In the first installment of this multi-part feature, I discussed some of the gold dollar issues that are rarely seen with good overall eye appeal. In this, the second part, I am going to look at quarter eagles that do not generally come with good eye appeal. Note that I said "good eye appeal." This doesn't mean that I'm focusing on the rarest dates in the series. Obviously, issues like the 1841 and the 1854-S are very rare in all grades and rarer still with good eye appeal. But that's not my emphasis here. Rather, I am interested in coins that while scarce or even rare based on their overall availability, are especially rare with choice, original surfaces.
As a rule, most pre-Classic Head quarter eagles are scarce to rare in all grades and harder still to find with good eye appeal. One issue that comes to mind as a coin that is just about never seen with good eye appeal is the 1796 With Stars. As you would suppose from a coin with just 432 struck, it is a rarity in all grades. But what most people do not realize is that nearly all survivors are either unoriginal and unappealing or they show multiple planchet imperfections as on many other of the gold issues produced during this year.
The last nice 1796 With Stars to be offered for sale was Stack's-Bowers 2011 ANA: 7593, graded MS63* by NGC, that sold for $287,500. It was earlier sold as Lot 1791 in the Stack's 5/99 auction and was part of the fabulous specialized collection of 1796 coinage assembled by John Whitney Walter. But the best 1796 With Stars of them all is the incredible Gem (NGC MS65) from the Byron Reed collection that was later sold for $1,006,250 in the Heritage 1/08 auction.
Other early date quarter eagles that I believe are very hard to find with good eye appeal include the 1797 and both varieties of 1806 (1806/4 and 1806/5).
The Classic Head quarter eagle that is hardest to find with good eye appeal is a date that will surprise you: the 1839. While not a really rare coin in terms of its overall number known, this issue is rare in properly graded About Uncirculated and very rare in Uncirculated. I have only seen three or four that I would call Uncirculated and none finer than MS62. The single best 1839 quarter eagle that I have seen was Bass II: 309, graded MS62 by PCGS, that sold for a reasonable $10,925.
In the long-lived Liberty Head quarter eagle series, there are numerous individual dates that are hard to find with good eye appeal. To make it a bit easier to analyze them, I'm going to break down the series into a mint-by-mint list.
There are many Philadelphia quarter eagles of this type that are hard to find with good eye appeal. The one that comes to mind as perhaps the most difficult is the 1842. With a mintage of just 2,823, you would expect this coin to have a strong degree of overall rarity. But it is far rarer in higher grades than most collectors realize. I can't recall having seen more than four or five in any grade that I thought were above-average quality and the finest of these, by a mile, is the Superior 9/99: 1863 coin, graded MS62 by PCGS, that I purchased out of this sale for $31,050. A few years later I handled this coin again and sold it to a Midwestern collector who still has it in his world-class set of quarter eagles.
Other dates from this mint that are very hard to find with good eye appeal include the 1844, 1848, 1864, 1865, 1869 and 1870.
There are a few Charlotte quarter eagles that stand out as being especially hard to locate with good eye appeal. In my experience, the ones that are the hardest to locate are due to being poorly made. These include the 1842-C (a date that is actually not poorly made but is, rather, generally seen well worn), 1844-C, 1846-C, 1852-C and 1856-C.
The 1842-C is one of my favorite Charlotte quarter eagles. It is reasonably well made but its lack of eye appeal tends to be as a result of the fact that it was an issue that was used extensively and not saved. There are two or three known in Uncirculated (the finest is the amazing Elrod MS65 coin that was last sold by Heritage in the 2/99 sale) and a small number in properly graded AU55 to AU58.
The other dates on this list are rare with good eye appeal because they were not well made. As an example, the 1856-C is nearly always seen on poor quality planchets and with grainy, unappealing surfaces. The 1846-C is another date in which is invariably the case although there are a few more decent-looking examples around than for the 1856-C.
Eye appeal is not as much of a problem with the quarter eagles from New Orleans is it is with the other branch mints. That said, there are still a few issues that are hard to locate with good appeal. One that comes to mind is the 1856-O.
This is a peculiar date. It is not rare from an absolute standpoint as there are as many as 200-300 known. For some reason, this issue is extremely hard to find with original color and surfaces and even a nice AU55 to AU58 is very hard to find. In Uncirculated, this date is extremely rare. There are at most four to five known and none are better than MS62. It has been years since an Uncirculated example has been available.
Other New Orleans quarter eagles that are hard to find with good eye appeal include the 1842-O, 1845-O and 1846-O.
There are a number of Dahlonega quarter eagles that are hard to find with good eye appeal. I would have to say, though, that one date is notorious for lacking eye appeal. In fact, this date is so rare with "eye appeal" that I'm not certain that a good-looking example exists. This date is the infamous 1865-D.
Only 874 examples were produced, making the 1856-D the only issue of any denomination from this mint with a mintage lower than 1,000. Due to improper preparation of this dies (and possibly the planchets as well) every known example of this date has an appearance that could be called--charitably--"odd." The strike is weak and blurry and the surfaces are often rough and full of raised defects. This makes the 1856-D an extremely hard issue to grade and a hard one for the non-specialist to appreciate.
Other Dahlonega quarter eagles that are very hard to locate with good eye appeal include the 1840-D, 1842-D, 1854-D, 1855-D and 1859-D.
The final mint that produced quarter eagles was San Francisco. The issues from this facility tend to be well made but there are a few that, for various reasons, are hard to locate with good eye appeal.
In my experience, the San Francisco quarter eagles that are hardest to locate with good eye appeal are the Civil War issues, especially the 1862-S and the 1863-S. There are a few plausible reasons for this. To begin with, they are low mintage coins. As with all gold coins of this era, they were melted in large quantities. And because of the fact that no quarter eagles were struck in San Francisco during 1864, the 1862-S and 1863-S seem to have circulated a little harder and a little longer than other dates of this era. Both of these dates are seldom found above AU55 and even when seen in comparatively high grades, the tend to exhibit bright, abraded surfaces. Choice, original pieces are rare.
Some of the other San Francisco quarter eagles that are not often seen with good eye appeal include the 1859-S, 1860-S and 1866-S.
There are dozens of date in the quarter eagle denomination that are hard to locate with good eye appeal. Not all of these are expensive and a few, the 1839 as an example, can be found in presentable grades for around $1,500.
For more information on quarter eagles with or without good eye appeal, please feel free to contact Doug Winter via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To my way of thinking, early gold coins (i.e., those struck prior to 1834) and among the most collectible and interesting areas in all of American numismatics. No, these coins aren't cheap and they are, in reality, somewhat overvalued when you compare them to many mid-19th century Liberty Head issues. But there is a pride-of-ownership factor associated with owning a 200 year old gold coin that you get from nothing else. 1. An Overview
When we refer to "early gold," this typically includes quarter eagles, half eagles and eagles produced at the Philadelphia mint from 1795 through 1834. I'd also like to include the Classic Head coinage of 1834-1838 as these pieces are more affordable and this article will then be of greater relevance as it will cover a more broad scope of collecting budgets.
The various types of early gold are as follows:
Quarter Eagle: No Stars on Obverse, 1796 only Quarter Eagle: Capped Bust Right, 1796-1807 Quarter Eagle: Capped Bust Left, 1808 only Quarter Eagle: Capped Head Left Large Size: 1821-1827 Quarter Eagle: Capped Head Left Reduced Size: 1829-1834 Quarter Eagle: Classic Head, 1834-1838
Half Eagle: Capped Bust Right, Small Eagle, 1795-1798 Half Eagle: Capped Bust Right, Heraldic Eagle, 1795-1807 Half Eagle: Capped Bust Left, 1807-1812 Half Eagle: Capped Head Left Large Size, 1813-1829 Half Eagle: Capped Head Left Reduced Size, 1829-1834 Half Eagle: Classic Head, 1834-1838
Eagle: Capped Bust Right, Small Eagle, 1795-1797 Eagle: Capped Bust Right, Heraldic Eagle, 1797-1804
The total number of types that most collectors pursue are fourteen. This includes six each of the quarter eagle and half eagle, and two eagles. The rarest and most expensive of the individual types are the 1796 No Stars and 1808 quarter eagles, and the 1829-1834 Capped Head Left, Reduced Size half eagle. For each of these three types, "entry level" coins will approach six figures and choice, significant pieces can run into the mid-six figures.
2. What to Buy to Get Started
Before you begin an early gold collection, I think its a good idea to spend $500-1,000 putting together a library of reference works.
The best book for new collectors is the Bass/Dannreuther reference that is published by Whitman. While it is oriented more towards die varieties than general collecting, it is still an extremely useful book.
I have written some good general articles on collecting early gold and these can be found in both the "articles" and "market reports" section of my website.
There are not many other books that deal specifically with early gold. The Akers books on United States gold coins are out-of-date but still of use. And the Harry Bass Research Foundation website (hbrf.org) has wonderful images of extremely choice gold coins in all three denominations, including extremely rare Proofs and specimen strikes.
One of the best sources of information for collectors of early gold are auction catalogs. Some of the sales held during the last few decades that had very strong holdings of early gold include Eliasberg (1982), Norweb, Bass, Keston, the "Apostrophe" sales, Archdiocese of Buffalo, Ed Price and many of the Heritage FUN and ANA Platinum night sessions. Do a search on the web for coin book dealers (there are a number of good ones) and ask for their help in putting together a nice group of 15-20 catalogs that are essential additions to any early gold library.
3. Deciding What to Collect
After you've decided to collect early gold, your next question is what direction is your collection going to take.
Basically, there are two paths that a new collector can take: collecting by type or specializing in a specific series and collecting by date. The path you take will depend on your budget.
Collecting early gold coins by date is ambitious (to say the least) due to the number of very rare coins in each of the three denomination. A date collection can be modified and made less expensive by deciding to collect only by date and not by variety. As an example, a collector working on early quarter eagles might opt to purchase only an 1804 with 14 stars on the reverse due to the fact that the 13 star variety is very rare and very expensive.
The decision to collect early gold is, of course, predicated on a collector's budget. If the collector has a reasonably modest budget, my suggestion would be to focus on the half eagles struck between 1800 and 1812 in the Extremely Fine and About Uncirculated grade range. This is a great date run as there are no rare issues (except for varieties) and every coin will be available in the $7,500-12,500 range depending on grade.
If a collector has a healthy budget available, the possibilities are almost limitless. A high quality type set, featuring one example each of the fourteen issues listed above, would be challenging and numismatically significant.
Two sets that I have been able to work on for clients are date runs of quarter eagles from 1796 to 1834 and Capped Head Left half eagles from 1813 to 1829. These are both truly challenging. There is a tremendous amount of subtle strategizing inherent in both sets as they include many issues that might come up for sale once every three to five years. It can be hard to figure out what to pay for a very rare date whose last auction record was as much as a decade ago!
4. Where to Buy
As a collector you have two options on where to purchase your early gold coins: from a specialist dealer or at auction. As a dealer who specializes in early gold, I obviously would suggest that you buy from me, but the answer is not so cut and dry.
Early gold can be quite complex to collect. Many early gold coins have been cleaned or "doctored" and it takes an expert to determine which are nice for the grade and which are average. This is an area that a collector would be smart to deal with a specialist and he will need to do some research into who he should buy from, as there are only a handful of United States coin dealers who really know the intricacies of the early gold market.
Certain very rare early gold coins are almost never offered for sale except at auction, so the auction market is always going to be a factor for the collector. I suggest hiring a dealer and paying him a standard 5% fee for viewing and executing bids.
Be forewarned that you are never going to buy a good coin "cheaply" at auction. Auctions are best used to pursue very rare coins or very high grade coins. They may not be the best source for more run-of-the-mill pieces (and I am not saying this in a derogatory sense) which a specialist dealer will have access to at more reasonable prices.
Some auctions are great sources for early gold coins because they offer pieces with impressive pedigrees. I am an advocate of buying early gold with strong provenance when possible and, for better or worse, many such coins wind-up in auctions. I know of at least a few collectors who are as interested in early gold coins with pedigrees and they are in the coins themselves. They would consider buying a duplicate or even a triplicate of an issue they already own because it has a great pedigree.
5. CAC or non-CAC?
There are areas of the rare coin market that CAC has made strong inroads on and others where it has had little or no impact. In my opinion, early gold is an area where CAC has made a very strong impact. CAC typically rewards originality and as the vast majority of early gold coins aren't original, CAC examples are often selling for premiums that range from 5% to 20%.
I think the early gold coins that are most impacted by CAC approval are common date pieces in higher grades. So many of the Capped Bust Right and Capped Bust Left half eagles that I see in MS63 to MS65 holders have been played-around with that I think a CAC stickered coin is an important purchase for the inexperienced collector.
I think CAC stickers are not as important on very rare early gold coins and more common issues in lower grades.
If you are looking at an early gold coin with a total population of a few dozen coins, you are not able to be as selective as with an issue which has hundreds of coins surviving. While I would never suggest buying a very rare early gold coin with problems (such as damage, signs of harsh cleaning, repairs, etc) I would (and will continue to) buy a coin like an 1804 14 star reverse quarter eagle or a half eagle from the mid-1820's that was decent-looking but not nice enough to be approved by CAC.
I also note less of a premium being given to less expensive early gold coins with CAC approval but I wouldn't be surprised if this changes as buyers of these coins are becoming more sophisticated and want nicer quality pieces.
6. Value Plays/Best Value Grades
Every collector wants to buy coins that are good value. Collectors of early gold are no different. There are some issues that I think are very good values. (important note: I think that any properly graded, choice early gold coin with natural surfaces is a good value but the following list are coins that are the best values).
Virtually all pre-1834 quarter eagles are rare and until a few years ago, they were priced at levels similar to the far more available half eagles of this era. This isn't the case anymore and a nice example of a reasonably available date of the Capped Right design (such as the 1802, 1805 or 1807) is now a $15,000-20,000 coin.
Early quarter eagles that I find to be undervalued include the 1798 (the only relatively affordable 18th century issue) and the 1806/4.
I like the Capped Head Left type of 1821-1827 and find this to be the most undervalued early quarter eagle type. Survival rates tend to be low and the five issues of this design are often overlooked. My two favorite dates of this type are the 1821 and the 1826/5.
There are so many early half eagles that I feel are undervalued that instead of listing them by date and discussing them, I'm going to focus on "best value grades" instead.
For circulated coins, I like AU55 and AU58 grades. An early half eagle graded AU55 to AU58 is going to show minimal wear and have a decent amount of remaining luster. There isn't a huge price spread between an AU50 and an AU58 common date early half eagle (the spread right now is a few thousand dollars at most) and if you are collecting half eagles by type, it makes sense to me to go for an AU55 or AU58.
In the Uncircuated grades, I tend to shy away from MS60 and MS61 coins (which are often "rubby") and stick with MS62's which, for the most part, are actually "new."
For type collectors with higher budgets, a nice MS64 early half eagle typically makes more sense to me than an MS65 at multiples of the price. The last few common date early half eagles that I have sold in MS64CAC have been nicer than some of the low-end MS65 non-CAC coins that I've seen offered at auction.
Since there are not many early eagles, there are few coins that I regard as undervalued. Among the common dates, I actually prefer the 1799 to the 1801 or the 1803 given its 18th century origin.
7. Let's Not Forget Classic Heads....
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that I wasn't going to overlook the Classic Head quarter eagles and half eagles. These designs were produced from 1834 to 1838 at the Philadelphia, Charlotte and Dahlonega and New Orleans mints. The branch mint issues include the 1838-C, 1839-C, 1839-D and 1839-O quarter eagles as well as the 1838-C and 1838-D half eagles.
The great thing about Classic Head gold is its affordability. As an example, I just sold an absolutely beautiful 1834 Classic Head half eagle graded AU55 by PCGS and approved by PCGS for just a touch over $2,000. Nice examples of most of the Philadelphia quarter eagles and half eagles of this type can be obtained for $2,000-4,000. Even Uncirculated examples, at least in MS60 to MS62, are not out of the price range of most early gold collectors.
I would suggest that if you are purchasing a Classic Head gold coin for type purposes that you be extremely selective. These coins are not rare and really nice examples can be found with patience. Pay a little extra for original coins with great color and, if possible, buy a slightly better date like an 1837 quarter eagle or an 1836 half eagle for just a small premium over the common 1834.
Classic Head gold can be collected in a number of different ways. You can buy just two coins and have a complete type set, or you can buy eleven coins and have complete year sets of both denominations. The addition of the branch mint issues will add some cost to a Classic Head collection, but these issues are still affordable in the EF40 to AU50 grade range.
8. Some Final Words
Its hard to convey in 2000~ words the ins and outs of collecting early gold coins, but hopefully this article will serve as motivation to become involved in an aspect of the hobby that I find fascinating. If you have any specific questions about early gold, please feel free to contact me via email at email@example.com and I will do my best to answer them.
I handled some very interesting coins at this year's Boston ANA show. One of the ones that I thought was the most interesting was the Garrett specimen of the 1808 quarter eagle; a coin that was both very rare from a numismatic standpoint and historic from the standpoint of its pedigree.
The 1808 quarter eagle is a one-year type with a mintage of only 2,710. It is actually a less rare coin that other quarter eagles of this era but it is famous due to its status as a one-year type and, along with the 1796 No Stars, it is probably the most famous and desirable issue.
I would estimate that there are around 100-125 examples known in all grades. When available, the 1808 quarter eagle tends to be in lower grades and examples with nice, original coloration are really rare. There are a few very choice pieces known, the finest of which is the ex Dr. Judd coin owned by a Dallas family and graded MS65 by PCGS. The second finest is a PCGS MS63 that was most recently sold as Stack's 11/08: 4176 (at $517,500). A few other Uncirculated pieces are known as well.
The Garrett 1808 quarter eagle has a great background. It was sold as Lot 742 in Bowers and Ruddy's famous Garrett I auction, held in March 1980, where it was graded "Extremely Fine-40." It sold for $30,000 which was a strong price for a circulated 1808 quarter eagle at the time. The Garrett family had obtained it from the collection of Dr. Edward Maris who was far more famous for his study of New Jersey copper coins than for his gold issues.
This coin next appears at auction as Bowers and Merena 10/04: 606 where it brought $80,500. It then sold for $94,875 as ANR 3/06: 1421. Two years later, it went for $103,500 as Lot 1894 in Heritage's 2008 ANA sale. I purchased it at the ANA at a private sealed bid sale.
The Garrett 1808 quarter eagle is now owned by a specialist in early quarter eagles who appreciates its originality and pedigree. My thanks to him for allowing me to handle this wonderful coin and for being able to share it with you.
There are a few relatively unknown but numismatically significant varieties of early United States gold coinage that I think are likely to be included in comprehensive collections of these issues as they become more popular with collectors. Here are a few of the "secret" varieties that I would suggest collectors be on the lookout for. 1798 Close Date and Wide Date Quarter Eagles. Despite this date's low mintage figure, it remains undervalued in comparsion to the other 18th century quarter eagles. There are two distinct varieties known. The more avilable and better known of the two is the Wide Date (BD-2) on which the four digits in the date are quite widely spaced. An easy way to distinguish this variety is by the presence of five berries on the reverse. There are an estimated four to five dozen known in all grades.
The "secret" variety for this year is the Close Date. This variety has only four berries on the reverse. It is very rare in all grades with around two dozen or so known.
1825 Close Fraction and Distant Fraction Quarter Eagles. There are not many die varieties in the short-lived Capped Bust Large Size type of 1821-1827 but there are actually three varieties for the 1825.
Two of the varieties show a distant fraction on the reverse with the numerals relatively far from the fraction bar. The more common (BD-2) has a 5 in the date that leans far to the left and which is placed below the 2. The rarer variety (BD-1) and the 5 more upright and even with the 2. There are as many as 90-100 known of the former while the latter remains very rare and apears to have fewer than ten accounted for.
The third variety of 1825 quarter eagle (BD-3) has the same reverse as seen on the 1826 quarter eagle with a very close fraction where the numerals touch the fraction bar. It is also very rare, although not as much so as BD-1. I would estimate that around a dozen exist.
In the half eagle series, there are many interesting "secret" varieties; enough so that I am only going to mention a few here.
1795 Small Eagle Half Eagles. There are no less than dozen varieties of 1795 Small Eagle half eagles known. To me, the most interesting are the blundered reverse with the the final S in STATES erroneously punched over a D. There are two die varieties known that have this impressive reverse.
The first variety, BD-5, is recognizable by the left side of the 1 in the date touching the curl. It is extremely rare with fewer than ten known. The second variety, BD-6, has the date free of the curl. This is a much more available coin with as many as 75-90 pieces known. The S/D in STATES half eagles do not generally sell for a premium but they have a very high "coolness" factor due to the spectacular blunder on the reverse that is easily visible to the naked eye.
1798 Half Eagles. The 1798 Large Eagle half eagles are fertile ground for variety collectors. There are coins with a Small or "Normal" 8 in the date as well as those with a Large 8. The Large 8 coins exist with thirteen and fourteen stars on the reverse.
The "secret" variety is the 1798 Large 8 with fourteen reverse stars. While this variety already sells for a premium over the more common Large 8 with thirteen stars, what makes it interesting is that there is only one die variety known (BD-3). Only three dozen or so exist in all grades and the importance of this coin as a distinct naked-eye variety is only now being understood by specialists.
1799 Half Eagles. This is another very fertile year for variety collectors with an amazing nine varieties known. Seven of these have small reverse stars while two have large stars on the reverse.
The "secret" variety for 1799 half eagles is the large reverse stars. There are two die varieties known. The first, BD-5, is easy to recognize by the last 9 being too high and recut to the right. There are two to three dozen known. The second, BD-8, has the last 9 even with the first and there is no recutting. This variety is slightly rarer overall and it appears to be extremely rare in high grades.
There are a number of varieties in the half eagle series produced from 1800 through 1807 but these tend not to generate as much collector interest. In a future blog, I will be discussing the ones that have the greatest appeal to me.
During 2009, I wrote a series of “ten rarest” articles on all the major denominations of Liberty Head gold coinage. These articles were well-received and I enjoyed producing them. It’s a logical progression to apply this topic to the early gold series. Except it’s not quite that easy. The eagle denomination is very short-lived (1795-1804) making a ten rarest study impractical. And the ten rarest early half eagles contain a host of issues that are so rare that collecting them becomes impractical. That leaves us, for the sake of practicality, with just early quarter eagles. Five designs of quarter eagle were produced between 1796 and 1834. There are a total of 23 distinct issues and even the most available of these is rare by the standards of American numismatics. Early quarter eagles have always been undervalued and under collected in comparison to their larger-size counterparts. This has changed somewhat in the last few years as price for early quarter eagles have risen; along with most early coins in general.
Each of the ten rarest early quarter eagles is very hard to locate and a few of them are even six-figure coins in most grades. But what is most intriguing about this list is the fact that a collector with a good deal of patience and a solid coin budget could actually assemble a complete top ten list; something that certainly can’t be said for half eagles.
The list of the ten rarest early quarter eagles is as follows: 1. 1804 13 Stars 2. 1834 No Motto 3. 1797 4. 1806/5 5. 1796 With Stars 6. 1798 7. 1826/5 8. 1824/1 9. 1827 10. 1833
1804 13 Stars: The 1804 13 Stars is clearly The Big Kahuna of early quarter eagles. In my opinion, it is the single rarest quarter eagle of any date or denomination, eclipsing such rarities as the 1841, 1854-S and 1863.
Estimates range slightly on the number of examples known but I think it’s safe to say that the low number is around eleven while the high might go up as high as fifteen. Most are in lower grades. There are probably not more than four or five in the various AU grades and none in Uncirculated. There have been ten auction records for this issue in the last twenty years. The two finest are Heritage 7/09: 1209 (PCGS 58) and Heritage 7/08: 1459 (NGC 55). Both brought $322,000. I purchased the PCGS 58 coin as an agent and it is now in an Eastern specialist’s early quarter eagle collection. The other choice example is in the Bass core collection.
Dannreuther and Bass estimate that between 250 and 1,003 examples of this variety were produced. I am inclined to believe that the number is on the low end of this scale; maybe somewhere in the area of 250-500.
1834 With Motto: Viewed strictly as a year, the 1834 is the rarest early quarter eagle (there are specific varieties, such as the 1804 13 stars listed above, that are rarer). There were 4,000 struck but nearly all were melted due to economic conditions and a weight change of gold coins in 1834. Today, it is likely that around 20 or so survive including at least a few Proofs. Most are in the VF to EF range and properly graded AU coins are very rare. I think that there are three or four in Uncirculated as well as three or four Proofs.
This date has always been underrated and not especially well-known outside of the specialist community. My guess is that it is confusing to beginning collectors that the 1834 also exists in the more familiar Classic Head design and that the latter is a common coin even in comparatively high grades.
The all-time auction record for the 1834 With Motto was set all the way back in 1980 when the Garrett II Proof sold for $60,000 (it would bring many times this today if offered for sale).
1797: The 1797 has long been one of my personal favorite dates in the early quarter eagle series. The mintage is reported to be just 427 coins (although Dannreuther and Bass believe it may be as high as 585) and there are probably not more than two dozen or so known to exist in all grades.
All 1797 quarter eagles have a very distinctive obverse die crack in the right field which can be seen even on very low grade coins. This crack does not affect the quality of strike and most are reasonably well-defined on both the obverse and the reverse.
The probable finest known is Superior 11/05: 484, graded MS64 by NGC, that brought $276,000; a record price for this date. I am aware of two other Uncirculated coins: a PCGS MS62 and the Bass coin, which grades at least MS60 if not higher, that is in the ANA Museum.
Given this coin’s rarity and lack of availability, I believe it is undervalued; especially in comparison to such better known (and less rare) issues as the 1796 No Stars and the 1808.
1806/5: Two distinct varieties are known for 1806 quarter eagles. The more common is an 1806/4 overdate with thirteen obverse stars arranged eight by five. The rarer is an 1806/5 overdate with the obverse stars arranged seven by six. Only 480 of the latter were produced and there are around 30 or so known today. This variety is numismatically interesting as it uses the exact dies of 1805 but after they had been annealed and overdated.
When available, the typical 1806/5 quarter eagles grades in the EF40 to AU50 range and has poor overall eye appeal. There are probably around three or so known in Uncirculated and the finest appears to be ANR 6/05: 1004 ($195,500), ex Goldberg 2/03: 1900 ($120,750).
Very presentable examples of this variety are still available for less than $50,000 which, in my opinion, is good value for a coin with such a low original mintage figure and with so few survivors.
1796 With Stars: The 1796 is the fifth rarest early quarter eagle. Surprisingly, it is not even the best known quarter eagle produced in 1796 as the No Stars has, for many generations, received greater acclaim. But the With Stars is considerably rarer.
There were 432 produced and I believe that no more than 40-45 are known. There are as many as five to seven known in Uncirculated including one Gem, graded MS65 by NGC (ex Heritage 1/08: 3059, Heritage 1/07: 3382 and Byron Reed). This coin brought $1,006,250 the last time it sold; the second highest price ever realized at auction for any quarter eagle.
As I mentioned above, the No Stars variety has, for many years, been more highly priced—and prized—than the With Stars. This is due to the fact that the former is a distinct one-year type. The pricing gap has closed considerably and this makes sense as the With Stars is at least twice as rare as the No Stars.
In my opinion, the 1826 is one of the rarest and most underrated early quarter eagles. Most every “fact” that is traditionally associated with this issue is incorrect. I recently purchased a lovely PCGS AU55 example (see the photo below) from the Bowers and Merena Baltimore auction acting as an agent for a collector who is attempting to put together a high quality date set of early quarter eagles. It had been quite a while since I had owned a nice 1826 quarter eagle and this inspired me to gather some facts about this issue.
For many years, the 1826 quarter eagle has been called an “1826/5” overdate. This is clearly wrong and there is a very easy way to prove this. The 1825 obverse die employs large stars while the stars on the 1826 are far smaller. In addition, there is no evidence of an overdate when the date is examined with light magnification. I believe there is either some minor recutting or a small die defect. This issue should more properly be called an 1826/6.
The mintage figure has long been reported to be just 760 coins. Given the fact that around thirty or so exist, I feel that this figure is incorrect. It is probable that some of the quarter eagles struck in early 1827 were dated 1826. The actual mintage figure is more likely in the area of 1,250-1,500; possibly as many as 1,750.
One thing that is certain about this date is its rarity. It is the third rarest early quarter struck after 1797, trailing only the extremely rare 1804 13 Stars and the 1834 No Motto. As I stated above, there are an estimated thirty pieces known. Most are in the lower AU grades, indicating that this issue did not see much actual circulation. I am aware of two or three Uncirculated pieces and none of these, with the possible exception of one coin, appears to be finer than MS61.
The finest known 1826 quarter eagle is in the Harry Bass core collection at the American Numismatic Association. It has an incredible pedigree (Garrett 2: 746, ex Appleton, Mickley) and it sold for $75,000 back in 1980 which remains an auction record for this issue. I estimate this coin’s grade to be at least in the MS61 to MS62 range. The second highest price that I am aware of is $69,000 for a PCGS AU58 sold by Stack’s in their November 2008 auction.
I have personally handled one Uncirculated example, a PCGS MS61 that I sold to a specialized early gold collector around three or four years ago. In all, PCGS has graded fifteen 1826 quarter eagles including three in Uncirculated (an MS60 and two in MS61). NGC has only graded seven in all including six in AU58. It is very likely that this includes a number of resubmissions.
To put the rarity of this issue in better perspective, the 1826 quarter eagle is a considerably scarcer coin than the 1796 No Stars or the 1808. It is clearly not a more valuable coin as both the 1796 and the 1808 are distinctive one-year types that are very desirable as such. The 1826 is clearly the rarest of the five Capped Bust Large Size quarter eagles produced between 1821 and 1827. But, the type collector is likely to select one of the more available dates (like the 1825) which means that the 1826 will probably remain undervalued for the foreseeable future.
Dually popular as a one-year type and a first-year-of-issue, the 1796 No Stars is among the most desirable early United States gold coins. It is actually less rare than its With Stars counterpart but it is traditionally valued more highly and is certainly held in greater esteem by most collectors. Its low mintage, unique design and numismatic significance combine to make it an issue that is considered a cornerstone of any collection of early United States gold coins. STRIKE: Virtually all known examples are weak at the centers. On the obverse, this weakness is seen on the ear, the hair above and below the ear and the curls surrounding the face. About half of the 1796 No Stars that I have seen are weak on the E in LIBERTY. Some have detail on the obverse border while others show little or no definition on the denticles in this area. The obverse generally appears weaker than the reverse. This is not so much a function of strike is it is the design of the coin. The openness of the No Stars obverse causes this side to wear easily. The reverse is often weak on both the top and the base of the eagle’s neck. On some, the tip of the tail is weak; on others it is sharper. The tip of the left wing is always flat and the entire left wing appears less detailed than that on the right. The right claw is usually weak as well. The reverse denticles are typically visible from around 7:00 to 2:00 and hard to see or invisible from 3:00 to 7:00.
SURFACES: The surfaces often show numerous small marks in the fields but this issue tends to be a bit less abraded than the 1796 With Stars. Many have adjustment marks that range from light and unobtrusive to heavy and detracting.
LUSTER: This issue has a very distinctive type of luster. It is typically frosty with a somewhat subdued appearance. The fields are usually semi-prooflike and this is in contrast to the frosty texture of the devices. Many 1796 No Stars quarter eagles have been cleaned and show impaired luster as a result. There are some higher grade pieces that have a majority of the luster present and the one Gem that is known has magnificent thick, frosty luster.
COLORATION: The typical color for this issue is medium to deep yellow gold with a prominent olive undertone. A number show (or at least showed this before they were dipped) a nice coppery hue that was somewhat iridescent when tilted into a light source. As recently as a decade ago, it was possible to find a nice original Extremely Fine or About Uncirculated example with fully or nearly full original hues. Today, most of these have been processed or conserved and attractive 1796 No Stars quarter eagles with natural color are very rare.
EYE APPEAL: The typical 1796 No Stars quarter eagle actually has better overall eye appeal than many of the other early dates of this denomination. At one point, there were enough nice middle grade pieces to satisfy most collectors. Now, many of these coins have been conserved and rest in third-party slabs where they are enthusiastically graded, to say the least. That said, it is still possible for the patient collector to locate a reasonably attractive example for his type set or date set.
DIE CHARACTERISTICS: The left sides of the LI in LIBERTY are lightly recut. Most examples have a number of die cracks on the obverse with the most prominent located at the obverse rim around 9:00 extending crookedly into the field. On the reverse, there is an intermittent die engraver’s line from the top of the right wing through the tops of AMERI in AMERICA.
DIE VARIETIES: There are two varieties known.
Variety 1 (BD-1): The arrows reach to the foot of the I in UNITED. This variety is extremely rare with just four to six pieces.
Variety 2 (BD-2): The arrows reach to the end of the N in UNITED. This is by far the more common of the two varieties.
RARITY: Total Known: 90-110 By Grade: Very Fine: 10-15 Extremely Fine: 42-45 About Uncirculated: 33-43 Uncirculated: 5-7
AUCTION RECORD: The auction record for this issue was set by Heritage 1/08: 3058. This coin brought $1,725,000 which is the highest price ever paid at auction for any early United States gold coin. Higher prices have been paid, of course, via private treaty.
SIGNIFICANT PIECES: There are an estimated five to seven known that qualify, in my opinion, as being truly Uncirculated. These include the following:
1. Private collection via John Albanese, ex Heritage 1/08: 3058 ($1,725,000), Madison Collection via Heritage Galleries, ANR 6/05: 1002 ($1,380,000), Midwestern collection, Stack’s 11/95: 1498 ($605,000), Lelan Rogers collection, Stack’s 5/64: 1660, Phillip Ward collection, University of Pennsylvania, R.C. Brock collection, NY Coin and Stamp 6/1890: 719, Lorin Parmelee collection. Graded MS65 by PCGS.
2. Pogue collection, ex Stack’s 5/99: 1787 ($276,000), John Whitney Walter collection, Bowers and Ruddy 3/80: 732 ($125,000), obtained via private treaty from Harold Newlin in 1884. MS62 to MS63.
3. Stack’s 7/08: 2324 ($488,750), ex ANR 7/04: 82 ($345,000), Oliver Jung collection via Midwestern dealer, James Swan collection. Graded MS62 by PCGS.
4. Heritage 8/06: 5417 ($322,000). Graded MS61 by PCGS.
5. Heritage 7/08: 1451 ($276,000), ex Ed Price collection. Graded MS61 by PCGS.
As of July 2009, PCGS has graded three in MS61, three in MS62 and one in MS65 for a total of seven in Uncirculated. NGC has graded two in MS60, five in MS61, three in MS62, one in MS63 and one in MS65 for a total of twelve in Uncirculated.
The 1796 No Stars is probably the best known and most desired early quarter eagle. It is not as rare as the With Stars issue but its status as a one-year type and a first-year-of-issue leave it in heavy demand. There are approximately 100 known in all grades with the typical piece being in the Extremely Fine-40 to About Uncirculated-50 range. Properly graded high end AU coins are quite rare and the 1796 No Stars is very rare in Uncirculated with fewer than ten known. There is one Gem known.
For many collectors, the decision to focus on early United States gold coins is an easy one. These are some of the rarest, most historic and aesthetically appealing pieces ever produced by the United States mint. Once the decision has been reached to begin a collection of these coins, how do you start? This article seeks to focus on the steps required to begin an early gold collection, offers some suggestions on how to collect these coins and charts a course to help new collectors avoid some of the common mistakes that are often made with early purchases. The term “early gold” refers to those issues struck between 1796 and 1834. There are three denominations: the quarter eagle, half eagle and eagle. Breaking these down further, the following types are known:
Quarter Eagles: Capped Bust Right (1796-1807), Capped Bust Left Large Size (1808), Capped Head Left Large Size (1821-1827), Capped Head Left Reduced Size (1829-1834). Total of four types.
Half Eagles: Capped Bust Right Small Eagle (1795-1798), Capped Bust Right Heraldic Eagle (1795-1807), Capped Bust Left (1807-1812), Capped Head Left Large Size (1813-1829), Capped Head Left Reduced Size (1829-1834). Total of five types.
Eagles: Capped Bust Right Small Eagle (1795-1797), Capped Bust Right Heraldic eagle (1797-1804). Total of two types.
In all, there are a total of eleven major types of early United States gold.
Before we discuss suggestions on ways to collect early gold, there are a few important points that I would like to address.
The first is, not surprisingly, budget. Collecting early gold is not for the collector on a shoestring numismatic budget. Just about any decent quality early gold coin is going to cost in the $7,500-12,500 range. Many of the types listed above start at around $25,000 and quickly shoot upwards. If you are not able (or comfortable) spending this sort of money, than early gold is probably not for you.
The second is quality. As someone who has looked at a lot of early gold, I can tell you that only a small percentage of surviving coins are choice and original. I think it is hugely important to assemble an early gold collection that is oriented towards coins with choice, original surfaces. This is not always going to be possible. There are certain individual rare dates that are virtually impossible to locate with original surfaces and other very expensive issues that the collector may have to compromise his standards. That said, it is my belief that an early gold collection with a small number of lovely original pieces is more inherently desirable than a large collection full of mediocrity. This is one area where CAC certification is important as CAC- approved early gold coins tend to be well above average for the grade and, in most cases, represent what I would consider to be collector quality.
One last thing to mention is the “reality factor” of your collection. As I mentioned above, collecting early gold is not for the faint of heart. These coins are expensive and if you are collecting by date or by series, once you buy the “easy” issues, you’ll have to step up to the plate for some serious wallet busters. If you are not a patient, meticulous collector you won’t have the right mindset for early gold. Even a collector with an unlimited budget is going to have to wait a few years to find a very rare issue like a 1797 Small Eagle half eagle and if the collector is picky, the wait could be three, four or even five years. Collecting early gold is not like Peace Dollars where you can race willy-nilly through a set in thirty days; even if you have an ultra-aggressive dealer helping you through the process. If the thought of working on a challenging set for ten+ years gives you the Numismatic Willies, then stop reading here!
Now that we’ve gotten the warnings out of the way, let’s look at some suggested ways to collect early gold. I’m going to make a few suggestions and list the pros and cons for each.
1. Collecting By Type: For many collectors, the best way to collect early gold is to acquire one nice example of each of the major eleven types. Clearly, the stoppers here are the 1808 Capped Bust Left quarter eagle and the 1829-1834 Capped Head Left half eagle. The former is a one-year type with an original mintage of just 2,710 and a surviving population that is estimated to be in the area of 125-150 coins. Compounding this situation is the fact that attractive comparatively “affordable” examples are very rare and the few that do exist do not trade frequently. The Capped Head half eagles struck from 1829 to 1834 are rare not because of low mintages but due to wholesale melting in 1834 after the weight of gold coins was reduced. All six of the half eagles that feature this design are rare and most of the coins that exist are in comparatively high grades.
The other types in this set are fairly easy to acquire. The set can, of course, be made considerably more difficult to complete if the collector is seeking very high grade coins. But most of these types are comparatively affordable in the lower Uncirculated grades and most are within the reach of collectors of average means in circulated grades.
PROS: It is exciting to think that every coin in this set is different in design. There are only eleven coins and this makes it a realistic project for many collectors. Most of the types are available in higher grades.
CONS: Type collectors may not study early gold in enough depth to become experts. Collectors will have to purchase an 1808 quarter eagle which is an issue that some experts feel is overvalued.
2. Collecting By Denomination: As mentioned above, there are just three denominations of early gold: quarter eagles, half eagles and eagle. Many collectors decide to collect a specific denomination. There are pros and cons for each. For some collectors, the quarter eagles are too small and they prefer a larger, heftier coin. For nearly all collectors, the half eagles are extremely challenging as there are a number of extremely rare and expensive coins and at least one issue (the 1822) is unlikely to become available in our lifetime. The eagle denomination is short-lived but it contains a total of fourteen distinct issues produced from 1795 to 1804.
An early gold set that specializes in a specific denomination is generally focused on quality. It can prove difficult to be consistent with grades in such a set due to the rarity of many individual coins. As an example, in an eagle set most collectors will be able to purchase a 1799 in Uncirculated. But the rare 1798/7 issues are not only very expensive in Uncirculated, they are exceedingly rare. My advice when specializing in a specific denomination is to stretch on the key issues and not to overdo it on the more common dates. In other words, buy the nicest possible 1798/7 but don’t go crazy when it comes to the 1799 or 1801.
PROS: Focusing on a specific denomination allows a collector to become very well-acquainted with an area of the market and this will allow him to become a more informed buyer of coins. Most of the early gold denominations include a number of different types so this collection will have a good deal of variety over the course of time.
CONS: Collecting by denomination can prove to be very costly due to the extreme rarity of many early gold coins.
3. Collecting by Date: Perhaps the most ambitious way to collect early gold is to choose a denomination (or denominations) and to assemble a set that includes one example of each date that was produced. Depending on the resources and ambitions of the collector, this can include prominent varieties for each year as well (such as a Pointed 6 and Knobbed 6 half eagle from 1806).
I just mentioned that resources are a key when it comes to a date collection of early gold. This is especially true for the half eagle; a denomination that includes a host of coins that will run in the six figure range. However, what is interesting about this denomination is that if the collector pretends that the impossibly rare 1822 “doesn’t exist,” this set is actually completable. It isn’t easily completable, mind you, but it can be completed by the collector with lots of money and lots of patience. The other two denominations are easier to finish. The quarter eagle denomination has some rare individual issues but nothing that is impossible. The eagle denomination could even be completed in a reasonably short period (less than a year) if the collector gets lucky and finds the two rare 1798/7 issues.
PROS: A date set is a great way to carefully assemble a well-matched set. I believe that a complete or virtually complete date collection would gain value as a set and it could be well-marketed by a dealer or an auction house.
CONS: There really aren’t any cons except if the collector gives himself an incompletable project. If you are set on completing a date run of half eagles from the 1820’s and 1830’s you need to be wealthy and patient.
4. Exotic Collecting: There are some other ways to collect early gold that are a bit more on the “exotic” side. Some suggestions include a first/year last year set, an 18th century set, a pedigree set and a best-available-coin set. Here are brief descriptions of each.
A first year/last year set has coins made in the first and last years of each denomination and/or type. As an example, a first year/last year date set for quarter eagles would have a 1796 No Stars and an 1834. This could be expanded and it could include a 1796 With Stars and an 1807 to represent the first and last issues of the Stars Obverse type of 1796-1807.
An 18th century set would, obviously, focus on those issues produced prior to 1800. It might include a number of denominations and not be limited to just quarter eagles or half eagles.
A pedigree set would focus on early gold coins with important pedigrees. It might include coins from famous early gold collections sold within the last few decades (Eliasberg, Bass, Norweb, Ed Price, etc) or it might have coins that, through plate matching, can be shown to be from famous older collections from the 1950’s and earlier.
A best-available-coin-set is a group of coins that the collector buys just because he likes them. It might feature an assortment of early gold chosen for their originality or for their outstanding coloration.
PROS: These exotic sets are fun because they are unique to a specific collector. The parameters behind assembling them are not as rigorous as for some of the more clearly defined sets described above.
CONS: Don’t make a set so exotic that you are the only person that “gets” it. Run your idea(s) by your dealer and see what they think.
Collecting early gold is one of the really great areas in American numismatics. I would love to help you assemble a great set of early gold and have lots of experience in this area. For more information please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.