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Classic U.S. Coins – When Did Civil War Gold Become Popular?

Classic U.S. Coins - When Did Civil War Gold Become Popular?

By Doug ……

CoinWeek Content Partner
Thanks to reader M.R. from Virginia, who suggested this interesting concept, I’m going to be writing a series of blogs over the coming months entitled: When Did (Subject) Become Popular?

The concept of these blogs is pretty simple. I’ll select an area of the rare date gold market and discuss the hows and whys behind its popularity. I will also choose some areas and discuss why they have become unpopular in recent years.

For this first blog, I thought it would be interesting to discuss how and why Civil War gold issues became very popular.

Up through the 1990s, the low-mintage Philadelphia and San Francisco gold issues struck during the Civil War era weren’t especially popular and they represented excellent value. I can remember begging clients to buy a nice NGC AU53 1864 quarter eagle I owned around 1993 for $10,000 USD, and winding-up having to sell the coin to another dealer for a loss.

Today, this coin would likely grade AU58 and it would be worth $80,000-90,000.

1861-D $1.00 PCGS MS61. Images courtesy Doug Winter Numismatics

1861-D $1.00 PCGS MS61. Images courtesy Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN)

There were only three Civil War issues that were in strong demand at the time: the Proof-only 1863 quarter eagle, which was a $50,000 coin, and the 1861-D gold dollar and half eagle, which were key members of the Cult of Dahlonega and have had a strong following since the 1960s.

By the mid-1990s there were maybe a dozen dealers who really knew the dated gold market and who were active participants. They knew that coins like 1864-S half eagles and eagles were really rare, and they would pay in excess of current market prices when nice coins came around.

I think collectors finally became savvy about the Civil War issues around 1999-2001 when the Bass Collection was sold. There were multiple outstanding examples of most of the 1861-65 dates, and the higher-grade pieces brought record prices in many cases.

But collector grade coins (i.e., those in the VF-EF range) stayed affordable.

Fast forward to around 2010.

I had a brainstorm one afternoon. 2011 marked the sesquicentennial of the beginning of the Civil War, and what would be more natural than to promote Civil War gold? I began to quietly accumulate coins and simultaneously began to feature articles and blogs on my website touting them.

I remember selling virtually all the coins I had very early on in my promotion and not being able to find many more for Round Two and Round Three. Other dealers had the same idea I did, and suddenly Civil War gold became popular.

In the next few years, prices shot up. Let’s look at a few examples:

1863 $5.00 PCGS AU58. Images courtesy Doug Winter Numismatics

1863 $5.00 PCGS AU58

1863 Half Eagle, AU58

  • May 2008 – An NGC AU58 brought $14,375 as Heritage 5/08: 3268
  • January 2014 – A PCGS AU58 brought $30,550 as Heritage 2014 FUN: 6708

1862 $10.00 PCGS AU55 CAC. Images courtesy Doug Winter Numismatics

1862 $10.00 PCGS AU55 CAC

1862 Eagle, AU55

  • August 2003 – An NGC AU55 brought $2,185 in a Heritage internet sale
  • January 2011 – A PCGS AU55 brought $6,900 as Heritage 2011 FUN: 7048

1865-S Inverted Date Eagle, EF45

  • July 2004 – An NGC EF45 brought $5,750 as Heritage 7/04: 8360
  • February 2014 – An NGC EF45 brought $14,688 as Heritage 2/14: 4180

These double and triple price increases weren’t sustainable, but really nice examples of really rare Civil War issues have continued to perform quite well.

Prices haven’t been as strong for gold dollars (except the 1861-D), quarter eagles (except for the 1864 and 1865 Philadelphia issues), and the three dollars due to their smaller size and–in the case of the Threes–greater overall availability.

Half eagles and eagles have done extremely well, and while high-end AUs and Uncirculated coins are now priced at levels that are inaccessible to most collectors, nice collector grade pieces can still be had for many legitimately rare issues at less than $10,000.

Double eagles are an altogether different animal due to shipwrecks and European hoards that have swelled populations.

1865 $3.00 PCGS AU58 CAC. Images courtesy Doug Winter Numismatics

1865 $3.00 PCGS AU58 CAC

In 2020, I’d rank Civil War gold as one of the more popular ultra-specialties in American numismatics. There are still a number of issues which, in my opinion, are highly underrated (a few examples are the 1864 and 1865 gold dollars, the 1865-S quarter eagle, the 1865 three dollar coin, and the 1865-S Normal Date eagle), and it is still possible to put together an impressive set of these issues.

If you’d like to work with me on a set, feel free to contact me via email at [email protected] or call me at (214) 675-9897.

* * *

About Doug Winter

Doug_Winter2Doug has spent much of his life in the field of numismatics; beginning collecting coins at the age of seven, and by the time he was 10 years old, buying and selling coins at conventions in the New York City area.

In 1989, he founded Douglas Winter Numismatics, and his firm specializes in buying and selling choice and rare US Gold coins, especially US gold coins and all branch mint material.

Recognized as one of the leading specialized numismatic firms, Doug is an award-winning author of over a dozen numismatic books and the recognized expert on US Gold. His knowledge and an exceptional eye for properly graded and original coins have made him one of the most respected figures in the numismatic community and a sought after dealer by collectors and investors looking for professional personalized service, a select inventory of impeccable quality and fair and honest pricing. Doug is also a major buyer of all US coins and is always looking to purchase collections both large and small. He can be reached at (214) 675-9897.

Doug has been a contributor to the Guidebook of United States Coins (also known as the “Redbook”) since 1983, 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

In addition, he has authored 13 books on US Gold coins including:
  • Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint: 1839-1909
  • Gold Coins of the Carson City Mint: 1870 – 1893
  • Gold Coins of the Charlotte Mint: 1838-1861
  • Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint 1838-1861
  • The United States $3 Gold Pieces 1854-1889
  • Carson City Gold Coinage 1870-1893: A Rarity and Condition Census Update
  • An Insider’s Guide to Collecting Type One Double Eagles
  • The Connoisseur’s Guide to United States Gold Coins
  • A Collector’s Guide To Indian Head Quarter Eagles
  • The Acadiana Collection of New Orleans Coinage
  • Type Three Double Eagles, 1877-1907: A Numismatic History and Analysis
  • Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint, 1838-1861: A Numismatic History and Analysis
  • Type Two Double Eagles, 1866-1876: A Numismatic History and Analysis

Finally, Doug is a member of virtually every major numismatic organization, professional trade group and major coin association in the US.


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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