Quarter Eagle: The first quarter eagle from Charlotte and a popular two year type. Becoming harder to locate for less than $7,500 but be patient and you'll find one.

5. 1839-D Quarter Eagle: The mate to the 1838-C and an issue that is both first-year-of-type and a one -year emission. Another coin that is becoming hard to find at under $10,000 but not impossible.

6. 1845-O Quarter Eagle: Only 4,000 were struck and this is by far the scarcest quarter eagle from this mint. Still available for less than $10,000 but getting more expensive every year.

7. 1875 Quarter Eagle: If you own the dollar, why not the quarter eagle? Another super-low mintage issue; just 400 struck. Decent pieces can be had for $7,500-10,000.

8. 1854-O Three Dollars: A first-year issue and a one-year type in one affordable package. $5,000-7,500 will buy you a very pleasing example.

9. 1881 Three Dollars: Just 500 business strikes were made and this is a scarce coin in all grades. This date always sells quickly for me. $7,500 will buy you a nice one.

10. 1813 Half Eagle: One of the more common coins on this list but its the most affordable example of the legendary Fat Head type. Nice pieces can still be hard for less than $10,000.

11. 1838-C/1838-D Half Eagles: Both are first year issues and one-year types. Both are very popular and becoming increasingly hard to find at under $10,000. These have great appeal beyond branch mint specialists.

12. 1839-C/1839-D Half Eagles: Two more one-year types. Neither are really rare (except in high grades) but they are well-made, oh-so-popular and can still be purchased in the $5,000-10,000 range. A four coin set that had the 1838-C, 1838-D, 1839-C and 1839-D half eagles would be a great addition to a collection.

13. 1861-C Half Eagle: Final year of issue, possible Civil War issuance and cheap...what's not to love about the 1861-C half eagle? I just sold a nice EF40 for a shade over $5,000 and received multiple orders for it on my site.

14. 1870-CC Half Eagle: You can't buy a really nice example of this date for less than $10,000 anymore but if you stretch a bit you'll own a true piece of history. By a large margin, this is the most affordable first-year CC gold coin.

15. 1838 Eagle: This is another formerly affordable coin whose levels have shot up in the last five years. It's scarce in all grades (only 7,200 were made) and it is the first Liberty Head eagle.

16. 1854-S Eagle: The first San Francisco eagle and a true Gold Rush artifact. Very affordable with very nice pieces still available for around $5,000.

17. 1857-S SSCA Double Eagle: I thought twice about adding this to the list but how can you not love a coin with this much history and cosmetic appeal? MS63's at $9,000 or so seem like fair value right now.

18. 1874-CC Eagle: To me, the thought of owning a Carson City eagle from the early 1870's is pretty exciting and the 1874-CC is the most common. Nice coins can be had for $6,000-8,000.

19. 1861 Double Eagle: An affordable Civil War double eagle that is well made and available. A great starter coin for the collector and always an easy coin to sell. You can buy nice examples for $3,000-5,000 and up.

20. Carson City Double Eagle: I didn't mention a specific date as I am viewing this as a type purchase. What could be more popular than a big, pretty coin like this? You can still purchase an excellent example for $4,000-7,000.

So what coins did I leave off the list that you have in your collection and which do you agree with? Email me at dwn@ont.com and let me know!

Building a Basic Type Set of Five Dollar Gold Pieces

The half eagle is the very first gold coin to be struck at the United States mint. This denomination was struck without interruption from 1795 to 1929, and it is the only U.S. gold issue to be produced at all eight United States mints. It is very popular with collectors, but the seemingly endless duration makes it very hard to collect by date. Because of this fact, it is an ideal set to collect by type. Let's take at the eight major types that constitute a half eagle set from 1795 to 1929. The beauty of this set is that while it contains some rare coins, it can be completed by most collectors; even in relatively high grades. While probably not realistic in Gem Uncirculated (although certainly feasible, albeit at a significant price), this set is very realistic in Uncirculated. In fact, many of the coins can be purchased in MS63 and MS64 grades for less than the price of far less rare 20th century gold issues.

1. Capped Bust Small Eagle (1795-1798)

1795 $5.00 NGC AU55

While this type is dated from 1795 through 1798, for most collectors the only two realistic dates for type purposes are the 1795 and the 1796/5. The 1797 is very rare and the 1798 is exceedingly rare with just eight known.

If I were going to be putting this set together, there is no doubt that I would select a 1795 as my Capped Bust Small Eagle type coin. Even though the 1796/5 is much scarcer and probably undervalued in relation to the 1795, the latter is a first-year-of-issue which gives it considerable numismatic significance.

A total of 8,707 1795 Small Eagle reverse half eagles were struck. There are hundreds of coins known, in grades that range from VF+ to EF all the way up to Gem. Depending on the collector's budget, I would suggest either looking for a nice AU50 to AU53 coin or a solid MS62 to MS63. A nice AU coin should be available in the $50,000-60,000 range while an MS62 to MS63 will cost $100,000-150,000.

Due to the price and significance of this coin, I regard it as one of the key members of the half eagle type set. Therefore, the collector should be patient and fussy in his quest for the "right" coin. I think it is important to find an example with choice surfaces and original color. Nice, cosmetically appealing 1795 half eagles used to be available with relative ease a decade ago, but they have become hard to find as so many have been dipped or lightened. A high-end, original coin is worth at least a 15-20% premium over a typical example.

2. Capped Bust Right, Heraldic Eagle Reverse (1795-1807)

1798 Large 8, 13 Stars $5.00 PCGS AU58

This is one of my favorite types of half eagle. It can be neatly subdivided into two categories: those issues struck prior to 1800, and those struck afterwards.

For the pre-1800 issues, there are two dates that make sense for a type set: the 1798 and the 1799. There are a number of varieties of 1798, but the most available (and the one that is best for a type set) is the Large 8 with 13 stars on the reverse. The mintage figure for the 1798 half eagle is reported to be 24,867, and it is likely that no more than 500-750 examples survive in all grades. A nice AU example of the 1798 half eagle should be available for under $25,000-30,000. An Uncirculated coin will cost $40,000-80,000+. In my opinion, the best grades for a type set are AU55 to AU58 and MS62.

The 1799 has a reported mintage of only 7,451 and I regard it as a real "sleeper" in the early half eagle series. It isn't that much more costly than the 1798, yet it is at least two times as rare. I recently sold a lovely PCGS MS62 with CAC approval for less than $45,000, and this seems like truly good value to me.

For most collectors, the best coin to seek for their Capped Bust Right Heraldic Eagle reverse type is going to be a half eagle dated from 1800 to 1807. All of these dates are relatively common, and each has its own merits for inclusion in the set.

If you are going to stick with an AU coin, you should be able to purchase a lovely, high-end example in the $10,000-15,000 range. In Uncirculated, an MS62 will cost around $17,500-20,000+, while an MS63 is $30,000+.

A few important factors to consider when buying this type are originality, color, nice surfaces and a lack of detracting marks. This is a common enough coin that you can afford to be quite finicky when pursuing it. If you don't really like a specific coin, wait until you find the "right" one.

3. Capped Bust Left (1807-1812)

1807 $5.00 NGC MS62

In 1807, Reich again redesigned the half eagle. The new design features a Capped Bust Left obverse and an entirely new reverse.

All six years of this design are basically similar in overall rarity. All six issues also tend to be well made and fairly easy to locate in grades up to and including MS63. This makes it among the easier types in this set to acquire.

What year is "best" for this set? I like the 1812, given its historic association with the War of 1812, but I also like the 1807 for its significance as the first-year-of-issue for the Capped Head Left type. But none of these dates is really "better" than any other.

The best buying tips that I can give for this type are similar with the other early types discussed in this article. If you are purchasing a nice About Uncirculated coins, look for a piece that has the appearance of a Mint State coin but just a slight amount of friction on the high spots. On Uncirculated coins, try and stick with those that are original and those that are minimally abraded with good color and good overall eye appeal.

A nice AU Capped Bust Left should be readily available in the $10,000-15,000 range. A nice Uncirculated coin (one that grades MS62 to MS63) will cost in the area of $20,000-35,000+ depending on the date and grade.

4. Capped Head Left (1813-1834)

1813 $5.00 NGC MS60

The half eagles struck from 1813 through 1834 include some of the rarest and interesting issues of this entire denomination. Unlike some of the very rare half eagles from the 1860's and 1870's, these issues tend not to be rare due to low mintages but because of intensive meltings that began in 1834. The weight of the half eagle was lowered during this year, making the old issues worth more intrinsically than their face value. Most of the issues from the 1820's were almost totally wiped out in the process. The most extreme example is the 1822, of which just three survive from an original mintage of 17,796.

But not all the Capped Head Left half eagles are extreme rarities and it is from the small number of more available dates that the type collector will probably make his selection. The most common issues of this design are the 1813, 1814/3, 1818, and 1820. "Common" is a relative term here, though, as some of these dates, like the 1818 and 1820 are quite rare when compared to the last two types that we discussed in this article.

For type purposes, the 1813 is clearly the best date to choose for this set. It is easily the most available date and it tends to come better produced as well. A nice AU example can be found for less than $15,000 and an MS62 to MS63 is available for less than $30,000.

Let's say that you want to add some real "meat" to this set and decide to include a very rare issue. Is this possible? With patience and a large budget, it is. The 1824, 1825, 1826, and 1827 are all very rare coins but they do become available on average of once (or possibly twice) per year. These issues didn't circulate very much so just a few exist in grades below MS60. If a nice AU coin is available, a collector is looking at an expenditure of at least $50,000-60,000+ while a solid MS62 to MS63 will cost in the $80,000-100,000 range.

In 1829, an important change occurred to the design of this type: the diameter was reduced. Design changes that reflect this include smaller date, letter and star sizes. The 1829-1834 subtype could certainly be included in this half eagle set but it is not absolutely necessary. If it is included, this is a challenging hole to fill as all six issues are quite rare due to the wholesale meltings, mentioned above, that occurred in 1834.

5. Classic Head (1834-1838)

1834 $5.00 NGC PR63 Cameo

The size and weight of the half eagle was reduced in 1834 and this is reflected by an entirely new design by William Kneass. The Classic Head type was struck from 1834 through 1838. This is a popular and numismatically significant type as it includes the first branch mint issues for this denomination. The southern branch mints at Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans opened in 1838. The 1838-C and 1838-D issues are scarce and extremely popular, but as they are not readily available in higher grades they are not generally included in a half eagle type set.

Most collectors will select a Philadelphia issue. Due to high original mintage figures, Classic Head half eagles tend to be readily available in circulated grades and are not rare in Uncirculated until you reach the MS64 to MS65 range.

In the highest circulated grades, a common date Classic Head half eagle can be purchased for less than $3,000. Even though these coins are reasonably common, it is remarkable that a classic United States gold coin that is over 175 years old is still so affordable. In MS62 to MS63, a nice coin will cost $6,000-12,000 while an MS64, if it is available, will cost around $20,000+.

Here are some suggestions when buying a Classic Head half eagle. First, if you can, try and buy a date other than the 1834. While interesting as the first-year-of-issue, the 1834 is appreciably more common than dates such as the 1835, 1836, and 1838. Yet in spite of this, these scarcer dates sell for a small premium, even in comparatively high grades. Second, look for a coin with deep, rich natural color. This type is available with good eye appeal and a pretty example is clearly going to add more "oomph" to this set than a washed-out, average quality piece. Finally, try and find a well-struck coin. This design is often weak at the centers so avoid coins that show little central detail.

6. Liberty Head, No Motto Reverse (1839-1866)

1843 $5.00 NGC MS62

The Liberty Head design should be familiar to most collectors as it existed, in this basic format, all the way from 1839 until 1907. The coins struck prior to 1866 did not include the motto IN GOD WE TRUST on the reverse.

Known to collectors as No Motto half eagles, these Liberty Head issues were made at the Charlotte, Dahlonega, Carson City, New Orleans and San Francisco branch mints as well as at Philadelphia.

For most collectors, a Philadelphia No Motto half eagle makes the most sense as a type coin. The more common dates from the 1840's and early 1850's tend to be readily available in the lower Uncirculated grades (MS62 and below) and can be obtained for under $5,000. A collector who wants a nice MS64 will have his choice between a few different dates and should expect to pay around $20,000. Gems of this type do exist, but they are expensive and hard to locate.

1839 $5.00 NGC AU55

The half eagles struck in 1839 are actually a distinct one-year type with a different rendition of the portrait as well as the mintmark on the obverse for the Charlotte and Dahlonega issues. The 1839 half eagle is not rare in circulated grades, but it is scarce in Uncirculated and quite rare in MS62 and above. Expect to pay at least $15,000-20,000 for a higher quality Uncirculated example. A nice AU piece can be found for less than $3,000.

7. Liberty Head, With Motto Reverse (1866-1907)

1893-O $5.00 PCGS MS63

The With Motto Liberty Head is among the more common types in this set. It was produced from 1866 to 1907 in prodigious quantity at the Philadelphia, Carson City, New Orleans, Denver and San Francisco mints.

For type purposes, most collectors will select a common date Philadelphia or San Francisco With Motto half eagle. The lowest grade that should be included in a better-quality set is probably MS63 to MS64 and a really nice coin is going to be readily available for less than $2,000. As a hint, I'd suggest that you look for a date struck prior to 1900, as that adds a "neatness" factor.

This type is actually easy to find in grades up to and including MS66. I'm not certain I'd commit spending a lot more than $10,000 on an example for a type set unless this set involved a "best of everything" mindset.

8. Indian Head (1908-1929)

1909 $5.00 PCGS MS65

The final type in the half eagle set is the attractive and popular Indian Head design. These coins were struck from 1908 to 1929.

This is an easy type to locate in any grade up to and including MS65. An MS64 would be the lowest quality coin I'd recommend for type purposes and these have come down in price to the point where you can buy a nice one for less than $5,000. In MS65, prices have dropped as well and what was once a $20,000-ish coin can now be found for around $12,500.

Here are a few hints when looking for an Indian Head half eagle. First, try to find a slightly better date (like a 1909 or a 1911) that used to sell for a premium, but which is now essentially a type coin. Secondly, be patient and wait for a coin with great color and choice, original surfaces. This is an easy coin to locate so you should wait for a coin that really "speaks" to you.

Assembling this eight (or ten) coin set is a real challenge and quite a bit of fun. Depending on your budget, you could include coins grading from Extremely Fine to Gem Uncirculated. Because of the rarity and cost of the 1795, this is never going to be an inexpensive set, but it is one that I think has the potential to be very desirable in the future.

Coins with Character

In 2010, you will see a new slogan on the homepage of my website (www.raregoldcoins.com). Besides being catchy, “Coins with Character” represents a philosophy that guides me as a buyer and which I try to impart to collectors. Let me explain what, in my opinion, this expression means. Before the recent November Baltimore coin show, I sat down and made a list of the sort of coins I wanted to make an extra effort to purchase. These were coins that I didn’t already have in stock and given their popularity and ability to sell it made sense to me to reload.

High on this list were nice, affordable Dahlonega coins in the EF40 to AU55 grade range. My parameters were that the coins were choice, original and, in some way, “special.” In other words, I was looking for coins that spoke to me; coins with character.

After a lengthy search through the various auctions, dealer inventories and private collections that I encountered in my three days in Baltimore, I was able to acquire a whopping total of four Dahlonega coins that I felt had character: one gold dollar, one quarter eagle and two half eagles. Was I surprised that my quest would prove so fruitless? Not really. I was, of course, disappointed. But given my parameters for “coins with character” I wasn’t surprised.

I generally try to purchase coins that I believe are in the top 5% known for a particular issue. This doesn’t means that they are necessarily in the top 5% as far as grade goes. What I am looking for are coins that because of one or more reasons would rank among the most desirable survivors of a specific issue.

There are a number of things that give a coin “character.” These include the following:

-Attractive natural coloration. Coloration is a major factor in valuing copper and silver coins but it has been undervalued when it comes to gold coins. This has never been the case for me. I personally love gold coins with attractive natural hues; especially rich rose, green or orange shadings. Now this does not mean that I like every toned gold coin. I see dark, dirty double eagles from time to time that are unattractive and which, quite frankly, I’d probably dip or bathe them in soap and water if I purchased them.

I readily dislike bright, shiny, “processed” coins. To me, a coin that is bright and shiny lacks soul. I like attractively toned coins because of their individuality.

One of the reasons that I don’t buy as much Proof gold as I used to is the fact that most pieces have been conserved and they all look the same. Here’s what I mean. Take a coin like an 1880 quarter eagle in Proof. Only 36 were minted and this issue’s rarity and relative affordability makes it very intriguing to me. But I’ve passed on the last three that I have been offered because they were all bright, monochromatic and character-free. They were the Stepford Wives of Proof gold. Conversely, if I were offered a Proof 1880 quarter eagle with nice original hazy golden-orange color, I’d almost certainly buy it; even if it were “only” a PR63 with signs of a light old cleaning.

-Uncommonly Sharp Strikes and/or High Quality of Manufacture: As someone who buys and sells quite a bit of early gold (i.e., U.S. gold produced prior to 1834) I am pretty knowledgeable about how certain issues are supposed to look. As an example, most 1796 eagles have surfaces that appear pockmarked. This is mint-made but it means that the majority of 1796 eagles are not very attractive. So when I see a 1796 that has smooth, non-pocked surfaces I get excited. On an issue that is typically seen poorly made, a well-made example has “character” in my book.

I feel the same way about strike although I readily admit that strike is not extremely important when it comes to pre-1900 gold coins. But when I see an issue that is notorious for a poor strike with above-average detail, this imparts character as well.

-Important Provenance: The history and romance of collecting is, in many ways, just as interesting as the history and romance of coins. It means a lot to me that an 1838 eagle or a 1797 quarter eagle that I buy has an illustrious pedigree. I have owned coins that have traceable pedigrees dating back to the middle of the 19th century and I find it very exciting that I am able to add my name to the list of illustrious and not-so-illustrious individuals that might have been in a coin’s pedigree chain.

One of the reasons that I really respect collectors of early copper and Colonials is that they value pedigree more than nearly any other segment of the market. It certainly helps that there have been active collectors in these market areas dating back to the 1850’s whereas in an area like branch mint gold, specialized collection began far later.

Would I pay extra for a coin with a great pedigree? For the most part I would. Of course, a lot depends on the coin. I doubt I’d pay any extra for, say an Eliasberg quarter eagle that was an overgraded common date or even a scarcer date that had been dipped or processed after it had appeared in the Eliasberg sale and which now lacked character.

-Coins That Break the Mold: Every dealer has a list of “pet dates” that he or she just can’t resist buying. For some dealers it might be an issue that triggers a sense of nostalgia. For others it might be a date that they have traditionally bought and sold with ease in the past. A pet date for a collector is more likely to involve his perception that an issue is undervalued or it has important historical associations.

I won’t bore you with the full list of dates that I’m a sucker for (there are lots of them, I’m afraid...) but these are coins that I tend to be a little more lax about when it comes to the Test of Character. As an example, I actually bought a damaged 1864-S half eagle earlier this year. It was the first “problem coin” that I have ever listed on my website and if it wasn’t for the fact that it was so rare, I would be never bought it and listed it for sale.

-Coins with Original Surfaces: I thought I would save the best for last. I like original coins (or at least what I perceive to be original coins). When I say “original” I am referring to coins that appear to have not been dipped, processed or harshly clean in recent years. A coin that I describe as “original” could very well have been cleaned fifty or a hundred years ago but it has subsequently acquired natural second generation that might mask underlying hairlines.

Why do I like coins with this sort of look? It all goes back to the original thread of this blog: they have character. It is hard for me to get excited about a 150+ year old gold coin that is bright and shiny. It is hard for me to pinpoint the exact reason why I prefer the original look but suffice to say I do and I will continue to buy coins with character for my inventory.

Interesting Subsets for Gold Coin Collectors

While I am personally still a fan of collecting gold coins by sets, I understand that this method is not for everyone. Some individuals find set collecting monotonous; others lack the patience to assemble anything but a short set. And other collectors simply do not have the financial resources available to work on a set that might not only have a long duration but may contain many expensive coins as well. One interesting compromise is for a collector to work on a subset. This subset might take many forms. As an example, let’s say a collector really likes Type One Liberty Head double eagles but he is realistic enough to know that he will never be able to afford the expensive New Orleans issues that populate this set. The solution is to pick an alternative within this set that is completable. Later on in this article I will discuss an actual subset that I have worked on with a number of collectors that still allows them to finish a Type One set; just without spending $1 million+.

For the sake of brevity, I am only going to mention four potential subsets in this article. But there are many, many others that are highly collectible.

1. Civil War Era Gold Coins.

A set of Civil war gold coins is among the more challenging of the subsets that a collector might choose but it is certainly one of the most popular as well. A complete Civil War gold set would consist of the following:

-Gold Dollars (6): 1861, 1861-D, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1864

-Quarter Eagles (10): 1861, 1861-S, 1862, 1862/1, 1862-S, 1863, 1863-S, 1864, 1865, 1865-S

-Three Dollars (5): 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865

-Half Eagles (12): 1861, 1861-C, 1861-D, 1861-S, 1862, 1862-S, 1863, 1863-S, 1864, 1864-S, 1865, 1865-S

-Eagles (11): 1861, 1861-S, 1862, 1862-S, 1863, 1863-S, 1864, 1864-S, 1865, 1865-S Normal Date, 1865-S Inverted Date

-Double Eagles (12): 1861, 1861-O, 1861-S, 1861-S Paquet, 1862, 1862-S, 1863, 1863-S, 1864, 1864-S, 1865, 1865-S.

In total, there are 56 coins in the Civil War gold set. The coins range from very common to very rare and most are extremely hard to find in higher grades.

The grade range that most collectors are likely to tackle is Extremely Fine to About Uncirculated. It is possible to assemble this set in Uncirculated but there are a number of extreme rarities in Mint State from this era including at least a half a dozen issues that, to the best of my knowledge, consist of no more than one to three known.

In the gold dollar denomination, the key issue is the 1861-D. This date isn’t really rare from the standpoint of overall rarity but it is extremely popular and the collector can expect to spend at least $25,000+ for an acceptable example. The rarest quarter eagle is the 1864 which, while not widely known, is actually among the rarest Liberty Head gold coins to acquire. The 1863 is a Proof-only issue that is expensive and very rare as well. The third rare issue in this group is the 1865 of which only 1,520 business strikes were produced. However, an extremely nice example of this issue can be purchased in the $20,000-25,000 range.

The five three dollar gold pieces in this set are all obtainable with patience. The key issue, by a large margin, is the 1865 which has an original mintage of only 1,140 business strikes. If the collector is willing to spend in excess of $10,000 per coin, all of the Civil War era Three Dollar pieces can be purchased in Uncirculated and some can even be found in comparatively high grades.

The half eagles in this group contain some very scarce issues. The most popular is the 1861-D while the rarest is the 1864-S. The former’s popularity is a result of its status as a Confederate issue while the 1864-S is unique in Uncirculated and very rare in any grade. The 1863 and 1865 Philadelphia issues are quite rare in all grades and extremely rare in full Mint State.

The toughest denomination in this set is the ten dollar. With the exception of the 1861 and 1862 Philadelphia, every issue is rare in circulated grades and many are exceedingly rare in Uncirculated. The 1864-S is the rarest and it is closely trailed by the 1863. The 1865, 1865-S Normal Date and 1865-S Inverted Date are all rare and all three are seldom available above AU50 to AU53.

There are a number of double eagles in the Civil War set that will prove challenging. The 1861-O is scarce in all grades and a nice, middle grade piece will require a commitment of at least $25,000-35,000+. The 1861-S Paquet is a rarity in all grades and it is extremely rare in properly graded AU55 and higher. The 1862 is the “sleeper” in this group and the collector who seeks an Uncirculated example will be greatly challenged.

2. No Motto Philadelphia Half Eagles and/or Eagles

I’ve written a few blogs and articles in the last year about No Motto half eagles and eagles being a sort of “final frontier” for the U.S. gold coin collector. I still believe this to be the case. There are lots of issues that cost less than $2,500 per coin which are genuinely scarce and appealing.

As far as subsets go, here are two suggestions for the collector.

1. No Motto half eagles, 1840-1849. This is an interesting date run with no individual coins that are rarities. If a collector has a fairly limited budget, he could purchase many dates in the middle to higher About Uncirculated grades for less than $1,000. This set is even feasible in Uncirculated as many of the No Motto half eagles of this decade can be found in MS62, MS63 and even MS64 grades.

I personally like this subset for a number of reasons. Firstly, as I mentioned above, it is reasonably easy to complete. Secondly, the Philadelphia coins of this era are less likely to be found with unattractive processed surfaces. Thirdly, the coins tend to be better produced than the branch mint pieces from this era. Finally, I think they are much undervalued and have some real upside potential down the road.

2. No Motto eagles, 1840-1849. The eagles from the 1840’s tend to be appreciably scarcer than the half eagles from this decade. There are exceptions. Dates like the 1847, 1848 and 1849 are not hard to find in any circulated grade and are even available from time to time in Uncirculated. But there are some really tough issues from this era as well. These include the 1844, 1845 and 1846, all of which are extremely rare in Uncirculated and very scarce to rare in properly graded AU55 and above.

This set would be much more expensive than the half eagles mentioned above but I like it as well. It is completable, the coins are sometimes seen with choice original surfaces and they also represent excellent overall value.

3. Type One Philadelphia Double Eagles

With gold speeding towards the $1,100 per ounce level, the popularity of the double eagle denomination seems greater than ever. I have always thought that the Type One issues were among the most interesting of all the twenty dollar gold pieces struck. The problem with this series is that many of the New Orleans issues are priced at levels that many collectors can’t afford. The best solution is to look at the Philadelphia issues.

A specific subset that I think is especially interesting is the Philadelphia double eagles from the 1850’s. All ten are within the budget of most collectors. There is only one date (the 1859) that is going to cost more than $5,000 for a nice mid-level About Uncirculated example.

The dates in this subset range from very common (1851 and 1852) to scarce (1856) to rare (1859). Most collectors will be able to purchase the majority of the dates in AU53 to AU58 and, as such, they will be assembling a collection with some visually impressive coins.

I have a few tips for collectors interested in Type One double eagles from this era. First and foremost is to be patient and wait for coins that have choice, relatively non-abraded surfaces. Most double eagles from the 1850’s saw some hard time in circulation (or in bags being transported from bank to bank) and they are heavily marked as a result. But there are coins out there with nice surfaces and these are worth paying a premium for. I would also suggest being careful to avoid coins that are bright, shiny and unnatural in appearance.

One of the great things about this set is that every time you purchase a double eagle, you are buying nearly an ounce of gold. If you complete the Type One Philadelphia subset, you will not only have a nice collection, you’ll have a nice gold position that contains nearly ten full ounces. In this era of economic uncertainty that seems like a wise decision to make.

4. Three Decade Carson City

I have met few collectors who weren’t fascinated by the history and the mystique of the Carson City mint. It’s hard not to feel a real attraction to the gold coins produced there. But it is hard to be a collector assembling a complete set of any of three gold denominations from this mint. Let’s face it: the coins are very expensive and not everyone is going to be able to continually spend $10,000+ on the scarcer issues.

I have a solution that allows a collector to do more than dabble in Carson City gold. It’s a subset that I refer to as the “Three Decade Set.” Carson City produced coins from 1870 to 1893. The three decades are generally very clearly differentiated as well. The coins from the 1870’s tend to be scarce in all grades and very rare in Uncirculated (with the exception of the double eagles which are more available in higher grades). The coins from the 1880’s are more available in higher grades but not really “common.” And the coins from the 1890’s tend to be readily available in circulated grades and are even within the price parameters of many collectors in MS60 to MS62 grades.

Here are my suggestions for a Three Decade Set of Carson City gold.

1. 1870’s issues: For a half eagle, I’d probably look for an issue that is available in nice EF or even AU grades. And I’d want to look for an issue that was well-produced and a good value from a price standpoint. I would probably select a date like the 1876-CC or the 1877-CC as they seem to fit the bill perfectly. The eagle denomination is harder to locate than the half eagles from this decade and there are no “easy” dates to fill a hole. I’d probably lean towards a date like the 1877-CC in nice Extremely Fine. I’d be very selective with my 1870’s eagle as this is going to represent a $5,000-10,000+ investment and many of the available coins on the market are inferior for the grade. A double eagle from the 1870’s is an easier decision. I’d stick with an 1875-CC or an 1876-CC as both are reasonably available in circulated grades and are known for being well struck and nicely produced.

2. 1880’s issues: For a half eagle, I’d look at an 1883-CC or 1884-CC. Both are scarce in the lower AU grades but not all that expensive. For the eagle denomination I think I’d focus on these same two dates. Both have low mintages and are very rare in Uncirculated but they can be obtained in nice AU grades for under $5,000. For the double eagle denomination, I would look at virtually any other dates from this decade other than the 1885-CC which is scarce. A nice twist to the set would be to have all three coins from the 1880’s be the same year; in other words, an 1883-CC or 1884-CC half eagle, eagle and double eagle.

3. 1890’s issues: This is the one decade that the collector who likes Uncirculated coins will be able to purchase high quality issues without completely breaking the bank. The 1891-CC half eagle and eagle are both common in the MS60 to MS62 range and both dates can be found in MS63 for less than $7,500 per coin. The 1890-CC, 1892-CC and 1893-CC double eagles can be found in the lower Uncirculated grades (MS60 to MS62) for mid-four figure sums. If the collector would prefer to step down to nice AU coins, the 1890’s issues are very affordable.

As I mentioned above, the number of interesting subsets that a collector could assemble is almost limitless. I like the fact that a subset allows a collector to be involved in set collecting without the intensity (or cost) that a “full” set might entail. For more information on this subject, please feel free to contact me at dwn@ont.com

Where Have All the Nice Coins Gone?

This has been one of the “driest” times in the coin market that I can recall in terms of availability. While I have bought and sold some pretty remarkable coins so far in 2009, it has been a source of wonderment to me how few choice, interesting pieces have been available this year. And I don’t see this changing anytime soon. Why is this? I’m not certain that there is a “right” answer to this question. Being a serious ruminator, I have thought a bit about this and have some suggestions as to why we are currently experiencing the Great Coin Famine of 2009.

1. Large numbers of coins have been conserved, dipped, processed and generally monkeyed around with in the past few years. In fact, I think the number of coins that have gone from choice and original to bright-n-shiny (or, at the very worst, from decent to ugly) is far greater than anyone realizes. You know how you read the depressing articles in the newspaper where they tell you the number of Sumatran tigers in the wild has suddenly dropped to fewer than 100 because of aggressive deforestation? I think we have seen a similar situation happen with many series of U.S. coins. Really nice coins that were once accepted as being relatively available aren’t as available anymore because most of the “nice coins” aren’t so nice anymore.

2. Good coins are in strong hands and now that the economy seems to be better than it was in September 2008, people aren’t panic sellers anymore. Let me expand this thought. After people’s stock portfolios dropped dramatically in late 2008, you saw some collectors (primarily newer ones) quickly and dramatically sell large portions of their collections. But many of the collectors who had been in the coin market for a longer period of time did not panic and did not sell. (They may not have been actively buying, either, preferring to be in a “hold” position...) A year later, many of these individuals have seen their stocks rise and they are no longer feeling as worried about their investment as before. In my experience, the strong collectors of pre-2008 are more active than they were six months to a year ago and this has taken more nice coins off the market.

3. The market for nice coins is broader than most people imagine. Because of the Internet, there are more people selling more coins to more collectors. That’s not even mentioning the incredible growth of Heritage and Ebay in the last five years; two firms that have the ability to sell a tremendous amount of coins.

4. With very few exceptions, the old-time collections of coins from the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s are well-dispersed and, with them, the concentrated numbers of high quality coins has dissipated as well. If you look at auction sales from the 1970’s and 1980’s it was not uncommon for firms like Stack’s, Superior and Bowers and Merena/Bowers and Ruddy to routinely sell very cool collections of coins that had been assembled years ago. Today, these collections are almost never seen.

Will the Where Are the Nice Coins scenario change any time soon? I’m afraid not. I would expect to see some more interesting coins become available during major auctions like FUN and ANA but I think the era of abundant interesting coins is disappearing about as quickly as the aforementioned Sumatran tigers.

Collecting U.S. Gold Coins On A Limited Budget

Of course everyone would like to not think twice about buying all sorts of cool, expensive gold coins. But most of us have a coin collecting budget that we have to hold to. Is it possible for the collector of average means to seriously collect US gold? I would contend that even with a reasonably small budget, a collector can have lots of fun in this area of the market and over the course of time put together a pretty neat collection. I’d say that you really need a minimum budget of $1,000-2,000 to buy reasonably interesting pre-1933 gold coins. You can buy coins in the $250-500 range but you are going to have to make compromises in quality or collect very esoteric areas like Period Two California Fractional gold. If you can live with the idea of quality over quantity and buy a bit less frequently, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how much damage a thousand-dollar bill can do in the US gold coin market.

So, what can you do with a budget of $1,000-2,000 per coin?

Let’s say you a relative newbie to the coin market and you don’t have a high degree of comfort regarding your knowledge. An area like St. Gaudens double eagles might be a good place to start. You get the comfort of buying an ounce of gold with every purchase and you will own a coin that is incredibly liquid. A quick perusal of the most recent CDN Monthly Summary shows no less than twenty-five Saints that have a current wholesale bid of less than $2,000 per coin. Assuming that prices for these issues stay in this range (and my gut feeling tells me that MS63 Saints will be dropping in price in the near future) this means that a pretty significant collection could be built on a reasonable budget.

Another series that a collector without a huge budget can have a lot of fun with is Type Three gold dollars. I’ve recently sold coins like 1857 and 1858 gold dollars in PCGS MS64 (with CAC stickers!) for not much more than $1,000 and for just a bit less, you can buy many of the popular low-mintage dates from the 1880’s in the same grade. If you purchase coins graded MS63, many are $750 per coin or in some cases less. Yes, gold dollars are small. But you have to like the value of a 125-150 year old American gold coin in Choice Uncirculated (or better) for $750-1,250.

For overall value, it is hard to beat the Liberty Head quarter eagle series. Even though many of the branch mint issues from the 1840’s, 1850’s and 1860’s are rare and fairly expensive, the Philadelphia coins from all decades are mostly affordable. The post-1875 issues are especially reasonable from a price standpoint and it is possible to purchase some legitimately scarce coins for $1,000 or less. I am a very big fan of the 1840’s dates from Philadelphia and many can be bought in AU50 for less than $1,000; despite their obvious scarcity.

I’ve mentioned a number of times in the past year that I think No Motto half eagles and eagles from the Philadelphia mint are a very good value. To give you an idea, I sold a really choice NGC AU58 CAC approved 1852 half eagle this morning for $625. This is a 150+ year old gold coin with a basal value of $300. At $625, how can you go wrong? There are many other Philadelphia half eagles from the 1840’s and 1850’s that can be found in AU55 and AU58 grades for $1,000 and less. The eagles from this era are more expensive but choice, original AU55 coins are sometimes available for less than $1,000. A collector on a limited budget could put together a very nice date run of No Motto half eagles and eagles without breaking the bank.

Another area that still offers good value is the Liberty Head Type One series. There are, of course, many extremely expensive dates in this series and even the common issues tend to be expensive in higher grades. But nice EF45 to AU55 coins are available from time to time and many can be purchased for $1,500-2,000. As an example, I sold a pleasing 1855-S in PCGS AU50 the other day for $1,700. It’s not a really rare coin but it’s the second year of issue from this mint and it’s a date that jumps up in price appreciably once you hit the MS60 level.

If you don’t have a huge numismatic budget, don’t necessarily rule out pre-1933 gold coins. As I mentioned above, there are a lot of very interesting coins available for less than $1,000 and if you can get your budget up to $2,000 per coin, you have some seriously interesting options to choose from.

If I Collected Coins What Would I Collect?

I often (OK, not “often” but at least “occasionally...”) get asked the question “what kind of coins do you collect?” I don’t currently collect coins because I think that, as a dealer, being a collector is an inherent conflict; I don’t ever want to have an internal debate with myself about whether or not I should sell a coin that I buy. But I do have a pretty good idea about what I would collect if I were actually collecting. When I was younger and not yet a full-time dealer, my first love was Colonial coinage. I specialized in Connecticut coinage and specifically collected 1787 Draped Bust Left coppers. In retrospect, this was pretty ambitious for a ten year old kid. There are something like 350 varieties of 1787 DBL coppers and not only was I collecting them by variety, I was typically doing it without a reference guide as I had memorized many of the important varieties.

Connecticut coppers appealed to me for a number of reasons. First off, they were cheap. My budget was pretty small back in the day and for $25 to $75 per coin, I could buy very presentable examples (the kind of coins that are worth $500 or so each today). Secondly, the age and history of these coins appealed to me. I was always a history buff and the Colonial era was of particular interest to me. Thirdly, I grew up in New York City and there were some friendly, knowledgeable dealers in the area such as Richard Picker, David Sonderman, Bob Vlack and Jim King. The fact that the coins were readily available for trustworthy local sources appealed to me. Finally, I liked the crudeness of the designs and the complexity of the series.

After my Connecticut obsession, I moved onto Liberty Seated quarters. I chose this series for one really glaring reason: the coins seemed hugely undervalued to me. Obviously, I couldn’t afford Gem coins, so I tended to focus on choice, original pieces in the Fine to Extremely Fine range. I never did finish the set (I could never afford the rare Carson City issues from 1870 to 1873) but I was able to buy some pretty awesome coins at what seemed like pretty reasonable prices.

So, using my experiences from the collecting days of yore, how would they apply to the market of today? To answer the “what would I collect” question let me start by deducing what I wouldn’t collect. I know that I would avoid coins made during the 20th century. For whatever reason, 20th century coins have just never really appealed to me (with the exception of Saints but that is a set that I could never afford to collect in the way that I want to). I am pretty sure that I would also avoid collecting Proof coins. I like very low mintage Proofs struck prior to 1880 but, for the most part, I like coins that were made to circulate. In the same vein, I think I would focus on coins that were in lightly circulated grades as opposed to high end Uncirculated coins. I like a Gem coin as much as the next guy but there is something about an evenly worn, dirty EF45 to AU55 coin that really appeals to me. I know I would also focus on an era of history that was appealing to me. I also know that after all these years of focusing on gold coins, I’m going to have a pretty hard time not specializing in some sort of gold coinage.

So, at this point we are looking at business strike gold coins from the 19th century in circulated grades as the parameter of WWDC (What Would Doug Collect). For a variety of reasons, I have always been partial to coins struck prior to the Civil War, especially those produced from 1834 through the mid-to-late 1840’s. I don’t really have any preferences as to coin size, so I wouldn’t naturally be attracted to quarter eagles as opposed to half eagles or eagles. I know you are assuming that I’d select branch mint coins over Philadelphia and this is probably true although I do find the Philadelphia coins from this era to be very interesting and a really good value.

As someone who has long been an advocate of specializing and having a fairly narrow focus for a collection I’m going to actually listen to myself. I would also want to choose a series that doesn’t have any very expensive coins that I know I could never buy. I’d want coins that were scarce to rare but not impossible to find. And I’d want to be in a series where the coins were actually decent looking.

Given all of these parameters, I think that I would be a collector of No Motto New Orleans half eagles and eagles. I would want to collect both denominations and I’d try to have choice, original EF and AU coins that were evenly matched.

But I think I would also have a secondary, “cheap coin” collection as well. There would be points in time when I might not have the money for a good New Orleans gold coin or couldn’t find anything but I still had an itchy trigger finger and wanted to buy something. During these times, I’d focus on Liberty Seated half dollars (both Philadelphia and New Orleans) from the 1839-1852 era in EF and AU grades (with the occasional MS62 or MS63 thrown in for good measure).

To those of you who actually do collect New Orleans half eagles and eagles: don’t worry, I’m not going to suddenly become your competitor. But if these are your series of choice, give yourself a pat on the back and smugly tell yourself that you’ve made a choice that meets with my total approval!

Why a Motley Coin Collection Just Might Make Sense...

Numismatics is, in many ways, the Land of the Anal Retentive and collectors (and dealers) sometimes make decisions that are based more on personal obsessiveness that on sound business principles. Let me illustrate what I mean. Yesterday, I was talking to a good client about a coin that I sent him on approval. He liked the coin very much but he was worried about the fact that since it was in one of the brand new “with prong” NGC holders that it would destroy the consistency of his collection.

Being a bit AR myself, I could understand where this gentleman was coming from. If I had a specialized collection of, say, New Orleans half eagles, I could see the point of having all the coins in the same service’s holder. I could also see the point of having the coins all pedigreed, of having them in consecutive serial numbered holders, in making certain all the holders were free of blemishes, etc.

But as we were talking, I had what I thought was a Lightbulb Atop Head realization. As someone who looks a lot of collections and buys a lot of coins, I realized that for better or worse the presentation of coins is important to me.

If I see a collection where every coin is in a consecutively numbered NGC or PCGS slab, my impression (right or wrong...) is that this is a deal where someone just sent all the pieces in for grading and there is no “juice” left. Fair or not, I suddenly might become a bit concerned about the freshness of the coins and might not figure them as aggressively as I should.

If the exactly same coins were in a more random array of slabs (some NGC, some PCGS, some old holders, some new holders, etc.) I would probably be more impressed with their “freshness” and figure them more aggressively.

If you are a sensible collector, you probably just read the last two paragraphs and thought “that’s totally insane. The coins are what they are and what the #@$%^ does it matter what holders they are in?”

Good question. But until you’ve been around the coin business a while, you don’t realize how odd this market is. When you come right down to it, think how strange the whole concept of the coin business/hobby actually is. Ponder this: you are paying thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars for a small disc of metal, often with minimal intrinsic worth. The market can be thin and quirky (to say the least) and it is to your advantage to know as many of the little tricks as possible to maintain the integrity of your collection.

So before you send your New Orleans half eagle in the old PCGS green label holder or your Dahlonega quarter eagle in the slightly scuffed-up NGC holder, think twice and ask yourself it just might impact the integrity of your collection when it is time to sell.

How To "Brand" Your Coin Collection

You’re a serious coin collector. You’ve done all the “right” things. You’ve learned how to grade. You’ve become a knowledgeable specialist. You’ve worked exclusively with one or two exceptional dealers. Your collection is well on the way to being complete but you aren’t ready to sell it. What can you do in the interim to add value to it? I would suggest that proper “branding” of your collection might be the single smartest thing you can do once you’ve learned the right ways to assemble said set.

The American Marketing Association defines a brand as “a name, term, sign, symbol or design or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”

Brands play a huge role in our lives whether we choose to admit it or not. You don’t tend to buy a pair of sneakers because of their style or their supposed level of performance; you buy them because you are a Nike person or an Adidas person and you choose to display this symbol to other people; whether to seem “cool” or “informed” or for whatever other reason(s) motivate you. In the case of Nike, you might buy a pair because LeBron James endorses them. What if this was the case with coins?

A small but select group of collectors have figured out that branding, in the era of the Internet, is a way to add considerable prestige and value to their collection. What do I mean by this? Think of certain areas in the numismatic market and certain specific collectors come to mind. Lincoln Cents? Stewart Blay is the Man. Bust Half Dollars? That’s Dale Friend’s Domain. Saints? Steve Duckor is the King.

These three collectors have a number of things in common. First and foremost, they are true “collectors” in the best sense of the word. They are not guys who have barged into the numismatic arena like the proverbial 800 pound gorilla, recklessly bought and then exploded like a supernova with their remains soon consigned to a major auction. No, these are three guys who have been in their respective markets for a long, long time. In most cases, they are specialists who have maintained a fairly narrow focus which has, in turn, allowed them to be formidable buyers. They all know their strengths and limitations and they all have a trusted advisor (or two) to help them make important decisions.

What impresses me most about all three of these collectors are they ways that have branded their collections. I’m not certain that any of them sat down years ago and outlined a cunning master plan to do this; what I think has happened is that all are recognized as good guys and dealers who have clout when it comes to branding have been happy to help them. Plus it hasn’t hurt any of them that they own some really, really nice coins.

Before I discuss some of my own ideas about how to brand a collection, let me state that numismatic branding only works if you’ve got a product that merits branding. If you have a complete set of Saints and the coins aren’t very nice, it really doesn’t matter how well they are branded; they are still a schlocky set of Saints. It also matters what sort of coins you are attempting to brand. It’s still easier to brand the third or fourth finest set of Dahlonega gold coins than the best set of Sacagawea dollars.

So, here are a few ideas of how to brand your collection.

1. Become identified as an expert within your particular field. Even though Messrs. Blay, Friend and Duckor have never written a book on their respective fields, they are recognized as experts. Remember the old TV commercial that said “when E.F. Hutton talks, people listen?” Well, when Stewart Blay talks about Lincoln Cents or when Dale Friend talks about Bust Halves, their fellow collectors pay attention. These guys have put their money where their mouths are and ponied up for some incredible coins at auction or on the bourse floor. None of these guys have made a big deal about becoming an expert but, in their own quiet ways, their opinions have become extremely important in their respective fields.

Something that none of these collectors has done (yet) that I might suggest: either write the definitive book on their field of expertise or work with a knowledgeable dealer/researcher. Not that Blay, Friend or Duckor’s coins need any help but if they were the plate coins for the new standard references on Lincoln Cents or Barber half dollars or Saints this would add even greater mystique to them, in my opinion.

2. Selectively display your collection (but maintain an aura of mystery...) One of the smartest things that Stewart Blay and Dale Friend have done is to display their collection, through the auspices of the PCGS Collector’s Club, at major coin shows. To be honest with you, the Lincoln Cent series is not of great interest to me and I can count on one hand the number of Lincolns that I have bought and sold in two decades of being a professional numismatist. That said I was excited to view the Blay collection when it finally was exhibited last year. Part of the reason was that Blay had cultivated an aura of mystery about his coins over the years. Everyone said how great they were but no one seemed to have actually seen more than a few at a time. When the coins did become available for viewing, this added to their mystique; it was one of the few collections that really lived up to its hype!

Even if you choose to never display your coins in person, you can display them virtually. Let’s say you have put together a great set of Liberty Head quarter eagles. How about buying the domain name www.libertyquartereagles.com and putting together a website that becomes the “go to” source for information and images on this series?

Another thing to consider is, from time to time, displaying a few of your coins. Every year or two, Brent Pogue selectively displays a few of the magnificent coins in his collection. He never shows more than a few and he doesn’t make a big fuss about them. But after I see them, I go back to my bourse table, look at my inventory and wonder if I shouldn’t take all of my coins and toss them into the closest trash can.

3. Let the grading services help you. Both PCGS and NGC LOVE serious collectors and both need good content for their websites. That’s why they are happy to run interviews with Dale Friend (as PCGS now has on their website) or sponsor Stewart Blay’s display. I can assure you that dealers like myself with a strong web presence would love to have Steve Duckor write a detailed article about how to collect Saints or how to put together a great set of coins. What better way for a collector to brand his collection than to have PCGS or NGC write glowing articles or to feature nice interviews!