There are many ways to collect Charlotte gold. Some people have only a mild interest in these coins and may buy just one or two pieces. Other people are more serious and they have a large number of Charlotte issues in their collection. A small number of Charlotte collectors are obsessives who focus exclusively on these pieces and do not collect anything else. I would like to make some suggestions on how to collect Charlotte gold. In my experience, all of these ideas have merit and none is “better” than the other. It depends on the tastes and budget of an individual collector to determine which one(s) is right for him. I. THE INTRODUCTIORY THREE COIN SET
The most basic way to collect Charlotte gold is to purchase a single example of the gold dollar, quarter eagle and half eagle denominations. This is a very good way to collect for the individual who has a limited budget or who is not certain how deep his interest lies in Charlotte gold.
A basic three coin set of Charlotte gold should consist of nice, problem-free pieces. It would make sense to focus on the more common dates although some collectors might prefer to include some scarcer issues. The grade range for these coins is likely to fall in the Extremely Fine-40 to About Uncirculated-58 range.
The 1851-C is the most logical choice for the gold dollar in this set as it is the most common and affordable date. A pleasing Extremely Fine can be obtained for $1,500 or so. About Uncirculated pieces range from $1,750 to $3,500 depending on quality.
The optimum quarter eagle for this set is the 1847-C as it is the most common date of this denomination from Charlotte by a large margin. A nice Extremely Fine example costs around $2,000 while About Uncirculated coins range from $2,500 to $4,000. It is possible to upgrade to a much scarcer date without paying a substantial premium. As an example, the 1843-C Large Date sells for around the same price in Extremely Fine as does the 1847-C but it is much harder to locate.
In About Uncirculated, the 1847-C used to be much less expensive than all other Charlotte quarter eagles but the price spread has diminished in the last few years. This, in my opinion, makes dates such as the 1843-C Large Date, 1848-C and 1858-C very interesting alternatives, especially in the lower range of the About Uncirculated grades.
There are many dates in the half eagle series that would work well in this type set. These include the 1849-C, 1852-C, 1853-C and 1858-C. Any of these can be purchased in nice Extremely Fine for around $2,500 while About Uncirculated coins are priced in the $3,000-6,000 range.
An alternative to the standard three coin set would be to purchase the same date for all three denominations. This is feasible for issues dated 1849-C, 1850-C, 1851-C and 1852-C. A set from 1855 could also be assembled but the gold dollar and the quarter eagle from this year are quite expensive in higher grades.
II. THE BASIC AND EXPANDED TYPE SETS
A type set of Charlotte gold coins includes one example of each major type struck at this mint. Such a set includes the following:
- Type One gold dollar (1849-1853)
- Type Two gold dollar (1855 only)
- Type Three gold dollar (1857 and 1859)
- Classic Head quarter eagle (1838-39)
- Liberty Head quarter eagle (1840-1860)
- Classic Head half eagle (1838 only)
- Liberty Head, obverse mintmark half eagle (1839 only)
- Liberty Head, reverse mintmark half eagle (1840-1861)
A total of eight types were struck at the Charlotte mint. This includes three that were struck only in one year. A complete eight piece type set is an excellent display item. The various designs used in striking these coins provide a graphic illustration of the artistic and historic record of the Charlotte mint.
Most collectors who assemble an eight piece Charlotte type set do so in grades ranging from Extremely Fine-40 to About Uncirculated-58. This set could be completed in Uncirculated but it would be very difficult to do given the rarity of the 1838-C Classic Head half eagle in Mint State.
The coins that are included in a Charlotte type set are generally the more common dates. Some collectors use better dates in order to make their sets more interesting and potentially more valuable. I would strongly recommend that the collector include at least a few better dates.
A nicely matched Extremely Fine set should cost approximately $25,000-30,000. The most expensive coins in the set are the 1838-C half eagle, the 1839-C half eagle and the 1855-C gold dollar.
A set that consists of all eight coins in About Uncirculated-50 to About Uncirculated-58 can be assembled for approximately $50,000-100,000+. The cost could be significantly reduced if the Type Two gold dollar and the 1838-C and 1839-C half eagles were nice Extremely Fine coins as opposed to About Uncirculated-50 or better.
III. COLLECTING BY DENOMINATION
Each of the three denominations struck at the Charlotte mint are popular with collectors. For various reasons, some of which will be discussed below, some collectors feel an affinity towards a specific denomination.
Collectors generally love or hate the gold dollar. The small size of this coin (13 or 15mm. depending on the type) sharply divides the collecting community. Some collectors find it hard to fathom paying thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars to pay for a coin that is the size of an average adult’s thumbnail. Another negative factor about Charlotte gold dollars is the crudeness with which they were struck. If you are not a specialist it may be tough to “get” a coin that is this crude.
The reasons that cause some people to dislike gold dollars are the same reasons that other people like them. Their crudeness has an odd allure and their small size gives them a distinct charm.
Collectors also like gold dollars because of their low mintage figures. With the exception of the 1851-C, each issue from Charlotte has an original mintage figure of 14,000 or less. Four of the eight have mintages lower than 10,000.
On a coin by coin basis the Charlotte gold dollar series is relatively affordable. A set of eight coins in Extremely Fine should be completable for approximately $20,000. Every Charlotte gold dollar can be found in About Uncirculated grades without great difficulty. The only obstacles to completing a set in this range are available funds and the level of fussiness that a collector brings to the set. Figure on spending $35,000-40,000+ for a mid-range About Uncirculated set and double this amount for a very high end About Uncirculated set.
A complete set in Uncirculated could be assembled but it would be difficult due to the rarity of the 1855-C and 1857-C. Assuming that these two issues are available, a complete set in Mint State-60 to Mint State-63 could be assembled for $100,000-150,000+.
The Charlotte quarter eagles are the most challenging of the three denominations. Assembling a set of these requires patience and dedication. Many are very rare in higher grades. Others have peculiarities of strike that make it hard to find pieces with good eye appeal. The rarest Charlotte quarter eagles are the 1842-C, 1843-C Small Date, 1846-C and 1855-C. These are hard to find in all grades and rare in properly graded About Uncirculated.
There are a total of twenty issues in the Charlotte quarter eagle set. This includes two varieties from 1843: the Small Date and the Large Date. No quarter eagles were produced at this mint in 1845, 1853, 1857 and 1859.
It is a realistic goal to complete this set in Extremely Fine grades. The cost of such a set would be in the area of $55,000-65,000. In About Uncirculated this set is still realistically completable but assembling an attractive, well-matched set requires time and patience. It is not unrealistic to set aside a budget of as much as $250,000 for a world-class About Uncirculated set for choice, high end coins with original surfaces. Completing a set of Charlotte quarter eagles in Uncirculated is possible but exceptionally difficult. There are a number of issues such as the 1839-C, 1842-C, 1848-C, 1849-C and 1856-C that have extremely few truly Mint State pieces known to exist.
A complete set of Charlotte half eagles consists of twenty-four coins. This includes two varieties struck in 1842 (the Small Date and the Large Date) and none in 1845.
The half eagles are the most popular denomination from this mint. One of the reasons for this has to do with the relatively large size of these coins. Another has to do with the fact that every issue except for one (the rare 1842-C Small Date) is reasonably easy to obtain in the higher circulated grades.
A set of nice Extremely Fine Charlotte half eagles should cost in the neighborhood of $100,000-125,000 with a good chunk of this set aside for the 1842-C Small Date. A complete set in About Uncirculated is challenging but less difficult than for the quarter eagles. A set of well-matched, original Charlotte half eagles in About Uncirculated would require a budget of approximately $200,000-250,000+. Completing a set in Uncirculated is very difficult but not impossible. The stoppers in this set include the 1838-C, 1840-C, 1842-C Small Date, 1846-C and 1854-C.
IV. ASSEMBLING A COMPLETE SET OF CHARLOTTE GOLD
Some collectors get hooked on Charlotte gold and decide to assemble a complete set. A complete set of Charlotte gold is generally understood to contain the following:
- Gold Dollars: A total of nine issues struck between 1849 and 1859. One of these, the 1849-C Open Wreath, is excessively rare with just four or five known to exist. Because of its rarity, it is not included in most sets but it is still regarded as an important member of the Charlotte series.
- Quarter Eagles: A total of twenty issues produced between 1838 and 1860.
- Half Eagles: A total of twenty-four issues struck between 1838 and 1861.
The final cost of assembling a complete set of Charlotte coinage (minus the excessively rare 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar) is within the reach of many collectors. A set that focuses on nice Extremely Fine coins would cost approximately $200,000. A set that consists of nice About Uncirculated coins would cost anywhere from $600,000 up to $800,000+.
Due to new discoveries and relaxed grading standards it is now possible for a collector to assemble a complete set of Charlotte coins in Uncirculated grades.
To the best of my knowledge, no collector has assembled a totally complete set of Charlotte gold in Uncirculated. I know of at least two or three collectors who have assembled the complete set (including the extremely rare 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar) but none of these have contained Uncirculated examples of this variety.
The finest collections ever assembled of Charlotte coins include the Stanley Elrod collection (sold privately in 1994 and now, unfortunately, split into numerous parts), the Paul Dingler collection (which included the only known complete set of Mint State Charlotte quarter eagles and half eagles; it was purchased by Heritage Coin Galleries and myself a few years ago) and the William Miller collection (sold by Heritage at auction in 1999).
In my recent April newsletter I mentioned one of my rare coin theories: EEEES or Easy Explanation Equals Easy Sales. In the spirit of wacky acronyms, here’s another one for you: TFSB or the Theory of Frontloaded Set Building. Assuming that you are collecting coins with the completion of some sort of set as a goal, you are probably building your set the wrong way. Typically, collectors are stingy when it comes to key issues and they tend to overdo more common issues.
Here’s an example of what I mean. When I have the chance to look at a complete set of coins (whether it is a date/mintmark run or a type set) the first thing I do is look at the keys. If someone has a date set of Dahlonega half eagles, I am going to be much more interested in how their 1861-D looks than their 1847-D. In nine cases out of ten I find that the 1861-D is one of the lowest grade coins in the set and generally has poor eye appeal while the more mundane 1847-D is among the nicer coins.
If I were building this set I would do the exact opposite. I would have the 1861-D be among the nicer coins in the set (perhaps even the nicest) and not worry as much about the less rare coins.
One of the reasons I find the Duke’s Creek collection of Dahlonega gold to be interesting is that it was (knowingly) assembled using the TFSB. As an example, in the gold dollar set, the two best coins are the 1855-D and the 1861-D. This makes sense since they are the two rarest. Now think about how the overall impact of the collection would have been if these same two coins were the lowest grade members of the gold dollar date run. Still an impressive set, no doubt, but not nearly as memorable as a set in which the two keys coins are also the two highest ever slabbed by a third-party grading service.
One of the negative impacts of Registry Mania is the tendency for people to get carried away about common coins in uncommon grades. In order to score more registry points, collectors will pay very high premiums for common coins, just to get some needed set value points. Rare gold coins are not really affected by this (yet) but it is possible that Registry Mania could force future collectors to make some purchases that do not adhere to the TFSB. I would caution any set collector to weigh his decisions carefully and to always save his “stretches” for the key date coins that will add panache to a set over the long term.
When it comes to collecting United States gold coins, does size matter? For better or worse, I’m afraid it does. Most new collectors of gold coins are immediately attracted to big coins, especially double eagles. The classic entry position for most collectors is to buy some gold bullion, then graduate to something semi-numismatic like a Krugerrand or a Maple Leaf then to St. Gaudens or Liberty Head double eagles. This has been a pattern that many companies have pushed through their marketing.
When someone is new to collecting and spending a few thousand dollars on a coin for the first time, it is difficult to understand the concept that intrinsic value has little bearing in the world of rare gold. But this is exactly the reason why most new collectors shudder when they think about spending $5,000 on a small coin like a gold dollar or a quarter eagle.
There is another factor at work that keeps values of smaller coins below their larger counterparts. As most well-heeled collectors approach middle-age (or beyond) their eyesight no longer allows them to carefully view a small coin. Paying $5,000 for a gold dollar that you can’t even see keeps the average 50-60 year old collector away from little coins.
But there is a loyal group of collectors who like little coins. Just like some dog owners prefer mixed breeds to pedigrees (after watching the Westminster Dog Show last night I just had to make a dog reference…) some collectors like little coins for exactly the reasons that others do not: they are irrestible little “rogues” that require a bit more work to love than their bigger brethren.
I think some of the best values in the market are in the smaller-sized denominations. There are many gold dollars and quarter eagles that are superb values (feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll provide you with a list of ten undervalued gold dollars and quarter eagles) especially when compared to eagles and double eagles. I will continue to actively buy and sell these smaller denomination coins—as long as I can still see them!