By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com ……
CoinWeek Content Partner ……
Earlier in 2017, I wrote an article about collecting US gold coins by type. This article generated a lot of feedback; some favorable, some not. I was accused of being an elitist by some collectors, mainly because some of the coins discussed in the article are very expensive.
I don’t disagree with this sentiment and to make up for my numis-snobbery, I am going to focus on a shorter, kinder and gentler set that focuses on “cool coins” struck from 1834 through 1933. This eliminates costly gold types (such as the 1796 No Stars and 1808 quarter eagles, and the 1879 Flowing Hair Stella) while focusing on the more wallet-friendly issues.
I define a “cool” coin as one which has a numismatic or historical association that differentiates it from other issues in the set. It can be a first-year-of-issue or a one-year type. It can be a super low-mintage coin, or a coin struck at a popular branch mint. Oftentimes, a legitimately cool coin can be bought for the same price as a more traditional type coin, and the point of this article is to motivate type collectors to think outside of the box.
Type One Gold Dollar (1849-1854)
1849-O $1.00 PCGS MS62+ CAC. Images courtesy Douglas Winter Numismatics (unless otherwise stated)
There are a host of cool options to choose instead of the traditional common date (1851-1854) in higher grades. How about an 1849 branch mint, which represents a first-year-of-issue, is surprisingly available and, in the case of the 1849-O, downright affordable?
Type Two Gold Dollar (1854-1856)
1855-O $1.00 PCGS AU58 CAC
There are no less than four branch mint issues from this three-year design and all are very “cool” coins. The most affordable is the 1855-O, of which $3,000 will buy a very nice AU while double this amount will purchase a nice AU 1855-C or 1856-S. Any one of these three issues is so much more interesting than a boring 1854 or 1855 Philadelphia Type Two dollar.
Type Three Dollar (1856-1889)
1861-D $1.00 PCGS AU55 CAC
The traditional type set choice is a common 1880s date in high grades. That’s a boring choice, in my opinion. How about a San Francisco issue (you can buy a nice AU for less than $3,000) or a higher-grade Civil War date? A higher budget could buy an ultra-low mintage 1875 or the legendary Confederate-issue 1861-D.
Classic Head Quarter Eagle (1834-1839)
1839 $2.50 PCGS AU55 CAC
A traditional choice is a common date (1834 or 1835) in the highest affordable grade. I would suggest either a branch mint issue (1839-O/D/C) or a scarcer Philadelphia issue such as an 1837 or, better yet, an 1839.
Liberty Head Quarter Eagle (1840-1907)
1853 $2.50 PCGS MS64+ CAC
In a series replete with oodles of cool issues, why would you want to buy a coin as boring as a 1901 in MS65? For just a bit more money you could purchase an About Uncirculated common-date Charlotte or Dahlonega quarter eagle. Or if you are more condition-centric, what about a conditionally scarce date like an 1851 or an 1853 in nice MS64? You could fill your type set slot with a Civil War date or an early San Francisco issue with Gold Rush connotations.
Indian Head Quarter Eagle (1908-1929)
1914-D $2.50 PCGS MS64 CAC
Instead of a very common date in Gem BU, how about a scarcer date like a 1914, or a 1914-D in nice MS64? If you decide to go the common date route, at least try a first-year 1908 or a final-year 1929.
Three Dollars (1854-1889)
1883 $3.00 PCGS AU58
There are just a few common dates of this type (in MS64 and higher) but most types sets reflexively opt for an 1854, 1874, 1878, or an 1889. What about a branch mint issue from San Francisco in AU58, or a sub-1,000 mintage date from the 1880s such as an 1883 or an 1885?
Classic Head Half Eagle (1834-1838)
1838-C $5.00 PCGS EF45 CAC
Almost every type set I’ve seen features an 1834 Plain 4 in high grades. Neat coin but… boooooring! If you want to stick with a Philadelphia issue, try a scarcer issue like an 1836 or an 1837. An even more interesting choice would be a nice Extremely Fine or About Uncirculated 1838-C or 1839-D. It won’t be as flashy as an MS63 common date but it will be much rarer and much more liquid.
Liberty Head No Motto First Head Half Eagle (1839 only)
1839-D $5.00 PCGS EF45
This one year type was made at three mints (Philadelphia, Charlotte and Dahlonega) and all three are interesting. I would select the 1839-C or the 1839-D and budget between $7,500 and $15,000 for a nice Extremely Fine to About Uncirculated piece.
Liberty Head No Motto Modified Head Half Eagle (1840-1866)
1852 $5.00 PCGS MS62+ CAC
There’s really no such thing as a bad choice for this type. You can go with a common Philadelphia date but even an issue like an 1852, 1853, or 1861 is tough in MS62 and very scarce in properly graded MS63. You can go with a nice branch mint coin from the Southern mints and $5,000 will get you a really nice AU55 to AU58. Or, you can focus on an early San Francisco issue from the 1855-1860 era and buy a Gold Rush artifact with real numismatic scarcity.
Liberty Head With Motto Half Eagle (1866-1908)
1891-CC $5.00 PCGS MS63 CAC
So… I’m thinking a Carson City half eagle would be the perfect Cool Coin for this type. How about a nice, frosty PCGS MS63 1891-CC at less than $4,000? It isn’t a truly rare coin but it’s pretty, it’s historic, and it’s about 100 times more interesting than a common date (1901-S anyone?) in MS64 or MS65.
Indian Head Half Eagle (1908-1929)
1905 $5.00 PCGS MS65 CAC
The typical type selection involves a nice P-mint in MS64. How about a somewhat better date Denver or San Francisco piece in MS63 as an alternative? If you are stuck on the idea of a Gem (or near-Gem) common date (and I wouldn’t fight you on this) what about a first-year 1908?
Liberty Head No Motto First Head Eagle (1838-1839)
1838 $10.00 PCGS AU50
You have two choices with this design: the rare first-year 1838 and the not-as-rare but still cool 1839. The former is rare and it becomes expensive in higher grades, while the latter is more affordable and more available. Personally, I think there is no “wrong” choice here as both issues qualify on the DW Cool Coin list.
Liberty Head No Motto Modified Head Eagle (1840-1866)
1841-O $10.00 PCGS AU58 CAC
There are many interesting alternative choices for this popular type. I would suggest an 1841-O (the first New Orleans issue of this type) or the more affordable 1854-S (the first San Francisco eagle). A Civil War issue would be interesting although most are too rare to be realistic as type coin. Even a traditional common date Philadelphia No Motto issue is interesting and scarce as you climb the grading scale.
Liberty Head With Motto Eagle (1866-1907)
1891-CC $10.00 PCGS MS63 CAC
Here is another design with numerous cool options, even the traditional common date (1901-S) in high grade (MS65). I would suggest an MS63 or even an MS64 New Orleans eagle or perhaps an 1891-CC in MS62 to MS63. If these don’t seem cool enough to you, how about one of the sub-1,000 mintage Philadelphia issues from the 1870s (1873, 1876, or 1877). Or, how about an early date San Francisco issue (1866-1872), which is rare and surprisingly affordable?
Indian Head Eagle (1907-1933)
1907 $10.00 PCGS MS64, WIRE RIM
Most type collectors choose a 1926 or a 1932 in MS64 or MS65 for their Indian Head eagle. If you have the required funds, what about an ultra-cool 1907 Wire Rim? If that is too much of a stretch, try the first-year 1907 No Periods.
Some type collectors sub-divide this design into two issues: the No Motto (1907-1908) and the With Motto (1908-1933). If you do this, there are a number of interesting With Motto dates to pursue. I would select a San Francisco date and the most affordable are the 1909-S and the 1910-S.
Liberty Head Double Eagle Type One (1850-1866)
1865-S $20.00 PCGS MS64 CAC, EX SS BROTHER JONATHAN
Thanks to shipwrecks, high-grade San Francisco Type One issues are available for type collectors. I would select an 1857-S from SS Central America or an 1865-S from SS Brother Jonathan. If high-grade is not the ultimate goal for this type, you might choose a New Orleans issue (the 1851-O and the 1852-O are the best for type sets) or an 1854-S due to its status as the first San Francisco double eagle.
Liberty Head Double Eagle Type Two (1866-1876)
1875-CC $20.00 PCGS MS61 CAC
If you have ever aspired to own a Carson City double eagle, a Type Two dated 1875-CC or 1876-CC is affordable and would make sense in this set. The typical type coins in most sets are the common 1873-1876 Philadelphia and San Francisco issues and to be honest at the current lower price levels, I think these issues are great value in MS62 and MS63.
Liberty Head Double Eagle Type Three (1877-1907)
1877-S $20.00 PCGS MS62 CAC
Even if you bought a Carson City Type Two you could go whole hog and buy a Type Three from this mint as well; $5,000 would buy you a really nice AU example. Or, you could opt for an 1877 or 1877-S first-year date. At the very least, I would opt for a 19th-century common-date instead of the ubiquitous 1904.
St. Gaudens Double Eagle (1907-1933)
MCMVII ST. GAUDENS PCGS MS60 CAC GOLD STICKER
Depending on your perspective, you can collect this type as one, two or three issues. To me, the one coin that epitomizes this design is the 1907 High Relief and this would be the Cool Coin I would select to be my one and only Saint. If this is too much of a stretch, I would select a 1907 No Motto given its first-year status. Another issue I might select is the 1909/8 given its status as the only overdate of this design.
In this era of high-priced US gold coinage, type collecting make sense and for many collectors, working on a modified type set which begins with the Classic Head issues makes even more sense. Hopefully, this article has given you some pause for thought about a collecting avenue you might have toyed with.
Want to work with me on a Cool Coin Type Set? Give me a call at (214) 675-9897 or email me at email@example.com and let’s discuss this.
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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.
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 exceptional eye for properly graded and original coins has 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.
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