By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com ……
CoinWeek Content Partner
Gold dollars make for a fascinating set in which to specialize. They were produced from 1849 through 1889, and there are three types that include coins that range from rare to ultra-common. What sets this denomination apart from other gold denominations from this time period is the availability of issues in very high grades.
The branch mint coins from Charlotte and Dahlonega (and San Francisco to a lesser extent) form a serious obstacle to the collector who craves coins in high grades (MS65 and finer). Virtually none of these issues exist in Gem grades, and many of the C and D coins are essentially non-existent in grades above MS-62/63. But there is a simple solution that will allow the potential specialist in gold dollars to assemble a high-grade set and not have to settle for lower-grade examples of the various Charlotte and Dahlonega condition rarities.
My suggestion is to assemble a year set of gold dollars. Such a set would encompass at least one issue from each year in which this denomination was produced. This would allow all the coins in the set to grade at least MS-63/64. It would also allow for the inclusion of high-quality branch mint issues from New Orleans and San Francisco; even a few comparatively choice pieces from Charlotte and Dahlonega.
It is possible to do this set with virtually every coin approved by CAC. This will add approximately 25-50% to the prices suggested below but, in most cases, this premium is justified.
Let’s look at each year in which this denomination was produced and see what’s available and what makes the most sense for this proposed collection.
I. Type One, 1849-1854
1849 OPEN WREATH $1.00 PCGS MS-65 CAC. Images courtesy Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN)
1849: Four mints struck gold dollars during this first-year-of-issue and all are common. A Philadelphia coin makes the most sense for a high-grade set, but the 1849-O is reasonably available in MS-64 and even, on occasion in MS-65 (a nice PCGS coin should cost around $15,000 USD). The 1849-D is available in grades through MS-63 and a nice coin will run $12,500-15,000. I would personally select an 1849-O in MS-65 or an 1849 in MS-65/66.
1850: Four mints struck gold dollars in 1850. The Philadelphia issue is the rarest Type One gold dollar from this mint, but a nice MS-65 should be available for less than $6,000. The three mintmarked issues are all unknown above MS-63 (except for the 1850-O, which has a population of two in MS-64 with none finer). I would select an 1850 in MS-65.
1851: Again, four mints struck gold dollars in 1851. Luckily for collectors, the 1851-C is the most common date from this mint, and a nice MS-64 is within reach; expect to pay around $12,500 for such a coin. This would be my selection for this year.
1852-O $1.00 PCGS MS-64 CAC
1852: There are a few interesting branch mint options for this year. The 1852-O is scarce in MS-64 but can be located with patience for around $8,000, while the 1852-C might be available in the same grade—with some luck and patience—for around $20,000-25,000. Most collectors are likely to shop for a Philadelphia gold dollar dated 1852, and this issue is available in grades through MS-67. I’d select a 52-P in nice MS-66, but would consider the right 52-C or 52-O.
1853: Of the three branch mints that made gold dollars in 1853 (along with the Philadelphia Mint, of course), the 1853-O is a viable option in MS-65 as PCGS has graded seven (with five finer; all MS-66). With nice MS-65 1853-O dollars priced below $10,000, this would be my clear choice for this year
1854: This is an interesting transitional year with both Type One and Type Two issues struck at Philadelphia. The Type Two is expensive in Gem, while the 1854-D is extremely rare above MS-61/62. So, I’d choose an MS-64 1854-S. PCGS has graded nine in 64, and a solid-for-the-grade example would run around $17,500. The alternative is an 1854 Type One in MS-66 at around $5,000-6,000.
1854-S $1.00 PCGS MS-64 CAC
II. Type Two, 1854-1856
1854: The ideal solution for this date is discussed above, under “1854”.
1855 $1.00 PCGS MS-65 CAC
1855: This was a busy year for this short-lived type with four mints making gold dollars. The 1855-C and 1855-D are crudely produced and virtually unknown finer than MS-62. The 1855-O is sometimes seen in MS-63 or even MS-64, but these have become virtually impossible to acquire due to their extreme popularity. Thus, I’d opt for a Gem 1855 Type Two graded MS-65 by PCGS and approved by CAC. You should be able to locate one with patience at around $35,000.
1856: Only the San Francisco Mint made Type Two gold dollars dated 1856. There are a few known finer than MS-63, but these aren’t going to be the ideal coin for this set. See 1856 Type Three (below) for more detailed information.
III. Type Three, 1856-1889
1856: Only two mints made Type Three gold dollars in 1856: Philadelphia and Dahlonega. There are two varieties of the former: the Slanted 5 and the Upright 5. The latter is around four to five times scarcer and it is one of my favorite “sleeper” dates in this series. You might be able to locate an MS65 (PCGS has graded just six with three finer) and with CAC approval, this will be very challenging but not impossible. Expect to pay a bit over $10,000 for one. A PCGS/CAC MS-64 will only cost $2,500-3,000.
1857 $1.00 PCGS MS-66 CAC
1857: This is the second-to-last year in which four mints struck gold dollars. The 1857-C and 1857-D are impossible to locate above MS-62, while the underrated 1857-S is very rare (but not impossible) in MS-62 and higher; the obvious choice, though, is the 1857-P, which is pretty easy to find in grades through MS-66 but very rare finer. A high-end PCGS MS-66 should cost around $6,000 as opposed to the $20,000+ you’ll spend on an MS-67. I think the MS-66 is a no-brainer.
1858: There are just enough MS-63 and MS-64 1858-D gold dollars graded to give this date strong consideration for your year set. But note that as of September 2021, CAC has approved just one in MS-63 and none finer – which means that most collectors will instead focus on the 1858-P. There are some uber-grade examples of this date (PCGS has graded an MS-68+ and an MS-69!), but a nice MS-66 at $6,000+ or even an MS-67 at $12,500+ makes more sense to me.
1859: This is the final year in which four mints made gold dollars. You can pretty much forget an 1859-C or an 1859-D in grades above MS-62/63, but there are a very small number of nice 1859-S gold dollars. The 1859-P is the logical choice and this date is somewhat available in MS-66 (at around $6,000-6,500). A few superb pieces exist (four in PCGS MS-67, and two in PCGS MS-68+); these are rare and pricey.
1860 $1.00 PCGS MS-64 CAC
1860: This is the first year in which a few nice San Francisco gold dollars are known. PCGS has graded four 1860-S gold dollars in MS-64, and a single coin in MS-65. The MS-64s trade in the $9,000-10,000 range but none have been approved by CAC. The more obvious choice is the 1860. This date is common in grades through MS-64, but it is very rare in MS-65 and finer. Your best bet is a nice PCGS/CAC MS-64 at $2,500.
1861: There are two options for this year. You can go big with an 1861-D (a nice one will cost you six figures) or you can buy a common 1861-P in high grades (in this case MS-66 with CAC approval) for around $5,000.
1862 $1.00 PCGS MS-66 CAC
1862: Starting with this issue and continuing up through 1869, you have only one option: Philadelphia Mint gold dollars. The 1862-P is very common in grades through MS-65, and a nice PCGS/CAC MS-66 should be available for around $3,000-3,250. You can even splurge and buy an MS-67 for less than $10k, although such a coin won’t be easy to locate with CAC approval.
1863: The 1863 is the rarest single gold dollar from Philadelphia in the business strike format. You’ll likely either be offered one in the mid-AU range or one in Gem Uncirculated, as there are just 14 coins graded at PCGS between MS-60 and MS-63. If you have a budget of around $10,000, you can expect to find a non-CAC MS-64. This is going to be a very tough hole to fill, and a Proof might be an interesting alternative.
1864: This date is a killer in collector grades (AU-55 to MS-62), but it is available from time to time in MS-67 and even MS-68. Believe it or not, there is even a single PCGS MS-69 known that is arguably the single finest gold dollar in existence. Given that high-grade examples of this date tend to be really attractive little coins, I’d splurge on this popular Civil War date and buy an MS-66 or even an MS-67; the former should cost around $10,000, and the latter will cost you closer to $20,000.
1865 $1.00 PCGS MS-65 CAC, EX BASS
1865: With 15 coins graded between MS-65 and MS-66 at PCGS, this range makes a good target for this popular Civil War date. Look to spend around $10,000-15,000 for the right coin. And a CAC sticker isn’t out of the question on this date as two are graded MS-65, and another two in MS-66 have been approved.
1866: There’s a big jump in values for the 1866, with MS66s worth around $5,000 and MS-67s close to triple that amount. I’d suggest you buy a nice MS-66 and save your money for one of the more heralded Civil War dates (see above).
1867: I regard the 1867 as a real sleeper date within this series. Properly graded Gems are rare as evidenced by the fact that PCGS has graded just three in MS-65, two in MS-65+, three in MS-66, and one each in MS-67 and MS-67+. Making this date even more of a challenge is the fact that CAC has approved just two in MS-65 and one in MS-67. This is another issue that might be interesting to represent with a Proof.
1868: This date is common in grades through MS-64. It is scarce in Gem and rare in MS-66+ and higher. You should be able to purchase an MS-66 for $7,000 or so, but this is not likely to be CAC-approved. A stop-gap might include a nice MS-65 at around $5,000-5,500.
1869: This unheralded date is common through MS-64 but it is deceptively rare in properly graded MS-65 (just six graded by PCGS), and MS-66 (just one graded by PCGS). Oddly, PCGS shows 11 graded in MS-67 plus another two in MS-67+. A CAC/PCGS MS-67 might actually be your best option with the most recent auction price record (from early 2020) at $14,400.
Here are the parameters which I would try to follow when assembling this year set of gold dollars:
- All coins graded by PCGS
- As many coins as possible approved by CAC (at least 80% of the total)
- A few interesting branch mint coins in at least MS63/64 grades to keep things interesting
- All coins with nice original color and choice surfaces
- Coins with better than average strikes and eye appeal whenever possible
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About Doug Winter
Doug 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.