Coins That I Never See With Good Eye Appeal, Part Three: Three Dollar Gold

In the third installment of this multi-part article, I'm going to delve into a series that has its share of issues that are not often seen with good eye appeal: three dollar gold. As a series, there are not many individual issues that are rare from an absolute sense. But I can think of a number of issues that are hard to find with a good overall appearance. I. 1854-O and 1854-D: These two issues are inexorably linked due to their status as the only three dollar gold pieces made at southern branch mints. The first is a common coin in nearly all circulated grades with a relatively high mintage figure of 24,000. The latter is regarded as among the rarest issues in the series with only 1,120 produced.

The 1854-O has a reputation among collectors as a condition rarity. There are hundreds and hundreds of pieces known in the VF-EF range and even a decent quantity in the lower AU grades. It becomes rare in properly graded AU55 to AU58 and it remains a very rare issue in Uncirculated with probably no more than five or six known.

But of the hundreds and hundreds of examples known, very few have good eye appeal. This is for a number of reasons. The first has to do with the fact that most 1854-O threes are struck from a late state of the dies that show lapping and re-polishing. This has removed some detail and made the reverse appear to be weakly struck, even on higher grade coins. In addition, the vast majority of 1854-O threes have been cleaned or dipped. It is possible to find a reasonably nice, original EF40 to EF45 example but choice, natural AU coins are quite scarce.

The 1854-D is another issue that is not well made. While this might add to the charm of the issue, it also makes it frustrating for collectors who seek well-detailed, "fresh" appearing coins. This is compounded by the fact that the vast majority of surviving 1854-D threes have been cleaned or dipped and many have been repaired or subtly altered as well. My best estimate is that out of the 125 or so examples that exist, less than 10% are "original" in the strict sense of the word. These coins should command a significant premium versus the typical quality for the issue. In my opinion, a choice, original 1854-D three dollar gold piece with good color and choice surfaces should command at least a 20% premium.

2. 1855-S and 1860-S:

With the exception of the 1856-S, none of the San Francisco three dollar gold pieces are frequently encountered with good eye appeal. This is due to a number of factors. The first is that none of these issues had especially high original mintage figures and the survival rate is low. Secondly, these issues were used in commerce in Gold Rush era San Francisco and as a result were not handled with care. A lack of collector interest meant, of course, that there was no one around to save coins and even the usual "save a few for souvenirs" scenario doesn't apply to them.

The 1855-S is comparable to the 1854-D from the standpoint of overall rarity. It is extremely scarce in properly graded AU55 to AU58 and extremely rare in Uncirculated. I think that no more than three or four Uncirculated examples are known. The finest appears to be the PCGS MS62 in the Great Lakes collection; the second is the ex Pittman 2: 1889 coin, graded MS61, in the South Texas collection. Despite the rarity of this date with good eye appeal, it is surprisingly affordable. I have sold two nice EF examples this year for around $3,000.

The 1860-S is an interesting issue for a number of reasons. It is the last obtainable three dollar gold pieces from this mint and it is rarer than the original mintage figure of 7,000 suggests; it is believed that as many as 2,592 were found to be underweight and later melted. I believe that only 100-125 are known today and examples with original color and surfaces are really hard to find.

The 1860-S is actually a tiny bit more available than the 1855-S in Uncirculated with as many as five or six known. The best of these include Eliasberg: 285, Bass II: 672 (graded MS62 by PCGS) and the Great Lakes coin which is in a PCGS MS61 holder. Most of the AU coins that I have seen are bright, heavily abraded and not appealing. The few Choice AU's that have sold in recent years have not realized significant premiums over typical examples and the savvy collector should consider this the next time he sees a pleasing 1860-S three dollar gold piece.

1865 and 1877:

One of the things about collecting this denomination is that the Philadelphia issues tend to be well made and they are generally available in relatively high grades. But there are clearly a few issues that are not only rare from the standpoint of total known but which are seldom seen with good eye appeal. In my experience, the two that stand out are the 1865 and the 1877.

The 1865 has a tiny mintage of 1,140 and it is likely that not more than 75-100 are known. This date tends to come two ways: really nice or really not nice. The finest known is a superb NGC MS67* from the Jewell Collection that sold for $57,500 in May 2005. Two PCGS MS66's exist as well. The five or six Gem 1865 three dollar gold pieces have great color, luster and eye appeal and are among the nicest Civil War era gold coins of any denomination. But these are locked away in tightly-held collections and the typical example is apt to grade EF45 to AU55 with very abraded semi-prooflike surfaces and clear signs of recent cleanings and/or processing.

The 1877 also has a small mintage; just 1,468 in this case. It is a bit more available than the 1865 in terms of overall rarity but it is harder to find in high grades. The finest known is a PCGS MS64 in the Great Lakes collection that is ex Heritage 6/11: 4602 at $80,500; it was earlier ex Bass II: 696 where it went reasonably in 1999 for $32,000. This is the only really choice 1877 three dollar gold piece known. There are an additional five or six coins in the MS60 to MS62 range This date is generally seen with prooflike surfaces that are very abraded and frequently show hairlines from mishandling.

There are other dates that I certainly could have added to this list. The 1858, 1867 and 1869 are three issues that are seldom found with good eye appeal. And the 1873 Closed 3 is an extremely hard date to find in any grade, let alone with natural color and surfaces.

For more information on three dollar gold pieces that are seldom seen with good eye appeal, please feel free to contact me at dwn@ont.com.

Some of My Favorite Obscure United States Gold Coins: Part One

One of the things about the Christmas/New Year's holidays is that they are a time of remembrance. If you are a coin dealer (and if you've been one for as long as I have...) this is a good time to sit around and get all nostalgic about interesting coins that you have seen or sold. I originally thought about writing an article that talked about the great U.S. gold coins that I have sold over the years. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a disingenuous puff piece and I think one of the reasons that people like to read my web articles is that they are not simply written to extol the virtues of Douglas Winter Numismatics. So, what I've decided to do instead is to modify the article but keep the basic theme. I'm going to discuss three interesting coins from each denomination that are, in my opinion, extremely important but not necessarily that well known. A few are coins that I've handled but most aren't. And none are currently for sale or are likely for sale anytime in the near future.

I. Gold Dollars

a) 1849-C Open Wreath Gold Dollar, Graded AU58 by PCGS

This coin is important to me for a number of reasons. I sold it back in 1999 via private treaty to another dealer who then sold it to a collector who resides in the South. It is still in this collection and it is still in the same old green label holder that it has been in since 1997.

The 1849-C Open Wreath is the rarest gold dollar and it is, by far, the rarest coin from the Charlotte mint. There are five examples known. One has been graded higher than this coin (an NGC MS63PL that was sold by David Lawrence Rare Coin Auctions in July 2004 as Lot 1005 in the Richmond I sale; it brought $690,000) but I personally like this piece more on account of its superb original color and unmolested surfaces.

This coin was part of the North Georgia collection that I sold in 1999 in conjunction with Hancock and Harwell. Jack Hancock was a good friend of mine and he died far too young. Jack and I did alot of business together and had a lot of non-coin related fun at shows and at his house in Georgia. The aforementioned 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar was the most expensive--and neatest--coin that the two of us ever handled together and whenever I think of this coin, I think of my buddy Jack.

b) 1863 PCGS MS68

I first saw this coin a number of years ago in David Akers' case at a show. Dave has owned it for a number of years and he likes to display it, from time to time. Its never really been for sale but its a coin that I find remarkable for a n umber of reasons.

The 1863 is one of the truly rare Philadelphia gold dollars. It has a much lower survival rate than the other Civil War issues and it is especially rare in Uncirculated. While a decent MS62 to MS64 trades from time to time (I sold a lovely NGC/CAC MS64 earlier in the year) Gems are extremely rare. But the Akers coin is just amazing. It is one of the finest business strike gold dollars of any date that I have seen with incredible luster and color and nearly perfect surfaces. The fact that it is really rare and really gorgeous makes it a very special coin.

c) 1875 PCGS MS65

This coin sold in the February 2010 Heritage sale as lot 1427. I had heard about it years ago but had never actually seen it. I wasn't disappointed. The coin is a total Gem with superb natural coloration atop gorgeous prooflike surfaces. It is housed in an older green label holder and would likely upgrade a point if it were resubmitted. The coin sold for $109,250 which I felt was extremely aggressive buy, as the old cliche goes, where are you going to find another one like this at any price?

The 1875 is a rarity in all grades with an original mintage of just 400 business strikes. When available, it tends to come in the AU range and I have never personally seen another Gem (and only a handful of nice Uncirculated coins).

This was another coin that, like the 1863 I mentioned above, neatly combined rarity, high grade and superb eye appeal in one neat package.

2) Quarter Eagles

a) 1842 PCGS MS62

The 1842 is among my favorite quarter eagles. It is a rare date in all grades. Only 2,823 were struck and most of the three to four dozen that exist are well worn. Which is why I think this coin, graded MS62 by PCGS and very choice for the grade by today's standards, is among the more interesting Liberty Head gold coins that I have ever handled.

I've actually owned this coin twice. I first bought it out of the Superior 9/99 auction where it brought $31,050. I sold it to a Nevada specialist who considered it one of the prizes of his quarter eagle collection. I purchased his entire collection from him in 2002 and then sold this coin to a Midwestern collector who has, without much fanfare, assembled the greatest set of quarter eagles ever assembled (and I'm proud to say that I've built essentially his whole set!)

I would love to have this coin in my case at a major show. I think it would be a great litmus test for dealers and collectors who fancy themselves experts on U.S. gold coins. If you are a true expert, you are going to swoon when you see a coin like this 1842; if you are a faux gold coin expert, you'll walk right on by and not even look twice.

b) 1842-C PCGS MS65

There are a small number of coins like this 1842-C quarter eagle: items that are not only spectacular from a condition standpoint but which are very rare as well. This 1842-C quarter eagle, which is best known to specialists as the Elrod coin (it was owned by the noted Charlotte gold expert Stanley Elrod from 1980 to around 1992) is not only the single best Charlotte quarter eagle of any date that I have seen. It is also the finest known 1842-C quarter eagle by a mile and it is one of just two or three examples of this date that exist in Uncirculated.

This coin last appeared for sale as Heritage 2/99: 6146 (as an NGC MS65; it was subsequently crossed into a PCGS MS65 holder) where it brought $90,850. I was the underbidder and this is one of the few expensive coins that I have ever bid on at auction with the total intention of buying it for myself and putting it away. Had I bought it I'm not sure I would have sold it yet and the current owner, a Southern connoisseur who does not specialize in branch mint gold, was smart enough to realize the significance of this coin.

c) 1864 NGC MS67

I have written about the Byrod Reed sale that was held by Spink's in October 1996. This is a sale that I'd love to be able to travel back in time to and spend about ten times more money than I actually did. Prices, at the time, seemed high but, in retrospect, they were dirt cheap. The most amazing thing about the coins in this sale where how fresh they were. You are talking about coins that had lain undisturbed since the 1870's or 1880's....ahhh, be still my heart.

There were numerous terrific coins in the Reed sale but the coin I remember most was the 1864 that was cataloged as "Gem Brilliant Uncirculated." It was by far the best example of this very rare date that I had ever seen (and there is still nothing even close). It later graded MS67 at NGC and sold for $132,000 in the auction.

I don't think this coin has traded in many years and I'm not certain where it is today. Whoever owns this coin has one of the really great Civil War rarities and it is a piece that I think might bring an extremely strong price if offered today.

3) Three Dollar Gold Pieces

a) 1854 PCGS MS68

You'll have to bear with me on this coin as I don't totally recall all the facts behind it. I do remember that the coin turned up at a small coin show in Dallas in the mid-1980's and I missed buying it by about five minutes, much to my chagrin. The coin was submitted to PCGS around 1987 and it graded MS67; back when MS67 meant , essentially, perfection.

Now here's where my memory is a bit murky. I think this coin was sold in the Superior January 1990 sale for $132,000 which, as you can guess, was an amazing price for a common date Three Dollar gold piece; still is, in fact. It was eventually sold to John Moores, the owner of the San Diego Padres, and it was in his incredible type collection that was sold by Sotheby's in November 1999 to raise money for Scripps Hospital. As with all the coins in this sale, it went very cheaply at $57,500. It finally resurfaced as Heritage 6/04: 6219, graded MS68 by PCGS, where it brought $112,215.

This is easily the finest business strike Three Dollar piece I've ever seen and it may be the best pre-Civil War gold coin I have seen as well. It has amazingly clean surfaces, glowing luster, a razor sharp and as much eye appeal as you could hope for. 1854 Threes come nice but, man, this coin is something special.

b) 1854-D PCGS MS62 This is not the most valuable Three Dollar gold piece (the 1870-S holds that honor) but it is clearly a coin that has very widespread appeal and would be considered desirable even by someone who owned no other examples of this denomination. This is a coin that is universally considered to be the finest known 1854-D and it resides in the incredible Great Lakes collection which is easily the finest set of business strike Three Dollar pieces ever assembled.

This coin last appeared for sale in the Superior January 1996 sale where it sold for a reasonable $72,600. It was later upgraded to MS62 by PCGS.

While it has been fifteen years since I've last seen this coin, I remember it well. It had superb color and surfaces and was well-made for the issue. At the time, it was the only 1854-D three that had ever been graded Uncircuclated by PCGS. Since then, PCGS has graded a few more in Uncirculated (as has NGC) but this is still the only example that I uncategorically regard as Mint State.

c) 1865 NGC MS67*

Its not so much the specific coin that I remember in this case; its more the collection and the thrill of the research that went with it.

This coin was one of the centerpieces of the wonderful Richard Jewell Collection of Three Dollar gold pieces. I assembled this collection with Rich from 2002 to 2004 and in the beginning of 2005, I was informed it was for sale. I decided to place it in the ANR March auction. As part of the agreement, it was decided that I would write a book about Threes with the Q. David Bowers.

Dave Bowers has been a hero of mine since I was a kid and the thought of working on a project with him was exciting, We had to race through the book due to time constraints but the day a finished Doug Winter/Dave Bowers book on Three Dollar gold pieces arrived at my office was one of the numismatic highlights of my career.

Part 2 of this article will cover half eagles, eagles and double eagles and it will be published on my website in around 30 days.

Which Gold Coins Are Popular and Why: Part One

A question that I am often asked by new collectors is "which gold coins are popular?" I think this is a great question and one certainly deserving of a blog. I'm going to not only answer this question for each denomination, I'm going to give a few reasons why I think certain coins/types are or are not popular. I. Gold Dollars

People tend to be in one of two camps when it comes to gold dollars: they either love them or they hate them. This is mainly due to these coins small size. I am clearly in the "love 'em" camp and have, over the years, handled many finest known and Condition Census pieces.

In my experience, the most popular gold dollars are the Dahlonega issues. Produced from 1849 through 1861, they are very collectible and a number of the issues are quite affordable. The most popular is the 1861-D which, at this point in time, is the single most popular gold dollar of any date. This is clearly due to this coins historic significance.

At one time, the Type Two issues were extremely popular with date collectors. But the values of the 1854 and 1855 Philadelphia issues have dropped considerably in recent years. At the same time, the branch mint issues of this design (1855-O, 1855-C, 1855-D and 1856-S) have become exceedingly popular.

Type Three gold dollars tend to be overlooked but offer the collector a number of very good values. The best known--and most popular--issue is the ultra-low mintage 1875.

II. Quarter Eagles

As a denomination, quarter eagles are fairly popular and they are clearly increasing in popularity each year.

The pre-1834 issues are all rare. They are not as popular as the half eagles and eagles of this era but there are a number of people who specialize in them and they are seldom overlooked when offered for sale. The most popular early dates are the 1796 No Stars and the 1808. Both are one-year types that have low original mintage figures.

The dates in the 1790's are always popular due to their historic significance and their overall rarity. I am personally a big fan of the Capped Head Left type produced from 1821 to 1827. There are only five dates, and these are hard to locate in all grades.

The Classic Head quarter eagles have become quite popular in the last few years and I expect that they will continue to grow in stature as more becomes known about them. The branch mint issues are the most popular. None of these is really rare (except in the upper Mint State grades) and collectors appreciate the unique positioning of the mintmark on the obverse. There are a total of ten Classic Head issues.

The Liberty Head quarter eagle series is popular as it is one of the few 19th century gold series that can actually be completed. There are a few rarities: the 1841, 1854-S and 1863 are all six-figure coins and many of the branch mint issues are very rare in Uncirculated.

In my experience, the most popular Liberty Head quarter eagles are the Dahlonega issues. The rarest is the 1856-D. None are common in higher grades but this series can be completed with time and patience and this makes it popular with specialists.

The San Francisco quarter eagles seem to be the least popular issues of this type; discounting, of course, the very rare 1854-S. I attribute this lack of popularity to the fact that there is no published reference work on San Francisco gold. These coins tend to be relatively available in lower grades but nearly all of the issues from the 1850's, 1860's and the early 1870's are very rare in Uncirculated.

The Indian Head quarter eagle series is probably the most familiar type of quarter eagle due to the availability of these coins. Unlike the 18th century issues, the Indian Head coins are readily available in higher grades.

For a number of years, this series was extremely popular due to an excellent promotional effort by one firm. This firm is no longer focusing as much attention on these coins and prices have dropped.

I personally like the design of the Indian Head quarter eagle and I find fresh, high grade examples to be very cosmetically appealing. But, to be honest, the availability of these coins make them a bit boring to me and I have never really found locating any of the dates to be enough of a challenge to get me interested.

III. Three Dollar Gold

The popularity of this odd denomination tends to ebb and flow. A few years, Threes were very popular with collectors. Today, they are not as popular and appear to be an excellent area for the contrarian.

My guess is that most people would agree with me that the 1854-D is, hands-down, the most popular issue in this series. It is the only Three from this mint and it has a small original mintage of 1,120. It is certainly the only date of this type that seems to have broad appeal outside of the realm of specialists.

The 1875 and 1876 are Proof-only issues that are rare and popular. But many three dollar collectors feel it is OK to exclude these from their set and focus exclusively on circulation strikes.

The ultimate three dollar is the 1870-S which is unique and housed in the ANA money museum in Colorado Springs. When and if this coin becomes available for sale, I would expect it to sell for a strong seven-figure price.

Some of the demand that was created for this denomination a few years ago was artificial as it was generated by telemarketers. I would expect that if a really nice specialized collection of three were to become available, new collectors would come back to this series and you'd see a more "pure" level of demand.

IV. Half Eagles

This denomination has incredible variety and breadth. Some collectors find it overwhelming while others appreciate the challenges afforded by the half eagle.

The early dates (pre-1834) are generally divided into two categories: the semi-affordable and the not-very-affordable. The Small Eagle coins from 1795 to 1798 include few of both. The most popular issue is the 1795 Small Eagle due to its status as the very first half eagle produced. It is can be found without a great effort.

The Heraldic Eagle type of 1795-1807 includes a number of great rarities but many of the issues (especially those struck after 1799) are available and surprisingly affordable. The Capped Bust Left type of 1807-1812 is very collectible and there are no "stopper" issues.

Almost nothing but "stoppers" can be found in the 1813-1829 Capped Head Left issues. The best known issue is the 1822 of which just three are known. Many of the other issues (like the 1815, 1819, 1821, 1825/4 and 1829 Large Date) are extremely rare and almost never offered for sale.

The reduced size Capped Head Left issues of 1829-1834 are also extremely rare, despite relatively high original mintage figures.

For many collectors, the earliest half eagles that they focus on are the Classic Heads of 1834-1838. I really like this series as it is short-lived, nicely designed and a nice bridge between the expensive "old gold" issues and the more ubiquitous Liberty Head coins. The two branch mint Classic Head half eagles (1838-C and 1838-D) are extremely popular but affordable and available in circulated grades.

Liberty Head half eagles are found with two types: the No Motto issues from 1839 through 1866 and the With Motto issues from 1866 to 1907.

No Motto half eagles range from not very popular to very popular. As one might expect, the most popular issues are those from the southern branch mints. The order of popularity seems to be Dahlonega solidly in the lead followed by New Orleans and lagged by Charlotte.

Branch mint No Motto half eagles tend to be seen usually in the Very Fine to Extremely Fine grades. Even the common dates tend to be hard to locate in properly graded About Uncirculated and all are scarce to rare in Uncirculated. I personally believe that there is some excellent value to be had with both the branch mint and Philadelphia No Motto issues, especially in higher grades.

The With Motto half eagles are less popular with collectors with one big exception: the Carson City issues that were produced from 1870 through 1893. The 1870-CC is far and away the most popular Carson City half eagle due to its status as the first year of issue from this mint.

There are a few very rare issues in the No Motto series including the 1875 and the 1887 but these tend to be somewhat overlooked due to the extreme availability of many of the post 1880 Philadelphia and San Francisco dates.

The final half eagle design is the attractive Indian Head made from 1908 to 1929. Despite this coin's beauty, it is probably the least popular of the four "modern" 20th century gold series. I'd say part of this lack of popularity has to do with the rarity of many Indian Head half eagles in high grades. Even the most common Philadelphia dates are scarce in MS64 and above and nearly all of the San Francisco issues are very rare to extremely rare in MS64 and above.

The most popular Indian Head half eagle is the 1909-O. It is well-regarded due to its status as the only Indian Head half eagle from New Orleans.

In part two of this article, we'll look at eagles and double eagles.

An Analysis of Values of Gem Three Dollar Gold Pieces: The Heritage 5/09 Sale of the American Princess Collection

In their recent May 2009 Central States auction, Heritage sold a number of very important high grade Three Dollar gold pieces. These were from the American Princess collection which, to the best of my knowledge, was one of the top collections of business strike Three Dollar gold pieces to ever be assembled. By looking at a few of these coins and analyzing the prices they sold for, we can get a better handle on the state-of-the market for very high grade Three Dollar gold.

Full disclosure notice: I sold a number of these to the owner of this collection between 2003 and 2006. I am familiar with the quality of the coins, the prices that he paid for them and their background. In the interest of confidentiality, I won’t mention what the consignor paid but will, instead, focus on what the coins sold for and try to place this within the context of what I expected them to bring in auction and how this relates to the current market.

1855, Graded MS66 by NGC. Sold as Lot 2681 by Heritage, this coin brought $40,250. There are two Superb 1855 Threes known: a PCGS MS66 in the Great Lakes Collection and the coin in the American Princess collection. This is the best 1855 that I have personally seen and I thought it had a good shot to cross as it was very fresh and had great eye appeal. The last auction record for a comparable example was in the 2000 ANA sale where an NGC MS66 (which I don’t think was this piece but am not certain if it isn’t the Great Lakes coin prior to crossing) sold for $25,875. With common date NGC MS66 three dollar gold pieces currently selling in the area of $25,000 I think that the American Princess coin brought a pretty strong price, all things considered.

1861, Graded MS67 by NGC. Sold as Lot 2685 by Heritage, this coin brought $51,750. This is the single highest graded 1861 three dollar seen by either service. It is certainly one of the best two I have seen. I don’t think the coin would have crossed to MS67 at PCGS but not as much because of the quality as the fact that PCGS just doesn’t like to cross MS67 gold coins. The best comparable was the PCGS MS66 sold as Heritage 1/05: 30639 at $46,000. I felt at the time that this MS66 1861 sold cheaply and it was, as I recall, a coin that was sold without reserve at around 3:30 in the morning after a Platinum Night sale that dragged on and on for what seemed an eternity. I thought that the 1861 in the Central States sale would bring in the area of $55,000 so in my opinion the buyer got a pretty good deal. If the coin does wind-up in a PCGS MS67, he got a great deal, as a “population one, none better” example of this scarcer issue could be worth as much as $75,000 to the right buyer.

1871, Graded MS64 by PCGS. Sold as Lot 2687 by Heritage, this example sold for $13,800. I wasn’t wild about this coin from a quality standpoint but I thought it was acceptable for the grade. Trends for the 1871 in MS64 is a very high $30,000 so, from a value perspective, this coin sold very reasonably. As a comparable, Heritage sold a PCGS MS64 back in their June 2004 auction for $13,800. Given the fact that prices for this series appear to have drifted back to their 2004-2005 level, $13,800 is probably exactly the right amount of money for this coin. That said, the buyer (a very smart dealer from the West Coast) is likely to do very well on this piece given the Trends play.

1873 Closed 3, Graded MS63PL by NGC. This coin was offered as Lot 2689 by Heritage but it failed to meet its reserve and did not sell. Interestingly, the only two major pre-1880 Threes in the American Princess collection that didn’t sell were two examples of the rare 1873 Closed 3. I was personally surprised that the MS63PL example did not hit its reserve. This is the single highest graded 1873 with a PL designation at NGC (PCGS, of course, does not designate gold as PL) and it is among the highest graded. My guess as to why it did not sell is that all of the major collectors of this series have a nice example (the Great Lakes coin is a choice PCGS MS64). I also think that there is still a lot of confusion about the origin of the 1873 Closed 3 and Open 3 issues that needs to be clarified. As an aside, this coin is currently available in the Heritage after-sale for $40,250 which seems like a pretty fair deal to me considering that an NGC MS64 brought the same amount all the way back in January 1998 (Heritage 1/98: 7700).

1880 Graded MS65 by NGC, 1882 Graded MS65* by NGC and 1883 Graded MS65 by PCGS. None of these three coins sold, despite being offered with pretty realistic reserves. I wasn’t totally shocked by the 1880 not selling. It was a solid coin for the grade but it’s not all that rare in Gem and most of the buyers of high quality coins in this series are looking for coins in PCGS holders. The 1882 is a coin that’s a pretty hard sell right now. It’s expensive, it’s not that rare and the look of the coin suggested it has visited the NCS lab. The coin that surprised me, though, was the 1883. The coin was really nice and it was in the “right” holder. Unlike the 1880 and the 1882, Gem 1883 Three Dollars are very rare. In fact, the PCGS population is just four in MS65 with two better. The fact that this coin didn’t sell (despite a pretty realistic reserve) indicates to me that there is real weakness in the upper end of this series right now. If this coin had been offered for sale in 2005 or 2006 (when the Three Dollar series was more active) it would have generated considerable interest.

1887 Graded MS66 by PCGS and 1888 Graded MS66 by PCGS. These two coins were offered as Lots 2698 and 2701. They sold for $23,000 and $24,150 respectively. In my opinion, both of these were very nice coins. In fact, when I sold them to the consignor, they were pieces that I had been very careful about selecting and had passed on a number of other examples of these dates. When the market for Gem threes was stronger, these two coins would have probably brought in the area of $30,000-32,500.

So what conclusions can we draw from this small but exceptional group of coins and the Heritage May 2009 CSNS sale? Here are a few things that come to mind:


1. There is no doubt whatsoever that the Three Dollar series is about as cold right now as at any time in the last decade. There are lots and lots of Threes on the market (though not many like the Gems from the American Princess collection) and the supply clearly outstrips the demand. That said, if I were a contrarian collector and I wanted to start a series where I could become King o’ The World it would probably be Threes.

2. In this series, collectors appear to be oriented more towards PCGS coins that NGC, especially very high grade pieces.

3. For most dates in the Three Dollar series, prices for MS65 and better coins appear to be down 20-30% from a year ago. There are exceptions to this rule but these would be for extremely rare and extremely fresh coins.

4. The market premium factor for semi-rare dates in this series is diminishing. As an example, a date like an 1887 or an 1888 in MS66, which is tons scarcer than an 1878, now sells for a much lower premium factor than it did a few years ago. For type collectors, this a great opportunity.

I’d like to dedicate this article to my friend TL. Hang in there, buddy, things will get better soon!

The 1884 Three Dollar Gold Piece

One of the things that’s fun about being a coin dealer is the variety of interesting numismatic items that come across your desk. Just yesterday, within the span of an hour, I handled a cleaned Extremely Fine High Relief double eagle, an interesting group of Dahlonega quarter eagles, a rare date Seated Liberty quarter dollar and what I believe is among the finest known 1884 Three Dollar gold pieces. I have liked this date for many years and as recently as a few days ago, I listed it as one of my 12 Great Values in the Market Priced at Under $5,000 in my December 2008 featured article. But handling this superb 1884 Three Dollar gold piece, graded MS66 by PCGS, gave me the motivation to write about this date in greater detail.

There were just 1,000 business strikes produced and these were not made until December 13th. This very late date of issuance leads me to believe that there was essentially no demand for this denomination at this point other than for examples to be given as Christmas presents or to sell to collectors. And this belief is borne out by the fact that very few 1884 Three Dollar gold pieces are known in circulated grades. As of December 2008, PCGS had graded 92 examples of which 83 (or a whopping 90%) were in Uncirculated.

As with most of the later date Three Dollar gold pieces, the 1884 is a very well produced issue. The strike is typically very sharp with complete definition noted on the hair, the wreath and the denticles. A few show some minor weakness on the curls just to the left of Liberty’s ear. The surfaces are generally clean although the examples that grade MS63 and below tend to show light handling marks or hairlines from previous cleanings. The luster varies from Prooflike to very frosty. The coloration on uncleaned, original coins is often quite attractive with a range of hues seen: light rose, green-gold and orange-gold. This date generally has good eye appeal and there are some truly handsome examples known.

While available from time to time in MS63 and MS64, the 1884 becomes a rarity in Gem. PCGS has currently graded five in MS65 and two in MS66. NGC has graded four in MS65 and three in MS67. I am pretty certain that the NGC numbers are inflated by resubmissions. I do know for a fact that at least one coin exists in MS67 as I handled it a few years ago and sold it to a collector in South Texas. The other PCGS MS66 resides in the Great Lakes collection, which is the finest set of high grade Three Dollar gold pieces ever assembled.

The 1884 Three Dollar imaged above is one of the single most aesthetically attractive examples of this type that I have handled in many years. Unlike many of the high grade Threes that have thick, creamy luster (as seen on dates like the 1878 and 1888), this piece has a shimmering texture that can best be described as a blend between frosty and semi-prooflike. The coin has exquisite delicate green-gold and rose color and the surfaces approach perfection. The dealer who sent me this piece told me that it, literally, came “out of nowhere” and this is the first time it has ever been photographed or described.

One last thing before I close. How many 1884 Threes are known? In my book on this series (written with Q. David Bowers and published in 2005) I estimated that 55-75 were known in Uncirculated as well as another 25-35 in circulated grades for a total of around 80-110. I believe that this figure is a bit on the low side and I’ve recently revised my estimate upwards to 125-150. As I stated above, most are in the lower Uncirculated grades. The PCGS population in MS64 is highly inflated byresubmissions and properly graded examples in MS63 and above are quite rare. I would seriously doubt if there are more than five to seven Gems.

1854-D Three Dollar Gold Piece

I recently purchased a very unusual 1854-D Three Dollar gold piece. If you are even a casual aficionado of Southern gold coins, you are probably aware that a) the 1854-D is a rare and popular issue and b) it has a very established set of diagnostics. However, as this coin (and a few others) proves, not all 1854-D Three Dollar gold pieces are cut from the same cloth. If you look at page 145 of the second edition of my book “Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint” you will read the following diagnostic criteria about the 1854-D Three Dollar:

“(On the obverse) the denticles from 7:00 to 3:00 are so weak as to appear non-existent. The entire upper part of the rim has a very flat appearance. (On the reverse) the denticles are almost always very weak and they can usually be seen only from the 3:00 to 8:00 area with the rest of the border appearing very flat.”

Now take a look at the picture below and focus your attention on the obverse and reverse borders. You will note that there are complete and full denticles on both sides. I have personally seen or owned as many as 75 examples of this issue and the coin illustrated here is just the third 1854-D that I know of with full denticles. The other two are in the Bill House and Harry Bass Core/ANA Museum collections.

Before we go any further with this quick diagnostic study of the 1854-D Three Dollar gold piece, here is a picture of a “normal” example (courtesy of Heritage Numismatic Auctions). Note the weakness on the denticles and then also file the following diagnostics away in your memory for future reference:

1. Weakness on the U in UNITED 2. Large clashmark at the throat of Liberty and a smaller clashmark at the back of the neck (this may be hard to see in the photo) 3. Reverse clashmarks from the S in DOLLARS into the wreath above 4. Detached leaf to the left of the 1 in the date 5. Separation of the right bow knot (the one on the viewer’s left) from the wreath due to die polishing

What I find especially interesting about the 1854-D “full strike” is that it has essentially the same diagnostics as the “weak strike” coin. I had always assumed that the full strike coins represented an earlier die state; struck, perhaps, before the dies clashed and were lapped. But this is clearly not the case. We can see this because the full strike coin has virtually identical diagnostics to the weak strike coin. The only difference is that the clashmark in the right obverse field is not as pronounced on the coin with full denticles.

So what makes this coin different from other 1854-D Three Dollar gold pieces? There are two interesting features that might hold a clue to its special status. The first is that it has a mint-made lamination on the obverse; something I cannot remember on many other examples of this date. The second is that the surfaces of the full struck coin are somewhat reflective (this is hard to see from the picture); again, an unusual circumstance for the issue. Could this coin have been specially struck as a presentation piece?

My best instinct tells me that the full struck coins represent the very first 1854-D Three Dollar gold pieces. After a small number were made with full denticles, something happened during the minting process that caused the rest of the coins to be improperly struck. Given the fact that all 1854-D Three Dollar gold pieces were struck in one day, it is hard to say exactly what caused this failure.

13 Interesting Gold Coins Priced Below $2,500

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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