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Great CAC-pectations: Collecting U.S. Gold Coins by CAC Approval

Great CAC-pectations: Collecting U.S. Gold Coins by CAC Approval

By Doug WinterRareGoldCoins.com ……
CoinWeek Content Partner
In recent years, I’ve come across a number of new collectors who are “CAC only” buyers. In the past, I’ve dealt with many collectors who are “CAC preferred” when it comes to coins, but these new collectors absolutely insist every coin they buy must be CAC-approved.

In most 20th-century non-gold series, it is possible to put together CAC-only sets. Even with such conditionally challenging series as MS65 Red Lincoln cents or MS65 Buffalo nickels, there are enough coins to go around that a well-heeled collector can likely assemble a full set of CAC-approved pieces.

This is clearly not the case with certain 20th-century gold series (Indian Head half eagles and eagles come immediately to mind), where numerous issues are either extremely rare or unknown in MS65 with CAC approval. It is possible to put together great sets of CAC-approved Indian Head half eagles, eagles, and St. Gaudens double eagles in high grades, but with some of the coins grading MS63 or MS64.

18th- and 19th-century gold coins, when collected by date, are a formidable challenge for those who like their coins with CAC approval. In this article, I’m going to look at a few random series and determine how feasible a CAC-only set is and if this is a goal for which a collector should have Great CAC-pectations. For the sake of inclusiveness, we’ll look at each of these series from three collecting levels: collector-grade, high-end circulated, and Uncirculated.

Charlotte Quarter Eagles

Charlotte quarter eagles include two design types: the Classic Head and the Liberty Head.

1838-C $2.50 PCGS AU55 CAC. Images courtesy Douglas Winter Numimsatics (DWN)

1838-C $2.50 PCGS AU55 CAC. Images courtesy Douglas Winter Numimsatics (DWN)

The 1838-C represents a very tough issue to locate in collector grades with CAC approval; only four have been stickered in EF45 and below. A collector is more likely to locate one in AU grades as there have been 11 approved to date. Only two have been approved in Uncirculated, making this among the more difficult coins in the set for the high-end collector.

1842-C $2.50 PCGS EF45 CAC

1842-C $2.50 PCGS EF45 CAC

The Liberty Head issues feature some reasonably tough dates but you’d think that all would be obtainable in collector grades with CAC approval. This is not the case. The most challenging dates are the 1842-C (only seven coins in 45 or below are stickered), the 1843-C Small Date (only four coins), the 1846-C (just two!), the 1850-C (four stickered in EF45 and lower), the 1851-C (three), the 1855-C (three), and the 1856-C (none!).

Ironically, a high-grade circulated set of Charlotte quarter eagles with CAC approval will prove easier to assemble than a set of VF-EFs. There are six dates that have AU CAC populations of five or fewer (1842-C, 1843-C Small Date, 1846-C, 1852-C, 1856-C, and 1860-C) with two having populations of just three (1846-C and 1860-C).

1846-C $2.50 PCGS MS61 CAC

1846-C $2.50 PCGS MS61 CAC

I won’t waste your time discussing the possibility of assembling a full set of Charlotte quarter eagles in Uncirculated all with CAC approval. There are numerous dates that still have never had an Uncirculated example approved and unless something crazy happens, this project remains just about hopeless.

Classic Head Half Eagles

This short set contains just eight issues (more if you include varieties), which should make it fairly easy to complete in all-CAC, right?

Actually… not really.

The 1838-C and the 1838-D, while they have CAC populations of 10 and 13, respectively, are extremely popular in EF45 and lower. You should probably be able to locate one if you are patient but it should be noted that CAC populations are cut in half if you focus just on coins in EF grades. An issue that is sneaky hard to locate in collector grades with just eight in EF grades is the 1834 Crosslet 4. Challenging, yes, but certainly not impossible.

In nice AU grades, the 1838-C is a real stopper with just four approved by CAC (I’ve sold all of them!). The 1834 Crosslet 4 has a CAC population of eight, and I can’t recall having seen more than two or three of these.

1838-C $5.00 PCGS MS63+ CAC

1838-C $5.00 PCGS MS63+ CAC

An Uncirculated set of Classic Head half eagles with every piece approved by CAC is possible but highly unlikely as just one of these is dated 1838-C (a 63+ that I sold). The sole CAC-approved 1838-D is an MS62 and there are but two 1834 Crosslet 4s.

CAC-approved examples of the common date Classic Head half eagles are available fairly regularly and they tend to bring significant premiums. As an example, a PCGS AU55 1835 is worth around $1,500, while a CAC approved PCGS AU55 will run you around $2,250. In my opinion, this extra amount is well worth it. The coins approved by CAC are nicer, they are more liquid, and they are more in demand.

Three Dollar Gold Pieces

This seems like a series that should be completable in collector grades with each and every coin approved by CAC. Oh sure, there are a few real toughies like the 1854-D, the 1855-S, and the 1873 that are hard to find with CAC approval in Very Fine and Extremely Fine grades, but the rest of the issues shouldn’t be all that hard to locate, right?


While seemingly very collectible in collector grades, there are numerous Three Dollar gold pieces with tiny CAC populations in lower grades. There are seven issues (1867, 1877, 1880, 1881, 1883, 1887, and 1889) that don’t have a single coin graded EF45 and lower approved by CAC. In the case of 1867 and 1877, this is due to scarcity. For the other five–all of which are common except for the 1881–it has to do with the fact that the specific issue saw little, if any, circulation.

If we expand the definition of “collector grades” in this series to include About Uncirculated coins, then it becomes easier to complete. There are three dates that will prove very challenging to locate in this range with CAC approval: the 1873 Closed 3 (with only two coins in all AU grades; both in AU53), the 1880 (with just two coins in all AU grades; both in AU58), and the 1884 (not a single coin in AU and just two in the lower Uncirculated grades; one each in MS61 and MS62).

1854-O $3.00 PCGS AU58 CAC

1854-O $3.00 PCGS AU58 CAC

What about assembling a high-end set with all of the coins in Uncirculated? Three dates currently have CAC populations of zero: 1854-O, 1855-S, and 1860-S. Of these three, the 1854-O is reasonably easy to locate in CAC-approved AU55 and AU58, while the 1855-S and the 1860-S each have just four total in the AU55 to AU58 range. Four other dates have just a single Uncirculated coin approved by CAC: the 1854-D (MS62), 1857-S (MS67), 1858 (MS64), and 1873 Closed 3 (MS63PL). However, with the exception of the 1860-S and the 1873 Closed 3, these dates are reasonably obtainable in the AU55 to AU58 range.

Carson City Eagles

Of the three denominations of gold coins struck at the Carson City Mint, the most challenging for collectors are the $10 gold pieces or Eagles. This series becomes even more of a challenge with CAC-approved coins.

1873-CC $10.00 PCGS VF30 CAC

1873-CC $10.00 PCGS VF30 CAC

The category of “Collector grades”, when it comes to this series, typically includes coins as low as Very Good or Fine. Taking this into consideration, there are still a number of Carson City eagles that are elusive with CAC approval. The most obvious of these is the 1870-CC with just three approved by CAC in EF45 or lower (two of these are in very low grades); the 1873-CC also with just three approved in EF45 or lower (and none of these higher than VF30); the 1875-CC with a total of five approved in EF45 or lower (with just one of these higher than VF30); and the 1878-CC with four approved in EF45 or lower (with all of these grading VF35 or below).

My personal observation is that the 1870-CC and the 1873-CC will prove very challenging to locate in any grade with CAC approval, while the other two issues will be slightly easier to locate.

A high-end set of Carson City eagles will feature coins grading AU50 to AU55 for the 1870s dates, AU58 to MS61 for the 1880s dates, and MS63 to MS64 for the 1890s dates (except for the 1893-CC which will grade AU58 to MS61).

1870-CC $10.00 PCGS AU50 CAC

1870-CC $10.00 PCGS AU50 CAC

There are a number of issues with very low CAC populations in AU grades. These are the 1870-CC with just two; the 1871-CC with three; the 1875-CC with four; the 1877-CC with three; and the 1879-CC also with three.

Building a set of Carson City eagles with all the coins in Uncirculated is impossible, whether or not CAC-approved coins are the parameter. A number of the dates from the 1870s are either unknown in Uncirculated or are unique.

Type One Double Eagles

This very challenging series is hard enough to collect with non-CAC coins. Is it feasible to even contemplate with most–or even all–of the coins with CAC approval?

The two key issues in a Type One double eagle set are the 1854-O and the 1856-O. Here, as one would expect, the number of coins with CAC approval is very low. Only two 1854-O double eagles have been approved (one each in VF30 and EF45), while the 1856-O has a total of four with CAC approval (VF20, two in EF45 and AU50).

1860-O $20.00 PCGS EF40 CAC

1860-O $20.00 PCGS EF40 CAC

After these two issues, the key Type One double eagles are the 1855-O, the 1859-O, the 1860-O, and the 1861-O.

Of these four dates, the one with the lowest CAC population is the 1860-O with six; three of which grade EF45 or below. Next comes the 1859-O with seven approved by CAC; just two of these grade EF45 or below. After this comes the 1855-O with eight approved by CAC; seven of these grade EF45 or below. And trailing these three is the 1861-O with a surprising 16 total approved by CAC; six grade EF45 or below.

These numbers show that an all-CAC Type One Liberty Head double eagle is possible but not very likely. Anyone with enough money (and ambition) to do such a set is certainly not going to settle for a VF30 or EF45 1854-O, and possibly not even an AU50 1856-O.

It seems to me that a CAC-centric Type One set could be assembled with around 90% of the coins approved by this service.
Doug Winter Numismatics, specialists in U.S. gold coins

* * *

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 a 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 Winterhttps://www.raregoldcoins.com
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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