A Dozen Undervalued United States Gold Coins Priced Below $7,500: The 2015 Edition

A Dozen Undervalued United States Gold Coins Priced Below $7,500: The 2015 Edition

It’s been quite a while since I wrote an article about the topic of affordable, undervalued 19th century U.S. gold coins, and I think it’s time to do a more current version of this article. I’m going to change things up ever so slightly this time and include some market overviews on each denomination, and make some suggestions which include multiple coins as opposed to “singles.”

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Undervalued U.S. Gold Coins in the $1,500-3,500 Range

 An article of mine was recently published by a content partner   and a reader left a comment about how my subject was elitist and  I am only concerned with selling $50,000+ coins. Hey, I LOVE selling $50,000 coins but I probably sell ten times more $1,500-3,500 coins every year than I do big ticket items. So to placate my angry reader, I thought I'd give some brief suggestions. Steven Mlaker, this one's for you!      1.  Type Three San Francisco Gold Dollars, EF45 to AU58

     There are only five San Francisco gold dollars of this type (1857-S, 1858-S, 1859-S, 1860-S and 1870-S) and all are of basically similar rarity. When available, these issues are seen in the EF45 to AU55 range and all can be had for $750 on the low end to $2,500+  for a nice AU58.

     What I like about these issues is that they are all low mintage and all are rare to very rare in Uncirculated. If I had to choose one date as the real "sleeper" it would probably be the 1870-S with a mintage of just 3,000.

     I like the concept of doing an evenly matched set of five coins, all grading AU55 to AU58. It can be done for around $10,000. To make the set a real challenge, make sure every coin is CAC quality with natural color and nice surfaces.

     2.  Properly Graded EF45 Dahlonega Quarter Eagles.

     Of the three main denominations from the Dahlonega mint, the quarter eagle is the hardest to find in choice, original Extremely Fine grades. Despite the rarity of these coins (and they are not easy to find with natural color and surfaces, no matter what the population reports say!) they are still priced in the $2,000-3,000 range.

     There are many dates in this series which are rare and expensive even in EF grades but I can think of at least ten (1843-D, 44-D, 45-D, 46-D, 47-D, 48-D, 49-D, 50-D, 51-D and 57-D) which can be bought for less than $3,000 in presentable grades.

     When buying these coins, look for pieces with deep, rich natural color and surfaces that are not overly abraded. Strike shouldn't be a major concern; if it is try idea #3, below.

    3.  Philadelphia and San Francisco Quarter Eagles, 1865-1876.

     Many of the quarter eagles made from 1865 through 1876 at the Philadelphia and San Francisco mint are scarcer than their southern counterparts at half the price.

     My favorite sleeper dates are the 1867, 1869, 1870, 1870-S, 1872 and 1876. Not a single one of these will cost you more than $2,000-3,000 in nice AU grades and the beauty of these dates is that, when available, they tend to be quite well made and reasonably attractive.

     Are these coins good "investments?" I doubt it, unless you move up the ladder and buy nice Uncirculated pieces (which, as Mr. Mlaker will remind me, is an elitist sentiment...) which seem like very good value to me.

     4.  Nice AU Classic Head Half Eagles.

     With the exception of the 1834 Crosslet 4, none of the Philadelphia half eagles made from 1834 through 1838 are scarce but they are extremely popular and when I have a nice, original AU55 to AU58 on my website, it typically sells within a few hours.

     What's not to like about these coins? They are very old, the design is cool and in the middle to higher AU grades, they look great; if original.

     A five coin 1834-1838 year set in AU55 to AU58 could be assembled for $10,000-15,000. For more of a challenge, you could add some of the major die varieties which are known.

     5.  Philadelphia No Motto Liberty Head Eagles

     After years of neglect, the Liberty Head eagle series became popular in 2008-2009 and, today, it is one of the more in-demand U.S. gold series. But collectors are mainly buying the key low mintage dates or the mintmarked coins and nice AU55 to AU58 Philadelphia coins from the 1840's and 1850's can still be bought in the $1,000-3,000 range.

     If your budget won't go higher than, say, $3,000 per coin, you can still come pretty close to completing a date run from 1840 through 1861.

    Sleepers? How about the 1840,  1842 Small Date, 1845, 1850 Small Date, 1857 and 1859. Collecting suggestions? Stick with coins which grade AU55 or better if possible and look for nice dark green-gold pieces with rich, frosty luster and light, even wear.

     6.  Mid-AU Grade Type One Philadelphia Double Eagles.

     The "play" with these coins is that they contain $1,500+ worth of gold (at current spot) but can be bought, in very presentable grades, for less than double melt. Are they rare? Not really. But they are popular as anything, they are a good "double play" hedge and they don't appear to have been adversely affected by shipwrecks like their San Francisco counterparts.

     I like nearly any 1850's Philadelphia double eagle in AU53 and better as long as it is choice, original and lesss marked thaan usual. The dates I like best are the 1855, 1856, 1857 and 1858 and $3,000 or so will get you a really presentable example of any of these four.

     7.  Early Type Three Double Eagles From San Francisco.

     My logic on these coins is the same as for the Philadelphia double eagles listed above but with one difference. These are "jump grade" coins in which a tiny difference in quality (say MS61 to MS62) can mean thousands of dollars.

     The dates I like are the 1877-S, 1878-S, 1880-S, 1881-S and 1882-S in MS60 to MS61. They aren't tremendously expensive and if you are very patient and very selective you might find an MS61 example of any of these that looks almost identical to an MS62 of the same date; at a greatly reduced price!

     Just so you know I'm not pay lip service to Mr. Mlaker, I have handled numerous examples of nearly every coin on this list during 2012 and will continue to make an active two way market in undervalued sub-$3,500 coins in 2013 and beyond.

     For more information on undervalued U.S. gold coins (in any price range, even over $50,000!) please feel free to call me at 214-675-9897 or email me at dwn@ont.com.

Finally...An Appeciation for San Francisco Gold Coinage (?)

After decades and decades in the dumps, it looks like there are small signs of life in the San Francisco gold coin market. But the activity in this market area is sporadic, to say the least, and is being led by exactly the sort of coins that you wouldn't think would be the pacesetters. There are plenty of overgraded, unappealing high priced San Francisco gold coins on the market right now. You haven't been able to give these away for years. You still can't. San Francisco gold coins that are faux-rarities, uninteresting dates or processed with no eye appeal are impossible to sell.

The coins that are suddenly selling have three things in common:

1. They are genuinely rare dates and most are either from the Civil War era or the years right before the war (i.e., 1858 through 1860).

2. They are well-worn but problem-free coins in the VG to VF grade range. These are true collector coins and this little renaissance of interest is obviously collector-based.

3. They are in PCGS holders. There are a few exceptions to this rule but the people buying these coins seem to want PCGS graded coins. This may be because they are forming Registry Sets.

The denominations that seem to have generated the most interest are half eagles and eagles but from time to time a quarter eagle is included as well.

The recent Heritage Central States auction included a few early, rare San Francisco gold coins that nicely illustrate this new trend. Let's take a quick look at each.

The first was Lot 3476, an 1862-S quarter eagle that was graded F15 by PCGS. This is a rare date in all grades with just 8,000 struck. It sold for $1,092.50 against a Trends value of $550 in F12. Why did it sell for double Trends? The reason is obvious: Trends is way too low for a coin as rare as this. I would have figured it was worth around $700-800 but even at a shade under $1,100 I think its great value.

The second example was an 1859-S half eagle, graded VF25 by PCGS and sold as Lot 3633. It brought $2,323 against a Trends of $1,200 in VF20. I figured it was worth around $1,500-1,750 and actually sold it to the consignor recently for a figure in this range. This coin had a number of things going for it. It was in an old green label holder and it was really nice for the grade. It is a rare, seldom seen issue that is very expensive in higher grades (I sold the second finest known late last year, an NGC MS62, for over $25,000). When you do see EF and AU examples they tend to be pretty yucky quality-wise and at around $2,500 this coin was a fantastic bargain.

The third example was a little bit of a surprise to me: an 1866-S No Motto half eagle in PCGS VF35. Offered as Lot 3636, it brought $3,220 against a Trends of $1,600 in VF20 and $4,250 in EF40. Although this is a numismatically significant date as the final No Motto half eagle from this mint, it is much less rare than the 1859-S and I wasn't really wild about the coin from a quality standpoint. Also interesting was the fact that this date is sometime seen in lower grades, unlike the 1862-S quarter eagle and the 1859-S half eale which are extremely arre in grades below EF40.

Now I know that three auction records do not exactly constitute a full-blown trend but this is not a totally isolated series of incidents. I know that when I have an interesting lower grade San Francisco half eagle or eagle that is affordable and seemingly good value, it typically sells quickly and often well in excess of current published values.

I have noticed that Trends (and Greysheet) values for lower grades (Fine and Very Fine) are way out of whack with reality. Often times, these numbers are years old and have not been changed since gold was priced at below $500 per ounce. Think about it: a coin like an 1862-S quarter eagle in Fine at $550? That just seems like absurdly good value. And coins like this are likely to stay undervalued, at least according to price sheets, due to lower collector activity than silver coins from this era. Enough F12 1862-S Dimes trade that it is possible to have an idea what such a coin is worth. But an 1862-S quarter eagle in this grade? You are talking about a coin with a population of just a few pieces and if two people care about such a coin at any given time, prices at auction can run up quickly.

I'd like to thank Jason Carter of Carter Numismatics in Tulsa OK for suggesting this topic and pointing out this market trend to me.