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Rare Gold Coins for less than $5000 each, Part 3: 19th Century One Dollar Gold Pieces

Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #219

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds ………

United States One Dollar Gold coins were minted from 1849 to 1889. Early 20th century, commemoratives One Dollar Gold pieces are a different species; they were minted to commemorate historical events and were often originally offered for prices well above one dollar each. In the middle of the 19th century, regular One Dollar Gold coins really circulated; they were used as money in commerce. A substantial number of One Dollar Gold coins, of all types, are available for less than $5000 each. Indeed, nice representatives of more than a few dates could be found for less than $600 each. It is fun and not especially difficult to build sets of 19th century, U.S. One Dollar Gold coins.

I. Types of One Dollar Gold pieces

There are three design types of One Dollar Gold pieces, plus the One Dollar Gold commemoratives that I discussed in part 2 of this series. The first type is much different from the following two types, which are extremely similar. The first type features a Liberty Head on the obverse (front) and a wreath on the reverse (back). This Liberty Head portrait is very similar to that found on Liberty Double Eagles ($20 gold coins), which were first struck for circulation in 1850 and last struck in 1907.

gold_dollars_2Liberty Head One Dollar Gold pieces were minted from 1849 to 1854. These are the smallest regular issue U.S. coins. Indeed, One Dollar Gold coins of the first type are just one-half of an inch in diameter (‘width’), approximately 12.7 millimeters (mm). In contrast, dimes have been seven tenths of an inch (0.7 inch » 17.9 mm) since 1837.

Unsurprisingly, half dimes are smaller than dimes. Is it surprising that half dimes are larger than One Dollar Gold pieces?

Very early half dimes were specified to be two-thirds of an inch in diameter (about 16.5 mm) and most half dimes, those dating from 1829 to 1873, are five-eighths of an inch (0.625i » 15.9 mm) in diameter. Three Cent Silvers are smaller than half dimes. Three Cent Silver coins were minted from 1851 to 1873 and each has a diameter of nine sixteenths (0.5625 inch » 14.3 mm), slightly larger than a Type 1 Gold Dollar (0.5i » 12.7 mm). Specified diameters for these were conceived in inches; reference guides that refer only to metric measurements are misleading.

One Dollar Gold pieces of the second (1854-56) and third (1856-89) types weigh the same as those of the first type, even though they each have a greater diameter (0.5625 inch » 14.3 mm), which is the same as the diameter of Three Cent Silvers. Type 2 and Type 3 Gold Dollars feature a portrait of an Indian Princess or some kind of Indianlike head. Different reference books provide varying explanations for this artistic concept. It is clear, though, that the ‘Indian Princess’ bust on the Type 2 coins is not just smaller than the ‘Indian Princess’ on One Dollar gold coins of the third type; the facial features and headdress of the ‘Indian Princess’ are different.

The first and second types of One Dollar Gold pieces were struck at five U.S. Mints, those in Philadelphia, Dahlonega (GA), Charlotte (NC), New Orleans (LA), and San Francisco (CA). One Dollar Gold pieces of the third type were never minted in New Orleans.

In the 19th century, Philadelphia Mint coins were never intended to have mintmarks. Dahlonega, Georgia Mint coins each have a ‘D’ and Charlotte Mint coins each have a ‘C’ mintmark. An ‘O’ mintmark signifies the the U.S. Branch Mint in New Orleans and an ‘S’ refers to the San Francisco Mint. An interesting and unusual, inexpensive set of One Dollar Gold pieces could be a group, of just five, comprising of one representative of each U.S. Mint that struck them.

II. History

Before becoming a reality in 1849, the idea of U.S. One Dollar Gold coins had been discussed for decades. In 1848, large quantities of gold were found in California. In 1849, a massive ‘gold rush’ began. Silver Dollars and even silver half dollars were not then circulating to a great extent. The value of silver in terms of gold was rising, as gold was becoming less scarce. Many silver coins were hoarded or melted.

gold_dollars_1Much gold was being transported to the Philadelphia Mint and to the New Orleans Mint during a period when silver dollars were not widely circulating. So, it was logical for One Dollar Gold pieces to be produced.

Many people in the South, especially in North Carolina, were already familiar with One Dollar Gold Coins. From 1831 to 1852, the Bechtler family privately issued gold coins in North Carolina. Bechtler gold coins were accepted in much of the Southeast and some places elsewhere.

I am using the term “Bechtler family” loosely here. Evidently, a father, his son and his nephew were mintmasters, though the precise time spans and details of the involvement of each, respectively, are not crystal clear to researchers now. The present point is that hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of Bechtler One Dollar Gold coins had been minted. The concept of a One Dollar Gold coin was not radical or even controversial in 1849.

Also, the Philadelphia Mint had produced a significant quantity of One Dollar Gold denomination patterns in 1836. The Southern Gold Rush petered out in the mid 1830s. (Clickable links are in blue.)

III. A Type Set of $1 Gold Coins

A type set of regular U.S. One Dollar Gold pieces is easy to assemble. Only three coins are needed.

Among One Dollar Gold coins of the first type, the 1851 Philadelphia Mint issue is the most common. On July 21, 2013, Heritage sold a PCGS graded ‘Extremely Fine-40’ 1851 for $199.75. A lower grade coin or a non-gradable coin could be found for less than $185, though I would recommend acquiring an 1851 that grades at least EF-40.

In Nov. 2012, Stacks-Bowers auctioned a PCGS graded “AU-50” 1851 “from the Elmer C. Welden Collection” for $230.30. Early in 2013, Teletrade ‘iAuctions’ sold two different PCGS graded “MS-63” 1851 Gold Dollars for $822.50 each. Personally, I find that many (not all) of the EF-40 to AU-50 grade pieces are better values than MS-62 or MS-63 grade 1851 One Dollar Gold coins.

In MS-64 grade, an 1851 would probably sell at auction for an amount between $1200 and $1500, in most cases. PCGS or NGC graded “MS-65” 1851 coins tend to retail for more than $4000, though auction results are often less than $4000. It does not make sense to draw conclusions about auction prices realized for these without seeing the coins. Some numerically graded coins have been doctored or otherwise modified.

One Dollar Gold pieces of the second type are much scarcer than those of the first and third types. Type 2 Philadelphia Mint issues of 1854 and 1855, though, are not rare.

In Nov. 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS graded “AU-55” 1855 for $453.55. Most of the surviving Type 2 Gold Dollars that do not merit a grade of at least AU-50 are non-gradable. Many of those could be obtained for less than $300 each, though often their respective problems are severe. Also, forgeries exist. It is best to buy Type 1 and Type 2 One Dollar Gold coins that are PCGS or NGC certified. Some non-gradable Type 3, One Dollar Gold coins are not valuable enough to justify the costs of certification.

In regard to Type 3 pieces, collectors may be very selective. In regard to Type 2 pieces, collectors have fewer options, though pleasant Type 2 pieces can be found for less than $5000 each.

Recently, in February in New York, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded “MS-62” 1855 with a CAC sticker. It brought $3525, a strong price, though this coin could possibly be one of the best Type 2 Gold Dollars available for less than $5000. PCGS or NGC graded “MS-63” One Dollar Gold pieces of this second type sell for more than $5000 each.

dmint_gdOn occasion, other Type 2 Gold Dollars that are certified as grading “MS-62” will sell for less than $3000 each, though I would not recommend any of these without inspecting them. The reasons why a coin is certified as grading “MS-62” are sometimes complicated or just hard to explain. It is also true that a really exceptional coin that has some wear may be certified as grading “MS-62.” There is more than one route to a grade determination of  “MS-62.”

For Type 3 Gold Dollars, there is no need to consider certified “MS-62” grade coins, as those that grade below 62 and many that grade above 62 are readily available for modest prices. On the whole, One Dollar Gold pieces of the third type are plentiful. There are many non-rare dates.

In Jan. 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS graded “AU-55” 1874 for $262.03. On Aug. 18, 2013, Heritage sold a PCGS graded “AU-58” 1874 One Dollar Gold piece that has a CAC sticker. The price realized of $340.75 might have been a good value.

In Nov. 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS graded “MS-61” 1874 for $766.10, more than the prices for two different PCGS graded “MS-62” 1874 One Dollar Gold pieces, $701.50 and $692.30, respectively, at the same event in Baltimore. Reportedly, four PCGS graded “MS-64” 1874 One Dollar Gold pieces sold in this same auction in Nov. 2012.

I am surprised that the two that did not have CAC stickers at the time realized more than the two that did have CAC stickers. The two PCGS graded “MS-64” 1874 coins without stickers sold for $1265 and $881.25, respectively, while the two with CAC stickers each brought $862.50. It might be true that the two without CAC stickers had not been sent to the CAC before that auction event. This auction notwithstanding, buying CAC approved coins is usually safer than buying similar certified coins that do not have CAC stickers. Even so, it is a good idea for collector-bidders to hire experts to examine auction lots.

In general, it should be easy to obtain several PCGS or NGC graded “MS-64” 1874 One Dollar Gold coins for less than $1000 each and there is not a compelling reason for a collector of type coins to insist upon this particular date. Indeed, PCGS graded “MS-64” Type 3 Gold Dollars are frequently offered. It is not difficult to find one that has never been doctored, is unquestionably graded, and is very attractive.

Numerous PCGS or NGC certified ‘MS-65’ grade coins of the third type could be obtained for less than $1750 each. Collector-buyers should first consult experts if they personally regard $1750 as ‘a lot of money.’ A coin may be certified as grading “MS-65,” even though many relevant experts would not grade it as “MS-65.”

Even a PCGS graded “MS-67” One Dollar Gold piece could be purchased for less than $5000. When seeking PCGS or NGC certified ‘MS-66’ or ‘MS-67’ grade One Dollar Gold coins of third type, collectors may wish to consider those coins with CAC stickers.

Personally, I find widely accepted grading criteria for MS-66 to -68 grade One Dollar Gold coins to be considerably more liberal than the analogous grading criteria employed for the grading of other U.S. gold coins from the same time period. Certified, EF-40 to MS-63 grade One Dollar Gold coins may be better values for some collectors.

IV. Collecting ‘By Date’

Yes, it is practical to collect regular issue, One Dollar Gold pieces ‘by date’  and pay less than $5000 each for them. I am here employing the term ‘date’ to refer to both a year on a coin and a U.S. Mint location. Therefore, an 1850, an 1850-C, an 1850-D and an 1850-O are four different ‘dates,’ in this context.

Among One Dollar Gold pieces of the first type, all the dates can easily be acquired in at least EF-40 grade for less than $5000 each. An 1849-C in EF-40 grade could be found for less than $2000 and an AU-55 grade 1849-C could be bought for less than $4500. It is true that there is an ultra rare variety of the 1849-C, with a relatively “open” wreath on the reverse (back of the coin). The physical difference between the ultra rare ‘open wreath’ and the non-rare ‘close wreath’ is not great. These are die varieties that should not be treated as if they are distinct ‘dates.’

Louis Eliasberg turned down offers of an 1849-C ‘Open Wreath’ One Dollar Gold piece because he fairly concluded that it was not needed for his then apparently complete set of all classic U.S. coins. Indeed, Eliasberg formed the most complete collection of U.S. coins imaginable.

Among One Dollar Gold pieces of all three types, most of the rarities are Dahlonega (Georgia) Mint coins. The 1850-D is very rare; fewer than 250 pieces survive. In March 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS graded ‘EF-40’ 1850-D for $1909.38. This might not be a wonderful coin, though it is authentic and much less costly than higher grade 1850-D dollars.

On Aug. 3, 2012 in Philadelphia, Heritage auctioned an NGC graded “AU-53” 1850-D for $3290. Although the PCGS reports six having been graded as “AU-53,” and there is an NGC census of twelve, it is probably true that there are no more than eight different 1850-D One Dollar Gold pieces that are currently in PCGS or NGC holders with an “AU-53” grade on the respective labels (inserts).

As for the NGC graded “AU-55” 1850-D that Heritage auctioned in Jan. 2014, the $3055 result seems too low. I wonder if there is something seriously wrong with this coin?

The 1852-D is not quite as rare as the 1850-D, though almost so. Price levels are similar. In Oct. 2012, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded ‘EF-40’ 1852-D for $1997.50. In Jan. 2014, Heritage sold an NGC graded “AU-58” 1852-D for $4406.25.

Although One Dollar Gold pieces of the second type are among the scarcest of all U.S. type coins, most of the dates are readily available. The only date that might have to be excluded from a set with a $5000 limit per coin is the 1855-D, which is extremely rare.

In 2013, Heritage sold three different non-gradable 1855-D Gold Dollars for less than $5000 each. Two of these three were auctioned on April 26, 2013. An NGC certified 1855-D that has the ‘details’ of an AU grade coin, though has very serious problems, sold  for $4993.75. One that is not PCGS or NGC certified and has the ‘details’ of an Extremely Fine grade coin brought $4418.

The third non-gradable 1855-D perhaps amounted to the best deal of the three. On Jan. 11, 2013 in Orlando, an NGC certified 1855-D with the ‘details’ of an AU grade coin went for $4846.88. While the cataloguer makes clear that this coin has severe rim and edge problems, it may be true that the central design elements and inner fields are somewhat pleasing. This 1855-D certainly has a great deal of detail.

Finding an 1855-C for less than $5000 is also a challenge, though maybe a gradable coin can be obtained. In Jan. 2013, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded “VF-35” 1855-C for $4700. In Dec. 2013, an NGC graded ‘EF-40’ 1855-C sold for $4406.25. In March 2011, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a non-gradable, PCGS certified 1855-C with the details of an AU grade coin, for $2070.

All the other dates of the second type can be purchased, without much difficulty, in Extremely Fine to AU grades for less than $5000 each. The 1856-S is the only San Francisco Mint One Dollar Gold piece of the second type. It would be easy to find a PCGS or NGC graded AU-50 to AU-55 1856-S for well under $5000. In Aug. 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS graded “AU-53” 1856-S, with a CAC sticker, for $2937.50.

As for One Dollar Gold pieces of the third type, most dates are not rare and not expensive. Even so, it might not be possible to fully complete a set without spending more than $5000 for any single coin. There are semi-key and key dates that are difficult to collect.

It may be impossible to purchase a gradable 1856-D for less than $5000. Even finding a non-gradable 1856-D for less than $5000 could require a considerable amount of time.

As far as I know, the only recent sale of a modestly priced, non-gradable 1856-D occurred in Aug. 2013 when Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS certified 1856-D with a lot of problems for $1645. It, though, has the details of an Extremely Fine grade coin and was probably a very good deal for the buyer.

The 1859-C is another semi-key. In Dec. 2012, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded “AU-53” 1859-C for $3,539.10. In Nov. 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS certified, non-gradable 1859-C with “AU Details” at best for $822.50.

The 1860-D is a key date. Finding a gradable 1860-D for less than $5000 might not be a realistic objective. On Aug. 3, 2012, Heritage auctioned an NGC graded “AU-50” 1860-D for $5875. This price is curiously weak.

Non-gradable 1860-D dollars surface somewhat frequently. In Sept. 1012, Heritage auctioned one that is NGC certified and has the ‘details’ of an Extremely Fine grade coin. It brought $1292.50.

The 1861-D is the foremost key of the third type of One Dollar Gold pieces. She is almost as famous as her big sister, the 1861-D Half Eagle ($5 gold coin). A quest for a gradable 1861-D for less than $5000 would not be sensible.

Back in Feb. 2009, Heritage auctioned an NGC certified 1861-D for just $1840. It is clearly non-gradable and the online images suggest that its appearance is awful. Even so, it is genuine and may have the ‘details’ of a VF to EF grade coin. Other non-gradable 1861-D dollars have sold for more than $10,000 each. So, unfortunately, many sets of One Dollar Gold pieces are missing an 1861-D.

After 1861, the only remaining obstacle is the 1875. For some reason, all gold denominations struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 1875 were produced in miniscule quantities, in contrast to mintages of gold coins during the years shortly before and shortly after 1875.

Only 400 business strike 1875 One Dollar Gold pieces were minted and maybe 125 of these survive. In Dec. 2013, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded “AU-55” 1875 for $4,993.75. In Nov. 2011, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS authenticated 1875 One Dollar Gold piece that is said to have been ‘holed and plugged.’ It has the ‘details’ of a Very Fine grade coin. That 1875 sold for $1322.50, a result that raises the hopes of those seeking to complete a set of One Dollar Gold pieces for less than $5000 per coin. There must be other non-gradable 1875 One Dollar Gold pieces that could be obtained for less than $5000 each.

A set of more than eighty dates of One Dollar Gold pieces, all purchased for less than $5000 per coin, would be an important achievement and would be enjoyable to build. Yes, an 1861-D would probably be missing and two other dates might be missing as well. So what, collectors have become accustomed to the reality that many sets cannot be totally completed by people who do not have millions of dollars to spend on coins.

Many people collect: Liberty Seated Silver Dollars while ignoring the 1870-S, Liberty Seated Dimes while ignoring the 1873-CC ‘No Arrows,’ Capped Bust Halves while ignoring the 1817/4, half dimes while ignoring the 1870-S, Liberty Seated Quarters while ignoring the 1873-CC ‘No Arrows,’ Liberty Seated Halves while ignoring the 1878-S, Saints while ignoring the 1927-D (and the 1933), Liberty Half Eagles while ignoring the 1854-S, etc.

In some cases, collectors of classic U.S. silver coins over-estimate the costs of collecting gold coins. For less than $5000 per coin, much more can be accomplished in regard to many series of U.S. gold coins than most collectors realize. The first installment of this series covers Classic Head Quarter Eagles that cost less than $5000 each. The second is about One Dollar Gold commemoratives, which would complement a set of 19th century, regular issue One Dollar Gold coins.

 ©2014 Greg Reynolds


Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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