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HomeUS Coins12 Undervalued, Affordable 19th Century Liberty Head Gold Coins: Part I

12 Undervalued, Affordable 19th Century Liberty Head Gold Coins: Part I

By Doug Winter –
CoinWeek Content Partner ………

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog discussing specific undervalued, affordable gold coins. This is a topic which has proven popular in the past and, unless I’m mistaken, some of my suggested sleeper issues have grown dramatically in popularity—and price—in the last few years.

Due to space limitations, I’m keeping this list down to a manageable number but it could easily be doubled—or even tripled—in size.

dw_july_2013_afordable1. 1865 Gold Dollar

In the past, I have focused on various Civil War gold dollars, usually the 1863 which is the rarest of these issues. The 1863 has become well-known but the almost-as-rare 1865 remains an excellent value for the astute collector.

A total of 3,700 business strike examples were produced. This issue appears to have seen little circulation as it is almost never found in grades below MS60. As an example, PCGS has graded a total of 48 with 38 of these (over 79%) in Uncirculated grades. Interestingly, Uncirculated 1865 gold dollars are seen more often in Gem (MS65 and above) than in the lower grades (MS60 to MS62) and this suggests that a small hoard existed at one time.

The current Coin World Trends valuation for this date in AU55 is $900 and $1,100 in AU58. I’d contend that if you are able to find a PCGS or NGC AU55 or AU58 for anywhere near those kind of numbers, you have just stolen a coin and you can pat yourself on the back.

2. 1867 Gold Dollar

In 1867, the mintage of gold dollars “soared” to 5,200 business strikes. The 1867 is more available than the 1865 but not by much and it is less widely known or regarded.

The current population for this date at PCGS is just 64 coins in all grades with 46 of these (or 71.87%) grading MS60 and above. You can find the 1867 with more ease than the scarcer Civil War dates but what I like about this date is its current affordability. I have sold some nice higher end AU examples in the last year for around $1,000 and I have sold nice Uncirculated coins in the MS63 to MS64 range for $2,000-3,000.

This list is about “affordable” and, in my opinion, coins like the 1867 gold dollar check all the boxes: scarce in all grades, not terribly expensive even in higher grades, occasionally available and historically interesting.

3. 1844 Quarter Eagle

I’ve discussed this issue before so it’s not really a “secret date.” But the 1844 quarter eagle remains curiously undervalued. Of the 6,784 struck, there are under 100 known. PCGS has graded just 39 examples in all grades and this includes only three in Mint State.

So why is this date seemingly a permanently undervalued issue and why has it shown virtually no price appreciation in the past decade? I’d say the answer has a few components. Firstly, the 1844 quarter eagle doesn’t fit into any neat compartments. It doesn’t have a mintmark so it isn’t a branch mint coin. It doesn’t have any historical significance or anything else to give it a level of demand; let alone multiple levels of demand. What it does have going for it is its unquestionable value.

You can buy a very presentable AU 1844 quarter eagle for $2,000-3,000. The same coin with a C or D mintmark would easily be double the price. This fact, in and of itself, may be all the impetus this date needs to become better appreciated in the future.

4. 1846-D/D Quarter Eagle

I’m going to go out a limb here and add a variety to this list of undervalued 19th century gold coins. I know the reaction that some readers will have: “what, there aren’t enough overlooked regular issues? You have to get esoteric on us and add a variety? Seriously?”

The 1846-D/D quarter eagle is a well-established variety that has an important place within a very popular series. Although it is still not recognized by NGC or listed in the Redbook, it is well-known within the specialist community and recognized by PCGS. This has made it better-known than any of the other Dahlonega quarter eagles.

There are an estimated 40-50 pieces known with most in the EF40 to AU50 range. The 1846-D/D is not an inexpensive coin. You are looking at $4,000-6,000 for a nice AU, unless you are able to cherrypick an example. Put another way, the 1846-D/D is about as rare as the 1855-D quarter eagle from the standpoint of overall rarity but at a fraction of the price.

5. 1855-S Three Dollar Gold Piece

The 1855-S is an issue which should receive a lot more attention from non-specialists than it does. It is more of a Condition Rarity than nearly any issue in this group of undervalued issues and as many as 300-350 are known from the original mintage of 6,600 coins.

Here’s why I think the 1855-S is a good value and why it is underappreciated: like the 1854-D and 1854-O it is a first-year-of-issue within the three dollar series. But unlike these two issues, the 1855-S is not a “one and done” coin. In other words, the Dahlonega and New Orleans mints both made three dollar gold pieces for just a single year while the San Francisco mint made them again in 1856, 1857, 1860 and in (sort of…) 1870. Plus the two southern mint threes have the branch mint cachet which its Western counterpart lacks.

As I mentioned above, this is a very rare coin in higher grades. An accurately graded AU55 with good eye appeal is about as nice an example as you are going to find. Such a coin, if available would cost around $9,000-10,000. Back in the heyday of three dollar gold pieces (around 2005-2006) the same coin would have cost $13,000-15,000.

6. 1842 Large Letters Half Eagle

There are two varieties of half eagle dated 1842-P: the Small Letters and the Large Letters. Both are rare, both are undervalued and both probably deserve to be included in this list. But I’m going to go with the Large Letters which is rarer.

This is the fourth rarest Liberty Head double eagle from Philadelphia after the 1875, 1863 and 1865. There are around three dozen known including three in Uncirculated; the finest is a PCGS MS64.

Despite the unquestionable rarity of this issue, it is still very affordable. A nice quality EF 1842 Large Letters still can be found in the $2,000-2,500 range while an AU example would cost $4,000-5,000+. In my opinion, this is extremely good value in comparison to the branch mint issues of this era.

7. 1864 Half Eagle

It’s widely known that the Civil War half eagle from both Philadelphia and San Francisco are rare due to their low original mintages and their low survival rates. The 1864 is more available than the 1863 and 1865 but it is a scarce issue in its own right. There are an estimated 50-60 known from the original mintage of 4,170 business strikes. When seen, the typical 1864 half eagle is apt to grade in the EF40 to AU50 range.

I could have placed any one of at least ten other half eagles in this list of undervalued coins but I selected the 1864 due to its multiple levels of demand. Civil War gold coins have become very popular with collectors in the last few years and the 1864 half eagle is a relatively affordable issue in EF and even AU grades.

I sense the “affordable” aspect of this issue beginning to wane, though. As recently as a few years ago, it was possible to find a nice EF example for around $2,000-2,500 and an AU for a bit more than double this. Today, the collector will probably have to spend closer to $4,000-5,000 for a presentable 1864 but I still think this is reasonable for a coin with this degree of rarity and this much historic association.

Doug Winter
Doug Winter
Doug Winter founded Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN) in 1985. The nationally renowned firm specializes in buying and selling rare United States gold coins. He has written over a dozen books, including the standard references on Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans gold coinage, and Type 1 Liberty Head Double Eagles. Douglas has also contributed to the A Guidebook of United States Coins, Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Coins, Q. David Bowers’ Encyclopedia of United States Silver Dollars, and Andrew Pollock’s United States Pattern and Related Issues. He is a member of the PNG, the ANA, the ANS, the NLG, CAC, PCGS, and NGC - among other professional affiliations. Contact Doug Winter at [email protected].

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