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Collecting Proof United States Gold Coins 1821-1915

Collecting Proof United States Gold Coins 1821-1915

Proof gold coins are ideal for the few great coins collecting strategy

By Jeff Garrett for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) ……
The late, great collector Ed Trompeter once stated “only real men collect Proof United States gold coins.” This chauvinistic statement would be politically incorrect in today’s world, but it does offer a glimpse into how this elusive segment of the market is usually viewed. Proof United States gold coins start at rare!

Only incredibly well-heeled collectors usually attempt a collection of Proof gold coins. There have been many great collectors in the past that have assembled great collections of Proof United States gold coins:

  • King Farouk of Egypt (sold in the 1950s)
  • Harry W. Bass (sold in the ’90s)
  • The Garrett Family (no relation, unfortunately — sold in the late ’70s and early ‘80s)
  • Josiah K. Lilly (now in the Smithsonian Collection)
  • J.P. Morgan (now in the American Numismatic Society collection)
  • John J. Pittman (sold in the ’90s)
  • Childs (sold in the ’90s)

Today, collectors highly covet Proof gold U.S. coins but usually concentrate on buying individual issues when they appear on the market. Proof gold coins are ideal for the “few great coin” collecting strategy. Most coins have extremely low mintages and some issues may appear only once or twice every few decades!

Occasionally, an original gold Proof set will appear on the market. These are usually sold individually and broken up to the highest bidder for each coin. Original, matched Proof Sets in gold are an endangered species.

History of Proof United States Gold Coins

The first Proof gold coins known to have been struck are the quarter eagle and half eagles of 1821. These coins are not fully mirrored as later issues usually are. The surfaces are more satin in appearance and slightly striated. Even though the coins look different, there is no doubt of their Proof status. The United States Mint struck Proof gold starting in 1821 and, incredibly, saved examples for future generations. The foresight of these early Mint employees is amazing and an incredible gift for our nation. The U.S. Mint collection was transferred to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in 1923. Many of these great coins are on display in the “Value of Money” exhibit at the Smithsonian.

Notes on Proof gold coin issues:

1821 Quarter Eagles and Half Eagles

These are the first unquestionable Proof United States gold coins. The surfaces are somewhat striated and lacking the typical mirror surfaces usually associated with Proof gold coinage. Only five or six quarter eagles are known and just two examples of the 1821 Half Eagle are known: Bass collection and the Smithsonian Collection.

1824-1838: Early Proof gold coins from this era are all very rare and many of the known examples reside in the Smithsonian collection (the former US Mint collection). Several issues are unique and only found in the Smithsonian’s National Numismatic Collection.

United States 1925 Liberty Head $2.50 quarter eagle Proof gold coin

Liberty Head Gold Coins

United States 1839 Liberty Head $10 eagle Proof gold coin

1838-1907: Liberty Head Proof gold coins range in rarity from unique to a few hundred known. The series is full of extreme rarities. Historically, Liberty Head gold coins are only collectible from 1858 to 1907. 1858 is the year when complete Proof sets became more widely available. Several years ago, when a few of the above collections were sold at auction, one of my clients assembled a complete set of United States Gold Dollars, 1856-1889, in Proof. For years, the set has been one of the highest ranked sets in the NGC Registry.

Indian Head Gold Coins

United States 1915 Indian Head $2.50 quarter eagle Proof gold coin

1907-1915: this date range includes Indian Quarter Eagles, Indian Half Eagles, Ten Dollar Indians and Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles. These coins are generally more available, and sometimes seen as complete year sets. The Roman Finish coins of 1909 and 1910 are particularly desirable.

The above barely scratches the surface on this incredible part of United States coinage. For more information about this fascinating series, I recommend my book, Encyclopedia of United States Gold Coins 2nd Edition. The book has color illustrations of every Proof United States gold coin stuck from 1821 to 1915. Each coin is discussed in detail, with population information included as well. Proof United States gold coins are among the most beautiful US Mint products. Whether you choose to find one “great” coin, or assemble some kind of set, you will find the challenge exciting and rewarding.

There is a reason these coins are called the “caviar” of numismatics–they are simply delectable!

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Questions about the rare coin market? Send them to [email protected].

Jeff Garrett bio

Jeff Garrett
Jeff Garretthttps://rarecoingallery.com/
Jeff Garrett, founder of Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries, is considered one of the nation’s top experts in U.S. coinage — and knowledge lies at the foundation of Jeff’s numismatic career. With more than 35 years of experience, he is one of the top experts in numismatics. The “experts’ expert,” Jeff has personally bought and sold nearly every U.S. coin ever issued. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t call on Jeff Garrett for numismatic advice. This includes many of the nation’s largest coin dealers, publishers, museums, and institutions. In addition to owning and operating Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries, Jeff Garrett is a major shareholder in Sarasota Rare Coin Galleries. His combined annual sales in rare coins and precious metals — between Mid-American in Kentucky and Sarasota Rare Coin Galleries in Florida — total more than $25 million. Jeff Garrett has authored many of today’s most popular numismatic books, including Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins 1795–1933: Circulating, Proof, Commemorative, and Pattern Issues; 100 Greatest U.S. Coins; and United States Coinage: A Study By Type. He is also the price editor for The Official Redbook: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Jeff was also one of the original coin graders for the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). He is today considered one of the country’s best coin graders and was the winner of the 2005 PCGS World Series of Grading. Today, he serves as a consultant to Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), the world’s largest coin grading company. Jeff plays an important role at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Numismatic Department and serves as a consultant to the museum on funding, exhibits, conservation, and research. Thanks to the efforts of Jeff and many others, rare U.S. coins are once again on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History. Jeff has been a member of the Professional Numismatic Guild (PNG) since 1982 and has recently served as president of the organization. He has also served as the ANA President and as a member of the ANA Board of Governors.

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